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The official PFT preseason power rankings landing page

The PFT preseason power rankings are entering the home stretch. Before seeing how it ends, why not go back to the beginning and review the full list?

Teams No. 8 through 32 appear below. Below that, your comments about where we’re right, where we’re wrong, plus whatever else didn’t get deleted due to the presence of locker room talk.

But don’t pop off without doing your homework; click the links to the ones you may disagree with before articulating your disagreement. And, yes, I’m simply saying that to generate clicks.

8. Kansas City Chiefs.

9. New York Giants.

10. Tennessee Titans.

11. Miami Dolphins.

12. Denver Broncos.

13. Houston Texans.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

15. Detroit Lions.

16. Baltimore Ravens.

17. Carolina Panthers.

18. Philadelphia Eagles.

19. New Orleans Saints.

20. Minnesota Vikings.

21. Cincinnati Bengals.

22. Arizona Cardinals.

23.  Buffalo Bills.

24.  Los Angeles Chargers.

25. Washington.

26. Indianapolis Colts.

27. Los Angeles Rams.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars.

29. San Francisco 49ers.

30. Chicago Bears.

31. Cleveland Browns.

32. New York Jets.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 8: Kansas City Chiefs

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While the Chiefs may not be knocking on the door of the Super Bowl, they’ve been loitering on the porch. For 2017, the question is whether they’re deliberately taking a few steps down toward the sidewalk in order to getting a running start that will knock it down.

In three of coach Andy Reid’s four seasons with the team, the Chiefs have made it to the postseason. But a bye in 2016, their first first-round bye since 2003, led to the same outcome as each of the other three times they skipped wild card weekend and hosted a game in the round of eight: The Chiefs lost.

They last made it to the AFC title game in 1993, and most perceive a gap between Kansas City and Oakland even though Kansas City, not Oakland, most recently won the AFC West. Contributing to the confusion regarding the Chiefs was the curious decision to invest two first-round pick in a work-in-progress quarterback when Alex Smith still has gas in the tank. The move became an obvious admission that they believe Alex Smith is a guy who can keep them on the porch, but not much more than that.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason that didn’t feature much in the way of veteran player acquisition or departure, the effort by the franchise to get a franchise quarterback stands out — if they’re right about Patrick Mahomes. For now, it’s a coin-flip proposition at best, especially with Mahomes making the difficult transition from the college spread to Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. Given that the league has three types of teams — teams with franchise quarterbacks, teams trying to find franchise quarterbacks, and teams who aren’t quite sure whether their quarterback is a franchise quarterback — the Chiefs have decided after four years with Alex Smith that he isn’t. While the move may not bear much fruit in 2016, it sets the stage for filling the void that will emerge in the conference if Tom Brady is in the final year or two of his career.

Biggest negative change: The sudden, abrupt decision to dump receiver Jeremy Maclin surprised many and reinforced the idea that the Chiefs are focused more on developing for the future than pushing their chips to the middle of the table right now. And while Reid knows Maclin well enough to know when to get out from under an eight-figure salary, the fact that the Chiefs didn’t try to get him to take less and stick around means that they simply wanted to clear him off the roster so that younger guys can get the reps. If the younger guys can’t get it done, however, that won’t help the Chiefs get to the divisional round again, and it definitely won’t help them get past it.

Coaching thermometer: By getting an extension on the same day G.M. John Dorsey got a pink slip, Reid has as much security as any coach in football. And with Brett Veach replacing Dorsey, many believe Reid will now have even more influence over the roster. So if the Chiefs are indeed taking a step or two back in an effort to eventually take a step up, chances are that Reid will be there every step of the way.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Eric Berry. He overcame cancer and has returned as good as ever, becoming the heart and soul of the team and finally getting a contract that reflects it. What does he really think about undermining Smith and eventually replacing him with Mahomes? What does the think about the way Maclin’s exit was handled? Does he truly believe that the team is moving in the right direction, and that the team can put together a championship-caliber offense before the window closes on a quality defense?

How they can prove us wrong: If they decide to throw Mahomes into the fray as a rookie in the hopes of having the game slow down for him sooner than later, the Chiefs could quickly become not a top-10 team. Likewise, the apparent plan to thrust 2016 rookie phenom Tyreek Hill (who averaged only 5.3 touches from scrimmage per game last year) into a bigger role will mean more opportunities to take more of the hits that are more likely to lead to an injury.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 9: New York Giants

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The Giants got back to the playoffs last season and their defensive turnaround was the biggest reason for their return.

They signed defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins and saw those players team with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive player of the year candidate Landon Collins to form their steeliest defense in years.

All of those players are back after Pierre-Paul signed a new deal with the team this offseason and Collins may be poised for another move up the ladder of best safeties in the league, which provides a strong foundation for the Giants’ chances of making it two postseason appearances in a row.

Whether they get there or not will have a lot to do with the other side of the ball.

Biggest positive change: After years of being the best part of the team, the Giants offense slipped behind the defense last season. In order to remedy that, the team released Victor Cruz and signed Brandon Marshall after the veteran was dismissed by the Jets.

