NFL Power Rankings: Gauging Each Team's Legitimacy After Week 1

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NFL Power Rankings: Gauging Each Team's Legitimacy After Week 1
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Week 1 of the 2013 NFL regular season is officially in the books, as 16 teams won, 16 lost and all 32 have placed a magnifying lens over every aspect of their respective performances. Some contenders were rusty, others were hot right out of the gates and quite a few have us asking one question:

Who has the look of legitimacy and who doesn't after Week 1?

One game is hardly definitive, but a lot can be learned from a season-opening performance. The level of chemistry between teammates has been established, and the heart of certain squads has been discovered via comebacks, blowouts and through-and-through battles.

One way or another, the NFL has been left with a set of standings that will last only so long. Just don't think the impact of these games won't linger.

For some, it will.

 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 28-2 loss vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Week 2: at Oakland Raiders

 

It's no secret that the Jacksonville Jaguars are void of a franchise player at the quarterback position. Chad Henne is a serviceable player, but Blaine Gabbert has gone from a prospect who some believed should go before Cam Newton to a proverbial draft bust.

During Jacksonville's Week 1 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the only points the Jaguars put on the board were the result of a safety. They're that bad.

This isn't a slight to the Chiefs' defense, as Kansas City promises to be a high-quality football team in 2013. With that being said, Gabbert was 16-of-35 for 121 yards and two interceptions, and when the day was over, the Jarguars' most significant play was made by the opposition's punter.

It gets worse.

Jacksonville ran more plays than Kansas City, yet still ended up with 26 less points and five less first downs. They were 5-of-19 on third down conversions, ran the ball 23 times for 71 yards and, despite executing more snaps, had a lower time of possession.

Sometimes, you can be so bad that even the numbers don't make sense.

 

31. Cleveland Browns

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 23-10 loss vs. Miami Dolphins

Week 2: at Baltimore Ravens

 

The Cleveland Browns entered the 2013 NFL regular season with a fair amount of hype. With a second-year quarterback, an improved receiving corps, a defense displaying potential and a change along the coaching staff, Cleveland seemed to have a chance to turn heads.

Then, the Browns opened up the season with a 23-10 home loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The  bright spot was the emergence of tight end Jordan Cameron, who finished with nine receptions for 108 yards and a score. Otherwise, it was cloudy skies, as the Browns finished with more turnovers (three), than touchdowns scored (one).

Brandon Weeden was 26-of-53 for 289 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, while Trent Richardson carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards.

It won't get any easier for Cleveland, as they play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. The Browns' defense was very strong, holding the Dolphins to 275 total yards and just 20 on the ground, but the offense was disappointing.

There's room to grow, but this was a winnable game that Cleveland let go of.

 

30. San Diego Chargers

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 31-28 loss vs. Houston Texans

Week 2: at Philadelphia Eagles

 

On the surface, the San Diego Chargers lost a 31-28 game to a Super Bowl Contender in the Houston Texans. Upon deeper inspection, the Chargers are a team that blew a 28-7 lead and reminded us why they are who they are.

Until San Diego discovers consistency and the ability to hold onto a lead, this ranking won't improve.

Through 31:14, the Chargers managed to put up 28 points and took a three-touchdown lead. During the final 28:46, however, the Chargers went scoreless and allowed the Texans to post 24 consecutive points in San Diego.

That's flat out unforgivable.

Philip Rivers started hot and doesn't deserve the blame for this loss, especially not when he threw four touchdowns. Surrounding Rivers, however, is an injury-plagued receiving corps and a run-game that started hot, but disappeared when it was needed most.

Rivers doesn't get enough credit for what he does for the Chargers, but the offensive support isn't there.

 

29. Oakland Raiders

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 21-17 loss at Indianapolis Colts

Week 2: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

 

The Oakland Raiders started the season very well, riding the emergence of quarterback Terrelle Pryor to a near-upset of the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Unfortunately, a loss is still a loss and the talent doesn't exist for Oakland to be ranked any higher.

At least they have upside to hold onto.

Pryor was 19-of-29 for 217 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, displaying surprising poise in the pocket. He also ran the ball 13 times for 112 yards, using his 6'4", 233-pound frame to overwhelm Indianapolis' defense.

