Fitz's NFL Power Rankings Vol. 2: Glass Half-Full Edition Before Week 1's Reality Check
Every single fan base in the NFL can cling onto some sort of hope at the dawn of the 2022 season. It's easier for some than others, but everyone's starting at 0-0, and as the Cincinnati Bengals proved last year going from 4-11-1 to the Super Bowl, damn near anything is possible.
So with that, we'll put on some rose-colored lenses to take a look at all 32 teams in this entry of NFL power rankings, because let's be real, the rest of the year will be spent dunking on all those who rank near the bottom of the standings. Might as well wait until they're down before we start kicking them.
PS: While you shouldn't discount it altogether, don't overreact to Week 1! If you're feeling sad, remember that, for instance, the 1-15 Jaguars beat the 11-5 Colts to begin 2020.
32. Seattle Seahawks (Pre-Camp: 32)
One of my biggest pre-draft crushes, cornerback Tariq Woolen, somehow fell to the sixth round. Well uhh…guess what? He's gonna start. The 33rd-ranked player on my big board who went 153rd overall. Despite how raw he is, if Woolen and the Seahawks' rookie class — particularly offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, along with second-round tailback Kenneth Walker III — can make an immediate impact, maybe Seattle will shock the football world. I really do like the backfield duo of KWIII and Rashaad Penny on paper. It's a matter of the defense coming together and QB Geno Smith at least posing some threat as a passer.
31. New York Giants (Pre-Camp: 30)
Here's all the good news about the G-Men: Brian Daboll arrives with a new, more modern offensive scheme. Daniel Jones should benefit at least a little from that. Saquon Barkley is due for a healthy year. The offensive line is improved, largely thanks to Evan Neal at right tackle. Kayvon Thibodeaux is a splashy, toolsy pass-rusher to add to the defense. Those reinforcements and Daboll's presence offer way more hope for the Giants than they ever had under Pat Shurmur or Joe Judge.
30. Houston Texans (Pre-Camp: 29)
It feels weird to have so many teams whose drafts I really liked as low as they are, but there's so much established star power around the NFL. Derek Stingley Jr. has the ceiling to be the best cornerback in the game, ex-Baylor DB Jalen Pitre is also starting in the secondary, and Kenyon Green should be an excellent left guard right away. If Davis Mills builds on a promising start to his career, Houston is in the most wide-open division in football in the AFC South. Watch out, too, for rookie ball-carrier Dameon Pierce. The Texans may have something special with him.
29. New York Jets (Pre-Camp: 28)
Another excellent draft class, headlined by first-rounders Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson and Jermaine Johnson, not to mention feature back Breece Hall in Round 2. Gardner is a lockdown corner, Wilson is a highlight-reel receiver and Johnson is a polished pass-rusher already. Slight downer note here: I have major questions about second-year signal-caller Zach Wilson. Loved him coming out of BYU. He sucked last year. Little elsewhere to go but up. If he's anywhere near the player I think he has the ceiling to be, the Jets could make a HUGE jump.
28. Cleveland Browns (Pre-Camp: 24)
When you look at this defensive depth chart, Cleveland doesn't have many holes. Maybe up the middle in the trenches. Other than that, it's hard to find any. The offense may need to run the ball circa 50 times a game with Nick Chubb/Karreem Hunt to look decent through the first 11 games until scumbag quarterback Deshaun Watson returns. Oops I'm sorry. Hard to be glass half-full on the Browns. Fuck their whole operation. NEXT.
27. Washington Commanders (Pre-Camp: 23)
Although star EDGE defender Chase Young is out for the start of the 2022 campaign, these Commanders have a bit of a vengeance factor to rally around. Carson Wentz got cast off by Philadelphia, and now joins Washington in the same NFC East division. For all the shit he's caught the past two seasons, Wentz did throw for 27 TDs to only 7 INTs in his Indy pit stop. The Commanders could have a sweet 1-2 receiver punch if first-round pick Jahan Dotson can capitalize on favorable matchups while defenses focus on Terry McLaurin.
