NFL Power Rankings: Sizing Up League Before Season Kicks off
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No longer will NFL fans have to spend Sundays without football occupying the daily routine. No more completing errands, going outside or whatever it is people do during the offseason. Football is back.
Now that the season is close to beginning, it's time to begin our favorite pastime of putting teams in lists. Who's the best team in the NFC East? How do the New England Patriots compare with the other top teams without their offensive stars?
There's an assortment of questions floating through the air, so let's try to put in all in perspective.
This is the season's most fragile list, as unexpected Week 1 results would torpedo perceptions of the top teams. The Baltimore Ravens are not the favorites to defend their Super Bowl crown, but a convincing win over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night would certainly challenge that belief.
Here's how all 32 teams stack up leading up to the season opener.
32. Oakland Raiders
Their quarterback situation remains murky, and right now neither Matt Flynn nor Terrelle Pryor look like starter material. A battered offensive line won't do the winner any favors, and Darren McFadden is a slight breeze away from landing back on the injury report. It's going to be a long season for the Raiders.
31. New York Jets
Everyone's favorite punching bag returns for what promises to be another tumultuous, controversy-filled season. Rex Ryan admitted to not watching his offense during a preseason contest, but can you honestly blame him?
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
If Maurice Jones-Drew can stay healthy and Justin Blackmon returns from a four-game suspension without a hitch, the Jaguars actually have some talent on the offensive side. Then again, their defense allowed 27.75 points per game last season. Here's to hoping the new uniforms spark a new era in Jacksonville.
29. Tennessee Titans
A reinvigorated offensive line could open up some holes for Chris Johnson in the rushing attack. Don't expect CJ2K to return, but it's something for a squad coming off a dismal 6-10 season.
28. Buffalo Bills
Jeff Tuel is their starting quarterback, for now. EJ Manuel will assume the position before the season ends, and they just might have something in the rookie from Florida State University. At least the explosive C.J. Spiller will finally get more touches.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Fantasy football drafters can rejoice knowing that Larry Fitzgerald finally has a quarterback who can actually throw the football in a catchable vicinity, but can the offensive line keep Carson Palmer upright after surrendering a league-worst 58 sacks last season?
26. Philadelphia Eagles
This is when you start looking at every team and thinking "Hey, you never know." The Eagles could quickly latch onto Chip Kelly's fast-paced offensive attack, Michael Vick could stay healthy for a full season and their talent on paper could yield some wins. Or their secondary could get burned all season long. They play the games for a reason.
25. San Diego Chargers
Chris Berman should probably put his Superchargers shtick to rest this season. Coming off his worst statistical season since 2007, Philip Rivers is watching his receiving corps drop like flies as his offensive line institutes open season on its QB for the defense.
24. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland's offense looked good in the preseason. Really good. Offensive guru Norv Turner looks poised to turn around the lackluster passing game and transform tight end Jordan Cameron into a massive playmaker a la Antonio Gates. The defense lost a step last year, but Paul Kruger could help them regain it.
23. Carolina Panthers
Can Carolina ever parlay its late-season surge into a full season of productivity? Facing a brutal schedule that lists New England, San Francisco, Seattle along with two battles apiece against divisional foes Atlanta and New Orleans, this has the makings of another seven- or eight-win year.
22. Detroit Lions
Reggie Bush adds another gear to a Lions offense that threw a league-high 740 times last season. Detroit lost four games by three points or less, so they're not as bad as their 4-12 record suggests. If they can reverse their poor fortune in close calls, the Lions are a potential wild card sleeper.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs bandwagon is filling up fast, which is not what usually happens after a 2-14 season. Andy Reid and Alex Smith bring a fresh slate to Kansas City, where an improved offense should present a fighting chance for its defense, which ranked 13th in yards allowed per game last season.
20. Minnesota Vikings
We're forecasting the 2013 season, not praising teams for their play in 2012. The Vikings orchestrated an unlikely playoff run, but they're unlikely to replicate that magic with a shaky Christian Ponder still running the show. Despite adding Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, losing Percy Harvin hurts. Winning 10 games on a plus-31 scoring differential, Minnesota overachieved big time.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers' sterling reputation and defense kept them from slipping further, but they're coming off an 8-8 season and will start the season with a major question mark at running back. Their chances hinge on Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders becoming star targets for Ben Roethlisberger in Mike Wallace's absence.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a make-or-break season for Josh Freeman, who has star power around him in Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a revitalized offensive line led by the returning Carl Nicks. After adding Darrelle Revis to its secondary, Tampa could be a major force if 2010 Freeman shows up.
17. St. Louis Rams
Tavon Austin and Chris Givens finally provide Sam Bradford with some big-play targets, but his bigger concern is the offensive line giving him some breathing space. If Jake Long makes a difference in the trenches, the Rams could take the next step to playoff contention. If only they didn't play in the same division as San Francisco and Seattle.
