NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 1?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2014

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 1?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The preseason is over, and now the games matter. Which teams look ready to take on the rest of the league and challenge for a shot at the Super Bowl, and which clubs should spend as much time as possible scouting for the upcoming NFL draft?

    Power rankings are a weekly check on the pulse of each team. They are reactionary, entertaining and yet predictive of which roster looks the best on a weekly basis. 

    Coming off the preseason, the initial rankings are based on expectations for each team and then adjusted for injuries, suspensions, poor play and surprising developments. A shocking preseason loss means very little to these initial rankings, but from here on out, every game matters.

32. Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders have the talent to quickly climb out of the basement of the NFL, but they will be relying on a second-round draft pick at quarterback to lead them.

    Derek Carr replaces veteran Matt Schaub after the preseason saw Schaub struggle to move the ball effectively. After Carr led the Raiders on a scoring drive against the Seattle Seahawks' first-team defense, the writing was on the wall that he should be starting.

    Carr will be the only rookie quarterback starting in the NFL in Week 1, and while he's talented, wins from a rookie quarterback are far from certain. Especially against Rex Ryan's defense. A win in Week 1 would push the Raiders up the rankings, but they need a big jump on offense and a good showing from the run defense to make that happen.

    Up Next: at New York Jets

31. Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans are another team with an unsettled quarterback depth chart, and that keeps them lower in the rankings.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be the starter, but the team drafted Tom Savage in the fourth round and traded recently for Ryan Mallett—a quarterback head coach Bill O'Brien worked with in New England. Mallett knows the offense, and if Fitzpatrick struggles like he did in the preseason, we'll see him soon.

    The front seven on defense is good enough to win some games, especially if Arian Foster and the running game get going, but until the quarterback situation is figured out, the Texans are looking up at most of the NFL.

    Up Next: vs. Washington

30. Tennessee Titans

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    It wouldn't be a surprise for the Tennessee Titans to pull off a Week 1 win and move up the rankings, but even after four preseason games, this remains a team we know little about.

    The pressure will fall on quarterback Jake Locker to be a more dependable, accurate passer in a revamped offensive scheme brought to town by new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. If Locker can produce, the team can win games. The weapons are there on offense with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Bishop Sankey to open up and put points on the board, but Locker must set the table for them.

    The defense will be well-coached by Ray Horton, but concerns exist with the pass rush and the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Jason McCourty. How well this unit comes together early will dictate much for the Titans' chances.

    Up Next: at Kansas City Chiefs

29. Washington

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    There is legitimate concern in Washington that the franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III, is not ready to run new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. And based on the preseason, which can be a dangerous thing to base anything on, that looks true.

    For Gruden and Griffin to have success, reps are needed with the first-team offense and with real game-planning involved. We'll see that Week 1 against the Houston Texans, but if the team looks the way it did in the preseason, it will be switching spots with the No. 31-ranked team in the rankings.

    There is enough talent in Washington to win the NFC East, but right now Griffin's struggles in the offense are holding the club back. Week 1 should be very telling in terms of how far this team can go.

    Up Next: at Houston Texans

28. Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns enter another season with big question marks on offense, but this time the defense may be good enough to win a few games. 

    Quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel have both struggled, and with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the entire season on suspension, this offense will rely on Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin to move the chains in the passing game.

    A strong run game behind a talented offensive line will help, but the Browns have a lot of questions to answer before they can move up.

    Up Next: at Pittsburgh Steelers

27. Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills would be ranked higher if they had signed Kyle Orton a month ago instead of just last week. With second-year quarterback EJ Manuel severely struggling to manage the offense, Orton could (and should) see the field sooner rather than later.

    The Buffalo defense is very strong, even with Kiko Alonso on the reserve/non-football injury list (torn ACL), and it will help keep things interesting for the team throughout the season. If the playmakers on offense can produce in spite of the quarterback, this could be a team to watch.

    Week 1 will tell us plenty, though, and the Bills could be poised for a big move up the rankings.

