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NFL Future Power Rankings: Projecting the next three seasons

Adam Schefter and Tim Hasselbeck agree on which team looks best for the next few years but Louis Riddick goes in a different direction. (2:02)
Jul 17, 2018

Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates

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To project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three seasons, we asked our panel of experts -- Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates -- to rate each team's roster (excluding quarterback), quarterback, draft, front office and coaching using this scale:

100: A+ (Elite)

90: A (Great)

80: B (Very good)

70: C (Average)

60: D (Very bad)

50: F (Disastrous)

40: F- (The worst thing imaginable)

NFL Future Power Rankings

• 1-32 projection for next three seasons
• What can Saints do for an encore?
• Video: Are Eagles set up for the future?
• Roundtable: Teams in mix for dynasty run
• Evan Engram heads class of next TE stars

After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score -- roster (30 percent), quarterback (20 percent), draft (15 percent), front office (15 percent) and coaching (20 percent). The result is a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future.

Read through the full file No. 1 through No. 32, or jump to your favorite team using the quick links below:

Why they're here: The Eagles not only have arguably the best long-term plan at quarterback in the NFL in Carson Wentz, but also there is short-term security with Nick Foles. Oh, by the way, a significant core of this roster is locked up for the foreseeable future thanks to the aggressive mindset of executive vice president of football operations/GM Howie Roseman: Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett and Rodney McLeod are among those signed through 2020. -- Yates

Biggest worry: There isn't much that I don't like about the long-term future of this team. The consequences of success are what concerns me the most, particularly when it comes to coaches leaving for bigger roles and more responsibility with other teams. We saw it happen this offseason with offensive coordinator Frank Reich becoming a head coach, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo becoming the OC in Minnesota. Having a succession plan will be critical in cases such as this in order to maintain what is a championship culture. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Eagles ranked in the NFL's top three across every category, so it might be unrealistic for Philly to exceed expectations. But what if 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones became a shutdown corner after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon? The talent would seem to be there. If it happened, the Eagles could get massive value from a position where all their top players are playing on lower-priced rookie deals. -- Sando

Why they're here: In a league that is set up to mitigate competitive advantages through a hard salary cap, extensive roster turnover and other dynamics, the Patriots have been the model of organizational success in team sports for close to 20 years. Unified vision and direction permeate the organization, with an emphasis on development -- not just player development, either. Bill Belichick takes immense pride in developing his coaches and the (underrated) front office, which is orchestrated by Nick Caserio. -- Yates

Biggest worry: It's all about timing when it comes to what worries me and everyone else about the Patriots' outlook. When will Tom Brady's skills start to diminish, and when will Belichick say he has had enough and is unwilling to commit to the work necessary to win at the level he has won at for 17 years in a row? While I believe the Patriot Way is its own self-sustaining thing now, and is something that will last long after Belichick and Brady are gone, their eventual departure will cause major uncertainty when the time actually comes. Until then, it will be business as usual. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Patriots' projection is surprisingly optimistic, at least in my opinion, given the uncertainty over how long Belichick and Brady will remain together in New England. The draft is one area in which the Patriots could improve in order to beat the already lofty expectations this analysis carries for them. -- Sando

Why they're here: A decade-plus of offensive success has become the identity of the Saints franchise, with Drew Brees and Sean Payton at the epicenter of it all. But in the latest bit of evidence that one offseason can change an outlook dramatically, the Saints had what could go down as a historically good draft class in 2017, landing blue-chip talent in Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk and Marcus Williams. That grand slam pivoted the franchise's fortunes. -- Yates

Biggest worry: We are in a golden age of QB play in the NFL, and Brees has been as good as any other passer in the history of this great game. Ever. But the fact remains that he won't play forever, and there are rumblings seemingly every year that coach Sean Payton could be looking to move on. I love this roster and how it is put together, but the departure of either one of these two men could throw what looks like a franchise built for long-term success into a tailspin. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: There's very good young talent on the roster thanks largely to the Saints' sensational 2017 draft. The Saints can outperform our expectations if they can hit another home run or two in the draft. That will be tougher to do after the team traded away its 2019 first-round pick to move up to select Marcus Davenport. -- Sando

Why they're here: There are elusive positions on an NFL defense, led by pass-rushers and cornerbacks. The Vikings -- guided by GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer -- have done an impressive job of identifying those positions through both the draft and free agency. Cornerstone players are in place on all levels of the defense, with a homegrown nucleus that includes Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. -- Yates

