NFL: 2013 Week 1 Power Rankings
The 2012 NFL season will be remembered most for the impact of several rookies. The top two picks in the draft, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III lead their teams to the playoffs, while third rounder Russell Wilson did the same. However it was Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens who came out as champions.
So what should we expect for 2013? The Ravens return with a very different looking roster, the NFC champion 49ers will be without their top receiver, and the always in contention New England Patriots lost two of their top targets this off season. Will Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers to another ring? Will Anquan Boldin be able to replace Michael Crabtree in San Francisco? Or will an underdog unexpectedly rise to the top and take home the Lombardi Trophy? None of these questions can be answered for sure at this point, but we can attempt them. With that here are my NFL Power Rankings to start off the 2013 season.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last year I was one of the few who believed the Jaguars would take a step in the right direction. I believed this mostly because I believed in quarterback Blaine Gabbert. I thought that he would progress and show the talent that lead the Jags to draft him in the first round in 2011. That didn't happen in 2012, but it appears the team is set to give Gabbert another shot. Perhaps the return of a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will open up the field for Gabbert and second year receiver Justin Blackmon (though Blackmon will be serving a four game suspension to start the season). If the offense does show signs of improvement, a defense that finished 30th overall in 2012 will need to do the same. There are just too many "ifs" and "maybes" on this team for me to believe they can compete.
31. Oakland Raiders
Let's be honest, no one expects the Raiders to put up much of a fight in 2013. Quarterback Carson Palmer was shipped to Arizona while career backup Matt Flynn was brought in from Seattle. Flynn has two NFL starts to his name, including one in which he passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns. If Flynn can be the quarterback he was on that day the Raiders have a chance to surprise, however questionable offensive line and a struggling running game will make that quite a challenge for the inexperienced QB.
30. New York Jets
At this point no one is sure whether Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith will be the Jets starting quarterback, but Rex Ryan may not have the job security to be able to wait for a rookie to develop. Ryan has also been Sanchez's biggest defender for years, and I get the feeling if they are going down, they are going to do it together. Regardless of the QB battle which is almost sure to result in below-average QB play, the Jets roster doesn't have much talent to work with. It is still uncertain when the teams biggest offense threat, Santonio Holmes, will return from an injury suffered in 2012 and they have little depth behind him. Defensively the team finished eighth in 2012, and decided to trade away their best player in Darrelle Revis. They may once again have a decent defense, but it that won't make up for one of the worst offenses in the league.
29. Buffalo Bills
While EJ Manuel was the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft, many believe that he should not be rushed into the starting job, meaning Kevin Kolb may get the nod at the beginning of the season. Kolb has not done much in his NFL career to inspire confidence that he can lead a winning team, and if Manuel eventually takes over don't expect the same impact 2012's rookie QB crop made. The Bills aren't without talent, as they have some play-makers on both sides of the ball, however guys like Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller may have to be patient as their quarterback grows into their offense. Defensive stars Jarius Byrd and Mario Williams will have to hold their own on their side of the ball to keep the team competitive. The Bills are putting together what could be a very talented team, but fans are going to have to be patient for a year or two while it all comes together.
28. Tennessee Titans
The Titans fixed up their offensive line with additions Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack in hopes of getting Chris Johnson back among the best backs in the NFL, and also to give Jake Locker some more time to make good decisions under center. For an offense that finished 26th in total yards in 2012, they are going to need to hope that strategy works. A defense that finished last in points allowed (and 27th in total yards) is certainly not going to keep an offense with those kind of struggles competitive in many games. Jake Locker will also need to improve upon his first season as a starter if this team is going to compete. Locker will benefit greatly if receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter develop quickly, and Kenny Britt is able to remain healthy.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay's defense finished 30th in the league in yards allowed in 2011, in 2012 they followed up that dismal performance by finishing 29th. They also allowed more passing yards than any other team in the league. With the additions of Darelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, and Dashon Goldson in the secondary the Bucs have hopefully addressed that concern. It remains to be seen if struggling quarterback Josh Freeman can be the leader this team needs, but last season was an improvement on his 2011 performance . Running back Doug Martin exploded onto the scene as a rookie, putting up gaudy numbers such as 251 yards against Oakland and 142 yards against Atlanta. The keys here will be to see how fast the new pieces on defense can mesh together, and of course if Freeman is ready to prove to the world that he is the guy to lead this team to greatness.
