The NFL draft is only a couple of months in our collective rear-view mirror, but the 24/7 NFL news cycle makes it seem like a lifetime ago. For players, coaches and staff, this period of the offseason is an interesting time where even the tiniest of choices can have wide-ranging consequences for the future of a franchise.
The preseason is set to kick off in about seven weeks at the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. It's a fitting time to check in and see how each team is doing as it looks to climb the ladder of success toward the 2013 NFL season.
Right now, the biggest problem with the Raiders is how many moving parts they have going into 2013 following a massive roster overhaul.
Even if one truly believes they have middle-of-the-road talent on the roster (note: I don't), it's impossible to fully trust that every single move is going to work out 100 percent correctly or that the new bodies will mesh in time for the regular season.
Much like a boom-or-bust draft prospect, the Raiders are all projection right now. Until quarterback Matt Flynn (or whoever ends up under center) actually shows that he can lead this ragtag group of castoffs to victory, it's too early to believe they're anything better than one of the worst teams in the league.
Much like the Oakland Raiders, the Jaguars need to manage a lot of moving parts this season as they install a new scheme under new head coach Gus Bradley. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is getting another chance to lead this team—a team he has floundered leading before.
It is completely fair to both be excited about the direction the Jaguars are going and also realize that where they are right now is not nearly good enough to win more than a few football games in the upcoming season.
Things haven't gone well for the Browns in the past few weeks, as running back Trent Richardson will be out until August with what the team is hoping isn't a stress fracture.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is being suspended for the first two games of the regular season and will lose valuable time both with his second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and in head coach Rob Chudzinski's new offense.
Like the other teams toward the bottom of this list, the Browns have made lots of good moves this offseason. There are just too many question marks and too much work left to do.
The mere fact that this offseason's quarterback battle is actually a battle is disconcerting for the Jets, who have seen more than any talent evaluator needs to see out of Mark Sanchez—a quarterback who can win games in the best of circumstances, but cannot carry his team when the chips are stacked against him.
Sure, when training camp is all said and done, Geno Smith might be the starter under center, but how many reps will this battle steal from the eventual starter? Either way, what quality weapons will the quarterback even have to work with?
Head coach Rex Ryan can build a heck of a defense, but the Jets will need to put some points on the board once in a while. Right now, it seems doubtful that they can do so with any regularity.
Bills fans should be excited about the offense that Doug Marrone is going to bring to Buffalo. Sadly, they also need to be realistic about the rookie mistakes that EJ Manuel is going to make if he is named the starter at quarterback.
They also need to reconcile the outside (but very real) chance that Kevin Kolb could be named the starter. In that instance, fans should rest assured that there are, indeed, 31 other teams to root for. No one would really blame them.
The Bills can't win games on hope alone. This team is going places in 2013 and beyond, but the defense has yet to prove that it can win games by itself, and the offense needs to find an identity not limited to running back C.J. Spiller.
The Cardinals are in the same situation as many of the other teams that underachieved in 2012. Arizona has brought in an entirely new look under new general manager Steve Keim. Bruce Arians was brought in as head coach and will lean on quarterback Carson Palmer—something that hasn't always been a wonderful idea in the past couple of seasons.
Arizona gets a few spots of grace on this list because the new pieces it's brought in fit the scheme so well. Also, for the most part, these are veteran pieces (like Palmer and linebacker Karlos Dansby) that have won some football games in the past and can do so together with the Cardinals.
The biggest concern is that, perhaps, they're not rebuilding enough. It's not a concern that is really relevant to 2013, but the veteran additions could keep the Cardinals below mediocre for much longer than a true start from scratch may have.
The Titans have poured a lot of money into the rushing attack this offseason with a couple of offensive guards in Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack along with backup running back Shonn Greene. Add in the passing game additions of wide receiver Justin Hunter and tight end Delanie Walker, and maybe the Titans will actually have some scoring punch this season.
Of course, that all means quarterback Jake Locker needs to be an efficient triggerman for this offense and take advantage of the shots that are afforded him. Because he's failed to do that thus far at the NFL level, he's got the most to prove on the Titans this season and could hold head coach Mike Munchak's job in his hands.
