NFL Power Rankings: Where Do Things Stand at Start of Preseason?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 6, 2013

NFL Power Rankings: Where Do Things Stand at Start of Preseason?

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    Which team is the best in the NFL heading into the 2013 season?

    The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have undergone a dramatic makeover in the offseason, leaving their status at the top in question. Their competition in the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers, have talent, but they are relying on a second-year quarterback and a cast of wide receivers juggling injuries and new playbooks.

    Will last year's elite teams be able to remain near the top for another season?

    Each year we run a weekly power rankings article, and it's important to note that these are not standings. Early-season power rankings are based on expectations for each team, and that isn't always based on how well they played in the previous season. Coaching changes, injuries and player turnover go a long way in dictating where a team is ranked to begin the season. From there, it's all about how they play.

    Who's No. 1?

32. Oakland Raiders

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    The Good News

    Reggie McKenzie enters his second year as general manager of the Oakland Raiders, and this team looks much improved from the squad he inherited.

    Adding as many as nine new starters on defense will help a team that finished 4-12 and fielded a defense ranked No. 28 overall in points allowed. Losing Michael Huff and Philip Wheeler will hurt, but adding veterans like Pat Sims, Jason Hunter, Kevin Burnett and the returning Charles Woodson alongside Lamarr Houston and Tyvon Branch will improve the Raiders defense.

    The Bad News

    This is still a team lacking talent at key positions—notably at quarterback. The team is expected to make Matt Flynn the starter, but Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson are capable of taking snaps from him in the preseason and training camp. That could turn into a full-blown quarterback controversy in Oakland.

    QB play will largely dictate its success, but expectations are low both at quarterback and overall. The Raiders may be better as a team this season, but more than four wins will be tough. 

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Good News

    New head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell are ushering in a new era of Jacksonville Jaguars football, and this team is more exciting on paper than any in recent memory. The addition of speed on both sides of the ball will make Bradley's team fun to watch and a tough competitor when it's able to execute.

    The offensive line is anchored by Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel, two young tackles with elite potential. That's good news for whomever will be quarterback. Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert will duel for the starting gig. While it's possible we'll see both under center this year, the men protecting them will be the strength of this team. 

    The Bad News

    There is a lack of overall roster talent in Jacksonville, but Caldwell's first order of business as GM was to find explosive players to bolster the roster.

    The bad news is that they aren't there yet.

    And the quarterback position is essentially in a holding patten, as all evidence points to Henne and Gabbert being one-year options at best. The team will be starting over at QB again in 2014 with a high draft pick in place (again) to spark a rebuild.

30. Buffalo Bills

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    The Good News

    The Doug Marrone era gets underway in Buffalo, and that alone is reason for optimism. Marrone is a well-respected X's and O's tactician from Syracuse and an upgrade for Buffalo as a sideline captain.

    Marrone inherited a solid offensive line, a very good backfield anchored by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and a good enough front four on defense to make waves. These are the unquestioned strengths of the team, and if Marrone and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel are to have any success this first season, it will be because of these pillars that are already in place. 

    The Bad News

    Marrone comes into the NFL with a roster lacking in talent, depth and winning experience. He and general manager Doug Whaley did a good job adding talent through the draft—notably receivers Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da'Rick Rogers to go alongside Stevie Johnson. But there are more questions here than there are answers.

    The transition to a base 3-4 defense leaves the team without an established edge pass-rusher, as Mario Williams will play more in a 5-technique position outside the OT's shoulder. Unless he becomes J.J. Watt or Justin Smith overnight, the Bills will be looking for an outside pass rush all season.

    With a questionable secondary behind the front seven, the lack of push on the quarterback could be devastating.

29. Tennessee Titans

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    The Good News

    The defense in Nashville should look better this year. The Bernard Pollard and George Wilson signings bolster the defense, a healthy Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker also helps, and the continued maturation of Derrick Morgan at defensive end opposite Kamerion Wimbley will make this a tough defense from left to right and from front to back. 

    On offense, there is speed. A lot of it. Kendall Wright, Chris Johnson, Delanie Walker, Kenny Britt and Justin Hunter will round out a skill position depth chart that gives quarterback Jake Locker plenty of options to work with.

    Thanks to the renovation of the interior offensive line—Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack—the Titans have, at least on paper, the offensive talent to make things click this season. There will be no excuses if the offense struggles.

    The Bad News

    As mentioned above, there will be no excuses if the Titans struggle this year, but there will be fingers pointed. Jake Locker must become the player the team thought he was when they drafted him No. 8 overall in the 2011 draft. He has the offensive line, the running game and the receivers to succeed. It's all on him.

    Staying healthy on defense was a struggle last season, and if this unit cannot stay on the field together again in 2013, the Titans' problems will be multiplied. That alone could lead to another disappointing season and top-10 draft pick.

28. Cleveland Browns

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    The Good News

    The Cleveland Browns have a good, young offensive line, a talented defense and a running back with the potential to be a top-five player at his position.

    For a franchise that has largely struggled over the last five seasons, this is good news. The building blocks are in place for the front office and coaches to continue molding this team into a winner. 

    Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, D'Qwell Jackson, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden, Trent Richardson and Alex Mack all look like franchise building blocks. The front office has done a good job locking up young players, identifying solid draft picks and playing smart in free agency.

    That leaves a team with a ton of cash and enough good young players to feel optimistic about the long-term health of the roster.

    The Bad News

    The bad news for the Browns centers around the play of Brandon Weeden in 2012. The 28-year-old rookie firs-rounder was the worst of the five rookie quarterbacks we saw starting most of the regular season last year, and heading into the 2013 campaign, there is little faith in his ability to develop into a franchise-saving passer.

    Optimists will point to the work Rob Chudzinski did with Derek Anderson and Cam Newton, but they forget that it's Norv Turner who will be running the offense and largely tasked with working with Weeden. Turner's reputation is built on his days with Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys, and while he won with Philip Rivers, his schemes and lack of protection also ruined him at the same time.

    Banking on Turner and Weeden to turn this team around is foolish at best. The bad news for Browns fans is that more of the same should be expected under center in 2013.

27. San Diego Chargers

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    The Good News

    The best possible news for the San Diego Chargers comes in three parts:

    1. General manager A.J. Smith was fired.

    2. Head coach Norv Turner was fired.

    3. The team finally drafted an offensive tackle.

    All three are major reasons to feel better about your season as a Chargers fan. With Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle and a solid cast of youngsters on defense, this is a team with enough talent to scare people if it can click early in the season.

    The strength of the team, though, will be the front three on defense. Kendall Reyes, Cam Thomas and Corey Liuget are a younger version of their up-state counterparts in San Francisco. If you aren't already aware of this trio, make watching them a priority this year.

    The Bad News

    Philip Rivers should benefit from the removal of Turner and the addition of D.J. Fluker on the offensive line, but will he ever be the same player again? Age, hits and poor offensive line play have resulted in Rivers becoming a different player completely. Banking on him flashing back to his 4,000-yard passing days is a misguided wish.

    Protecting Rivers' blind side will be King Dunlap, whom I ranked as the No. 21 left tackle in the game last season. While that's probably still an upgrade for San Diego, it's not as if Anthony Munoz has been reborn on the Chargers line. This will still be an area of major concern.

    The Chargers have name recognition and young talent, but on paper this doesn't look like a team that's ready to compete consistently with the Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs.

26. Detroit Lions

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    The Good News

    There is no lack of talent in Detroit. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and a young offensive line should provide plenty of big plays.

    But will that amount to wins?

    Stafford has proven he can produce and guide this team to wins. With a more stable run game and a secondary option at wide receiver this year—hello, Ryan Broyles—the team could be in much better shape on offense. It's time to turn yards into points in Detroit.

    On defense, there is a lot to like up front. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are both All-Pro-caliber players. With the addition of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, the line now has the athletic outside presence it needed to terrorize the quarterbacks of the NFC North. 

    The Bad News

    The individual talent in Detroit is well known, but the rest of the team is a concern. 

    It all starts at the top, and head coach Jim Schwartz has done little to build faith from analysts around the league. Neither has his secondary or offensive line, especially after the loss of Jeff Backus (retirement) and Gosder Cherilus (Indianapolis) protecting the edges of the line.

    The secondary will rely, again, on unproven starters like Bill Bentley and rookie Darius Slay opposite Chris Houston—and that's simply not good enough in a division featuring the Packers, Bears and Vikings.

    The 2013 season could look a lot like 2012, with the Lions' individual players performing well, but the team struggling.

25. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Good News

    An offseason of change has brought a new GM (Steve Keim), new head coach (Bruce Arians), new quarterback (Carson Palmer) and a host of new talent to complement Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell on both sides of the ball. These Arizona Cardinals won't look like last year's edition. At all.

    Keim did a wonderful job adding talented veterans like John Abraham, Eric Winston, Rashard Mendenhall and Antoine Cason to a roster with few experienced winners. While you could argue that Palmer has lost often in his career, there's no argument that he's a massive upgrade under center.

    Put the new pieces to the puzzle together with the existing keepers and the Arizona depth chart looks a million times better than last year's.

    The Bad News

    Not only do the Cardinals play in the NFL's toughest division, they also take on the NFC South this season. The schedule won't be kind to a team still trying to plug holes and develop young talent.

    The overall talent level has improved dramatically, but this isn't a team that's ready to compete with the Rams, 49ers or Seahawks on a weekly basis.

    The talent at safety, No. 2 cornerback, outside linebacker and running back is a major question mark. While there are stars like Fitzgerald, Campbell and Patrick Peterson, the role players who must provide the backbone to a winning team haven't yet risen to the level needed.

    Perhaps the biggest blow will be losing Daryl Washington for four games due to suspension. Washington is the best defender on this team, and his presence in the middle is a game-changer. 

    The Cardinals will be better in 2013, but they're not ready to fight for a playoff spot.

24. New York Jets

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    The Good News

    Good news, Jets fans: Your team is headed in the right direction. No, really.