26. Minnesota Vikings
I know they were a playoff team in 2012, and Adrian Peterson may be one of the best of all time, I just don't trust Christian Ponder enough to put this team higher. The Vikings did a good job of covering him up at the beginning of 2012, but as the season wore on it became clear who their weak spot was. Ponder, who had a QB rating over 90 in each of his first three games, only did so for two of the remaining thirteen and dropped below 70 on seven occasions. There were two particularly bad games against Arizona and Seattle where he posted ratings of 35.5 and 37.3, respectively. So sure, Adrian Peterson will again rack up a ton of yards, but if the Vikings don't get more consistent play from their quarterback don't expect much from them in 2013.
25. Phillidelphia Eagles
It appears Michael Vick will again be the starter, which makes sense now that new coach Chip Kelly is in town. Nick Foles and Matt Barkley just aren't versatile enough to run the type of offense Kelly likes, a trait Vick has never had trouble with over the course of his career. The likelihood that Vick may run more should scare Eagles fans though, as he has had a propensity to turn the ball over in recent years (33 turnovers to 30 touchdowns over his last 23 starts). With Vick and a healthy LeSean McCoy the rushing game should again be solid, but a defense that tied for 29th in points allowed last season has to be a worry for an offensive minded coach like Kelly. With the combination of turnover and defensive issues they have, I just can't see this team turning around very quickly.
24. St. Louis Rams
Ever since they drafted Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 it seems like the media has been trying to force us to believe in the Rams. This year many are saying they would be a playoff team if not for their division. I'm not sure why there is so much optimism surrounding this team though, as they have been outscored by over 300 points in Bradford's three years in the league. Bradford himself has not managed to complete more than 60 percent of his passes in a seasons, and was only able to complete 53.5 percent in 2011. To be fair, Bradford had his best year in 2012 and improved in nearly every statistic from 2011. Is 2013 the year he puts it all together? Will Tavon Austin be the receiver he has been lacking to this point in his career? Don't get me wrong, there's a good chance both he and the team improve this season, I just doubt it is enough to make much noise. Maybe 2014 Rams fans.
23 Pittsburgh Steelers
Running back Rashard Mendenhall is gone, receiver Mike Wallace is gone, and an offensive line that has struggled in the past continues to be a weak spot in Pittsburgh. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has played a full sixteen game season only once in his career, in large part because of how often defenses get to the Steelers. Now that he has lost two key offensive weapons, I expect a team that finished fourteenth in passing and 26th in rushing to seriously struggle in 2013. The defense however is another story, finishing first in the league in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed, and second in rushing yards allowed in 2012. If the Steelers plan to make noise in 2013, the defense is going to need to give the offense all the help they can get.
22.San Diego Chargers
At one point in time it looked as if Phillip Rivers would be one of the leaue's elite quarterback's, but things have changed quickly for the Chargers and their talented passer. In 2008 Rivers posted a 105.5 QB rating on the strength of 34 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. In 2012 his rating was 88.6 with just 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The blame can't all go on River though, as the Chargers have not been able to find an adequate replacement for Ladanian Tomlinson, who left after the 2009 season. The offensive line has also gone downhill since '08 as Rivers was sacked only 25 times in his career year (17th in the NFL) compared to 49 in 2012 (second). The Chargers also had a tough time replacing Vincent Jackson in 2012, a void they hope rookie Keenan Allen can fill in 2013. Though Rivers has show he has plenty of potential, he won't be living up to it until he gets a running game and some protection.
21. Arizona Cardinals
Sure 21 seems to be a high ranking considering how the Cardinals finished in 2012, but a quarterback can make all the difference. Carson Palmer may not be anywhere near elite at this point in his career, but he has to be a better option than Kevin Kolb, John Skelton or Ryan Lindely right? Arizona also added Rashard Mendenhall to improve their rushing attack and he should be a better option than Beanie Wells. The defense was pretty good in 2012, but they lost coordinator Ray Horton to the Browns and it remains to be seen if Todd Bowles (formerly of the Eagles) can have the same success. The Cardinals are certainly an improved team but they are nowhere ready to compete, especially in the tough NFC West.
20. Miami Dolphins
One of the most active teams in free agency, the Dolphins went out and signed receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. They also drafted linebacker Dion Jordan with their first pick of April's draft. They weren't without some big losses however. Second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill lost his blind side protection when Jake Long walked in free agency, and Reggie Bush, Davone Bess, and cornerback Sean Smith are also gone. Miami made plenty of moves this off season, but will the subtractions cancel out the additions? Will Grimes be able to return from injury and fix a poor secondary (26th in passing yards allowed in 2012), or will a revamped pass rush be enough to fix the defense? Mike Wallace is certainly a deep threat receiver, but plenty has been made of his questionable hands. Will a young QB like Ryan Tannehill be able to adjust to all the changes? Yes the Dolphins made plenty of splashy moves this off season, now it's time to see if they pay off.
