NFL Power Rankings: Teams Whose Stock Is Rising Most as Preseason Approaches

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 4, 2013

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos throws an 17-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas #88 in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL preseason is nearly here, and while no games have been contested on the gridiron, it's worth looking at all 32 teams' stocks ahead of what should be a fascinating year in pro football.

Between a plethora of regime changes, free-agent moves and an eventful draft back in late April, the parity-ridden league is bound to have yet another shakeup.

As the Baltimore Ravens gear up to defend their Super Bowl title, the last repeat winners were the New England Patriots, who capped off their repeat in 2005. Combine that with a difficult AFC North division and it appears that a back-to-back winner of the Lombardi Trophy will be an even more arduous task.

Without further ado, let's take a look at where every team stacks up in descending order, with a particular focus on those who look geared up for a big turnaround.

Note: All information on current rosters and depth charts, unless otherwise indicated, is courtesy of Ourlads.com. Teams that fit the article theme are italicized and accompanied by video.

1. Denver Broncos

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It all starts with Peyton Manning, and now that Wes Welker is in the fold, he has three legitimate receiving targets in Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

That's downright scary. No matter what the Denver defense does—or what becomes of star pass-rusher Von Miller's possible four-game suspension—the Broncos should be extremely dangerous.

Manning led the team to 11 consecutive wins to close the regular season with the best record in football in 2012. Since his weapons have only gotten better on the perimeter, there's reason to believe the Broncos will still be running strong.

2. San Francisco 49ers

After being a key cog in the Ravens' Super Bowl run, Anquan Boldin will be the No. 1 receiving target for the team Baltimore beat in the Super Bowl.

That's great news for Colin Kaepernick as he enters his first full year as a starting quarterback, because Michael Crabtree's Achilles injury thinned a crop of questionably viable receivers.

It doesn't really matter who Kaepernick throws to, though. He still has Boldin and Vernon Davis at the very least, along with a magnificent running game driven by RB Frank Gore.

First-round free safety Eric Reid has to fill the shoes of All-Pro Dashon Goldson, who left for Tampa Bay. The secondary will need the help of former elite cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, too, especially after Chris Culliver tore his ACL in camp recently.

3. New England Patriots

Amid all the turmoil that the Aaron Hernandez controversy has generated, this is still the most stable organization in football and the league's most consistent winner.

In the past three years, the Patriots have finished in the top three record-wise by the end of the season. Since Tom Brady is still the quarterback and Bill Belichick is still the head coach, another 11- or 12-win season is still probable.

Brady's weapons are limited without Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski is battling health issues. The receivers Brady has include only Danny Amendola as a truly proven commodity, but the former Ram has an injury history of his own, appearing in just 12 of a possible 32 most recent games.

In spite of that and regardless of how New England's defense plays, Brady and Belichick will find a way to win a lot.

4. Atlanta Falcons

Progress in the playoffs was vital for all involved with this franchise, and the Falcons took that step thanks to wonderful play from quarterback Matt Ryan, who recently got a huge payday for his on-field exploits.

It has to hurt for the Falcons losing the game before the Super Bowl in their home Georgia Dome. However, there's little reason to believe it won't be another great season in Atlanta.

Running back Steven Jackson finally has a team that should consistently contend for championships moving forward. He has a good of a chance as anyone to buck the trend of declining at age 30.

5. Seattle Seahawks

The secondary is simply outstanding. Between cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, it's hard to think of a better group in the league.

2012 second-round pick Bobby Wagner also was excellent in his maiden pro campaign playing middle linebacker.

And we're not even to the brilliance of breakout star Russell Wilson, whose height caused him to fall to Round 3 of last year's draft. Wilson proved many of the draft pundits wrong by becoming a team leader and sparking the Seahawks to the playoffs.

The unfortunate hip injury to Percy Harvin takes away a huge weapon Seattle could have taken advantage of for much of the year. However, with Marshawn Lynch in "Beast Mode" and Wilson continuing to grow, the Seahawks should compete with the 49ers for the NFC West crown.

6. Green Bay Packers

The role for versatile wide receiver Randall Cobb in the Packers offense should only expand now that Greg Jennings is gone and Donald Driver has retired.

General manager Ted Thompson has used the past two first-round picks on the front seven and should get production from linebacker Nick Perry and defensive end Datone Jones in Dom Capers' defense.

