NFL Power Rankings 2014: Preseason Outlook Following Hall of Fame Game

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NFL Power Rankings 2014: Preseason Outlook Following Hall of Fame Game
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Just one game into the preseason, it's hard to get a true handle on where each team stands heading into the regular season. But after a long offseason including the 2014 NFL draft and free agency, most rosters are taking shape and giving fans a good idea of where the franchise stands.

Some rosters, of course, look much better than others.

Will offseason additions make the Denver Broncos Super Bowl favorites in 2014? Can the Houston Texans get out of the doldrums of the AFC South and return to relevance? Which teams will surprise everyone by going from worst to first?

Those questions and several others still yearn for each franchise heading into the preseason. As for the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, both now have several pieces to figure out after the Hall of Fame Game.

Before the preseason gets underway for the 30 remaining franchises, here's a look at the latest NFL power rankings.

 

32. Tennessee Titans

In 2013, the Tennessee Titans finished a respectable 7-9 to finish second in the AFC South. But in a division that improved during the offseason, the Titans are young at key positions heading into 2014.

The addition of Bishop Sankey looks like a great one for the future. But with a rookie likely expected to carry the load and Jake Locker coming back from injury, this looks like a daunting task for first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt.

 

31. Oakland Raiders

Offseason plans have come to fruition for the Oakland Raiders with Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Khalil Mack added to the fold on defense. Unfortunately, they're still in a loaded division and have questions on offense.

The defense might be much improved with those players, but the offense is a different story entirely. With Matt Schaub potentially under center, the weapons around him won't stack up to franchises like the Broncos and San Diego Chargers.

 

30. Washington Redskins

This one is likely to change, but for now the Washington Redskins remain near the bottom of the rankings.

Robert Griffin III no longer has a knee brace and now has another weapon in DeSean Jackson. New head coach Jay Gruden spoke about his work thus far with Griffin, per Michael Phillips of the Roanoke Times-Dispatch:

“Right now we’re trying to throw some things at him from a conceptual passing-game standpoint, a little bit more than he was asked to do in the past, and see how he reacts—see how he handles it,” Gruden said. “So far he has done a great job.”

If Griffin is 100 percent and running the read option like he did during his rookie season, this might be a team on the rise. Though they rank at No. 30 for now, the 'Skins show plenty of promise.

Much like the rest of the NFC East, the defense in Washington is still questionable. But with a healthy Griffin at the helm and a plethora of options around him, the Redskins could return to relevance in 2014.

 

29. Buffalo Bills

A loss in the preseason is no reason for alarm, but the Buffalo Bills certainly looked rusty in the Hall of Fame Game. E.J. Manuel will be under center yet again for his second season, but has a noticeably better target following the draft.

If Sammy Watkins can explode throughout the season, the Bills might also be a team to watch in 2014. Thanks to an outstanding defense and new targets, Buffalo will improve this season—how much will be determined by their young offensive core.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

On the heels of their worst statistical season ever defensively, matters look even worse for the Dallas Cowboys this season. Without DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee's injury and being without DeMarcus Lawrence for the start of the year, this defense looks porous yet again.

While the offensive keys in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray will help Tony Romo, the defense will likely struggle to hold up their end of the deal. Cowboys fans might disagree, but this could be an even worse season than 2013 in Big D.

 

27. Cleveland Browns

Will they or won't they? After taking Johnny Manziel in the first round of the draft, the Cleveland Browns have two options at the quarterback position.

The real question heading into the season is whether or not Manziel will start over incumbent Brian Hoyer. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com provides an update on Manziel's performance in training camp:

Seven days into training camp, a sloppy but exciting Johnny Manziel has earned a longer look in the Cleveland Browns' quarterback competition.

Playing exclusively with the second-team offense during Saturday's Family Day scrimmage in Akron, Ohio, Manziel engineered a 17-play, 63-yard drive by extending plays with his scrambling ability.

