NFL power rankings: Buccaneers and Chiefs remain teams to beat, while the Rams and Saints rise to the top

By C.J. Doon

Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders, regardless of win-loss record.

Here are the rankings after Week 1:

Super Bowl favorites

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

The Bucs and Chiefs both had to survive tough season-opening games, but the fact that they both came out on top with relative ease says it all. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott played one of the best games of his career and still couldn’t outscore Tampa Bay in a 31-29 defeat. The Browns scored 22 points on their first three drives and still couldn’t hold off a furious Kansas City comeback in the second half, falling, 33-29.

There are questions on defense for both of these teams, particularly in the secondary, after they allowed a combined 58 points in Week 1. But as long as quarterbacks Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are healthy, it feels like we’re headed for a Super Bowl rematch.

Budding contenders

3. Los Angeles Rams (1-0)

4. Seattle Seahawks (1-0)

5. New Orleans Saints (1-0)

The Rams’ Matthew Stafford and the Saints’ Jameis Winston both dazzled in their starting debuts, with Stafford torching the Bears for 321 yards and three touchdowns and Winston dominating the Packers with ruthless efficiency; his 148 passing yards were the fewest in a five-touchdown game in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Meanwhile, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks impressed in their first game with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who gave Wilson plenty of easy throws that helped him rack up 254 yards and four touchdowns. The Rams’ Sean McVay and the Saints’ Sean Payton are two of the best play-callers in the league, but if Waldron — who helped build efficient passing attacks with McVay in Los Angeles — proves to be a match made in heaven with Wilson, Seattle will be in the mix for the NFC title.

Still tough to beat

6. Buffalo Bills (0-1)

7. Green Bay Packers (0-1)

8. Cleveland Browns (0-1)

9. Baltimore Ravens (0-1)

Week 1 was a disappointment for these contenders, who all entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations. Some losses were worse than others — the Packers were outscored 38-3 by the Saints while the Ravens blew a 14-point lead to the Raiders, the first time that’s happened in the regular season under coach John Harbaugh — but they all count just the same.

The biggest concerns come from the quarterback play of the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, who struggled to move the ball efficiently after battling for Most Valuable Player honors last season. For the Ravens, the offensive line’s inability to protect quarterback Lamar Jackson and establish one of the league’s top rushing attacks might sink their season, especially if the defense can’t get back to being one of the best in the NFL. But it’s a long 17-game season, so don’t expect these talented teams to fall back to the pack just yet.

In the hunt

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

11. San Francisco 49ers (1-0)

12. Arizona Cardinals (1-0)

13. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)

14. Denver Broncos (1-0)

15. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)

16. Miami Dolphins (1-0)

17. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0)

18. New England Patriots (0-1)

19. Washington Football Team (0-1)

There might not have been a bigger development in Week 1 than the play of Cardinals third-year quarterback Kyler Murray, who threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score in a 38-13 rout of the Titans. The NFC West should be hotly contested this season, especially if the 49ers can stay healthy and turn to No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance at quarterback later this season.

The AFC West might be just as formidable. Justin Herbert threw for 337 yards and helped the Chargers convert an astounding 14 of 19 third-down opportunities in a 20-16 win over Washington. Not to be outdone, Teddy Bridgewater threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 27-13 win over the Giants and was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterback under pressure. On Monday night, Derek Carr threw for 435 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 31-yard pass in overtime to beat the Ravens, 33-27.

Then there’s the AFC East, which has a few intriguing contenders behind the Bills. Miami edged New England on Sunday, 17-16, thanks to a late fumble by Patriots running back Damien Harris, but those teams figure to remain in the playoff hunt throughout the season if former Alabama teammates Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa live up to first-round expectations.

Oh, and don’t forget about the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t capable of leading an elite passing offense anymore, but the Pittsburgh defense will keep games close just long enough for one of the Steelers’ talented playmakers to make a difference. Coach Mike Tomlin’s team will be a tough out this year.

Stuck in the middle

20. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)

21. Carolina Panthers (1-0)

22. Tennessee Titans (0-1)

23. Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)

25. Minnesota Vikings (0-1)

The Eagles were one of the biggest surprises of Week 1, rolling to a 32-6 win over a Falcons team that was expected to improve this season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts’ average pass traveled just 3.6 yards, but he still threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 62 yards. He was great under pressure, completing nine of 11 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. If new coach Nick Sirianni can get the most out of his second-year quarterback and the defense exceeds expectations, there’s no reason the Eagles can’t contend in the very winnable NFC East.

Speaking of a winnable division: the AFC South. The Titans and Colts were the betting favorites to win it entering the season, and that shouldn’t change after a disappointing Week 1. Tennessee might be in trouble, however. After the Titans built one of the most efficient offenses in the league under Arthur Smith’s play-action heavy scheme, new offensive coordinator Todd Downing called play-action on just 7.3% of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s drop-backs in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and the offense cratered. Star receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were targeted just 14 times combined, and two-time defending rushing champion Derrick Henry was held to just 3.4 yards per carry. If this offense takes a big step back, the Titans can no longer be considered an AFC contender.

Please start Justin Fields

26. Chicago Bears (0-1)

As long as Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback, the Bears aren’t going anywhere. It remains to be seen when coach Matt Nagy will make Fields the starter, but every week the No. 11 overall pick sits on the sideline is a wasted opportunity for Chicago. There’s nothing more valuable in the NFL than a talented quarterback on a rookie deal. It’s time for the Bears to find out what they have and plan for the future accordingly.

Long way to go

27. New York Giants (0-1)

28. Atlanta Falcons (0-1)

29. New York Jets (0-1)

30. Houston Texans (1-0)

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)

32. Detroit Lions (0-1)

The Jaguars and Jets are breaking in rookie quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in the draft. The Texans completely overhauled their roster and are without quarterback Deshaun Watson, who’s facing 22 active lawsuits with allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. The Lions just hired a new coach and general manager and traded away their franchise quarterback for Jared Goff. What are the excuses for the Giants and Falcons?

Time is running out for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to prove he can lead a winning team, and general manager Dave Gettleman is on the hot seat if his roster can’t turn things around. For Atlanta, using the No. 4 overall pick on a tight end, even one as good as Kyle Pitts, seems like a mistake given the glaring holes on defense and the offensive line. If 36-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan starts to show his age, fans will be wondering why the Falcons didn’t consider taking a quarterback with that pick.


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