NFL Power Rankings Final Edition: Panthers, Colts Among Big Surprises In 2015

Well. That was weird.

Sports seasons, by nature, are unpredictable, and the NFL might be the best example of that, but no one could have predicted how bizarre the 2015 football season would have been.

The NFL playoffs are upon us, and the fact that there’s really no clear-cut Super Bowl favorite pretty much tells you how wide-open (or, if you’re pessimistic, mediocre) this season has been. It’s made consistently trying to rank NFL teams quite the chore, but someone’s gotta do it.

It only makes sense that as we put the finishing touches on the final NESN.com power rankings of the season, we do so while also looking back at any and all preposterous claims made in the power rankings that preceded Week 1.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the final power rankings of the season.

1. Carolina Panthers (Preseason ranking: 22): We start with with perhaps the biggest misstep of the entire season, which was putting Carolina at 22 before the season. The Panthers were the most consistent team all season, and they did it all without Kelvin Benjamin. Special stuff from Cam Newton and Co.

2. Arizona Cardinals (Preseason ranking: 11): Don’t read too much into the Week 17 blowout loss to Seattle; the Cardinals looked like a team not wanting to tip its hand. Losing Tyrann Mathieu hurts, but Arizona could still make a deep run.

3. Seattle Seahawks (Preseason ranking: 1): Yes, putting the Seahawks here pretty much ignores their Week 16 home loss to St. Louis. However, Seattle regained its swagger in recent weeks, and it knows how to win in the playoffs, especially if Marshawn Lynch is back.

4. New England Patriots (Preseason ranking: 2): They lost four of six entering the playoffs, but I’m not going to be the guy to bet against them in a wide-open AFC. When the chips are down, they’re still the best bet in that conference, especially if Julian Edelman is anywhere near 100 percent. He’ll help cure what ails the Patriots right now on the offensive side of the ball.

5. Denver Broncos (Preseason ranking: 7): This is high for a team that hasn’t publicly declared who will play quarterback in the playoffs, but then again Denver is no stranger to being high. Also, the Broncos somehow were able to wrest the No. 1 seed away from the Patriots, which means the AFC goes through Denver.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (Preseason ranking: 12): I’m wary of picking the Chiefs to win in the playoffs — Andy Reid hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2008 season — but a 10-game winning streak can’t be ignored. Kansas City can run the ball, play good defense and win the turnover battle. That’s a potentially dangerous combination.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (Preseason ranking: 13): The Bengals don’t really do anything great. Their starting quarterback may or may not play in the first round. They’re the Bengals and they’re about to enter the playoffs. Seven might be too high, now that I think of it.

8. Minnesota Vikings (Preseason ranking: 14): The Vikings won their last three games by an average of 20 points, and they’ll have revenge on their minds in a the first round against a Seattle team that beat them by 31 in Week 13. Just gotta make sure Teddy Bridgewater avoids throwing the ball with his left hand.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (Preseason ranking: 9): The “team that no one wants to play” left a lot to be desired in the final couple of weeks and were bailed out by the New York Jets’ incompetence. That said, Pittsburgh’s offense is always a play or two from getting red-hot, which the Steelers could end up needing in the playoffs given their porous defense.

10. Washington Redskins (Preseason ranking: 32): In the words of the great Jim Tomsula, I pulled a Jimbo with my preseason ranking of the ‘Skins, who I called “just a joke of a franchise.” While I still don’t think that’s totally inaccurate, and Washington shouldn’t be bragging about winning the NFC East, the Redskins played good football down the stretch and deserve to be where they’re at.

11. Houston Texans (Preseason ranking: 20): If everything breaks right, the Texans could end up being a real pain in the rear end for teams in the playoffs. They have J.J. Watt, a real game-changer who’s the best defensive player in football. With Brian Hoyer, they’ve got a competent offense. DeAndre Hopkins could go off at any point. They might be a year or two early, but don’t be shocked if the Texans advance and give Denver or New England a game.

12. Green Bay Packers (Preseason ranking: 4): This is generous. The Packers aren’t good anymore. They were good earlier in the season, but they ain’t good now. The offensive line is a mess, the receivers can’t get open, the play-calling is mind-boggling at times and the defense is inconsistent. Oh, and the dirty little secret about the Pack? Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing very well at all.