Biggest worry: This one is easy. Kirk Cousins. Is he or isn't he worth the investment that the Vikings made in him, because as I see it, he must be the difference between being a contender and winning it all. I'm not a believer, and maybe I am not giving him enough credit for his play in Washington, but we will know very soon on this one. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Some think Cousins is an average or slightly better than average starting quarterback. While Minnesota has the talent to contend even if Cousins is near average, the Vikings need their $84 million man to be an upper-tier quarterback to beat our projection for the future (we ranked the Vikings among the top five in every category but quarterback, where we had them 17th). -- Sando

Why they're here: Organizational stability counts when projecting forward, with the Steelers representing one of the steadiest franchises in all of sports, counting just one losing season this millennium. The team also has employed just three head coaches since 1969, showing a dedication to its sideline leaders that has yielded plenty of wins. While the future of Ben Roethlisberger could be year-to-year (he has changed his tune on the possibility of retirement on a few occasions), the organization is set up to sustain success. -- Yates

Biggest worry: The coaching changes were made on offense, but what about the defense? That's the side of the ball that concerns me most. The Steelers are vulnerable up the middle against the run, and they still cannot be trusted to prevent big plays in the passing game when they need it the most. Guys such as Joe Haden and Artie Burns must be better, and surprise first-round pick Terrell Edmunds needs to come up big right away. It is defense that has kept this team from knocking the Patriots off the top of the AFC mountain, and I am concerned that that will continue to be the case. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Mason Rudolph could emerge during the next couple of preseasons as a viable successor for Roethlisberger. That would certainly improve the Steelers' long-term outlook, although Roethlisberger is still among the NFL's best at age 36. -- Sando

Why they're here: While the NFL is an ever-evolving league, the Falcons have what many would consider a very modern collection of talent on their roster: linebackers with exceptional speed, depth along the defensive front, a two-headed backfield, a versatile corps of receivers, depth in the secondary and, of course, a blue-chip quarterback. GM Thomas Dimitroff and his experienced front office have landed coups in recent drafts (Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley and Keanu Neal among them) to balance a roster full of veterans in their prime. -- Yates

Biggest worry: I still have concerns about the offensive side of the ball in terms of the Falcons' ability to consistently find that championship chemistry and rhythm that needs to exist between the playcaller and the quarterback and offense as a whole. Now that Matt Ryan has his money, Julio Jones wants his too, and keeping the wideout happy and dialed-in has to be a concern for the organization, especially if it does not intend to rework his contract that still has three years remaining on it. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Continued development of the coaching staff is one variable that could determine whether a well-constructed Falcons team reaches its potential. Coach Dan Quinn has gone all-in with coordinators Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel. Staff development is obviously important to him. Will Atlanta realize the payoff? -- Sando

Why they're here: When your quarterback is an established player but still on a rookie contract, it's time to strike. The Rams have done exactly that, acquiring a litany of Pro Bowl-caliber talent this offseason to augment a roster already filled with dominant players such as Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley. Coach Sean McVay will soon establish himself as one of the league's best (he's rapidly on the track), which matters in a major way, as finding a way to fit all of the top-tier talent under the salary cap will be a chore for L.A. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Rarely do all-in approaches to unrestricted free agency turn out the way you plan them when it comes to professional football. Having personally been through this kind of thing, I speak from experience. McVay will have to be the best version of himself in order to handle a roster that has some of the most "explosive" personalities in the NFL on it, particularly on defense, and I don't mean that in a universally good way. If the Rams win early and often, all will be well. If they start to lose and expectations are not met, this could turn very ugly in a hurry. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: It's hard to envision the Rams being better in actuality than they appear on paper after collecting high-profile veterans such as Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks. But if the Rams are to outperform already high expectations, it'll likely be because quarterback Jared Goff takes another giant step forward in his development. Goff does seem to have the talent to make that happen. -- Sando

Why they're here: The Packers had to experience life without Aaron Rodgers for much of the 2017 season, a humbling reminder of some of the roster limitations Green Bay had on defense. But with Rodgers healthy, there is no more valuable roster piece in the league for the next three seasons -- period -- especially when a pen goes to paper for a presumptive extension to the current deal he has that lasts for two more years. -- Yates

