NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 1?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 31, 2013

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 1?

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    The moment we've all been waiting for is here. The NFL's regular season kicks off on Thursday with the Denver Broncos hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. But what every fan really wants to know is, who is the best team in football?

    Each week throughout the season, a new Power Rankings article will be posted following the Sunday night game. Here you will find an updated look at how every NFL team stacks up at that time.

    Power rankings are not based on standings, though. They're based on a mixture of expectations, momentum, whom teams have beaten or lost to and each team's potential for the remainder of the season. In other words, they're completely subjective.

    We'll start at the bottom and work our way up, No. 32 all the way to No. 1, to determine the best teams the NFL has to offer.

32. Oakland Raiders

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    Where is the silver lining on this silver-and-black cloud? I'm not sure there is one.

    The 2013 Oakland Raiders have the least talent top to bottom of any team in the NFL right now. Even compared to perennially bad teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars or New York Jets, the Raiders' prospects look dismal.

    At virtually every position, there is a question mark.

    Who will start at quarterback, and is either player—Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor—really an upgrade? The offensive line has been decimated by injuries, to the point where Alex Barron may actually be a legitimate starting option for the team. That should tell you how far down in the dumps this offense is.

    On defense, there are building blocks surrounded by stop-gap free-agent signings.

    Lamarr Houston and Tyvon Branch are tier-one players, but they can't do it all alone. Rookies Sio Moore and D.J. Hayden are exciting but raw. Veterans like Nick Roach, Pat Sims and Charles Woodson will provide leadership but few big plays.

    It's easy to see why the Raiders are the NFL's worst team heading into the season. The good news? They can only go up from here.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    New general manager Dave Caldwell has his work cut out for him. For folks in Jacksonville, the 2013 season is about discovering which young players are worth keeping around to build with. All others must go.

    The offense will struggle, but it will also be fun to watch. Blaine Gabbert isn't the answer at quarterback long-term, but he's been handed weapons like Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon (after his four-game suspension), Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders. Even the embarrassingly bad Gabbert can get the ball to those playmakers in space.

    The defense will be very well coached but is lacking in the talent department. Once Gus Bradley gets this roster stocked with his type of players, the Jaguars will be scary. The team can work with the secondary, especially youngsters John Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz. And if Bradley's patented pass rush comes to life, the defense will be able to create some big plays.

    The cold, hard truth is that this team is at least two years—or one shocking quarterback development—away from contending.

30. Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans start the season low on the totem pole, but that could change in a hurry if this team starts winning.

    Jake Locker looked much better in the preseason, but it was the preseason. How well he shows up when the score matters will dictate if the Titans can be a contender this year or not.

    There's no lack of talent for him to work with—not with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Chris Johnson, Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker on offense—so it's time to produce in Tennessee.

    The defense has young talent, but it did last year too. Guys like Colin McCarthy must stay healthy this year for this squad to live up to its potential. With good pass-rushers Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, plus an aggressive secondary, this could be a top-10 defense if everyone can stay healthy.

    So why is this team starting the year ranked so low? Because my faith in Locker needs some proof first. Call me a doubting Thomas when it comes to the Titans quarterback.

29. New York Jets

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    It all starts at quarterback, and as the old saying goes, "When you have two starting quarterbacks, you really have none."

    Geno Smith has been woefully bad in the preseason, while Mark Sanchez was hurt in a careless fourth-quarter preseason coaching move. Fans may be calling for Matt Simms, but that's only because he hasn't been given enough rope to hang himself yet.

    The trouble on offense overshadows a good defense. The front seven will be talented with Muhammad Wilkerson—who just might be the best 3-4 defensive end in football—along with rookie Sheldon Richardson, second-year player Quinton Coples and linebacker David Harris.

    The Jets have talent and good game-planning, but not enough to make me think this is a winning team.

28. Buffalo Bills

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    The Bills—at the time of writing—have a big question mark at quarterback. 

    Kevin Kolb has suffered another concussion, and this one might be career-ending. EJ Manuel, the team's first-round pick, has been out with a knee injury. Matt Leinart was cut after one preseason game.

    Is it Jeff Tuel time in Buffalo?

