1. Patriots (0-0): Winning the Super Bowl comes with two benefits: Hosting the game that opens the season (unless the local baseball team has a game and refuses to change it . . . we’re still looking at you, Orioles) and occupying the top spot in the next year’s initial power rankings. Barring an Elway-to-Brister-style change at quarterback, the Super Bowl champ always lands here.
2. Ravens (0-0): Bears fans will be shocked to learn that any team that employs Marc Trestman would be regarded so highly, but the latest example of the NFL’s Peter Principle will do well now that he has fallen one spot below the level of his incompetence.
4. Broncos (0-0): A little less Manning plus a little more defense could be the key to replicating what the team did nearly 20 years ago with a little less Elway and a little more everything else.
5. Seahawks (0-0): Even with two straight years of playing into February, the worst hangover of the Super Bowl era, and a bizarre contract impasse with one of the most important players in the locker room, the Seahawks remain one of the best teams in all of football.
6. Cowboys (0-0): Jerry Jones has said he’d write a huge check to win a Super Bowl. His refusal to write a big check to DeMarco Murray shows that plenty of guys can move the chains at the NFL level.
7. Colts (0-0): Coach Chuck Pagano and G.M. Ryan Grigson need to start treating this year’s marathon like a three-legged race. Otherwise, a two-legged Alabama coach could be trading crimson for the four-leaf clover of a franchise quarterback.
8. Steelers (0-0): With the Steel Curtain becoming tin foil, many see the Steelers taking a step back. But that’s when this franchise usually finds a way to overachieve. Having a great offense doesn’t hurt, either.
9. Bills (0-0): Same defense, better coach, better running back, better receivers, plus a quarterback that can’t be any worse than Kyle Orton gives the Bills an edge entering the season. The challenge will be keeping the new coach and the pre-existing G.M. on the same page.
10. Chiefs (0-0): Written off last year after a disastrous Week One home loss to the Titans (yes, the Titans), the Chiefs nearly turned it around. This year, their talent on both sides of the ball isn’t getting nearly the credit it deserves.
11. Cardinals (0-0): The more things change, the more coach Bruce Arians keeps things on the right track. His toughest test comes this year, with a new defensive coordinator, a quarterback who holds the ball just long enough to get himself injured, and an unsettled running game.
12. Bengals (0-0): How many years can a team go to the postseason without winning a game there? There’s a good chance that the limit is four.
13: Texans (0-0): This feels like a team that will remain on the fringes of the postseason until it finds a long-term replacement for Arian Foster and a year-in, year-out answer at quarterback.
14. Eagles (0-0): The defense is better than advertised, the offense is full of question marks. This season, Chip Kelly will either cement his genius or be exposed as a fraud.
15. Vikings (0-0): On paper, this Vikings should be a lot better than they were last year. Now they have to prove it. At a time when many presume they will, there’s still a chance they won’t.
17. Lions (0-0): They can say they won’t miss Ndamukong Suh because what other choice do they have? With solid Packers and Vikings teams and a strong out-of-division schedule, the chances of two straight playoff berths aren’t great.
18. Chargers (0-0): Teams that could be moving claim they aren’t distracted. They are. And when it’s time to summon that extra something to win key games that will become the difference between playing in January or packing the bags for L.A., the unsettled issues regarding the team’s home in 2016 could become a ball and chain.
19. Panthers (0-0): Last year, coaching overcame a so-so roster. It wasn’t good enough to get to 8-8, but it was good enough to get to the playoffs and win a game there. This year, it feels like the rest of the division is on the verge of catching up.
20. Saints (0-0): Of all the offseason experiments, none was as significant as giving up on Jimmy Graham in the hopes of pumping up a paltry defense. The ability of coach Sean Payton and G.M. Mickey Loomis to stay on the same page despite more than a few roster misfires is a strong example for all other NFL teams, and their partnership could produce another playoff berth against competitors whose top two non-playing employees are more concerned about pointing fingers than solving problems.
21. Rams (0-0): The pieces seem to be in place for a playoff run. Will the looming run to L.A. derail it?
22. Falcons (0-0): Two straight horrible seasons after a half-decade of above-.500 performances makes their placement entering the season deserved. But with a franchise quarterback, a great receiver, and a defensive-minded coach with experience in a gold-standard franchise, the Falcons could climb the ladder, quickly.
23. Giants (0-0): The team’s refusal to spend significant cash on good players has caught up with the roster, leaving only a sprinkling of greatness and not nearly enough help for Eli Manning. The offensive line and defensive line — key components of both Super Bowl runs under Manning and coach Tom Coughlin — aren’t anywhere close to what they used to be.
24. Browns (0-0): Every time it seems like the Browns are ready to emerge from 16 years of dysfunction, something happens to pull them back into the quicksand. At least the new uniforms look good.
25. 49ers (0-0): Has an elite team ever fallen so far, so quickly? Then again, has any team ever undergone so much turnover and turmoil in one offseason? Anything better than 6-10 should make Jim Tomsula a candidate for coach of the year.
26. Raiders (0-0): Last year at this time, I said that the Raiders were the only team in the NFL that had no chance at making it to the playoffs. This year, they at least have a chance. Especially if Khalil Mack and Derek Carr continue to improve in their second seasons.
27. Jets (0-0): The clouds could be parting soon. At some point, they have to. For now, suspensions and sucker punches and a lingering sense of malaise will make it hard to compete with the Patriots, Bills, and Dolphins.
28. Jaguars (0-0): G.M. Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley continue to dig out of the mess that was left for them. The only question is whether the owner will give them the time they need to get there.
29. Bears (0-0): The blunders of Phil Emery, who tied the team to Jay Cutler for at least 2015 and maybe 2016, can’t easily be erased. While new coach John Fox has done plenty with lesser quarterbacks, the transition to a 3-4 defense and real questions about the quality of the offense and the ability of former Bronco offensive coordinator Adam Gase to do the job without Peyton Manning to run the show keeps this team low, for now.
30. Titans (0-0): They made the smart move in drafting a guy who can become the face of a franchise that had become irrelevant nationally. Now they need to use him the right way. Otherwise, someone like Chip Kelly could be the guy using Marcus Mariota the right way as coach of the Titans in 2016.
31. Buccaneers (0-0): They earned the ability to get Jameis Winston by being the worst team in football a year ago. They could be a lot better than that this year (especially with an actual offensive coordinator) but it’s going to take time.
32. Washington (0-0): Glass half full outlook? Securing the first overall pick will eliminate all temptation to trade up for the next potential franchise quarterback.