The NFL kicks off its season on Thursday with a matchup that pits the top two teams in my preseason power rankings. We won’t really get a good gauge on these two teams or the rest of the league until at least a couple of weeks into the season, but for now, this is how I see them heading into Week 1:
1. Los Angeles Rams (2021 record: 12-5)
This week: vs. Buffalo Bills
Good news: With Allen Robinson joining Cooper Kupp, 50-plus touchdown passes may pretty much be a given for Matthew Stafford this season.
Bad news: Winning back-to-back Super Bowls is really hard. Hasn’t been done since the Patriots in 2003-04.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-6)
This week: at Los Angeles Rams
Good news: Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll left to take the Giants’ head-coaching job. But the guy who made him look so good, QB Josh Allen, didn’t go anywhere.
Bad news: The Bills will be without Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White for at least the first four games while he recovers from the ACL tear he suffered last November.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
This week: at Arizona Cardinals
Good news: Tyreek Hill is gone, but Patrick Mahomes should be just fine throwing to Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Bad news: The Chiefs’ pass rush had just 31 sacks last season. That was the fourth fewest in the league.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)
This week: vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Good news: The Chargers upgraded a defense that gave up the third-most points in the league last year.
Bad news: One of the biggest upgrades, cornerback J.C. Jackson, is expected to miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
This week: at Dallas Cowboys
Good news: Tom Brady didn’t retire.
Bad news: Brady doesn’t like inside pressure, and the Bucs have an inexperienced interior offensive line that could give up a lot of it this season.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
This week: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Good news: Joe Burrow threw 34 touchdown passes and led the league in completion percentage (70.4) and yards per attempt (8.9) despite being sacked an NFL-high 51 times last year.
Bad news: The Bengals blew up their offensive line in the offseason and rebuilt it. But it remains to be seen whether it’s any better than the 2021 version.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)
This week: at Detroit Lions
Good news: The Eagles used free agency and the draft to upgrade a defense that had the second-fewest sacks and sixth-fewest takeaways in the league.
Bad news: Jalen Hurts rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, but needs to improve as a passer. He finished 22nd in passing (87.2), tied for 23rd in touchdown passes (16) and 26th in completion percentage (61.3).
8. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)
This week: at Chicago Bears
Good news: The 49ers took two of three from the Super Bowl-champion Rams last year.
Bad news: They were 0-4 against their other two NFC West neighbors, the Seahawks and Cardinals.
9. Green Bay Packers (13-4)
This week: at Minnesota Vikings
Good news: Aaron Rodgers likes Christian Watson; he really likes him.
Bad news: Both of the Packers’ starting tackles, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, are coming off knee injuries.
10. Denver Broncos (7-10)
This week: at Seattle Seahawks
Good news: The Broncos already had one of the league’s top defenses. Now, they’ve also got one of the league’s top quarterbacks.
Bad news: It would behoove Russell Wilson to stay healthy. His backup, Brett Rypien, has one career start.
11. Indianapolis Colts (9-8)
This week: at Houston Texans
Good news: Jonathan Taylor had a league-high 107 rushing first downs last season. Next closest was Washington’s Antonio Gibson with 65.
Bad news: The prospect of left tackle Matt Pryor protecting immobile 37-year-old Matt Ryan’s blind side isn’t something that should make Colts fans sleep well at night.
12. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
This week: vs. New England Patriots
Good news: The Dolphins have crazy speed on the outside with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. They also added a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle – Terron Armstead – to help give Tua Tagovailoa the time to find them.
Bad news: Tagovailoa was 24th in third-down passing last season (82.3 rating).
13. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
This week: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Good news: LB Micah Parsons had 13 sacks as a rookie even though he rushed the passer on just 307 of 591 (51.9%) pass plays.
Bad news: It’s hard to understate the impact of the Cowboys’ losing LT Tyron Smith for the season. Forty-year-old likely future Hall of Famer Jason Peters no longer has the feet to fend off top edge rushers, and rookie Tyler Smith isn’t ready for prime time.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9)
This week: at New York Jets
Good news: The Ravens had a string of unprecedented injuries last year. Twenty-five players spent time on injured reserve. That kind of injury misfortune generally doesn’t happen to a team two years in a row. Generally.
Bad news: A team that lost its mascot to a season-ending injury never has won the Super Bowl. Just sayin’.
15. Minnesota Vikings (8-9)
This week: vs. Green Bay Packers
Good news: Kirk Cousins has a plus-88 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential over the last four years.
Bad news: The Vikings are 33-31-1 with one playoff appearance in those four seasons.
16. Tennessee Titans (12-5)
This week: vs. New York Giants
Good news: Derrick Henry is 28 and coming off a broken foot, but has averaged 115.4 rushing yards per game the last four seasons.
Bad news: ER Harold Landry, who had a team-high 12 sacks last season, including seven on third downs, tore his ACL last week and is out for the year.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7)
This week: at Los Angeles Chargers
Good news: WR Davante Adams and TE Darren Waller give the Raiders one of the league’s most lethal inside-outside combinations.