26. Detroit Lions (Pre-Camp: 25)
Dan Campbell. Need I say more? Even with a bad roster, Campbell's Lions were spirited in his maiden season at the helm. The coaching staff is psychotically competitive and I mean that as the highest compliment. Detroit has one of the NFL's top offensive lines. If electrifying wideout Jameson Williams stays ahead of schedule, his return could help Jared Goff take the top off the opposing defense more often. Then, you have one of the safest prospects from the latest draft class in Aidan Hutchinson plugged in to make an impact at defensive end. Don't sleep on third-year corner Jeff Okudah, either. If he's physically right off his Achilles injury and plays anywhere close to what a former No. 3 overall pick should, the Lions could be humming sooner than everyone expects.
25. Atlanta Falcons (Pre-Camp: 26)
I believe this will be the first time in his NFL career Marcus Mariota will be a starting quarterback while running an offense that is previously familiar to him. Dude had a constant revolving door of play-callers in Tennessee. Now is reunited with Arthur Smith. Has Kyle Pitts and Drake London as massive targets to throw to. The Falcons should have one of the better cornerback duos in A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward. Good-looking draft class on paper. Is Atlanta the deep sleeper no one is talking about? Possibly!
24. Chicago Bears (Pre-Camp: 31)
For all of Matt Nagy's awfulness toward the end of his tenure, it blew my mind a bit to learn that the Bears actually finished top-three in pass defense this past year. They lost Khalil Mack, but gained some quality rookie DBs in Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon, along with a highly respected, defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus. I can't get Justin Fields' preseason performance out of my head. Despite his bad o-line and lack of weapons, could he and go-to deep threat Darnell Mooney be enough to keep defenses honest? You take Fields' rushing ability with David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, along with whatever pass-catching can be had from tight end Cole Kmet, and suddenly the Bears sound kinda frisky.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (Pre-Camp: 27)
The Jags must've looked at the Bengals' 2021 run and figured, "Why can't that be us this year?" Trevor Lawrence is an ascending sophomore field general. They went from Urban Meyer's reign of terror to a Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson. The front seven is more dynamic with Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd. Lawrence was the consensus best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Should he meet that standard, perhaps a worst-to-first run in the AFC South is coming for Jacksonville. Oh, and Lawrence will be better protected with veteran guard Brandon Scherff and Kentucky center Luke Fortner, who's topped the depth chart in swift fashion.
22. New England Patriots (Pre-Camp: 19)
Guess Bill Belichick is trolling us. He must know the football brilliance of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge better than anyone outside team headquarters. Giving them the keys to the offensive call sheet seems like a disaster, but remember, this is Bill Belichick we're talking about. Hard to talk too much shit about The Hoodie given how consistently excellent the Patriots have remained, and how he's kept them competitive even in the three years without Tom Brady (counting 2008's 11-5 mark with Matt Cassel).
21. New Orleans Saints (Pre-Camp: 18)
With some unsavory legal situations afoot involving tailback Alvin Kamara and safety Marcus Maye, the Saints' forecast is a little cloudy. We don't know what we're getting from all-world receiving extraordinaire Michael Thomas. However, if Kamara and Maye avoid suspensions, Thomas is physically right, and New Orleans gets what it hopes to out of first-year WR Chris Olave, they could be downright dangerous. Perhaps Sean Payton stepping down and Dennis Allen taking over as coach is the fresh leadership change the Saints needed after failing to get over the hump in recent years. It's generally the same offense for QB Jameis Winston, whose supporting cast of Thomas, Olave and Jarvis Landry could be one of the better receiving trios by year's end.
20. Dallas Cowboys (Pre-Camp: 13)
All eyes will be on CeeDee Lamb, who could become one of the true elite receivers in the game if he lives up to the hype. Lamb's production might be more consistent than, say, ex-WR1 Amari Cooper. The continuity in place with bright offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott should give Dallas at least some hope. It was huge to retain Dan Quinn to dial up the defense, too, which will only benefit from a full offseason for Micah Parsons to work at his craft. Parsons is a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (Pre-Camp: 21)
Whether it's Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh has workhorse back Najee Harris to lean on, and a legit stud first-year receiver in George Pickens to give the offense some juice. Mike Tomlin hasn't had a losing season ever. This defense is always going to be damn good as long as Cam Heyward is up front and T.J. Watt is screaming in off the edge. Wouldn't be shocked to see the Steelers be in the playoff hunt yet again despite a suboptimal situation at the most important position.