The defense in Cleveland has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL, but the offense will need to catch up. Josh Gordon still faces a potential season-long suspension, but pieces like Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate still make this offense explosive.

In a tough division that includes three teams in contention for a playoff spot, the Browns might still make a dent. But with several questions surrounding the offense, waiting another year might be best for Browns fans—again.

 

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

The addition of Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson immediately gives the Jacksonville Jaguars promise. Unfortunately, that talent needs to blossom before leading a team against the Texans or Indianapolis Colts.

As the franchise continues to rebuild, the Jaguars have a chance to make some noise this season. But as Bortles or Chad Henne and his new receivers get acquainted, this is yet another team that is a year away from competing.

 

25. Houston Texans

Adding Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall makes this defensive line look like one of the best in the league. Alongside J.J. Watt, Clowney will wreak havoc on quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Bortles all season.

The only problem for the defense is the other side of the ball. Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins have a chance to do something special this year, but likely won't surge with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.

 

24. St. Louis Rams

Much of the St. Louis Rams' season depends on one man—Sam Bradford. The former No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford has the tools around him to succeed, but must rise to the occasion in 2014.

Bradford was successful under center prior to his season-ending injury, as Jarrett Bell of USA Today notes:

For the three games until Bradford suffered his injury in Week 7, his passer rating of 111.1 was second best in the league during that span. The rhythm included play-action passing that opened up opportunities downfield, which they now see as essential this season.

With the likes of Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy surrounding him on offense, Bradford has a chance to succeed this season.

Thanks to a strong defense and potentially explosive offense, this ranking could be much higher at the end of the season. That's only if they can get wins against a difficult NFC West, one of the best divisions in football.

 

23. Minnesota Vikings

Last season, the Minnesota Vikings might have made some noise in the NFL—if they just had a quarterback. Now, they have their signal-caller of the future, but will he start right away?

Teddy Bridgewater will help lead the resurgence in Minnesota, but might have to watch Matt Cassel at the start of the season. Having Adrian Peterson at tailback means the Vikes always have a chance to contend on offense with the defense still needing to catch up.

 

22. Atlanta Falcons

Everyone's favorite worst-to-first candidate coming into the season could surge up this list in the future. The return of Julio Jones along with additions of Jake Matthews, Ra'Shede Hageman and Devonta Freeman gives this team promise.

If Matt Ryan can lead the offense again, the Falcons could easily contend in the NFC South. But with franchises like the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the task is difficult in 2014.

 

21. Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford are all still on the Detroit Lions roster. Eric Ebron and Golden Tate have been huge offseason additions. So why are the Lions still outside of the top 20?

The new regime begins with Jim Caldwell, so changes are in order for a team that was on the cusp of a playoff berth last year. As the offense continues to befuddle NFC North defenses, the Lions will likely still fall short of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in the division.

 

20. New York Jets

Yet another make-or-break year for Rex Ryan begins with a quarterback battle. That's not exactly a perfect scenario for the New York Jets as they look to return to the playoffs.

New York's defense will no doubt be stingy yet again, but the offense has a huge question mark behind center. If either Geno Smith or Michael Vick can't step up, the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson might not mean much for the Jets.

 

19. Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins are slowly moving on from the drama-filled 2013 season, but still have weaknesses at multiple positions. Most notably, the retooled offensive line still looks concerning with Mike Pouncey missing time.

Even if Pouncey is able to return to the line, Ryan Tannehill has plenty of pressure entering his third year. The addition of Knowshon Moreno and a solid wide receiving corp helps, but if the offensive line can't hold up the Dolphins will fall short yet again.

 

18. Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 was no doubt a major disappointment for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but 2014 looks slightly more promising. Ben Roethlisberger is still under center and Le'Veon Bell is primed for a breakout season.