An argument could be made that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league. Thankfully, he might finally have a running game to support him with the rookie running back duo of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, who was Jones' Bruins teammate.

7. Baltimore Ravens

All the holes in the Ravens' roster following their Super Bowl run were plugged rather adequately. If Joe Flacco plays near as well he did in the postseason, in which he threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, the Ravens should be just fine.

It's up to Torrey Smith to really assert himself as the top receiver, though, because Boldin's absence leaves a noticeable void. Smith is fleet-footed and a deep threat, and he must continue to show a more complete game for Baltimore's offense to run smoothly.

Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb should be fully healthy as defensive cornerstones at each level, while the addition of Elvis Dumervil will help absorb the loss of pass-rusher Paul Kruger.

Ravens legends like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis may not be around anymore, but all the pieces are in place for another playoff run.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

The importance of 2013 can't be emphasized enough for Andy Dalton, who has so many playmakers to throw to in A.J. Green, first-round tight end Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Mohamed Sanu and even Giovani Bernard out of the backfield.

Mike Zimmer has constantly put the defense in position to succeed, undoubtedly benefiting from the surprisingly great play by undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict last season.

A deep secondary should be fortified with Burfict's fellow second-year teammate Dre Kirkpatrick, too.

After two successive playoff exits in the wild-card round, the time is now for the Bengals to take the next step and make a legitimate Super Bowl run.

9. Houston Texans

Now that Matt Schaub has been given a No. 2 receiver in first-round rookie DeAndre Hopkins, there shouldn't be a much longer leash for the veteran quarterback.

Andre Johnson and Hopkins should force defenses to pick their poison in terms of choosing which one to single-cover. In most situations, it will leave Hopkins as the man one-on-one on the outside, and Schaub must capitalize in those scenarios.

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt should single-handedly keep the Texans defense among the league's best. The injury comeback of stud linebacker Brian Cushing will make a big difference as well.

After two straight AFC South division titles and two disappointing playoff runs that have ended in the divisional round, it's championship or bust in Houston. If the Texans fail to win a playoff game, almost everyone's job should be hanging in the balance.

10. Indianapolis Colts

The "Chuckstrong" movement that took the NFL by storm was a driving force that keyed the Colts—dismissed as the worst team in many preseason power rankings—to a surprising 11 wins.

Even more positivity can be gained in their bitter end to 2012 because Indianapolis lost to the eventual Super Bowl winners. No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck lived up to the hype as Peyton Manning's successor, and an outstanding coaching job by Bruce Arians landed him the head gig in Arizona.

But Luck's new play-caller is Pep Hamilton, who served as coordinator when Luck was in college at Stanford.

While Arians' attack depended on deeper throws, Hamilton's will get the ball out of Luck's hands more quickly and thus leave him less susceptible to bone-crushing hits.

GM Ryan Grigson was aggressive in improving the roster, signing LaRon Landry and Greg Toler to shore up the secondary and providing Luck with another receiver in Darrius Heyward-Bey.

With Chuck Pagano back roaming the sidelines and Luck progressing along with his bevvy of young pass-catchers, it's doubtful the Colts will have much of a letdown in 2013.

11. Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III is the unquestioned face of this franchise, but his style of play must change a bit. While counterparts like Kaepernick and Wilson have exhibited judiciousness when tucking and running, Griffin left himself susceptible to too much contact as a rookie.

That ultimately cost him in the form of multiple ligament injuries in his knee and required reconstructive surgery. To the delight of the Washington faithful, his recovery has been going very well by all accounts.

The world-class speed Griffin is gifted with and has worked at to refine allowed the zone-read option to be very effective and gave the Redskins the league's reigning No. 1 rushing offense.

Running back Alfred Morris certainly surprised as a sixth-round draft pick and must continue being decisive and physical with the ball in his hands to keep Washington's defense off the field.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was lost for the season last year in Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams. His return alone will keep the Redskins defense playing at a high level.

12. St. Louis Rams

Interestingly enough, it's the Rams who should experience the biggest lift in their second year under head coach Jeff Fisher.

2003 was the last time St. Louis experienced a winning season, but there's reason to believe that losing trend will be bucked after a decade.

The Rams went 2-1-1 against the likes of the 49ers and Seahawks last year, with the only loss coming in the season finale 20-13 at Seattle, where the hosts didn't lose a game all season.

Like the two aforementioned teams, St. Louis plays hard-nosed defense. A set of corners consisting of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins can truly be one of the game's best, and adding athletic weak-side linebacker Alec Ogletree to the mix should make the unit even more intimidating.