Does anyone really doubt, at this point, that quarterback Cam Newton has the talent to lead his team to a playoff berth? The problem has been the lack of talent around him and the inability of former general manager Marty Hurney to formulate a cohesive building plan.
The defense had talent all over the field, but a lack of girth up the middle led to a lot of easy yardage for opponents. With an unpolished offense that couldn't match other teams point-for-point, the Panthers have been easy pickins.
With improved talent on both sides of the ball and another year of polish for Newton, the Panthers should be much better this year—even in a tough NFC South.
Similar to their green-hued neighbors to the northwest, the Eagles have a quarterback contest that needs to be settled sooner rather than later.
On the one hand, Michael Vick represents the past—athletic, strong arm, plenty of money already being handed to him for throwing a football. Matt Barkley, on the other hand, represents the future. He wasn't drafted this past April for Chip Kelly's health and will (eventually) become heir to the proverbial throne. He's smart, accurate and decisive—pluses for any scheme, but musts in Kelly's fast-paced offense.
Then, on the third hand (you have three hands for the purposes of this paragraph), there's Nick Foles, who possesses a little of both worlds.
The Eagles have been coming apart at the seams for the past couple of seasons. Years of seemingly believing they were "one player away" has given the Eagles a weakened foundation. It looks like they're putting the pieces together, but until they figure out who's under center, they're not going anywhere in the immediate future.
In the span of two offseasons, the Buccaneers went from thrifty, free-agent haters to a team willing to revamp large swaths of their roster in free agency and willfully spend that money so often kept locked up in the coffers.
On paper, Tampa Bay should have a very good football team in 2013. Quarterback Josh Freeman has plenty of help around him in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin. The defense has added quality players at every level—defensive tackle Akeem Spence, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, and defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Johnthan Banks.
Head coach Greg Schiano is busy putting his personal stamp on this team (and the rest of the league, for that matter), but he needs some wins to validate his hard-nosed coaching style. This team has the talent to give him those wins.
If it doesn't, maybe he's the problem.
The Lions brought over running back Reggie Bush from the Miami Dolphins to provide them with some semblance of the offensive potency they exhibited while Jahvid Best suited up for the team. Combine him with Calvin Johnson and the rest of the Lions receiving corps, and quarterback Matthew Stafford will certainly have plenty of quality pieces around him.
If the revamped offensive line can keep him upright for more than a nanosecond, it should be a good season offensively.
Defensively, the Lions have brought in ends Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones to replace Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. This represents not only a significant roster hole plugged in the offseason, but also an upgrade from last season. The same can be said for safety Glover Quin, who will be adding some stability to a defensive backfield that sorely needs it.
Former head coach Norv Turner is heading up the Cleveland Browns offense this season (hooray...) after doing a terrible job adjusting to the personnel he had in San Diego for the past couple of seasons.
While quarterback Philip Rivers received much of the credit for the Chargers' terrible season, it was former general manager A.J. Smith who terribly mismanaged the roster and Turner who barely looked at the cards he was dealt before playing his hand.
In 2013, with tackles Max Starks and D.J. Fluker installed on the bookends, along with some real effort being put in improving the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers should have a much more balanced team and less physical pain to their quarterback.
The Dolphins need to have a good season (or at least look headed in the correct direction) for general manager Jeff Ireland to keep his job. Ireland clearly knows this. Just look at the huge swings he took for the proverbial fences this offseason.
Ireland didn't just open the checkbook; he pried open Scrooge McDuck-sized money pits for free agents in order to put more talent in just about every area of the roster.
Now, as a long-term team-building effort, Ireland wasted a lot of that money and will eventually be led to regret some of these decisions. In the short term, he probably did enough to save his job. Ryan Tannehill is a good young quarterback who now has enough talent around him to move the ball on plays other than desperate heaves to wide receiver Brian Hartline.
It isn't the most popular mindset with Dallas fans, but until Jerry Jones gives up personnel control of the Cowboys, they will not legitimately compete again in the NFC East, which is getting better by the day and leaving Dallas behind.