Marshall gives Eli Manning a big target across from Odell Beckham, something that’s been missing in recent years and something that should come in handy in the red zone. They also used a first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, who has the potential to improve another weak spot although it has taken many tight ends more than one year to find their footing at the professional level.

Biggest negative change: The most notable departure from last year’s team was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who left for the Colts and opens up a spot next to Damon Harrison on the Giants’ defensive line. They’ll need to find the right answer there, but the overall strength of the defense makes it easier to live with Hankins’ exit.

The most negative change, then, was the shift from the urgency the Giants showed in fixing the defense last year to the passive approach that the team took to their offensive line. Prices were high in free agency and the draft was short on sure things, but signing D.J. Fluker feels like an unlikely way to turn one of last year’s biggest weaknesses into a strength.

Coaching thermometer: The Giants have generally been resistant to making coaching changes and, unless they are sticklers for fashion and hairstyle choices, there was little about Ben McAdoo’s first season in the top job suggests that will be changing. He returned the team to the playoffs for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 2011 season and his history as an offensive coordinator gives reason to believe he’ll find a way to elicit better results from that unit.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Odell Beckham. Beckham’s been under a microscope for most of the last two seasons thanks to on-field productivity, emotional outbursts, absence from offseason work, upcoming contract extension, boat trips before playoff losses and other things of varying importance. Getting his view on all of that might take more than one beer, so we’ll go ahead and bring a whole case.

How they can prove us wrong: If the Giants rise higher, it will almost certainly be because their patience with the offensive line pays off with improvement across the board on that side of the ball. On the other hand, lack of improvement from that group could stifle any hopes of a rebound in the run game and mitigate any advantages they may have gained by adding Marshall. That would leave the Giants putting the same pressure on their defense while navigating a schedule short on soft patches.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 10: Tennessee Titans

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The Titans lost both their quarterback and their playoff chances on Christmas Eve when Marcus Mariota went down with a broken ankle.

The fact they were that close underscores how solidly they’re built, and how close they are to making their turnaround real.

After solidifying both lines (their offensive line doesn’t get the publicity of others, but is among the best in the league starting with tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin), this offseason was spent adding skill position talent for Mariota.

While they might have surprised some by taking wide receiver Corey Davis fifth overall, they think he can be the kind of lead dog that group needs. Third-rounder Taywan Taylor also has some promise for a group that’s suddenly deep. Being able to pick up a solid veteran like Eric Decker late in the offseason was a gift, and should help Mariota balance things out offensively.

They’re not a particularly flashy team, such that a Mike Mularkey-coached team ever would be. But they’re nothing if not stable, and suddenly making people realize it.

Biggest positive change: The Titans were forced into too many shootouts last year, primarily because they were 30th in the league in pass defense.
So they made it a priority to add to the secondary, spending heavily on cornerback Logan Ryan and bringing safety Johnathan Cyprien in in free agency, and then using their second first-rounder on cornerback Adoree Jackson, who was one of the best athletes in this year’s draft.

They needed to make big changes there, and if they work out, it’s going to be harder to find weaknesses.

Biggest negative change: It’s hard to find one. Sure, they lost veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

If anything, they’ve lost the ability to surprise people, as they’re suddenly a trendy pick and getting more attention than they have in years.

Coaching thermometer: It ought to be absolutely frozen.

Mularkey might not inspire deep feelings among the fanbase, but his old-school methods have stabilized things there and are working.

Whether it works long-term remains to be seen, as his reputation with players is of a guy who can wear guys out (physically and mentally). But at the moment, it’s hard to argue with the job he’s done.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Mariota has everything you’d want in an NFL star quarterback except perhaps personality. It would be curious to know if there’s one lurking deep inside there.

Not every quarterback has to be Brett Favre (on or off the field), and perhaps his stoic demeanor is a thing to be applauded in an age where everything is hype.

How they can prove us wrong: If the grind of being a physical team wears on them more than their opponents, they could easily fade.

The AFC South, long a punchline, is deeper and more talented than it’s been, so it’s actually going to take some work to win the division this year. But if the secondary improves, if Davis fulfills his promise, and Mariota gets used to having more to work with, the Titans could become a threat for years to come.

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San Diego always will hold special place in LaDainian Tomlinson’s heart

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LaDainian Tomlinson played nine seasons for the Chargers in San Diego. He now works for the Los Angeles Chargers as a special assistant to owner Dean Spanos.

Tomlinson insists he feels no conflict. He said he always will have a special place in his heart for San Diego, while trying to promote the team in Los Angeles.

“I’m going in[to the Hall of Fame] as a San Diego Charger, because that’s actually where I played,” Tomlinson said on a Pro Football Hall of Fame conference call. “I recognize that you cannot erase the history of 56 years in San Diego. I do recognize that. However, I do realize that I do work for Dean Spanos and the L.A. Chargers. There’s no conflict there. I know who I played for, but now in my retirement, I work for the L.A. Chargers, who, in my mind, they’re the Chargers. To me, it’s always been about the lightning bolt, and that’s my thoughts about a conflict and what not.”