18. Arizona Cardinals (Pre-Camp: 14)
Losing DeAndre Hopkins for six games hurts. At least the Cardinals had some experience with that from 2021, though, and if they have any strength, it's starting the season strong. Kyler Murray still has Rondale Moore, Marquise Brown and Zach Ertz to throw to. All those guys create unique matchup advantages. Now that Murray's contract situation is resolved, he could be on a warpath to shut all the doubters and haters up. Imagine what Kyler may be capable of fully locked in, deeper into film study and with his financial future secured. Could be bad news for the rest of the NFL.
17. Indianapolis Colts (Pre-Camp: 16)
Aging quarterbacks who've moved teams have won the Super Bowl the past two years. Maybe the third time is the charm for Matt Ryan and Indianapolis. Matty Ice is less mistake-prone and generally has a higher football IQ than Carson Wentz. The sizable duo he has to throw to on the outside in Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce should help generate downfield plays. Then, of course, reigning rushing champion Jonathan Taylor is still around. The AFC South's balance of power could be changing very soon.
16. Carolina Panthers (Pre-Camp: 22)
One of the premier defenses in the league returns Jaycee Horn to the secondary after he played only three games as a rookie. Carolina has a ton of speed and versatility on its front seven. The o-line was a clear weakness a year ago and has been upgraded at almost every position. Speaking of upgrades, Baker Mayfield gives the Panthers a far better chance to win than anyone who started for them in 2021. Combine all that with a full-go Christian McCaffrey, and Carolina should be aiming for the playoffs.
15. Tennessee Titans (Pre-Camp: 17)
On the heels of six consecutive winning seasons, capped by a No. 1 seed, you won't find many on the Titans bandwagon. Somehow, Mike Vrabel and his staff keep getting a lot out of what many perceive to be a pedestrian roster. The egg Tennessee laid in the playoffs against Cincinnati provides plenty of motivational fuel for QB Ryan Tannehill in particular. Then, the Titans went and drafted Malik Willis. I'd expect Tannehill and bruising back Derrick Henry to take it upon themselves to ensure Tennessee doesn't suffer a letdown.
14. Minnesota Vikings (Pre-Camp: 15)
You can't have much worse of an overall vibe or culture as the Vikings had under old-school defensive hardo Mike Zimmer. Bringing someone from the Sean McVay coaching tree in Kevin O'Connell should elevate Minnesota on its own. You can bet Kirk Cousins will be ecstatic not having to cycle through new play-callers every single season from now on. A new voice to lead the defense should help the Vikes improve on that side of the ball, too. It'd be a shock if they weren't pushing hard for a postseason berth, if not the NFC North crown.
13. Denver Broncos (Pre-Camp: 11)
Say what you will about Russell Wilson's corniness or whatever, guy's a hell of a quarterback. If anyone can get the most out of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy out wide, it's Wilson. The Broncos have finally found a solution that's eluded them since Peyton Manning. That alone should boost Denver to at least a winning record, if not the postseason. In one of the most stacked divisions in NFL history, Willson will, in all likelihood, have the Broncos saying, "Why not us?" down the stretch. Or…"Broncos country, let's ride!!"
12. Philadelphia Eagles (Pre-Camp: 10)
The vast majority of football folks seems to discount Jalen Hurts at every turn, yet he seems to keep improving against all odds. Unless Hurts looks really out of his depth in a playoff game like he did against the Bucs, I don't think there's any need for Philly to rush a move off him. Having A.J. Brown as a proven WR1 should do wonders for Hurts' confidence in the passing attack. This Eagles defense should be really good, too, with freakazoid defensive lineman Jordan Davis looming as an X-factor. You're looking at the prohibitive NFC East favorites.
11. Baltimore Ravens (Pre-Camp: 7)
Revenge SZN. It's become the cliche, go-to narrative for the Ravens this offseason — and for good reason. They got ravaged by injuries last season. Still managed an 8-3 start, which at the time had them as the No. 1 seed. Once MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson went down, it was over. Jackson has bulked up noticeably, Isaiah Likely looks like another walking mismatch at tight end, and a much healthier overall roster should have Baltimore right in the thick of the AFC North hunt with Cincinnati.
10. San Francisco 49ers (Pre-Camp: 12)
Trey Lance is going to be a bit of a roller coaster. His inexperience almost guarantees that. By midseason, Lance should be settled in, have a firm grasp on the starting job over Jimmy Garoppolo and more command over the offense. Increasing his margin for error are an incredible supporting cast of skill position players, a top-flight defense and Lance's unique rushing ability. Let's see the kid play a decent sample size before jumping to conclusions, shall we?