Owners should not be making roster decisions. Jones is a brilliant businessman and can build one awesome stadium. He should stick to those matters and leave football to someone who knows what in the world they're doing.
Each offseason seems like one step forward and two steps back for a team that is seemingly pleased with having quarterback Tony Romo consistently under fire both from opposing pass-rushers and the media. The same should happen this season, with the Cowboys good enough to stay in most games but not talented enough to beat the big-boy teams that have owners who don't feel the need to meddle so much.
For the Saints, getting head coach Sean Payton back from his Bountygate suspension probably figures to be the biggest "addition" this team could have possibly made in the offseason.
Luring Rob Ryan over to coach the defense is another interesting move that could pay dividends once Ryan gets more players together who fit his scheme. This year's draft was a great head start, but they're not nearly done in that regard.
Without question, this team goes as its offense goes. Just a few years ago, quarterback Drew Brees was tearing up the record book with a high-octane passing attack. Last year, it seemed as if the engine sputtered and stopped more than running like the finely-tuned machine it can be. If Payton can't fix what ailed the offense last season, the Saints could simply tread water.
Speaking of treading water, that visual almost perfectly describes what the Steelers roster has gone through the past couple of seasons. 2013 is no different, as the Steelers have lost a player who once helped define them (in this case, linebacker James Harrison) and brought in some decent players to replace him.
Losing all-time franchise greats and bringing in OK replacements has pretty much been the Steelers' M.O. since running back Jerome Bettis retired, no? It's kept them relevant, but they're going in the wrong direction.
The Steelers need huge contributions from a tattered offensive line and a lackluster receiving corps. On top of that, they need overachievers at every level of their defense to keep up the high ranking they've had in years past.
This is still a very good team, but no longer one of the great teams in the NFL.
It's interesting to think about the shift that Philadelphia Eagles fans are looking forward to from a coaching perspective now that Andy Reid is gone and Chip Kelly has taken over.
Yet the exact same shift—maybe even to a greater degree—is expected in Kansas City, where Reid is taking over for Romeo Crennel, whose tenure as Chiefs head coach was marked by both tragedy and apparent apathy.
The Chiefs are this high in the power rankings because, right now, they have the talent of an AFC playoff team. This isn't a prediction, because they've certainly underachieved in the past—as have new additions Reid and quarterback Alex Smith—but it is an acknowledgement that they could be one of the better teams in the league if they play as well on the field as they look on paper.
The Bears are an awfully talented team to be starting in year one under new head coach Marc Trestman, but Lovie Smith's multiple chances had run to an end, and it looked as if he was content being an old dog that didn't have to learn any new tricks.
The biggest question with the Bears is whether or not they will skip a beat or two installing the new systems and getting on the same page with their new head coach and with one another.
The talent is there, but the NFC North will do them no favors, as the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers represent a pretty clear-cut one-two punch in the division.
Are the Bears good enough to usurp one or both of those teams? Absolutely. However, it remains to be seen if they have the ability to play at a consistently high level in crunch time.
Like the other teams in the middle of the power rankings, the Giants are, potentially, a playoff-caliber team.
For two years in a row, it seemed as if quarterback Eli Manning and his team simply mailed in large sections of the regular season in an effort to save themselves for the playoffs. In 2011, that plan clearly worked to perfection, as the Giants were Super Bowl champions. In 2012, however, the NFC was too strong, and the Giants lost three of six to close out the season and miss the playoffs.
It's difficult to close out games (and a season) when the defense gives up easy yards and the quarterback is forced to pass more often than the team is built to afford. So, in 2013, the Giants have beefed up the defensive and offensive lines and hope a rushing attack built around David Wilson is more lucrative than one previously built around now-Indianapolis Colt Ahmad Bradshaw.
It's almost surreal to think about what the St. Louis Rams were able to do with relatively little talent in 2012. Yes, this team is getting better from a roster perspective, but head coach Jeff Fisher and his staff were able to eke every bit of talent from this team and had them playing at a level above what their talent warranted.
With the additions of players like offensive tackle Jake Long, tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Tavon Austin, the offense should take shape after years of being a one-trick pony with battering ram look-alike Steven Jackson at running back.