QB Sam Bradford has a unique rookie in Tavon Austin at his disposal, who should seriously contend for the NFL's top offensive rookie award. Austin is rather diminutive in stature but has ridiculous quickness and proven durability to survive in the pros.

Talented tight end Jared Cook gives Bradford a red-zone threat, while Chris Givens' speed can be utilized on downfield throws. Bradford, the former No. 1 overall pick, is due to live up to his billing.

13. Minnesota Vikings

Handing the ball to Adrian Peterson should be a good enough strategy to get the Vikings back into the playoff hunt.

The problem is that the man handing it to him is Christian Ponder, who has been uneven to say the least in two years in Minnesota. Percy Harvin is also no longer there, but ex-Packers receiver Greg Jennings now fills in as Ponder's No. 1 receiver.

General manager Rick Spielman hit a home run in the draft, landing three first-round picks in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, corner Xavier Rhodes and intriguing but raw wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

When the ball is in his hands in the open field, few look as dangerous as Patterson does—if his performance in his brief stead at Tennessee is any indication.

Any substantial improvement by Ponder will put Minnesota back in the playoffs, and it's not as though he can regress much as long as he has No. 28 to feed the ball to.

14. Chicago Bears

Along with newly hired head coach Marc Trestman comes a West Coast offense—yet another new system for Jay Cutler to learn.

Having said that, the quarterback has his favorite receiver in Brandon Marshall and a second-year wideout in Alshon Jeffery. Marshall recently praised Jeffery for offseason dedication to getting his body right and entering camp in excellent shape.

That has to be music to Cutler's ears, whose blindside will be better protected by left tackle Jermon Bushrod. First-round pick Kyle Long will also help the formerly suspect offensive line.

The pickup of TE Martellus Bennett gives Cutler a target to count on at the position to stretch the middle of the field up the seam. He didn't previously have that, and it's something ideal for a player of Cutler's arm strength to have.

Between those factors, a consistently stellar defense and Matt Forte and Michael Bush leading the running game, Year 1 of the Trestman era is shaping up rather nicely.

15. Miami Dolphins

The talent pool of young quarterbacks at the moment is so exciting, but Ryan Tannehill's name doesn't consistently pop up in such conversations involving the likes of Luck, Griffin, Wilson or Kaepernick.

However, Tannehill had a stellar rookie year in his own right, even though it wasn't statistically as spectacular as those of some of his draft class peers.

Mike Wallace was brought in from Pittsburgh to be the deep threat Tannehill can use to take advantage of his great deep ball, while fellow free agent Brandon Gibson should adequately replace Davone Bess as a slot option and possession receiver.

Then there's Brian Hartline, who decided to stay in Miami to see through this exciting new era brought on by an aggressive offseason from GM Jeff Ireland.

Former Jets tight end Dustin Keller rounds out the toys at Tannehill's service. He'll also have Lamar Miller at running back along with former second-round pick Daniel Thomas, who are both vying for playing time.

Ireland boldly traded up to draft Dion Jordan No. 3 overall, and further recharged the defense with linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and cornerback Brent Grimes.

As much of a stranglehold as the Patriots have had on the AFC East, Miami has the look of a team that could give New England a legitimate challenge.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

The punishment that QB Ben Roethlisberger has absorbed on the field is part of what makes him such an elite player. He often extends plays with his legs to buy more time and hit on big plays, but it takes a physical toll.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10, Big Ben was clocked in the pocket on the ribs; it was a shot that could very well have killed him.

Protecting Roethlisberger is of utmost importance if the Steelers want to sustain the long-term success they have enjoyed. Young wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders must step up with big years, particularly now that Mike Wallace is on the Dolphins.

Dick LeBeau's trademark defense should remain relatively intact, and Jarvis Jones should make his presence felt at outside linebacker as a pass-rushing specialist.

17. New York Giants

Predicting how the Giants will fare is quite the task. For a team that has won two of the past six Super Bowls—against the notably stable Patriots, nonetheless—there's a remarkable amount of inconsistency.

One week the Giants seem like favorites to reach the NFL's pinnacle, and the next they look like a team that will be picking near the top of the upcoming draft.

Amid last year's roller-coaster campaign, New York still managed a 9-7 record and a late shot at the playoffs.