    The bright spots on this team are pretty bright, though. That's why we see a move up the rankings heading into the season.

    C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are the league's best one-two punch at running back. Wide receivers Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are all capable big-play guys. And a young offensive line has performed well as a unit. First-year coach Doug Marrone has a good team to build with.

    The defense will rely on the front seven getting a pass rush, something they've struggled to do outside of Jerry Hughes' exceptional play in the preseason. The secondary has talent—notably Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore, though the latter will miss six to eight weeks with a wrist fracture—but this is still a defense with holes. That's why, even though they've moved up, the Bills are still No. 28 overall.

27. San Diego Chargers

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    New general manager. New head coach. Same problems.

    If the San Diego Chargers cannot find ways to protect quarterback Philip Rivers, nothing else will matter. This team will only go as far as Rivers can take it in 2013, and recent history suggests that he's seeing ghosts on the field.

    The team drafted right tackle D.J. Fluker but is willing to roll the dice on King Dunlap at left tackle. The Bolts have also seen an exodus of wide receivers due to injury and free agency. With no running game to speak of, this could be another long season for San Diego.

    The team holds steady at No. 27 thanks to a defense that has talent. Guys like Corey Liuget, Eric Weddle, Kendall Reyes and Manti Te'o can play at a high level. The problem is the overall talent level surrounding them.

26. Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions have the talent of a playoff team, but under Jim Schwartz's reign, the team has been too inconsistent. That said, the Lions have the potential to be an early mover up the board if they play up to their ability.

    The offense could be better this year, thanks to the addition of Reggie Bush, but there are many question marks on the offensive line. Riley Reiff replaces Jeff Backus at left tackle, and Jason Fox steps in for Gosder Cherilus on the right side. While both could develop into great players, they're raw and inexperienced heading into the season.

    The defense will be great up front but very questionable on the back end. Defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are incredibly talented. Fairley ranked as one of my All-Pro picks at tackle for the upcoming season, and expectations are huge for the duo. Add in No. 5 overall pick Ezekiel Ansah at defensive end, and this unit could be scary.

    The secondary could also be scary, but in a bad way. The team has continued to ignore the cornerback position and will rely on the pass rush to save its coverage.

    The Lions have 10-win talent, but discipline and consistency have to be demonstrated before they move up this list.

25. Arizona Cardinals

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    An offseason of changes could bring big things to the Arizona desert, but I'm being cautious in my ranking of this team.

    The Arizona Cardinals added Carson Palmer, Eric Winston and others to a team that needed an influx of veteran leadership outside of Larry Fitzgerald. They'll be surrounded by young studs like Michael Floyd, Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington (after his four-game suspension). 

    A new head coach in Bruce Arians should help too, if the offensive line can keep Palmer standing upright long enough to find Fitzgerald and Floyd down the field. However, the lack of an established run game is bothersome—as is the fact that the Cardinals play in the NFL's toughest division. Six games against the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks won't help them in the rankings.

    The Cardinals may only win six or seven games, but they could be the most talented sub-.500 team you've seen.

24. Cleveland Browns

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    This team has playoff-caliber talent.

    No, really. The offensive line is top-five. The defense has the ability to be a top-10 unit. The coaching is solid, especially on defense. It all hinges on Brandon Weeden.

    A 2012 first-round pick, Weeden wasn't great in his rookie season. A new offensive coordinator promises a scheme that's better suited to his abilities, and it seemed in the first two preseason games like he had indeed figured it out. But then the third game came around—when most teams play starters and actually game-plan a little—and Weeden struggled mightily.

    If Norv Turner's offense can support Weeden and survive the loss of Josh Gordon to start the season, this will be a tough team to beat. I'm not quite sold on the Browns winning more than six games yet, but they're trending in the right direction.

23. Minnesota Vikings

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    After a magical and surprising run to the playoffs in 2012, expectations are high for the Minnesota Vikings. Except for here, where they're not high at all.

    Fans will point out that the team has Adrian Peterson, and I would point out that he won't rush for more than 2,000 yards again this season. While the offense added talented players in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, it also lost Percy Harvin. You know, the guy who looked like an MVP candidate before getting hurt last year?

