2020 Way Too Early Power Rankings: The top 8
This is the fourth and final part of the "2020 Way Too Early Power Rankings," rounding out the 32 NFL teams that will be battling it out once September rolls around. Going with the motto "save the best for last," we will be taking a look at eight teams that should be surefire contenders this season.
But to round us out, this final installment features five NFC teams and three AFC teams. Six divisional winners and two wild cards make up the top eight teams. These teams are talented, well-coached, loaded with depth, and primed to have strong regular seasons. It should be fun to see how these teams play amidst the high expectations they will be facing.
Coming in at No. 8, we have a new AFC East division winner.
8. Buffalo Bills
The Bills let a lousy second-half performance deter them from winning a playoff game last season.
A franchise that has struggled for more than a decade did reach the postseason in 2017, but previously endured a brutal 17-year postseason drought before that. Now, it seems like the Bills will be making some noise in January for seasons to come.
A lot of the promise that now surrounds the Bills has to do with stability in the front office and on the coaching staff that hasn't existed since the the Bills reached four-straight Super Bowls in the early 90s. General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have formed a strong partnership and have a strong group of players as a result.
The jury is still out on quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills' top-10 selection in the 2018 draft, but there is no denying the signs of improvement he showed in his second season last year. The Bills are confident in his abilities and coming off a 10-win season, he has proven he can lead the team to success. Maybe the addition of a true go-to receiver in Stefon Diggs will be the move to propel Allen to the next level.
Behind a strong offensive line and with a dangerous running attack, Allen has the necessary help he needs. If the offense can prove to be more explosive in 2020, the Bills should be as well-rounded a team there is. The defense, while dealing with some turnover along the defensive line, remains deep and full of talent.
Even though Jordan Phillips, Shaq Lawson, and Corey Liuget departed, Vernon Butler, Mario Addison, and Quinton Jefferson were signed. Plus, snagging A.J. Epenesa in the latter half of the second round appears to be one of the better values in the draft. McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier still have a strong unit to work with, led by rising stars Ed Oliver and Tremaine Edmunds.
The Bills face a difficult schedule in 2020 and face expectations the franchise hasn't seen in years, but they appear to have the right ingredients to make some noise. It is a reasonable thought that the AFC East is the Bills' to lose.
7. Seattle Seahawks
It seems like quarterback Russell Wilson is always running for his life.
The Seahawks are consistently in tight battles, even with inferior opponents. It doesn't always seem pretty, but Wilson and company always find a way to get it done.
Since 2012, the Seahawks have won more than 10 games and made the postseason in all but one season.
Head coach Pete Carroll may be mocked for chewing his gum on the sideline, but he has proven to be at the top of his craft. It doesn't hurt that his quarterback has established himself as a top-five player in the league, but there have been some obstacles to overcome in recent years.
Since the Legion of Boom years, the defense hasn't been nearly what it was. For the last few seasons, the Seahawks have also been consistently beaten in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
And still, the Seahawks remain a perennial top-10 team. The story shouldn't be much different in 2020. If they are able to find a more consistent pass rush from their rushers and better protect Wilson, they should be in an even better spot.
Letting Jadeveon Clowney walk doesn't help their situation, but it may be smart not rushing to overpay him. That means the coaching staff will be taking a leap of faith in young players such as Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier and Darnell Taylor, who were all high picks in the last few drafts. Veteran signings Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa could help to address the pass-rushing issue as well, but more than likely will offset the departures of Ezekiel Ansah and Quinton Jefferson in providing depth.
The offensive line will be dealing with some turnover, but it should be turnover that will be beneficial for the offense. Finding a cohesive and better-performing group of players in front of Wilson has long been an issue for long-time general manager John Schneider. Rookie guard Damien Lewis could turn out to be one of the steals of this year's draft and should earn a starting nod.
With Wilson at quarterback, it is almost a guarantee the Seahawks will be in contention. Fixing some deficiencies at other spots on the roster could go a long way in further improving their season outlook.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback Tom Brady isn't exactly playing with house money in his first season in Tampa Bay.
