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Battle Red Blog End of Season Power Rankings, Part IV: The Top of the Heap

Welcome to the elite!

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

These are the best eight teams in the NFL. All eight of these teams are either prepared for a Super Bowl run, have a superstar quarterback to carry them there, or both. Welcome to the elite of the NFL, a spot I’d never expect Jared Goff to return to, and on a new team!

Here we go;

8. Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Detroit’s 2022 season may have started with a thud, but it ended with spectacular fireworks over Green Bay. Detroit was 1-6 and probably a few games away from firing their head coach, when OC Ben Johnson’s offense suddenly went on a rampage, scoring 25+ points in 7 of their last 10 games, going 7-2 in that span. QB Jared Goff, OT Penei Sewell, and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown headed a top 10 passing offense, one that launched Goff back into the Pro Bowl! Goff was an excellent passer in this offense, which successfully surrounded him with a bevy of playmakers. Detroit’s defense, however, left much to be desired. Rookie DE Aidan Hutchinson was one of the very few bright spots on a defense that ranked 28th in points allowed. They were ultimately cut short of a playoff berth by spoiling loss to the Carolina Panthers late in the season, but they at least got to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.

The Lions really couldn’t be in much of a better position to improve during the offseason. With ~$30 million in cap space, eight picks in the draft - including two picks in the first two rounds - and a great pile of impending free agents to sift through, the Lions can go after exactly what they need to win more games in 2023. G Evan Brown, WR DJ Chark, RB Jamaal Williams, and RB Justin Jackosn make up the most important offensive players entering free agency. Chark took a bit of a backseat to WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and WR Josh Reynolds, but he can still be a Pro-Bowl caliber WR. Brown and Williams were much more important to this team’s success in 2022, meaning they’re far more likely to be re-signed. LB Alex Anzalone, DI Isaiah Buggs, DE John Cominsky, S DeShon Elliot, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, and CB Amani Oruwariye make up a pretty significant list of defenders Detroit will have to make decisions about as they enter free agency. Anzalone, Cominsky, Harris, and Hughes were massive elements on defense, and I’d say it’s likely they’ll re-sign at least two of them, if not all. But, with draft capital like this, there’s always the opportunity to find someone better in the first or second round.

Key Offseason Targets: CB, DT, S, QB

7. Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Cowboys have been pining for the Super Bowl since before I was born, but this is the first year I can remember considering them a real threat to go all the way. When this defense was operating at full capacity behind LB Micah Parsons and S Malik Hooker, the sky was the limit. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn dug in on the strengths of Parsons and a backfield with the likes of Hooker, S Jayron Kearse, S Donovan Wilson, and CB Trevon Diggs, creating a deadly pass defense. When this offense was banging on all cylinders with a healthy QB Dak Prescott and strong-rushing attack, scoring 30+ seemed easy. Even when QB Cooper Rush had to fill in for an injured Prescott at the beginning of the season, they were still able to lead a balanced offensive attack to a 4-2 record. RB Tony Pollard and WR CeeDee Lamb were the engines behind much of the offense, both of which ranking in PFF’s top 10 at each position. Their rush-defense wasn’t fantastic, but that was certainly influenced by the Cowboys’ intense pass-rush. But, towards the end of the season, everything seemed to just fall apart. The pressure-rate went down, coverage got significantly worse, and teams started scoring like crazy on the Cowboys. Couple that with Dak’s continuing turnover issues, and it begins to make more sense why Brock Purdy was able to light up their defense. Losing CB Anthony Brown was a major loss to the passing-defense, and after the pass-rush started slowing down, big plays were there to be had for opposing offenses.

In the offseason, the Cowboys will have to find a way at ensuring the defense won’t fall off a cliff in December. LB Anthony Barr, LB Leighton Vander Esch, CB Anthony Brown, DE Dante Fowler and S Donovan Wilson make up the notable defenders currently on expiring contracts. WR Noah Brown, TE Dalton Schultz, RB Tony Pollard, QB Cooper Rush, OT Jason Peters, and C Connor McGovern make up a nice pile of major players on offense that will also be entering free agency. Brown and Wilson were major elements in the defense and losing Schultz would shift the priorities of the entire team, but it won’t be easy keeping any with the Cowboys already $7 million over the cap. It always seems to be a big year for Dallas in the draft, but with their recent success on that front bids good tidings regardless of how many starters drift away into free agency.