19. Cleveland Browns
In 2012 the Browns were starting rookies at Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, and Right Tackle, and that's just the offensive side of the ball. A team that young is in for growing pains, and growing pains are what they got. With a year under their belts, the offense should improve simply from experience. On defense the team added linebackers Paul Kruger and first round pick Barkevious Mingo, as well as defensive lineman Desmond Bryant. The biggest additions however may be on the sidelines, as the Browns brought in Rob Chudzinski as head coach and Norv Turner and Ray Horton as coordinators. Horton was the head of an Arizona defense that finished fifth against the pass in 2012, and is expected to bring an aggressive approach that has been lacking in Cleveland in recent years. Turner, who of course is coming off of a head coaching stint with the Chargers, is regarded as a good fit for second year quarterback Brandon Weeden and is also expected to bring a more aggressive version of play calling. Many see Cleveland as a dark horse in 2013, but how far they go will depend heavily on how much quarterback Brandon Weeden improves upon a rough rookie season.
18. Indiannapolis Colts
A defense that finished 26th, a quarterback who finished behind Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert in QB rating, and a rushing game that finished 22nd in the league was enough to make the playoffs in 2012. That performance will not be good enough in 2013. Nine of the Colts eleven wins last season were by seven points or less, a pace that will be almost impossible to continue. Andrew Luck should be improved, but I don't see the Colts winning so many close games in 2013. They may hang around the playoff hunt, but it's not likely they have the same success they did in 2012 unless each of those numbers improve significantly.
17. Carolina Panthers
Rookie sensation Cam Newton experienced somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2012, posting eleven fewer touchdowns than the previous year. However, despite that the rest of his numbers remained consistent, so there is reason to believe that he can bounce back in 2013. A little more production from their running backs (Newton lead the team in rushing in 2012) and a repeat top ten performance from their defense should keep them in the thick of the playoff hunt, and if the division rival New Orleans Saints struggle again the Panther may be able to steal a wild card spot. It's going to be tough, but don't count this team out too early.
16. Kansas City Chiefs
Obviously the Chiefs believe Alex Smith can be the QB that takes them to the next level, and I think he may be able to do just enough. However, while Smith has had his moments over the last two years, he has been a pretty average QB for most of his career. Luckily the AFC appears weak in 2013, so there is a chance the Chiefs may be able to snag that second wild card spot but a playoff win isn't likely in their future. Running back Jamaal Charles should continue to be a threat whenever he touches the ball, and the defense has made improvements over the last few years. The Chiefs appear to be following the Houston Texans strategy, with a great running game, good defense and a game-manager QB. They just don't have the talent to pull it off quite as well yet.
15. Dallas Cowboys
In 2012 I thought the Cowboys had the talent to make a surprise Super Bowl run. That obviously didn't happen, as they hung around .500 all season, finished third in the division (8-8 for the second consecutive year) and failed to make the playoffs. During the off season they somewhat unexpectedly fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who's unit improved when he took over the position in 2010. Quarterback Tony Romo will need to bounce back from a year in which he posted the worst rating of his career, and tied a career high with 19 interceptions. One of the reasons Romo struggled is because he got no help from a running game that failed to average 80 yards a game. If the rushing attack isn't much improved, expect another season of 8-8 or worse for the Cowboys.
14. Chicago Bears
Lovie Smith is out and Marc Trestman is in. Trestman may be the Bears biggest off season acquisition, and he is expected to bring the best out of the team's offensive talent. Quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are all extremely talented players who many believe weren't being used properly under the old regime. Defensively the Bears performed well in 2012, finishing eighth in both passing and rushing yards allowed. They will need to find a replacement for future hall-of-famer Brian Urlacher, and injuries are going to force 2012 sixth rounder Isaiah Frey into the nickleback role. After watching Frey for years at Nevada, I can't believe this bodes well for them. What is ultimately going to determine the Bears fate in 2013 though is quarterback Jay Cutler, who has struggled with consistency his entire career. Perhaps coach Trestman can end that, but it will be a difficult task given Cutler's history.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
I haven't been a big believer in the Bengals for the past couple years, and I'm still not. So I was surprised when I found that I had them fifth in the AFC, a playoff team. Andy Dalton has gotten plenty of credit for the team's turn around, but he is not much better than average at the quarterback position. The Bengals offense finished 13th in passing yards and Dalton finished 13th in QB rating in 2012. The running game isn't much to brag about either, as the team was 18th in rushing last season. The strength of this offense is receiver AJ Green, who catches nearly everything thrown his way. But what really carries this team is a defense that is near the top of the league in both pass and rush defense (seventh and sixth, respectively). That will need to continue if the Bengals want to win a playoff game in 2013.