    The offense is also still managed by Christian Ponder, who is a great guy but a subpar quarterback to date. That could change, but I'll believe it when I see it regarding his ascension to the top of the quarterback ranks.

    The defense should be about the same—good enough, but not great. And while Xavier Rhodes is a nice prospect, it's unrealistic to think he can replace Antoine Winfield's production in his first season.

    All this adds up to a six- or seven-win team in Minnesota.

22. Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers haven't received much attention this offseason, which is a surprise considering Cam Newton is their quarterback. Being an under-the-radar team may favor this squad.

    New general manager Dave Gettleman has done a good job reworking the depth chart through the draft, specifically in adding defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the 2013 class. The two war daddies fill the team's biggest weakness from last year. The remaining holes in the secondary, though, are concerning.

    That said, this is a team ready to challenge the best of the NFC South. With Newton in his third year and finding himself more comfortable as a passer and a runner, he's ready to be his most explosive. Defenses in the division aren't built to stop a player with his size and speed.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are closer than you might think. 

    On offense, I see a football team with playmakers (Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin), a top-tier offensive line and a young quarterback who could rise to the challenge and lead his team to a winning season. There's also the chance that the quarterback—Josh Freeman—will instead continue to struggle despite the talent around him. If that's the case, Tampa will be relying on the defense again this year.

    The good news is that the defense is loaded. The secondary could be the league's best with Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron patrolling the field. At linebacker, there is also great talent, with Lavonte David and Mason Foster locking things down. Oh, and the defensive line is anchored by stud tackle Gerald McCoy.

    The Buccaneers defense has top-five potential. If the offense can click, this team could be dangerously good.

20. Philadelphia Eagles

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    My love affair with Chip Kelly may crash and burn this season, but heading into the 2013 campaign, I'm very intrigued by what he and general manager Howie Roseman have done to this roster and the playbook in a short time.

    Kelly's up-tempo, option-heavy offense will win ballgames. Whether it's Michael Vick running the ball or one of the team's many talented running backs, Philadelphia will be able to move the chains. With athletes like Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Lane Johnson on the offensive line, this group will be good at picking up rushing yards.

    And the passing game? It won't be perfect, but Kelly loves to throw the ball off play-action, and it should be open in a division with some awful safety play.

    A transition to a 3-4 defense hasn't been seamless, and a talent upgrade is needed in the secondary, but this group can get to the quarterback. In the end, the Eagles may just need to hold opponents under 24 points to get the job done.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

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    After last year's brilliant prediction that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West, I'm a little more cautious this time around. But they do look like one of the AFC's better teams.

    Andy Reid brings a renewed focus on coaching to the team, and the fact that John Dorsey is handling the administration side of the team will free up Reid to be a coach only. That's the type of dedication the offense needs after struggling to find a rhythm last season. Bringing in quarterback Alex Smith, drafting tackle Eric Fisher and trading away Jon Baldwin are all moves that show Reid wants to win now.

    The defense is stout and will be even better after underrated signings like Mike DeVito, Sean Smith and Akeem Jordan help to fill out the depth chart. With pass-rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali crashing the edges and Derrick Johnson cleaning up trash in the middle of the field, the Chiefs have one of the top linebacker corps in the league.

    Expectations aren't as high as they were last year, but this is a team with enough talent to make a serious playoff run.

18. Dallas Cowboys

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    I could copy and paste a write-up from last year, and it would likely read the same way: "The Dallas Cowboys have the talent to win the division, but it all rides on Tony Romo and Jason Garrett."

    That's the status quo in Dallas, where there is enough talent to win the NFC East, but a history of mistakes, inconsistency and poor game-day management has led to disappointing seasons. Will that change this year? As much as I like what the team has on paper, I'm not willing to bet on Garrett outcoaching Tom Coughlin or Mike Shanahan.

    On defense, there's equal talent, but the move to a 4-3 could come with problems initially. There's a ton of potential here, though, especially on the edges with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. And if Sean Lee can stay healthy, he has top-five middle 'backer potential.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    These are not the same ol' Miami Dolphins.