When it was all said and done, the Raiders had every reason to feel good about their future.

Note to all NFL teams: if you want your quarterback to develop into a star, sign Matt Flynn as a backup (see: Rodgers, Aaron; Wilson, Russell).

The Raiders' defense was also impressive, tallying four sacks on Andrew Luck. The Colts had a quality day offensively, doing nothing spectacular but still managing to be effective, but Oakland stole the show as a pleasant surprise under head coach Dennis Allen.

A looming home game against the Jaguars could provide Pryor with the opportunity he needs to prove his status as Oakland's quarterback of the future.

 

28. Arizona Cardinals

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 27-24 loss at St. Louis Rams

Week 2: vs. Detroit Lions

 

Plain and simple, the Arizona Cardinals got it right when they acquired quarterback Carson Palmer. He was 26-of-40 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and Larry Fitzgerald was one of three players with at least 80 yards receiving.

Nearly defeating the St. Louis Rams just isn't enough to be placed any higher than this.

With Palmer under center and Bruce Arians at head coach, the Cardinals have a real chance to overachieve. Tyrann Mathieu is already proving to be a smart gamble, making key plays defensively, and Patrick Peterson is a genuine star alongside him.

Keep in mind, the Cardinals were No. 12 in total defense during the 2012 regular season.

If Palmer, Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts can continue developing as a unit, this offense could be potent. Should Rashard Mendenhall get something going on the ground, they'd be even more dangerous.

The division they play in will hold them back, but Arizona won't be an easy team for any squad to defeat.

 

27. Buffalo Bills

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 23-21 loss vs. New England Patriots

Week 2: vs. Carolina Panthers

 

The EJ Manuel era began for the Buffalo Bills, and what a beginning it was. The Bills came within a last-second field goal from Stephen Gostkowski of upsetting the New England Patriots, eventually losing 23-21.

Just don't think this team will be down for long.

Manuel was 18-of-27 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions during his NFL debut. Fellow rookie Robert Woods only caught one pass, but it was an 18-yard touchdown, and Steve Johnson hauled in three balls for 39 yards and a score.

Even as C.J. Spiller struggled, Fred Jackson reminded us of the fact that he only lost his starting job due to injury.

Defensively, the Bills forced three turnovers and tallied two sacks with young gun Da'Norris Searcy getting in on the action. Assuming Jairus Byrd, Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus perform up to standard, Buffalo could be a dark horse in the AFC wild card race.

If not, at least we know the future is bright.

 

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 18-17 loss at New York Jets

Week 2: vs. New Orleans Saints

 

The only way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season-opener is by calling it "ugly." Even if they had held on to defeat the New York Jets, they played very poor football and wouldn't have been much higher than this because of it.

Instead, the Bucs committed a horrendous last-minute penalty that allowed Nick Folk to sink a 48-yard field goal for the 18-17 win. A Jets win.

Josh Freeman was 15-of-31 for 210 yards, one touchdown and an interception, while Doug Martin ran for 65 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Vincent Jackson caught seven passes for 154 yards, and Mike Williams tallied 52 yards and a score on four receptions, but that's where it ends.

Three fumbles, including one lost, and an interception just about sums this game up for Tampa Bay.

The Bucs were strong defensively, picking up five sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Unfortunately, the defense also committed a senseless late-hit on Geno Smith that served as the primary reason the Jets got into field goal range.

I'm not one to play the blame game, and that's good for this one—the Bucs were all-around bad and undisciplined.

 

25. Carolina Panthers

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 12-7 loss vs. Seattle Seahawks

Week 2: at Buffalo Bills

 

Prior to the 2013 NFL regular season, many disagreed with me when I said the Carolina Panthers' defense had the potential to be elite. During Week 1, the Panthers smothered the Seattle Seahawks' highly-praised offense during a 12-7 loss.

If the Panthers' offense is what faltered in Week 1, you better keep your eye on Carolina from here on out.

The defense is led by the linebacker corps of Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davisfew can come close to matching this unit. With Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy attacking off the edge, and Star Lotulelei attacking up the gut, special things could happen defensively.