Tomlinson earned first-ballot induction into the Hall, rushing for 13,684 yards and 145 touchdowns with most of those (12,490 yards, 138 touchdowns) coming in San Diego before closing out his career with the Jets.

Tomlinson said planning for Hall of Fame weekend, which includes a private party for each inductee, has kept him busy.

“What’s been surprising is how similar it is to planning a wedding,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like I’m getting married again. That’s actually what the process has been like.”

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Terrell Davis grateful Hall selectors didn’t hold short career against him

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Terrell Davis played only seven seasons. Kenny Easley played only seven seasons.

Both endured long waits for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after their careers ended prematurely because of injury. But both finally were rewarded for what they did in seven seasons. Easley enters the Hall of Fame after making 32 career interceptions and earning defensive player of the year honors in 1984. Davis enters after rushing for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns in the regular season and He another 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight playoff games. He earned league MVP honors once, offensive player of the year honors twice and Super Bowl MVP honors once.

“I think really you can kind of throw Kurt Warner in the mix a little bit as well,” Davis said on a Pro Football Hall of Fame press conference Thursday. “His position is unique. . . .Yeah, I think that’s one thing that shouldn’t really evaluated when you talk about players making it to the Hall of Fame is the length of their career. I think what I was pleased with this year was to see Kenny Easley go in and to see myself go in. To be two guys whose careers weren’t as long as a lot of guys that we’re going to be standing next to. I think the selection committee, they’re looking at impact alone and saying, ‘Hey, when this guy was healthy, when he was playing, what did he do?’ I think that’s really the only criteria is just evaluating somebody for the work that they’ve done and not something they thought, ‘Was it long enough?’ Well, I think seven, eight years is a pretty long time to play in the National Football League.”

Davis mentioned receiver Sterling Sharpe as a player whom selectors have overlooked because of Sharpe’s short career. Sharpe played seven seasons but had five 1,000-yard seasons. He led the NFL in catches three times, in yards once and in touchdowns twice.

“Certainly, Sterling Sharpe’s name should be mentioned with the Hall of Fame, and a lot of people believe before Sterling got hurt — if he didn’t get hurt, this man would have been probably one of the greatest wide receivers to have played the game, and I agree with that,” Davis said. “I’m always going to root for the guys whose careers are probably taking a knock because they didn’t play long enough, because I know how that feels. But I think things are changing, and I think mentality and the attitude toward the longevity is starting to shift a little bit and I’m happy to see that.”

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 11: Miami Dolphins

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Five weeks into the 2016 season, it looked like the change to Adam Gase at head coach wouldn’t do anything to change the franchise’s fortunes.

They were 1-4 and a competent kicking performance from the Browns in Week Three would have had the Dolphins looking up at the rest of the league with an 0-5 record. The offense was floundering, the defense wasn’t stout enough and there was little joy in South Florida.

The next 11 weeks went a lot better. Jay Ajayi, who was left at home in Week One in a coach’s decision, ran for 204 yards and the defense stifled the Steelers in a 30-15 win that touched off a 9-1 run that lifted the Dolphins into the postseason for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury helped ensure the Dolphins’ stay in the playoffs was a short one, but the final result of the year was unquestionably positive.

Tannehill is healthy again, the other key offensive pieces remain in place and there’s reason to believe the defense will be better, all of which adds up to optimism about the direction the Dolphins are headed.

Biggest positive change: The Dolphins were outscored by 17 points overall last season, which didn’t stop coordinator Vance Joseph from landing a head coaching job but made it little surprise that defense was a primary focus this offseason.

They used five of their seven picks on defenders and picked up linebacker Lawrence Timmons, defensive end William Hayes, safety Nate Allen and safety T.J. McDonald as veteran additions. They also get safety Reshad Jones back after last year’s season-ending rotator cuff injury, so there’s reason to hope the results will be better under new coordinator Matt Burke.

Biggest negative change: There’s no one transaction or development to point to as the Dolphins held onto Jones and wide receiver Kenny Stills while left tackle Branden Albert was traded to make room for Laremy Tunsil. That leaves us with the biggest potential negative change and it could be the turn of the calendar.

The Dolphins went 8-2 in one-score games last season and the wins that followed the Week Six win over the Steelers came against many of the weaker teams that the league had to offer in 2016. Teams like the Raiders, Falcons and Chiefs are on this year’s schedule after the Rams and 49ers appeared on last year’s slate, which may set the stage for a regression even if the execution isn’t markedly different.

Coaching thermometer: As cool as a seat can get in the Miami summer. Not only did Gase take the team from 6-10 to 10-6 and into the playoffs, he also saw several moves pay off in a major way. Benching Ajayi at the start of the season looked smart while he was running for 1,272 yards in the next 15 games and his strong show of faith in Tannehill was rewarded with the quarterback’s best season.

