Way-too-early NFL power rankings: Can Rams, Bengals get right back to the Super Bowl?

When we see two teams play in a Super Bowl, we don't believe either will immediately fall back to the pack.

When NFL preseason predictions are made in about six and a half months — yeah, there's a sad, long wait until we see football again — you'll see a lot of people pick the Los Angeles Rams to repeat as Super Bowl champs. You might see some pick the Cincinnati Bengals to take the next step and win a title. You won't see many pick either to miss the playoffs. However, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, no matter how much we like the Bengals' young core of offensive stars or the foundation of blue-chip players the Rams assembled.

If you had to pick one of the two Super Bowl teams to miss the playoffs next year, it would be the Bengals. This was a team whose odds rose as high as 125-to-1 to win the Super Bowl at BetMGM before last season, then was 7-6 before getting hot late in the season. The Bengals could have lost to the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild-card round (Raiders had first-and-goal at the 9, trailing 26-19), to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round (Titans threw an interception that was picked off at the Bengals' 47 in a tied game), and to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game (the Bengals trailed 21-3, and the Chiefs had first-and-goal at the Bengals' 5 late in regulation, trailing by 3). The Bengals didn't get lucky to make a Super Bowl. But their run was almost derailed a few times.

Everyone thinks the Bengals will be better, and maybe that happens. Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase are already stars. They're one of four teams in the NFL projected to have at least $55 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. They'll have the opportunity to improve the offensive line, which is their obvious weakness. However, there are roughly 31 other NFL teams that could use offensive line help, and there aren't that many quality linemen available. By now everyone has pointed out the Bengals need to fix their offensive line. Doing it is the hard part.

The Rams should be in good shape, but every offseason brings change. No matter how much Aaron Donald's retirement threat looks like contract leverage, it would knock the Rams way back if he doesn't return. He is that good. Odell Beckham Jr.'s ACL tear is another obstacle. The Rams have cap issues heading into the offseason, and while they'll get creative, another huge move doesn't seem likely. They obviously don't have a first-round pick. Repeating isn't easy, for many reasons.

The beauty of the NFL and its offseason is that all teams can feel they can rise quickly through just a few key moves. The Bengals were drafting first just two years ago. Teams get to start reshaping soon, with the offseason quickly approaching. The Rams and Bengals just got done with Super Bowl LVI, and their work on next season starts right away.

As great as the outlook seems right now for Andrew Whitworth, Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams, it's very hard to repeat in the NFL. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
As great as the outlook seems right now for Andrew Whitworth, Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams, it's very hard to repeat in the NFL. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Consider these power rankings a first glimpse at each team as we head into the offseason. This list will change a lot over the next few months, after trades, signings, draft picks, a key retirement or two, and all of the news that trickles in over the course of an offseason. But we'll take a shot at way-too-early power rankings for the 2022 NFL season, with last season's record and each team's Super Bowl LVII opening odds at BetMGM:

32. Houston Texans (4-13, Super Bowl odds: 150-to-1)

Hiring Lovie Smith came completely out of the blue, but we'll see how it goes. The truth is, no matter who was Texans coach, he was going to have one of the NFL's worst rosters. The big question for the Texans is what happens with Deshaun Watson. They can't possibly spend a second season with that hanging over their heads ... right?

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14, 100-to-1)

Doug Pederson was the coach of a Super Bowl championship team. Then Frank Reich, the offensive coordinator of that team, left and the Eagles tumbled quickly. There should be skepticism of Pederson, though pairing Trevor Lawrence with a former NFL quarterback could work out.

30. Detroit Lions (3-13-1, 150-to-1)

Watching Matthew Stafford win a Super Bowl in his first season away from the Lions, after Detroit couldn't win a playoff game in 12 seasons with Stafford, shines a bright light on how bad the organization has been. It also hurts that the 2022 first-round pick that Detroit got from the Stafford trade is 32nd overall.

29. New York Giants (4-13, 66-to-1)

The Giants did well with their hirings, from GM Joe Schoen, coach Brian Daboll and a solid staff of assistants. It's not unusual to be excited after hiring a new braintrust, so we'll see how it works out, but it seems like a long-awaited step forward.

28. New York Jets (4-13, 150-to-1)

The Jets are a team that could talk themselves into being a Bengals story. They had a deep rookie class. The Jets weren't very good but it was always going to be a multi-year rebuild. If Zach Wilson comes along fast at quarterback and New York has another good draft, perhaps a big step is coming.