12. New York Giants
Although I have the Redskins just ahead of them, I am not counting Eli Manning and the Giants out in the division race. In fact I think it will be a race worth watching all season long. And if the Giants do manage to win the division or to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card I would not put it past them to take it all. After all, this is a team that has done it before. To do so their defense will have to be better than the unit that finished 31st in yards allowed in 2012, and they should be. Despite that poor statistic they only gave up 21.5 points per game, the same as the defending champion Baltimore Ravens.
11. Washington Redskins
Ask 100 NFL analysts who wins the AFC East in 2013 and you'd likely get something near a 50/50 split between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. The Redskins finished one game ahead of the Giants in 2012 thanks to a seven game winning streak to end the season, and the race may be just as close in 2013. The big question heading into the season for Washington is quarterback Robert Griffin III's health coming off of multiple knee injuries in 2012. In such a close race RG III missing just one game may be the difference between winning the division or missing the playoffs altogether, so it's a good thing backup Kirk Cousins has proven he is capable of stepping in and winning a game or two. But Cousins doesn't bring the same scrambling threat that helped Washington finish at the top of the league in rushing yards in 2012, so if RG III misses significant time it will spell trouble for the Redskins.
#10. Detroit Lions
For the Lions the question is which season was the fluke? Was it 2011 (10-6) or was it 2012 (4-12)? I tend to lean towards the former, because this is a team has plenty of talent as long as they use it right. Quarterback Matthew Stafford came near his 2011 total in passing yards, but threw for 21 fewer touchdowns, a huge difference that can easily make or break a season. The team addressed concerns at the running back position by signing free agent Reggie Bush, who will hopefully take some of the pressure off of Stafford and record-breaking receiver Calvin Johnson. I believe the Lions will be a near playoff caliber team in 2013, however I think they just miss out on that second Wild Card spot.
#9. New Orleans Saints
The Saints at number nine to start the 2013 season? Even I need to hear some good reasons to back up that ranking. Here are a few; the Saints went 7-9 in 2012 despite a defense that finished last in the league in yards allowed. By nearly 80 yards per game. They actually broke the record for yards allowed in a season. Their defense was literally as bad as it gets, and they still nearly managed to break even. Enter new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, fresh off a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys. In 2010 the Cowboys ranked 31st in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed, when Ryan took over in 2011 he improved those numbers to 14th and 16th, respectively. If Ryan can do something similar in his first year with the Saints, Drew Brees and the offense are more than capable of putting up enough points to be in playoff contention (first in yards and second in points per game in 2012). Coach Sean Payton is also back after serving a year-long suspension for "Bountygate", which should only help the team's cause. While even I feel that this may be to far too high for the New Orleans Saints, something tells me that they can return to being the playoff team they were before that infamous scandal.
#8. Houston Texans
Arian Foster is one of the best running backs in the league, Andre Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league. JJ Watt is one of the best defenders in the league. It is looking more and more like QB Matt Schaub is the one player holding this team back. Schaub is not a bad QB by any means, but he simply doesn't have enough talent to make this team a perennial contender. If the Texans are going to win the Super Bowl they are going to have to take a page out of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens or 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneer's books. They are going to have to do it behind the strength of their defense and running game. With Foster they are set, but while the defense was good in 2012 it was not quite good enough to carry a team. The team is hoping they can get to that point, with free agent Ed Reed and draft pick D.J. Swearinger joining the secondary, and linebacker Brian Cushing returning from an ACL tear. A Super Bowl run isn't out of the question in Houston, but that is not the type of wager you want to put your money on.
#7. Seattle Seahawks
I was hard on Russel Wilson early in 2012, and for good reason. Over his first four games the Seahawks rookie quarterback was averaging just around 150 yards a game, and his accuracy was anything but consistent. By the end of the year Wilson was consistently putting up between 200 and 300 yards, and he finished 2012 with a QB rating of 100. If Wilson continues to develop that quickly, there is no question he has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The league's top defense in points allowed and "Beast Mode" running back Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks are a scary, scary team in the NFC.
