The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions, and that means they’re supposed to be in the top spot of the 2019 offseason power rankings. At least until some team makes them look terrible for a game in September.
Yeah, the Patriots won it all again, but their most important player turns 42 in August and did slow down in 2018, even if only a little bit. There are several teams that are in such better shape for the future than the Patriots right now. So let’s rank the teams that way.
Which team is the best set up to win not just in 2019, but 2020 and beyond?
NOTE: Cap space figures are courtesy of Over the Cap as of Feb. 11
Top 100 draft picks: 26th, 34th, 59th, 89th
Cap space: $109.1 million
What’s not to like about the Colts right now? They have a dominant offensive line, Andrew Luck is healthy again, and they made it to the Divisional Round in what was supposed to be year two of a rebuild. The skill positions are lacking, but Indianapolis enters the offseason with more cap space than any team in the NFL and an extra second-round pick. Considering general manager Chris Ballard snagged All-Pros (Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard) with his first two picks in 2018, there’s reason to be optimistic about his draft ammunition this time around too.
Top 100 draft picks: 29th, 61st, 63rd, 92nd
Cap space: $26.4 million
You really can’t be too far down this list when you have a 23-year-old MVP playing quarterback. It’s not going to be easy for Patrick Mahomes to recreate his 50-touchdown season, but the Chiefs can feel safe that their offense is going to score a lot of points. The key now is going to be using their three picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft to get enough defensive talent to pick up the slack on the other side of the ball. Another year of development for 2018 draft picks Breeland Speaks, Derrick Nnadi, Dorian O’Daniel, and Armani Watts should help too.
Top 100 draft picks: 31st
Cap space: $29.8 million
The Rams traded away many of their 2019 draft picks during their aggressive offseason a year ago. They also have several impending free agents — including Ndamukong Suh, Dante Fowler Jr., Lamarcus Joyner, and Rodger Saffold — and will have to pick which ones they choose to bring back. But it’d be pretty surprising if the Rams suddenly fell off a cliff. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald are the core of one of the NFL’s most loaded teams and they aren’t going anywhere. The Rams are still going to be a problem.
Top 100 draft picks: 87th
Cap space: $7.2 million
The Bears’ roster probably isn’t going to change much this offseason. The team doesn’t have much cap space and doesn’t have a draft pick until the end of the third round. On the plus side, the roster is already damn good. Chicago went 12-4 with arguably the best defense in the NFL and an offense that finished No. 9 in points scored. That earned Matt Nagy the Coach of the Year Award in his first season as a head coach. It’ll be on Mitchell Trubisky to take the Bears over the hump in 2019 after he finished his second season 20th in the league in passing yards, 14th in passing touchdowns, and 16th in passer rating.
Top 100 draft picks: 23rd, 54th, 55th, 86th
Cap space: $64.5 million
After an 0-3 start to the season, Houston tore through the remainder of its schedule to finish 11-5. The Texans were extremely difficult to run against, good at running the ball, and had the often impossible to stop combo of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. They just happened to run into the team at the top of this list in the postseason. The Texans’ copious amount of cap space will drop once they presumably pay up to keep Jadeveon Clowney, Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu — or at least try. But there’s still going to be enough to add a little more help for a Super Bowl push.
Top 100 draft picks: 22nd, 85th
Cap space: $22 million
Baltimore found its identity in the latter half of the 2018 season, and that was being a bulldozer. The Ravens ran over every team in its path once Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, which perfectly complemented an elite defense. The team doesn’t have many draft picks or much cap space to upgrade the roster in the offseason, but it’d still make significant progress if Jackson’s passing ability improves in his second season.
Top 100 draft picks: 25th, 53rd, 57th
Cap space: negative $16 million
The Eagles’ cap situation isn’t as dire as it looks, but their chance at getting better this offseason will depend most on how well they do with three picks in the first two rounds. If Carson Wentz is healthy for 16 games in 2019, he’s an MVP-level quarterback who will make the Eagles tough to beat. But Philadelphia was an average team on offense and defense for most of 2018 and doesn’t have many opportunities this spring to fix that.