Biggest worry: It's all about the coaching with this team, specifically at the coordinator level. Joe Philbin will oversee the offense, and Mike Pettine will now oversee the defense. Both coaches have some significant assets to work with, with TE Jimmy Graham added to an already explosive offense, and cornerbacks being drafted in the first two rounds to help Pettine play the style of defense he wants to play. Development and utilization are what will make or break this team over the next three years. The pressure is on Philbin and Pettine. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: If new GM Brian Gutekunst can draft well enough to restock a defense that ranked last in ESPN's efficiency metric last season, the Packers can achieve the balance they need to maximize their championship window with Rodgers. Green Bay ranked 20th in drafting by our analysis, its lowest ranking in any category. -- Sando

Why they're here: The art of "not quite" has been an all-too-familiar theme for the Chargers. The roster has had talent in key pieces that persist today: a quarterback, dynamic pass-rush duo and exceptional secondary. But effective execution on the field in clutch moments has been elusive. That said, a strong 2018 -- starting with a postseason appearance -- will go a long way in Los Angeles, as the Chargers feel like a team ready to make a leap on this list, despite the fact that Philip Rivers is 36. He has shown no signs of regression. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Although RB Melvin Gordon had his best year as a pro in 2017 in terms of total rushing yards as well as receptions and receiving yards, he still averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. As a team, the Chargers have been in the bottom quarter of the league in rushing yards per game and per-carry average for years now, and they need to get this corrected so they can play a more balanced style of football when necessary and win the close games. If the investments that they have made along the offensive line via the draft and free agency do not pan out, it will be more unmet expectations for this team. If they do, this will be the new beast in the AFC West. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Is Anthony Lynn a first-rate head coach? Will he grow into one? There's not enough information to answer in the affirmative, which is why the Chargers ranked 21st in that area, the team's lowest ranking in any category. That variable and Rivers' staying power as an upper-tier quarterback could boost a Chargers team that otherwise appears close to contending. -- Sando

Why they're here: There was a time when Seattle ranked much higher on this list, catalyzed by a balanced roster. Now, there are questions on both sides of the ball, with a suspect offensive line and a less recognizable secondary than the Legion of Boom. However, quarterback Russell Wilson profiles as a perennial MVP candidate, and there's a lot to believe in from a front office infrastructure standpoint. GM John Schneider is well-regarded as a top evaluator of talent. -- Yates

Biggest worry: It is a total reboot in Seattle starting right beneath head coach Pete Carroll. New coordinators on both sides of the ball, the Legion of Boom is no more, the pass rush that carried this team to championship heights is not even close to being the same, and the offense is hoping that Rashaad Penny is something close to what the Seahawks had on the field with "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch. Reboots like this take time, and in a division loaded with teams that continue to improve, I am worried that Seattle is going to be passed by the competition. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: This all comes down to whether the Seahawks can recapture some of their past form when it comes to drafting and developing players. No team was better in that area over the first several years of this decade. Carroll and Schneider must do it again to compensate for the fact they are now paying top dollar for their previously inexpensive quarterback. -- Sando

Why they're here: We often fixate on front-line talent in sports for reasons that are implicit: superstars dazzle in ways that create lasting memories. But football is the ultimate team sport, and the layers of depth that the Jaguars have created on defense are remarkable, supplementing such stars as Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack (among others). Ultimately, doubling down on Blake Bortles this offseason (he signed a three-year extension) is the reason Jacksonville checks in here, with Bortles still facing his share of critics. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Bortles was a concern last year, and continues to be a concern. While executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone have done a tremendous job of implementing a run-first, play-action-focused offensive attack designed to produce more defined passing windows for Bortles, the fact remains that when teams know he is going to throw it (third down), and when the pressure is on (blitz), he is one of the worst QBs in the NFL in terms of passer rating, and that simply isn't going to be good enough for this team to take the next step. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The defending AFC South champs need continued improvement from Bortles to brighten an already positive outlook. Jacksonville ranked last in quarterback outlook with Bortles earning $17.4 million per year on a depth chart featuring Cody Kessler and Tanner Lee behind him. -- Sando

