Every NFL team likes to think it has a chance to win the Super Bowl during the offseason. Hope springs eternal during the months leading up to the regular season, but it usually doesn't take long to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Heading into training camp, there are some teams that appear to have a huge leg up on the rest of the league—the top dogs within the NFL's power structure.
These rankings are certainly subject to change once training camp kicks into high gear and unfortunate injuries occur. Yet given what we know at this present time, here's how the 32 NFL teams stack up in the early days of summer.
1. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning has a loaded lineup of skill-position players at his disposal and a solid offensive line—a recipe for victory.
Adding Wes Welker was a stroke of genius. His ability to get open in the middle of the field will open up Denver's aerial attack in a major way.
Furthermore, the early reports on rookie running back Montee Ball have been glowingly positive—so much so that the Broncos released Willis McGahee, as noted by Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports:
Release of Willis McGahee indicates that Broncos coaches are just as impressed with Montee Ball as they say they are.— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) June 13, 2013
If Von Miller and the team's defense continue building on a phenomenal 2012 campaign, Denver should run away with the AFC West title and be the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the postseason run.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Losing a player of Michael Crabtree's caliber (Achilles injury) would cripple most NFL teams, but the 49ers have collected such a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball that it won't make a huge difference.
Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin are both veteran playmakers who will help Colin Kaepernick move the chains, and the team's rushing attack should be just as potent as ever.
Which team deserves the No. 1 spot?
On the other side of the ball, San Francisco's defense could be even more dangerous in 2013 than it was last year, thanks to an influx of young, talented pass-rushers via the draft.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle's defense is scary-good, and young Russell Wilson will only get better after his brilliant rookie campaign in 2012. This team will certainly challenge the 49ers in the NFC West and will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta didn't lose any of its explosiveness on offense this offseason, and the addition of Steven Jackson should help the team pound out important yardage in goal-line and third-down situations.
If rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant proves capable of starting, the Falcons will feature a dynamic secondary capable of creating turnovers, which will lead to points, more often than not.
5. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers and his impressive receiving corps won't miss Greg Jennings. Randall Cobb is due for a huge season as the team's slot specialist, and the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will give opposing defenses reason for worry against the running game.
Green Bay's secondary is still somewhat of a question mark, but the addition of Datone Jones on the defensive line should help Clay Matthews and company generate more pressure up front.
6. New England Patriots
At this point, nobody knows what will become of Aaron Hernandez in 2013 and beyond. He is under investigation by police to determine what—if any—part he may have played in the murder of Odin Lloyd, according to multiple sources, including SI.com's Greg Bedard and Pete Thamel.
But this is Brady we're talking about, here. Throughout his career, he's made do with whomever Bill Belichick throws out on the field, and he'll do the same this year.
On the other side of the ball, New England's defense is still a work in progress, but there are some promising young players in the front seven. Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and company will continue developing into a cohesive unit capable of dominating the line of scrimmage.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
Quarterback Andy Dalton has no excuse not to put together a career year, given the amount of talent Cincinnati has on the offensive side of the ball. The team's defense was one of the league's best in 2012, and there's no reason to think it won't continue getting better as young players develop.
8. Houston Texans
Health will play a big factor for Houston this year, as the team is loaded with talent but short on depth at some key positions. If Arian Foster can score double-digit touchdowns on the ground and rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins plays up to his potential, then the team's offense will score a lot of points.
On the other side, if Ed Reed, Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt stay healthy, Houston's defense will be among the league's best.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco will surely prove his worth this season—one way or another.
Without Anquan Boldin, he'll need to find a new go-to guy and play during the regular season this year like he did in the postseason last year—something he's never done before in his career.
With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed out of the picture, Baltimore's defense will need to forge a new identity and find new leaders.
This upcoming Ravens season will be fascinating to watch. It won't be surprising to see Baltimore win the AFC North, but it also won't be a shock to see this team miss the playoffs entirely.
10. Chicago Bears
Two huge questions will define Chicago's 2013 campaign:
- How will the team's defense play without Brian Urlacher on the field and in the locker room?
- Will Jay Cutler play to his potential under new head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman?
How Chicago answers both of these questions will determine what kind of season the team has. The pieces are in place on both sides of the ball to have a breakout campaign in 2013, but it remains to be seen if they will work well as a whole.
11. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III makes the Redskins contenders. If he can return healthy and stay healthy—combined with a retooled secondary and healthy front seven—Washington will be formidable in 2013.
Which quarterback will have a better sophomore season?
12. Indianapolis Colts
Watching Andrew Luck develop in the next few years will be a treat for football connoisseurs. Playing behind an improved offensive line and with a loaded arsenal of skill-position players, Luck is a dark-horse candidate to win the league's MVP trophy next year.
13. New York Giants
As it was last season, New York has more questions than answers heading into training camp.
Drafting Justin Pugh may or may not help the team's offensive line protect Eli Manning. Furthermore, depth and talent are issues the team didn't really address much in regards to the linebacking corps and secondary.
That said, Manning is who he is, and he'll have New York vying for a playoff spot, come hell or high water.
14. St. Louis Rams
I can't stress enough how much I loved, loved, loved what general manager Les Snead did to improve his roster this offseason. Sam Bradford now has dangerous weapons to work with and pass protection up front, and he will prove his detractors wrong with a breakout campaign.
The Rams also feature a fast, dynamic group of defenders that didn't receive enough credit last season.
St. Louis is my sleeper pick to earn a wild-card spot in the NFC.
15. Minnesota Vikings
On both sides of the ball, the Vikings have the players to get back to the playoffs.