Antonio Brown is still the bell cow in the receiving corps, Markus Wheaton is making a push on the other side for Roethlisberger. The second-year wideout spoke about being listed at No. 1 on the depth chart, per Scott Brown of ESPN.com:

I’m glad that they are pushing me to take that spot. I obviously want that spot but there are a lot of good guys competing for that spot. There will be a lot of competition and a lot of growth from the competition. I’m looking for growth every day and I think with that growth I will prove that I can hold that spot down.

The speedy Wheaton along with Brown, Bell and LeGarrette Blount make up a good offense. If the defense can prove formidable against the rest of the division, Pittsburgh has a chance to move much further up in the power rankings.

Seeing truly might be believing for the Steelers in 2014.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens

Offseason turmoil surrounding Ray Rice has led to a controversial two-game suspension and questions on offense. But with the addition of Steve Smith, a healthy Dennis Pitta and an improved defense, this still looks like a Baltimore Ravens team that could make some noise.

How they hold up against the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers will be a sign of where this team is headed in 2014.

 

16. New York Giants

After an abysmal season, Eli Manning is hoping to turn around the New York Giants. While he didn't have a great showing in the first preseason game with a fumble, the running game looks good.

The tandem of Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings along with Peyton Hillis makes this a bruising corps at the tailback position. If the defense can prove formidable, the Giants have a chance to compete with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East division.

 

15. Carolina Panthers

No Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell or Ted Ginn gives Cam Newton an entirely new receiving corps. While that looks alarming, the wideouts weren't exactly the reason for the Panthers success in 2013.

If Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery can step up along with Greg Olsen and DeAngelo Williams, the offense should be fine. There are no questions on the defense, but the offense will need to be solid in order to return to the playoffs.

 

14. Kansas City Chiefs

Following a season where they shocked the football world, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs have the talent to take the AFC West division. Unfortunately, so too do the Chargers and Broncos.

Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles will once again be leading the offense, but winning games within the division will be of the utmost importance. Though they might put together another winning season, Week 2 against the Broncos will be telling of where this team stands.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

Another likely contender, the Arizona Cardinals just so happen to be in the NFC West. With the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks looming large, cracking the top 10 is going to be difficult for Arizona all season.

Losing Daryl Washington for the year is huge for the Cardinals, but the talent on both sides of the ball should keep Arizona in contention. But in a division where a winning record guarantees nothing, the Cards might be shut out of the playoffs again this year.

 

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the teams on the rise this offseason has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Alterraun Verner and Michael Johnson on defense and Josh McCown and Mike Evans on offense, several holes were filled heading into the season.

Already nicknamed the "Twin Towers" in Tampa Bay, Vincent Jackson and Evans have shone during training camp. Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com notes how special the tandem has been:

Whoever is starting under center between McCown and Mike Glennon, they will have explosive targets in the end zone. Lovie Smith also has a defense he can be proud of to lead the Bucs back to prominence in 2014, making this a potentially surprising team.

 

11. San Diego Chargers

A strong start would go a long way for the Chargers in 2014, and at least a 4-2 record looks likely. The Chargers kick off with the Cardinals and Seahawks, but have the offense to shine early in the year.

Philip Rivers is still behind center with young targets like Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green expected to carry the load. If the defense can hold up against the Broncos and Chiefs, another postseason run looks likely for the Chargers.

 

10. Cincinnati Bengals

Locking up Andy Dalton to six-year, $115 million deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan, the Bengals have their quarterback. With A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, they have young talent around him to compete.

Thanks to more confidence from Dalton and a stacked defense, the Bengals have the look of a top-10 team. Depending on how the former TCU quarterback progresses, Cincinnati could sit atop the AFC North again this season.

 

9. Chicago Bears

The tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might be one of the best in the NFL. With a healthy Jay Cutler behind center again, both might put up more ridiculous numbers in 2014.

Plenty of explosive options on the offensive side don't answer the questions surrounding the defense. If both sides coincide throughout the year, that could translate to a dominant season for the Bears. For now, they are still behind the Green Bay Packers heading into the year.

