With summer officially over and Fall in the air, the leaves aren’t the only things that are going to be changing. As an NFL fan, you are now leaving #ArbitraryAllTimeListSzn to enter into the much more official (or at least based on more concrete evidence) #PowerRankingsSzn.
While the “all-time list” and “Mount Rushmore” content of the dog days of summer are fun, power rankings have a bit more of a legit feel to them. As opposed to just listening to your buddies arguing endlessly at the bar about their own objective opinions due to a dearth of actual stuff to talk about, power rankings feel more like a glimpse into something like the stock market, where ratings rise and fall based on cold hard facts (or at least what we perceive to be fact in that moment in time).
Of course, there’s always an objectivity in pretty much any sports writing, and that does include power rankings to an extent - especially if you feel like your favorite team is getting a raw deal. Dan Hanzus of NFL.com is probably getting a lot of heat on Twitter for that exact reason right now after posting his first regular season power rankings list of the year.
There are some surprises and some slam dunks, and if you’re a Ravens fan, you’re likely to be happy with where Hanzus has the squad listed heading into Week 1. Putting them at number 11, he makes an interesting case for why he currently sees Baltimore as a 2019 playoff squad:
“I posed this question to my Around The NFL Podcast colleagues on a recent episode: What, besides a second-year plateau or regression by quarterback Lamar Jackson, can hold the 2019 Ravens back? The general consensus was the untested new core of Baltimore’s front seven, a pillar of strength in this organization for so long. Free agency did a number on the Ravens this spring -- longtime sackmaster Terrell Suggs joined Arizona, while star linebacker C.J. Mosley scored a huge contract and bounced to the Jets. Another impact linebacker, Za’Darius Smith, signed a deal with the Packers. That’s a lot of talent to lose, but luckily for the Ravens, they have one of the best defensive coordinators in football in Don Martindale. Some teams you just expect to figure it out. The Baltimore Ravens qualify -- especially when it comes to defense.”
Even the most skeptical Ravens fans would have to agree he makes a decent point. Jackson was solid enough to finish 6-2 last season, so unless he completely implodes, the offense should again be a solid unit. The concerns of the pass rush are fair to some degree, but the Ravens are a franchise that is known for figuring it out defensively, similar to Pittsburgh with the wide receiver position.
Speaking of the Steelers, he has them as the best of the AFC North ranked at number eight, and believes that their offense is looking at addition by subtraction in the post “killer bees” era:
“The Steelers are about to prove you can lose two superstars and actually get better on offense. That’s a credit to the organization’s ability to constantly restock talent at the skill positions around Ben Roethlisberger. James Conner already delivered his breakout season in place of Le’Veon Bell last year, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, at age 22, is locked in as a superstar replacement for Antonio Brown. Now keep an eye out for second-year receiver James Washington, lighter and quicker than during his rookie campaign and making plays all summer. His 41-yard touchdown catch against the Titans was his second big play of the preseason, and Pittsburgh’s incredible track record of developing wide receivers makes you think Washington will carry it over to games that count.”
While many aren’t overly high on the Steelers this season, a nice argument for them being more competitive than many believe is made here. While some may take issue with his ranking of Pittsburgh, his placing of Cleveland is sure to turn some heads, as we inch closer and closer to the most unhinged era of unbridled optimism in Browns history.
In ranking the offseason champion at 15th, Hanzus voices serious concern for what does look to be a somewhat patchwork offensive line at this point in time:
“The biggest concern for the Browns right now: What happens when you take a talent-deficient, unproven offensive line and task it with protecting a swashbuckling young quarterback who hangs in the pocket, keeps his eyes up and always looks for the big play? Yep, there’s potential for disaster, and Cleveland’s biggest assignment this season is to make sure Baker Mayfield isn’t watching games on the sideline in a sling come December. The trade for guard Wyatt Teller tells you GM John Dorsey is keenly aware of this situation. On the flip side, there are no concerns about the Browns tasked with attacking the opposing offensive line this season. Cleveland’s defensive line terrorized Jameis Winston in the Week 3 preseason dress rehearsal, piling up five sacks in a shutout first half. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon could rival Von Miller and Bradley Chubb for most sacks by a duo in 2019.”
This is maybe the most negative review you’ll read of the Browns heading into the season, as some see them as the clear class of their division and a true Super Bowl contender in 2019. Whatever you think of Cleveland and all their talent, the O-Line is a bit of a concern, as is a first year head coach with a ton of expectations to meet.
A first year head coach with no expectations to meet is currently located in Cincinnati. Zac Taylor has taken over an operation with an outlook just barely more optimistic than the Titanic, and their ranking reflects as such. Hanzus goes into more detail in his writeup where he ranks them at 30th:
“If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Bengals would have no luck at all. It’s been a summer of dispiriting injuries for Cincinnati, who learned Friday that rookie running back Rodney Anderson re-tore his ACL in the preseason finale against the Colts. It’s the same ACL he tore early in his final season at Oklahoma, an injury that played a big role in him falling to the Bengals in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Cincinnati has a bell-cow back in Joe Mixon and a change-of-pace option in Giovani Bernard, but Anderson was a promising piece who flashed in his preseason debut against the Giants. What a shame. He joins a Bengals injury list that includes A.J. Green (out indefinitely, ankle), and first-round pick Jonah Williams (likely to miss season, shoulder). Hang in there, Bengals fans.”
Some see Baltimore and Pittsburgh as a much more even matchup, and others are much more gung-ho about Cleveland, but ultimately there’s not a whole lot to argue with considering the rationale on these rankings. Regardless, we’ll know more when the first slate of games have already played out and another batch of power rankings are on the way.
Until then, enjoy Week 1 everybody! Football is officially back.