Something tells me Cam Newton will put up more than seven points per game to provide supporting fire.

There's no question that Carolina's offense was overwhelmed by Seattle's defense, but there are reasons for encouragement. Newton was 16-of-23 without an interception, DeAngelo Williams ran for 86 yards on 17 carries and Steve Smith caught six passes for 51 yards and a score.

It may have started with a loss, but this could be a breakout season for the Panthers.

 

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 16-9 loss vs. Tennessee Titans

Week 2: at Cincinnati Bengals

 

Pittsburgh Steelers fans are loyal, and that's something that anyone who's passionate about sports can respect. With that being said, not even the most avid supporter could offer up a legitimate argument for why Pittsburgh should be ranked higher than this.

"They'll improve" certainly doesn't count when you're dealing with what is and not with what could be.

What is for Pittsburgh is the reality that they just lost 16-9 to the Tennessee Titans at home. The Steelers' only points for the first 58:37 came off of a safety just three seconds in, and they only scored a touchdown late in the game.

Did we mention that Pittsburgh ran for 32 total rushing yards?

The Steelers defense is still strong in the sense of keeping the opponent out of the end zone. Where they struggle, however, is with forcing turnovers, and for a Pittsburgh team without a running game, that signals trouble.

A road game against the Cincinnati Bengals looms and redemption is possible, but this was a very bad loss. Right now, that's all we have to go on.

 

23. Tennessee Titans

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 16-9 win vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 2: at Houston Texans

 

The Tennessee Titans walked away with one of the ugliest wins you'll ever see, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-9. That's not a hyperbolic statement, as superb as the defense was the offense was equally as dismal.

Don't believe me? Check the numbers. Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers had more receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns than the entire Titans team.

Jake Locker was 11-of-20—55.0 percent—for 125 yards, and ran the ball five times for three yards. Chris Johnson carried the ball 25 times for 70 yards, which was strong considering his support, but there is one question we can't help but ask:

We know the passing game will be better than 125 yards per game, but will it actually improve enough for Tennessee to contend?

Despite being given solid field position and multiple opportunities to blow the Steelers out, the Titans managed just one touchdown. The defense was stellar with five sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery, but this was a very weak Pittsburgh team.

A win is a win, but if anyone failed to impress us through victory, it was the Titans.

 

22. New York Jets

Status: Top Pick Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 18-17 win vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 2: at New England Patriots

 

The Geno Smith era has commenced and the New York Jets were nothing short of encouraging in their first first game with his guidance. It wasn't pretty, but the Jets have rarely played an attractive brand of football.

The defense was powerful and Smith not only led the Jets with his arm, but with his legs, as well.

Smith finished 24-of-38 for 256 yards, a touchdown and an interception, also running the ball six times for a team-high 47 yards. Kellen Winslow caught seven passes for 79 yards and a score, and Bilal Powell was a reliable target out of the backfield.

Smith did fumble the ball, but there's no way to be anything but intrigued by what the Jets can do with a capable quarterback.

Defensively, the Jets forced two turnovers and tallied three sacks, forcing Freeman to go 15-of-31 as a passer. Matched up against Martin, a Pro Bowl running back, the Jets limited him to 65 yards on 24 attempts.

No one will question Rex Ryan's defensive prowess, and with Smith under center, this could be a season that displays enough development to keep the slimmed-down-big-guy as head coach.

 

21. Minnesota Vikings

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 24-34 loss at Detroit Lions

Week 2: at Chicago Bears

 

I'm not one of the writers who has decided to write the Minnesota Vikings off as a team that is destined for a letdown season. What I am is a writer that acknowledges that a loss is a loss and a defensive meltdown is something to worry about.

Running 24 less plays than your opponent is discouraging, too.

The Vikings blew their Week 1 game against the Detroit Lions, failing to capitalize on a first quarter 78-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson on his first touch of the season. They also failed to take advantage of his four-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 14-6 lead and the four-yard touchdown catch that made it 24-27.

There has to be someone other than Peterson on this team.

Christian Ponder offered some reason for encouragement, going 18-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, he also threw three interceptions and failed to get Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson involved in the game.

