The most obnoxious birthday party you’ve ever attended is about to begin.
Perhaps you’ve heard, but the NFL turns 100 this year, and it’s going to be a big deal. Like, an annoyingly big deal. You’ll be sick of hearing about it by the time Week 1 has come to an end.
But don’t let that take away from the fact that football has returned and all is right with the world again.
Before we get into that, though, let’s dig into some power rankings as the season begins.
1. New England Patriots: They’re the defending champions, and despite the loss of Rob Gronkowski, they’re probably better this year than they were last year. The potential issues on offense (offensive line, receiver depth) are overshadowed by the defense’s potential to be elite.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: They might not rewrite the offensive record book again this season, but the Chiefs made it a point to upgrade the defense, especially upfront following a season in which their run defense was an Achilles’ heel. Steve Spagnuolo should be an upgrade at defensive coordinator after Bob Sutton’s woeful showing last year.
3. Los Angeles Rams: There might not be a bigger return this season than the Rams getting Cooper Kupp back. They weren’t the same offense after he went down last year, and early returns indicate he’s better than ever entering 2019.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: If you believe Super Bowls are won in the trenches, you have to love the Eagles. Pro Football Focus ranked both Philly’s O-line and pass rush best in the NFL. A fully healthy Carson Wentz should help, too.
5. New Orleans Saints: As long as Drew Brees doesn’t fall off the cliff, the Saints are always going to contend. They feel they have some unfinished business after the NFC Championship Game fiasco.
6. Dallas Cowboys: Even if Ezekiel Elliott’s Mexican holdout continued, the Cowboys would be viewed as a threat. The defense is arguably the best in the NFL, and if Amari Cooper is the same player he was after being traded from Oakland, the Dallas offense will do more than enough for a big season.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Perhaps some addition by subtraction in Pittsburgh? Getting rid of the Antonio Brown sideshow might help, as does the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster is a damn good receiver. If they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly — a big if — the Steelers should contend for a Super Bowl trip.
8. Chicago Bears: The change at defensive coordinator (Chuck Pagano replaces Vic Fangio) will be something to monitor, but even if there’s slight regression, it’s still hard to bet against a unit led by Khalil Mack. And if the defense does slide, the Bears will hope that’s offset by continued evolution for Mitch Trubisky under center.
9. Cleveland Browns: Everyone’s preseason darling, the Browns have one of the most talented rosters in the entire NFL. There are questions about the offensive line, and they’re technically still the Browns, but the Lake Erie optimism is certainly justified this fall.
10. Houston Texans: Bill O’Brien has pushed in all his chips, his mortgage, the deed to his car, his watch, his pets and anything else he can find to win this season. Trading for Laremy Tunsil addresses a glaring need on the offensive line, and that should make Deshaun Watson even better. If they stay healthy, they should run away with the AFC South.
11. Los Angeles Chargers: Lots of talent, even more questions. Melvin Gordon’s holdout is a disaster, Derwin James’ foot might be the biggest injury in the NFL and Russell Okung’s health issues will leave Phil Rivers’ blindside exposed. It’s easy to see this thing going sideways, sure, but it’s almost as easy to see them contending in the division.
12. Seattle Seahawks: The defense is awesome, especially with Jadeveon Clowney anchoring the pass rush now. But it’ll be 2049 and we’ll still be wondering whether the offensive line will cost them another season.
13. Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta should be viewed as a darkhorse NFC contender. The Falcons were killed by injuries last year, but they’ll immediately improve on defense with the returns of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. On offense, Dirk Koetter returns as the OC, and Devonta Freeman is ready to go after he missed all but two games last season.
14. Baltimore Ravens: These aren’t your father’s Ravens. The jury’s out on the defense, as Baltimore was hit hard by free agency. But the Lamar Jackson-led offense has some interesting potential. Greg Roman has had a lot of success with running QBs, and Baltimore improved its skill players by adding Mark Ingram and Seth Roberts.
15. Minnesota Vikings: You just know they’re going to be run-heavy — they averaged 127 rushing yards per game after making a late-season coordinator change — and now they have a healthy Dalvin Cook to pair with Alexander Mattison, a bell-cow back out of Boise State. Oh, and the defense is still really good.
16. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers had a rough season in 2019 — by throwing for 4,442 yards, 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions. New head coach Matt LaFleur should add some much-needed balance, though, and the Packers quietly upgraded their defense in the draft and free agency.
17. Carolina Panthers: They’ll go as far as Cam Newton lets them go. The defense, which added Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin in the offseason, should keep them in most games.
18. San Francisco 49ers: Hard to get a read on, but the Jimmy Garoppolo recovery is the big storyline. They’re probably still a year away, but if he’s as good as he’s flashed, they’ll do some damage.
19. New York Jets: Lots of talent on the defense, headlined by Jamal Adams (who is awesome) and first-round pick Quinnen Williams. They also went out and got Johnathan Mosely on defense. But what will Adam Gase do for that offense? Is Le’Veon Bell still a star? Will Sam Darnold progress? If all those things break right, the Jets will be back in the playoffs, folks.
20. Denver Broncos: Fangio’s an old-school coach in a new-school world, but he’ll make an already-stellar defense fantastic. The offense, however, is yucky.
21. Tennessee Titans: We’ve reached the AFC South portion of our program. It might be time for Marcus Mariota to you-know-what or get off the pot, but it’s hard not to like what Mike Vrabel has done in Nashville so far.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: What if the Jaguars’ defense looks as good as ever and Nick Foles rekindles his Brotherly Love with former Eagles QB coach (and new Jags OC) John DeFilippo? Then Jacksonville might be playing for a trip to Miami. If that doesn’t happen, though, things could get ugly.
23. Indianapolis Colts: The Indy roster is pretty darn talented on both sides of the ball, up and down the roster — except for at quarterback. Andrew Luck’s retirement hurts, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Colts contend for the playoffs.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich might save Jameis Winston’s career. Now, if only someone could do something about that defense.
25. Buffalo Bills: They’re better after upgrading the offensive line, skill positions and secondary. The schedule is a gauntlet, though, and you’ll have to forgive us for not totally buying into Josh Allen quite yet.
26. Washington Redskins: Decent enough defense, but Case Keenum might be actually bad, and four games against Philly and Dallas is less than ideal.
27. Detroit Lions: What exactly have Matthew Stafford and Matt Patricia done to inspire confidence in the last year?
28. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are rostering three quarterbacks — Derek Carr, Mike Glennon and DeShone Kizer, with Kizer taking the place of Nathan Peterman, who’s on injured reserve. It’s like the land of misfit toys, if the land of misfit toys was run by bad quarterbacks.
29. Arizona Cardinals: This is very much a work in progress.
30. New York Giants: The Giants are 8-23 with Eli Manning under center the last two seasons. It won’t be long before fans are clamoring for Daniel Jones, the same guy they all hated when he was drafted.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
32. Miami Dolphins: Well, they’re trying to be bad, so …
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images