Key Offseason Targets: OT, LB, G, WR

6. Los Angeles Chargers

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Well, it’s official: Justin Herbert and Brandon Staley are not immune to the Chargers curse. How else would you explain that loss to Jacksonville in the wildcard? How do you explain losing a 27-0 lead in a single half? There’s something amiss, I tell you. There must some kind of cosmic, indescribable force that haunts these Chargers games, there just has to be. It required a perfect storm in order for Jacksonville to steal this game, who went from four interceptions and a fumble in the first half to winning the game outright in the second. Ultimately, in the Jaguars wildcard game in particular, Los Angeles’ failure to run-block and to maintain strong coverage against the pass reared its ugly head again, and ensnared them before victory could be guaranteed. Joey Bosa’s terrible unsportsmanlike conduct penalties didn’t help, but the Chargers’ failure to chew the clock much at all in the second half made death feel slow and cruel for L.A. fans. Of the four possessions they had in the second half, only one lasted longer than four minutes, which ended in a missed field goal. The Chargers are far too reliant on Justin Herbert surviving interior pressure and making an impossible play in order to win football games, something that isn’t exactly indicative of a complete NFL roster. The Chargers were once again ravaged by injuries, but this time had the depth needed in order to survive the final month of the season. In fact, a four-game winning streak starting in December brought upon by sub-par opponents and a strengthening defense is what got them into the playoffs in the first place, but ultimately, the injuries to the offensive line and WR corps were just too much to bear.

Even though it was a disappointing season marred by injuries, the rookies and backups thrust into starting positions should provide Chargers fans with plenty of hope for the future. The season could have ended in Week 2 when OT Rashawn Slater suffered a season ending injury, but sixth-round rookie OT Jamarre Salyer, stepped into the suddenly open LT role and immediately became one of the team’s best linemen. WRs Josh Palmer and former Houston Texan DeAndre Carter stepped up in similar fashion when Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were unavailable. The defense attempted to fill in Joey Bosa’s empty spot with LB Kyle Van Noy, which worked out better than expected. Entering the offseason, the Chargers will have 20 impending free agents and are already over the cap, so saying goodbye to several of these players is inevitable. S Nasir Adderley, DE Morgan Fox, WR Jalen Guyton, WR DeAndre Carter, OT Trey Pipkins, and LB Drue Tranquill are all notable potentially departing players, and I could see L.A. trying to keep Adderley, Fox, and/or Tranquill around.

Key Offseason Targets: WR, LB, EDGE, OT

5. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Buffalo, on the receiving end of another heartbreaking divisional round exit, will enter 2023 knowing their Super Bowl window is closing. Losing S Micah Hyde and LB Von Miller ended up being major blows when the quality of opponent increased sharply in the playoffs, eventually spelling their demise in the Divisional Round to the Cincinnati Bengals. Buffalo’s defensive line was missing that extra pass-rush it was receiving from Miller, and Cincinnati’s defensive line was able to wreak havoc around QB Josh Allen. The defense’s decline as the season wore on, on top of the Bills’ noted turnover issues, combined to give the Bills an uphill battle against any prepared team - unless Josh Allen had a fantastic game. Despite going 13-3, the Bills’ occasionally leaky defensive backfield and propensity of turnovers forced them into a lot of close games throughout the season. Allen’s heroics are something we all like to see, but I’m sure Buffalo fans would like to have more games where they’re not relying on them to appear. For what was billed by myself and many others as the best roster in football, it shouldn’t require such feats in order to realize their full potential.

Although, thanks to a declining pass-rush and worse pass and run blocking than what Bills fans have been accustomed to, HC Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have a clear direction on how to improve the team this offseason. LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB A.J. Klein, S Jordan Poyer, OT David Quessenberry, OG Rodger Saffold, and RB Devin Singletary are notable players becoming free agents in 2023. With little cap space, Buffalo will need to get creative in signing Edmunds and Poyer, who I assume Buffalo will try to keep in-house. The Bills have six picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, with one in each of the first six rounds. Last year, Buffalo gave themselves the freedom to say goodbye to Devin Singletary when they drafted James Cook. Will they do the same with C Mitch Morse?