Ponder shouldn't be as heavily-criticized as he is, but Peterson can't do this alone—not again.

 

20. Washington Redskins

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 33-27 loss vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Week 2: at Green Bay Packers

 

The Washington Redskins opened the 2013 NFL regular season with a favorable game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Rather than shutting down the team that went 4-12 in 2012, however, the Redskins had no answer.

The defense was winded and Robert Griffin III was sloppy—just check the numbers.

RG3 got it together, but it was too little, too late.

The Eagles ran for 263 yards, absolutely eradicating the Redskins' front seven and destroying all signs of defensive progress. The Redskins, meanwhile, ran for 74 total yards and committed two fumbles, losing one.

While the Redskins displayed signs of progression during the second half, up next is a road game against the Green Bay Packers. If they couldn't stop Philadelphia's offense, why should we believe that they can stop Aaron Rodgers?

Things aren't looking good for the Redskins.

 

19. St. Louis Rams

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 27-24 win vs. Arizona Cardinals

Week 2: at Atlanta Falcons

 

I'm very intrigued by what the St. Louis Rams can accomplish in 2013 with another year under head coach Jeff Fisher. I'm also interested to see how far Sam Bradford has come as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Bradford had a great start to the 2013 NFL regular season, leading a fourth quarter comeback that resulted in a 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Bradford was 27-of-38 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, leading three scoring drives during the fourth quarter. He did make a terrible mistake on a pick-six from just two yards out of his own end zone, but the progression is undeniable for the 25-year-old.

Just don't color me enthused by St. Louis' lack of a run game and absence of defensive discipline.

There's no excuse for allowing both Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd to catch passes for more than 80 yards. Individual players performed well, but as a unit, the Rams will have to come make rapid improvements under Fisher.

On a side note, props are due to Robert Quinn for registering 3.0 sacks in his season debut, continuing his progression to stardom.

 

18. New York Giants

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 35-31 loss at Dallas Cowboys

Week 2: vs. Denver Broncos

 

The only reason that the New York Giants managed to crack the Top 20 is the presence of Eli Manning. I'd take at least 10-to-15 quarterbacks over Manning for the first three quarters of a game, but come the final three minutes, he's elite.

Unfortunately, there's only so much a quarterback can do without a run game or defense to help him.

The Giants' rushing attack is comical and their defense is almost as funny. David Wilson can't help but fumble, Andre Brown is out with a broken leg, Ahmad Bradshaw is now with the Indianapolis Colts and the Giants are now trying out Brandon Jacobs and Willis McGahee, per ESPN.

While I'm high on McGahee and think he deserves to have a job already, the Giants are now looking to sign players who missed all of training camp and the preseason.

Defensively, the Giants failed to capitalize on an evening in which Corey Webster and company shut down Dez Bryant. They deserve praise for how well they performed with the turnover-prone play of the offense, but long-term, this is a weak group.

The Giants better hope Eli can outduel his brother when the Giants meet the Denver Broncos during Week 2, or New York will enter an 0-2 hole.

 

17. Miami Dolphins

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 23-10 win at Cleveland Browns

Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts

 

The Miami Dolphins didn't play a sexy game against the Cleveland Browns, but they managed to grind out a quality win. They picked up six sacks, three interceptions, 16 quarterback hits and converted 50.0 percent of their third downs.

If not for the fact that they gained 20 yards rushing, Miami might have cracked the Top 15.

The Dolphins received a 272-yard output by Ryan Tannehill, who completed 24-of-38 passes for a touchdown and an interception. Brian Hartline reminded everyone why he's Tannehill's favorite target, catching nine passes for 114 yards and a score, and Brandon Gibson caught seven balls for 77 yards.

If Miami can get the run game going and do a better job of involving Mike Wallace, this is a team to watch.

The true focus here is defense, where Dimitri Patterson led the charge with two interceptions and three passes defended. Cameron Wake picked up where he left off, picking up 2.5 sacks, and Dion Jordan recorded a sack in his NFL debut.

The future is bright in Miami, and the Dolphins made a great first impression in this one.