Why they're here: We witnessed the apex of this franchise when it steamrollered to an appearance in the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. While much has changed from that roster, a nucleus of the best players from that team, including Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen and Ryan Kalil, remains. There's a steady balance to this roster, and Newton, when at his best, is about as difficult a quarterback to defend as there is. Quarterback consistency, playmaker development on offense and the secondary play will impact the outlook. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Last season was supposed to be when Newton didn't have to be all things at all times, meaning the franchise QB as well as the primary ball carrier. Well, that didn't happen, as he was second on the team in rushing attempts and first in rushing yards. Now the primary questions are: Is Christian McCaffrey a franchise RB; and can new OC Norv Turner develop newcomers such as first-round wide receiver DJ Moore and fourth-round tight end Ian Thomas into the kind of players who will take the pressure off of Cam, not add to it? -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Panthers' front office remains in limbo while David Tepper's pending purchase of the team from Jerry Richardson plays out. Uncertainty in that critical area hurt Carolina in our analysis, but if the organization inspires confidence in that area heading into the season, the Panthers could be just fine. -- Sando

Why they're here: Everything shifted for the 49ers when the team acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, stabilizing the most important spot on the roster. Equal enthusiasm surrounds coach Kyle Shanahan, an offensive wizard who will maximize the talent at his disposal. Defensive questions persist for the moment, and while GM John Lynch has made some notable moves early on the job, there is still a larger sample needed for a better feel as to how he will stack up in his current position. -- Yates

Biggest worry: 49ers management solved the QB problem. The Niners knocked it out of the park, to be honest. Now what concerns me is the defense, specifically if they have enough prospects who can rush the passer or be developed into productive pass-rushers. The 49ers were 26th in sacks per pass attempt in 2017, and they could not get off the field on third down. Players such as Solomon Thomas and Cassius Marsh have to pan out, and cornerback Richard Sherman has to come back better than ever. I have confidence in Sherman. I'm not so sure about the rest. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We ranked the 49ers roughly among the NFL's bottom third for drafting and the front office, but that could be harsh when evaluating a team that landed Garoppolo for a second-round pick. The 49ers could take off if the still-unproven Lynch shows himself to be an excellent GM. -- Sando

Why they're here: Few in the coaching ranks command as much respect as Andy Reid, who was signed to an extension last summer and continues to be the rock of the organization. The Chiefs are an intriguing team in this regard; we have a feel for the current roster limitations (defensive struggles will be expected this year), but much of the future rides on Patrick Mahomes' right arm. If he meets internal expectations, Kansas City will climb higher in these ranks next year. If he struggles, the narrative will shift. -- Yates

Biggest worry: The Mahomes era is here, and I am here for it! I have zero doubts that this young man will live up to the expectations and that the offense will be even more explosive in 2018. What I am concerned about is a defense that was soft up the middle, lacked a pass rush and had to get rid of its best coverage defender in order for the Chiefs to get "better" as a team in terms of chemistry and reliability. Yes, they will score a lot of points, but will they be able to stop anybody? -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We hedged our bets on Mahomes in this evaluation, leaving the Chiefs with a No. 18 ranking in that category. It's easy to envision a scenario whereby Mahomes meets or even exceeds the Chiefs' expectations for him. That would send Kansas City rocketing up in these rankings overall. -- Sando

Why they're here: These rankings are now a reflection of merely what we saw in 2017, but that season showed us a glimpse of what could be. Deshaun Watson has the look of a future All-Pro despite an injury-shortened rookie campaign, and devastating injuries impacted the defense as well. However, the Texans' roster still has questions along the offensive line and -- by no fault of its own -- the new-look front office led by Brian Gaine has yet to make a draft pick of major consequence (Houston didn't have a first- or second-round pick in 2018). The evaluation of Gaine's skills continues. -- Yates

Biggest worry: A year ago, it was about whether they picked the right QB in Watson and if they could develop him. Now that we all know the answer was a resounding yes, it is all about this team staying healthy. Watson, Will Fuller V, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu have all dealt with significant injuries at different points in their respective careers. If these key players can stay on the field, the Texans will challenge the Jaguars for the AFC South crown. If not, it is going to be a big rebuild for Gaine as he restocks this roster. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Texans ranked 25th in the category for front office, their lowest ranking in any category. There isn't much to go on at this point because Gaine has been in place only since January. The team does finally have a coach and GM who appear to be in sync, however, and that gives Houston a good shot at outperforming expectations longer term. -- Sando

Why they're here: There is a lot to love about the Titans' outlook: a team flush with young investments on both sides of the ball, a healthy cap situation to invest in the roster appropriately and a rock-solid GM in place. However, while Marcus Mariota has many of the tools to be successful, consistent production and his peak have not yet been reached. That's the goal for new coach Mike Vrabel and his offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur. -- Yates