    Second-year head coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland don't always receive respect around the league, but the offseason changes made to this roster are noteworthy. Newcomers Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson, Dannell Ellerbe, Dion Jordan, Philip Wheeler, Brent Grimes and Tyson Clabo all factored heavily in the belief that this team can turn it around. Even with Keller injured, the remake is impressive.

    The Dolphins are still a young team, though, and they'll only go as far as three second-year players can take them. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Lamar Miller and left tackle Jon Martin will all feel the pressure of carrying the load for this team—especially on offense. If the trio can produce in their sophomore season, the Dolphins could compete for a wild-card spot.

16. Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins make a move down the power rankings to start the season, and I'm sure you're all wondering why.

    Even with Robert Griffin III cleared to play in the season opener, concerns about his rust and the lack of chemistry with the offense make his first outing a tough one. Not to mention that the Redskins failed to get better this offseason (thanks largely to the draft picks traded to St. Louis for the No. 2 overall pick), while the rest of the division remains tough.

    Getting Brian Orakpo back healthy will help, but this is still a team with major question marks in the secondary. Griffin's electric play covered up a lot of mistakes last season, but in a year where the opponents in the NFC East look just as tough, I'm down on the Redskins.

15. New York Giants

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    The 2013 New York Giants look a lot like the 2012 New York Giants, and that might be good enough to win the NFC East.

    Eli Manning has a roster full of talented wide receivers, and the play of running back David Wilson in the preseason has been encouraging. If the offensive line can hold up, the Giants can be a 10-plus-win team again. That might be a big "if," but it's certainly possible. If Manning can stay clean in the pocket, watch out.

    The defense has holes—linebacker and safety are at the forefront—but benefits from great coaching and one of the most disruptive players in the game in Jason Pierre-Paul. If JPP and friends can effectively rush the quarterback, cornerback Prince Amukamara has the talent to be an opportunistic cover man.

14. St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams started the preseason ranked higher on my overall list, but concerns surrounding the offensive line move them down before the season opener.

    The team added left tackle Jake Long through free agency, but he's not been great so far this year. Of course, that might change once the regular season begins. If Long can get back to his All-Pro status, Sam Bradford will have his best offensive line yet. That doesn't mean the rest of the line is great, though, and with no established run game, we could see a ton of pressure on the passing game all day.

    The defense will be good. Pass-rushers Robert Quinn and Chris Long are top-tier talents. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers will be exciting in his second season, and the secondary has the ability to shut down even the best receivers.

    Jeff Fisher's team has the talent to make a playoff run, but the Rams need Bradford protected and some youngsters to step up at safety and outside linebacker.

13. Houston Texans

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    How is this team better than last year's squad? It isn't.

    The Houston Texans open the regular season moving down the rankings thanks to injuries. Arian Foster and Ed Reed are both nursing injuries, putting their availability in question. Without Foster, the team would rely on Ben Tate too often. Without Reed, rookie D.J. Swearinger will be put to the fire in his first game.

    This is a good team with a lot of talent, but the Texans have not evolved or improved. Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins could be great, but first-year receivers rarely make big contributions—especially in an offense with Andre Johnson and Foster getting so many touches.

    The defense has J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph, so they'll be good again. Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed have talent on the edges and will get to the quarterback with Watt, but the secondary isn't great outside of Joseph—solid, but not great.

    The window in Houston is closing, and it's now or never for quarterback Matt Schaub and Co.

12. Chicago Bears

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    Why am I buying Chicago Bears stock this preseason? Because Jay Cutler is finally stepping up in the pocket.

    General manager Phil Emery went out and spent money on left tackle Jermon Bushrod and then drafted guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills. The additions of those three linemen have made a world of difference for Cutler and the Chicago offense. It also helps that new head coach Marc Trestman's offense is getting the ball out quicker while using running back Matt Forte more.

    Everyone knows the team will be without Brian Urlacher, but what you might not know is that the Bears are better off without him, at least on the field. He was slowed in his final season, and the young legs of Jon Bostic will allow him to make more plays in space than the future Hall of Famer made.