 

16. Kansas City Chiefs

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 28-2 win at Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 2: vs. Dallas Cowboys

 

You can call the Kansas City Chiefs' 28-2 dismantling of the Jacksonville Jaguars a fluke if you'd like. You can also find me another team that held an opponent to two points, let alone one that went on the road to do it.

I'll wait.

Alex Smith was excellent in his Chiefs debut, going 21-of-34 for 173 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran the ball four times for 25 yards, complementing superstar running back Jamaal Charles, who ran it 16 times for 77 yards and a score.

Most encouraging of all, Smith completed passes to nine separate receivers.

Defensively, the Chiefs had two interceptions, six sacks and a pick-six that put this game away. Justin Houston had three sacks, Dontari Poe had 1.5 and even Eric Berry got to the quarterback.

Throw in Tyson Jackson sacking Gabbert and you almost forget the most critical stat: Kansas City held Maurice Jones-Drew to 45 yards on 15 carries.

 

15. Philadelphia Eagles

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 33-27 win at Washington Redskins

Week 2: vs. San Diego Chargers

 

The Philadelphia Eagles entered the season-opener against the Washington Redskins with mountains of questions. Chip Kelly had never coached an NFL game, Michael Vick was coming off one of the worst years of his career and the defense has been gutted.

So far, so good.

The Eagles went to Washington and defeated the reigning NFC East champions in rather convincing fashion. They amassed 443 total yards from scrimmage, including 263 yards on the ground after LeSean McCoy put on a clinic with 184 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.

By halftime, the Eagles had already run more plays than any other squad did during their entire Week 1 game.

I think it's safe to say Kelly's approach works.

Defensively, Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams picked up an interception each, and Mychal Kendricks recovered a fumble. Williams also had a sack and the Eagles fought off a late rally to pick up a convincing win.

In a wide-open and rather weak NFC East, it's important to ask an honest question—why not the Eagles?

 

14. Cincinnati Bengals

Status: Postseason Team

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 24-21 loss at Chicago Bears

Week 2: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

 

While everyone jumped on the Cincinnati Bengals bandwagon this Summer, I stayed true to what I've said all along: they're too young and undisciplined. Marvin Lewis struggles with clock management, the defense is penalty-prone and the offense is relying upon rookies to shine right away.

The Bengals will be a Super Bowl caliber team, but not in 2013.

During Week 1, they displayed that with eight costly penalties for 84 yards and three turnovers committed. Andy Dalton was very strong with 282 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 26-of-33 passing, and A.J. Green caught nine passes for 162 yards and two scores, but it wasn't enough.

Rushing for 63 total yards and failing to register a single sack will do that.

The Bengals have a Top 10 defense that will carry this team, no matter how badly analysts confuse themselves into thinking the offense will lead the charge. With that being said, clock management and penalties are this team's undoing in every big game they face.

Until Cincinnati can actually defeat a quality opponent outside of its division, don't hold your breath on the Super Bowl aspirations.

 

13. Detroit Lions

Status: Postseason Dark Horse

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 34-24 win vs. Minnesota Vikings

Week 2: at Arizona Cardinals

 

The Detroit Lions' offense picked up where it left off, and it did so with just four receptions for 37 yards by Calvin Johnson. They scored 34 points against a division rival, Matthew Stafford threw for 357 yards and Reggie Bush ran for 90 and caught passes for 101.

That's right, a Lions running back picked up 90 yards on the ground.

Bush is the X-Factor for the Lions, as he's the first productive running back this team has possessed since Barry Sanders. Tallying 191 total yards from scrimmage is a great way to prove that, adding a new element to an already explosive attack and masking the fact that Detroit lacks a No. 2 receiver.

If that's not encouraging enough for you, try the fact that backup running back Joique Bell had 92 total yards of offense and two rushing touchdowns on 11 touches.

There is room for improvement, but when Megatron is quiet and the Lions still win by double-digits, there's reason to be excited. Furthermore, Glover Quin's impact is already being felt as he picked up an interception in his Lions debut.

With Bush, Johnson and Stafford on the same team, and Nick Fairley erupting with 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery, the Lions are a force to be reckoned with.