That offense combined with an improving Rams defense should make for an interesting spoiler in the NFC West—a division which could potentially fight for two wild-card spots in 2013.
It isn't that the Redskins can't win with Kirk Cousins under center. It's certainly possible, and Cousins would probably represent an upgrade at quarterback for a handful of teams out there. (See: many of the teams at the bottom of these power rankings.)
Even with that in mind, it's crazy to think this team is going anywhere significant without a healthy Robert Griffin III, who is recovering from some pretty serious knee surgery.
Cramped quarters under the salary cap and lack of a first-round pick made roster improvements minimal this offseason, but the seeds have been planted for an upgraded defensive backfield in the future. If the Redskins offense can stay explosive and RGIII can stay on the field, this season could be a bridge to so much more.
However, if RGIII goes down again, the Redskins could be stuck on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff time.
It's impossible to put running back Adrian Peterson's MVP season in perspective until one realizes what he overcame (injuries, a struggling offense) and that he actually flirted with rushing records after a slow start and while the team's other main weapon—wide receiver Percy Harvin (now with the Seattle Seahawks)—was on the sidelines.
Maybe Peterson can't recreate that magic. Then again, are you really willing to bet against him?
Peterson may not have to carry this team so much if Christian Ponder continues to improve with additions like wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson in tow.
The Vikings drafted three players in the first round of this past draft and are clearly in the mindset to return to the playoffs in 2013, but they need to hold off the Chicago Bears and hope the Green Bay Packers falter if they really want to solidify their chances.
Personally, I don't trust the 2013 Houston Texans are as good as the 2012 Houston Texans' record would lead one to believe. Frankly, I'm not sure the 2012 version of the Texans were quite as good as their win-loss record either. They consistently played down to other teams' level and failed to truly assert themselves down the stretch.
That said, this is a very talented football team that is trying to stay ahead of the "Joneses," as it were in the AFC. To remain a top-10 team, the Texans need a bounce-back season from running back Arian Foster and continued solid play from quarterback Matt Schaub, who has a new toy this year in rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The defense gets linebacker Brian Cushing back from injury and has one of the league's best players in defensive end J.J. Watt. Yet it's not easy to get excited about a team that hasn't consistently played up to its talent level in the past couple of seasons.
The Colts were a surprise playoff team in 2012 but surely won't sneak up on any opponent this season.
With that in mind, general manager Ryan Grigson poured tons of time, effort and owner Jim Irsay's money into continuing to improve the roster. He doesn't always receive the requisite amount of praise for the fine work he's done, which is far more than just the no-brainer selection of quarterback Andrew Luck in last year's draft.
Look for the Colts to have better weapons on offense—not to mention a better-fitting offense for Luck under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, whom Luck worked with at Stanford. They'll also have better protection in Luck's second year.
The defense, which was already "Chuckstrong" in the first year under head coach Chuck Pagano, has received a huge influx of talent and should start doing its part to keep the Colts in games.
If one wants a pretty clear representation of the crossroads that the Cincinnati Bengals are at right now, just look at the New York Jets from a couple of years ago.
Settle down, Bengals fans, this is a compliment.
The Bengals are clearly a talented team with a defensive mastermind at head coach and an offense that has plenty of talent to go around. Quarterback Andy Dalton has all of the tools he needs, but he needs to prove that he can elevate those tools as much as they help him. If he doesn't, it's not beyond the pale to think that the Bengals won't reach the mountaintop.
Dalton is the key here no matter how much we talk about the talent of guys like defensive tackle Geno Atkins or wide receiver A.J. Green. Dalton needs to be the face of this team to bring the Bengals into the upper echelon of the AFC. He's got the help. Now, he needs to continue to improve his game.
OK, that's really all I have to say on that matter, because the Patriots' success in 2013 probably has little or nothing to do with any quarterback not named Tom Brady.
Any narratives one spouts to the contrary probably need to be tempered by the other fantastic moves that the Patriots have made in the past two offseasons—all of which will likely have a bigger impact on the Patriots than a third-string quarterback and erstwhile gadget player.