    Up Next: at Chicago Bears

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars face a tough opponent in Week 1, but they can make a statement and quickly shoot up the rankings if they can conquer the Philadelphia Eagles. 

    That might seem like a stretch, but the NFL has taught us all that anything is possible in Week 1. The Jaguars have a punishing run game, good athleticism at receiver and a tough enough defense to stay competitive in Week 1 and throughout the season.

    The only thing that could have moved the team up more in the preseason would have been giving rookie quarterback Blake Bortles the starting job, but for now Chad Henne will take the ball and look to shock the NFL.

    Up Next: at Philadelphia Eagles

25. St. Louis Rams

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    No Sam Bradford in 2014 will be tough for the St. Louis Rams to overcome, but with a strong run game, a very good offensive line and a stout defense, this team can still make noise. The trouble is the schedule combined with injuries and youth.

    The Rams are more talented from top to bottom than the No. 25 team in the league, but at the most important position (quarterback), they have a question mark. Shaun Hill is capable and smart, but he won't be a player the offense can rely on if the run game struggles. Expect to see a lot of eight-man fronts lining up against this Rams offense.

    How far can a great pass rush carry the team? We'll find out very soon.

    Up Next: vs. Minnesota Vikings

24. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Quarterback Alex Smith has a fat new contract extension (four years, $68 million, with $45 million guaranteed), but who will he throw to in Week 1 with Dwayne Bowe suspended for the first game? And who the heck will block for Smith and the vaunted Kansas City run game?

    This is a team in decline, with Bowe and right tackle Donald Stephenson suspended (four games) and former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher continuing to struggle at left tackle this preseason. Perhaps it all clicks once the season starts for real, but there has been zero chemistry on offense this summer.

    The saving grace in Kansas City will have to be the defense. With a strong stable of pass-rushers, the Chiefs can get after the quarterback, but this is a very young, raw secondary playing behind the front seven.

    Up Next: vs. Tennessee Titans

23. Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins enter the season with five new starters along the offensive line and no certainty at running back. They'll also unleash quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first new offense he's had to learn since college. Despite the talent assembled, those factors should all scare you.

    On defense, we know Miami will be able to rush the quarterback, and Brent Grimes is a lockdown cover man, but the linebackers and safeties are unproven here and must step up.

    Perhaps the offensive line clicks much sooner than anyone expects and Lamar Miller finally becomes that No. 1 runner he's capable of being, but right now this is a team with more questions than answers.

    Up Next: vs. New England Patriots

22. Dallas Cowboys

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    There is no doubting that offensively, the Dallas Cowboys have the talent to win a lot of games. The questions come when you see how bad the defense is—both on paper and in person—and when looking at the work head coach Jason Garrett has done with this team.

    Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray and a top-five offensive line should be good for several wins, but the Cowboys will need to score in the 30s every game in order to outscore what the defense allows.

    The Week 1 test won't be easy, but it should be telling.

    Up Next: vs. San Francisco 49ers

21. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons, like the Dallas Cowboys, have the offensive firepower to be very good. It's questions on defense, and along the offensive line, that are cause for concern.

    Losing Sam Baker was big, but Jake Matthews can handle the left tackle spot, so the team didn't move down this week based on that injury and Matthews' play. Instead, the Falcons move up thanks to better-than-expected results from youngsters on defense (Prince Shembo, Paul Worrilow) who will be called on early to make an impact.

    The Falcons have a rough schedule within the division, and as soon as Week 1, we'll see if this team is a real contender.

    Up Next: vs. New Orleans Saints

20. New York Giants

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    The New York Giants won every game in the preseason, but that's generally not indicative of regular-season success. And with the way the offense and defense have looked thus far, there are major concerns heading into Week 1.

    Eli Manning, in his first season of playing in a West Coast offense, has struggled. There will be bumps and bruises along the way as he learns the scheme and the offense around him does, too, but he looks like a shadow of his former self. Maybe that changes when offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo starts scheming specifically for defenses, but the preseason was eye-openingly bad for Manning.

