NFL

New NFL Power Rankings: Preseason predictions gone awry for all 32 teams

Just like most of the populace, the NFL Power Rankings don’t like to admit when we’re wrong. So this week’s topic was a bit tough to bring up, as we asked our NFL Nation writers to pick the one thought they had about their team this preseason that hasn’t played out the way they expected.

These missed predictions run the gamut, from positive to negative to inaccurate thoughts about players, position groups and schemes. Some players have exceeded expectations (how about wide receiver Christian Kirk and, for that matter, the undefeated Arizona Cardinals) and some have not (will Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. ever get right?). We didn’t think the Buffalo Bills‘ defense would be as good as it’s been, we thought the Washington Football Team’s defense would be much better than it has performed, and yes, we thought the Detroit Lions would have a win by now (though to be fair, they’ve been very close multiple times). We’re usually right, but sometimes, you have to admit to some wrong.

How we rank our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Previous ranking: 1

Prediction we missed: WR Christian Kirk‘s production

It’s no secret that DeAndre Hopkins was going to the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense and that A.J. Green would be the second option, but I didn’t expect Kirk to have the type of season he’s having. He is second on the team in receiving yards with 408 — just two ahead of Green — and second in receptions. — Josh Weinfuss

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2:35

Field Yates, Matthew Berry and Daniel Dopp discuss Christian Kirks’ contribution to Arizona’s high-powered offense.


Previous ranking: 4

Prediction we missed: Worrying about the Buccaneers after losing many players to injury

Even with a bunch of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs are 6-1. The secondary was not considered a position of strength or depth going into the season. But the acquisitions of Richard Sherman, Pierre Desir, Dee Delaney and Rashard Robinson have been key. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross told ESPN, “If the group had remained young, and we were replacing young guys with young guys, I would say we could not do [this],” Ross said. “When you’ve got guys like Sherman, when you’ve got guys like Rashard, when you’ve got guys like Pierre — these are veterans. They’ve been through some battles before. They understand how to play and what to do.” — Jenna Laine


Previous ranking: 3

Prediction we missed: The special teams would improve

After a poor showing on special teams in 2020, the Rams demoted coordinator John Bonamego and hired Joe DeCamillis, who arrived with a great reputation for special teams and 33 years of NFL coaching experience. However, through seven weeks the unit has fared no better. The Rams have struggled to determine a consistent a kick and punt returner. In a Week 7 win over the Lions, Detroit recovered an early onside kick and later faked two punts that went for first-down conversions. Rams coach Sean McVay said they weren’t surprised by the Lions’ moves, but did not execute. Either way — whether surprised or an execution problem — it is a massive concern for a Super Bowl-hopeful team. — Lindsey Thiry


Previous ranking: 7

Prediction we missed: Re-signing Aaron Jones is too big of a risk

Even if Jones’ numbers aren’t quite what they were last season, his importance to the offense should not have been underestimated. He is so versatile in the running game and passing game. He already has four touchdown catches — a career high — and has four games with four or more receptions this season. Re-signing him went against the Packers’ history of not paying running backs big money, but so far it has worked out. — Rob Demovsky


Previous ranking: 2

Prediction we missed: The Bills’ defense could take time to get going with a tough early slate

It’s not a surprise that the Bills are having a good season and that this team is among the Super Bowl contenders coming off their bye. Instead, it’s the way this team has won games and dominated most of its opponents. Yes, the loss to a good Titans team was tough, but five of the first six games of the season were against teams in the playoffs last year or in contention. Buffalo came away holding two teams scoreless and outscoring other opponents by wide margins. The Bills have unexpectedly shown how dominant they can be and that this defense can be one of the top units in the league, with an easier stretch of games still to come. — Alaina Getzenberg


Previous ranking: 5

Prediction we missed: Dalton Schultz‘s production

I thought Schultz’s numbers last year — 63 catches, 615 yards, four touchdowns — were more a product of a lost season and not those of an ascending player. This year he is on pace for 88 catches for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns. Whoops. He understands soft spots in coverages. He is better than expected with his run after catch, and he is a serviceable blocker. I thought Blake Jarwin would return to the starter role after coming back from his knee injury, but Schultz has exceeded expectations. That’s good for the Cowboys, and also bad because his price tag as a free agent to-be is going up and up. — Todd Archer


Previous ranking: 11

Prediction we missed: Preseason concerns with WR Ja’Marr Chase

Remember when Chase’s drops created some questions about how the fifth overall pick would fare as a rookie? Well, I’d like not to. Because any reservations about Chase’s play given in the offseason have been blasted to Neptune. Chase is putting up absurd numbers and, along with QB Joe Burrow, has transformed Cincinnati’s offense into something incredibly potent. Chase is second in the NFL in receiving yards, trailing only the Rams’ Cooper Kupp. He has eight receptions of 30 or more yards, the most in the NFL. He is on pace to break the Bengals’ record for most receiving yards in a season (1,440, Chad Johnson, 2007). Sheesh. — Ben Baby