 

8. Philadelphia Eagles

Chip Kelly is an offensive mastermind, there's no question about that. But after losing Jackson and defensive coordinators having a year of film on his offense, will it remain as brilliant?

While it might be more difficult to trick defenses, Jeff McLane of Philly.com believes the team could improve under Kelly:

If he's an innovator at anything, it may be his efficient practices that give his teams more repetitions than most. So even if opposing defenses know what's coming, perfect offensive execution will generally win out.

... But Kelly has shiny new tools and another element of surprise. As dubious as it may sound, the Eagles offense may be more explosive in 2014.

Without Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles will be asked to step up and carry even more of the load. But if the defense doesn't improve by leaps and bounds, 2014 could see another early exit in the playoffs.

 

7. Green Bay Packers

Last season, the Packers barely crept into the postseason thanks to the return of Aaron Rodgers. Now, the franchise quarterback is healthy and has a full repertoire around him to blow up any defense in the NFL.

With the likes of Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson all on the field, this will be one of the best offense in the NFL. If the defense can remain healthy, the Packers have the potential of a top-five team by the end of the season.

 

6. New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees lost one of his favorite weapons in Darren Sproles but keeps Jimmy Graham for the upcoming season. Adding to that offense, it appears Brandin Cooks will be the new target in the screen game.

Needless to say, the Saints didn't lose a step on offense and bring in Jairus Byrd on defense. While the NFC South is stacked in 2014, the Saints look like the class of the division.

 

5. Indianapolis Colts

In a division that had just one team finished above .500, the Indianapolis Colts have a great chance of winning the AFC South yet again. That's a bit of an understatement, unless the Texans return to relevancy.

Andrew Luck enters his third year with the Colts with a healthy Reggie Wayne and emerging star in T.Y. Hilton. While they'll be without Robert Mathis for the first four games, the Colts still have a special team that puts them in the top five ahead of the season.

 

4. San Francisco 49ers

The offseason has been an eventful one for the 49ers, but the roster is still loaded with talent. Colin Kaepernick is under center, Michael Crabtree is healthy and the running back group is still loaded despite early injuries.

Aldon Smith is facing a suspension and NaVorro Bowman could miss considerable time due to an ACL injury, but the defense will still be solid. With the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers and Seahawks will once again fight for the NFC West title.

 

3. New England Patriots

Easily the most consistent franchise for more than a decade, the New England Patriots once again look like a dominant team ahead of the 2014 season.

With the addition of Darrelle Revis, the Patriots suddenly have a solid defense to defend the passing game. Though he might not be playing as much man-to-man coverage as in the past, Revis recently spoke about his role on the team, per Ben Volin of The Boston Globe:

“Whatever role coach wants me to play, I’m ready to play,” Revis said. “It’s still early, it’s camp, you never know. But as of right now we’ve got to do our jobs, whether it’s left or right, special teams, I don’t know. But right now we’re just trying to get reps.”

If Rob Gronkowski can stay on the field and Julian Edelman can be the slot receiver he was last season, this team has Super Bowl potential yet again. Quite a bit hinges on those two players, but Tom Brady will always find a way to lead the team to postseason glory.

 

2. Denver Broncos

Much like the way the season ended last year, Denver is just a tick behind Seattle for NFL supremacy. After additions like Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos have slightly closed the gap.

Having Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas along with Montee Ball, this franchise will once again dominate the AFC West. With Super Bowl hopes again this year, they'll need to get past those Seahawks and Patriots to secure another ring.

 

1. Seattle Seahawks

The Super Bowl champions retained many of the same pieces that got them to the promised land last year. Defense is still the key for Seattle, but Marshawn Lynch returning to the fold is crucial for the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson still has room to grow along with the wide receivers on the roster. If both can make a huge step forward this season, another Super Bowl might be in the future for the franchise.

 

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