Top 100 draft picks: 17th, 49th, 80th, 95th
Cap space: $80.1 million
Why hello there, Browns. After winning five of their last seven games in 2018, Cleveland heads into 2019 with reason for optimism. Baker Mayfield. Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb all look like the real deal, and a once-depleted roster is — dare we say — stacked? Add on top of that two more top-50 picks for John Dorsey and a ton of cap space, and the Browns are looking like a team ready to do some damage in the AFC North. Maybe Freddie Kitchens can be the first Browns coach in a long time to actually stick around for more than a couple seasons.
9. New England Patriots
Top 100 draft picks: 32nd, 56th, 64th, 73rd
Cap space: $16.1 million
The Patriots spent the entire postseason talking about themselves as underdogs and that no one believed in them. It really wasn’t the case, but putting them below the Browns is probably fuel for that fire. Patriots fans can point and laugh at me when they inevitably win another Super Bowl a year from now, but it’s hard to justify putting them any higher than this. Their best asset is a quarterback who turns 42 in August. Draft picks? They’ve got a couple second-round picks, but still pick at the end of the first round. They have cap space galore in 2020, but not that much in 2019. There’s an overhaul coming in New England.
Top 100 draft picks: 28th, 60th, 91st
Cap space: $18.4 million
There’s plenty for the Chargers to feel good about heading into 2019. Philip Rivers was terrific in 2018 and had a team around him that finally looked up to the task. The Chargers were good on both sides of the ball, but then a playoff game against the Patriots came and Los Angeles collapsed. Getting a full year out of Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry, Jason Verrett, and maybe even Forrest Lamp could finally get the Chargers over the postseason hurdles they can never seem to clear.
Top 100 draft picks: 62nd
Cap space: $11.3 million
The Saints miiight be a team in trouble soon. Drew Brees is 40 now and started to actually look it beginning around Thanksgiving. Now he’s coming back for another year and that means the Saints probably won’t be able to retain Teddy Bridgewater, the backup quarterback they acquired for a third-round pick in August. There are still many elite players like Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Sheldon Rankins, and Cameron Jordan in New Orleans. But keeping them all and finding a new quarterback will be tough challenges for the Saints to solve beyond 2019.
Top 100 draft picks: 20th, 52nd, 83rd
Cap space: $19.3 million
There is always so much drama surrounding the Steelers. The Le’Veon Bell saga may finally be ending — so long as Pittsburgh doesn’t needlessly decide to extend it — and now there’s a messy Antonio Brown divorce seemingly on the horizon. Aside from all that, the Steelers are a consistently good football team, even if their 9-6-1 record wasn’t good enough for a playoff berth. They have young stars like James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Ben Roethlisberger is inching closer to retirement. There’s a lot of transition coming soon.
Top 100 draft picks: 12th, 30th, 44th, 75th
Cap space: $35.3 million
Usually the Packers are just fine so long as Aaron Rodgers isn’t injured. But the team was 6-9-1 in 2018, despite getting 16 games out of their two-time NFL MVP. That was bad enough to get Mike McCarthy fired and replaced by former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. It’s hard to imagine Green Bay will be down for long, though. Brian Gutekunst nailed his first draft pick as general manager by grabbing Jaire Alexander, and now he has three top-50 picks to work with in 2019. Also, the Packers still have Aaron freakin’ Rodgers.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Top 100 draft picks: 58th, 90th
Cap space: $46.1 million
Adding Amari Cooper to the offense turned the Cowboys into a dangerous contender. There’s also rising defensive players like linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith that made Dallas hard to beat. The problem is that the Cowboys’ first pick in the offseason isn’t until late in the second round, their offensive line regressed — largely due to injuries — in 2018, and they won a bunch of close games. Their cap space will dry up really quickly if they want to keep Demarcus Lawrence, and they need a lot of that money to give extensions to Cooper, Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott.
15. Seattle Seahawks
Top 100 draft picks: 21st, 84th
Cap space: $52.7 million
The Seahawks were supposed to be rebuilding in 2018. Instead, they mowed over a bunch of teams in the back half of the schedule to get into the postseason. It helps that Russell Wilson played like an MVP and Bobby Wagner mitigated the huge amount of defensive turnover by being an absolute juggernaut. Still, the rest of the roster dragged those performances down to make the Seahawks a team that was mostly just average.
There’s probably more defensive turnover coming with Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Frank Clark, Justin Coleman, and Dion Jordan all set to hit free agency. The playoff appearance was a pleasant surprise for Seattle, but there’s still building to do.
