Finally! The moment we’ve all been waiting for since about 5 minutes after the Ravens won the Super Bowl is upon us… week 1 of the 2013 NFL season! Each team starts with an even record and a clean slate. Last year’s successes or failures are tossed out the window as new stars emerge and others fade into obscurity. Although the games haven’t officially started yet, preseason gave us all a pretty good idea of which teams will be serious competitors this year and which will be “clowning for Clowney.” Here are my week 1 power rankings:
*records are from preseason
1. Seattle Seahawks (4-0): All talk has been about how strong Seattle and San Francisco are in the NFC, and for good reason. Seattle already boasts one of the best (if not the best) defenses in the NFL and their offense can only grow stronger with the maturation of sophomore QB Russel Wilson. He looked incredibly sharp in the preseason and that was without the newly acquired Percy Harvin. His return late in the season will only make Seattle stronger heading into the playoffs, a scary thought for any opponent.
2. Atlanta Falcons (0-4): Ignore the preseason record, the Falcons have every piece in place to finally win that elusive championship. They easily have the best offense in the entire NFL, period. Some say Steven Jackson is old and past his prime, but his move to Atlanta is going to bring out his youth. For the first time in his career, he has a very legitimate shot at a Super Bowl ring and he isn’t going to squander that opportunity.
3. San Francisco 49ers (3-1): People may disagree with the ‘Niners being ranked below the top two, but regardless of their position, they have a very good shot of returning to the Super Bowl with a vengeance. The loss of Kaepernick’s favorite weapon, Michael Crabtree, is significant and it may take him time to develop that chemistry with other receivers, particularly newcomer and Super Bowl consolation-prize Anquan Boldin. I think Kaepernick has very high expectations placed on him and may under-perform in the eyes of some, but he is on the best team to help him overcome any struggles that may come.
4. New England Patriots (3-1): No Welker, no Hernandez, no Lloyd, no Woodhead, no Gronk (at first), no problem. Brady picked apart the defenses of the Eagles and Buccaneers like he was playing high school teams. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has emerged as a reliable target and Amendola seems to have Welker-like chemistry with Brady already. Other rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce both have shown great potential, and TE Zach Sudfeld is going to fill in for the incarcerated Hernandez without missing a beat. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense should emerge as one of the best in the league with a very strong front-seven.
5. Denver Broncos (2-2): At the end of the season, the Broncos will still be one of the biggest competitors in the AFC, but they may struggle a bit at first. They lost arguably their two biggest playmakers on defense: Von Miller for 6 games after violating the NFL drug policy and Elvis Dumerville to the Ravens thanks to a fax machine. They also are in need of a center to protect Manning after Dan Koppen tore his ACL. Regardless of the defensive setbacks, Manning gained an invaluable weapon in Wes Welker.
6. Green Bay Packers (1-3): Aaron Rodgers never fails to produce and they drafted a running back to lighten his load. After watching their defense over the preseason, they look much improved. Their growth is the key for the Packers getting back to the Super Bowl.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1): This team is poised to make a deep playoff run as long as Andy Dalton can rely on receivers not named AJ Green. They have a tough schedule, playing the Bears, Steelers, Packers, and Patriots in the first five weeks, but they are up to the challenge.
8. Houston Texans (3-1): The Texans added key pieces to their team without losing many, particularly the addition of veteran safety Ed Reed. The pressure lies on Matt Schaub to perform if Arian Foster meets a strong run defense and struggles to move the ball.
9. Baltimore Ravens (2-2): No love for the Super Bowl champions? They lost too many players for me to consider them a strong contender again this season. After losing NINE starters, the defense will have a tough time picking up the slack. Flacco also has the added pressure of living up to his mega-contract without his safety blanket of Anquan Boldin.
10. Chicago Bears (2-2): The Bears defense put up some incredible performances last season, but the offense was their Achilles heel. Jay Cutler needs to prove he’s worth his contract and start being more consistent and reliable. Perhaps Marc Trestman can bring out the best in him.
11. Indianapolis Colts (2-2): Andrew Luck should live up to his stellar performance last season. The added weapons of Ahmad Bradshaw and Darius Heyward-Bey will help this offense to grow, but the defense still needs a lot of help.
12. Washington Redskins (4-0): RG3 says he’ll be playing in week 1, and I’m sure he’s itching to prove all the skeptics wrong. I think he’ll pick up right where he left off, but he needs to be more careful and stay in the pocket more often. If he’s hurt, the franchise is in trouble, I don’t care how good Kirk Cousins has looked in his limited time in the spotlight.