Even missteps like shuffling Cameron Wake to a situational role wound up with a positive as Gase was able to admit he was wrong and change directions. That flexibility is important and one of many signs that the Dolphins found the right guy in Gase.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Jarvis Landry. Landry made the boldest statement of the Dolphins offseason when he said they’ll beat the Patriots twice in 2017. We’d like to follow up on that and hear about his desire for a new contract after catching 288 passes in his first three seasons.

How they can prove us wrong: Landry is probably going to have to be right about the results of those games with the Patriots for this ranking to be ridiculously low come the end of the year.

It could look too high if Center Mike Pouncey’s ongoing hip issues lead to more missed time and more shuffling on an offensive line that hasn’t been good enough, Ajayi can’t find the heights of his three games of more than 200 rushing yards and the defensive changes don’t lead to better results with cornerback looming as a potential trouble spot again this year.

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Year-to-year approach may become a trend for star players

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Before NFL players would ever  miss game checks during a work stoppage, they need to show a willingness to drive a hard bargain in other ways. Here’s one way they now can, thanks to the examples set by (of all people) Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

Star players who attract the franchise tag may now be inclined to refuse to sign long-term deals and to play on a year-to-year basis. One source with extensive experience negotiating player contracts firmly believes that this will become the trend.

If it happens, here are a few names to watch in the near term: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack, and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Consider Stafford’s situation. With a cap number of $22 million in 2017, Stafford would be eligible for a franchise tag of $26.4 million in 2018. By rule, that would move to $31.68 million in 2019 and then to $45.6 million in 2020.

That’s a three-year haul of $103.68 million.

And what’s the risk for Stafford to go one year at a time? He’ll get $16.5 million this year in salary, pushing his eight-year haul to $125 million. Unlike Cousins and Johnson, Stafford has the money to let it ride; if he suffers a career-ending injury or suddenly loses his ability to play at a high level, he’s already set, multiple lifetimes over.

Though Mack and Donald have far less in the bank (and a far greater risk of injury), a year-to-year arrangement makes sense for them, too.

For Mack, who isn’t getting a new deal this year and thus will make less than $3 million, he can pocket $13.846 million under his fifth-year option and then do the year-to-year tag dance in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Ditto for Donald, who would make $1.8 million this year and $6.892 million next year before going year-to-year under the tag.

For all three guys, the question becomes whether they’d trade the year-to-year haul for a long-term deal that has two years of fully guaranteed money before becoming a one-way street that the team exclusively controls.

Consider the record-setting (not really) contract signed by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. He traded roughly $1 million in salary this year and the franchise tag next year for $25 million in cash flow in 2017, another $22.25 million in 2018 and then, essentially, a year-to-year option held by the team.

Consider what Carr gave up. If he’d been willing to keep his salary at $1 million in 2017, he would have been eligible for $22 million (maybe more) in 2018 under the tag, a 20-percent bump (at least $26 million) in 2019, and a 44-percent increase over that ($38 million, minimum) in 2020.

That’s at least $86 million over three years, estimated conservatively. Under his current deal, Carr will make $86.5 million over the next four years, with no fully-guaranteed money at signing beyond the first $40 million.

It’s hard to call the richest contract ever (not really) a bad deal, but it’s actually kind of a bad deal in light of the alternative. If Carr had gone year to year, he’d have more money over the next four years than he’ll have — and he wouldn’t have been tied to the team for two more years at an average of $19.7 million, which will come at a time when the market for franchise quarterbacks could be well north of $30 million per year.

Maybe Carr crunched the numbers and consciously chose to take a long-term deal that is less advantageous than going year to year. Maybe the injury guarantee for 2019 influenced him, given the broken leg he suffered last last year. Regardless, it’s reasonable to say he would have been better off going year to year.

And it’s definitely reasonable to assume that more star players will seriously consider it — and that some of them will do it.

All of them, frankly, should.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 12: Denver Broncos

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The Broncos lost their quarterback after the 2015 Super Bowl season. They lost their coach after last season. Coach Gary Kubiak retired with health issues a year after Peyton Manning retired.

General Manager John Elway hired Vance Joseph as head coach, with Joe Woods taking over the defense from Wade Phillips and Mike McCoy returning as offensive coordinator. The offense, which finished 27th in total offense and had the fourth-most three-and-outs, will look different with more shotgun, more power schemes and more motion, among other changes. The quarterback could change, too, with Paxton Lynch competing with Trevor Siemian for the starting job.

Whether it’s Lynch or Siemian, an improved running game should help. The Broncos signed Jamaal Charles; C.J. Anderson returns from a torn meniscus; and Denver drafted De’Angelo Henderson. They also sought to fix their offensive line, with a new position coach and three key additions.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed in Denver is the defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest points last season in keeping the Broncos competitive. Von Miller, Shane Ray, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, among others, are back. They have put an emphasis on improving their run defense after ranking 28th last season.

The defense will keep the Broncos in the hunt this season, but it all depends on the quarterback play.