    The Giants will face one of the NFL's premier pass rushes and the game's best wide receiver in Week 1, which means they could be in for a big move up or down next week.

    Up Next: at Detroit Lions

19. Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings moving down one spot this week isn't because they are putting my No. 1 overall player from the 2014 draft (Teddy Bridgewater) on the bench, I promise. Instead, the Vikings move down purely on the strength of others jumping them in the rankings. 

    Mike Zimmer's team can earn back that spot in the rankings if it comes out executing in Week 1. The offense looks ready to be great, and if Zimmer's specialty (the defense) is on point, the Vikings might be the surprise team of the 2014 season.

    With a winnable Week 1 matchup, keep your eyes on the Vikings as a potential mover.

    Up Next: at St. Louis Rams

18. New York Jets

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    In case you missed it, quarterback Geno Smith looked really good running the offense in the preseason. So good, in fact, that Michael Vick was quickly forgotten, Tajh Boyd was released and Matt Simms was moved to the practice squad. This is Geno's team now, and he looks ready to own it.

    The Jets are an interesting club and quietly a viable wild-card contender in the AFC. If Rex Ryan can coach up these young cornerbacks and get a pass rush from lesser-known players—and that's a Ryan staple at this point—then the offense and dynamic front three on defense can carry this team.

    In Week 1, the Jets will take on a weak Oakland secondary in a very favorable matchup.

    Up Next: vs. Oakland Raiders

17. Detroit Lions

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    I want to like the Detroit Lions as a playoff contender this season, but betting on Jim Caldwell and this unpredictable team is very difficult to do.

    On offense, Matthew Stafford has the talent and tools around him to be a 5,000-yard passer again, but he must do away with the mechanical problems of last season and become a smarter quarterback. Now that the Lions have a very good offensive line and viable options opposite Calvin Johnson, Stafford must be great.

    The defense was a train wreck last season, and the hope has to be that defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will be motivated in a contract year to play up to their insane potential. But if they fall apart again, the Lions will quickly move down the rankings.

    Up Next: vs. New York Giants

16. Carolina Panthers

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    The line on the Carolina Panthers in the preseason was that the wide receivers, offensive line and secondary were too inexperienced and too lacking in talent to keep up with a tough 2014 schedule. And with the preseason completed, there are still concerns, but the wide receiving corps has been much better than anyone expected.

    Cam Newton, hurt ribs and all, will need help from young offensive tackles, but he has talent around him. DeAngelo Williams is capable of keeping defenses honest, tight end Greg Olsen is a very good target in the middle of the field and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin looks like a red-zone stud.

    If the defensive front seven can dominate once again, the Panthers could be more of a playoff contender than anyone realized three months ago.

    Up Next: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

15. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals have talent, but they also have an aging quarterback, a beat-up defense and a very tough schedule. As much as any team in the NFL, they are tough to get a read on as we head into the season.

    If Carson Palmer can stay upright and get the ball out to his talented targets, the Cardinals could push the San Francisco 49ers for the No. 2 seed in the NFC West. But they need Palmer to be much better than he was in the preseason. They also need the offensive line to at least put up a fight against pass-rushers.

    The defense gets back Tyrann Mathieu and will be boosted by a strong secondary, but the middle linebacker position is a gigantic question mark. With the San Diego Chargers looming, we'll learn plenty about the Cardinals in one week.

    Up Next: vs. San Diego Chargers

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    My faith in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a 2014 playoff contender seems to weaken every time Josh McCown throws the ball, which is why they move down this week.

    But don't sleep on the move to trade for Logan Mankins at offensive guard. Even if he's no longer the All-Pro player he once was, Mankins' experience and run-blocking will be an instant boost for the Tampa offensive line.

    Lovie Smith, the team's new head coach, will have the defense and run game rocking. As long as the quarterback position is solid—it doesn't have to be great, just good—Tampa will win games.

