NFL Power Rankings: Teams That Look Like Super Bowl Contenders Early on

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIISeptember 13, 2012

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 26:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers in action during a pre-season game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Super Bowl talk is cheap after one week of regular season action, but in this addition of NFL power rankings, let's take a stab anyway.

Which teams looked super this past Sunday?


1. San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh's bunch simply outmuscled the Pack in Lambeau Field, handing Green Bay as many losses as they had in the entire 2011 regular season.

The additions of free agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham look to have accomplished what San Fran wanted to achieve on offense: more balance.

A more balanced attack, continued mistake-free football from quarterback Alex Smith, and all 11 starters returning on defense should add up to the Niners being in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.


2. New England Patriots

What has been a suspect defense to say the least over the past few seasons suddenly looked very respectable in a road tilt with the Tennessee Titans.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower scored a touchdown, defensive end Chandler Jones notched a sack, and defensive back Tavon Wilson snagged an interception. That's a pretty strong showing from the 2012 draft class thus far.

Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady, flawlessly moving the ball all day and frequently finding new receiving target Brandon Lloyd, who registered a game-high 69 yards receiving.

Second-year running back Stevan Ridley scampered for 125 yards and a score, and looked like that high-caliber featured back the Patriots haven't had in years.

With an even more explosive running game and an improved defense, it's hard to envision the Pats not winning the AFC East.


3. Houston Texans

Matt Schaub returns to orchestrate a high-powered attack, and elite receiver Andre Johnson looks as good as ever. The two-headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate give the Texans the best backfield combo in the league.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' unit is loaded with athleticism in the front seven. Defensive end J.J. Watt has lived up to the hype as a first-round pick. Young linebackers Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, and Brian Cushing aggressively fly to the football.

There isn't much room to criticize Houston, who look like heavy favorites to win the AFC South once again, and possibly lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC this time around.


4. Baltimore Ravens

Prisoners of the moment will tell you that Joe Flacco is an elite NFL quarterback.

We've seen this movie before. The Ravens defense is consistently great, and Monday night's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was no exception. Where the trouble has resided in this team for many years has been under center, and Flacco hasn't proven he is the definitive answer yet.

A trip to Philly this Sunday will go a long way in determining just how good Joe Cool is.

Of course, the defense playing lights out even without Terrell Suggs is always a plus, as is putting the ball in Ray Rice's more than capable hands. If the Ravens keep up their pass-happy strategy, it won't translate to a Super Bowl title.

Give the ball to Rice, and get out of the way.


5. Chicago Bears

These rankings are liable to constantly change, but based on a knee-jerk reaction of what Week 1 had to offer, the Bears looked like a top-five team.

Jay Cutler was slinging spirals all over Soldier Field, frequently connecting with his favorite former Denver Broncos target Brandon Marshall. The defense confused Andrew Luck, who is no ordinary rookie, and forced five turnovers on the afternoon.

If the Bears can knock off the archrival Packers on Thursday night, they may have the inside track to win the NFC North.

Right now, they are the most complete team in that division.


6. Atlanta Falcons

They might flip-flop with the next team on this list after Week 2's Monday night showdown, but the Falcons offense looks better than ever.

Second-year receiver Julio Jones may surpass his Pro Bowl teammate Roddy White this season, and Matt Ryan continues to try to establish himself as a top-tier QB.

In head coach Mike Smith's four seasons, the Falcons have made the playoffs three times, but bowed out in the opening game on each occasion. Despite the absence of middle linebacker and eminent leading tackler Curtis Lofton, the Falcons have the talent on both sides of the ball to go deep this postseason.


7. Denver Broncos

I suppose that injured neck is just fine for Peyton Manning, who torched the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night football.

Granted, James Harrison and Ryan Clark were out of the lineup for the Steelers, but Manning put to rest any doubts about his health against one of the most complex defenses in the NFL.

No. 7 might seem a mile high for Denver at this point, but keep in mind a few things. First of all, this team made the AFC divisional playoffs a season ago. They made huge upgrades to the secondary, got a brilliant new defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio, and they ushered Tim Tebow out of town in favor of Manning.

Sounds strange, but the Broncos were among the final eight surviving teams last year, and shouldn't be considered outside of that position just yet.


8. New York Giants

The G-Men dropped their first game against the rival Dallas Cowboys, but that shouldn't be blown out of proportion.

