NFL Power Rankings 2014: Examining Each Team's Status Heading into Week 1

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NFL Power Rankings 2014: Examining Each Team's Status Heading into Week 1
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

As we head into the 2014 NFL season, one thing is for sure, the Oakland Raiders are still really bad. The team appears to be in disarray at the quarterback position.

Matt Schaub's confidence doesn't appear to have been restored, and rookie Derek Carr shows flashes, but he isn't ready to carry an offense that has no reason to believe it'll be good this season.

How does the rest of the league stack up less than a week away from the start of the season? Here are the power rankings.

 

32. Oakland Raiders

Things still aren't looking good.

 

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags aren't going anywhere near the playoffs this season, but they have reason to be optimistic for the future. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles looks like the real deal, and Jags fans—all 12 of them—should still believe in head coach Gus Bradley.

This team is headed in the right direction, even if it isn't moving all that quickly.

 

30. Minnesota Vikings

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Teddy Bridgewater, the rookie the Vikes hoped could win the starting quarterback job in preseason, didn't. And the defense didn't replace the departed Jared Allen with someone who could create as much havoc as a pass-rusher.

To top it all off, superstar running back Adrian Peterson is reportedly interested in playing for the Dallas Cowboys, per Chris Chase of USA Today.

Maybe Minnesota can finally pay Dallas back for the Herschel Walker trade that helped build the Cowboys' dynasty in the 1990s. At any rate, Minny will be in last place in the NFC North.

 

29. Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel is exciting, but he isn't starting, and the Browns still have a void at wide receiver without the suspended Josh Gordon.

The team also lacks a running back capable of doing anything more than plowing ahead for the occasional four-yard gain.

The defense will be solid, but the Browns will struggle to score points—especially with Brian Hoyer starting early in the season.

 

28. Buffalo Bills

On paper it looks as if the Bills' offense should be good, but we've yet to see any flashes of explosiveness. Stud rookie wideout Sammy Watkins is battling a nagging rib injury, per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, and C.J. Spiller continues to be misused by head coach Doug Marrone.

Don't be surprised if the struggling offense subjects quarterback EJ Manuel to some harsh criticism this season.

 

27. Tennessee Titans

Wade Payne/Associated Press

Sustained respectability for the Titans is hinging on the health of quarterback Jake Locker. The talented but oft-injured 26-year-old shows what his ceiling could be when he's on the field.

Unfortunately, he's spent almost as much time on the shelf as he has under center over the last two years. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Locker has missed 14 of the Titans' 32 games. If Tennessee is to rise in the ranks, Locker must stay on the field.

 

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fans should be very worried about Lovie Smith's offense. As good and proven as Smith's ability to influence a defense has been, his offenses in Chicago were his downfall.

It looks as if that could be the case in Tampa Bay as well. Josh McCown rebounded from a shaky start in the first preseason game, but the Bucs offense has still scored as many as 20 points only once in four exhibition games.

If they can move the ball effectively, the team could move into the middle of the pack in the power rankings.

 

25. New York Jets

Should fans trust Geno Smith at quarterback? If the preseason is a good barometer of what's in store for the second-year QB, then the answer is yes.

In three preseason appearances, Smith completed 23 of 33 pass attempts while throwing for one touchdown and an interception. It was enough to keep Michael Vick as a backup. And if Smith's play continues, the Jets could get off to a strong start against the Raiders in Week 1.

 

24. St. Louis Rams

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The loss of Sam Bradford is obviously a major blow to the team. However, the Rams proved last season that they could lean heavily on the run game and their stout defense to remain competitive.

Head coach Jeff Fisher is a master at making adjustments to compensate for injuries. He'll need to do it again to keep the Rams from sinking in the rankings.

 

23. Arizona Cardinals

The biggest question for the Cardinals is the running game. The team ranked 23rd in that category in 2013, and through the preseason the running backs didn't average over 3.6 yards per carry in any game.

The Cards are in perhaps the league's toughest division. While they performed well against all odds last year, their schedule sees them battle the rigorous NFC West as well as the AFC West. This could make Arizona's record hard on the eyes.

 

22. San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers may be set to have a huge season, but the Chargers' pass defense has to improve if the team is going to make the playoffs again. San Diego ranked 29th against the pass in 2013.

If Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett can fill the holes left by last season's secondary, the Chargers could rise into the top 10. That said, the Bolts play a rough schedule matched against the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos twice.

Rivers will need to be supernatural if the team hopes to stay in sniffing range of the Broncos in the division.

