The NFL season never really ends. As soon as the Super Bowl champion is crowned, we begin looking ahead to the draft, free agency, training camp and all the other terrific stuff NFL fans need to hold them over until meaningful football starts up again.
Many of those offseason events are in the rear-view, though, and the 2013 season is getting ever closer.
And you know what that means: power ranking time.
Power rankings aren’t exactly the most accurate measuring stick for teams’ success this offseason, but they do reflect where each team stands at this point in the year, relative to what they did last season and all the changes that followed.
Hope springs eternal in the football fan’s breast. Unfortunately, that optimism doesn’t always translate to success in the coming season, and fans of the teams at the bottom of this list should probably shield their eyes.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at updated power rankings for the 2013 NFL season, taking into account 2012 success and failures, offseason moves and strength of schedule in the coming year.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Sorry, Baltimore, but the 49ers did enough this offseason to warrant the No. 1 spot. The 49ers came up short last season, but they should be considered the favorite to return to the Super Bowl this year in search of redemption.
2. Denver Broncos
With all due respect to the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Broncos were one blown coverage away from an AFC Championship appearance. The loss of Elvis Dumervil hurts, but Denver did well this offseason and shouldn’t see too many ill effects from the changes.
3. Green Bay Packers
Say what you will about Green Bay’s offseason departures, but Ted Thompson didn’t hesitate to fill many of those voids. Any team with Aaron Rodgers at the helm can’t be counted out.
4. Seattle Seahawks
No team did as much to raise their stock this offseason as the Seahawks. With a loaded receiving corps, a dangerous defense and a budding superstar under center, Seattle is going to be a fun team to watch. San Francisco should be watching its back.
5. Atlanta Falcons
General manager Thomas Dimitroff retooled Atlanta’s defense this offseason and put Atlanta in a much better position to dominate in the NFC South. Expect the Falcons to repeat last year’s success with another tremendous campaign en route to a deep playoff run.
6. New England Patriots
Granted, New England lost a lot this offseason, but it also features perhaps the greatest quarterback of this generation and a secondary that got substantially better in the last four months. With the Jets reeling and the Bills rebuilding, there isn’t much to be worried about in the AFC East.
7. Baltimore Ravens
Yes, the Ravens lost a lot this offseason. They also just won the Super Bowl and added a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball in both free agency and the draft. They’ll be fine.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Arguably the most underrated team in the league at this point, the Bengals should be considered serious contenders in the AFC North. While Baltimore and Pittsburgh were patching up holes, Cincinnati was adding to an already impressive core of quality talent.
9. Houston Texans
Arian Foster was worn thin by the end of the season and Matt Schaub struggled to pick up the slack. Still, Houston boasts a top-10 defense and added enough offensive talent this offseason to feel fairly confident about its chances in 2013.
10. New York Giants
Don’t expect the Giants to miss the playoffs again this year. The NFC East isn’t a cake walk, but it also isn’t the loaded division we’ve come to expect in recent years.
11. Washington Redskins
New York and Washington are 1A and 1B in the division. If Robert Griffin III is healthy to start Week 1 and is able to stay that way, those two teams could switch spots in a hurry.
12. Chicago Bears
If Chicago’s restructured offensive line makes some strides this year, the NFC North is going to be substantially tougher than many expect. Still, the Bears cleaned house this offseason and they have plenty of questions to answer this season.
13. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans’ defense was unbelievably bad last season. Even with Sean Payton back at the helm, it’s hard to believe the Saints can orchestrate a massive turnaround—or at least enough of a turnaround to win the NFC South.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
Few teams have the potential to climb in the rankings this season as much as the Steelers. While they’re certainly pushing the boundaries with an aging roster, Kevin Colbert put together a solid offseason and put his team in position to contend again in 2013.
15. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck barely scratched the surface of his potential in 2012. The Colts may not win it all this season, but their time is coming.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Monte Kiffin is going to turn Dallas’ defense around, but it may take a couple seasons. In the meantime, Cowboys fans should get used to much of the same mediocrity they saw in 2012.
17. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota’s offense can get by on Adrian Peterson’s talent, but it will never be an elite team if Christian Ponder doesn’t make some big strides. He has the weapons to do that this year.
18. St. Louis Rams
If not for the overwhelming talent of San Francisco and Seattle, St. Louis would be my favorite sleeper team in 2013. The Rams have enough raw talent to piece together a nice season, but they won’t face an easy task in taking on the NFC West.
19. Detroit Lions
There may not be a more enigmatic team in the league than Detroit. I’m not expecting another 4-12 campaign this season, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they contend for the division title.
20. Miami Dolphins
Big free-agent spending sprees don’t always translate to winning seasons (see: 2011 Philadelphia Eagles). Miami certainly has the talent to be a much better team in 2013, but I’m not sold yet.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes rest on Josh Freeman’s shoulders. He showed some signs of life with a 4,000-yard campaign in 2012, but he’ll need to duplicate those results in 2013 for the Bucs to stay afloat in the NFC South.
22. Carolina Panthers
Carolina needed to patch up its secondary this offseason, but general manager Dave Gettleman left that area largely unaddressed. As a result, the Panthers may be staring down the barrel of another near-.500 campaign.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly has his work cut out for him. Philadelphia has plenty of talent, but it also didn’t put much of that talent to good use last year.
24. Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith will be the deciding factor in Kansas City’s success (or lack thereof) in 2013. They won’t go 2-14 again, but don’t expect more than six or seven wins, even in a weak AFC West.
25. Cleveland Browns
It’s official. Cleveland is my favorite sleeper team for the 2013 season.
Unfortunately, my hunches don’t make the Browns Super Bowl contenders. Fans should be cautiously optimistic, though.
26. San Diego Chargers
The good news? A.J. Smith and Norv Turner are gone. The bad? It’s hard to tell what fans should expect from the new regime. Things could go either very well or very poorly for the Chargers this season.
27. Buffalo Bills
I’m on the Buffalo bandwagon, but I’m still not sold on a major turnaround this year. If E.J. Manuel doesn’t get the job done, the Bills will be headed for another top-10 selection in next year’s draft.
28. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee made some nice improvements on its offensive line this year, but Chris Johnson still needs to prove he can avoid another atrocious start to the season. The Titans aren’t going very far without a healthy running game, especially if they field another bottom-six defense in 2013.
29. New York Jets
If not for some nice additions to their defensive front and the possibility of seeing something special from Geno Smith this year, the Jets might be bringing up the rear on this list. As it stands, they at least have a chance of staving off last place in the division.
30. Arizona Cardinals
I actually think the Cardinals could have a bounce-back campaign under Bruce Arians’ leadership, especially with Carson Palmer at the helm. I’ll be more confident when I start seeing results, though.
31. Oakland Raiders
I’ll give Oakland credit for attempting to sustain some stability on the coaching front, but the Raiders gutted their roster this offseason and didn’t add a lot of quality talent to replace the departing pieces. Unless Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor set the world on fire, it’s going to be another long year for Raiders fans.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars made some big improvements this offseason, but they didn’t quite do enough to warrant being ahead of any other team on this list. Blaine Gabbert may have something to say about that this year, but until he proves he can be the franchise signal-caller they need, the Jaguars are going to continue to sputter.