Biggest positive change: The Broncos offensive line needed an overhaul after last season, and it got it. Vance Joseph hired Jeff Davidson as the position coach, and he expects to use more power blocking. The Broncos committed $24.15 million in guarantees to former Cowboys guard Ron Leary and former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson. They drafted Garett Bolles in the first round to play left tackle.

Biggest negative change: Under coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos ranked fourth in total defense and fourth in points allowed last season and first in total defense and fourth in yards allowed in 2015. Phillips left for the Rams, earning secondary coach Joe Woods a promotion. Yes, the Broncos had their issues against the run, ranking 28th, and in first-drive points, allowing 55, but General Manager John Elway said the team’s No. 1 priority was to “stay great” on defense. It is Woods’ job to keep them there.

Coaching thermometer: Vance Joseph will get a honeymoon. It might not last long seeing that the Broncos won a Super Bowl so recently, but Joseph will get time. Joseph, who was the Dolphins defensive coordinator last season, is preaching toughness and the players bought in during the offseason.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Von Miller. He’s one of the NFL’s good guys aside from, you know, wanting to kill quarterbacks. He’s got personality and a smile to match, which is why he became a face of the league after earning Super Bowl 50 MVP honors.

How they can prove us wrong: The defense figures out how to stop the run again. To that end, they got bigger in free agency, adding Domata Peko (325 pounds) and Zach Kerr (334 pounds). Rushing the passer, with Von Miller and Shane Ray, and defending the pass, with Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, remain strengths. The Broncos defense is going to keep them in games and keep them as contenders in the AFC West. How much improvement the offense shows will determine just how good the Broncos are.

The offensive line and running back positions appear improved on paper, and the Broncos still have dangerous receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Mike McCoy’s return as coordinator will help. The question remains at quarterback where Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch take their battle into training camp.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 13: Houston Texans

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Bill O’Brien’s Texans have been nothing if not consistent: 9-7, 9-7, 9-7. The Texans made the playoffs the past two seasons, going 1-2 in the postseason. That despite starting eight different quarterbacks in three years.

The constant turnover at quarterback hasn’t stopped the Texans from competing in the AFC South, but it has prevented them from contending for more. That’s why the Texans drafted Deshaun Watson in the first round, though it remains to be seen whether Watson will help them this season.

The Texans ranked first in total defense last season despite not having J.J. Watt for most of the year. If Watt returns to form after two back surgeries last year, the Texans rank among the best pass-rushing teams in the league with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
But the NFL is a quarterback league, so how Tom Savage and/or Watson perform will determine just how far the Texans go.

Biggest positive change: This time last year, the Texans were excited about the offseason signing of quarterback Brock Osweiler. A year later, it’s good riddance. The Texans cut their losses with Osweiler, essentially paying for the Browns to take him off their hands. Houston gave up a second-round pick in 2018 and swapped choices in 2017, getting a fourth-round pick and giving up a sixth-rounder. Osweiler’s departure saved the Texans $16 million in cash and $10 million in salary-cap space. The Texans then traded with Cleveland on draft day, giving up the 25th overall pick as well as their first-rounder in 2018 to get Deshaun Watson. In their first 15 seasons, the Texans started 15 quarterbacks while desperately seeking a franchise signal caller. They hope Watson finally fills the help wanted ad.

Biggest negative change: The Texans lost two defensive backs in free agency. Houston, which ranked second in pass defense, saw safety Quintin Demps leave for Chicago and cornerback A.J. Bouye bolt for rival Jacksonville. The Texans wanted Bouye back, offering him $12.5 million a season. He got $13.5 million per year from the Jaguars, signing a five-year, $67.5 million deal. Now, the Texans have to replace both, though they are not void of candidates. Kevin Johnson, a first-round pick in 2015, could provide the answer as he returns from injury after missing most of last season.

Coaching thermometer: It’s only lukewarm for Bill O’Brien because the Texans have one of the most patient owners in the NFL in Bob McNair. The only two coaches he has fired were coming off 2-14 seasons. The Texans will win more than two games this season. McNair has said he will talk to O’Brien about an extension after the season as O’Brien, who is 27-21, has a contract that runs through the 2018 season. Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer (26-22) and Washington’s Jay Gruden (21-26-1) were hired the same year as O’Brien, and both have received extensions.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . J.J. Watt. The three-time defensive player of the year is living the good life. He is dating Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai. He attends award shows, appears in commercials, hangs out with Arnold Schwarzenegger and makes charity appearances. How much fun would it be to tag along for a day?

How they can prove us wrong: The Texans are where they were last year and the year before and the year before that. . . Their defense, with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, and a strong running game, with Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, will keep the Texans in the division race. But Houston’s fate ultimately rests with the play of its quarterback(s).

Tom Savage has more injuries than career starts, but he’ll get the first shot at the job. The Texans expect Savage to be more bus driver than gunslinger. With Savage in the final year of his contract, he appears to be keeping the job warm until Deshaun Watson is ready. That could be sooner than later if Savage and the offense play like last season when the Texans finished 29th in total offense, 29th in passing and 31st in red-zone efficiency.

