We are less than two months away from the opening game of the NFL season (Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos on September 5, but hey, who's counting?), but it's time to assess which NFL teams are set up the best to win in the future—both in 2013 and onward.
The NFL is the ultimate "win-now" league, but it's also important to determine whether or not teams are set up to compete down the road. There are some franchises that might not be on the cusp of postseason glory in 2013, but with some tinkering, could be among the league's elite in 2014.
When analyzing which NFL teams are set up the best to win in the future, a variety of factors come into play: How good is the team's quarterback, and how much longer will he play for? How strong is the team's head coach and corresponding staff? How savvy is the team's front office? How talented is the 53-man roster?
With those criteria in mind, there are six teams that are set up the best to win in the future.
Before we get to them, there are a few teams that had to be left off the list. Here are the honorable mentions.
1. Miami Dolphins
They just missed the cut. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be a stud, and general manager Jeff Ireland did a great job upgrading the roster this offseason, but there are questions on the offensive line, and it's hard to be sold on the defense.
If rookie defensive end Dion Jordan can team with fellow end Cameron Wake to form a devastating pass rush, the Dolphins will be a force to be reckoned with. But until that happens, they aren't set up to win at the same level as the other teams on this list.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are a very good team on the cusp of breaking through, but it's hard to have full confidence in quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton has led the Bengals to back-to-back playoff trips, but he's been unimpressive in those games, both of which were losses.
He needs a big performance to help Cincinnati win a playoff game. And while the Bengals possess a terrific coaching staff with two future head coaches (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer), their current head coach, Marvin Lewis, doesn't exactly inspire a great deal of confidence (79-80-1 career record as Bengals coach).
3. New York Giants
The Giants have quarterback Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin, which means they'll always be a threat to win a Super Bowl, but questions abound on the defensive side of the ball.
The linebacking corps is a disaster, and the secondary isn't exactly impressive. But the major question mark on the Big Blue defense is the pass rush, which faded at the end of 2012 and left the Giants out of the tournament. Until the pass rush returns to form, they cannot be on this list.
4. Indianapolis Colts
Quarterback Andrew Luck will soon enter the rarefied air of "elite" quarterbacks, but until the team surrounds him with more talent on both sides of the ball, the Colts will be stuck on the honorable mentions side.
It's worth noting that general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano have done a nice job of adding playmakers to the roster; they just need some more time to put it all together.
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a season in which they captured the Lombardi Trophy with a thrilling 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. And even though they lost several key players this offseason (linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, receiver Anquan Boldin and pass-rusher Paul Kruger among them), they are in shape to contend, both this year and in the future.
The chief reason? The combination of quarterback Joe Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh.
Flacco is coming off one of the greatest postseason runs in history, going 4-0 and throwing 11 touchdowns against zero interceptions. Anyone who doesn't think Flacco is an elite quarterback needs to get a clue. As long as he's under center in Baltimore, the Ravens will be contenders.
As for Harbaugh? Since he was named head coach in 2008, the Ravens have made the playoffs and won at least one game in the tournament in each of his five seasons. He's one of the very best coaches in the NFL.
Plus, his staff is terrific. He had the stones to fire his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, toward the end of the 2012 regular season, and his replacement, Jim Caldwell, was good enough to help win a world championship. Dean Pees returns to run the defense, and he has a Super Bowl title on his resume.
Plus, the Ravens possess the single-best front office in all of sports. There is no pair savvier than general manager Ozzie Smith and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, who consistently own the NFL draft and free agency.
The Ravens are absolutely one of the NFL teams set up best to win in the future.
Last season, the Washington Redskins won their first NFC East title since 1999, and the renaissance of the team was spearheaded by the arm and legs of its majestic rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
While Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in the team's wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, it appears as if he'll be fine to start Week 1, which is fabulous news for the team both in the short- and long-term.
Griffin is the main reason why the Redskins appear on this list. As a rookie, he proved to be a dynamite playmaker, running with the grace of a gazelle all while throwing footballs as if a howitzer was attached to his right arm. He's only going to get better, which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.
Head coach Mike Shanahan is one of the all-time greats, having won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, and has the Redskins on the cusp of being a perennial contender.
General manager Bruce Allen is among the very best at his job, and he and Shanahan have done a great job with the Redskins roster. There is good young talent on both sides of the ball, from running back Alfred Morris and receiver Pierre Garcon to pass-rusher Brian Orakpo and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan.
The Redskins will be a force for years to come.
The Green Bay Packers have been a model of consistency over the past four seasons, making the playoffs every year, winning double-digit games in each campaign and capturing a Super Bowl trophy in 2010. Don't bank on this being the year the Packers slip up. In fact, they are set up to be a major player for years to come.
All of the Packers' success begins with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the maestro of the Green Bay offensive symphony. Simply put, Rodgers is the finest player in football, a virtuoso at the quarterback position who is capable of winning games on his lonesome. Rodgers will turn 30 during the season and is set to quarterback the Packers for years to come.
Head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy is fantastic at his job and keeps the Packers on point. He is critical to their success and isn't going anywhere. Don't be shocked in 10 years when "McCarthy Drive" becomes a real street outside Lambeau Field.
General manager Ted Thompson builds through the draft, largely eschewing free agency, and locks up young players, keeping cores intact. He's done a tremendous job building the team's roster.
While there are questions regarding the defense and their coordinator, Dom Capers, the offense is good enough to carry the team, and there is talent on defense.
All of this adds up to the Packers competing in both 2013 and beyond.
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons came within a few yards of reaching the Super Bowl, losing a heartbreaker at home to the San Francisco 49ers. But Falcons fans should feel good, as their team is definitely set to succeed in the future.
It starts with quarterback Matt Ryan, the triggerman of an explosive offense that features two All-Pro-caliber wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones along with future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. The offseason addition of running back Steven Jackson was a prescient one, as he'll be able to contribute at a high level for a few seasons.
The defense is coordinated by Mike Nolan, and while the unit must do better at rushing the passer (only 29 sacks in 2012), there are playmakers throughout, and it's safe to assume a bounce-back performance from it in 2013 and moving forward.
The combination of head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been a panacea for Falcons fans, as the two have combined to make the playoffs in four of their five seasons in charge and have yet to have one season with a losing or .500 record.
Ryan, Smith and Dimitroff ensure that the Falcons are set up to succeed in the future.
While the 2012 season ended in heartache for San Francisco, as it lost the Super Bowl in crushing fashion to the Ravens, things are looking very, very good for the 49ers.
Both the offense and defense are loaded with talent, starting with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who possesses a freakish combination of arm strength and speed. He's poised to be one of the league's best signal-callers for years to come. On defense, stud linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman lead an outstanding unit.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have seemingly trolled the NFL since they joined the team in 2011, pulling off one fantastic acquisition after another.
The 49ers are stacked and aren't going anywhere. They're going to be Super Bowl threats for the foreseeable future.
Out of every team in the NFL, the Seahawks were perhaps the most surprising in 2012, riding rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to being within seconds of the NFC Championship Game. Seattle fans can expect similar results in the seasons to come.
Wilson is an absolute star, cool as the other side of the pillow. His guile and playmaking ability are the main reasons why the Seahawks are in such a good position moving forward.
Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made shrewd moves in both free agency and the draft, creating a very strong 53-man roster. The trade for Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin was an inspired one, as Harvin will join a very strong Seahawks offense and add another dimension to an already exemplary unit.
The defense is stout, with pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett joining the club in free agency. And the secondary is among the best in football, as it's headlined by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Behind Wilson and the team's tremendous coaching staff and front office, Seattle will be a major player in the NFC for years to come.