Before the NFL draft was held this past April, I put together a list of what I thought was the top five NFL teams at that time. You can find that article here:
Now that each team in the league has had a chance to bring in some young prospects and further test the free agency pool I think that we must revisit which teams are the best in the NFL.
The reason that I now have the Seahawks at number one instead of the 49ers is not because of what they did in the draft. It is really just some bad luck for the 49ers. San Francisco lost starting receiver Michael Crabtree to an achilles tear recently, and that could force Crabtree to miss the entire NFL season. I think that this now makes the Seahawks the favorites in the NFC. The one main thing that the 49ers had over Seattle was the fact that they had a lot more offensive depth and better weapons. However I don’t think that this is true anymore. Seattle now has Percy Harvin on the outside and the 49ers have now lost Michael Crabtree on the outside. We know that Seattle’s defense is going to be great, they are just too damn talented to be anything short of a top five defense in 2013. Now that their offense is finally catching up to their defense, I think that Seattle is going to have a monster year. Now with this being said, I do have one main concern for them. The only thing that I can see that will derail them from a trip to the Super Bowl (aside from major injuries) is if quarterback Russell Wilson goes through that ‘sophomore slump’ that so many quarterbacks go through. I really do not think that Wilson will in fact have a down year in 2013, but then again we all said this exact thing about Cam Newton a couple of years ago. No one could have predicted the kind of sophomore season that Newton had, and that is the reason why I am still cautious to jump fully on the Russell Wilson bandwagon. There was nothing from his rookie campaign that would suggest that he will go through this type of slump, but with what happened to Cam Newton there is always that possibility.
I am going out on a limb here saying that the Falcons are the second best team in the NFL, but with how they have handled the offseason, I really believe that they have the capability of doing something special next season. Before the offseason even began I thought that they were a top five team in the league. They had a very explosive offense, and even though their defense was not very good, I had such faith in Matt Ryan that I thought he could carry that team to great heights. So far in this offseason they have done even better things to improve their great offense, and their defense has gotten some new parts that should really help them improve in 2013. To improve their running game they went out and got Steven Jackson, who is one of the most underrated backs in the league in my opinion. He is a running back that can do it all, and I think that is exactly what Atlanta needed. Michael Turner was a great back, but he was definitely just a between the tackles guy. Now that Steven Jackson is in the fold, I think that when you combine him with Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, the Falcons will have a very good running game to go along with their explosive passing game. On the defensive side of the ball, the main moves that I liked was the signing of Osi Umenyiora and the selection of Desmond Trufant in the draft. Umenyiora can help them get over the loss of veteran John Abraham on the edge of that defensive line. Umenyiora has shown throughout his career that he can get pressure on the quarterback off of the edge, and when a defense can do that, it hides most weakness on that side of the ball. The thing that I like about Trufant, is he can play some great man coverage for such a young guy. Now, he will have to learn how to do it against the “big boys” of the NFL, but if the Falcons give him some time to develop, I think he can turn into a top corner in the game, and help the Falcons defense get turned back in the right direction.
3. New England Patriots
Obviously this is a New England Patriots website, so there is bound to be some biased opinion when it comes to the Pats, but I really believe that the Patriots are the third best team in the NFL right now. They lost Wes Welker to the Broncos, which is definitely a big loss for them, but I think that Tom Brady won’t allow his offense to have a down year in 2013. If everything continues to go well with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez’s rehab from surgery, they will continue to progress as players and produce even more on the field. The Pats also have a very good running game behind Stevan Ridley which takes a lot of pressure off of Brady and puts a lot of pressure on the opposing teams defense. Now as for the receivers situation, I think that it is in better shape than most people think. Danny Amendola is a very good football player, and if he manages to stay healthy, I think he will put up bigger numbers than Welker ever did while he was in New England. Amendola is a younger, faster Wes Welker, and as soon as he develops some chemistry with Tom Brady I think his production will be enormous for the Pats. They also have two rookies coming in that should help in terms of outside the numbers production. Aaron Dobson is the main guy that I think will have a big impact for them next year. He was a second round pick out of Marshall in this years draft, and I think that he has a ton of potential as a receiver. If he is given some time, I think that he can finally be that deep threat that has been missing from this Patriots offense since Randy Moss left. We all know that the main thing that has kept the Patriots from winning the big game in the last couple of years has been their defense. In the last three years they have finished 25th, 31st, and 25th in total defense. That is downright awful. However, I think that this year it will change for them. The main reason I say this is because the secondary is finally getting some talent. They have Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard on the outside at cornerback, and they have Adrian Wilson, and Devin McCourty at safety. The Pats also have rookie Logan Ryan coming in from Rutgers, and he should be able to make some plays for this team next year. These guys all are very good players, and if they keep progressing at the level they have been, I think the Patriots defense can be a top ten squad in 2013, and if you combine that with a Tom Brady led offense, the rest of the NFL better watch out.
The 49ers were probably the most talented team in the league before the NFL draft. However because of that Michael Crabtree injury, I think that they have slid down a bit on the talent level. Everybody knows what their defense can do, and with the addition of Eric Reid and Tank Carradine in the draft, I think that defense will probably be a top three squad in the league. But the thing that set this team apart from every team in the NFC was its talent level not only on defense, but also on offense. They had the young, up and coming sensation in Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore was still being Frank Gore, they had arguably the best offensive line in the league, and their depth at receiver was pretty remarkable. However in my opinion that has changed. I know it may sound like an over-reaction to say this after one receiver went down, but Crabtree was a huge part to this offense. Not only was he the most talented receiver they had (Vernon Davis does not count) but he was the guy that was finally developing some chemistry with Kaepernick. Now that he may be out for the year, the young Kaepernick is going to have to look to someone else to be his go-to guy, and that could take a while to figure out. The 49ers still have a lot of quality receivers especially if Mario Manningham comes back 100%, but it still remains to be seen if any of them can develop a solid connection with their quarterback. The 49ers are too talented to not make the playoffs, but if Crabtree is indeed out for the entire year and Kaepernick can’t find another go-to guy on offense, then I think that they will be bounced out early in next years playoffs.
After Denver made that big splash in free agency by adding Wes Welker, they have been relatively quiet. For the most part they have stood pat since adding Welker and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and who can blame them? Statistically they had one of the best offenses in the league in 2012, and one of the best defenses as well, and they only made them better. The only thing that is bothering me is that they never really faced much competition last year until the playoffs, and I think that this team isn’t nearly as good as the stats suggest. Even though they added Welker and DRC, I think that Denver may fall into the same trap in 2013. Once again they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, and I think that they may cruise through the regular season, only to fall to one of the better teams in the playoffs. This is why I think they should have been a bit more aggressive in the draft and in free agency. I actually think that they are only a playmaker or two away from having an elite defense, and only a running game away from having the best offense in the NFL. But because they haven’t done either of those things thus far in the offseason, I still have to keep them as only the second best team in the AFC. In fact, because the AFC looks to be very weak in 2013, even if the Broncos had just stuck with the same exact team as last year I would have put them as the second best team. The AFC just isn’t the same as it used to be and for now, I really only see two contenders; the Patriots and the Broncos, and until Denver finds a way to improve their running game and their defense, I think at the end of the year they will be looking up at New England once again.