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The Chiefs Dominate Early 2024 NFL Power Rankings, but Who Will Challenge Them?

The NFL offseason began Sunday night after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 to claim the Super Bowl LVIII title and (only slightly less importantly) the top spot in our postseason power rankings.That means that all the fan bases that have been tuning out as their teams were eliminated from playoff contention or the playoffs are now back in the game. Hope is alive again for everyone with free agency and the draft coming into view.With that in mind, we’re resetting our power rankings by combining some of the old (last season’s results) and some of the new (who’s getting a stud quarterback back, who might get a new coach lift, who has salary-cap space, etc.) to set the field going forward.GO DEEPERHow the Chiefs stack up among NFL dynasties (and a path past the Patriots): Sando’s Pick Six1. Kansas City ChiefsPatrick Mahomes, who was 8-for-8 passing on the drive that just won the Super Bowl, won his third Super Bowl MVP trophy and is one of five quarterbacks in NFL history to win at least three Super Bowl titles (and he was behind by double digits in all three of those games). He is 15-3 in the playoffs in his six-year career and has advanced at least to the AFC Championship Game in all six of those seasons. Kansas City has $24 million in salary-cap space but might as well use it all to make sure the defense stays stocked because Mahomes will make it work on offense.2. San Francisco 49ersThis will be a tough week, but the future will be fine. The 49ers are over the salary cap (by just $3.7 million) but have all of their significant offensive weapons under contract. They also still have Kyle Shanahan, which despite what everyone is saying today, is a good thing. Shanahan is 72-54 as a head coach. San Francisco is second in the league in yards per play (5.9) and seventh in scoring (25.04) since Shanahan became the head coach in 2017, according to TruMedia.GO DEEPERKyle Shanahan defends 49ers’ decision to take the ball to start overtime of Super Bowl 58Everyone’s favorite underdog had the 49ers on the ropes in the NFC Championship Game, has money to spend ($47 million in cap space) and, shockingly, still has offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who rebuffed the Washington Commanders to stay in Detroit. Every significant offensive contributor remains under contract on a team that finished fifth in the league in scoring (27.35 ppg). When coach Dan Campbell said after the loss to the Niners that it would be “twice as hard” to get back to that point next season, it wasn’t poor-mouthing, it was just his first motivational speech of the 2024 season. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson just won his second NFL MVP award, but can he get Baltimore over the hump in the playoffs? (Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)A disappointing ending (scoring 10 points in the AFC Championship Game against the underdog Chiefs) shouldn’t overshadow the fact the Ravens, who have $7.3 million cap space, remain the class of the AFC’s B flight (which includes any team that doesn’t employ Patrick Mahomes). There won’t be any Lamar Jackson contract drama this offseason, which will allow Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken to strengthen their connection. That’s good news for the Ravens considering Jackson is coming off the second-best season of his career and second NFL MVP award. The quarterback’s yards per attempt (7.9) this year were a career-high and his passer rating (101.6) and touchdown passes (27) were the second best of his career.The Texans are one of the big movers since the last publication of these rankings. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud put 45 points on one of the league’s most aggressive defenses in the playoffs, beating the Browns 45-14 in the wild-card round, and was named offensive rookie of the year. His offensive coordinator, Bobby Slowik, is back after taking head coaching interviews, and Houston has $57.4 million in cap space.A Matt LaFleur Appreciation Post: The Packers head coach somehow is the forgotten man in the Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay conversation. LaFleur is 56-27 in five seasons in Green Bay. That .675 winning percentage is better than Shanahan or McVay, not to mention every other active coach in the league other than Jim Harbaugh (.695). Until last season, Aaron Rodgers got the credit for LaFleur’s accomplishments, but the Packers (who are $2.9 million above the salary cap) are doing it now with 25-year-old Jordan Love.Things get a lot harder for Buffalo starting this offseason because Josh Allen’s cap hit just went from $18.6 million to $47 million, and it will be north of $40 million for the next five seasons. It’s why the Bills already are $51.3 million over the 2024 cap. The good news is they still have Allen, and he’s the reason Buffalo sits with Baltimore on the AFC’s second shelf. Remember, the Bills finished the season fourth in point margin (plus-140) despite six regular-season losses.GO DEEPERBuffalo Bills offseason: A 15-step plan to escape salary cap woes for 2024 and beyond8. Cleveland BrownsDeshaun Watson is back, but we’re all still trying to figure out if that’s a good thing. Kevin Stefanski earned NFL coach of the year honors by getting the Browns to the playoffs with no Nick Chubb and with Joe Flacco at quarterback after Watson’s season-ending injury. Watson has started only 12 games since joining the Browns two years ago (8-4 record), and he’s 57th in the league in EPA per attempt (minus-.07) in that time, according to TruMedia. Still, the Browns, who are $19.6 million over the cap, have a great defense and Chubb returning from a devastating knee injury.Are you ready for a lot of Tua Tagovailoa talk? Well, you better be. The Dolphins quarterback is under contract for 2024 at a $23.2 million cap hit, but that’s the last year of his deal and “Should Miami give Tua a market-setting deal?” is going to be one of the questions of the offseason. The Dolphins aren’t exactly rolling in spending money. They are $51.9 million over the salary cap at the moment and should pay defensive tackle Christian Wilkins this offseason. Tua Tagovailoa got on stage with Darius Rucker to play the guitar & sing Wagon Wheel in Vegas 🎤 Daniel Jones was in the crowd cheering him on 👏 (via @kasideekarsten) pic.twitter.com/LKizs1IVWs — Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 10, 2024No team has moved up this list more than the Bengals, who not only have $59.4 million cap space but are getting Joe Burrow back from a season-ending wrist injury. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is gone, but Burrow’s return more than makes up for it. Burrow is 27-15 as a starter in the last three seasons and cheap(-ish) for one more year. Burrow’s cap hit for 2024 is $29.7 million. After that, it goes over $46 million for each of the next five seasons.The Cowboys are allowed to be in the top half of these rankings only because the playoffs are over. Dallas, which is $19.7 million over the salary cap, has won 12 regular-season games in each of the last three years but only one playoff game in that span. Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy are back, looking to move past last month’s embarrassing 48-32 loss to the Packers, but running back Tony Pollard is an unrestricted free agent.GO DEEPERCowboys offseason questions: Will anything change? Can Dak Prescott get it done?Everyone of note is under contract, and the Rams have $27.7 million in salary-cap space. They won seven of their last nine regular-season games and came within a point of upsetting the Lions in the playoffs. Barring an unexpected (but you could see it at his age) retirement by Matthew Stafford, the Rams will enter 2024 as a dark-horse conference championship contender.Did we underestimate the Bucs all season long? Did the Eagles just quit? Tampa Bay’s 32-9 win over Philadelphia in the wild-card round raised questions about both teams. Questions that probably won’t be answered until next season starts, but the Buccaneers do at least deserve some recognition here. Tampa Bay — which has $36.9 million in salary-cap space, some of which certainly will go to re-signing Baker Mayfield — has gone to the playoffs each of the last four seasons, winning the division title three times and a Super Bowl once in that…

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