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NFL future power rankings: Patriots barely crack the top 10

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New England will be able to continue playing the underdog card.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL season is over, and its final game ended in familiar fashion: with the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl and hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. For the sixth time since the turn of the century, the Patriots were able to capture the title proving once again that their dynasty is still going strong. And with both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady returning in 2019, the foundation of the club’s unprecedented run stays intact.

That being said, the team’s longer-term outlook remains unclear to a certain degree. Belichick and Brady will be 67 and 42, respectively, when the next season kicks off and there is no apparent succession plan in place — at least known to the public. It is therefore not too big a surprise to see the Patriots just barely make the top 10 in the “future power rankings” created by SB Nation’s Adam Stites.

The rationale behind the world champions coming in at number nine is as follows, according to its author:

9. New England Patriots

Top 100 draft picks: 32nd, 56th, 64th, 73rd

Cap space: $16.1 million

The Patriots spent the entire postseason talking about themselves as underdogs and that no one believed in them. It really wasn’t the case, but putting them below the Browns is probably fuel for that fire. Patriots fans can point and laugh at me when they inevitably win another Super Bowl a year from now, but it’s hard to justify putting them any higher than this. Their best asset is a quarterback who turns 42 in August. Draft picks? They’ve got a couple second-round picks, but still pick at the end of the first round. They have cap space galore in 2020, but not that much in 2019. There’s an overhaul coming in New England.

As is alluded to in the story, the Cleveland Browns are one of the teams ahead of the Patriots and it is not hard to see why: after consistently being one of the NFL’s worst teams year-in and year-out, Cleveland has a solid young core of players in place to go along with four top-100 draft picks this year and around $80 million in available salary cap space. After finishing the 2018 season with a 7-8-1 record, the Browns appear to be on the upswing.

The same can be said about the other teams listed ahead of the Patriots: the Indianapolis Colts take the top spot, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, and the aforementioned Browns — all teams that have either young quarterbacks under contracts, a solid coaching staff, plenty of salary cap space, or all three of them.

New England, for comparison, has the league’s oldest starting quarterback, a staff that saw five coaches leave last week, and comparatively limited financial resources entering the 2019 offseason. Having more faith in other teams’ long-term outlook is a natural result of this, but not necessarily the 100% correct reaction. After all, the Patriots still have some core pieces in place to ensure succeeding in 2019 and beyond.

For one, neither Brady nor Belichick have shown any signs of slowing down soon. This, in turn, would give the club plenty of time to look for and groom heirs at both spots. When it comes to the comparative lack of salary cap space, meanwhile, the Patriots’ position is also not too bad considering that the team has shown time and again that it can make the most out of its resources no matter how limited they may appear to be.

Take the recent 2018 season as an example: New England lost four offensive starters, one of its starting cornerbacks, and two of its core special teamers but still managed to stay competitive all the way to another world championship — with players like Trent Brown, Sony Michel, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, and Albert McClellan all picking up the slack and taking over core roles.

Yes, the Colts and Chiefs and Rams and Bears — all teams New England beat at least once during the last season — have plenty of things to get excited about. But until one of the clubs can challenge the Patriots on a consistent basis, the league still continues to play catch-up.