#6. Baltimore Ravens
Ideally I would like to put the defending Super Bowl champions number one to start the season, but when those champions have lost two future hall-of-famers, three linebackers, and a valuable wide receiver that becomes difficult to do. Defensive leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, as are Bernard Pollard, Danell Ellerbe, Cary Williams and Paul Kruger. Receiver Anquan Boldin, who during the Ravens playoff run appeared to catch anything Flacco threw up, is gone as well. When you add to those departures the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta to injury and the retirement of center Matt Birk, sixth in the power rankings seems pretty good. If Joe Flacco continues to play the way he did in the playoffs (Eleven touchdowns, zero interceptions), a repeat isn't completely out of the question. Running back Ray Rice is always a threat, and the consensus is that GM Ozzie Newsome did a great job replacing the players he lost. Whether or not the Ravens are again a threat to win it all depends on if their new players are as good as advertised, and how quickly they can all come together as a team.
#5. Atlanta Falcons
The progress may seem slow, but every year it feels like the Falcons take another step in the right direction. In 2012 the had their best year yet, making it to the NFC Championship game. They even lead the San Francisco 49ers at half time, only to watch their Super Bowl dreams disappear by the end of the game. With a fifth ranked defense and an eighth ranked passing game the team addressed what they felt was their biggest need by adding three-time Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson. At 30 years old the team feels Jackson still has plenty left in the tank. Will Jackson, in addition to quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones be enough to push the Falcons past that final hurdle and into the Super Bowl? Only time will tell.
#4. Green Bay Packers
I would say that at the moment Aaron Rodgers is hands-down the best quarterback in the game. However while quarterback is one of the most important (and many would argue THE most important) players on a football team, they cannot do it by themselves. The Packers finished 20th in rushing yards in 2012, so they added Alabama running back Eddie Lacey in the first round of the draft to improve that number. Defensively Green Bay struggled heavily against the 49ers during the 2012 playoffs, despite allowing a reasonable 21 points per game during the regular season. The unit allowed Colin Kapernick to throw for over 260 yards and two touchdowns, as well as add 181 yards and two touchdowns with his feet. On that night they had no answer to the dual-threat quarterback, and the key in 2013 will be to come up with one. Between Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson it is likely they will face such a quarterback if they return to the playoffs so they will need to be ready. After a rematch against Kaepernick and the 49ers in week one and a date with RGIII and the Redskins in week two we should have a much better idea about where this team is headed.
#3. San Francisco 49ers
I'm sure this spot is going to anger many Niners fans, but I still think this team needs to prove a few things before I am ready to crown them Super Bowl favorites. First, can they overcome the loss of receiver Michael Crabtree? He was Colin Kaepernick's favorite target by such a wide margin that tight end Vernon Davis at one point said that he preferred Alex Smith as his starting quarterback. Smith is in Kansas City now, and the challenge for Kaepernick will be to get players such as Davis and Anquan Boldin involved. Another question is how will defensive coordinators respond now that they know what to expect? Kaepernick had the advantage of taking the league by surprise late last season, now that opposing teams have tape and time to study it will they find a way to slow him down? If the answer to that question is yes, this team still has the defense and the rushing game to go pretty far. If the answer is no, the 49ers will likely be the Super Bowl XLVIII champions.
#2. New England Patriots
The knock on the Patriots all off season has been the lack of receiving weapons for quarterback Tom Brady thoguh Danny Amendola joined the team as a free agent, and Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski return. It may not exactly be a group filled with stars, but we have seen Brady make due in similar circumstances. As long as Brady is quarterback, a seemingly weak receiving corps is certainly no reason to write this team off. A defense that finished 25th in the league in yards allowed may seem to be a cause for concern, but the unit only gave up 20.7 points per game, good for ninth best in the league. While second will seem high to many for this team, it is dangerous to count Brady and Coach Bill Bellichick out with any roster.
#1. Denver Broncos
Up by seven with 42 second left in the AFC Championship game, Broncos safety Rahim Moore mistimed his jump on a deep pass from the Ravens Joe Flacco to receiver Jacoby Jones. It was a 70 yard touchdown that sent the game into an overtime in which the Broncos would end up losing. Had it not been for that play, we may be talking about the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos today. That is not the way it worked out, and now the Broncos must try again. Quarterback Peyton Manning returns from an incredible season in which he had many doubters, and the buzz around the Broncos is that his arm is looking even better than it was a year ago. The team also added receiver Wes Welker, formerly one of Tom Brady's favorite targets in New England. The defense finished fourth in the league in points allowed and second in yards allowed. The unit may struggle early as Champ Bailey and Robert Ayers are recovering from injury and Von Miller is serving a six game suspension. However, this team has the feel of a team who's destiny will be decided in the playoffs, the question this time is can Manning and company go all the way?
*Denotes Playoff team
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