NFL power rankings: Rams, Vikings, Jaguars are on heels of Eagles, Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speak at midfield after a preseason game on Aug. 16 in Foxborough, Mass. Philadelphia and New England appear to be Super Bowl favorites again this season. (Charles Krupa / AP)

The 2018 NFL season kicks off Thursday night with the Atlanta Falcons visiting the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who start this year as the No. 1 team in our power rankings. Be sure to check back every Tuesday for our weekly update.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

Nick Foles is the pick to start the opener at quarterback after the defending champs spent all of training camp and the preseason wondering if Carson Wentz would be available while watching Foles, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, struggle with nagging injuries and less-than-promising on-field results. No matter. The Eagles are the league’s top team until someone proves otherwise. They have a still-shiny Lombardi Trophy to prove it.

2. New England Patriots (13-3)

Is it the final year together for quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick under the stewardship of owner Robert Kraft? That story line is not going away. Brady was the league’s MVP and nearly passed the Patriots to another Super Bowl title last season at age 40. Does he have any football magic left in him at 41?

3. Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

The Rams added wide receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to what was already a good team. Football traditionalists are wagging their fingers and saying that purchasing a super team never has been the way to a Super Bowl title. It’s up to coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to hold it all together and prove conventional NFL roster-building wisdom wrong. Getting Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, signed to a new deal to end his holdout more than a week before the season certainly didn’t hurt.

4. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

The pressure is on quarterback Kirk Cousins after the Vikings used a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal to add him as the presumptive final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle. Will he really play all that much better for the Vikings this season than Case Keenum did last season?

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)

The Jaguars stayed the course at quarterback by retaining Blake Bortles. If the defense remains dominating and the running game stays effective with Leonard Fournette, Bortles will be set up for success.

6. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

It remains stunning, so many months later, that the Saints actually lost that NFC playoff game at Minnesota. Was that quarterback Drew Brees’s last, best chance to get back to a Super Bowl? That remains to be seen. The Saints were a title contender last season because they were a balanced team that could play defense and run the ball on offense, rather than relying so heavily on Brees’ passing. They would be wise to seek the same level of versatility this season.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

It’s another year, another franchise tag, another contract impasse, another late arrival for running back Le’Veon Bell. It’s not the ideal way to begin what could be the final attempt by Bell to reach a Super Bowl in tandem with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

8. Green Bay Packers (7-9)

Aaron Rodgers is back – with a contract extension – for what the Packers hope is an injury-free season. Green Bay will be a contender as long as Rodgers remains in the lineup for something close to a full season. But it’s debatable whether the Packers have enough around Rodgers to keep pace with the Vikings in the NFC North.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

L.A.’s “other” team played well after a shaky start last season. But even if the Chargers are a legitimate contender this season, will anyone in Los Angeles actually notice?

10. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

The Titans will try to build on a playoff season, albeit one that was followed by a coaching change from Mike Mularkey to Mike Vrabel. Quarterback Marcus Mariota should take another step in his fourth NFL season. But it could be crowded at the top in the suddenly imposing AFC South with the Jaguars in the Super Bowl-contending mix and the Texans welcoming back Deshaun Watson.

11. Carolina Panthers (11-5)

The Panthers brought in Norv Turner as offensive coordinator to aid the passing development of quarterback Cam Newton. If Turner does his part, Carolina could jump ahead of New Orleans in the rugged NFC South.

12. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

Quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense weren’t quite the same last season without coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who had left to become the head coach in San Francisco. Everyone has had more time to adjust, and the Falcons remain a talented team.

13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

Failing to make the playoffs was not a great way to avoid losing early in the playoffs. The Bengals attempt to get back into the postseason after following five straight playoff seasons (and five straight opening-round playoff defeats) with two straight nonplayoff seasons.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

Patrick Mahomes takes over at quarterback after the trade of Alex Smith to Washington. Mahomes probably will mix brilliant throws with rookie-like mistakes. But he has terrific playmakers around him on offense, and the Chiefs should remain in contention in the AFC West.

15. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

It has been three straight nonplayoff seasons for the Ravens. The pressure is squarely on Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. It’s the final season for General Manager Ozzie Newsome, and it could be a make-or-break season for Harbaugh and Flacco.

