NFL Power Rankings: Updated Look at League's Hierarchy
The NFL's power structure is an ever-evolving, seemingly living organism.
Injuries, suspensions and players' personal issues can cause irreparable damage to a team's chances of finding success. On the other hand, savvy free-agent acquisitions and impressive rookies can boost a team's fortunes.
Here's an updated look at how every team stacks up, taking into account the recent news around the league.
1. Denver Broncos
Provided Denver's offensive line can protect Peyton Manning this year, the Broncos look like the team to beat in the AFC. And given the troubles facing the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers (more on that later), this makes Denver the top team in the league right now.
The team's defense was rock solid defense last year, and it got even better in 2013 with the additions of defensive tackles Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton.
2. Seattle Seahawks
The pressure is now on Cliff Avril to step up and dominate early in 2013 for the Seahawks.
Second-year defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will sit out the first four games due to a suspension after he tested positive for a banned substance. He logged eight sacks in limited playing time as a rookie last year.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Michael Crabtree had a breakout year for the 49ers in 2012—especially once Colin Kaepernick entered the starting lineup. He caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and many expected him to continue rising in 2013.
After tearing his Achilles tendon during team OTAs, first reported by Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Crabtree will be out for most of the season—if not all of it.
This development now puts tremendous pressure on the team's other receivers to step up—specifically rookie Quinton Patton, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams (both of whom are coming back from season-ending injuries last year) and second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins.
Should these players fail to produce, teams will focus on stopping Vernon Davis, and the 49ers offense could be far less impressive in 2013 than it was at the end of last year.
4. New England Patriots
Tom Brady has been incredibly efficient and productive the past few years, and said he's "never felt better" entering an NFL season in an interview with SI.com's Peter King. That's a scary thought for AFC defenses.
5. Green Bay Packers
After years of playing without a competent complementary rushing attack, Aaron Rodgers might have a thunder-and-lightning, two-headed monster wreaking havoc on opposing defenses in 2013. Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin could both receive plenty of playing time this upcoming season, which will make Rodgers and his aerial attack all the more dangerous.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Right now, the biggest story regarding Atlanta is that Matt Ryan could soon join the $100 million club with an extension sometime in the near future, according to Tim Ryan and Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM Sports. This team is loaded with solid players across the board and will certainly be a major player in the NFC playoffs this upcoming winter.
7. Houston Texans
Houston is a franchise on its way up.
J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league, and if Ed Reed returns fully healthy after his recent hip surgery the team's secondary will be much improved.
Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been garnering copious praise from head coach Gary Kubiak, and his presence in the team's staring offensive lineup should help balance out the field.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
A recent injury scare could have been worse than it was. Cornerback Leon Hall tore a ligament in his thumb while lifting weights, but he's expected to be back for some of the team's OTAs. Should he and Dre Kirkpatrick return fully healthy for the regular season, Cincinnati's secondary will be really good.
9. Baltimore Ravens
The defending Super Bowl champs suffered a bit of a blow when rookie linebacker Arthur Brown—who is expected to replace Ray Lewis—went in for sports hernia surgery per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. It's not a serious injury, but any down time for this young man will be costly as he attempts to learn his new position in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme.
10. Chicago Bears
Brian Urlacher's retirement, announced on the now former linebacker's official Twitter account, doesn't have anything to do with how the Bears will perform in 2013, but it's still a big deal. The former safety out of New Mexico is certainly a Hall of Famer and was one of the best players in the NFL for over a decade.
For the Bears, replacing Urlacher was already one of the team's biggest tasks this offseason, and it will be interesting to see if D.J. Williams starts in the middle or if rookie Jon Bostic overtakes him on the depth chart.
11. Minnesota Vikings
Christian Ponder will either prove worthy of his position in 2013 and help the Vikings get back to the playoffs, or he'll struggle and hinder the team's chances of returning. Matt Cassel certainly isn't any better, and Joe Webb is being converted into a wide receiver.
Which QB is better?
12. Indianapolis Colts
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently penned a column in which he stated he would rather take Colin Kaepernick than Andrew Luck to build a franchise around. Luck will prove Brooks wrong this year by putting together an MVP-worthy campaign as a sophomore while leading his team back to the playoffs.
13. Washington Redskins
Will Robert Griffin III be back in time for the regular season or won't he?
That's the big question facing Washington right now. According to general manager Bruce Allen on a tour of the team's under-construction training facility for reporters, it's too early to tell.
That said, many are expecting him to return fully healthy by the time the regular season begins. If Griffin can build on his impressive rookie campaign of a year ago, the Redskins will challenge for the NFC East title once again.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
If Jarvis Jones can produce for Dick Lebeau like he did at Georgia, Pittsburgh's defense will finally create some turnovers in 2013 after a couple of dismal seasons in that category. The biggest question mark as it pertains to the team's success this year is whether or not the Steelers can protect Ben Roethlisberger.
15. New York Giants
Could there be trouble brewing in New York for the Giants?
Victor Cruz's contract (or lack thereof) continues to be a lingering question mark, and Hakeem Nicks didn't show up for OTAs according to Art Stapleton of The Record.
Likely neither situation will be a long-term problem for the Giants. That said, both of these receivers must produce at a high level for New York to be a factor in the NFC East.