13. New York Giants (1-3): The key for the Giants is getting their pass rush healthy and back to full force. Their offense looked weak in the preseason too, even against the Patriots’ second-string defense in the last game. Tom Coughlin will have to whip them into shape if they want to compete in a very tough division.
14. Dallas Cowboys (2-3): Offensive line issues have plagued the Cowboys for years, and they still haven’t gone away. Tony Romo has gotten no help from them in the past, and needs all the time to throw he can get. If the line holds up, they could win this division for the first time since 2009.
15. New Orleans Saints (3-1): Sean Payton’s return will be invaluable to the Saints this season, but their defense is still abysmal. The defense and the run game need to improve dramatically before this team has a serious chance to advance deep into the playoffs.
16. St. Louis Rams (1-3): The Rams still have a ways to go before they can be labeled a contender, particularly in their division, but they do have a lot of tools in place to make it happen. Tavon Austin will become Sam Bradford’s go-to guy and a key playmaker for this team.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4): If their offensive line is healthy and performs better than last year, this team has a chance. However, in a tough division and with an aging defense, the loss of Mike Wallace, and Big Ben’s unreliability at the end of last season are reasons for concern.
18. Arizona Cardinals (3-1): Adding Carson Palmer should revitalize Larry Fitzgerald’s career back to the days where he had Kurt Warner throwing to him, and their defense should prove to be one of the best in the league. Their offensive line was abysmal last season and no quarterback could thrive under such conditions. If they want to compete in an incredibly tough division, this must be fixed.
19. Minnesota Vikings (1-3): Sadly, Adrian Peterson can’t play every position for this team. They are thin at receiver and the defense needs more playmakers.
20. Carolina Panthers (3-1): This is a low spot for the Panthers, but I can’t justify a higher position just yet. Gaining a playoff spot in the highly competitive NFC is extremely difficult to do, and I don’t see Carolina being ready to make that jump. Their secondary still needs a lot of work.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3): The growth of this team seems to depend on Darrelle Revis and Josh Freeman. Revis needs to play at a high level to elevate the mediocre secondary around him, and Freeman needs to show some consistency and prove he can be relied upon.
22. Miami Dolphins (2-3): With all the hype surrounding this team during the offseason, preseason gave everyone a much needed reality check. This is a young team that can be good, but the offensive line has issues and Tannehill still needs to prove himself.
23. Cleveland Browns (3-1): This team has the potential to surprise people. Brandon Weeden looked very sharp during the preseason and clearly has formed a connection with his TE Jordan Cameron.
24. Tennessee Titans (1-3): There is talent on this offense, but whether or not Jake Locker is the quarterback of the future remains to be seen. CJ2K needs to have another great year to help this team make a splash.
25. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2): Andy Reid already has the players buying into his system and acquiring Alex Smith is a positive step forward for this offense. With all the pro-bowl players on this team, they could be after a wild card spot at the end of the season.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2): With Chip Kelly revitalizing this team, it will be interesting to see how they play. I don’t trust Michael Vick, though, and the Eagles’ secondary needs a lot of help.
27. Detroit Lions (3-1): Reggie Bush is going to cause defenses a lot of problems this year, but I’m not sold on the Lions’ defense.
28. Buffalo Bills (2-2): Injuries have already taken a toll on the Bills who need EJ Manuel to play if they want the best chance to win. Jairus Byrd having plantar fasciitis leaves the defense without one of their best players and, oh yea… how about that Mario Williams guy?
29. San Diego Chargers (1-3): They did Philip Rivers a favor by signing Danny Woodhead, now he has someone to check down the ball to all the time instead of just tossing it to the turf. The whole offense around him is hurt and the defense is very weak. They won’t win more than five games this season.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3): A healthy Maurice Jones-Drew could boost this offense, but Blaine Gabbert needs to step up and prove he owns the starting job. Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon offer two decent receiving options and the defense is young but has some talent.
31. New York Jets (3-1): It looks like Geno Smith is going to take the starting job from Mark Sanchez, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, “It’s about time.” This will be Sanchez and Rex Ryan’s last year in New York.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-3): I don’t care if Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor stars, either one will be killed by this non-existent offensive line. If Darren McFadden can stay healthy in his contract year, they may win a few games.