Biggest worry: There is always optimism mixed with uncertainty when a new staff comes in. For Tennessee, it's all about LaFleur and his ability to connect with Mariota and take his development to the next level. Given the success that Sean McVay had immediately with Jared Goff in L.A., LaFleur will be expected to do the same with Mariota. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: If LaFleur can do for Mariota what McVay (and LaFleur) did for Goff, the Titans can make a big jump. Of course, Mariota also will need to stay healthy, which has been a problem for him so far. -- Sando

Why they're here: The recipe for Dallas' success is to mimic its 2016 season: Dominate with an All-Pro offensive line and running game, mitigating the number of plays a less-talented defense has to play. Some questions arose from Dak Prescott's uneven sophomore season, but we collectively believe in the player. A coach is judged by his wins and losses: Jason Garrett has led the Cowboys to three winning seasons and just one playoff victory in seven full years. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Production along the defensive line worried me in 2017, because I didn't trust DeMarcus Lawrence's ability to be consistent. He delivered a career year in terms of tackles, sacks and QB hits, but Dallas is still reluctant to commit to him long term. Offensively, I don't believe the Cowboys have the firepower on the perimeter at wide receiver and tight end that will allow Prescott to shine as brightly as they need him to. Lastly, is this coaching staff good enough to make up for some of the holes in the roster? I don't see that as being the case. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Cowboys can exceed our expectations to the extent Prescott exceeds our expectations. We ranked the Cowboys' quarterback outlook 12th in the league, which indicates that we think Prescott is good. Can the third-year quarterback be better than good? Can he lift up his teammates, or is it still more the other way around? Prescott taking the next step is the clearest way for Dallas to climb. -- Sando

Why they're here: There might be some football followers who take Matthew Stafford for granted, but not here. He's tremendous, and that is reflected in our confidence. The rest of the roster will continue to be built by a general manager who has been on the job for just about 18 months plus a coach hired this offseason, so there's projection involved. The task for Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia is to translate the harmony they have regarding how to build a roster to player acquisitions that can contribute in short order. The foundation is being set. -- Yates

Biggest worry: The questions remain the same for me when it comes to the Lions: Do they have enough balance on offense to play a true complementary brand of football that will take pressure off Stafford, keep the defense off of the field more, and allow the team to adapt from week to week and do what it has to do to win games (The Patriot Way, anyone)? I like how they committed draft assets designed to improve the running game (second-round running back Kerryon Johnson in particular), and they need to make a difference. Immediately. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Lions' front office and new coach aren't getting the benefit of the doubt in this analysis. The outlook will improve if the Lions can demonstrate an ability to draft and develop players effectively. They need to get help for Stafford, and that is the most cost-effective way to do it. -- Sando

Why they're here: GM Ozzie Newsome will leave his post after this season and hand the keys to Eric Decosta, who is well-regarded. But losing Newsome is unquestionably a blow to this steady organization. The final first-round pick Newsome made, Lamar Jackson, will define the future of this team. Jackson slid to pick No. 32, with some evaluators not sold on his long-term ability as a starter. We could find out about that as soon as the 2019 season. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg answered my question last year about whether he would commit to running the football when it is in the best interest of the team. He will. Now, the concern is whether he can deliver the goods as far as getting all of the new offensive weapons that have been acquired in 2018 on the same page, and produce yardage in chunks far superior to the 4.64 yards per play that the team produced offensively in 2017. If he can, this team is dangerous. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Ravens' outlook at quarterback is the variable that will determine the trajectory for this organization. The team has gone 40-40 since re-signing Joe Flacco to an expensive contract extension following the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over San Francisco. If Jackson can develop quickly, Baltimore could again benefit from having a young, inexpensive quarterback. -- Sando

Why they're here: The future of coach Vance Joseph was in doubt near the end of the 2017 season, and while he will return for 2018, it's fair to wonder if he is viewed internally as the surefire long-term option. With premium pass-rushers and an excellent defensive nucleus, Denver doesn't necessarily need Pro Bowl quarterback play from Case Keenum to return to the playoffs. He provided it in Minnesota last season, though. Can he maintain his performance? -- Yates