 

12. Baltimore Ravens

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 0-1

Weel 1: 49-27 loss at Denver Broncos

Week 2: vs. Cleveland Browns

 

The Baltimore Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, and for that reason, the expectations are high. With that being said, three of Baltimore's top four linebackers are gone, Ed Reed is with the Houston Texans and Ray Lewis' leadership and charisma are now with ESPN.

To make matters worse, Jacoby Jones could miss 4-to-6 weeks due to injury.

Could it get any worse?

The Ravens still have Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco at quarterback and superstar running back Ray Rice. They also have Torrey Smith at wide receiver, and an underrated tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs rushing the quarterback with Haloti Ngata.

Things don't look good in Baltimore, but you give the Super Bowl champions the benefit of the doubt.

 

11. Chicago Bears

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 24-21 win vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Week 2: vs. Minnesota Vikings

 

Including their Week 1 win over the Bengals, the Chicago Bears are 15-6 during the first 11 weeks of the past three NFL regular seasons. Unfortunately, Chicago is 4-8 during the final six weeks in that same time.

Forgive me for my skepticism, but that's a great reason to keep Chicago low.

Jay Cutler was 21-of-33 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his first game under Marc Trestman. Brandon Marshall caught eight passes for 104 yards and a score, Matt Forte had 91 yards of total offense and a touchdown, and Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 42 yards.

Throw in Martellus Bennett's touchdown catch and you have the most balanced offensive attack Chicago has displayed in quite some time.

Defensively, Charles Tillman picked up where he left off as a turnover-forcing machine, picking off two passes. Tim Jennings registered a fumble recovery to complement him, and 2012 first round pick Shea McClellin tallied a sack.

Unfortunately, this is a story we've heard far too many times before—until the Bears close out a season strong, it's hard to trust them.

 

10. Dallas Cowboys

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 36-31 win vs. New York Giants

Week 2: at Kansas City Chiefs

 

The Dallas Cowboys will inevitably be labeled as a team that is ranked too high. The difference between the Cowboys and the team behind them, the Bears, however, is simple.

Chicago plays in a deep division and the Cowboys' only competition is a group of unproven and injury-plagued teams. As long as Romo stays healthy, Dallas is in control of its own destiny.

As long as he can, the entire Cowboys organization should breathe a sigh of relief.

The Cowboys started off strong, defeating the rival Giants by a score of 36-31. Tony Romo threw for 263 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, DeMarco Murray ran for 86 yards on 20 carries and Miles Austin woke up with 10 catches for 72 yards.

Murray also caught eight passes, while Jason Witten hauled in eight of his own for 70 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the Cowboys had three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. They also had three sacks, getting after Eli early and often, forcing him into making errant throws.

Did we mention that Dez Bryant only had four receptions for 22 yards? The Cowboys have upside, and in 2013, they may finally meet it.

 

9. Indianapolis Colts

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 21-17 win vs. Oakland Raiders

Week 2: vs. Miami Dolphins

 

The Indianapolis Colts opened up the 2013 NFL regular season with a gutsy win over the Raiders. They fought off an inspired effort and, surprisingly, used their run game and defense to walk away with a 1-0 start.

They may not have all the pieces to contend for a Super Bowl, but the Colts have enough to be a postseason team.

Andrew Luck was the star of this game for the Colts, going 18-of-23 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Luck also ran for a 19-yard touchdown with 5:20 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Indianapolis the 21-17 win.

Throw in a balanced rushing attack that managed 127 yards and Reggie Wayne's eight receptions for 96 yards and a score, and you have a very strong offensive season-opener.

Defensively, Greg Toler and Antoine Bethea came up with interceptions, with the latter securing the win with his last-minute pick. Robert Mathis had a sack and three Colts tallied at least 10 tackles, including LaRon Landry, who had 15 and a pass defended in his Indianapolis debut.

Coached by a great defensive mind in Chuck Pagano, the Colts are a postseason contender.

 

8. Atlanta Falcons

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 23-17 loss at New Orleans Saints

Week 2: vs. St. Louis Rams

 

Had they won, the Atlanta Falcons would've been in contention for the No. 1 ranking. Due to their loss, however, the Falcons are unable to go any higher than this.