9. Miami Dolphins (Pre-Camp: 20)
May seem ridiculous to have Miami this high. Think about it. All the speed on this offense with receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, plus Raheem Mostert. I've been a big believer in Mike McDaniel ever since he took the job. The Dolphins' defense is mostly intact and has the same system as they did under Brian Flores. They just went 9-8 with a much worse offensive scheme and no pass protection for Tua Tagovailoa. Enhancements there could easily lead to a double-digit win total.
8. Las Vegas Raiders (Pre-Camp: 9)
An elite processor like Derek Carr, operating a legendary, precision-based short passing game with Josh McDaniels calling the shots. Las Vegas has an absurd embarrassment of riches between Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller as Carr's primary targets. With Chandler Jones now on the edge opposite Maxx Crosby, that Raiders pass rush will really get after it. As long as Carr holds up his end of the bargain, the Raiders can put opponents in obvious passing situations for Jones and Crosby to tee off.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (Pre-Camp: 8)
Bolts coach Brandon Staley should have a better feel for his perhaps-too-risky game management tactics from yesteryear. Staley's defense should see immense improvement with all the high-profile offseason acquisitions, led by cornerback J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack. Oh by the way, Justin Herbert will be out to prove a little something. As the most prolifically productive QB ever over his first two seasons, you can bet Herbert is fired up to break the Chargers into the playoff party.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (Pre-Camp: 5)
Tyreek Hill's departure led many to assume the Chiefs would take a step back. Um, Travis Kelce is still around. So is the entire core coaching staff. So is Patrick Mahomes. And with Hill gone, defenses won't have be as easily able to hone in on one receiver to stop, which could open up the next step in Mahomes' evolution. Hard to dismiss a team who's been to four consecutive AFC title games.
5. Green Bay Packers (Pre-Camp: 6)
The Packers have the makings of a special defense. They have a back-to-back MVP leading the offense in Aaron Rodgers. He has two dependable backs he can lean on in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Sure, Rodgers will miss Davante Adams. Any team would. Rodgers seems to make it work with whoever he's playing with, though, and that should continue to be the assumption on how things will play out until there's visual proof that it won't. Green Bay fans should be pumped. This could finally be the year Rodgers gets his second Super Bowl.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pre-Camp: 2)
Chris Godwin's rapid recovery notwithstanding, the Bucs may not want to push him to play Week 1. Honestly though, you could pull somebody out of a Key & Peele wild-ass name lineup and Tom Brady could make it work. Same goes for Tampa Bay's banged-up offensive line group. To stick with the receivers, I'd expect Godwin to have the rust knocked off by midseason. Mike Evans hobbles and limps his way to 1,000 yards receiving every single year in spite of persistent hamstring problems. Russell Gage could rise to a new level playing with TB12. Julio Jones is playing for his career. That No. 1 Tampa run defense should still be intact as well with Vita Vea at nose tackle.
3. Buffalo Bills (Pre-Camp: 3)
Even with 2021's dip in completion percentage during the regular season, Josh Allen strung together two brilliant playoff starts to build on entering the new year. Ken Dorsey takes over as OC for Brian Daboll, and should be more inclined to run the ball than his predecessor. Getting Von Miller gives Buffalo's defense an incredible boost off the edge, which will be needed as its green cornerback corps settles in for the long season.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (Pre-Camp: 4)
A better offensive line. The best wide receiver trio in the sport. Joe Burrow. A defense that really gelled during the postseason and added an excellent first-round talent at safety in Dax Hill, not to mention lots of depth up front. Hard to understand the inevitable consensus of a Bengals letdown coming off that crushing Super Bowl defeat. This group seemed to only be discovering their powers, as opposed to reaching a sudden peak that can be written off as a mere fluke. We'll see.
1. Los Angeles Rams (Pre-Camp: 1)
Still can't put anyone above the defending champs. Allen Robinson is such a massive addition. With Matthew Stafford in Year 2 of Sean McVay's system and Robinson now in the receiving corps with Cooper Kupp, it's hard to imagine how teams are going to even begin defending the Rams' aerial attack. Then yeah, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are still leading the front and back of that Rams D. Oh now they have Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker. Holy shit.
Twitter @MattFitz_gerald…even though I said nice things about your favorite team, you'll still love to hate me