    Drafting Geno Smith is a clear sign that the team will finally move on from Mark Sanchez. Drafting Sheldon Richardson in Round 1 is a sign that Rex Ryan will be more flexible and dynamic on defense (hopefully like he was in Baltimore). Drafting Dee Milliner is a sign that the team knows Kyle Wilson needs to stay in a reserve role.

    And adding all three shows that general manager John Idzik knows the talent level had to be improved across the board. With these additions, plus guys like Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, David Harris and Antonio Cromartie already in place, things are trending upward.

    The Jets will once again be a tough out, especially on defense, but it's one year too soon to expect a major turnaround. That said, there's more good news than bad for the first time in a while. 

    The Bad News

    Mark Sanchez is still on the roster and taking first-team reps from Smith.

    The Jets have talent, but as long as quarterback is a weakness, none of that other talent matters. It may only be a formality that Geno Smith takes over the starting job at some point, but until that happens, the worst news for this team starts at QB.

    The offensive line continues to be a question mark, at least for me, even with Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson in place. Same for wide receiver, where Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley have to step up this year. Safety will also be a head-scratcher, with Ryan hoping his pass rush can get home and help out the secondary.

    Until the team can figure out the quarterback and the offensive line, individual pieces on both sides of the ball won't matter.

23. Carolina Panthers

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    The Good News

    Carolina Panthers fans can take comfort in knowing they have one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, and that Cam Newton is poised to be even better in 2013.

    Newton will be helped by a defensive front four that has as much raw talent as any in the league. Ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are proven specimens, but the Panthers did one better by adding Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks in the draft. A line that was already great on the edge now has an inside presence.  

    The Panthers have enough talent to be a surprise playoff contender—don't be shocked when this team takes off.

    The Bad News

    The defensive talent up front will have to mask weaknesses in the back seven. While Luke Kuechly had a good rookie season, he's alone as a sure thing at linebacker and in the secondary. Outside linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason can't stay healthy, and at cornerback the team is relying on Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence/Josh Norman to start.

    That's not a good sign when you face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman six times a year.

    On offense, we need to see a second wide receiver step up—that's you, Brandon LaFell—while hoping the offensive line can hold together as Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil age.

    If they can, Newton and the stable of running backs could be record-setting.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Good News

    Greg Schiano's first season in Tampa was largely a success, and in 2013 the team is in a position to build on that. The playoffs aren't a crazy expectation for the Buccaneers.

    What will fuel this team to a postseason run?

    The O-line is very, very good. From left to right you have Pro Bowl-caliber players and exciting young potential. Behind that line you have a wrecking ball in running back Doug Martin—and he could easily lead the league in yards from scrimmage this year. Even at wide receiver there is plenty to like with Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson on the field together. 

    The defense was tough last year, and it will be even tougher now that Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson, Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis join Mark Barron in the secondary. The five key players will combine to frustrate Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton to no end.

    At linebacker there is speed, especially with Mason Foster and LaVonte David improving with another year of experience. If the ends, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, can stay healthy, this could be a scary-good defense.

    The Bad News

    You will notice that the quarterback position wasn't mentioned above. Josh Freeman enters a contract year with his backup and potential replacement having been drafted in the third round in April. Freeman will be looking over his shoulder at Mike Glennon while also trying to avoid NFC South defenses. If his 2012 struggles aren't improved upon, Freeman could be shown the door.

    The team is relying on inexperience and some prayers outside of Gerald McCoy on the defensive line. While McCoy is great, Clayborn and Bowers have yet to live up to their draft positioning thanks largely to injuries. If the line can't produce, even the most talented secondary in the league would struggle.

21. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Good News

    Chip Kelly leaving the University of Oregon to replace Andy Reid is seen as a godsend in Philadelphia. It very well may be.

    Kelly's up-tempo style of football will definitely be unique, and it just might be explosive enough to catch every NFL defense off-guard. Heading into the season, no one knows what to expect from Kelly's offense, which might be its biggest strength.

    The Eagles have talent...the players just haven't performed up to their abilities lately. That's good news for Kelly, who excelled at Oregon in getting the most out of his players. If he can coach up the wide receivers, there's enough talent on the offensive line and the defensive front seven to make noise.

    The defense will be led by the 3-4 pass-rushing skills of Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin and mainstays like Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole. With De'Meco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks at inside linebacker, the defense doesn't lack speed. 

    Expectations are all over the map for this team, but the good news is that Kelly has the talent around him to succeed. 

    The Bad News

    The bad news, on the other hand, is that Kelly might not have a quarterback or a No. 2 wideout. 

    Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley will all compete at QB, and as the old saying goes, "When you have two starting quarterbacks, you really have none." It will be up to Kelly to use the preseason to suss out the situation, but it's reasonable to expect a revolving door here all season.

    Losing Jeremy Maclin to injury was huge, and potentially losing Riley Cooper to ignorance could also hurt WR depth. DeSean Jackson is solid and Jason Avant is a good slot receiver, but the overall depth could take a kill shot before the season begins.