Biggest worry: I had two real concerns with this team heading into 2017 and beyond: QB Paxton Lynch and the offensive line. Well, it's game over for Lynch as far as his being the future in Denver, and the OL is still a big question mark. For 2018 and beyond, the primary concern is the status and standing of Joseph and if he truly is John Elway's man of the future. How Keenum produces, and if the defense can be a dominant force to propel the Broncos to a conference championship once again, is ultimately going to be how Joseph will be judged. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We graded the Broncos' coaching outlook as the NFL's fifth-worst heading into Joseph's second season, but what are we basing that on? A case can be made that Denver's quarterback play was so bad last season -- the Broncos' 31.1 Total QBR ranked 363rd out of 384 teams since 2006 -- that it distorted our view of the organization as a whole. In that case, even average play from Keenum could quickly recast the Broncos as an upper-tier team. -- Sando

Why they're here: GM Jason Licht is resourceful and aggressive, putting together a roster that has an infusion of youth. The most important piece of the roster is quarterback Jameis Winston, paired with coach Dirk Koetter, who was elevated from a coordinator role in part because of their chemistry. Koetter hasn't distinguished himself from a player development standpoint in two years on the job, and Winston -- who will miss the first three games of this season due to suspension -- must make strides. -- Yates
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Biggest worry: Winston has thrown this team into a state of uncertainty in a way that I thought was behind him when we did this exercise a year ago. I no longer would want him as the face of the franchise if I were GM in Tampa, and it isn't because he can't play at a high level. I think he can be one of the best in the NFL. I just don't trust him, and I don't know how the Buccaneers' front office can, either. I see this position looking very different in the near future as far as who is the man behind center long term. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Winston maturing on and off the field is the one variable that could influence the Buccaneers' trajectory most dramatically. The problem is, Winston will only become more expensive from a salary-cap standpoint, which will restrict the team's ability to build around him. That means Winston must take a huge step forward. -- Sando

Why they're here: There really isn't any mystery surrounding the two areas of concern for Indy in our rankings: the health of Andrew Luck and the need to beef up the roster around him. But we believe in the front office and coaching staff who are working in lockstep with an understanding of patience. This is going to take time. But the rebuild will be expedited by Luck's health, plus a far better pipeline of talent elsewhere through improved drafting compared to that of former GM Ryan Grigson. -- Yates

Biggest worry: I am still a believer in GM Chris Ballard in terms of his philosophy as it relates to roster construction, but there need to be significant contributions on the horizon from his recent roster additions, specifically those added through the draft. Ballard has drafted 19 players in the past two seasons, and a significant number of them must become impact players if the Colts are to become a force in the AFC South once again. Add in the fact that there is a new head coach for 2018 in Frank Reich, and you have a significant amount of uncertainty with this organization. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Colts simply need Luck to regain his health and past form. No one knows whether that will happen or how quickly it might happen, which is why Indy's quarterback situation ranked only 18th in our analysis. But if Luck does bounce back, the Colts will rise quickly. -- Sando

Why they're here: Much of the Raiders' approach to this offseason -- which will lay the foundation for the next few years under new coach Jon Gruden -- has skewed toward older veterans. Among the issues with that approach is that since a borderline historic 2014 draft class, the Raiders have largely whiffed in the draft. There simply needs to be more production from players on rookie contracts, with the team having already paid Derek Carr and likely soon to pay Khalil Mack, which impacts the overall salary-cap situation. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Big bets were made by Gruden and GM Reggie McKenzie on players who had either an injury history or character concerns in both free agency and trades (Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant) as well as the draft (Maurice Hurst, Arden Key). Team building involves risk no matter what you do or whom you acquire, but Oakland is rolling the dice big-time with some of the players it is bringing in. If they hit, the Raiders will be in serious contention for the foreseeable future. If these transactions don't pan out, the Raiders are going to be in big trouble. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Raiders will outperform our expectations if Gruden is the right coach for Carr, and if the team dramatically outperforms the No. 32 ranking we assigned it for a perceived lack of proficiency when it comes to drafting. That ranking seems harsh for a team that has had only one draft since Gruden arrived. -- Sando

Why they're here: The Redskins have quarterback clarity for the future for the first time in a long time, as Alex Smith is the man following a clumsy handling of the Kirk Cousins contract saga. The roster is not bereft of talent -- established or young -- but there is concern about this front office. The Cousins contract situation did not inspire a ton of confidence, but moreover, this is a front office in which questions persist specific to team president Bruce Allen. -- Yates