37. New Orleans Saints (9-8, 40-to-1)

Everyone knew that at some point, kicking the can down the road would result in at least a year in salary-cap hell. Sean Payton left, and the Saints have some key free agents and no obvious answer at quarterback, not to mention they'll be a projected $76.2 million over the cap. Depending on how the Saints figure out that cap problem, it could be a team that is in play for the No. 1 pick. The roster could be really thin and don't underestimate how many wins Payton was worth.

26. Carolina Panthers (5-12, 50-to-1)

The big question will be if the Panthers get aggressive, yet again, at quarterback. They have Sam Darnold and likely regret that now. So what's next?

25. Atlanta Falcons (7-10, 50-to-1)

The Falcons should be rebuilding, but they are currently projected to be more than $5 million over the salary cap. They do have the eighth overall pick and an extra second-round pick from the Julio Jones trade. But there's not an easy path to a huge improvement. They also have to figure out the Calvin Ridley situation.

24. Washington Commanders (7-10, 50-to-1)

Washington rarely gets mentioned when the potential quarterback carousel is brought up, but it should be in the market. It has the cap space to acquire a quarterback. But the question is, which QBs will be available? If the Commanders don't land one in the trade market, free agency rarely produces many high-end quarterbacks, and Washington picks No. 11 in a draft that has an underwhelming QB class.

23. Chicago Bears (6-11, 66-to-1)

Matt Eberflus will get the most attention because he's Chicago's head coach, but Luke Getsy's performance might be just as important. Getsy was hired to be the Bears' new offensive coordinator, after spending time as the Packers' passing game coordinator. He's in charge of Justin Fields' development now. He's already saying the right things. “We’ve got to dive into what everybody does best, right?” Getsy said. “And it starts with the quarterback. This is a quarterback-driven offense. The things the quarterback does well, that’s going to be the driver of who we are."

22. Minnesota Vikings (8-9, 40-to-1)

For what it's worth, new Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell is high on Kirk Cousins, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. Again, it's hard to move on from a competent quarterback. Cousins isn't the Vikings' biggest problem.

21. Seattle Seahawks (7-10, 40-to-1)

There were a few times late in the season when it seemed like Russell Wilson's time with Seattle was coming to an end. But as we go through and see quarterback questions about many of these teams, it's worth keeping in mind that teams hold onto mediocre quarterbacks like they're gold. So all of a sudden the Seahawks are going to trade a future Hall of Famer who still has prime years left? Maybe, because the Seahawks are unconventional, but I'm not sure they can make that leap.

20. Miami Dolphins (9-8, 50-to-1)

The Dolphins' offseason is off to a less-than-ideal start. But at least new head coach Mike McDaniel has a lot of positive energy and the roster was good enough to win eight straight games last season. Assuming McDaniel is going to follow the Kyle Shanahan offensive blueprint, the Dolphins need to upgrade the run game this offseason. The good news is they have a projected $64.7 million in cap space, most in the NFL.

19. Denver Broncos (7-10, 16-to-1)

The Nathaniel Hackett hire will lead to another round of Aaron Rodgers (and Davante Adams) rumors. Until the Broncos get it right, they will be the team that is attached to any quarterback who might have the slightest chance of changing teams. There's a reason: Everything else is in place for Denver to be a playoff team in 2022.

18. Indianapolis Colts (9-8, 25-to-1)

It's all well and good to decide you need to move on from Carson Wentz, if that's what Indianapolis ends up doing. But this question will need to be answered: Who is their starting quarterback in Week 1? Good QBs are hard to find. The Colts know; they've been searching since Andrew Luck retired. That retirement might have cost the Colts at least one Super Bowl trip.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1, 40-to-1)

Ben Roethlisberger is gone, and there have already been messages through the media that the Steelers won't be going big for a brand-name quarterback who might be available. That could change, but it seems like the Steelers are preparing their fans for at least one year of Mason Rudolph.