The question is whether or not offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, head coach Bill Belichick and Brady can keep their offensive firepower going while acclimating new additions like wide receivers Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson to the team.
It isn't a question of talent, but of timing and chemistry. Brady had a pretty good thing going with former Patriots receiver Wes Welker, and the new faces will need to find some of that magic before the team's passing game has success.
If the offense cannot do so right away, the defense will be asked to carry the team. The defense is much improved from past seasons, but it's probably not ready for any down years from Brady and the offense quite yet.
Seattle goes as Russell Wilson goes—that was the story last season, and it worked out because Wilson was consistently awesome.
This season, Wilson was given wide receiver Percy Harvin to help aid his passing game. If Wilson gets in trouble, he'll know that he has a teammate who can make special things happen with the ball. Combine this dynamic play with the steady pounding that running back Marshawn Lynch gives to defenses, and the Seahawks are a scary offense for any team to face.
The defense is still the big headliner, however, as the Seahawks continue to pour resources into rotational players and backups in pursuit of one of the deepest and most balanced defenses in the NFL. They'll be a tough out for any opponent this season.
See that? $110 million means one gets to levitate objects. I believe it's one of the lesser-known laws of physics.
Possible telekinesis aside, Aaron Rodgers is worth every penny of that contract to the Packers, who have finally given him a rushing attack by drafting running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
This is one of the most talented teams—top to bottom—in the entire NFL, and it has the most talented player in the league at quarterback. Counting them out seems foolish, but it's difficult to erase the image of the San Francisco 49ers running all over the Packers just a couple of months ago.
The Packers need to be more consistent against top competition before they can truly reclaim the NFL throne. The also need to work overtime on figuring out what to do against mobile quarterbacks.
Last year's Super Bowl champions have had a tumultuous offseason.
It started with the logical-but-still-staggering megamillions deal that Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco hauled in. Old standbys like linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed left town to start an exodus of talent that left some believing the Ravens were a one-year wonder.
General manager Ozzie Newsome had a different idea.
The Ravens went to work bringing in safety Michael Huff and pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil. They added defensive linemen Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Brandon Williams to provide ridiculous depth to an already talented unit. They drafted safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown to replace legends.
Overall, it was a fantastic offseason even without context. When compared to what the offseason could have looked like after the early losses, this might end up as Newsome's best offseason in a storied career.
The Falcons are, easily, one of the most talented teams in football. Really, it isn't even in question.
With a talented quarterback in Matt Ryan, a terrific receiving corps in Julio Jones and Roddy White and the return of Tony Gonzalez, this team was ready to remain at the top of the NFC.
By eliminating their Achilles heel with the addition of running back Steven Jackson, the Falcons didn't just improve—they scared the daylights out of every defensive coordinator on their schedule.
That said, the Falcons are not No. 1 on this list because they still have questions against the best teams in the league. They have not "been there," as it were, and though it sounds cliche, no one outside of Atlanta is betting on a team that has wilted under fire in the past.
The talent is there. It's long past time for the Falcons to finally prove every single one of their doubters wrong.
As long as Peyton Manning is quarterbacking this team, it's near impossible to put them much lower than top-five on any power ranking.
On top of that, the Broncos have been masterful at putting pieces around Manning that fit his style of play. The latest example—wide receiver Wes Welker—is less of a marked improvement for a team already bursting with receiver talent and more of an embarrassment of riches.
This is a team that can win any shootout it's put into, but considering defensive additions and a hopefully improved rushing attack with rookie running back Montee Ball, they likely won't get into many shootouts.
It's just dominance in the Mile High City. The rest of the league better be ready.
One look at the 49ers' depth chart and it's clear that their backups could probably compete with some of the lowlier teams in the NFL. This is a team that has been able to draft for depth in the past two seasons, and it's about to pay dividends in a Super Bowl-caliber team this season and potentially every year for the foreseeable future.
As with any team, there are certainly question marks, but the 49ers have the coaching, depth, balance and overall talent to overcome any obstacle.
Yes, it's the offseason, but the Niners are clearly and objectively the best team in football, and all signs point to that being just as much the case next January as it is today.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.