16. Miami Dolphins
Miami will likely either emerge as a serious contender in the AFC or completely unravel this season. With so many high-priced, high-profile free agents joining the team earlier in the spring, pressure will be intense for the Dolphins to perform at a high level.
Ryan Tannihill must continue to emerge as a leader and productive player, because if he fails to do so, general manager Jeff Ireland could be out of a job next year.
17. St. Louis Rams
Loyal Rams fans might finally have something to cheer about this season for the first time in years. Sam Bradford finally has the protection and offensive talent he needs to excel, and the team's defense will be fast and dangerous this year.
18. New Orleans Saints
The Saints offense will once again be one of the most feared units in the NFL with head coach and play-calling genius Sean Payton back on the sidelines in 2013.
The big key to whether or not the Saints can reach the playoffs, however, is Rob Ryan and his 3-4 defense. Transitioning into a new scheme is never an easy task, and New Orleans could struggle on this side of the ball like it did a year ago.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo may have caused a few hearts to flutter recently (not in a good way) after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst in his back according to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com. He's not expected to miss much time, but he will not participate in OTAs.
Romo's ability to lead the team's offense will define the Cowboys' 2013 season. If he succeeds, then so does his team. Should he fail to produce in pressure situations (as he's done throughout much of his career), then the Cowboys will fail to make the playoffs again.
20. Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson isn't human—he can't be. "Megatron" revealed recently that he broke Jerry Rice's receiving record last year with broken fingers per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
Unfortunately, Detroit's offensive line looks about as solid as a wet cardboard box right now. If Matthew Stafford doesn't get proper protection, then the Lions won't make the playoffs once again in 2013.
21. Philadelphia Eagles
Right now, it's hard to determine whether the positive vibes emanating from Philly will be long-lasting or if they're just the result of Chip Kelly's fresh, new approach. Right now, nobody has anything bad to say about the guy, and the honeymoon period is in full bloom.
Come the regular season, however, it'll be interesting to see what happens when/if the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan.
22. Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Ault—the father of the "Pistol" offense and former head coach of Nevada's football program—is now a consultant to Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Will we see Alex Smith running read-options this year? Who knows, but this is a fascinating development that will be fun to track throughout the season.
23. Carolina Panthers
This upcoming season could be a make-or-break year for Cam Newton. Nobody can question his raw athletic abilities, but there remain questions about his ability to play the quarterback position at the NFL level.
If Newton improves dramatically with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013, the Panthers could be a surprise playoff team.
Should he fail to improve, Carolina will continue to be mired in mediocrity. Furthermore, another disappointing year from Newton as a passer would force the team's brain trust to actually consider bringing in another quarterback to compete for the starting job in 2014.
24. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers' 2013 season depends on keeping Philip Rivers upright. Adding Max Starks isn't likely to help matters much, as he was the No. 71-ranked offensive tackle last year in Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required).
Will Josh Freeman sink or swim this year?
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head coach Greg Schiano told reporters Monday that the Buccaneers are going to roll with Josh Freeman behind center in 2013. That said, there's never been any doubt that Schiano isn't a huge fan of Freeman, and with Mike Glennon waiting in the wings we could see Freeman's confidence tested this year.
26. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo is a tricky team to assess right now. It is loaded on the defensive side of the ball and features an impressive group of skill players on offense, but nobody knows how the quarterback situation will play out.
If EJ Manuel rises to the occasion and takes the starting job from Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, the Bills could be next year's version of the 2012 Seattle Seahawks. If not, then Buffalo will likely suffer another disappointing season.
27. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee will feature an impressive running game this upcoming season with offensive guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack leading the charge. Jake Locker must play well, however, for the Titans to win many games, and thus far in his career the jury is still out on him as a franchise quarterback.
28. Cleveland Browns
Nobody should be surprised if Jason Campbell supplants Brandon Weeden in Cleveland's starting lineup at some point in the season. Weeden struggles with accuracy and makes poor decisions, but if Norv Turner can conjure up some magic to get him playing well the Browns have a chance to surprise some people in the AFC North.
29. Arizona Cardinals
Apparently, Bruce Arians hasn't been satisfied with his new offense thus far in 2013. He spoke with reporters about his offense's lack of cohesion and many mental mistakes, via Kent Somers of AZCentral.com:
We’re behind where I’d like to be right now...We’re just not picking it up fast enough, still not picking it up the way I’d like to, at all positions...I really don’t like mental mistakes, especially if you made the same one last week. That should be corrected and in the books by now. Our receivers are not getting that done.
Arizona's offense had better get it together quickly this year, or the dangerous defenses of the NFC West will feast on its mistakes.
30. New York Jets
Many NFL analysts expected David Garrard to claim the starting quarterback spot for the Jets this year, but his retirement puts Mark Sanchez right back on the hot seat. It'll likely be either Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith behind center this year, meaning the team's offense could be another train wreck in 2013.
31. Oakland Raiders
Oakland has a long road to trudge before it can seriously contend for the AFC West crown or even a playoff spot, but the addition of Charles Woodson, announced on the team's Twitter account, will certainly help the team's defense in 2013..
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville could easily replicate its 2-14 mark from last year in 2013. Neither Chad Henne nor Blaine Gabbert can run an offense with a modicum of consistency, and the team's defense will once again struggle to defend against the pass this year.
Teddy Bridgwater will likely be wearing a Jaguars uniform a year from now.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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