The Bills' Gabriel Davis, left, celebrates his touchdown with quarterback...

The Bills' Gabriel Davis, left, celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Josh Allen during the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Broncos on Aug. 20 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Credit: AP/Joshua Bessex

1. Buffalo: It has been a steady ascent for the Bills, whose long-range goal of building Josh Allen into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback is now here. They came oh-so-close last year in a heartbreaking playoff loss to Kansas City, but they look ready to take the next step and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of Jim Kelly.

2. L.A. Rams: You always look for signs that the defending champ doesn’t have quite what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl, as evidenced by the fact no team has repeated since the 2003-04 Patriots. But on paper, this team looks every bit as good as the one that won it all last season. The biggest issue: How does Matthew . Stafford’s elbow hold up after dealing with soreness throughout the off-season and training camp.

3. Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers flirted with retirement before last season and came back to win a fourth MVP award. The one thing missing: a second Super Bowl title. Rodgers will have his work cut out now that Davante Adams has left for the Raiders, but he’s good enough to lift a team by himself. And this defense is good enough to make a deep playoff run. This could be the year.

4. Kansas City: The AFC West is now the best division in football – by far – and it will take a lot for Kansas City to maintain its grip. Especially now that Tyreek Hill has been traded to Miami. But Patrick Mahomes is a special player who cannot be underestimated, and Andy Reid is smart enough to find ways to adjust to an offense without Hill. Never a good idea to count these guys out.

5. Tampa Bay. Tom Brady is 45 years old, he took an unprecedented training camp leave of absence and the offensive line is gutted by injuries. Will this be it for the game’s greatest player? Could be. Tampa is still the class of the NFC South, but attrition, age and the Bruce Arians-to-Todd Bowles coaching change may be too much to ask for another Super Bowl run.

6. L.A. Chargers: This team will go as far as Justin Herbert takes it. A dark horse Super Bowl contender.

7. Denver: Russell Wilson takes the Broncos from mediocre to playoff-worthy.

8. Cincinnati: Fate hasn’t been kind to Super Bowl losers the following year, so Joe Burrow has his work cut out.

9. San Francisco: It’s Trey Lance’s team, but Jimmy G. sticks around for one more year as insurance.

10. Baltimore: Lamar Jackson already has an MVP, but it’s the Lombardi Trophy that he’s really after.

11. Philadelphia: Is the Nick Sirianni-Jalen Hurts combo ready to dethrone the Cowboys in the NFC East?

12. Dallas: Jerry Jones always thinks big with his team, but injuries on the offensive line and an offseason talent drain may doom the Cowboys.

13. Arizona: Kyler Murray got his new contract. Now, the Cardinals hope he delivers a deeper playoff run than last year's one-and-done. 

14. Miami: In comes Tyreek Hill, who should give Tua Tagovailoa a big boost. Now we see if first-year coach Mike McDaniel has the magic touch with his offense.

15. New England: It will be a major challenge to fill the void left by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ departure to Las Vegas.

16. Las Vegas: McDaniels gets to run the show a second time after his failed run in Denver. He’s a more mature coach for the second go-round.

17. Tennesse: Same old, same old in Tennessee: It’s Derrick Henry or bust.

18. Cleveland: What will the Browns' record be when Deshaun Watson returns from his 11-game suspension in Week 13? 

19. Indianapolis: Matt Ryan gets one more – last? – shot in Indy after moving on from the Falcons.

20. New Orleans: Jameis Winston hopes for a comeback-player-of-the-year type season after returning from a knee injury.

21. Pittsburgh: Life after Ben Roethlisberger won’t be easy.

22. Minnesota: Kirk Cousins hasn’t been the answer during his time in Minnesota, and that will continue to be the case.

23. Washington: Carson Wentz starts over – again – after flaming out with the Colts in 2021.

24. Detroit: Can a throwback coach like Dan Campbell succeed in the modern NFL? Not so sure.

25. Jets: That’s two straight injury-impacted seasons for Zach Wilson. He needs to be “the guy” when he gets back in the lineup.

26. Giants: Last chance for Daniel Jones to prove he can be a big-time quarterback.

27. Chicago: After a terrific preseason, Justin Fields needs to translate what looks like meaningful improvement into the regular season.

28. Jacksonville: After a nightmare rookie season under Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence hopes for a successful reboot with Doug Pederson.

29. Houston: The Deshaun Watson nightmare behind them, Houston looks to move on with coach Lovie Smith and second-year quarterback Davis Mills.

30. Seattle: Geno Smith hasn’t been a starting quarterback since his second year with the Jets in 2014. Don’t expect miracles in his second act.

31. Carolina: Baker Mayfield joins a Panthers team that has woefully underachieved during coach Matt Rhule’s tenure.

32. Atlanta: Marcus Mariota fills in for Matt Ryan, but the Falcons are much, much more than a quarterback away from being a winning team.

More football news

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months