    On defense, the transition to a 3-4 set has left the team with guys like Cole playing out of position, but the team speed should be exciting when attacking the ball. If the new schemes aren't a fit for the personnel, though, Kelly's first big decision could be a failure.

20. Minnesota Vikings

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    The Good News

    Just one season after a surprising playoff run, the Minnesota Vikings are ready to roll, now with three first-round draft picks to help out.

    The team wheeled and dealed this offseason, adding first-rounders Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson while losing "only" Percy Harvin in the process. On paper at least, the Vikings look like a better team.

    Anchored by a strong run game featuring Adrian Peterson and a very good run-blocking line, the Minnesota offense has the foundation for success. With Patterson and Greg Jennings in place to help out Christian Ponder, there are high expectations for the overall offensive output. 

    The Bad News

    Christian Ponder is a case study in why wins and losses are not a quarterback stat, and that's bad news for the Vikings.

    Ponder played well at times last season, but throughout his two-year career he has been more bad than good. Entering Year 3, the pressure is on for Ponder to prove he is a legitimate franchise quarterback and not just a game manager.

    The line is there, the receivers are talented and the run game good enough to keep defenses honest. Now the pressure is on Ponder.

    Why would a playoff team be slated to start the year at No. 20 overall? Because of those questions behind center and the equally large questions at cornerback. Unless those two position groups can step up, it will be a disappointing season in Minnesota.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Good News

    The good news for Kansas City Chiefs fans is that it cannot possibly be worse than last year.

    It also helps that Andy Reid is in town as the new head coach, and coupled with new general manager John Dorsey, Reid appears re-energized and ready to take on a reloading project in a new city.

    Reid won't have to completely make over the roster after this past offseason, in which the team added quarterback Alex Smith, drafted tackle Eric Fisher No. 1 overall, and bolstered the secondary with Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith. Under-the-radar free-agent signings of Geoff Schwartz and Mike DeVito will also add talent at key positions.

    The AFC is wide open this year, and with better coaching, the Chiefs are in a good position to capitalize and shock the football world with a playoff berth. 

    The Bad News

    Despite all the talent on this team last year, it still managed only two wins. The bad news is that all the coaching in the world might not change underachieving players.

    The biggest move for the Chiefs was trading for Alex Smith, but did they get the 2011-2012 Smith, or the 2005-2010 Smith? While he did perform much better with Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman molding the offense, there are major question marks about what he can do outside that system.

    There's a lot to like on both sides of the ball, but if Smith can't execute, it won't matter what the rest of the team looks like.

18. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Good News

    Stop me if you've heard this before, but these Dallas Cowboys are the most talented we've seen in quite some time.

    It does seem as if every year someone is proclaiming the Cowboys are for real and will take down the NFC East, but this year that might be closer than you think. In a division rife with parity, the Cowboys need just one or two breaks to put themselves over the Redskins, Giants and Eagles.

    There is no lack of talent here at any position. Jerry and Stephen Jones have done well through the draft and free agency in building a team. Additions of Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli should also help strengthen a defense that was too weak last year in a 3-4 defense and will move to a 4-3 set this year.

    Tony Romo has all the weapons he could want at his disposal, and after spending a first-round pick on center Travis Frederick, the line will be expected to be better. If so, this could be the Cowboys' season. 

    The Bad News

    It wouldn't be the preseason without someone hyping the Cowboys, so let me put an end to that with a dash of reality.

    There is talent here, but no team has imploded more often than Jones' Cowboys. Whether it's Romo, Dez Bryant, the offensive line or the defense, something goes wrong every year. It's clockwork. That string of bad luck, or just bad play, will continue.

    The biggest question mark outside of the right side of the offensive line is the defense. Can the Cowboys really expect to win with a Cover 2 defense—something NFL teams learned how to beat a decade ago? A rational mind would hope that Dallas' coordinators will evolve, but Kiffin hasn't been known for his flexibility as a coach. 

    That failure to expand as coaches will be the ultimate downfall for this talented team.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    The Good News

    General manager Jeff Ireland opened up the checkbook this offseason, and the result was an infusion of talent on both sides of the ball.

    Coming to South Beach this season are Mike Wallace, Philip Wheeler, Brent Grimes, Dannell Ellerbe and Dustin Keller. With those new players joining Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey, Brian Hartline, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake as strengths on the team, the depth chart in Miami looks as good as it has since Bill Parcells left town.

    If the young players can develop and the new players can quickly acclimate, this Miami team has a chance to take down the rest of the AFC East. 

    The Bad News

    The biggest issue with this roster comes along the offensive line, where the team bullishly stuck with Jonathan Martin at left tackle once Jake Long left in free agency. Martin struggled when given reps last year, and judging from his first preseason and camp appearances, those struggles are here to stay. 

    If Martin cannot protect Tannehill, Mike Wallace becomes a wasted deep downfield threat. If Martin can't protect Tannehill, Lamar Miller's speed is wasted against eight-man fronts. And don't expect left guard Richie Incognito to help much in pass protection, either.

    Martin will have to learn on the job, and quickly, for this team to live up to its potential.

