Big Easy Magazine’s Pre-Season 2019 NFL Power Rankings


Photo Credit: Phillip Petty III, JRNOLA

The New Orleans Saints are officially “on vacation” for the next month. Players, coaches, training staff, and front office personnel all are enjoying a well-earned and much-deserved break before they return to begin the start of the team’s 2019 Training Camp on July 25th.

As the 2019 NFL Season draws even closer, we’re putting out our very first edition of Big Easy Magazine’s NFL Power Rankings for the season ahead, with all of the League’s 32 reams, which, of course, includes the Black and Gold.

So where do the Saints rank? Let’s find out as we take a detailed look at the Top 10, followed by “the best of the rest.”

1. New England Patriots

The Patriots top our initial list for the upcoming season, mostly out of respect for a franchise that last season won their League-record tying 6th Super Bowl title, and their whopping 9th Super Bowl appearance of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era.

The biggest loss that New England has had to endure in the months since that Super Bowl victory over the Rams this past February is the somewhat-surprising retirement of 30-year old All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who eventually will be replaced by former Saints tight end Benjamin Watson – but not until the 38-year old Watson finishes serving a 4-game suspension to begin the regular season.

Brady undoubtedly will be smitten with brand new rookie 1st Round draft pick and potential star WR N’Keal Harry from Arizona State, who the Patriots selected with the No. 32 overall pick. But ultimately, it will be the now 42-year old Brady’s overall performance that will determine just how far the aging Patriots dynasty will go in 2019.

2. New Orleans Saints

Photo Credit: Chris Taylor, JRNOLA

After their season ended in heartbreak for a 2nd straight year, the Saints — who many analysts believe still have the League’s best team overall starting from the very top of their current roster all the way down to the bottom of it —appear to have strengthened it even further after they added former All-Pro and 10th year veteran tight end Jared Cook in Free Agency.

Since joining the team, the 32-year old Cook has shown no signs whatsoever of ‘slowing down’ anytime soon, and his presence will give veteran QB Drew Brees an additional dimension/weapon at the position that has been notably missing since the team traded former superstar Jimmy Graham a few years ago. But perhaps more impressive was how New Orleans managed to select a handful of highly-rated players in the recent 2019 NFL Draft back in late April.

Despite having a limited number of draft picks because of several trades they made last year; New Orleans still managed to improve their roster with a handful of players of whom were all still available after falling through the proverbial cracks and hadn’t been taken yet; including “plug and play”Texas A&M center Erik McCoy and University of Florida “ballhawk” safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The Saints essentially “reloaded” their offensive arsenal for another run at a Super Bowl title. but it’s their much-improved defense that ultimately will determine how far they go later on at the end of this year.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Some will feel that this is a bit too high to rank the Chiefs, but despite losing yet another weapon for their offense in WR Tyreek Hill (who is suspected of and being investigated for alleged child abuse, the coaching-QB duo of head coach Andy Reid and young quarterback sensation Patrick Mahomes is still firmly in place after they advanced to (but lost) a heart-breaking contest in last season’s AFC Championship Game they, like the Saints, are squarely focused on reaching the Super Bowl this year.

Kansas City compensated for the loss of Hill by drafting University of Georgia receiver Mecole Hardman (No. 56 overall), who actually might be even faster than Hill was. given the fact that he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine but in game action on film/videotape looks to be even faster than he actually is.

But also similar to the Saints, the Chiefs’ ultimate success or failure will hinge largely upon their defense, which, since the end of the year has seen them change the defensive coaching staff and the base system. Then in Free Agency the Chiefs went out and acquired as many as seven new defensive starters, including former LSU All-American safety Tyrann Mathieu, former Saints defensive end Alex Okafor, and former Seattle veteran defensive end Frank Clark. How quickly the Chiefs defense can “gel” together as a unit will obviously be the key factor to their season — but Mahomes’ undeniable talent alone could push them to much greater heights.

4. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams obviously were the primary benefactors of the infamous no-call in the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome that cost the Saints a spot in the Super Bowl, but they’ll return a majority of players that helped them get to the Super Bowl last year.