13. New York Jets (Preseason ranking: 25): Everyone will remember the Jets choking and missing the playoffs. But up until that point, it was a pretty good season, which they can build on moving forward. Getting Brandon Marshall for a fifth-round pick was highway robbery.

14. Buffalo Bills (Preseason ranking: 17): The Bills, at times, showed signs of a team ready to take the next step as a franchise. All too often, though, they shot themselves in the foot. Basically, they were like just about every other Rex Ryan team ever.

15. Oakland Raiders (Preseason ranking: 26): The Raiders are going to be a playoff team next season. Put it in the books.

16. Indianapolis Colts (Preseason ranking: 3): The injury bug bit the Colts hard, especially Andrew Luck, but that’s still not enough to explain away how badly the Colts underachieved in a pretty awful division.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (Preseason ranking: 8): Uh, yeah, so about the Chip Kelly experiment.

18. Atlanta Falcons (Preseason ranking: 18): Nailed it! This team started strong and showed signs of going in the right direction. Then it all fell apart, and the big question now is whether Matt Ryan is actually any good.

19. St. Louis Rams (Preseason ranking: 23): The Rams get high marks for drafting Todd Gurley, who’s an absolute beast when he’s on the field. But even a talent like Gurley can only take you so far when you’ve got no quarterback.

20. New York Giants (Preseason ranking: 24): They were consistently disappointing the entire season, starting with disastrous clock management to start 2015 and ending with a 1-5 mark in their final six games which featured eight interceptions from Eli Manning.

21. New Orleans Saints (Preseason ranking: 19): Seriously, just blow this thing up before it’s too late. Drew Brees led the league in passing yards, but don’t let that fool you. He’s nearing the end, and that defense is putrid. Start the rebuild ASAP.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Preseason ranking: 30): The Bucs kind of ran out of steam down the stretch, losing their final four. But Jameis Winston showed promise, highlighted by a five-touchdown pass performance in Week 11. If his progression continues, and they augment the defense in the offseason, they could be a darkhorse contender in 2016.

23. Detroit Lions (Preseason ranking: 16): The Lions were 1-7 after they got rolled in London in Week 8 by the Chiefs. They then actually won six of their final seven, which is actually pretty impressive, unless you were a Lions fan hoping for a high draft pick.

24. Chicago Bears (Preseason ranking: 28): When beating an underachieving Packers team is the sole highlight of your season, you’re the 2015 Chicago Bears.

25. Miami Dolphins (Preseason ranking: 10): I said in September that Ryan Tannehill “looks poised to become the NFL’s next great quarterback.” And I get paid for this!

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (Preseason ranking: 29): The Jags won five games, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was only the second time since 2011 they’ve reached that mark. More important, though, is their offense was 14th in points after finishing 32nd, 32nd, 30th and 28th in the four seasons prior. Gotta fix that defense, though.

27. Baltimore Ravens (Preseason ranking: 6): If the Ravens’ organization as a whole wasn’t so unlikable, you’d almost feel bad for what they went through this season with injury after injury after injury.

28. San Francisco 49ers (Preseason ranking: 27): The 49ers had an offseason from hell; the regular season didn’t go much better.

29. Dallas Cowboys (Preseason ranking: 5): The Cowboys were my preseason pick for the NFC’s Super Bowl representative. That was before Tony Romo and Dez Bryant got hurt. Now, the Cowboys have to think long and hard about a Romo exit plan because he’s not getting any younger and his back, shoulder and everything else that ails him probably aren’t going to get a whole lot better as he gets ready to turn 36 in a few months.

30. San Diego Chargers (Preseason ranking: 15): Injuries and unmet expectations led to a disappointing season for the Chargers, which is a bummer for folks in San Diego, as this team looks ready to bolt for Los Angeles. At least San Diegans don’t have to worry about that perfect weather leaving them.

31. Tennessee Titans (Preseason ranking: 31): It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to say Marcus Mariota is going to be a very good quarterback. But they seriously need to give him some help — and a good head coach wouldn’t hurt, either.

32. Cleveland Browns (Preseason ranking: 21): They’re the Browns. What else is there to say?

Thumbnail photo via Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports Images

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