16. New York Giants

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    The Good News

    The New York Giants are one year removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, and this is largely that same team.

    Tom Coughlin has managed to keep the core of his team intact while adding good young players around superstars Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul. The result is a balanced, tough, battle-tested team with speedy youngsters waiting for their turn to shine.

    A few of those young players will have the chance this year, as David Wilson, Rueben Randle and Prince Amukamara will all be thrust into bigger roles. How well the young players do complementing Manning and JPP will dictate the success of the Giants this season. 

    The Bad News

    We all know how good this team can be, but how good will it be?

    Manning was solid again in 2012, but the struggles of the offensive line are keeping him from reaching his potential. The addition of Justin Pugh in the first round should help, but the Giants are still relying on overrated players like David Baas and Kevin Boothe on the inside of the line. Chris Snee is a tough-as-nails player, but even he took a step back in 2012.

    If Pugh and William Beatty play exceptionally well, this team can win the East, but that's asking a lot from a rookie right tackle and a left tackle who has never completed a full season as a starter.

    For the Giants to be as good as they can be, the offensive line must step up collectively.

15. Chicago Bears

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    The Good News

    The 2013 Chicago Bears will be a new-look unit under the guidance of first-year head coach Marc Trestman, and those who watched Jay Cutler struggle under Lovie Smith's regime can breath a sigh of relief.

    Trestman is hellbent on installing a quick-strike offense that will get the ball out of Cutler's hands in a hurry and out to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. While Cutler isn't Steve Young, Trestman plans to use him like he is. And that could work wonderfully.

    The Bears also finally invested in the offensive line by signing Jermon Bushrod in free agency, and they drafted guard Kyle Long in the first round. That alone will be a major boost for an offense with noticeable talent.

    The Bad News

    The Bears play in one of the toughest divisions in football. They are coached by a man who spent the last five years coaching in the CFL and hasn't been in the NFL since 2004. 

    Trestman is well-respected and a bright man, but how well will he handle being the CEO of an NFL team with personalities like Cutler, Marshall and others?

    There is enough talent here to challenge for an NFC North crown, but Trestman must hit the ground running. If he doesn't, this team has shown in the past that it can quickly fall apart.

14. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Good News

    After a Cinderella-like run to the playoffs in 2012, the Indianapolis Colts are one year older, one year smarter and a little more loaded on both sides of the ball.

    General manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano have remade this team in their own image, and that image is a tough one that loves to hit. Adding right tackle Gosder Cherilus will strengthen the overall offense, while adding hitters like Bjoern Werner, LaRon Landry, Greg Toler and Erik Walden will instantly make this defense more balanced and more dynamic.

    There is enough veteran leadership here, coupled with young speed, for the Colts to begin a new dynasty in the AFC South.  

    The Bad News

    As is the case with every young team, the Colts could be poised for a big step back in 2013 instead of a step forward. It happens.

    The biggest issue with this team is the relative inexperience. At every position group, the team is relying on at least one first- or second-year player to make a big step up in development. That pressure is felt greatest at quarterback, where super-prospect Andrew Luck must cut down on his turnovers and become more efficient in new coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense. 

    If Luck and the other youngsters on this roster don't develop as quickly as we all expect, the Colts could be trending down in 2013.

13. St. Louis Rams

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    The Good News

    We should all take a moment and congratulate Les Snead and Jeff Fisher on a great start to rebuilding the St. Louis Rams. Now, on to Step 2 for this reloading group.

    The makeover completed last offseason got some finishing touches this year when the team added left tackle Jake Long to protect quarterback Sam Bradford, traded up to draft wide receiver/offensive weapon Tavon Austin and stole tight end/offensive weapon Jared Cook from the Tennessee Titans in free agency.

    That's a lot of firepower on offense that this team didn't have before.

    On defense, it will be more of the same but a little more seasoned. Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and Janoris Jenkins will be one year smarter—and that should scare fans of opposing teams. Fisher's defensive schemes will also be better with Tim Walton running the squad this year. 

    The Bad News

    What could possibly go wrong for the Rams?

    Well, they do play in the exceptionally tough NFC West, so getting to 10 wins might be impossible at the moment. Also, former No. 1 overall pick Bradford hasn't exactly set the league on fire.

    There are legitimate reasons—or call them "excuses"—for Bradford's struggles, but those will all be swept out the door this year. He has a premier left tackle. He has targets at receiver and tight end. He has a good defense supporting him. 

    It's now or never for Bradford in St. Louis.

12. Washington Redskins

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    The Good News

    Rest easy, Redskins fans. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has been cleared to practice. Barring something unforeseen, he will be the starting quarterback in Week 1. That's damn good news. 

    Further good news, if you can handle it, is that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is ready to roll too. The Redskins' two best players on each side of the ball will be healthy for the 2013 season.

    Defending their NFC East title will be much easier with RGIII and Orakpo staring down the opposition. With Alfred Morris established as a go-to running back and a strong forward-moving offensive line in place, the Washington offense will again be tough to beat.