16. Tennessee Titans
Top 100 draft picks: 19th, 51st, 82nd
Cap space: $42 million
Four years of Marcus Mariota and it’s still hard to figure out if he’s the Titans’ guy of the future or not. The same can probably be said about Derrick Henry, who’s three years into his career and pretty much only good in games against the Jaguars. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith can maximize that pair, the Titans already have a good enough defense to be a contender.
Top 100 draft picks: 18th, 50th, 81st
Cap space: $6.9 million
Giving Kirk Cousins a record-breaking contract doesn’t look like the wisest decision with a year’s worth of hindsight. He wasn’t bad in 2018, but he definitely wasn’t a player worth $28 million per year fully guaranteed. But it’s too late now — the Vikings are stuck with him and desperately need to make the most of that by finding offensive line help. That’ll be tough with a draft pick in the back half of the first round and a cap situation that will likely cause Anthony Barr to leave in free agency.
18. Atlanta Falcons
Top 100 draft picks: 14th, 45th, 79th
Cap space: $26.8 million
The Falcons finished with a losing record for the first time since hiring Dan Quinn, and it was the defense that lagged behind. Part of that was because the team lost Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen for the year before September even ended. Getting those players back and adding more defenders in the 2019 NFL Draft could put the Falcons right back in the mix in the perennially flipping NFC South. After all, it’s still damn hard to stop Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley.
Top 100 draft picks: 16th, 47th, 77th
Cap space: $18.8 million
Carolina flushed a 6-2 start to the year straight down the drain by losing seven straight in the back half of the season. The Panthers’ 7-9 record at the season was just about right for a team that was below average in most facets. While Christian McCaffrey led one of the NFL’s most powerful rushing attacks, the team will also have to replace Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, and Ryan Kalil.
20. Denver Broncos
Top 100 draft picks: 10th, 41st, 71st
Cap space: $37.3 million
Another year, another bad quarterback for the Broncos. Now there’s a good chance Denver will try to replace
Brock Osweiler Trevor Siemian Paxton Lynch Case Keenum in the offseason. The No. 10 pick could be a good place to do so, but the Broncos have problems elsewhere too. The once-elite defense was No. 22 in the NFL — just behind the No. 19 offense. Vic Fangio has work to do.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
Top 100 draft picks: 7th, 38th, 69th, 94th
Cap space: negative $4.4 million
The Jaguars were the most disappointing team of 2018 after an AFC Championship Game appearance the season prior. Although the defense was still strong, it wasn’t the elite unit it was in 2017. Meanwhile, the offense fell into a tailspin that was exacerbated by offensive line injuries. The defense is in good shape, but there’s a lot of work to do on offense — beginning at quarterback. The Jaguars are well positioned to nab a passer in the NFL Draft and sign a veteran stopgap. That could mean a quick turnaround, but it depends on Jacksonville’s ability to — ya know — pick a good one.
Top 100 draft picks: 11th, 42nd, 72nd
Cap space: $50.6 million
For the first time in 16 years, the Bengals enter an offseason with a new head coach. Much of the offense is already in place with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Boyd — but the defense needs an overhaul in a major way. The 6,618 yards it surrendered in 2018 is the fifth-most an NFL team has ever allowed. There are players on the defensive line and in the secondary, but goodness does that team need linebackers.
23. Buffalo Bills
Top 100 draft picks: 9th, 40th, 74th
Cap space: $79.1 million
You could put the Bills way higher on the list if you believe in Josh Allen more than I do. He completed 52.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie. But he also made a bunch of plays with his legs and had an atrocious cast around him. The offense was bad enough to spoil a really good defense. If the top-10 draft pick and loads of cap space can turn the offense around, the Bills could be a contender soon. That just depends a whole lot on who Allens turn out to be.
24. Detroit Lions
Top 100 draft picks: 8th, 43rd, 88th
Cap space: $31.7 million
Year one of the Matt Patricia era was underwhelming. The defense improved, but the offense dropped off, and the team couldn’t string wins together. Maybe the biggest issue for Detroit is how little elite talent it has on the roster. Cornerback Darius Slay was one of only two Pro Bowlers for the Lions (the other was long snapper Don Muhlbach), and he had a pretty rough year, by his standards. It’ll be important to start stacking the roster — beginning with the No. 8 pick in April.