    The defense is very good, with two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy anchoring the front seven. That unit alone will keep Tampa afloat in a super-talented NFC South.

    Up Next: vs. Carolina Panthers

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are always a competitive team, but this group doesn't look like the best of the AFC North. 

    Yes, Ben Roethlisberger is good for eight wins on his own (if he's healthy), and the run game will be improved if Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount can stay out of trouble. But where this team has question marks is at wide receiver, and to win in the North, you'll need to pass the ball well enough to keep pace with explosive offenses.

    The Steelers don't have that quite yet.

    This is a well-coached, talented team, but the Steelers are not a club I have great expectations for heading into Week 1.

    Up Next: vs. Cleveland Browns

12. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals are an intriguing team, and they have the talent to make serious noise in the AFC this year.

    Andy Dalton is better than many critics will tell you. He may not have the strongest arm, the fastest legs or the most awesome highlights, but he gets the ball into his playmakers' hands and does so with few mistakes. Yes, he can improve, but new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has made lesser quarterbacks look like studs. He'll work wonders with Dalton's game.

    The Bengals need Dalton to be good, not great, to win the division. With a good run game, a great receiver (A.J. Green) and a defense capable of shutting people down, this has the look of a playoff team for the fourth straight year.

    Up Next: at Baltimore Ravens

11. San Diego Chargers

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    Want a surprise pick in the AFC this year? Keep the San Diego Chargers in mind.

    Philip Rivers and Co. have the goods to make a run through the playoffs if the offensive line and run game hold up like they did in 2013. Rivers, now in year two with head coach Mike McCoy and Frank Reich as his quarterbacks coach (now offensive coordinator), should be even better now that Keenan Allen and up-and-comer Ladarius Green are more experienced.

    The defense needs new cornerback additions Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett to make plays for it, but both have proved capable. Flowers, especially, will be much improved back in his normal role at outside cornerback after a wasted year in Kansas City playing the slot.

    Up Next: at Arizona Cardinals

10. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens went from winning a Super Bowl to missing the playoffs altogether in one season, but in 2014 they look poised to rebound.

    Joe Flacco and the offense are good enough to win the AFC North, especially if the running game can take the next step with Ray Rice suspended for the first two games. Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro will be called on early, but the offensive line and offensive scheme are solid enough to protect the young backs.

    On defense, the Ravens can be very good. Maybe not Ray Lewis and Ed Reed good, but talented enough to win the division. They'll get a true test in Week 1 and a chance to establish their ownership of the division again.

    Up Next: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

9. Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears were my preseason pick to win the NFC North, and while that doesn't look as prophetic one month later, this is still a playoff team in a very tough division.

    The Bears need the offense to carry them early, and that shouldn't be a problem given the talent there. The depth is not great at any one position, so the pressure is on the starters, but the front-line talent is as capable as any offense in the NFC.

    The defense will break in several new starters, but the turnover there was needed. If the Bears can find chemistry early in the year, the NFC North title is within reach.

    Up Next: vs. Buffalo Bills

8. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts can be as strong as any team in the NFL and are a shoo-in to win the AFC South this year, but how far can they really go in the AFC playoffs?

    This is a top-10 team, and you can thank Andrew Luck for that, but until the offensive line and defense prove themselves in the regular season, the Colts look more like a high-win regular-season club destined to exit the playoffs early. Now, if the running game gets going and the defense comes alive with a better pass rush, watch out.

    The Colts get a big test early and a chance to move way up in the rankings if they can pull off the upset.

    Up Next: at Denver Broncos

7. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Year two of Chip Kelly as head coach opens in Philadelphia with a very winnable game at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Expectations for this team, which are very high, won't change unless there is a shocking defeat to open the season.

    Kelly has assembled a team worthy of winning the NFC East again, but the pressure will be heavy on second-year starter Nick Foles at quarterback after he posted an insane 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2013. The Eagles have the run game, offensive line and receivers to feature a dynamic offense again this year, but they can't afford a slow start like the one we saw last season.