    The Bad News

    Now for the bad news.

    Griffin now has torn his ACL twice. At a listed 217 pounds, he's a small, fragile runner in space against NFL-sized linebackers and safeties. A twice-repaired running quarterback, Griffin must learn to play smarter and with an eye on staying healthy while remaining a dual-threat. 

    That is easier said than done, but even if he's back to his awe-inspiring 2012 play, the rest of the team has holes.

    The secondary is a mess unless three rookies—David Amerson, Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo—become legitimate starters early on. The secondary was good enough for the Redskins to claw their way to an NFC East title in 2012, but that is unlikely to happen two years in a row.

11. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Good News

    Two straight playoff appearances have the Cincinnati Bengals battle-tested and ready to advance to a playoff win in 2013. With the core of the roster returning, it should be business as usual for Marvin Lewis and Co. 

    Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the entire offensive and defensive lines are all back to lead this team to what could be an AFC North championship year.

    The individual pieces are great, but it's the units on this team that make the Bengals so tough.

    You can point out Geno Atkins as the best defensive tackle in football, but he's flanked by talented edge-rushers like Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson who make this defense two-dimensional on every play. The same goes for Green on offense. Without Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler blocking up front, the offense goes nowhere.

    The Bengals have done a remarkable job building a team in a short amount of time.

    The Bad News

    It's tough to expect a step back in 2013 after watching the Bengals play the last two years, but anything is possible. If a decline is to happen, it will rest on the play of the secondary and complementary receivers.

    In the defensive backfield, Leon Hall remains a tough, savvy starter, but opposite him the team has uncertainty with Dre Kirkpatrick, Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Kirkpatrick was a first-round pick in 2012, but he's yet to show much on the field.

    At receiver, other than Green, the team is hoping that second-year players Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones become playmakers. If they cannot, Green will once again see double coverage, and Dalton will throw too many forced passes that result in turnovers.

10. Houston Texans

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    The Good News

    The Houston Texans won the AFC South and the second-most games of any team in the conference last year, but they fell short in the playoffs again. Why will 2013 be any different?

    The good news is that Rick Smith addressed the team's weaknesses with an aggressive (for him) offseason. He added Ed Reed and drafted DeAndre Hopkins and D.J. Swearinger to address the areas that hurt them most in the regular and postseason.

    Reed may be on his last legs, but he'll serve as a veteran mentor for the young secondary while prepping Swearinger for a future role. And, by the way, this team still has All-Pro players like Duane Brown, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt. The Texans are just fine in the talent department.

    The Bad News

    What could go wrong this year? A lot.

    The most notable change is within the division, where the Indianapolis Colts became contenders again much more quickly than anyone expected. Even the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans feature enough team speed to surprise a few teams.

    The biggest question mark, though, is at quarterback. Yes, Matt Schaub has been the conductor of two straight playoff teams, but the team has won in spite of him, not because of him. Couple that with Gary Kubiak's ultra-conservative play-calling, and you have a team that can win in the regular season but tends to tense up in winnable playoff games.

    Good, but not great, is likely again for Houston.

9. New Orleans Saints

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    The Good News

    After a season full of bad news, there's plenty of good news to go around in New Orleans.

    The return of head coach Sean Payton from a season-long suspension automatically puts the Saints back into playoff contention. With Payton calling the shots on offense, quarterback Drew Brees should once again be his efficient, productive self—unlike the turnover-prone passer we saw last season.

    Brees has plenty to work with too. Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham are matchup nightmares in the Saints offense, and with Pierre Thomas and Co. handling the duties in the backfield, this is as balanced of an offense as you'll find in the NFC South.

    That makes Brees even more dangerous.

    On defense, hiring Rob Ryan could pay big dividends immediately. The Saints were soft at times last year, and Ryan's trademark toughness will rub off on his team's new 3-4 defense. Adding Kenny Vaccaro at safety and Keenan Lewis at cornerback and moving Junior Galette to outside linebacker will be the moves that make or break this team. 

    The Bad News

    Ryan is expected to give the defense the swagger it's been missing, but he'll have to find four capable linebackers first. The team is hoping Galette is the real deal, but relying on Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Jonathan Vilma on the inside is risky. And there's still the issue of the other outside linebacker spot.

    The left tackle spot on offense may be the worst of it. Brees is great at avoiding pressure and getting the ball out of his hands quickly, but with Charles Brown or Terron Armstead protecting his blindside, he'll have to be at his best—and do so without Aaron Kromer coaching up the line talent.

    Not only are there holes on the roster, but the Saints are now in a division with much more talent than they're used to.

8. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Good News

    These are the reigning Super Bowl champions, and some will certainly argue in the comments that you're the best until someone beats you. I don't agree with that sentiment, but there is a lot to like here.

    Joe Flacco showed in the playoffs that he can perform at a high enough level on a consistent basis to open up the offense and become more dynamic. That creates more natural rushing lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, which in turn opens up play action for Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones down the field.

