Welcome to the most difficult time of year for NFL power rankings.
With Week 1 mere days away, how the league stacks up is more difficult than ever to discern, as all fans have to go by is an expansive list of offseason happenings.
Instead of taking that traditional route, though, let's base a batch of rankings on how things might look after the entirety of Week 1 is in the books. Not only does that bring the entire offseason into the conversation, but it helps to act as a precursor as to what to expect.
Let's take a look.
32. Oakland Raiders
It is quite a shame the Oakland Raiders make the trip across the country to play the New York Jets in Week 1, especially now that the team has confirmed that rookie quarterback Derek Carr will be thrown to the wolves, per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer:
Look, Carr is far and away the best option now and into the future for the organization, but a meetup with a Rex Ryan defense will end poorly. Linebackers Sio Moore and Khalil Mack can't score the points, too.
31. Houston Texans
Now that Ryan Mallett is on board…not much changes for Houston.
The Texans are at home and should have a strong ground game once more thanks to Arian Foster, but Washington and Robert Griffin III come to town to kick off the season.
Sorry, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is not going to post more points than RG3. Let the quarterback controversy begin.
30. Buffalo Bills
The coaching staff in Buffalo has given little indication that it will figure out how to use star back C.J. Spiller in an adequate manner this season. He totaled just four yards per carry over the course of the preseason and mostly did not play third downs or in the red zone.
It's unfortunate, because it means the staff is wasting the prime of one of the NFL's best players. A road trip to Chicago against a revamped defense and a seemingly unstoppable offense will have the Bills looking quite bad.
29. Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker has looked great in patches over the course of his three-year career, although it is one in which he has never played in more than 11 games.
Chris Johnson is now gone, although rookie Bishop Sankey takes his place—and has yet to win the starting gig.
A trip to Kansas City is bad news, as Locker will be unable to overcome a stellar defense, if he can even make it through the entire contest
28. St. Louis Rams
It is a blessing that Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams get to stay home to begin the season after the loss of Sam Bradford.
In his wake stands veteran journeyman Shaun Hill, as captured by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
Against a Mike Zimmer defense, Hill is going to have major issues with his first major batch of playing time since 2010. Fisher's right in that there is talent around him, but he has only had so much time to develop timing with the first team.
27. Cleveland Browns
A new era is sort of, might just be beginning for the Cleveland Browns come Week 1 in Pittsburgh.
But there is the problem—it comes against the Steelers, a team that is prepared to take on either Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel or some combination of both, as ESPN.com's Scott Brown illustrates:
Pittsburgh has done a great job of rebuilding its defense with the addition of names such as rookies Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier, while the offense should see more no-huddle for Ben Roethlisberger.
Cleveland simply won't be able to keep up.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Gus Bradley's commendable job in Jacksonville continues with a date against Chip Kelly's quick-twitch offense.
While the Jaguars offense figures to be improved with Chad Henne under center and more talent around him, the defense is still a major work in progress. It will show as LeSean McCoy and a host of other weapons have their way with the unit.
A win over Houston does not mean much in the grand scheme of things as the Jay Gruden era gets underway in Houston.
While the front office went out and upgraded the offense with names such as DeSean Jackson, Gruden still has one major task ahead of him—fixing RG3. ESPN's Ron Jaworski told Colin Cowherd, via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post, that RG3 has actually regressed in some areas:
He’s still developing. We’ll see what Jay Gruden and this new offensive staff can do for him. But clearly he’s got to learn to play from the pocket. His mechanics have regressed, by the way. They have regressed in the fundamental way of throwing the football: his throwing slot, his footwork, his inability to remain consistent in that.
Against a pass rush that includes J.J. Watt, don't expect to see him staying in the pocket and working to fix things.
24. New York Jets
Just like that, all of the pressure is off Jets quarterback Geno Smith's shoulders now that the Raiders are set to debut Carr.
Smith is also fortunate that he has CJ2K and Chris Ivory behind him, not to mention a new No. 1 wideout in Eric Decker. Against a defense that brings little to the table outside of a pass rush, the Jets should have no issue turning a few heads for at least a week.
23. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will surely be one of the more prolific attacks the NFL has to offer this season, especially with Dez Bryant still gunning for a new contract.
But the defense is still an injured mess. Even worse, an encounter with San Francisco will only further put a spotlight on that issue, as Colin Kaepernick has a healthy Michael Crabtree to throw to and a pair of bruisers in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to dish the rock.
22. New York Giants
Most of the New York Giants' significant additions this past offseason came on the offensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, it should be obvious that the team as a whole will have issues keeping up with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions offense on Monday Night Football.