With the supporting cast around him and the expectation he can be the guy to end the Buccaneers' 13-year postseason drought, there is an immense amount of pressure on Brady. The Bucs will have more eyes on them than they have ever had in their history.
The additions of Brady and former teammate tight end Rob Gronkowski aren't the only reason for the Bucs' high expectations, however. Bruce Arians leads a veteran coaching staff that has achieved great success in the league.
The firepower at the offensive skill positions, specifically at wideout and tight end with the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, and Cam Brate, is crazy to think about. Adding Gronkowski to the mix seems unfair.
The defense has a nice blend of veterans and younger players that give coordinator Todd Bowles some versatility and athleticism to work with. On paper, the team is pretty stacked and has no glaring concerns other than depth at the interior offensive line positions and on the defensive line.
If it wasn't for being in such a small market and the Bucs' recent years at the bottom of the league, there would be more believers. As of now, there is more anticipation and/or skepticism of how the aging Brady will work out in his new offense. It is fair, as the Bucs haven't warranted high expectations for quite some time.
In recent seasons, other than Jameis Winston's sporadic turnover issues, the defense has been the primary problem. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett coming off the edges, Vita Vea and Ndamukung Suh clogging up the middle, and Lavonte David and Devin White at middle linebacker, it doesn't figure to be an issue any longer.
The question lies in the young backfield, but even that group made huge strides down the stretch last season. The Bucs allowed points last year, but it seems to be as a result of being behind the 8-ball because of turnovers by the offense.
When you look further, the group ranked seventh in adjusted DVOA, a reliable metric that measures the efficiency of individual defenses compared to other ones throughout the league. The Bucs ranked No. 1 in rush defense as well. The defense is being overlooked heading into 2020, but still must prove they can hold up their end of the bargain.
If the Buccaneers prove Arians and Brady can coexist in their two different preferences of playing offense and the young defensive secondary grows even more, watch for them to make some serious noise in 2020.
5. Dallas Cowboys
What have the Cowboys done in recent seasons to deserve this high of a ranking? The truth is, they haven't done nearly enough and that is why Jason Garrett was finally fired.
The Cowboys have been consistent underachievers even with the talent they have had all over the roster. Could the Mike McCarthy hire be the change that was needed?
It very well could be, as McCarthy has a proven track record as a quality head coach during his time in Green Bay. It will be interesting to see how McCarthy and an almost entirely new coaching staff change things in Dallas.
The coaching staff aren't the only changes the Cowboys are dealing with, however. The roster has undergone some major changes as well. Travis Frederick retiring is a huge loss for the offense. Cowboys veteran Joe Looney, former third-rounder Connor McGovern, and rookie draft pick Tyler Biadasz will be tasked with replacing arguably the best center in the league.
On defense, losing cornerback Byron Jones is a huge hit for the secondary. He was easily their most impactful player on the backend and there is now a void that must be replaced, likely by second round pick Trevon Diggs. Veteran safety Jeff Heath is also gone, likely replaced by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Up front, Demarcus Lawrence still remains, but his teammates aside of him will be looking a lot different. Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, and Michael Bennett moved on. Quinn, the team's sack leader, is no small loss. Free agent addition Aldon Smith, yes that Aldon Smith, and rookie Bradley Anae will be tasked with replacing some pass-rushing production, which still wasn't as good as the Cowboys would have liked it last season.
On the interior, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and rookie Neville Gallimore will be added to the rotation. The Cowboys did a good job of beefing up their defensive tackles, as these guys seem to provide an upgrade on Collins. The one constant on the defense is at linebacker, where Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander-Esch, and Sean Lee make up one of the best groupings in the league.
The biggest storyline for the Cowboys in 2020 will be the performance of quarterback Dak Prescott. He faces immense pressure to perform at the highest level considering the money he is seeking, and he certainly has the supporting cast to help him with that.