    On defense, forget about losing Ray Lewis (retirement) and Ed Reed (free agency). The Ravens' 2013 defense will be better than their 2012 efforts as long as they can stay healthy. Adding Matt Elam, Michael Huff, Chris Canty, Brandon Williams, Arthur Brown, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil and getting back a healthy Lardarius Webb will equal a much better unit this season. Guaranteed. 

    The Bad News

    So, what's the bad news? I'm not sure Flacco can sustain his playoff performance with the losses this team has experienced on offense.

    Gone are Anquan Boldin (trade) and Dennis Pitta (injury), leaving Tandon Doss as the team's No. 3 wide receiver and Ed Dickson as the go-to tight end. You could argue that Rice and Pierce will make up for the lost production, but that's not ideal with a downfield passer like Flacco. This offense was so good in the playoffs because it could attack you on the ground and through the air with passes at every level.

    Now there is no intermediate threat in the passing game, which will allow safeties to play off the ball and bracket Jones and Smith deep.

    It may seem minor, but the turnover on defense and the departures on offense are serious enough for me to predict the Ravens will miss the playoffs this season.

7. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Good News

    The Atlanta Falcons largely return the same team that won the No. 1 seed in the NFC last year. That's reason enough to feel good about this team's chances of a repeat performance.

    Backed by an offense featuring Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Julio Jones and newcomer Steven Jackson, the Falcons will once again be explosive when they have the ball in their hands. The addition of Jackson, especially, will lead to a more balanced unit and a tougher matchup for defenses that loaded up the secondary against the passing attack last year.

    The defense had some turnover—gone are John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes—but the team filled needs well through free agency and the draft. Additions like Osi Umenyiora, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will help the Falcons forget about their departures. 

    The Bad News

    While the Falcons spent their offseason patching holes, the rest of the NFC got better. Their chief playoff competition—the 49ers, Seahawks, Packers and Bears—all got better by upgrading instead of signing and drafting to fill holes. That could ultimately be the end of the Falcons' Super Bowl dreams.

    There are weaknesses here, especially the pass rush. Who will replace Abraham's production? This was already a question mark with Abraham, but expecting Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann to form an elite pass rush cannot be this team's plan.

    If the pass rush fails, those teams that were able to upgrade their rosters over the offseason will be at the top of the mountain looking down at the Falcons.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Good News

    The 2012 season should serve as a wake-up call to the Pittsburgh Steelers after a disappointing 8-8 finish led to missing the playoffs. Now the team is healthier, hungrier and better stocked for the stretch run in a very tough division.

    The offense will once again be tough, even without Mike Wallace at wide receiver. Ben Roethlisberger will be great, per usual, but he'll actually be protected this year as second-year men Mike Adams and David DeCastro are both healthy and more experienced now. Finding replacements for Wallace won't be tough, as the team has Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders waiting in the wings.

    On defense, the loss of James Harrison isn't that big, especially with Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones ready to take his reps. With Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu still leaders on the defense, this unit will be as tough as ever. 

    The Bad News

    Any potential bad news in Pittsburgh would center around the failure of young players to develop or old players to rejuvenate in time for the season.

    Should Ryan Clark and Polamalu struggle as age sets in, the defense could be in trouble. If Adams and DeCastro aren't ready to be starters on the offensive line, we could see another season in which Roethlisberger cannot play all 16 games. Should either of these things happen, expectations won't have a chance to become reality in Pittsburgh.

    This is a talented group, though, and one with big potential.

5. Green Bay Packers

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    The Good News

    Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers are still together, which means the Green Bay Packers will once again be an elite team.

    Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and the skill players are in the top tier of the most talented groups in the league. Add in running backs Johnathan Franklin and Eddie Lacy, and you have a much more balanced attack than we've seen in Green Bay for some time.   

    Nick Perry returns on defense to play opposite Clay Matthews, giving the team an outside pass-rushing duo that could help stop those nagging read-option plays that haunted them in the playoffs. With Tramon Williams also healthy in the secondary, that group should once again be a turnover machine. 

    The real key here is Rodgers. As long as he's under center, the Packers have a chance to win it every year.

    The Bad News

    The shifting of the offensive line to protect Aaron Rodgers' blindside took a massive hit when Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season. While Rodgers will still be an elite quarterback without Bulaga, the offense did struggle to protect No. 12 last season. Any losses up front can hurt the team's chances of becoming the top team in the NFC.

    Other than losing Bulaga, issues on the edge of the defense must be improved. Last season the Packers allowed Colin Kaepernick to run for 181 yards in their playoff matchup, and that can't happen again. Perry, Matthews, Datone Jones and the safeties must put pressure on running quarterbacks, or the Packers will once again be on the outside looking in at the Super Bowl.

    The pressure will be on the offensive line and the defense to make plays this year. If they can, the Packers could be back in the Super Bowl.

4. New England Patriots

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    The Good News

    Need some good news in Foxborough? Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still running the show here. And that's good news enough to feel like the Patriots will once again be contenders in a weaker AFC.

    Brady won't be as alone as many think, though. Protected by the AFC's best offensive line, and with the help of 1,200-yard rusher Stevan Ridley, the Patriots offense may not look the same, but the results will likely be similar to those of 2012.