The rest of the division has improved, but the Texans aren’t going to relinquish the throne without a fight. They have won two consecutive AFC South titles and four of the past six. Taking the next step — winning a divisional playoff game for the first time in franchise history — appears much more difficult.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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It’s reasonable for the Buccaneers to think they’re on the cusp of something.

In fact, if the new overtime rules were in place last season, they’d have been a playoff team (since their loss to the Raiders was a tie at the 10-minute mark, and that would have given them the edge over the Lions for the last wild card spot).

They behaved like a team making a push for the top of the division this offseason, giving quarterback Jameis Winston the kind of weapons any quarterback would love.

Now the pressure is on the former No. 1 overall pick to continue piling up big passing yards while cutting into the turnovers (18 interceptions), though that may not be in his nature.

If he can play more efficiently, and if they continue to progress in a few other areas, there’s reason to think they could push the Falcons for the top of the NFC South.

Biggest positive change: It’s not like their offense was bad last year.

But when you add wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard to wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate (who had eight touchdown receptions last year), it gives Winston a lot of options. Both Jackson and Howard have the kind of deep-ball ability that Winston’s strengths play to.

How he uses them will largely determine the fate of the season.

Biggest negative change: Running back Doug Martin still has three games of suspension to serve, but the Buccaneers seem confident he can return to his previous form. That would help, because last year’s form (2.9 yards per carry) was pretty bad. And they didn’t exactly bring in reinforcements, putting their faith in Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers for the start of the season, along with fifth-rounder Jeremy McNichols.

Other than that, the only real loss of note was backup quarterback Mike Glennon, and they knew that one was coming, and covered themselves by bringing in veteran mentor Ryan Fitzpatrick to cover for Ryan Griffin.

Coaching thermometer: As long as Winston keeps the offense moving, it should be cool. Dirk Koetter’s fist qualification for the job was his comfort level with Winston. But he’s growing into the head coaching role, and kept a young team steady after a 1-3 start. Koetter seems to get it, and in a difficult division which continues to stockpile talent, his ability to orchestrate an offense should keep them competitive.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo, primarily because the poor devil could probably use one.

They brought veteran Nick Folk in to compete with him, and Folk’s good enough to win the job on his own merits.

It’s not Aguayo’s fault that General Manager Jason Licht traded up to take him in the second round, creating the expectation that he should never miss. And when he did miss (fairly often, as he was 22-of-31) and his own fans were booing him during practices, it created a kind of self-perpetuating problem for a guy at a confidence position.

How they can prove us wrong: It’s possible that they are neither underrated nor overrated. They could be better defensively, but they have some playmakers there, and they do not appear to be outclassed in that regard by the Falcons and Panthers. If Winston becomes more efficient, they’d be truly dangerous, though there’s reason to wonder if his risk-taking style precludes him ever being careful.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 15: Detroit Lions

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The Lions are coming off a surprise playoff season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a lot of optimism heading into 2017.

In fact, the optimism that abounded in Detroit mostly came to a halt over the end of last season, when the Lions lost their last three regular-season games to back into the playoffs and then got stomped by the Seahawks in the wild card round. Because of that, there’s not much playoff buzz around the Lions this year.

So can the Lions be a surprise playoff team for the second year in a row? Let’s have a look.

Biggest positive change: Detroit’s defense struggled all season, but the Lions think they got a lot better on draft day. First-round linebacker Jarrad Davis should start on Day One, second-round cornerback Teez Tabor will get plenty of playing time as a rookie, and fourth-round linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, fifth-round defensive back Jamal Agnew and sixth-round defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter can all provide depth. Mere regression to the mean suggests the Lions’ defense should be quite a bit better, and the infusion of young talent looks like a real positive.

Biggest negative change: The loss of starting left tackle Taylor Decker for at least the first month of the season, and possibly much more, was a huge blow. The Lions made Decker their first-round pick last year with the thought that he’d protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side for years to come. Now they may have to rely on a castoff like ex-Ram Greg Robinson or ex-Bill Cyrus Kouandjio. On the right side of the line, the Lions think they got better by signing tackle Ricky Wagner and guard T.J. Lang to replace the departed Riley Reiff and Larry Warford. But at least until Decker returns from his shoulder injury, it’s hard to see how the Lions can feel confident in their offensive line this season.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Matthew Stafford, to find out where the quarterback really thinks his future lies. Stafford is heading into the final season of his contract, and so far it doesn’t appear that he and the team are all that close on a new deal. Is Stafford committed to the Lions for the long haul? Or would he like to shop his services to the highest bidder in March?

Coaching thermometer: Jim Caldwell’s seat is a lot hotter than you’d expect for a guy who’s made the playoffs two of his first three seasons. He’s heading into the final season of his contract, and his boss, G.M. Bob Quinn, may want to bring in his own coach if Caldwell can’t get to the playoffs for the third time.

How they could prove us wrong: If the Lions’ offensive line can keep Stafford upright and the young players on defense make an immediate impact, it’s easy to see them being better than we’re expecting. If not, it’s easy to see them being worse.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 16: Baltimore Ravens

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It seems only yesterday the Ravens won the Super Bowl. But that came during the 2012 season. Baltimore has gone only 31-33 the past four seasons with just one postseason appearance.