Previous ranking: 6

Prediction we missed: The defense would rank No. 1 in the NFL

The Ravens rank No. 24 in defense and are on pace to allow the most yards in franchise history. The loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters (season-ending knee injury), the regression of middle linebacker Patrick Queen and the awful tackling has taken a toll on this prideful unit. Even cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens’ top defensive player, has struggled. Baltimore became the third team in NFL history to allow three 400-yard passers in its first seven games. The Ravens are looking to regroup during their bye. “We’ve just really got to look at ourselves,” linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “If we focus on communicating and going out and executing, we’ll play football like we know we can.” — Jamison Hensley

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1:47

Stephen A. Smith points to Ryan Tannehill as the reason he’s skeptical of the Titans’ ceiling.


Previous ranking: 10

Prediction we missed: QB Ryan Tannehill‘s slight regression

It seemed like Tannehill had cemented himself as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL after finishing last season with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Adding Julio Jones to the mix was supposed to help elevate the Titans’ passing attack. Tannehill hasn’t had many opportunities to play with a fully healthy tandem of Jones and A.J. Brown because both receivers have been slowed by hamstring injuries. Tannehill already has thrown five interceptions through seven games. His QBR is down to 61.7, which is the lowest it has been since becoming the Titans starter in 2019. Last season Tannehill’s QBR last season was 72.6. — Turron Davenport


Previous ranking: 8

Prediction we missed: The offensive line would struggle with new members

On the contrary, they’ve improved early in the season despite four new starters and injuries. Center Corey Linsley, a free-agent addition from Green Bay, runs the show and first-round rookie Rashawn Slater owns the left side. Free-agent guard Oday Aboushi tore his ACL, but Michael Schofield III has filled in well. After struggling early, Storm Norton has been playing better at right tackle after having to replace injured veteran Bryan Bulaga. Their chemistry continues to get better as they provide more time for QB Justin Herbert than he got a year ago. Linsley says of his connection with Herbert: “His leadership is fantastic.” — Shelley Smith


Previous ranking: 13

Prediction we missed: QB Derek Carr would thrive in his fourth season … with Jon Gruden

Carr was humming along in the Raiders’ 3-0 start before hitting a couple of speed bumps in a two-game losing streak and Gruden’s sudden resignation in the wake of his email controversy. The last two games, though, Carr has been sublime, especially in completing 91.2% (31 of 34) of his passes against the Eagles, the second-best such mark with 30 attempts in NFL history. New playcaller Greg Olson is seemingly giving Carr more freedom to get in and out of plays at the line and Carr is responding. — Paul Gutierrez


Previous ranking: 12

Prediction we missed: QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham Jr. would finally find their chemistry

Injuries have played a major part in why Mayfield and Beckham have yet to find any groove together this season. Mayfield is currently nursing a left shoulder injury, while Beckham sat the first two games returning from last year’s season-ending knee injury. Still, the two are just not in sync, from a wide-open miss from Mayfield in Minnesota to a fourth-down drop by OBJ in Los Angeles. Time is running out on the two to figure it out. — Jake Trotter


Previous ranking: 14

Prediction we missed: The lack of depth at the No. 2 cornerback spot

Rookie third-round draft pick Paulson Adebo hasn’t been perfect, but he has been impressive enough to hold up as the starter all season so far — even though the Saints traded next year’s third-round pick to acquire veteran Bradley Roby from the Houston Texans heading into Week 1. The Saints made no secret about their concern for the team’s cornerback depth behind Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore this offseason. They even tried to trade up nearly 20 spots in Round 1 of the draft to fill the spot (to no avail). But Adebo has stepped up for a defense that has held up extremely well this year despite missing five starters from 2020. — Mike Triplett

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1:02

Ryan Clark calls out Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ woes after their loss to the Titans.


Previous ranking: 9

Prediction we missed: The Chiefs would have a potent pass rush

The Chiefs have just eight sacks and their two highly paid rushers, Chris Jones and Frank Clark, have combined for only two. Entering Sunday’s game against the Titans, the Chiefs were 28th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, getting pressure within 2.5 seconds on just 34% of the snaps. Jones, who is playing more snaps this season from an edge rushing position, appeared poised to challenge his season sack record of 15.5, but that’s not going to happen. — Adam Teicher