Speaking of those offensive additions, No. 12 overall pick Odell Beckham will be absent, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
So no, the Giants are not going to start off the season on the right foot, although the team can blame the schedule and injury luck—for now.
21. Miami Dolphins
There was a point in time not too long ago when it appeared that the Miami Dolphins had a serious shot to take down the New England Patriots in a Week 1 AFC East matchup.
Then Rob Gronkowski announced he would be good to go, as captured by Phil Perry of CSNNE.com:
Phil Perry @PhilAPerry
Rob Gronkowski ready to go for Week 1 in Miami. http://t.co/TqpVRhLTfz9/1/2014, 4:36:00 PM
Look, the Dolphins had one of the league's better pass defenses a season ago, but the unit won't be able to stop the star tight end. More interesting will be how the new line protects quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
20. Atlanta Falcons
In may come as a surprise to some, but the Atlanta Falcons figure to be one of the year's better turnaround stories.
Not only is Julio Jones healthy, the front office got serious about its defense and added Tyson Jackson at end and Paul Soliai at tackle—both players ranked in the top 20 at their respective position last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
One problem—the feel-good story is on halt thanks to a visit from New Orleans' explosive offense and a Rob Ryan defense that is nothing short of improved.
19. Baltimore Ravens
In other words, now is a bad time for the Ravens to get a visit from the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that will surely field another strong defense this season and has seen Andy Dalton look great this preseason after a coordinator change.
18. Minnesota Vikings
Zimmer and Co. get a gift of a matchup to usher in the new era via a trip to St. Louis, and it is one that is difficult to muck up as long as the staff rides Adrian Peterson.
That is not to say Matt Cassel cannot lead the team to a win—he looked great in Norv Turner's offense this preseason—but he will mostly be neutralized by an elite pass rush that got even better this offseason with the addition of Aaron Donald in the middle.
It will be an ugly win, hence the middling rank.
17. Indianapolis Colts
The NFL sure knows what it is doing when it comes to the schedule.
Peyton Manning welcomes his former team to Denver in one of the marquee matchups Week 1 has to offer, although it is set to be a rather lopsided affair.
Indianapolis did little to upgrade its defense this past offseason, while the same cannot be said for a Denver unit that now touts names such as Aqib Talib. Andrew Luck is one of the league's best, but not in the ring with Manning under these circumstances.
16. Kansas City Chiefs
New contract in hand, it is not difficult to see Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith shredding Tennessee to start the season. Bleacher Report has the details:
Alright, yes it is. Swap out Smith's name for Jamaal Charles, and we're cooking.
Arrowhead Stadium is one of the more difficult venues to get a win, so expect Andy Reid to mostly keep it on the ground and rattle off a quality win to start the season. Overall, though, the Chiefs will have to do more to jump up the ranks.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is certainly not the 2013 edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Lovie Smith now at the helm, a defense that touts elite players in linebacker Lavonte David and nose tackle Gerald McCoy will only be improved, while an offense led by Josh McCown (13-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year) and a returning Doug Martin in the backfield might just live up to the hype.
In other words, a visit from the bumbling Panthers to start the season is not as scary as it would have been a year ago.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers get to take a shot at either Hoyer or Manziel to start the season, and it's a great way to get things rolling.
Thanks to the combo of Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount on the ground, the Steelers can get back to playing their brand of football in the trenches.
Cleveland cannot match that sort of physicality, and it may be just what Pittsburgh needs to jump-start a run in a wide-open division.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Kelly gets a gets a shot at a mediocre Jacksonville defense to start the season and fiddle with his lineup and its pacing, but it is important to keep in mind that his defense is also a major work in progress.
Then again, who needs a defense when an offensive mastermind can get the absolute most out of Mark Sanchez? Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News explains:
Philadelphia will get a win to start, just don't expect it to be a dominant showing.
12. Arizona Cardinals
Even with Daryl Washington and Darnell Dockett out of the picture, Arizona touts one of the NFL's better defenses after an offseason in which it added even more talent via rookies Deone Bucannon and Kareem Martin.
That depth will get put to the test right away in Week 1 against San Diego and Comeback Player of the Year Philip Rivers.
In the desert on Monday Night Football, we should get a great idea as to where these Cardinals are at when faced with adversity.
11. Detroit Lions
Stafford and the Lions get a bit of a double-whammy to start the season—the new-look offense that features Golden Tate and rookie Eric Ebron gets to unload on a mediocre New York defense on Monday Night Football.