Eli Manning saw his yards per attempt decrease by 1.01—never a good sign. A characteristically stout defense was horrific, ranking 28th and 25th respectively in pass and rush defense.

Slotting the Giants somewhere in the middle of the pack seems wise for now. It could be a disastrous year where Tom Coughlin finally gets the pink slip—or Manning and Co. could be saddling up for another deep postseason run.

Absent any huge roster moves, it's anyone's guess what this nucleus who ground out a winning record last season will produce.

18. Carolina Panthers

Since there are two high-priced running backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams on the team, the Panthers would be wise to utilize them more.

That would take pressure off Cam Newton to throw and run so frequently as he continues to try to learn how to win in this league. Plus, beyond veteran Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, there aren't a lot of reliable options for Newton to throw to.

Carolina also has ex-Oregon star Kenjon Barner in the backfield along with the versatile Mike Tolbert, who can play fullback, H-back or tailback.

While that all gets sorted out and the Panthers try to find a more suitable offensive identity based on personnel, the good news is that the defense looks a lot better.

Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short were chosen in the first and second rounds, respectively, to upgrade the interior of the defensive line, which needed to be addressed.

Pass-rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will continue wreaking havoc, while Luke Kuechly will continue to shine as the heart of the defense at middle linebacker. Given how volatile the NFC South is, Carolina could emerge as a playoff contender.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Thanks to the big hit GM Mark Dominik had in the first round of the 2012 draft in running back Doug Martin, the Bucs have a key ingredient to winning a Lombardi Trophy: running the football.

Another great sign is that Tampa finished with the fewest rushing yards allowed last season, but that might have been because it was thrown on at a head-spinning rate.

Darrelle Revis, no matter how high of a level he plays at coming off of an ACL injury, should instantly improve the Bucs secondary with his presence and instincts alone.

As sold as I used to be on quarterback Josh Freeman, though, he needs to find a way to become more consistent. Otherwise, he will be the impediment that keeps the Buccaneers from taking the next step.

20. Detroit Lions

The lethal combo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson alone makes Detroit dangerous. What the team has lacked is consistent defense and a reliable running game, but both should be improved.

Reggie Bush has evolved into a more complete back after an underwhelming beginning to his career and should thrive under Scott Linehan as a runner and pass-catcher.

On the defensive line, the Lions are downright scary. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could eventually morph into the best tackle tandem in the league. They will open up playmaking opportunities for rookie Ziggy Ansah coming off the edge, too.

Unfortunately, the team has been rather undisciplined under Jim Schwartz and must find a way to win close games. The Lions lost nine games last season by eight points or fewer.

21. New Orleans Saints

That defense is just anemic, and considering the lack of success defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has had in his previous stops, it's not slam dunk that the Saints will improve there.

The return of Sean Payton as head coach should definitely lift spirits in the locker room, however, and with Drew Brees at quarterback, New Orleans always has a chance.

Brees definitely needs some help from the defense to push the Saints back into the postseason.

Ex-Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro will help with his combination of coverage skills and hard-hitting ability on the back end. If this team is to recover after a disappointing 2012 campaign, the onus is on Vaccaro to be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

22. Dallas Cowboys

Even if Jerry Jones insists that Jason Garrett's job isn't on the line, America's Team desperately needs a return to prominence. After a huge contract extension, scrutiny on QB Tony Romo will be more intense than ever as he tries to justify his worth and get the Cowboys back to the playoffs.

Monte Kiffin is transitioning the defense to a 4-3 alignment, which makes it difficult to project how that shift will go.

It worked when Kiffin orchestrated the phenomenal Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense years ago, but the scheme wasn't successful in his time with the USC Trojans.

Polarizing wide receiver Dez Bryant began to show just how special he could be last season. As long his development stays on the proper path, he and Romo should be a dynamic duo. DeMarco Murray has to balance the Cowboys offense with a strong running game, though.

23. Kansas City Chiefs

It's still strange seeing Andy Reid sporting Chiefs gear, but that is the reality as Reid's reign begins in Kansas City.

Former 49ers signal-caller Alex Smith is now installed as the quarterback, where he should thrive in Reid's West Coast-influenced system. The talents of electric RB Jamaal Charles should also be maximized, and he's coming off a phenomenal season without a passing game to complement him.

A wealth of talent exists on this Chiefs roster, especially on defense with Pro Bowl linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali and standout safety Eric Berry.

Cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and the newly acquired Shaun Smith should form a stellar tandem at that position, too.