The Ravens, who had a long run of success under John Harbaugh, have become ordinary.

Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco are under pressure to win and win now, and with as many as 10 new starters, that won’t be easy. The Steelers and Bengals both appear to have better talent, and though the Ravens can compete for a wild-card berth, they will have to find more offensive firepower after ranking 17th in total offense, including 28th in rushing.

Biggest positive change: The Ravens ended last season in desperate need for playmakers, which is why nearly every mock draft predicted they would draft a receiver in the first round. With the top three receivers gone in the first nine picks, the Ravens selected Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round. They ended up using five of seven picks on defense, with two linemen being the only offensive players selected. But Jeremy Maclin fell into their laps when the Chiefs unexpectedly released him. Maclin, a Pro Bowler in 2014, signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens. They needed him as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are the only returning receivers who caught more than 30 passes for Baltimore last season. The Ravens have had success with veteran receivers, getting productive seasons out of Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith, which should help Maclin rebound from last season when he had only 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.

Biggest negative change: The Ravens lost their leading tackler, Zach Orr, when, at the age of 24, he retired because of a congenital spine and neck condition. Orr began seeking a return last month, and as an unrestricted free agent, has visited several teams but has yet to sign. The Ravens, meanwhile, are left with uncertainty at the position. Kamalei Correa appears the top option. A second-round selection last season, Correa started one game and saw action in eight others as a rookie but played only 48 defensive snaps.

Coaching thermometer: John Harbaugh finds himself on a hot seat for the first time as a head coach. Harbaugh, as a Super Bowl-winning coach, won’t have trouble finding another job if this is his last in Baltimore, but both he and the Ravens would love to have reason for him to stay for the long term. Harbaugh, 85-59 in nine seasons and now the longest-tenured coach in team history, is under contract through 2018. Although owner Steve Bisciotti hasn’t placed a “playoffs-or-else” edict on Harbaugh, a playoff berth likely would assure a return.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Eric Weddle. How can you not love this guy? OK, so maybe if you’re on the other side of one of his hits he doesn’t seem so nice. But he is all-in, all the time, arriving at the team’s practice facility before dawn and dog piling a new teammate after an interception during a summer practice. His agent and close friend, David Canter, told the Baltimore Sun that Weddle is “the best human being I’ve ever met in my life. He signs every autograph and poses for every picture. He’s got a group of friends that goes 40 deep, and they’ll all tell you he’s never changed. He’s a man of extreme conviction.”

How they can prove us wrong: The Ravens, as usual, will rely on their defense and their Pro Bowl kicker. After giving up late scoring drives, General Manager Ozzie Newsome addressed the defense in the offseason. The Ravens ranked seventh in total defense and ninth in scoring defense a year, and the additions of Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley and Tim Williams should make them even better. Justin Tucker, the NFL’s all-time most accurate kicker, gives the Ravens great faith in their kicking game. But they need more touchdowns after ranking 21st in scoring. Joe Flacco didn’t have one of his best seasons, with 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and an 83.5 passer rating, but now more than a year away from reconstructive knee surgery, he should be more comfortable. The offense, though, still lacks playmakers with only Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead added to the mix. That will make it difficult on the Ravens to get done what they want to get done this season.

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PFT preseason power ranking No. 17: Carolina Panthers

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For a team with a lot of star power, the Panthers get to enter this season without the burden of expectations which weighed on them after a Super Bowl appearance.

But if things break right for them, they might be more talented than the team that went 15-1 en route to the NFC title.

There’s still plenty of work to do, especially on offense. They’re trying to “evolve” on that side of the ball, because, well, they needed to. With Cam Newton playing slowly and/or hurt last year, it was hard for all those long-developing deep routes to get open (and when they did, Ted Ginn dropped them half the time). So the emphasis this year is on allowing Newton to get the ball out more quickly, and let some fast young kids help him. The hope is that keeping him from feeling compelled to run as often will benefit him from a health and a strategic standpoint as well.

He’s also coming off surgery on his throwing surgery which cost him the entire offseason program and OTAs. So they’re installing (and writing) new chapters of the playbook on the fly in training camp, when we assume Newton will be well.

They’re also going to lean on a defense with several highly paid stars (Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short), some veterans who need to win soon, and some young cornerbacks who showed real promise last year. James Bradberry looked more polished as a rookie than the guy he was replacing (Josh Norman) did at a similar point in his career. And any defense which already included guys such as Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, Charles Johnson, and Kurt Coleman is going to be factor.

Then they added some reinforcements, for what they think is a run at the top.

Biggest positive change: Former General Manager Dave Gettleman went down the grocery list this offseason, filling just about all of the major questions marks from last season. Speed on offense? Check (Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel). Starting-caliber left tackle? Check (Matt Kalil). Veteran pass-rusher? Check (Julius Peppers). Nickel corner? Check (Captain Munnerlyn). Veteran strong safety who can be trusted to allow Kurt Coleman to play deeper? Check (Mike Adams).