Biggest worry: There have been significant assets allocated to the defense in Washington through the draft over the past two seasons, and these players will determine just how successful this franchise is going to be. I'm talking about defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, defensive back Fabian Moreau and linebacker Ryan Anderson. All are quality players who come from quality programs, and with the offense in good hands with Smith, it is up to the defense to get this team over the hump. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We gave the Redskins very low marks for their drafting and front office. That outlook could change for the better if the team hires a strong GM or if someone such as Doug Williams grows into the role. -- Sando

Why they're here: We'll learn plenty about the Bears this season, as the team loaded up in free agency, and there's much better structure around quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in his second pro season. We'll learn more about GM Ryan Pace's evaluation skills too, but we've often seen him seemingly bargain against himself: signing Mike Glennon for major money, trading up for Trubisky (just one spot) and other aggressive moves. It's a crucial year in Chicago. -- Yates

Biggest worry: The Bears fixed what was my biggest concern a year ago in Chicago: the relationship between GM and coach. They hired Matt Nagy in 2018, and I am all-in on him. Now, it's all about if this front office can consistently deliver the goods from a personnel standpoint that will allow this new, first-time head coach to get his program off the ground and running at a level that can compete with the Packers and Vikings. I like what the Bears did in free agency and the draft in 2018. But that is just one year. This is about sustainability. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Bears are an easy team to bet against while first-time coach Nagy remains unproven and the team waits for recent first-round draft choices Kevin White, Leonard Floyd, Trubisky and Roquan Smith to realize their potential. The team will ascend in a hurry if those key contributors step up. -- Sando

Why they're here: This is the reality of what life after losing your quarterback and coach to retirement looks like. The Cardinals had to start from scratch at quarterback this offseason, making steep commitments in Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen. The areas to watch on the roster include defensive line, wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald and offensive line. There's a lot of new in Arizona, as the Cardinals are the only team with a new coach who is expected to roll out a new starting quarterback this season. -- Yates

Biggest worry: It's a two-part issue with the Cardinals that could derail everything. First, their ability to draft and develop starters, including overall depth of the quality that will contend for division and conference titles. Second, and more specifically, did they select their QB of the future in Rosen, both in terms of the right profile for their program, and do they have the right coaches in place to develop him? I am very skeptical about part one, but I do believe in Rosen as a prospect. We will see. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: It's tough betting too big on Arizona without knowing more about how head coach Steve Wilks and Rosen will fare in their critically important roles, but if both wind up being exceptional, Arizona would quickly become an NFC power again. -- Sando

Why they're here: While GM Dave Gettleman worked hard to make rapid improvements to his inherited roster -- Saquon Barkley, Nate Solder and Alec Ogletree are among those whose immediate returns will be significant -- he eschewed the long-term quarterback solution, waiting until the fourth round to draft a young quarterback. While it's possible that the heir apparent to Eli Manning will be either Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta, that's a major question facing a franchise that plays in a difficult division. -- Yates

Biggest worry: I like what Gettleman has done this offseason to get this team pointed back in the right direction. He has added some very nice pieces through free agency and the draft. What concerns me most is Manning. I don't see it ending well for him. I am of the belief that he is much closer to the end than others think, and I am hopeful that the Giants got a steal in fourth-round pick Lauletta. They will make a big turnaround in 2018 in terms of wins and losses, but I see a lot of uncertainty on the horizon at QB. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The immediate future hinges on whether Manning can perform at a high level when given a viable supporting cast. He played poorly last season with a weak offensive line, no running game and injured receiving targets. If the Giants' upgraded supporting cast leads to a Manning revival, the Giants' outlook improves substantially. -- Sando

Why they're here: It's clear where the Jets' long-term plan at quarterback rests, as Sam Darnold will eventually take over QB1 duties. But the rest of the roster is a significant work in progress, with a true lack of difference-makers on offense at the skill position spots, no dominant edge presence on defense and the need for more linebacker depth. GM Mike Maccagnan has made some notably good selections in the draft, but his free-agency track record isn't as strong. -- Yates

Biggest worry: A year ago I thought the Jets were dead in the water long term because they had no long-term answer at QB. They have flipped the script at that position with Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, the drafting of Darnold and the promotion of Jeremy Bates to OC. My concern now is the overall strength and depth of the rest of the roster, specifically on offense. Is GM Mike Maccagnan up to the task in conjunction with head coach Todd Bowles? I'm skeptical. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: Two things have to happen for the Jets' projected outlook to improve significantly. Darnold must be all the Jets think he can be, and the team's talent around Darnold must be better than we think it is. -- Sando