Kansas City could use a high level of play out of borderline first-round bust Tyson Jackson at defensive end and last year's first-round selection in Dontari Poe at nose tackle.

Should they play close to their respective potentials, this could be a dangerous team to be reckoned with.

While the playoffs seem like a bit of a stretch for the Chiefs at this point, it can't be completely ruled out. A rise to second in the AFC West division seems perfectly within reach at the very least.

24. Philadelphia Eagles

The team Reid left after a very long tenure is now being coached by Chip Kelly, who comes from the University of Oregon with an innovative, uptempo offensive scheme that he has to tailor to adjust to the professional level.

Between Jeremy Maclin's torn ACL and Riley Cooper's unfortunate racial slur that has gone viral, the new coach is already having difficulty with two possible playmakers, and Maclin is done for the season.

Philadelphia's entire secondary was replaced on the open market this offseason, with the starting corners likely to be Bradley Fletcher and ex-Raven Cary Williams along with Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung at the safety positions.

How all of those key pieces mesh will be critical to the Eagles' success—no matter how smoothly the offense operates.

The execution on that side of the ball under Michael Vick's guidance has been erratic and turnover-ridden since his bounce-back 2011 season.

25. Cleveland Browns

In taking on his first head coaching job, Rob Chudzinski has plenty of help in the form of a fantastic coaching staff.

Norv Turner is calling the shots offensively, while aggressive defensive coordinator Ray Horton should bring plenty of attitude to Cleveland as well. All three of these coaches have attacking mindsets—something the Browns have mostly lacked since returning to the NFL in 1999.

With Desmond Bryant coming in through free agency, Horton has three athletic 300-pound defensive linemen in the trenches. Ex-Raven Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard will pressure the quarterback off the edge, along with freak athlete Barkevious Mingo.

All of that might not matter if Brandon Weeden doesn't play well, though. This offense is better suited for his strengths, most notably throwing the ball down the field.

Veteran receiver Davone Bess gives Weeden a security blanket, while promising young receivers in Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin constitute the tantalizing targets in Weeden's arsenal.

Should tight end Jordan Cameron elevate his play—and Chudzinski above all should get the most out of him—there is reason for hope for this team.

The foundation will be Trent Richardson carrying the load, of course. It's scary to imagine what he can do when 100 percent after playing nine of 15 games in 2012 with broken ribs.

26. San Diego Chargers

A huge shakeup is taking place in the Chargers' organization. Longtime head coach and GM tandem Norv Turner and A.J. Smith saw their days numbered, and San Diego brought in Mike McCoy from the division rival Broncos to be the head coach.

McCoy can essentially coach any style of offense with success, as evidenced by his job as play-caller in Denver for the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in 2011 and for Peyton Manning's first season last year.

That has to be encouraging for struggling Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers, who has turned into a turnover machine in his past two campaigns. Wide receiver Danario Alexander came out of relatively nowhere to be very productive in 2012, but it remains to be seen if he can sustain that success.

Beyond him and Malcom Floyd, stud tight end Antonio Gates is now 33, and draft pick Keenan Allen along with youngster Vincent Brown are the only other weapons at Rivers' disposal in the passing game.

The defensive backfield is shaky beyond Eric Weddle, and it remains to be seen how the new-look linebacker group featuring Dwight Freeney and Manti Te'o will fare.

27. Buffalo Bills

The fact that they are in an AFC East division with perennial champion New England and the quickly improving Miami Dolphins hurts the Bills in the near future.

However, this could be a team ready to make a significant jump this season. Doug Marrone brings in a diverse offensive scheme with him and has the quarterback he wants in EJ Manuel to execute it.

Manuel is a rookie and was a controversial first-round pick as the first QB off the board, but the ex-Florida State star has all the tools to succeed in today's NFL.

A combination of outstanding mobility, arm talent and intangibles sold the Bills to bring him in. Although veteran Kevin Kolb is there to push Manuel, the rookie should be able to take the reins by the time Week 1 rolls around.

C.J. Spiller is a phenomenal offensive weapon to take pressure off Manuel, and his backfield mate Fred Jackson is also an explosive player. Marrone emphasizes an up-tempo style of offense, which should keep teams off-balance and spark the Bills into a promising new era.

A plethora of skills players should help Manuel in the receiver corps, too. Steve Johnson is the clear star, and T.J. Graham should fill in as the No. 2. The draft brought in lightning-fast Marquise Goodwin and former USC standout Robert Woods as well.