16. New York Giants (3-13)

The Giants opted against a rebuilding project by using the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft on running back Saquon Barkley to help Eli Manning rather than on a quarterback to eventually replace him. They just handed out a record-setting contract extension to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. They have given Manning a chance to have some success before his NFL career ends. But does he have enough left to make things work?

17. Chicago Bears (5-11)

The stunning trade for pass rusher and former NFL defensive player of the year Khalil Mack makes it conceivable that the Bears could be in the playoff-contending mix. They will try to be this season’s version of the Rams, hoping that their young coach (Matt Nagy) can work wonders with their young quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky). It usually isn’t quite as easy as Sean McVay and Jared Goff made it look last season in L.A., though.

18. Detroit Lions (9-7)

Matt Patricia is the rare new NFL head coach who gets to inherit a team coming off a winning season and with a franchise quarterback in place, in Matthew Stafford. So much should be expected.

19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

There is no suspension looming for running back Ezekiel Elliott as this season begins. So now the Cowboys find out if that was really the problem last season, or if there was much more to it.

20. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

The 5-0 finish to last season with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback reinvigorated the franchise and created hopes that the 49ers could challenge the Rams for NFC West supremacy. They might not be quite ready for that, but they are an extremely interesting team again. The season-ending knee injury suffered by running back Jerick McKinnon was extremely damaging, however.

21. Washington Redskins (7-9)

Trading for Alex Smith to take over at quarterback was about the best that the Redskins could have done once it became clear that they had franchise-tagged their way to ensuring Kirk Cousins’s departure. But losing running back Derrius Guice to a knee injury before his rookie season even began was significant. Adrian Peterson had his eye-catching preseason moments. But he is still a 33-year-old running back, so everyone should keep the return-to-greatness expectations in check.

22. Houston Texans (4-12)

Deshaun Watson is back. The Texans hope that he picks up right where he left off during his brilliant but abbreviated rookie season at quarterback. J.J. Watt returns as well, although there is reason to question whether he can ever regain the dominance from the days when he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year three times. The Texans should be improved, but catching the Jaguars and Titans won’t be easy.

23. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Is it too late for the Bills to get back Tyrod Taylor? Seriously, what was the big rush to get rid of him? He helped the Bills to the playoffs last season. It’s tough to envision them getting back there, given the current quarterback situation. Josh Allen might be the answer long term. But is he ready to be the answer as a rookie?

24. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

Rookie Josh Rosen awaits his turn at quarterback behind Sam Bradford, who last played 16 games in an NFL season in 2012. How long could it possibly take?

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

Ryan Fitzpatrick begins the season as the starter at quarterback while Jameis Winston serves his three-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Expectations are low for the Buccaneers. But maybe that’s not such a terrible thing, given how they have failed to deliver in recent seasons when they and Winston were a trendy choice to make a breakthrough.

26. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Ryan Tannehill returns at quarterback for the Dolphins. That is a good thing, right?

27. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)

Hey, didn’t you used to be the Seahawks? The defense is unrecognizable from the version that once took the franchise to two Super Bowls. Much will be asked of quarterback Russell Wilson.

28. Denver Broncos (5-11)

Chief roster architect John Elway turns to Case Keenum at quarterback, and the Broncos try to rebound from an ugly season. The addition of rookie pass rusher Bradley Chubb to go with Von Miller should help the defense considerably. But is that enough to turn things around in Year 2 for coach Vance Joseph?

29. New York Jets (5-11)

Rookie Sam Darnold has looked like the real deal at quarterback during the preseason, and the expectations are high. But everyone needs to calm down for a little while and give Darnold a bit of time to develop and learn. There will be some ups and downs. But the Jets were right to take him third overall in the NFL draft and right to make him the starter from Day 1.

30. Oakland Raiders (6-10)

That king’s ransom of draft picks secured in the Khalil Mack trade won’t do Jon Gruden any immediate good this season as he returns to coaching and the Raiders attempt to get back to the level they reached in 2016 before last season’s disappointments. If Gruden believed that the team he inherited was good enough to contend, would he have shipped off his best player?

31. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Andrew Luck returns. But have the Colts improved the team around him enough for it to matter much?

32. Cleveland Browns (0-16)

Yes, the Browns should be decidedly better. But there’s a long way to go toward respectability after totaling one win over the past two seasons. They remain the Browns until they prove otherwise.