While the Lions did attempt to improve on the defensive side of the football this past offseason, the focal point will continue to remain on the offense that is one of the league's most aggressive.
Tate seems to catch pretty much anything thrown his way, so a major game for him in his Motor City debut is to be expected as the Giants throw all of their manpower at Calvin Johnson.
10. San Diego Chargers
The San Diego offense is a known commodity at this point that should produce at about the same clip as last season as long as back Ryan Mathews can avoid the injury bug and Keenan Allen can avoid the sophomore slump.
With that in mind, the focal point turns to a defensive unit led by elite safety Eric Weddle, who sounds as if he expects improvement as a whole, per Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego:
Kevin Acee @sdutKevinAcee
Of course, Eric Weddle is still driving for more. "It's going to be an amazing year," he said. http://t.co/JV8AnTtLGw #Chargers9/2/2014, 3:43:56 PM
Few better tests exist than a date with Bruce Arians' vertical-oriented offense beneath the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
9. Carolina Panthers
A loss may be in the cards for Carolina to start the season, but it is difficult to knock them down too much when so many of the perceived issues are of the short-term variety.
With any luck, quarterback Cam Newton will get healthy and stay that way, which in turn will give him a better sense of chemistry with his new-look wideout corps, highlighted by explosive rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
Of course, anything but a dominant defensive performance from Luke Kuechly and Co. to start the season would be a major disappointment.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals get the Ravens at a good time thanks to the absence of at least one key player on the offense.
Last year, the two sides split the season series, and while that may be in the cards this time around, the Week 1 outcome seems to favor Cincinnati. Dalton looks great under Hue Jackson, and the defense gets Geno Atkins back in the middle to provide consistent pressure.
All things considered, the Bengals appear on the hunt for a fourth consecutive postseason berth.
7. Chicago Bears
Thanks to the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston in the trenches, the Chicago defense should take a major step forward this season and act as a strong complement to Marc Trestman's offense.
It's a great trial by fire to start the season for Jay Cutler and the offense, too. While the Buffalo offense appears to be a mess once more, an elite line led by Mario Williams will give the unit all it can handle.
6. Green Bay Packers
A rematch of the fabled "Fail Mary" game is a good way to start the season off, right?
The Seattle defense is on the hunt for a bit of retribution for that end result, as captured by Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times:
Bob Condotta @bcondotta
Bruce Irvin said goal is to beat the Packers again "but without the Fail Mary though. We are going to beat them straight up this time.''9/2/2014, 8:46:50 PM
Green Bay's offense might just set records this season if it can stay healthy, but don't expect much from the unit in Seattle to start the season thanks to the 12th man and the fact Aaron Rodgers has to break in a new center.
5. San Francisco 49ers
With Aldon Smith out of the picture for nine games, San Francisco now has a serious struggle on its hands to take home the NFC West title.
That journey begins against an explosive Dallas offense on the road, although the good news is that a run-first approach headed up by Gore and Hyde will do much to batter a weak defense.
It is hard to see the 49ers taking home the division crown at this juncture, but again, it is just Week 1.
4. New England Patriots
Brady suddenly has a wealth of targets to hit on every down, and the defense has quietly been getting better each and every year, capped off by the addition of rookie tackle Dominique Easley.
The division seems a sure thing at this point.
3. New Orleans Saints
While many will point to the loss of a name like Darren Sproles as a major detriment, the Saints are in good hands thanks to the arrival of rookie wideout Brandin Cooks.
That offense should roll in Week 1 against a rebuilding Atlanta defense, and the Saints defense, led by superstars such as Cameron Jordan and Jairus Byrd, should only improve and do much to keep a Falcons team without much of a run game silent.
After an offseason in which the front office went all-in for a title, the Saints are not going anywhere in the rankings.
2. Denver Broncos
After losing Decker to free agency, it surely hurts for Manning to see that receiver Wes Welker has been suspended, as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
Filed to ESPN: Broncos WR Wes Welker has been suspended four games for use of amphetamines, per sources.9/2/2014, 10:53:07 PM
Not that it matters against the Colts defense.
All the issues mean is that names such as Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer will get to catch passes from Manning as one of the NFL's deepest rosters continues to roll toward another postseason appearance.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Until a team beats Seattle at home, the Seahawks remain in the top slot.
Green Bay may do just that, but it seems unlikely, even with questions surrounding running back Marshawn Lynch thanks to his wealth of carry totals over the course of the past three seasons.
For now, it is hard to see Russell Wilson and Co. entering Week 2 with anything other than a 1-0 record and a top slot in all rankings.
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