Key Offseason Targets: OG, S, WR, EDGE

4. San Francisco 49ers

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers established themselves as one of the most dominant rosters and coaching staffs in the NFL in 2022. No amount of injuries to skill positions could stop them from having a top five offense and top defense. First it was QB Trey Lance and RB Jeff Wilson, then it was QB Jimmy Garoppolo and RB Christian McCaffrey, and then it was QB Brock Purdy and TE George Kittle! Regardless of what injuries or defense San Francisco was facing, their offense always seemed to have an answer. Something similar can be said for their defense, which finished with an overall PFF grade of 84.8, good for third in the league. DE Nick Bosa won Defensive Player of the Year with 18.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, and 48 (!!!) QB hits. His pass rush paired with Arik Armstead’s run-clogging, LB Fred Warner’s instincts, and S Talanoa Hufanga’s fantastic first year created a defense that simply couldn’t be beat until you destroyed the QB room. While I’m unsure if Purdy would have been able to beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship, I’m sure he would’ve given them a run for their money if he would’ve stayed healthy.

Entering the offseason, the 49ers will have between $10-$20 million in cap space, giving them the opportunity to re-sign some important starters on defense before they become free agents. LB Azeez Al-Shaair, DE Samson Ebukam, S Tashaun Gipson, S Jimmie Ward, CB Emmanuel Moseley, and RT Mike McGlinchey are all set to become free agents. Unless San Francisco is looking to use its numerous mid and late-round draft selections to rebuild the defensive backfield, I suspect they will cough up some money to keep Ward and/or Moseley. Maybe we’ll get lucky and a few of these free agents will follow DeMeco Ryans to Houston. Tashaun Gipson, we miss you!!!!!!!

Key Offseason Targets: OG, S, CB, DT

3. Cincinnati Bengals

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

After losing the Super Bowl last year, Cincinnati entered the offseason convinced they were only a few good offensive linemen away from winning it all. In 2022, they started only one offensive lineman that was part of the original 2021 squad (LT Jonah Williams), and enjoyed a completely revitalized pass protection. QB Joe Burrow’s pressure percentage on drop backs went from 34.3% in 2021 to 27.8% in 2022, with his PFF grade under pressure going up from 63.9 to 67.4. Injuries to RB Joe Mixon and WR Ja’Marr Chase put more pressure on Burrow and WR Tee Higgins, to which they responded with the best season each has had since entering the league. Cincinnati’s defense, led by LBs Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt, once again gave Cincinnati a top 10 defense to behold. While they came just barely short of their goal of returning to the Super Bowl, the fact they were this close should guarantee their contention for years to come.

Cincinnati was fortunate to go through another offseason coaching carousel without losing either of their coordinators, ensuring another year of relative stability within the locker room. They even have over $50 million of cap space! But, with the amount of players entering free agency and the inevitable Joe Burrow extension looming, that cap space won’t last much longer. S Jessie Bates, S Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple, LB Germaine Pratt are all on expiring contracts, and all played major roles on one of the best defenses in the NFL. Germaine Pratt and Jessie Bates are essential to DC Lou Anarumo’s defense, so I suspect they’ll top the list of defenders Cincinnati will try to keep. On offense, TE Hayden Hurst, TE Drew Sample, RB Samaje Perine, and WR Trent Taylor all stand the risk of signing with a different team this offseason. Hurst, Perine, and Taylor all played important ancillary roles to the Joe Burrow experience, with Perine in particular keeping the rushing-attack going while RB Joe Mixon was hurt. Of the seven picks the Bengals hold in the 2023 NFL Draft, three are in the top 100. With a tight end class as loaded as this, one of these picks could become their future starter at the position. Due to the sheer mass of players leaving on defense, I suspect Cincinnati will use their cap space to soften the blow by handing out some new contracts. In the draft, they will likely attempt to find a future RB or TE to either back up Perine and Hurst or replace their role entirely if they aren’t kept around.

Key Offseason Targets: CB, DT, OG, OT

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

What an absolutely fantastic season from the Eagles! Doubling down on the run-heavy offense spearheaded by QB Jalen Hurts and RB Miles Sanders resulted in a season for the ages, proving to the NFL world that a dominance can still be found in the trenches instead of through the air. Even though they came just barely short of perfection, an improvement like this after basically starting over with Hurts after 2020 is nothing short of a miracle. Jalen Hurts’ remarkable improvement in passing in just three years in the NFL stands as a testament to all that didn’t see him as anything more than one-dimensional. But, that’s not to take away from the star of the show. which was his dual-threat ability. Behind one of the best offensive lines I’ve ever seen (OT Lane Johnson, OT Jordan Mailata, OG Isaac Seumalo, OG Landon Dickerson, C Jason Kelce), Hurts, Sanders, and backup RBs Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell became the stars of a potent offense that dared to keep the ball on the ground. A line this good has required years of development from GM Howie Roseman, and with the Jenga piece that was Jalen Hurts finally realizing his full potential behind that line, the stage was set for rushing offenses to make their triumphant return to NFL schemes. While they came just a hair short of the championship that would have salted away any doubt of the effectiveness of just running the ball, the Eagles’ performance this year will inspire many coaches for years to come.