As long as Manuel can make smart, quick decisions in this offense and rookie Kiko Alonso can help solidify the defense, the Bills could be a big surprise.

28. Arizona Cardinals

It's not even much of a knock on Arizona but rather due to the extremely tough competition the Cardinals will face in the NFC West. Quarterback Carson Palmer is looking to revive his career, which will only be helped by the presence of superstar wideout Larry Fitzgerald and the plethora of playmakers at his disposal.

In order for the vertical-based offense to thrive under new head coach Bruce Arians, though, Palmer will need to be well-protected.

The offensive line was the biggest area of weakness for Arizona in 2012, and GM Steve Keim addressed that in his inaugural draft by selecting guard Jonathan Cooper out of North Carolina seventh overall.

Losing aggressive defensive coordinator Ray Horton was big, though, and in a division consisting of three potential playoff teams, there should be some serious growing pains in this new era in the desert.

29. Tennessee Titans

Between athletic quarterback Jake Locker, speedy superstar running back Chris Johnson and the revamped offensive guard position consisting of Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, the Titans could take a big step on offense.

Then again, that's assuming Locker is the man for the job. Locker has operated out of the widely successful pistol formation leading up to the preseason, but it's on him to take the next step and give the Titans a boost.

Otherwise, a regime change is likely on the way.

Mike Munchak is among the head coaches with the least job security entering the season. A slew of weapons surround Locker in Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, so there isn't much margin for error or excuses.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

It's hard to gauge the Jaguars at this point, but the AFC South should have two teams return to the playoffs in the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

That should hamper the Jags' progress under first-year head coach Gus Bradley, although GM David Caldwell did a stellar job in his first offseason with the franchise to help the cause.

Denard Robinson, a late-round draft pick, has taken snaps in the Wildcat during training camp and could be an X-factor for Jacksonville offensively. Young playmakers on the outside also exist in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, while the return of running back Maurice Jones-Drew will help immensely, too.

To succeed in the NFL, a competent quarterback is vital. Neither Chad Henne nor potential first-round bust Blaine Gabbert have proven capable of playing at a high level for any sustained period of time.

Also critical is the ability to rush the passer. Among Caldwell's savvy moves, he was unable to acquire a viable asset in that regard. The Jaguars finished last in the league with 20 sacks last season.

Unless that changes substantially and Henne or Gabbert take control as the field general, 2013 will be a tough year in Jacksonville.

31. New York Jets

Head coach Rex Ryan has to be feeling the heat. After guiding the team to AFC title games in his first two seasons, his Jets have failed to make the postseason in consecutive 8-8 campaigns.

New GM John Idzik has a lot on his plate in terms of fixing a roster void of ideal talent. Ryan should make the defense respectable as he has throughout his tenure, but a lot of the Jets' success in 2013 hinges on the quarterback position.

The Tim Tebow experiment failed—and really never materialized—so the team released him and drafted Geno Smith in the second round to push inconsistent incumbent Mark Sanchez for the starting QB job.

According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, Smith was outplaying Sanchez in the first week of training camp. That's somewhat of a good sign, but the former West Virginia star has a long way to go to prove his worth as a franchise signal-caller.

What Smith does bring to the table is the ability to run the zone-read option, which has been effective for many young quarterbacks and could accelerate the impact he makes should he be anointed the starter.

32. Oakland Raiders

Is Matt Flynn the long-term answer at quarterback? That is the very pressing question for the Raiders right now.

Terrelle Pryor is apparently just figuring out how to throw, and by bringing in Tyler Wilson in the draft, the team didn't exactly express confidence that Flynn is the guy to lead the Raiders to the NFL's promised land.

Star running back Darren McFadden's health is a perpetual concern. Should something unfortunate happen to him again, it may be time to find a new foundation on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense is also shaky in Oakland because the unit has been patched up with a ton of free-agent signings, headlined by the return of free safety Charles Woodson, who looked on the decline in Green Bay and appeared in seven games in an injury-plagued 2012.

First-round draft choice D.J. Hayden figures to start immediately at cornerback, and the team needs a lot out of him in the secondary.

Another Round 1 corner in Mike Jenkins is slated to start opposite him, according to Ourlads.com. Between Jenkins' disappointing career and Hayden's prior health issues, though, it's hard to seek out any part of the Raiders' current roster that inspires optimism.

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