16. Cleveland Browns (8-9, 30-to-1)

There should be a real conversation within the Browns over why Odell Beckham Jr. was a complete non-factor for them, then went to the Rams and looked almost immediately reborn. For a team that was severely lacking receivers at the end of the season, and will need to find some this offseason, you can't completely whiff like that.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4, 25-to-1)

There might not be a better two-year term for a player with any team than what Tom Brady did with the Buccaneers. They could retire his number and it wouldn't be weird. Now comes the hard part: replacing him. There's enough in place that if one of those big-name quarterbacks can force a trade and dictate where they go, Tampa Bay might be the most popular landing spot.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8, 40-to-1)

The Eagles immediately made it clear that Jalen Hurts will be their 2022 starter. "Really pleased with how he developed as our quarterback," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "You look at the whole body of work, and the whole body of work we’re really pleased with where he is and where he’s going to be.” That won't stop speculation. Hurts seems destined to be one of those Derek Carr types who everyone is annually trying to replace.

13. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7, 50-to-1)

Perhaps Josh McDaniels has learned from a truly horrendous stint as Broncos coach, and maybe leaving the Colts hanging a few years ago is nothing to be concerned about. You wouldn't know there are any concerns based on the gushing social media reaction to the hire, but there are some red flags.

12. Arizona Cardinals (11-6, 20-to-1)

Kyler Murray dumped the Cardinals on Instagram, then after speculation started he complained about the "nonsense." OK, cool. Just what we needed, some more wildfire speculation about a quarterback's future.

11. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8, 25-to-1)

This is the year for the Chargers to go all-in. They are still in great shape cap-wise because of Justin Herbert's rookie deal. They have a projected $57.5 million in cap space, second-most in the NFL. Herbert is going to get a Patrick Mahomes-level contract soon. The Chargers need to spend like their championship window is right now, because it might be.

10. Baltimore Ravens (8-9, 20-to-1)

The Ravens will be fine with an offseason to get players healthy. They were hammered by injuries before the season even started and it never let up. Lamar Jackson is still in his prime, and the Ravens have a long track record of winning.

9. New England Patriots (10-7, 22-to-1)

The Patriots have a number of free agents, but probably none bigger than cornerback J.C. Jackson. Jackson has emerged as a star. The Patriots are usually careful about big contracts, but Jackson has earned one.

8. Dallas Cowboys (12-5, 12-to-1)

The Cowboys are projected to be $21.2 million over the cap, with free agents like receiver Michael Gallup, pass rusher Randy Gregory and offensive lineman Connor Williams. They'll massage the cap like all teams do, but it makes the lost opportunity last season sting a bit more, knowing it won't get easier going forward.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7, 12-to-1)

The Bengals' first order of business this offseason should be locking up safety Jessie Bates III, who played very well and can become a free agent. They can't lose him, and he seems like an obvious candidate for the franchise tag if a long-term deal can't be reached. After that comes the offensive line.

6. San Francisco 49ers (10-7, 16-to-1)

Anyone who is down on Trey Lance already needs to calm down a bit. He started two games. He made some fine plays. It wasn't great, but it was 71 passing attempts. He still has the potential to be a star and upgrade the 49ers' offense.

5. Tennessee Titans (12-5, 22-to-1)

Julio Jones has an $11.5 million base salary in 2022, which isn't egregious for a top receiver. But it is a lot considering how quiet Jones was most of last season. He was injured, but that might not get better at 33 years old. That trade isn't looking good after one year.

4. Green Bay Packers (13-4, 16-to-1)

It's not like Aaron Rodgers gave a clear answer about his future after winning the NFL MVP award. "I don’t fear retirement. I don’t fear moving on," Rodgers said. "I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. … I’m excited about the future, whatever that ends up being or looking like. I’m also still highly competitive and there’s a bitter taste from the divisional game." Guessing Rodgers' next move is impossible. And the Packers' spot in the 2022 preseason power rankings could move 20 spots depending on what he does.

3. Buffalo Bills (11-6, 7.5-to-1)

There's no reason the Bills can't once again be one of the NFL's best teams. They aren't in a great cap situation, but they also don't have many crucial free agents. They can probably bring back most of their roster. Nothing is guaranteed year after year, but the Bills should be very good again.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5, 7.5-to-1)

The Chiefs' trade package for offensive tackle Orlando Brown included a first-round pick. Now Brown is a free agent with the leverage that a team probably didn't trade a first for one season of his services. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is a free agent too. It will be an interesting offseason for the Chiefs, who can be right back in an AFC championship game if they have a good offseason.

1. Los Angeles Rams (12-5, 11-to-1)

Von Miller's future is interesting. The Rams gave up a lot to get him, and they're not regretting that of course. But Miller is set to become a free agent. It's not like the Rams are swimming in cap space. They'll presumably want to bring everyone back, but tough decisions will have to be made.