Dallas' deep receiving corps was a nightmare matchup for a beat up Giants secondary, as they couldn't cover Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and the rising Kevin Ogletree.

As the past five years have taught us, it's insane to bet on the Giants, but it's also never smart to count them out. Especially after what Eli Manning did in the clutch in 2011, New York can't be counted out of any game.

Victor Cruz should get his drops in order, and an improved running game thanks to a healthier Ahmad Bradshaw should allow the Giants to bounce back quickly. Not to mention, they have a largely intact team nucleus and a Lombardi Trophy to defend.


9. Green Bay Packers

This might be considered low for a team that just went 15-1, but that seems like a distant memory. Suddenly, Green Bay is 60 minutes away from potentially falling to 0-2, a start that almost guarantees missing out on the playoffs.

If not for superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers—who also led the team in rushing in Week 1—the Packers wouldn't even be competing. Dom Capers' defensive unit is extremely talented, but haven't been able to stop the bleeding from last season.

The Pack must force turnovers in order to win games if their defense is going to continue letting up chunks of yardage. They are still Super Bowl contenders because of their high-powered passing attack, but that may not last long if their D doesn't step up.


10. Dallas Cowboys

This may be the best Cowboys supporting cast Tony Romo has had to work with in his tenure as signal-caller for "America's Team."

Not only is the receiving corps loaded, he also has the dependable DeMarco Murray to hand it off to. Murray should run wild this season thanks to the acquisition of fierce lead-blocking fullback Lawrence Vickers.

The defensive schemes of coordinator Rob Ryan seem to finally be locking in. The upgrade at corner with top-five pick Morris Claiborne and free-agent splash Brandon Carr is definitely helping.

In a very competitive division, the Cowboys may finally be geared up for a deep playoff run.


11. Pittsburgh Steelers

Only a critical mistake by Ben Roethlisberger undid the team in a hyper-competitive game against Denver.

Once Ryan Clark and James Harrison return to the defense, the Steelers should continue to be their typical dominant selves. Plus, they still have Troy Polamalu roaming the field.

As long as Big Ben and Polamalu are still functioning football individuals, it's hard not to pencil Pittsburgh in for 10 wins a year.


12. Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford rescued his team once again, displaying the heroics that were typical week in and week out of his breakout 5,000-yard season in 2011.

The passing game will be fine, but the ground attack is still a question mark. As for the defense, it faced a St. Louis Rams squad that isn't very explosive, and it's unclear whether the unit has improved much from last year.

Until those questions are answered, the Lions will only be a fringe Super Bowl contender.


13. San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers looked sharp in his first outing of 2012, seemingly over the 20-interception season that helped cost his team a shot at the playoffs.

Ryan Mathews is hurt once again, but the Chargers should hang tough until his return thanks to an explosive passing game. The defense will benefit from rookies Kendall Reyes on the defensive line and linebacker Melvin Ingram.


14. New York Jets

Surprise! Tony Sparano suddenly looks like a genius play-calling maestro after putting up the most points in the league.

The wrinkle of Tim Tebow will be an interesting development to watch, but Mark Sanchez erased any doubts—for now—that he should be the starter against the Buffalo Bills.

Plus, you always know what you're getting from the Jets' defense under Rex Ryan: a perennial top-five unit, and Revis Island.


15. Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick had a nightmare game in Cleveland, throwing four interceptions against a surprisingly tough Browns defense.

Philly still came out on top, though, and face another AFC North foe in the Ravens this week in the home opener.

Andy Reid's bunch may have the most talented roster in the league, which should continue to keep them in the Super Bowl conversation. They just aren't far enough removed from the "Dream Team" disappointment to be ranked higher at this point.


16. Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III lit it up in his first NFL action, but questions still loom on the Redskins defense.

Rookie running back Alfred Morris has emerged as a viable starter, and should provide the offense with a balanced attack. The NFC East is just so tough, so it's hard to see the Redskins getting above .500 this season.


17. New Orleans Saints

The Bountygate scandal may be affecting the Saints more than they're letting on, but Drew Brees still threw for well over 300 yards in the opener.

A suspect secondary is a huge concern for New Orleans, because Brees can't dig the team out of every hole they're in this year. Lots of uncertainty surrounded the Saints entering the season, and they didn't do much to dismiss those concerns in the first week.


18. Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens may just be that good, but Cincinnati looked pretty bad on Monday night. They had a relatively easy schedule in 2011, and may be headed for a down year in what's arguably the toughest division in football.


19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A victory for Greg Schiano in his first game as NFL coach is a good building point for the enthusiastic, hard-nosed coach. His defense allowed just 10 yards against the Carolina Panthers.

It remains to be seen whether Josh Freeman can bounce back from a down season after a relatively quiet first game.


20. Tennessee Titans

The Jake Locker era didn't get off to a great start in Tennessee, to the tune of a 34-13 drubbing at the hands of the mighty Patriots.

That's not cause for too much concern, though. This is still a young team that probably isn't as bad as it looked against a likely Super Bowl participant.


21. Kansas City Chiefs

The Atlanta Falcons passing offense was a buzzsaw that the Chiefs couldn't push away. Defensive-minded head coach Romeo Crennel had no answers for Matt Ryan and Co., but the team was also missing suspended pass rusher Tamba Hali and No. 1 corner Brandon Flowers.

KC's offense looked solid, and key pieces Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles look to be recovered from their ACL injuries.


22. Arizona Cardinals

Fun fact of the week: the Cards are 7-2 in their last nine regular season games. Not bad for a team that has struggled more than most to settle on a quarterback.

Kevin Kolb orchestrated the game-winning drive against Seattle, and will likely start this week in place of an injured John Skelton.

If the situation under center is settled and the defense keeps playing well, Arizona could surprise.


23. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton needs to stop forcing the action, because continuing to turn it over will continue to cost his team games. He also needs more support from the running game, though, as DeAngelo Williams has failed to live up to his big contract.

Not to mention, the defense still has prove it has progressed, and the play of first-round linebacker Luke Kuechly will go a long way in determining that.


24. Seattle Seahawks

After lighting it up all preseason, Russell Wilson finally looked like a rookie in Week 1. That was partially due to an extremely conservative game plan, though, and he still made what should have been the game-winning touchdown throw to Braylon Edwards.

As has been typical, Edwards dropped the pass, and the Seahawks lost. Pete Carroll's team must be more disciplined. They logged 13 penalties last Sunday, and won't consistently win with that kind of conduct.


25. Oakland Raiders

If you started Darren McFadden in fantasy football (I did), you felt good about the Raiders on Monday night. For actual fans and the organization, the 0-1 home start was a downer.

It was clear that the absence of Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford hurt Carson Palmer, who had few viable receiving options to look to—besides his frequent dump offs to McFadden.


26. St. Louis Rams

Head coach and former NFL defensive back Jeff Fisher has instantly improved the secondary. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins will be a fun tandem to watch for the next 15 games.

What about that offense, though?


27. Minnesota Vikings

Maybe Blaine Gabbert has made a huge jump from his disastrous rookie season, or perhaps the Viking secondary is still very suspect.

Either way, their own first-round QB from a year ago looked fantastic against a stellar Jags D. Christian Ponder may be developing faster than most of us realize, which is great news for Adrian Peterson.


28. Jacksonville Jaguars

The passing game looked so much better thanks to improvement from Gabbert and a better supporting cast featuring rookie Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, and...Cecil Shorts?

That was surprising, but what won't be is if the Jags have a much more balanced offense moving forward. Maurice Jones-Drew should continue to improve each week as he continues to catch up after missing most of the summer with a contract dispute.


29. Miami Dolphins

The only rookie signal-caller that looked worse than Ryan Tannehill has yet to appear on this list, but is coming shortly.

What a tough first assignment on the road in Houston, though. With a pretty good defense and Reggie Bush in the backfield, the Fins should keep improving from a poor Week 1 outing.


30. Cleveland Browns

The special teams and defense came to play against the Eagles, but the offense might as well have stayed at home.

The offensive line struggled to block all day, and the debuts of rookie cornerstones Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were both unmitigated disasters.

Save, of course, for Richardson lighting up Kurt Coleman.


31. Buffalo Bills

Apparently the addition of Mario Williams to the defensive line didn't help much. Against a team that didn't score a touchdown all preseason, the Bills were torched by the likes of Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets at home.

The big contract awarded to Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to be head-scratching.


32. Indianapolis Colts

Until Andrew Luck's defense does something for him, it could be a long season in Indy. He also doesn't have the best supporting cast outside of Reggie Wayne.

Even for the most pro-ready quarterback in recent memory, that's asking a lot.