Their major focus to begin the 2019 Season will squarely rest upon the mighty shoulders of veteran RB Todd Gurley, whose injury issues remain a concern and whose overall health will largely impact their season once again this year. Nevertheless, the duo of offensive “guru”/head coach Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff should keep them well within the upper echelon of teams League-wide.

The Rams will still have their incredible array of receiving weapons at Goff’s disposal, such as Robert Woods, former Saints WR Brandin Cooks, and the returning Cooper Kupp, who missed most of last year with a torn ACL that he suffered early last November. However, it’s their notoriously stout defense that they’ll likely have to rely on the most once again this season. Other than the loss of former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (who signed with Tampa Bay in Free Agency), the Rams led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald will still remain as serious contenders to make it all the way to the Super Bowl this year as well.

5. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were by far and away the most improved team in the NFL last season (from a 3-13 record in 2017 to 10-6 and a Wild Card Playoff spot in 2018); and their rapid ascension is likely to continue this upcoming 2019 Season – especially since they added even more breath-taking talent with former Ohio State speedster and wide receiver Parris Campbell late in the 2nd round (#59 overall) in this year’s recent 2019 NFL Draft.

The Colts offense once again will be led by QB Andrew Luck, who will undoubtedly enjoy having Campbell added to the weaponry in 2nd-year head coach Frank Reich‘s offensive scheme, but it’s actually their young defense that could be the catalyst for them to go much further in the Playoffs in 2019. All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard returns for his 2nd NFL season, and he was the leader of a defensive unit that finished 11th overall last season.

To that end, Indy added former Kansas City defensive end Justin Houston (who has 78.5 sacks in his career) in Free Agency back in early March; and if the wily veteran and former Chiefs All-Pro pass rusher is able to have a strong “bounce back” year this coming season at age 30, it could allow the Colts to advance well beyond the Wild Card Playoff round in the post-season come next January.

6. Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia — who was eliminated in the Divisional Playoff Round last year by the Saints but had won the Super Bowl the previous season in 2017 — recently re-signed 3rd year veteran QB Carson Wentz to a massive 4-year $128 million contract extension (with an incredible $107 million of it fully guaranteed and a jaw-dropping $32 million per season) to run the team’s talented offensive attack for the next several years into the future.

But perhaps the biggest additions they made this off-season were in their running game; following the trade for former Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard, along with the addition of Penn State RB Miles Sanders (in the 2nd round at #53 overall); which should allow head coach Doug Pederson to balance his offensive scheme instead of having to be forced to have Wentz slinging passes 50 times per game.

But their most least-publicized move of the off-season was the addition of long-time veteran and still-blazing fast/WR deep-ball threat wide receiver DeSean Jackson, whose return to Philly (the Eagles drafted him originally back in the 2008 NFL Draft 11 years ago). Much like several other veteran players at his age (32) this upcoming season, Jackson appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank, and paired up with Wentz could be poised for a big season – assuming he can avoid any nagging injuries that will cost him playing time. But if nothing else: the Eagles will still firmly remain as one of the teams to beat in the NFC.

7. Los Angeles Chargers

There might not be a more disrespected (and clearly underrated) “top-notch” NFL team than the Chargers, who moved up the Southern California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, where they will share the newly-constructed L.A. Stadium with the Rams beginning next year during the 2020 NFL Season. Last season in 2018, the Chargers finished with a (12-4) win-loss record and easily cruised to the AFC West Division Championship behind the leadership of now-16th year veteran QB Phillip Rivers.

During the off-season, Los Angeles didn’t exactly break open the bank for any notable players in Free Agency (linebacker Thomas Davis and backup QB Tyrod Taylor), but nevertheless their team should be even better this coming season with the collective returns of injured players such as tight end Hunter Henry, cornerback Trevor Williams and linebackers Denzel Perryman and Kyzir White returning to their active roster after they all ended the 2018 Season on injured reserve.

They’ll also be boosted even further with the additions of former University of Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and dynamic play-making University of Delaware safety Nasir Adderley in the recently-completed 2019 NFL Draft; and in a manner very similar to that of the Saints, will be playing the upcoming season in “win now” mode, with a loaded roster led by a wily-veteran quarterback. Now if they could just only get a little bit more respect, like getting people to stop referring to them still as the “San Diego” Chargers.