Previous ranking: 15

Prediction we missed: Matt Canada’s offense would transform the Steelers

Heralded as an innovative mind in the college game with his misdirection and pre-snap movements, Canada was positioned to mold the offense in his image — while also taking input from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger even said he was doing extra studying during training camp to make sure he nailed all of Canada’s verbiage and concepts. But through six games, the flashes of signature Canada plays — jet sweeps, a robust vertical game and a flurry of pre-snap motion on the goal line — haven’t been regular occurrences. Instead of a complete transformation, Canada’s concepts have been sprinkled in and adapted to fit the quarterback’s preference and ability. — Brooke Pryor


Previous ranking: 22

Prediction we missed: WR T.Y. Hilton would be QB Carson Wentz‘s deep threat

It is hard to be Wentz’s deep threat when you have been consistently injured. That’s been the case with Hilton. He has only played in one of a possible seven games this season because of quad and disc injuries. Hilton, though, did have a 52-yard reception in the one game he played in. — Mike Wells


Previous ranking: 16

Prediction we missed: How quickly Christian Darrisaw would affect the offensive line

The 23rd overall pick missed the entire preseason (groin surgery). So, I didn’t expect his impact to be as significant as it’s been once he supplanted Rashod Hill as the starting left tackle. Darrisaw took on two dominant edge rushers in Brian Burns and Haason Reddick in his first start at Carolina and only allowed one pressure. Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill noted that quarterback Kirk Cousins felt like he didn’t even notice Darrisaw in the game, a sign that the rookie tackle held his own protecting the QB’s blindside. While the sample size is limited (Darrisaw has only played 117 snaps in two games), the Vikings’ pass protection has been noticeably better when he has been in action, which should be a sign of good things to come. — Courtney Cronin


Previous ranking: 21

Prediction we missed: The defense will be the strength of the team

With a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones, the projection was that he would be more of a game manager to complement a defense and special teams that spearhead the club, somewhat similar to the early years of Tom Brady‘s Patriots tenure. But the defense and special teams have been up-and-down, especially in the clutch. The secondary currently looks undermanned, especially after trading recovering CB Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers. — Mike Reiss


Previous ranking: 26

Prediction we missed: WR Calvin Ridley‘s performance

There were a few different answers here (including the semblance of a Falcons’ pass rush), but I really believed Ridley would have a breakout season putting him in conversation with the NFL’s top 10 receivers. Instead, Ridley has just 281 yards receiving and a career-worst 9.1 yards per reception. The Falcons will need Ridley if they are to make a playoff run — at least a better version of the Ridley than they’ve been seeing over the first third of the season. — Michael Rothstein


Previous ranking: 18

Prediction we missed: Brandon Aiyuk‘s breakout season

Through the first couple weeks of training camp, Aiyuk looked poised to become the team’s top wideout and emerge as one of the league’s best young receivers. But Aiyuk suffered a hamstring injury that slowed him late in camp and carried into Week 1, and he still hasn’t had a prominent role in the offense. Through six games, he’s fifth on the team in receptions (9) and receiving yards (96) and has been targeted just 16 times. There’s a breakout receiver on the 49ers but it’s Deebo Samuel, not Aiyuk. — Nick Wagoner


Previous ranking: 20

Prediction we missed: The Broncos’ defense would dominate

The phrase “on paper” is apt for the Broncos’ defense this season, but the preseason plans of a consistently impactful pass rush backed by one of the league’s best secondaries has not been seen nearly enough to bail the offense out. Yes, they do have one of the league’s three shutouts this year — Buffalo has the other two — and they are third in scoring defense. But overall, sacks, takeaways and interceptions have been much harder to come by than expected. And injuries have gutted the depth chart at linebacker (seven players at the position are on injured reserve), so the Broncos defense has been one of the league’s worst on third down (27th). — Jeff Legwold


Previous ranking: 19

Prediction we missed: DE Robert Quinn‘s performance

Coming off a disappointing 2020 season, Quinn, 31, battled back injuries in the offseason program and over the summer. The odds of Quinn having a bounce-back year seemed remote. But the veteran has been the Bears’ best defender through seven games with 5.5 sacks and a handful of tackles for loss. The Bears sorely missed Quinn (reserve/COVID-19 list) in their Week 7 loss at Tampa Bay. — Jeff Dickerson


Previous ranking: 23

Prediction we missed: The Seahawks’ pass rush would excel

The widely held belief going into the season was that the Seahawks’ pass rush would be the strength of their defense. They had Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap II and almost everyone else back from a group that recorded the second-most sacks over the final seven weeks last season. And they had a promising young addition in Darrell Taylor, helping make it the deepest position group on their roster. Taylor has been excellent, but everyone else has underwhelmed. True, the pass rush also started slow last season, but that was partly because Adams missed four games and Dunlap had yet to be acquired. They’ve both played in every game this season, so there’s no obvious answer as to why the Seahawks’ pass rush has underperformed. — Brady Henderson