25. New York Giants
Top 100 draft picks: 6th, 37th
Cap space: $28.7 million
Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. are among the very best at their positions, but the Giants were still terrible in 2018. It’s pretty clear at this point that Eli Manning’s best days are well in his past, and now it’s time for the Giants to find his replacement. Getting one at No. 6 overall — like Dwayne Haskins, perhaps — could get the team back on track, but it’s not going to fix the underwhelming defense.
26. Oakland Raiders
Top 100 draft picks: 4th, 24th, 27th, 35th, 66th, 99th
Cap space: $71.2 million
The downside: The Raiders are bad at pretty much everything and devoid of much worth building around.
The upside: The Raiders have resources galore.
They own four of the top 35 picks and have the fifth-most cap space in the NFL. When the Raiders hired Jon Gruden, they trusted him to reshape the roster. Reggie McKenzie was pushed out as general manager and now it’s up to Gruden and new GM Mike Mayock to figure out how to spend all those draft picks.
27. New York Jets
Top 100 draft picks: 3rd, 68th, 93rd, 98th
Cap space: $95.9 million
Sam Darnold’s rookie year had some promising moments, but the guy needs some help. He usually thrives in chaos and often needed to do so in 2018. Still, he finished with 15 interceptions. Adam Gase now inherits an offense that was No. 29 in the NFL and fourth in the NFL in turnovers. There are at least some special players on defense, including Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams.
Top 100 draft picks: 2nd, 36th, 67th, 97th
Cap space: $60.7 million
There was a lot of optimism around the 49ers, but nope — they were near the bottom of the league again. A whole lot of that was because Jimmy Garoppolo only made it three games into the season before suffering a torn ACL. With their $137.5 million quarterback coming back in 2019, the 49ers now have another offseason of early draft picks and ample cap space to upgrade the roster. Maybe Antonio Brown is headed to San Francisco? Maybe the 49ers will go after a pricy pass rusher in free agency? Maybe both.
Top 100 draft picks: 1st, 33rd, 65th, 96th
Cap space: $48.5 million
Goodness gracious, the Cardinals were horrific on offense this season.
That doesn’t leave much room for hope, but there were several very good defensive players — Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Budda Baker to name a few — who were wasted by a Cardinals offense that could never give the defense a lead. They’ll probably add Nick Bosa with the No. 1 overall pick to bolster that group. It’s just up to offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury to help an offense that has a 2018 first-round pick at quarterback in Josh Rosen, and David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk at the skill positions. That’s a lot of pieces already in place in Arizona.
Top 100 draft picks: 5th, 39th, 70th, 100th
Cap space: $8.5 million
Thinking the Buccaneers deserve to be higher than this probably speaks to your faith in Jameis Winston as a franchise quarterback. I, personally, don’t have much. For four years, Winston has had flashes of brilliance negated by careless decision-making and inconsistency. Unless Bruce Arians can held Winston take a leap forward — the Buccaneers will probably still be stuck in neutral. Mike Evans and O.J. Howard represent an excellent pair of weapons, and the offense was already a pretty great unit. But it’ll need to be even better to lift up a defense that has a lot of catching up to do.
Top 100 draft picks: 15th, 46th, 76th
Cap space: $17.7 million
Alex Smith’s gruesome leg injury was so severe that he probably won’t play in 2019 — or possibly ever again. Now Washington needs a quarterback and doesn’t have much cap space to fill that void. It also leaned on 33-year-old running back Adrian Peterson and 34-year-old tight end Vernon Davis for a significant amount of the offense. The defense was the strength of the team, but it wasn’t nearly good enough to pick up that slack.
32. Miami Dolphins
Top 100 draft picks: 13th, 48th, 78th
Cap space: $10.8 million
No team has lower Super Bowl 54 odds than the Dolphins. That might be just according to plan if you ask Dolphins reporters:
That's fine. Then tank for someone else. The point is the Dolphins are tanking.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) January 29, 2019
Everyone I speak to behind the scenes tells me so. https://t.co/wsvc7PIORe
The Dolphins finished No. 26 in points scored and No. 27 in points allowed, but are outside the top 10 in the 2019 NFL Draft thanks a 7-9 record in 2018. Ryan Tannehill won’t be in Miami much longer and there isn’t much offensive talent to build around. The team’s best assets right now are a pair of excellent young defensive backs in Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The five-year, fully guaranteed deal that the Dolphins gave Brian Flores is a good indication that the team knows it’s going to have to wade through some tough times before things turn around.