 

21. Dallas Cowboys

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It's all about defense in Dallas. If the team makes strides on that side of the ball, it could challenge for the NFC East title, but that's a big "if." Last season, the Cowboys ranked dead last in total defense, and things could get even worse if backups don't step up in 2014. Per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:

The Cowboys' defense could go from worst to collegiate. Cap mismanagement forced them to release DeMarcus Ware and lose Jason Hatcher in free agency. Linebacker Sean Lee, easily their best defensive player, is out for the season with a torn ACL. The No. 34 overall pick in the draft, Demarcus Lawrence, broke his foot and is expected to miss the first three to six games of the season. Their best cornerback of late, Orlando Scandrick, was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.

That's not a formula for improvement. Still, Dallas has a strong offensive line and a premier quarterback in Tony Romo, and he has excellent weapons in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. Every game they play figures to be shootout. They'll win some and lose some.

 

20. New York Giants

Eli Manning was really bad last season, but there's reason to believe he's set to bounce back.

The 2013 season was the first time he'd thrown more picks than touchdown passes since his rookie year. The season was an anomaly, and with the maturation of Rueben Randle and the addition of explosive rookie Odell Beckham Jr. at wide receiver, the Giants' offense should be good again.

 

19. Miami Dolphins

Can the Fins protect Ryan Tannehill better than they did in 2013? If not, Miami is in for another rough season. In 2013, Tannehill was sacked a league-high 58 times. 

If the team wants to keep him around, it has to improve its offensive-line performance. The addition of veteran tackle Branden Albert should help, but he alone isn't enough to make the Dolphins a serious threat in the NFC East just yet.

 

18. Pittsburgh Steelers

Karl Walter/Getty Images

If the Steelers' young front seven can inspire the aging secondary to raise its game, Pittsburgh could still be very dangerous in the AFC North.

Rookie Ryan Shazier and second-year pro Jarvis Jones make the Steelers linebacker group scary. However, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor must step up if the Pittsburgh defense is going to return to glory.

The offensive line is mean, nasty and ready to usher back in the power running style that best fits the franchise's identity. If you're looking for the first team with real potential to make a jump in the rankings, it's the Steelers.

 

17. Kansas City Chiefs

There are definite concerns about the limitations of Alex Smith's arm strength, but he still executes Andy Reid's offense with precision. Because he also has the luxury of handing the ball off to the electric Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs' offense should be respectable.

KC's keys to being more than respectable are based on the defense's ability to force turnovers. In its 11 regular-season wins, the Chiefs forced an average of 2.9 turnovers per game. In its five losses, it gained only 0.8 takeaways.

 

16. Houston Texans

The Texans will be carried by their defense and running game—for as long as key players stay healthy. The pass rush that features J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will make everyone on the defense's job easier.

No quarterback will enjoy playing against these guys when both are healthy. As for the running game, it should be leaned on heavily because Houston is unsettled at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick will love throwing to Andre Johnson, but he's still a game manager at best.

We all know what running back Arian Foster is capable of when he's right, and heading into this season, he's as healthy as he's been in a year.

 

15. Detroit Lions 

This has to be the most underachieving bunch in the NFL. Despite a defensive line that features the best set of tackles in the league in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions' defense wasn't as stingy as one would expect in 2013.

It ranked just 16th in total defense last season. Likewise, an offense with the NFL's best receiver in Calvin Johnson was sixth in the league, but it also was second in turnovers lost.

Basically, we don't know what to expect from these guys.

 

14. Carolina Panthers

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

We all know the Panthers' defense is as good as just about any team in the NFL, but the offense is the source of major question marks.

Cam Newton is a stud, but his rib injury has to be concerning for the Panthers at this point. Beyond that, a lot of pressure is being placed on rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to be a force early.

If he performs and Newton is healthy, look out. The Panthers and Saints will be in a real battle for the NFC South crown.

 

13. Washington

This team badly needs Robert Griffin III to remind us why everyone was so excited about him during the 2012 season.

Last year he battled injuries and it led to a mediocre campaign that saw him throw just 16 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. This year, a new offense is in place, and he'll have to get acclimated to that.

He does have a new weapon in DeSean Jackson, and the steady Alfred Morris is there to fall back on, but RG3 is carrying the hopes of this squad right now.

 

12. Atlanta Falcons

If Atlanta can get a decent pass rush this season, it will be a serious contender in the NFC South. With Roddy White and Julio Jones healthy again, Matt Ryan has his dynamic wide receiver corps back intact.

The key for Atlanta is getting to the opposing team's quarterback more than it did last season. In 2013, the Falcons had just 32 sacks.