Now all of those guys have to play to the level they can. Kalil in particular is going to have to be better than he was the last few years in Minnesota, but they’re hoping he’s healthy now and in a more conducive environment.

Biggest negative change: The Panthers’ bench is nearly as deep as it used to be. And that only has a little bit to do with the roster.
They lost assistant G.M. Brandon Beane and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to the Bills as their G.M./head coach. That’s not an insignificant loss, for an organization which prides itself on stability.

And that’s before they fired Gettleman Monday, leaving them short-handed in personnel at a time of year when decisions have to be made.

They’re also a little picked-over in terms of players. Losing guys like Luke Kuechly-understudy A.J. Klein to the Saints isn’t fatal, but they’re not as well-equipped to handle injuries as they have been in past years. That’s what happens when you build a top-heavy roster.

Coaching thermometer: It’s far from boiling in this pot, as Ron Rivera’s a two-time coach of the year. But you could definitely poach something in it.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson rejected former coach John Fox’s pleas for a lucrative extension in part because he never had back to back winning seasons. Well, Rivera hasn’t either. Their three straight division titles included a backed-in 7-8-1, leaving the franchise still searching for that mythical feat. With Rivera in his seventh season, the clock is ticking, and if they don’t have their traditional bounce-back year he’s not going to be the only one around there on unsteady footing.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Peppers remains one of the most fascinating players of this generation. Blessed with NBA-caliber athleticism, he’s remained a productive sack man throughout his long career, and now ranks fifth on the league’s all-time list. He has never been a big talker, and his first stint in Carolina was marked by his extreme privacy, the result of being a homegrown star and in a bit of a fishbowl. But he’s opened up a bit in time, and has a better perspective on the game (and life) than he’s been willing to show to most people.

How they can prove us wrong: For all the offseason additions, the core issue will be for Newton to play better. Though he was dealing with injuries (to himself and several important others), Newton simply wasn’t very good last year, a big drop-off from his MVP the season before. If he can spread the ball around better, and if his big, plodding receivers (Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess) can get themselves open and catch it when it gets there, if Kalil makes the same kind of jump under this coaching staff that Michael Oher did, and the defense stays healthy, they have a real opportunity to contend for a playoff berth and much more.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 18: Philadelphia Eagles

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At this point last year, the Eagles thought Sam Bradford would be their starting quarterback while Carson Wentz learned about life in the NFL.

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury changed those plans and led to Wentz starting every game in his rookie season. There were the expected ups and downs, but the end result was enough ups for the Eagles to feel like they have their quarterback of the present and future.

As long as everyone is healthy, the offensive line should provide strong support for Wentz and what the Eagles hope will be a better run game. They also have a deep defensive line despite the loss of defensive tackle Bennie Logan as the additions of Chris Long, Timmy Jernigan and first-round pick Derek Barnett ensure the cupboard will be well stocked.

Tight end Zach Ertz, linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Malcolm Jenkins are other players to like in Philly, but Wentz’ development figures to be the lead storyline for the Eagles one way or another.

Biggest positive change: The Eagles were lacking at wide receiver last season and they addressed the issue by signing a pair of veteran free agents. Alshon Jeffery came on a one-year deal as he tries to get past recent injury woes and return to where he was with the Bears a couple of years ago. Torrey Smith’s time with the 49ers was dismal, but he still has the ability to stretch the field and improves Wentz’s options over the corps he was working with last year.

Biggest negative change: No one in Philadelphia is likely to lose too much sleep lamenting the departures of cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, so it may not be a negative change so much as the lack of an immediate positive one at cornerback. The Eagles signed Patrick Robinson and drafted Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones, but Jones may be a redshirt after a pre-draft Achilles tear and it would be a lot to ask Douglas for high achievement in his rookie season.

We’d like to crack a beer with … LeGarrette Blount. Coming off an 18-touchdown season for the Patriots, Blount lingered as a free agent until signing with the Eagles in May and it would be interesting to hear what his conversations with New England were like before they made it clear they were moving in other directions. Blount’s previous departure from New England didn’t go well as his stay with the Steelers didn’t make it a full season, so we’d also be interested to know where things will be different this year.

Coaching thermometer: There’s going to be an expectation of improvement in Philly after going 7-9 with a rookie quarterback in Pederson’s first year, but there will be growing pains in Year Two for Wentz as well and that may not lead to a leap in the standings that makes the Eagles a playoff contender. Barring total catastrophe, that shouldn’t be an ominous outcome for Pederson given how much they’ve overhauled the team since Chip Kelly’s departure.

How they could prove us wrong: We’re around the midpoint of the power rankings, which means the Eagles could prove us wrong with a move in either direction. A shift in the positive direction would likely mean the new faces on offense aid in a jump for Wentz in his second season while more injury trouble for Jeffery and a lack of growth in the secondary would be reasons why the Eagles could fare worse than anticipated. In a strong division, there’s also the chance that the Eagles could be better overall without making much headway in the standings.

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