    Long term, this team is as good as its defense. Kelly's offense will score points, but the defense—especially the secondary—has to improve this year.

    Up Next: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

6. San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers opened the 2014 season as a Super Bowl contender after three straight years in the NFC Championship Game. Now, thanks to injuries, suspensions and likely suspensions, they're in a free fall.

    If you want to know what an implosion looks like, take a look at the 49ers right now. NaVorro Bowman is likely to miss half the season rehabbing his knee after going down in the NFC Championship Game, Aldon Smith was suspended for nine games and Ray McDonald was arrested on felony domestic violence charges three days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced new, stricter policies against those very indictments.

    The 49ers generally rely on the run game and defense to win games, but now they'll need quarterback Colin Kaepernick to carry them through at least the first half of the schedule.

    Up Next: at Dallas Cowboys

5. Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers have a chance to become the No. 1-ranked team in the league Thursday night, but doing so means beating the defending Super Bowl champions on the road.

    We know the Packers have the talent, but can they execute? Aaron Rodgers at quarterback gives your team a chance to win every week, and now the Packers have the one-two punch with Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy to keep defensive coordinators from getting a good night's sleep. 

    The Packers have struggled recently to stop mobile quarterbacks, though, and keeping up with Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seattle offense will be a test. If newcomer Julius Peppers can help corral Wilson, the Packers could be the new No. 1 next week.

    Up Next: at Seattle Seahawks

4. New Orleans Saints

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    The expectations in New Orleans are higher than they've been since the team won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season. With a high-octane offense, an up-and-coming offensive line and a defense with two elite safeties, the Saints look like a Super Bowl contender.

    That will be tested early in a very tough NFC South and with the Atlanta Falcons hosting Sean Payton's team in Week 1. The Saints must avoid walking into Atlanta like they've already won the division and show that they can dominate a less talented team while stopping a prolific passing attack.

    A Week 1 win won't do much to elevate the Saints' ranking, but it will make a statement to the rest of the division.

    Up Next: at Atlanta Falcons

3. Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos open the season with AFC-champion expectations, and many would tell you the real expectation is a Super Bowl ring. The team is talented enough, healthy and looking great. Now it needs to do it in a game that counts.

    Hosting the Indianapolis Colts will be a great test for the Broncos and will be telling of where this team stands after an offseason that saw a defensive overhaul. If the Broncos can shut down Andrew Luck and the Colts, doubters will be silenced very quickly.

    Peyton Manning and the offense won't be tested early by the Colts, but everyone wants to see an in-sync showing from that unit.

    Up Next: vs. Indianapolis Colts

2. New England Patriots

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    A healthy Rob Gronkowski means the world to the New England Patriots offense, and we'll see him on the field against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. That's bad news for Miami but great news for New England as it loads up for another Super Bowl run.

    Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are a duo I rarely like to bet against—which is why New England was my preseason AFC champion pick—but it's the defense in New England that has expectations so high.

    Adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner could propel the team past the Denver Broncos and others in the conference, especially if that added coverage allows the front seven to be more aggressive in attacking the passer.

    The Week 1 challenge is nothing to fret about, but putting a division rival down on the road is always difficult. If the Patriots come out swinging, this one could be over early.

    Up Next: at Miami Dolphins

1. Seattle Seahawks

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    Hindsight allows us to look back at the "Fail Mary" game and recognize that as the Seattle Seahawks' coming-out party as a legitimate title contender. That game also helped establish, at least on a national level, the team's dominance at home.

    Now, the Seahawks get a chance to beat the Green Bay Packers at home again, and by doing so they can establish that they, the defending champions, are hungry for a repeat.

    There are few liabilities in Seattle, but one is the offensive line. Dom Capers' Packers defense will turn up the heat on Russell Wilson and the offense early. If it can handle it, look for Seattle to remain at No. 1 heading into Week 2 and for a long time after.

    Up Next: vs. Green Bay Packers


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