 

11. Chicago Bears

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No one should be worried about the Bears' offense this season, but the defense is another story. It's far too early to panic if you're a Bears fan, but the defense doesn't appear to be showing many improvements over what was a dreadful 2013 season.

It's just preseason, but the Bears allowed an average of 28.5 points per game during the exhibition tilts.

With the money the team spent on the likes of Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, not to mention drafting cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, you'd expect better performances.

If this persists, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker may not make it through the season.

 

10. Philadelphia Eagles

Don't look now, but that crazy Chip Kelly offense seemed to work just fine in 2013. Quarterback Nick Foles was as efficient as anyone could want, and LeSean McCoy was especially "Shady" to opponents.

If the defense—specifically the secondary—can step up, the Eagles could run away from the pack in the NFC East.

 

9. Indianapolis Colts

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Colts are going to be very dangerous in 2014. No team is seemingly better suited to continue the momentum it established last season.

The return of Reggie Wayne and the addition of Hakeem Nicks should bolster the team's passing game.

As good as Andrew Luck already is, there's reason to believe this year will be the season he explodes. This will be the third season Luck has been under center.

Peyton Manning and Joe Montana both experienced breakout seasons in their third year as a full-time starter. Manning improved in every major passing category, as did Montana. The latter led his team to a Super Bowl victory. 

I'm not saying Luck will reach that level, but he definitely has the skills, work ethic and weapons around him to make this a special year in Indy. The Colts will get a chance to prove their mettle early against Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Seems like Luck is ready.

 

8. Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco was missing another dependable receiver to complement Torrey Smith. He's found that in Panthers castoff Steve Smith. Because of the Smiths, the running game should open up and allow Baltimore to be more of a balanced attack.

Look for a resurgent year from Ray Rice after a tumultuous offseason. The defense has retooled nicely after some age attrition, and this team could win its division.

 

7. Cincinnati Bengals

Standing in the Ravens' way of a AFC North title are the Bengals. With a young and talented defensive line and an offense with dynamic performers in the passing and running game, Cincinnati is the best team in the division on paper.

The play of Andy Dalton is obviously going to play a major role, but all signs point to this being a happy year for Bengals fans.

 

6. New Orleans Saints

As long as Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton are together, the Saints' offense will be formidable. The two together form one of the best QB-coach combinations in the NFL.

New Orleans also made a successful switch to the 3-4 defensive scheme in 2013. It ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. In the second year, the team's performance on that side of the ball should be even better. 

 

5. New England Patriots

There's a lot to like about the Patriots' defense. Young budding stars like Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower should ensure that the team's linebacker corps is dangerous. Add in a secondary that might be the best in the NFL with Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis, and this team should be stingy.

There's also a guy named Tom Brady playing quarterback, and his coach is pretty good too. Brady and Bill Belichick are perhaps the only duo that bests Brees and Payton.

 

4. Green Bay Packers

The most important player to the Packers' success in 2014 is Aaron Rodgers, of course, but everyone already knows that. However, if you're looking for more of an X-factor, look no further than newly acquired Julius Peppers.

It may be late in his career, but the versatile Peppers is finally landing with a team that will stand him up and use his athleticism and size equally on defense.

If he can be another disruptive weapon opposite Clay Matthews, the Packers' defense will be on another level.

 

3. Denver Broncos

The Broncos are in that rare air where anything less than a Super Bowl championship would be a failure in 2014. Potent offense? Check. Nasty defense? Check. 

The biggest question marks are health. Manning obviously must stay healthy, and the same goes for Von Miller on the defensive side of the ball. If either of them go down, there will be problems in Denver.

 

2. Seattle Seahawks

Why are the Super Bowl champions not ranked No. 1? It's a tough call, but losses on the defensive line (Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald) and at wide receiver (Golden Tate) can't be ignored. 

The importance of depth can't be understated in a long and grueling season.

The gap between Seattle and San Francisco was ever so thin to begin with. At this juncture, those losses are the difference between No. 1 and No. 2.

 

1. San Francisco 49ers 

The Niners' defense will miss NaVorro Bowman (knee) and Aldon Smith (suspension) early, but the way players like Chris Borland, Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta will play in their absence will only solidify the depth the Niners have added to their squad.

On offense, the team has depth at running back with rookie Carlos Hyde, and Stevie Johnson was added at wide receiver. As a slot option, he'll be huge for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Even with injuries and suspensions, the Niners are the best team in the NFL right now. 

 

Stats per Pro-Football-Reference.

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