Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

NFL Power Rankings 2018: Examining Super Bowl Favorites Following Preseason

Paul Kasabian

It's not uncommon for the Super Bowl champion to come off a down year. The Philadelphia Eagles went from 7-9 and out of the playoffs to 13-3 and Super Bowl winners in one year.

For a more extreme example, the St. Louis Rams finished dead last in the NFC West at 4-12 before becoming the Greatest Show on Turf in 1999 and winning the Super Bowl over the Tennessee Titans.

While the teams at the top of the power rankings may be considered the Super Bowl favorites, it wouldn't be shocking to see a team in the bottom half lift the Lombardi Trophy.

             

NFL Power Rankings

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2. New England Patriots

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Minnesota Vikings

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

6. Los Angeles Rams

7. New Orleans Saints

8. Atlanta Falcons

9. Green Bay Packers

10. Carolina Panthers

11. Los Angeles Chargers

12. Kansas City Chiefs

13. New York Giants

14. Chicago Bears

15. Houston Texans

16. San Francisco 49ers

17. Tennessee Titans

18. Baltimore Ravens

19. Detroit Lions

20. Seattle Seahawks

21. Dallas Cowboys

22. Denver Broncos

23. Arizona Cardinals

24. Cincinnati Bengals

25. Indianapolis Colts

26. New York Jets

27. Cleveland Browns

28. Washington Redskins

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30. Oakland Raiders

31. Miami Dolphins

32. Buffalo Bills

                  

The 2017 Conference Winners

Expect the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to contend once again, even with quarterback Carson Wentz returning from a torn ACL that prematurely ended his 2017 season. Wentz could be a bit rusty once back on the field, but he was a big reason why Philly went 13-3 en route to a championship.

For the season, the former North Dakota State star threw 33 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions in 13 games. Remarkably, he finished second in touchdowns behind only Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (34).

The New England Patriots haven't missed the playoffs since 2008, when quarterback Matt Cassel led the team to an 11-5 record. They missed the postseason thanks to an usually top-heavy year in the AFC. Don't expect that to happen again with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady calling signals. The team returns a bevy of talent on offense, led by Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wideouts Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.

The latter player will miss four games because of suspension, but the Pats are a dominant offensive force who are hard to bet against, especially with seven-time Super Bowl winner and head coach Bill Belichick calling the shots.

               

The NFC South Triforce

The good news for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers is that they have formidable rosters on paper entering the 2018 campaign.

The bad news is that those three teams may beat up each other in a tough NFC South.

That was the case last year, although it didn't prevent any of the three teams from making the playoffs. The Saints swept the Panthers, while the New Orleans-Atlanta and Atlanta-Carolina series ended in splits. Still, all three teams ended with 11-5 or 10-6 records.

The emergence of rookie running back Alvin Kamara in addition to a formidable defense led by defensive end Cameron Jordan and a dynamite secondary featuring cornerback Marshon Lattimore made the difference for New Orleans last year. If not for the Minneapolis Miracle, the Saints would have at least gone to the NFC Championship.

The Carolina Panthers return two of the best players in the league in quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly. The former is a dynamic rushing force who can keep his team in any game thanks to his mobility, while the latter has been a tackling machine and stalwart on the Panthers defense since 2012.

As for the Falcons, they are hard to count out when they still have wideout Julio Jones in the mix. The elite receiver has averaged 103 catches, 1,579 yards and six touchdowns over the past four seasons, per Pro Football Reference. There's no reason to believe the 29-year-old will slow down this season.

                            

The Offensive Superpowers

The Los Angeles Rams turned from a 4-12 laughingstock into an 11-5 offensive firepower over the course of one season thanks to head coach Sean McVay and a bevy of talent on offense, led by running back Todd Gurley.

The Green Bay Packers struggled last year largely because quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone that forced him to miss more than half the season. But with him back on the field this year, the Pack should be a dominant offensive team once again.

Both the Rams and Packers should be Super Bowl contenders. L.A. may be one of the most well-rounded teams in the league thanks to a tough offense, a stacked defense that added cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and a special teams unit led by one of the best kickers in the league in Greg Zuerlein.

Up north, Green Bay returns wideout Davante Adams, who has 22 touchdowns over the past two seasons despite missing a little action because of injury. The Packers also have a tough three-headed attack at running back with Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones.

Jimmy Graham is the team's new tight end, and if he gets close to his form in New Orleans, then Green Bay could have the best offense in football.

   
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