8. Chicago Bears

After winning the NFC North Division Championship last season with an (11-5) win-loss record, the Bears lost a heart-breaking game in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, after then-Chicago kicker Cody Parkey infamously missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the contest. Parkey was released by the team a few days later.

Since then, the Bears and head coach Matt Nagy have been nearly obsessed with finding a permanent kicker to replace the departed Parkey, and remarkably even had a ridiculous eight kickers (that’s right: 8 of them) attend the team’s rookie mini-camp last month; with two of them (Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry) due to report to their training camp later next month.

That bit of craziness aside, the Bears are still one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFC; and with 3rd year QB Mitchell Trubisky leading the offense and defensive superstar pass-rusher Khalil Mack leading one of the NFL’s top defensive units, it’s a given that Chicago will once again contend for a division title and a Playoff spot, with a shot at going to the Super Bowl being their primary goal for the upcoming 2019 NFL Season ahead.

9. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys won the NFC East Division Championship last season but were eliminated from the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs out in Los Angeles by the Rams, but will return essentially the same team last season that beat out the Philadelphia Eagles for division supremacy.

Dallas and Philly will both battle it out again this upcoming season, but the Cowboys have had a solid off-season; mostly by keeping and re-signing their own core of talented young stars. First, they were able to re-sign defensive end and pass-rusher extraordinaire DeMarcus Lawrence to a 5-year, $105 million deal; and now just within the past several days reportedly have been involved in contract-extension talks with QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, and RB Ezekiel Elliott.

They also added former Rams and Dolphins defensive end/pass-rushing specialist Robert Quinn in Free Agency, so keeping up with the Eagles shouldn’t be much of a problem, But if an inspired and rejuvenated tight end Jason Witten (who came out of retirement and surprisingly left his ESPN Monday Night Football gig) adds another element to their passing game for Prescott, it could be the difference-maker in a few games this year — and one they clearly lacked in the Playoffs last year.

10. Baltimore Ravens

If there was ANY one NFL team that improved themselves more from where they were at the end of last season not counting the Cleveland Browns, then it absolutely would be Baltimore; who hit a proverbial “grand slam home run” in the 2019 NFL Draft a few months ago. They took University of Oklahoma All-American WR and superstar speed demon Marquise Brown in the 1st Round, and later added another top-caliber WR with Miles Boykin out of Notre Dame and Oklahoma State superstar RB Justice Hill as well. On the defensive side of the ball, they added all-time NCAA career sacks leader and former Louisiana Tech University star defensive end Jaylon Ferguson.

But it was in Free Agency where Baltimore underwent the biggest transformation; and despite the loss on defense of former veterans Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, they just might have found suitable replacements by signing veterans Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray. And of course: on offense, they signed former Saints RB Mark Ingram, who now gives them a true and legitimate #1 RB that they haven’t had in some time.

But without any doubt, there entire success or failure and a chance to repeat as AFC North Division Champions will depend upon the maturation of 2nd year QB Lamar Jackson; who the Ravens have anointed to be their brand new franchise quarterback after they traded away former starting QB Joe Flacco in the off-season to the Denver Broncos. If the 1-2 punch of Ingram and Hill is able to give them a boost, it could make them the “dark horse” Super Bowl contenders right behind the Patriots and the Chiefs, in the AFC.

That was our Top 10. Now here are the “best of the rest”:

11. Houston Texans

12. Seattle Seahawks

13. Minnesota Vikings

14. Atlanta Falcons

15. Cleveland Browns

16. Tennessee Titans

17. Green Bay Packers

18. Pittsburgh Steelers

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

20. Washington Redskins

21. Denver Broncos

22. Detroit Lions

23. Carolina Panthers

24. Cincinnati Bengals

25. Buffalo Bills

26. Miami Dolphins

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

28. New York Giants

29. San Francisco 49ers

30. Oakland Raiders

31. New York Jets

32. Arizona Cardinals


Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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