Why they're here: In a league in which patience is fleeting, one can argue that the Bengals have too much of it. Coach Marvin Lewis was signed to a two-year extension this offseason when it seemed the Bengals would move in a different direction. The message from that and from a front office that hasn't done much to rock the boat is that being good -- not great -- can be OK. The Bengals have yet to win a playoff game under Lewis' watch. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Does anything ever really change in Cincinnati? This is a team that, year after year, has enough athletes and skilled players to make some noise in its division and conference. However, the problems remain the same. I don't believe this coaching staff, or any coaching staff for that matter, is good enough to overcome a front office that lacks competent structure and decision-making protocol. Furthermore, quarterback Andy Dalton isn't good enough. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: It's obvious our projections are suffering from status-quo fatigue. As tough as it might be to get excited about another year with Lewis and Dalton as franchise centerpieces, the Bengals could certainly do much worse. It's entirely possible youngsters Joe Mixon and John Ross will lead an offensive revival behind a fortified offensive line, which would quickly alter the outlook for Cincy. -- Sando

Why they're here: It's a talent issue in Buffalo -- for now. GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have an unquestioned vision and a unique ability to maximize the pieces in place, but perhaps no other roster lacks talent on offense the way the Bills do. Josh Allen will take over as the starting quarterback at some point, but the Bills will need to work hard to build a nucleus of playmakers around him. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Last year at this time I stated that I did not believe Tyrod Taylor was the guy to take the Bills to the top of the division standings and supplant the Patriots as the unquestioned kings of the AFC East. Well, Buffalo management apparently felt the same way, and made a big bet by trading up to draft Allen seventh overall. If he isn't what the Bills think he is, and if they do not put the right pieces around him (which I also have major concerns about), this organization will be undergoing another reset in the next two to four years. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We weren't sold on Allen's ability to compensate for a roster that seems to be in a rebuilding state. The outlook improves sharply if Allen is significantly better than we expect him to be. The quarterback position is difficult to project, so it will not be shocking if Allen outperforms our expectations for him. -- Sando

Why they're here: A flurry of offseason activity has the Browns primed to make a major step forward this year based on improved talent alone. But there are still players among that group whom we need to "see it to believe it," such as quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Josh Gordon (again). Most pressingly, there's a massive debate about whether the Browns have the right coach in place, with Hue Jackson guiding his team to just one win in two years. The talent has been absent, but one win in 32 tries is shocking. -- Yates

Biggest worry: I didn't like DeShone Kizer for the Browns in 2017. He is gone. I'm not a big believer in Myles Garrett being a franchise-changing pass-rusher. We shall see. And I don't think this coaching staff, particularly on offense, is good enough to take what is clearly an improved roster from a personnel standpoint and make it into a division contender, particularly as it pertains to the QB position. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: We gave the Browns league-worst marks in the coaching category. That is fair in light of Jackson's 1-31 record over the past two seasons. However, it's also true that Jackson had very little to work with from a personnel standpoint. That is changing, and now Jackson has help on the offensive staff with veteran assistants Todd Haley and Ken Zampese joining forces. We could be underrating the coaching outlook. -- Sando

Why they're here: While we on the outside will never have all the information that teams operate with and plan/build around, we can typically get a sense of the how and why behind moves made and organizational direction. That's not the case in Miami, where the team shipped out several talented veterans such as Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jarvis Landry in an apparent effort to improve the culture, taking on investments in players with questions in different ways: Is Robert Quinn still an elite pass-rusher? Can Danny Amendola handle a full-time role? Is Albert Wilson worth No. 2 receiver money? Simply put, the future is hard to forecast in Miami. -- Yates

Biggest worry: Every year it seems the Dolphins are doing some sort of philosophical "reset," ridding the roster of malcontents, trying to get the chemistry right, trying to get the correct mix of players who fit what they want to be as a team and organization. The problem for me is, I don't think there is a consensus as to who the Dolphins want to be or how they should go about getting there when it comes to the coaching staff and front office, and I don't see this version lasting much longer. The NFL is a production business, and if the Dolphins don't start winning more games, I see changes coming. -- Riddick

What could change for the better: The Dolphins ranked among the bottom five in every category except coaching. Their quarterback situation ranked only 28th, which means the team could be better than projected even if Ryan Tannehill is merely average upon his return from injury. Miami can exceed expectations further if the team's addition-by-subtraction approach to personnel allows the whole to exceed the sum of the parts. -- Sando
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