Don't think they'll stay down for long.

Playing against the New Orleans Saints at the Super Dome, the Falcons managed to hold the opposition to just 23 points. That's the same Saints team that averaged 28.8 points per game in 2012 without head coach Sean Payton.

Most impressively, they did so with two rookies starting at cornerback in Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant.

Offensively, Matt Ryan finished with 304 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 25-of-38 passing. Steven Jackson managed 122 total yards on 16 touches in his Atlanta debut, while Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez both caught touchdowns.

With a healthy Roddy White, it will be scary to see how good this offense can become.

 

7. New Orleans Saints

Status: Postseason Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 23-17 win vs. Atlanta Falcons

Week 2: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

With Sean Payton back as head coach, the New Orleans Saints began the 2013 season with a 23-17 win over the Falcons. Drew Brees threw for 357 yards and two touchdowns, Darren Sproles had 110 total yards from scrimmage and both Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham caught touchdowns.

All is well in New Orleans, again.

The two most pleasant surprises were the rise of rookie receiver Kenny Stills—two receptions for 86 yards—and the play of New Orleans' defense. Rob Ryan's crew allowed 17 points to one of the NFL's most potent offenses, and Roman Harper had both an interception and fumble recovery.

They may not be a shut-down defense, but the Saints won a Super Bowl playing opportunistically. They're back in that groove in 2013, and teams across the league should be on notice.

It'll take more than one win to convince me of New Orleans' Super Bowl contender status, but Payton is an elite coach, Brees is a world-class quarterback and the defense is displaying promise. Bring back Tracy Porter and I just might be sold.

 

6. Green Bay Packers

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 0-1

Week 1: 34-28 loss at San Francisco 49ers

Week 2: vs. Washington Redskins

 

Even in defeat, the Green Bay Packers made a statement to the rest of the NFL. Aaron Rodgers and company went on the road to Candlestick Park, took on the defending NFC champions and nearly pulled out a road win before losing 34-28 to the San Francisco 49ers.

It took a 400-yard performance from Colin Kaepernick to get the job done.

The Packers are back in Super Bowl contention and a major reason is the addition of running back Eddie Lacy. The rookie only managed 41 yards on 14 carries, but he scored a touchdown on a goal line set and proved that Green Bay has a reliable red-zone running back.

If that's not enough, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson all put on star-caliber performances.

Nelson caught seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, Cobb picked up seven for 108 yards and a score, and Finley hauled in five for 56 yards and six points. In the end, Rodgers threw for 333 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against the 49ers' vaunted defense.

It doesn't get more encouraging than that for the Packers.

 

5. Seattle Seahawks

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Status: Super Bowl Dark Horse

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 12-7 win at Carolina Panthers

Week 2: vs. San Francisco 49ers

 

At the end of the 2013 NFL regular season, the standings will not reflect which teams squeaked out wins and who picked up blowouts. The teams that reach the playoffs will not be determined by their average margin of victory.

When it comes down to it, it's all about wins and losses.

The Seattle Seahawks won't get many style points for a 12-7 win at the Carolina Panthers. What they should receive praise for, however, is the defensive prowess they displayed by holding Cam Newton and company to just seven points in Carolina.

Russell Wilson stepping up in the clutch deserves praise, too.

Wilson was 25-of-33 for 320 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on a 43-yard bomb to Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter. Wilson completed passes to eight separate receivers and hit Doug Baldwin seven times for 91 yards.

Seattle's running game needs to show up in future games, but even when the offense can't get going, the Seahawks proved that their defense is top-tier.

 

4. Houston Texans

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 31-28 at San Diego Chargers

Week 2: vs. Tennessee Titans

 

The Houston Texans opened the season under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, and thus, their every flaw was placed under a magnifying lens. While there is certainly room for improvement, any team that manages to come back from 21 points down on the road earns some brownie points.

When a team comes back from 21 points down with less than 20 minutes remaining, the praise is even more well-deserved.