Previous ranking: 17

Prediction we missed: The offensive line

I really was optimistic that Cameron Erving was the answer at left tackle, and that the Panthers had upgraded enough across the board to handle a few injuries on the line. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The line has been a mess, giving up 21 sacks the last five games. That’s 4.2 sacks a game. Compare that with Sam Darnold‘s three years with the Jets, when the line that gave up 2.5 sacks a game was called a mess. — David Newton


Previous ranking: 24

Prediction we missed: The defensive line would be dominant

Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is about the only player who has matched or exceeded expectations. Brandon Graham got hurt early in the season, and that really impacted the whole operation. Ryan Kerrigan has not looked at all like his old self and continues to see fewer snaps, and Fletcher Cox is clearly not happy with the way he’s being utilized by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Offenses are gashing the Eagles, and that’s due in part to the fact that things are not clicking up front. — Tim McManus


Previous ranking: 25

Prediction we missed: The defense line would be excellent

Oops. Washington ranked second in yards and fourth in points last season and, while it was facing a far more difficult schedule, it also had a young line considered one of the best in the NFL. There was reason to believe the unit would still at least be near the top 10. Instead, it’s last in points allowed and 29th in yards. Washington played a strong game vs. Green Bay and the line has started to look much better. The issues also haven’t just stemmed from facing better quarterbacks; a lack of adherence to details — leading to poor rushes or blown coverage — has undermined the team. — John Keim


Previous ranking: 31

Prediction we missed: The offense would be way more explosive

By default the Giants had to get better and more explosive, right? They added Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Rudolph, John Ross and got back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL. Instead, the Giants are 25th in the NFL, averaging 19.9 points per game, in part because nearly none of these guys have stayed healthy. Rudolph is the only one of the bunch wo hasn’t missed a game, but he’s been disappointing coming off foot surgery. Meanwhile, quarterback Daniel Jones has never had Barkley, Golladay and Toney on the field healthy for more than a few minutes. Hence the lack of explosiveness. — Jordan Raanan


Previous ranking: 27

Prediction we missed: The Dolphins could challenge the Bills in the AFC East

Yikes, this one was rough. After winning 10 games in 2020, Miami expected to be a playoff team in 2021 and with an improved offense and largely the same defense — that didn’t seem far-fetched. But the wheels have fallen off during a difficult stretch, as the Dolphins have lost six games in a row after winning their season opener. Perhaps the most disappointing letdown is the deterioration of what was a top-10 defense last season — it ranks 31st in scoring, yards allowed and third-down play. After losses to the Jaguars and Falcons over the past two weeks, the playoffs are out of the question and Miami must scramble just to climb back to .500. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Previous ranking: 29

Prediction we missed: Josh Allen would thrive as a pass rusher in the 3-4

Allen played outside linebacker in college and was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year with 17 sacks in 2018. But the move from stand-up defensive end (where he played his first two seasons with the Jaguars) to outside linebacker hasn’t resulted in more sacks. Allen has 2.5 sacks through six games, which puts him on pace for seven this season. He had 10.5 sacks in his rookie year, when he played with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, but Allen certainly doesn’t have that kind of help on the other side now. Though Allen is also dropping into coverage more than before, the expectation was that he’d made a bigger impact as a rusher in 2021 and that hasn’t happened. — Mike DiRocco


Previous ranking: 28

Prediction we missed: The Jets would run the ball well enough to take pressure off QB Zach Wilson

A big miss by me, as the Jets are ranked 32nd in rushing offense. My projection was based on the impressive history of their offensive scheme, which seemingly always cranked out strong rushing attacks under Kyle Shanahan. The Jets are proving that schemes don’t matter as much as players. The offensive line, hurt by the loss of LT Mekhi Becton, is struggling in the outside-zone scheme. As a result, no running back has broken a run longer than 17 yards. — Rich Cimini


Previous ranking: 30

Prediction we missed: Even though the Texans would not win many games, they would be competitive

This has not been the case at all in Houston, despite having veteran players make up the majority of the roster. The Texans have been an undisciplined team, making mental mistakes and committing penalties at costly times. Of course, the Texans didn’t expect to start rookie quarterback Davis Mills in Week 3, but since then they haven’t won a game and only one was close. Houston has not scored a touchdown on the road since the fourth quarter of Week 2 and has been outscored 102-8 in its last three road games. — Sarah Barshop


Previous ranking: 32

Prediction we missed: The Lions’ record

Ok, I’ll admit. I was wrong. Although I knew the Lions’ schedule was tough to start the year, and they were in the midst of a rebuild, I predicted them to have at least one victory by now. I took the over in my predictions for Detroit to win more than five games this season, but this team remains winless at 0-7. They’ve laid a complete egg in a few games, but they also could easily have at least two victories by now, barring losses on not one, but two last-second, 50-plus-yard field goals. — Eric Woodyard


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