Bad news: The Raiders have improved their roster. But they live in the toughest division in the league. They need to get off to a good start. Three of their first five games are against AFC West opponents. The other two games are against the Cardinals and Titans, who were a combined 23-11 last year.
18. Arizona Cardinals (11-6)
This week: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Good news: Kyler Murray has peace of mind – and financial security — after signing a $230.5 million extension with the Cardinals.
Bad news: Murray’s favorite receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, is serving a six-game suspension and won’t be available until late October. A.J. Green is 34 and has just five touchdown catches the last two years.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)
This week: at Washington Commanders
Good news: After a 12-touchdown, 17-interception rookie season, Trevor Lawrence has nowhere to go but up. And Doug Pederson is far better qualified to help him improve than Urban Meyer was.
Bad news: Their top two running backs, James Robinson and Travis Etienne, both are coming off of serious season-ending injuries.
20. Detroit Lions (3-13-1)
This week: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Good news: The Lions probably won’t win the Lombardi Trophy this year. But they’re a good bet to win an Emmy after their “Hard Knocks” appearance.
Bad news: The Lions have finished 31st in red-zone defense in each of the last two seasons.
21. New England Patriots (10-7)
This week: at Miami Dolphins
Good news: Stories of the problems surrounding the Patriots offense have been greatly exaggerated. Bill Belichick will figure it out. He almost always does.
Bad news: The Patriots have lost four of their last five games in Miami.
22. Washington Commanders (7-10)
This week: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Good news: The pieces are in place for Carson Wentz to have a good season. He’s got a good receiving corps, a solid line and an offensive coordinator – Scott Turner – who is good at playing to a quarterback’s strengths.
Bad news: Their best pass rusher, Chase Young, will open the season on the PUP list and will miss at least the first four games.
23. Carolina Panthers (5-12)
This week: vs. Cleveland Browns
Good news: If Christian McCaffrey can stay healthy, which is a big if, he gives the Panthers one of the best rushing-and-receiving weapons in football.
Bad news: I really miss those At Home With Baker Mayfield commercials.
24. New Orleans Saints (9-8)
This week: at Atlanta Falcons
Good news: Even after trading away safety CJ Gardner-Johnson, the Saints still have a capable defense that finished fourth in points allowed (19.7 per game), first in red-zone defense (43.5 TD percentage) and eighth in third-down efficiency (37.1) last year.
Bad news: Sean Payton has left the building.
25. Cleveland Browns (8-9)
This week: at Carolina Panthers
Good news: Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for 25 sacks last year. Both likely will get a crack at the Panthers’ first-round rookie LT Ikem Ekwonu.
Bad news: Deshaun Watson seat holder Jacoby Brissett is 14-23 as a starter with a puny 6.4 yards-per-attempt average. Dink, meet dunk.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)
This week: at Cincinnati Bengals
Good news: Mitch Trubisky, who will be the season-opening starter, didn’t look awful in the preseason. He completed 70.6% of his passes and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt.
Bad news: Offseason attempts to upgrade their offensive line didn’t really go well. In June, Pro Football Focus rated the Steelers O-line third worst in the league.
27. New York Giants (4-13)
This week: at Tennessee Titans
Good news: I’m clearly in the minority here, but I think the offense, particularly QB Daniel Jones, is going to be much improved under new head coach Brian Daboll.
Bad news: Derrick Henry isn’t the opening act you’d choose for a defense that gave up 4.5 yards per carry last year.
28. Seattle Seahawks (7-10)
This week: vs. Denver Broncos
Good news: Rookie offensive tackles Charles Cross (first round) and Abraham Lucas (third round) have looked good this summer and will open the season as the team’s starters.
Bad news: Pete Carroll has DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at wide receiver, but he prefers to play three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football. I’m sure that makes a lot of sense in some parallel universe.
29. New York Jets (4-13)
This week: vs. Baltimore Ravens
Good news: GM Joe Douglas is slowly but surely improving the Jets’ roster, though whether he has found a franchise quarterback is still to be determined.
Bad news: The Jets got very little sack production from their edge rushers last year. Douglas really needs first-round pick Jermaine Johnson to pan out.
30. Chicago Bears (6-11)
This week: vs. San Francisco 49ers
Good news: Justin Fields had a promising preseason, completing 76.7% of his passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and throwing three TDs and no interceptions. Yeah, it was the preseason. But when you’re the Bears, you take hope where you can find it.
Bad news: The line that the Bears will be putting in front of Fields isn’t very good. It gave up 58 sacks last season.
31. Houston Texans (4-13)
This week: vs. Indianapolis Colts
Good news: While it mostly went unnoticed, rookie QB Davis Mills played very well down the stretch last year. He had nine TDs and just two interceptions in the Texans’ final five games, with a 68.4 completion percentage.
Bad news: The defense gave up 28 or more points in 10 of their 17 games last season.
32. Atlanta Falcons (7-10)
This week: vs. New Orleans Saints
Good news: Marcus Mariota, who has replaced departed Matt Ryan as the starting QB, has two very good pass-catching weapons in TE Kyle Pitts and rookie WR Drake London.
Bad news: This team is in complete rebuild mode. So strap yourself in, Falcons fans. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for a couple of years.