    An improving defense will also help. The linebacking corps of Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are good enough to keep New England in games even when the offense might struggle. Add in a secondary that was much improved with Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard in the starting lineup, and you have a much better defense than the national media wants to admit. 

    The Bad News

    Unless you were living on a remote island all summer, you know about the loss of offensive playmakers that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will have to overcome. And to say they've done it all before may not be good enough, as Brady wasn't 36 years old when he was making Reche Caldwell look like a capable NFL wide receiver.

    It's easy to look at the losses—Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, especially—and be pessimistic about the team's chances this year. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to reinvent themselves to some degree, and while that's possible, it's not an easy thing to do with two rookie wide receivers and an injury-prone slot weapon as your best bets at receiver.

    It's a personal rule of mine never to bet against Brady and Belichick, but this season will test that faith.

3. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Good News

    Russell Wilson hit the ground running last season and never stopped. Now in his second season as a starting quarterback, even more is expected.

    Wilson is the captain of an exciting, talented, balanced offense. With Marshawn Lynch breaking defenses' spirits through the run game and Wilson's efficient passing behind it, the Seahawks have the one-two punch on offense to keep defenses honest. And when the defense does tip its hand, Wilson is there to exploit them with his arm or legs.

    The defense could be a top-three unit this year if everyone plays up to their potential. There are few teams who scheme as well as the Seahawks did in 2012, and if Gus Bradley can be replaced seamlessly at defensive coordinator, this unit should be even better with more talent and more development from youngsters like K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner.  

    The Bad News

    A healthy Seahawks roster has the talent to win a Super Bowl, but this isn't yet a healthy roster.

    Suspensions and injuries have hurt the depth chart, and the season hasn't even begun yet. Injuries to Percy Harvin, Chris Clemons and Michael Bennett make the start of the season concerning—especially with the 49ers coming to town in Week 2. Clemons and Bennett may be ready to go by then, but all signs point to Harvin missing at least the first four games of the season.

    Also missing the first four games of the season is Bruce Irvin, who was second on the team in sacks last year. He received a suspension for violating the performance-enhancing substances policy.

    No Irvin, no Harvin and a right side of the offensive line that should worry Pete Carroll shows that while this Seattle team should be very good, it lacks the parts to be great.

2. Denver Broncos

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    The Good News

    The Denver Broncos enter the 2013 season with Peyton Manning at quarterback, Ryan Clady at left tackle and a trio of wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker) that's as good as any in the NFL. That's good news.  

    John Elway has built a legitimate contender in this team, albeit one with a short shelf life. The Broncos have the man-to-man talent, athletic ability and strength to beat every team in the league. There's not one game on the schedule where you can write off the Broncos or expect them to lose. This is a balanced, scary ballclub.

    As long as Manning and Clady stay healthy, the offense will be good enough to carve up defenses from coast to coast. And with a dynamic pass rush and savvy coverage skills, the defense is good enough to hold teams down while Manning pads the scoreboard.

    The Bad News

    The bad news in Denver will be known soon enough, once the NFL decides if outside linebacker Von Miller will miss games due to a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. If Miller is out, the Broncos may limp to a rough start to the season. That could be the difference between home-field advantage and playing on the road in the playoffs.

    The other possible holes on this team include a weakness on the inside of the offensive line—thanks to J.D. Walton's injury—and an aging secondary that may struggle to replicate last year's success. Without Miller, the cornerbacks and safeties will be under much more pressure to cover as the team's front four tries to get to the quarterback.

    That proved to be an issue in the playoffs and could be the end of Denver's magical season. 

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    The Good News

    A team that reached the Super Bowl—and nearly won it—returns the core of its backbreaking defense and will lean more heavily on second-year starter Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

    That puts expectations in San Francisco at "Super Bowl or bust" level.

    The 49ers have as much talent as any team in the league, if not more, and that has only been bolstered by additions like Anquan Boldin, Vance McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Eric Reid, Nnamdi Asomugha and the maturation of A.J. Jenkins at wide receiver in his second year.

    With a four-headed run game anchored by Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon, the 49ers have the talent to line up and run over any team in the NFL. Thanks to the game's best offensive line, their ability to impose their will on opposing defenses will be a winning recipe.

    As Kaepernick becomes more comfortable, as the defense easily replaces starters with new starters and as Jim Harbaugh finds himself more as an NFL coach, all signs point to a sixth Super Bowl ring for the 49ers.

    The Bad News

    It won't all be rose petals and yellow-bricked roads for the 49ers this season. 

    The NFC West has become the best division in football, and as the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams showed us last year, they're ready and able to take down the mighty Niners in a head-to-head matchup. 

    Those division games could be even tougher for the 49ers thanks to injuries.

    Michael Crabtree was Kaepernick's go-to receiver last year, but he's expected to miss much of the season with a torn Achilles. Mario Manningham isn't back to full strength after suffering a knee injury late last season. The chemistry and experience at wide receiver will be a season-long worry and could be the weakness teams will be able to expose.