The addition of CeeDee Lamb to a receiver group already including Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup is insane. Ezekiel Elliott isn't coming off his best season, but is still a premier running back. Tight end Blake Jarwin, with Jason Witten's departure, now has his chance to seriously establish himself as a legitimate No. 1 tight end in the offense.
The offense could be the unit the team leans on to win ball games, at least early on. If the inexperienced defensive secondary struggles, the offense should be able to score enough points to make up for that. Even with substantial losses, the Cowboys have one of the deepest rosters in the league.
4. New Orleans Saints
The Buccaneers may be a trendy team in the NFL and more specifically the NFC South, but the division is still the Saints' to lose.
The Saints are coming off a 2019 season in which they were one of the NFL's most-balanced teams, but bowed out of the playoffs in a disappointing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Nevertheless, the Saints return most of their team from last season and have added some nice pieces as well. First-round pick Cesar Ruiz is slated to replace Larry Warford at guard, a move that makes the Saints more athletic up front. Warford was a key cog on an offensive line that was arguably the best one in the league, but Ruiz could make it even stronger.
Second-round pick Zach Baun replaces the veteran A.J. Klein at linebacker in a like-for-like move. Like Klein, Baun will be asked to rush the passer and play in coverage on three downs. At safety, veteran Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins was signed as a replacement for Vonn Bell, a move that will add more experience and leadership for the defense.
Other than that, a top-notch Saints defense from last season remains intact led by the likes of Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, and Marshon Lattimore. A healthy Sheldon Rankins would provide an additional boost to the defense.
Getting back to the offense, they will have no issue putting up points as long as everyone is on the same page. How quarterback Drew Brees and his teammates gel after Brees' controversial statements on Black Lives Matter will play a huge role in determining the success of the offense and the team as a whole.
With the likes of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara in the fold, the offense has been a top-performing unit the past two seasons. Veteran signing Emmanuel Sanders should give Brees a No. 2 receiver he hasn't had in recent years in what could prove to be the signing of the off-season. Rookie Adam Trautman could pair with Jared Cook to form a dynamic duo at tight end, perfect for the style in which Brees likes to operate.
Head coach Sean Payton has a lot to work with once again in 2020, and his offensive prowess should help the Saints rack up some wins as usual in the regular season. The question remains: Can the Saints get over the hump come playoff time?
3. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were a strong fourth quarter away from being Super Bowl champions.
The better team for 50 minutes of the game, the 49ers were completely blitzed in the final portion and suffered a defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this year. Through their regular season and postseason play, however, the 49ers proved they are a legitimate force in the league.
General manager John Lynch has done an admirable job of completely tearing down and rebuilding the bare roster that was given to him. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, Lynch's first hire, has proven to be the right leader for the franchise and was given a six-year extension as a result on Monday. The 49ers finally have the right people in place and have a loaded roster as a result.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has shown glimpses he can be a franchise guy, but he has yet to find the consistency to put it all together. There were murmurs the 49ers were in the market for Tom Brady in the off-season, meaning they may not be completely sold on Jimmy G. Still, Lynch and Shanahan have stated publicly they support their quarterback and Garoppolo has certainly done enough to warrant the job remaining his.
The offense as a whole was a productive unit that gave defenses many different looks to deal with due to Shanahan's play-calling and their versatile skill players, but the defense was the driving force behind their success. Rising star coordinator Robert Saleh has quickly led the turnaround of a bottom-tier defense to a top-five one, in large part due to an impressive collection of talent.
DeForest Buckner was arguably the best player on the defense the last few seasons and was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March, but the 49ers are fortunate enough to have had the deepest defensive line in the NFL and drafted defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw in the first round to help replace Buckner.
Kinlaw has massive potential to be a star in this league and he won't face immediate pressure to produce as every other piece of the defense returns in 2020. A healthy Kwon Alexander could make the defense even more stout as well.