11. Indianapolis Colts

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    Why are the Indianapolis Colts trending up heading into the season? Two words: Andrew Luck.

    The second-year quarterback has the arm talent, poise and intelligence to lead this team to another playoff season. With an improved offensive line and more weapons for him to work with, Luck could have the monster statistical season to match his savvy play on the field.

    There are holes on both sides of the ball, but the coaching is great, and the playmakers are big-time performers. Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and others are ready to take the AFC South title from Houston.

    This is the year they do it.

10. Baltimore Ravens

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    The defending Super Bowl champions start the season trending down, but they can quickly recover if they start winning.

    The odds are stacked against the Ravens repeating last season's success, especially with key losses on offense like Dennis Pitta (injury) and Anquan Boldin (trade). Much has been made of the losses on defense, but expect to see a faster, more aggressive squad on that side of the ball.

    No one can question the Ravens' talent, but the schedule isn't kind. Facing a super-tough AFC North plus the strength of schedule handed out to the reigning champs makes for a tough season.

    One note, though: If the Ravens beat the Broncos on Thursday, they'll soar up the list.

9. Cincinnati Bengals

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    After two straight playoff berths, the Cincinnati Bengals are ready to challenge for an AFC North title. The talent is there. The coaches are capable. Now it's about execution.

    The offense will be tough again. Andy Dalton has All-Pro caliber A.J. Green on the edge, plus complements Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Gio Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Mohamed Sanu. There is no shortage of targets for him to work with. Dalton also enjoys a very good offensive line—one of the five best in the game. The offense could be explosive if coordinator Jay Gruden unleashes Dalton.

    The defense has holes, notably at the No. 2 cornerback spot and at safety, but the front seven is amazing. Geno Atkins is the best defensive tackle in football, and the rotation at end provides constant pass-rushing ability. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had 127 tackles in his rookie season and looks to be in better shape this preseason.

    Winning big is the expectation here. Nothing less than 10 wins is acceptable.

8. New Orleans Saints

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    What will a pissed-off Sean Payton do to the rest of the NFL in his redemption season? Back from a season-long suspension, Payton will take the reins of the New Orleans offense with designs on regaining the big plays that have long been a staple here.

    With Drew Brees still under center, the Saints are in great shape. Brees, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston make up one of the most dangerous passing trios in the game and arguably the most consistent.

    The run game is still strong with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram, and they could be asked to do more this year. The offensive line is young at left tackle, but the rest of the group looks as good as always.

    On defense, there will be questions. Rob Ryan comes to town with his 3-4 set, and the team may struggle with the personnel to adjust. First-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro will need to make plays at safety and in nickel coverage. If the defense can force turnovers and hold opponents under 25 points, the Saints could win a ton of games.

7. Atlanta Falcons

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    One season after hosting the NFC Championship Game, expectations are high in Atlanta. They should be, as the Falcons have as much offensive firepower as any team.

    The division has become tougher, but Matt Ryan is still one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league. With targets like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez out in space, Ryan is set to have his best season statistically. The offensive line is working in new players, but Ryan is great at limiting sacks.

    The defense has been exceptional at times under Mike Nolan, but consistency is huge this year. Rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford at cornerback must step up big this season to replace veterans Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Where the pass rush will come from is a mystery heading into the season, but the rotation is strong at defensive end.

    Nothing short of a Super Bowl berth will be accepted in Atlanta. This team is good enough to get there.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    In case you haven't heard—or mocked me on Twitter—the Pittsburgh Steelers are my pick to win the AFC's No. 1 seed. They weren't my pick to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, but still, expectations are high.

    Head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are proven, and the schedule this season is kind coming off an 8-8 performance in 2012. I see a team with an improved offensive line thanks to the healthy return of David DeCastro and Mike Adams' development at tackle. While some question the offense minus Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton are capable of taking his reps in the offense.

    The defense is getting a little old, but they're exceptionally well coached and are finally healthy. The addition of Jarvis Jones will be huge for the pass rush, as will the development of Cameron Heyward at defensive end. The secondary has three starters over 30, but the depth is impressive.

    The Steelers haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2000. That streak won't end this year.

5. Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers almost took a dip down in the rankings heading into the season opener, but betting against Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy is a tough thing to do.

    Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers won't be easy, but this is still a team expected to win the NFC North. Rodgers, his talented group of wide receivers and an aggressive defense are good enough to get 10 wins. This might not be a Super Bowl roster for Green Bay, but it is a playoff roster.

    The question marks come on the offensive line, where injuries and poor draft pick development have hurt the team. The run game will be anchored by two rookies—Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin—but both are talented. And with Rodgers slinging the ball around 35 times a game, the Packers will still be tough week after week.

    The defense won't rank in the top 10 in yardage, but as long as the team ranks high in sacks and/or turnovers, Green Bay will be OK. The additions of Datone Jones and Micah Hyde could be huge for this group, as the team needed an influx of speed.

4. Denver Broncos

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    Injuries and suspensions are all the buzz heading into the season for the Denver Broncos, which is why you see them trending down before Week 1. Beat the Baltimore Ravens and that will change, but at this stage, the team does have something to prove on both sides of the ball.

    Peyton Manning does not have anything to prove this season; he did that last year coming back from injury. His offensive line, though, has been patched together a bit. Ryan Clady is solid at left tackle, but the remainder of the starting line has to demonstrate consistency. There's talent, but new pieces and struggles from last season are concerning.

    The defense is where the big questions are. Von Miller is out for six games. Elvis Dumervil is playing in Baltimore. Champ Bailey was in a walking boot for most of training camp. The depth in the secondary is impressive, but the pass rush may be nonexistent early on. The middle of this defense could once again be a problem too. 

    The Broncos have Super Bowl potential, but they start the year in "prove it" mode.

3. New England Patriots

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    I never bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, especially when most of the league's media are counting them out.

    Brady doesn't have a well-known stable of talent to work with, but when has he? In the past he's made players like Deion Branch and Wes Welker better, and he can do that again. Rob Gronkowski, once healthy, will be the featured threat with complementary players like Danny Amendola—a faster version of Welker—seeing their fair share of touches.

    It helps that the offensive line is the best in the AFC and that running back Stevan Ridley has emerged as a reliable threat after his 1,200-yard season in 2012.

    The defense is underrated, which may surprise you. Belichick has built a smart team that doesn't make mental mistakes. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo eat up offenses in the middle of the field. The secondary looked much better after trading for Aqib Talib and should be on track this season now that the players have had time to jell.

    Whatever the supporting cast may be, as long as Brady is under center and Belichick is on the sideline, there will be Super Bowl expectations here. The Patriots begin the season as my AFC favorite.

2. Seattle Seahawks

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    The table is set for the Seattle Seahawks to be one of the NFL's elite teams in 2013, but they will have to overcome some tough roadblocks.

    The schedule is not easy. Playing the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams four times would kill most teams' seasons. The Seahawks will have to be perfect outside the division to have a shot at a home playoff game. Outside of the schedule and the division, getting players healthy and back from suspension will be key.

    Bruce Irvin will miss four games. Percy Harvin is on the PUP list. The right side of the offensive line is still a concern. There's also the chance that after a season and offseason to scout Russell Wilson, NFL teams will find the trick to stopping him—the dreaded "sophomore slump."

    I see Seattle as one of the most talented teams in the league. The Seahawks are well coached and well stocked on the depth chart and have the skill to beat anyone in a shootout or punching match. They're poised to win a ton of games if everything clicks.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    When evaluating NFL teams, I look at talent, experience, coaching and upside. The San Francisco 49ers are the preseason leaders in that criteria.

    Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been masterful in his turnaround of this storied franchise, and in 2013 we will see his most talented team yet. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick plays behind the best offensive line in football, which makes his dual-threat ability even more dangerous. It helps that he has running backs Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James behind him.

    The defensive front seven are the best in the game. Linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are each All-Pro caliber, and the other linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, is pretty good too. The secondary will have to prove itself after losing Chris Culliver to injury and Dashon Goldson to free agency, but a great pass rush will cover up some early struggles there.

    The 49ers will look to make it three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, but they have the talent and coaching to get it done in '13.