In the offseason, HC Nick Sirianni and GM Howie Roseman will find that going all-in on 2022 has its consequences. The free agent list for Philadelphia is LONG. DT Fletcher Cox, DT Javon Hargrave, DE Brandon Graham, DE Robert Quinn, LB T.J. Edwards, LB Kyzir White, CB James Bradberry, S Marcus Epps, and S C.J. Gardner-Johnson make up a huge list of important defensive players set to hit the market in March. With just over $9 million in cap space, several of these players will find better contracts elsewhere, but the Eagles will likely make a point of trying to keep James Bradberry and/or T.J. Edwards around. They’ll certainly give Hargrave an offer, but I suspect he’ll take a more attractive contract elsewhere. C Jason Kelce, OG Isaac Seumalo, RB Miles Sanders, RB Boston Scott, QB Gardner Minshew, and WR Zach Pascal make up the list of notable free agents on offense. Depending on whether or not Kelce will retire following this season will determine where Philadelphia spends its money. If he’s sticking around, Roseman will certainly dedicate all the resources needed to keeping Kelce around. But if not, I’d see the Eagles trying to re-sign Seumalo and Miles Sanders to new contracts. Giving RBs new deals isn’t the most popular option, but Roseman will stomach the money lost to keep one of the main elements of their 14-3 offense around.

Key Offseason Targets: LB, S, DT, C

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs Victory Parade Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

For the second time in four years, the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl Champions! Surrounded by a new receiving corps, hampered by a high ankle sprain suffered in the playoffs, and versus one of the deadliest pass-rushes in recent NFL history, Patrick Mahomes was still as impossible to beat as ever. In the regular season, his passing and scrambling proved once again he is the ultimate playmaker at the quarterback position. He put up one of his best seasons in a career now full of legendary seasons, won MVP, and ran all over the field on third down over and over and over again in order to secure victory. Embracing a new approach to offense where the short and intermediate pass became the focus, Mahomes excelled at killing teams by targeting TE Travis Kelce, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, and RB Jerick McKinnon. Nearly every single play of the season, one of these players was open. And if they weren’t open, Mahomes would keep the ball himself and pick up the first down, something he did with far too much success in the playoffs. He’s just impossible to tackle. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s always, always, just out of reach. Even when you’re tackling him, that’s no guarantee of the play being over since he routinely completed passes with a defender’s arm draped around his torso. It’s just simply too easy for him; and to make it even better for Chiefs fans, their defense is fantastic. DT Chris Jones used this season to reestablish himself as the best DT not named Aaron Donald, and second year LB Nick Bolton became the leading tackler on the team. On top of this, the Chiefs appear to have found a diamond in the rough in CB L’Jarius Sneed, a fourth round pick from the 2020 Draft now starting opposite rookie first round CB Trent McDuffie. Both CBs received high grades from PFF, and the S duo of Juan Thornhill and former Texan Justin Reid was more of the same. The wins just keep coming for this Chiefs roster, which doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Entering the offseason, the Chiefs main priority will be to just keep the band together. Unfortunately, OC Eric Bienemy has already left for a job on the Commanders staff, but that shouldn’t prevent HC Andy Reid and Matt Nagy from scheming up a new offense for Mahomes to win MVP under. OT Orlando Brown, OT Andrew Wylie, WR Mecole Hardman, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, and RB Jerick McKinnon make up the list of notable offensive free agents. The Chiefs will certainly pay top-dollar to keep Brown around, and will likely give another offer to McKinnon and Hardman, but Mahomes has already proven he can work just fine with a rotating group of receivers. DT Khalen Saunders, DT Derrick Nnadi, and DE Carlos Dunlap are all of the notable defensive players becoming free agents. Kansas City will offer another contract to either Saunders or Nnadi, but will likely stick with the draft beyond that. In the 2023 NFL Draft, Kansas City holds nine picks, three being in the top 100. This could be where the Chiefs will find their new defensive lineman, but with how loaded this roster is, they might as well just take whoever Mahomes likes the most.

Key Offseason Targets: EDGE, WR, DT, OT