The trade for left tackle Trent Williams is a quality replacement for the retiring Joe Staley and the selection of receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the first round will help to offset the Emmanuel Sanders departure. With a dangerous ground attack, tight end George Kittle, and receiver Deebo Samuel in the mix, the 49ers have all the components to become an elite offensive team.
2. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens, the AFC's No. 1 seed in the 2019 NFL playoffs, had a nice off-season to build on their success from last season.
The most important moves of the off-season may have been coordinators Greg Roman and Don Martindale returning, both head coaching candidates in the latest carousel.
The biggest priority for the Ravens was getting better in the defensive front seven, and it started with retaining their best pass-rusher, Matt Judon, on the franchise tag. They then went and traded for former Defensive Player of the Year Calais Campbell for pennies on the dollar. Campbell should provide a huge boost to the Ravens' front against both the pass and run.
The acquisition of veteran defensive tackle Derek Wolfe looks like one of the best bargains of the off-season and the selection of Justin Madubuike in the third round will help with their interior pass-rushing issues.
At linebacker, rookies Patrick Queen and Malik Jefferson will replace departing veterans Patrick Onwuasor and Pernell McPhee, resulting in a more athletic and youthful second level of the defense. The backend remains one of the strongest in football, making the loss of Tony Jefferson easier to stomach.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens were as good as you could be in 2019. Lamar Jackson is coming off a unanimous MVP season in which he lit the league on fire. Through the air and on the ground, the Ravens could not be stopped, even with a lackluster group of receivers. The selections of Devin Duvernay and James Proche in the draft and the further development of young wideouts Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin should make the offense even more explosive.
The rest of the NFL allowing the Ravens to end up with J.K. Dobbins to pair with Mark Ingram II in the backfield seems criminal. That duo along with Jackson are going to keep each other fresh and present serious problems to worn-out defenses.
The one area of concern may be the retirement of All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, who was still at the top of his game when he went out. His loss could affect not only the right guard spot, but also the entire offensive line as a whole and could present some issues if his replacement isn't adequate. As of now, that figures to be veteran D.J. Fluker or rookie Tyree Phillips, so the options aren't completely bare.
Either way, the Ravens don't figure to struggle scoring.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The reigning Super Bowl champions find the No. 1 spot in these power rankings. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs are always going to be atop division standings and competing in the playoffs.
Now that head coach Andy Reid and the rest of the squad has proven they can win at the highest level, there is no capping their potential. With Mahomes still on his rookie contract, the Chiefs are also able to put an extremely strong team around him without having to rely on nailing most draft picks.
Speaking of draft picks, adding Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the Chiefs offense is flat out unfair. The best pass-catching and run-blocking back in this year's draft, Edwards-Helaire figures to add another dimension to the offense. Helaire isn't as good of a runner as fellow rookies such as J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor, but he can run between the tackles as well. While Damien Williams is great when he is out in space and made huge plays time and time again, another running back capable of playing on most downs was needed.
Aside from a few depth pieces along the offensive line, the rest of the potent offense returns. The return of Andrew Wylie from injury and the selection of tackle Lucas Niang could make the Chiefs even better up front. Reid and coordinator Eric Bienemy have a lot to work with and should have plenty of tricks up their sleeve once again.
The offense got a lot of attention last season, but the defense came up huge all postseason when they had to. While the Chiefs fell down early in all three games they played, the defense kept them in games and made huge stops when needed. The Chiefs' pass defense has rightfully deserved some heat in recent times, but it passed the test when it mattered.
Losing cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Mo Claiborne doesn't help an already mediocre cornerback group, but difference-makers at other positions on the field should help make up for the lack of quality cornerbacks. The front seven looks strong, led by the likes of Chris Jones and Frank Clark. Looking ahead, the Chiefs will have to take care of Jones' contract situation.
The Chiefs figure to be a middle-of-the-road defensive unit, but that is good enough when your quarterback is Patrick Mahomes and he has weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson out wide. The Chiefs are now the team to beat in the NFL.