The biggest question mark is and will continue to be quarterback Christian Ponder. He reportedly hasn't looked sharp this spring, according to Tom Pelissero and Judd Zulgad of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
If Ponder can't play with consistency, then the Vikings won't make it back to postseason play in 2013.
16. Miami Dolphins
On paper, Miami looks good—really good—on both sides of the ball.
It remains to be seen if Jeff Ireland's merry gang of free agents can play together, however, and the success of the Dolphins hinges on whether or not second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill can build off his impressive rookie campaign last year.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
"Old and slow"—that's what NFL Network's Warren Sapp recently called Pittsburgh's defense, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
It's hard to argue with Sapp, here. That said, if rookie Jarvis Jones can make a big impact as a pass-rusher, and if the "old" guys on the team can stay healthy, then Pittsburgh's defense could once again be among the best in the league.
Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the NFL's most underrated quarterbacks, and he'll be bolstered by a punishing rushing attack led by rookie Le'Veon Bell.
Pittsburgh might surprise all of us with a big comeback season in 2013—provided all the pieces fall into place.
18. New Orleans Saints
With Drew Brees slinging the rock and Sean Payton back on the sidelines, the Saints will be as explosive as ever on the offensive side of the ball.
But the loss of outside linebacker Victor Butler—a free-agent acquisition who was expected to compete for starting duties—to an ACL injury was a big blow to a defense that was already looking at a difficult transition from a 4-3 scheme to Rob Ryan's 3-4.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Jerry Jones' decision to fire Rob Ryan and switch to a 4-3 defense under Monte Kiffin was a move of desperation, and it will not bear good fruit this season.
On offense, Tony Romo still doesn't have much protection up front, and he still doesn't have a legitimate running game behind him.
Dallas will be lucky to win half its games in 2013.
20. Detroit Lions
There's a part of me that wants to get excited about Detroit's upcoming season—especially regarding the team's offense. The addition of Reggie Bush could give the Lions one of the most dynamic offensive squads in the league.
But I don't trust Detroit's offensive line to protect Matthew Stafford, and I don't trust him to take care of the football—two key factors that could doom the Lions.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson will turn Tampa Bay's secondary into a formidable unit this season, but the Buccaneers still don't have any pass-rushers. Lack of pressure up front turns even the best secondary into an average unit, as receivers inevitably work their way open, given enough time.
This factor, combined with the team's questionable situation at quarterback, will doom Tampa Bay to mediocrity once again in 2013.
22. Carolina Panthers
The future is bright for Carolina.
Young, talented players on both sides of the ball give the Panthers an impressive roster to build upon, but it will likely be at least one more year before this team is ready to make an appearance in the postseason.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Watching players respond to Chip Kelly's unique leadership style has been as entertaining this spring as watching an episode of Game of Thrones.
Kelly isn't planning on announcing a starting quarterback before training camp, and you can be sure the competition will be fierce throughout the summer.
It won't shock me to see some blowups in the media by a few players before the regular season as Kelly determines which players really want to buy into his system.
24. Kansas City Chiefs
Count me among those who believe Alex Smith will be fantastic in Kansas City this upcoming season. That said, it remains to be seen if the Chiefs can improve on defense, and if they can't, it's going to be a long season full of agonizing losses at the ends of games.
25. San Diego Chargers
It's hard to look at the Chargers roster on paper and see a winning team.
D.J. Fluker isn't going to protect Philip Rivers' blind side, and the team's secondary is still vulnerable to exploitation. Furthermore, Ryan Mathews has been a huge disappointment thus far in his career. Lack of a running attack will doom the team's offense.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona hasn't done much to convince me Carson Palmer will have time to throw this upcoming season. If Rashard Mendenhall can somehow find success on the ground against the brutal defenses of the NFC West, then Palmer will have a chance—a slight chance—to succeed.
That said, Palmer hasn't done anything in the past few years to convince me he's anything other than a mediocre quarterback.
It could be another long, disappointing season for Larry Fitzgerald—one of the most dynamic and complete receivers in the NFL.
27. Cleveland Browns
Neither Brandon Weeden nor Jason Campbell has what it takes to propel Cleveland's offense to another level in 2013. Trent Richardson is an excellent runner, but he isn't dynamic enough to consistently break off big gains against defenses that expect him to come.
28. Buffalo Bills
This team possesses excellent players on both sides of the ball—veterans and proven contributors who will keep the Bills in most games.
But without a quarterback, teams don't win games.
EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb don't give Buffalo much hope for a successful 2013 season.
29. Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker is the key to whether or not Tennessee can break out his season.
If Locker can improve his accuracy and stay healthy, then the Titans will have a dynamic offense capable of beating teams through the air and on the ground.
If Locker continues to complete passes at a 55.5 percent clip (his career average), then the team's offense will struggle to stay on the field.
30. New York Jets
Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith?
That's the question in New York, but it won't matter who starts behind center for the Jets—the team's offense is doomed to failure this season.
Without a strong offensive line and capable receivers, New York's offense will be just as maddening to watch in 2013 as it was last season.
31. Oakland Raiders
With huge needs on both sides of the ball, it's going to be at least a couple more seasons before Oakland will contend for a playoff spot.
Which team deserves to be at the bottom of this list?
The latest reports out of Oakland suggest that all three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job have struggled this spring, which doesn't bode well for the regular season.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
New head coach Gus Bradley has his hands full turning this team around in 2013.
Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne form one of the worst quarterback duos in the NFL, which will completely ruin any chance this offense has to succeed.
On the other side of the ball, a lack of pass-rushers and talented defensive backs will lead to some huge passing totals against Jacksonville.
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