16. New York Giants
With a healthy Hakeem Nicks and budding stars in David Wilson and Rueben Randle, the G-Men are loaded with offensive firepower. Unfortunately, their porous secondary already lost Stevie Brown, who captured eight interceptions in 2012, for the season, while Jason Pierre-Paul remains banged up. It's open season on New York's secondary, which likely leads to another 8-8 campaign.
15. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins showed they mean business by bringing Mike Wallace, Brent Grimes and Dannell Ellerbe on board. Just think of it this way: They're a Tom Brady injury away from winning the division by virtual default.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Seemingly always one game away, the Cowboys constantly remain an inch away from making a major splash. One of these years they're going to gain that one extra win and do their best Giants impersonation of a 9-7 team riding a hot streak at the right time. If DeMarco Murray can stay on the field, Dallas will have one of the league's scariest offensive arsenals.
13. New Orleans Saints
The Saints should score opposing teams this year. Remember when they obliterated every offensive record in sight two years ago, posting points at will (even in garbage time) on gassed defenses? After their first playoff no-show since 2008, look for a scorn Sean Payton to resume the headset with a vengeance. Now if only their defense could stop someone.
12. Washington Redskins
Long considered one of the NFL's toughest divisions, the subpar NFC East is now Washington's for the taking. Who knows how far Washington would have gone had Mike Shanahan played a capable Kirk Cousins in the postseason instead of a one-legged Robert Griffin III?
11. Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman plans to inject a needle into Chicago's stagnant offense by utilizing Matt Forte more in the passing game and having Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffrey ease the pressure off Brandon Marshall. If the defense that led the league in takeaways doesn't lose a step without Lovie Smith, Chicago should avenge last year's late meltdown.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Everything about their fairy-tale 2012 season shouts fluke. They won 11 games despite a minus-30 point differential, reeling in an unsustainable six victories by four points or less. Luckily for them, Andrew Luck will only improve with a year under his belt and LaRon Landry should toughen up the secondary. Their Jekyll and Hyde schedule presents them with six brutal matchups against playoff teams but 10 highly winnable affairs. Even if they finish 10-6, they'll be better than last season.
9. Baltimore Ravens
The defending champions usually receive a lot more love than a No. 9 ranking, but several key pieces used the Lombardi Trophy as a springboard to a rich pay-day. Despite losing the faces of their defense in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, the passing game is a bigger concern without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. But again, a win over Denver catapults them up the top 10.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
After years of watching Baltimore and Pittsburgh get all the glory, this is Cincinnati's perfect chance to catch those two on the downswing and capture the AFC North. Giovanni Bernard adds a dynamic element to the rushing attack, and the defense could become one of the NFL's premier units.
7. New England Patriots
You get a pass on a lot of things when Tom Brady is your quarterback. Even without Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and possible Ron Gronkowski for the start of the season, Brady will turn lemons into lemonade and make Danny Amendola, Zach Sudfeld and Kenbrell Thompkins household names.
6. Green Bay Packers
That last statement about Brady goes double for Aaron Rodgers. He lost Jennings, but Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are still in town. After a subpar 2011, the defense ranked among the top 10 in yards and points allowed per game, making Green Bay a legit Super Bowl threat.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan received the fortuitous news of Tony Gonzalez delaying retirement for another year, and he gets one more toy to play with in Stephen Jackson. They have the offensive weapons to win it all. It's up to Atlanta's defense to avoid stretches of futility that nearly cost them against Seattle before ending their season against San Francisco.
4. Houston Texans
Even if Arian Foster was hurt, would it surprise anyone to see Ben Tate transform into a beast behind Houston's pristine offensive line? They're not the glossy pick, but Houston's imposing rushing attack and menacing defense makes the team the favorites to take the AFC South and a contender to make the franchise's first ever Super Bowl appearance.
3. Denver Broncos
Losing Dan Koppen and Von Miller puts this ranking is serious jeopardy, but Denver still boasts way too much offensive firepower to drop down the board. Peyton Manning might have the NFL's best receiving trio. Now John Fox has to let them loose instead of kneeing the ball with time still on the clock.
2. Seattle Seahawks
A healthy Percy Harvin might have been enough to skip Seattle over their division foes, but Russell Wilson didn't need him last year to confound defenses with the read offense. With Marshawn Lynch and the league's stingiest defense, Wilson is in prime position to avoid the sophomore letdown.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The one universal consistency from power rankings across the Internet, San Francisco enters the season as the favorites to capture the title that eluded them by a few yards last season. They will have to replace Dashon Goldson in the secondary, but their defense is not a concern as long as Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are around. If Colin Kaepernick proves to be more than a one-year wonder, San Francisco could initiate a dynasty.
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