That's the story for the Texans, as they fell behind 28-7 and used two touchdown passes from Matt Schaub to spark a comeback. It was completed when Brian Cushing returned an interception to the house and Randy Bullock won the game with a 41-yard field goal as time expired.

It certainly wasn't the most impressive victory, but it showed the heart that this team didn't always possess in recent seasons.

Whitney Mercilus started his sophomore campaign off strong with a sack and Arian Foster managed 90 yards from scrimmage. Ben Tate added 55 yards on nine carries and Andre Johnson caught 12 passes for 146 yards, effectively establishing the balance this team possesses.

Assuming DeAndre Hopkins—five receptions for 66 yards in his NFL debut—can provide a legitimate No. 2 option, Johnson and Owen Daniels can help lead a well-balanced offense. Watch out for Houston.

 

3. New England Patriots

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 23-21 win at Buffalo Bills

Week 2: vs. New York Jets

 

There are more than a handful of things to criticize when it comes to the New England Patriots' 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. Although they were on the road against a rival, the Patriots were far from inspiring and needed a 35-yard field goal with five seconds remaining to win.

Here's the thing: they still won.

We could criticize New England for how they won and break other squads for how they lost, but the only thing that matters is earning a W or an L. While other teams played better in defeat, the standings only show wins and losses, not how well they performed.

The question is, can they win without breakout running back Shane Vereen?

Well, they've already won without Rob Gronkowski and any semblance of an established star at receiver.

The encouraging sign for New England is that Vereen wasn't supposed to run for 101 yards on 14 carries, nor was he expected to catch seven passes for 58 yards during Week 1. It's all welcome, but Stevan Ridley is the star who tallied 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012.

With a game against the New York Jets set to transpire on Thursday, Sept. 12, the Patriots have an opportunity to start 2-0 while the rest of the league questions their validity. I'll take wins over style points.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 34-28 win vs. Green Bay Packers

Week 2: at Seattle Seahawks

 

The San Francisco 49ers endured a monumental test when they battled the Green Bay Packers during Week 1. A healthy Jordy Nelson was sensational, Randall Cobb proved to be more than a fluke and the Packers seemed to solve the read option, but it still wasn't enough.

When you have a world-class defense and a quarterback that can throw for 412 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, that's what you come to expect.

The 49ers were dominant against the run, as usual, holding the Packers to 63 yards on 19 carries—an average of 3.3 yards per attempt. Aaron Rodgers managed to throw for 333 yards, three touchdowns and an interception—an average night for the former MVP—but never seemed comfortable.

Even when he was, it wasn't enough to match Kaepernick, who was only outclassed by an NFL legend during Week 1.

That's what you call starting hot.

The greatest sign of encouragement for San Francisco is how quickly Anquan Boldin has become integrated into the system. With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham both sidelined by injuries, Boldin caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown.

With Vernon Davis hauling in six passes for 98 yards and two scores, Kaepernick and the 49ers look like the class of the NFC.

 

1. Denver Broncos

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Status: Super Bowl Contender

Record: 1-0

Week 1: 49-27 win vs. Baltimore Ravens 

Week 2: at New York Giants

 

The Denver Broncos entered Week 1 of the 2013 NFL regular season with something to prove. When it was all said and done, the Broncos did more than prove their worth, but establish that they are the team to beat in the AFC.

A 22-point blowout of the defending Super Bowl champions counters your debate.

Denver dominated the Baltimore Ravens, winning 49-27 in a game in which it played without its top two defensive players: Champ Bailey and Von Miller. The Broncos moved the ball at virtual will, as Manning managed to make a 362-yard passing game by Joe Flacco look pedestrian.

Two Broncos accumulated at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns, Wes Welker caught nine passes for 67 yards and two scores, and Peyton Manning went off for 462 yards and seven touchdowns in one game.

Offer any prediction you'd like about how they fare the rest of the way, but no team was as impressive as Denver during Week 1.

Even without Bailey and Miller, the Broncos finished with four sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 14 passes defended and two interceptions. The offense, introducing a new key piece with Welker and struggling to run the ball, was legendary.

If this is how a short-handed Broncos team looks, I'm afraid to know how good they'll be with Bailey healthy and Miller returned from suspension.

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