NFL Power Rankings: Week 1
Check back every Tuesday during the season for an updated NFL Power Rankings article by Connor Fulton.
Well, here we go. The NFL season is upon us. Football will be visiting our living rooms every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday until February. But before the wings and hot sauce are served, let's take one more look at where each team stands going in to Week 1:
1. San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
Last year's NFC champions are looking better than any other team going into 2013, despite a questionable receiving corps. San Francisco committed to the dynamic Colin Kaepernick by letting Alex Smith go in the offseason, and that decision will pay big dividends in the 49ers' Week 1 matchup against a mediocre Green Bay Packers defense. While their offense may have its issues, the San Francisco defense is formidable to say the least. With pass rusher Aldon Smith being hungry for the single-season sack record, no one wants to face the 49ers' defense.
2. New England Patriots (0-0)
Every player on the Patriots roster is beyond tired of hearing about the team's chaotic offseason that saw everything from Tebowmania to a tight end in handcuffs. After the cutting of Tim Tebow, the team can now fully focus its attention on the first test of the season: a Buffalo Bills squad that would like nothing more than to upset the Tom Brady & Co. in Week 1, much like they did in 2003's season opener. Expect the Patriots secondary to play with a chip on its collective shoulder this Sunday.
3. Denver Broncos (0-0)
It will be interesting to see how well the Broncos pass rush will be able to apply pressure on Joe Flacco Thursday night without Elvis Dumervil (who is now a Raven) and Von Miller. That being said, it's hard not to like a team that has a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker. Also, watch out for rookie tight end Julius Thomas, who was just named the starter.
4. Seattle Seahawks (0-0)
The Seahawks-Broncos game in Week 2 of preseason could have very well been a preview of this February's Super Bowl. The 'Hawks boast one of the top defenses in the NFL, as well as one of the most promising young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson. Seattle should make short work of the Carolina Panthers this week.
5. New Orleans Saints (0-0)
With head coach Sean Payton returning from his absence in wake of the Bountygate scandal, the Saints are primed for a big year. The team's atrocious defense from last season has been upgraded with the additions of former Steelers corner Keenan Lewis and rookie Kenny Vaccaro. On the other side of the ball, New Orleans is hoping that 2013 will be a coming-out party for running back Mark Ingram. If Ingram has good production, it will take some much-needed pressure off of quarterback Drew Brees.
6. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The reigning Super Bowl champs aren't at the top of these rankings because they seemingly lost their entire team last season. The departures of Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Danelle Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, Ed Reed, and Bernard Pollard will make things tough for Baltimore to repeat in 2013. However, the Ravens still have several important pieces of that championship team remaining, so don't count them out by any means.
7. Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
After having tasted the glory of winning in the playoffs, Matt Ryan will be hungry for more in 2013. The first step towards the playoffs would be a win against divisional rival New Orleans this Sunday, which will be hard to achieve if the secondary doesn't fill the gap left by Brent Grimes' departure.
8. Houston Texans (0-0)
According to this writer, the Texans boast the NFL's best pass defense going into the season. If JJ Watt continues to swat passes at the line of scrimmage, Arian Foster stays healthy, and rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins emerges as a true threat opposite Andre Johnson, expect Houston to quickly rise in these rankings.
9. Green Bay Packers (0-0)
The quality of this team will be dictated by how well rookie running back Eddie Lacy is able to perform. Aaron Rodgers is already one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL--imagine if defenses had to start worrying about the running game. The Packers could be in the top five of these rankings within a few weeks if Eddie Lacy is able to rack up the yards.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
The Bengals should be able to deal with a Brian Urlacher-less Chicago team this Sunday. After that, Cincinnati faces a four-game stretch that will dictate the rest of their season. They face the Steelers, Packers, Browns and Patriots in the next four weeks following the Bears game. If Cincy is able to win three of those games, and enter Week 6 at 4-2, then the AFC North title race will get very interesting.
11. Washington Redskins (0-0)
With Robert Griffin III healthy again and playing this Monday night against division rival Philadelphia, the Redskins are a hard team to beat. However, if RG3 isn't able to mask the secondary issues as the season progresses, things could get rough in D.C. pretty quick. That being said, the return of Brian Orakpo will boost the defense as a whole.
12. Indianapolis Colts (0-0)
The Colts will go as far as Andrew Luck can take them in 2013, which is a good thing if you think of him as the AFC's Aaron Rodgers, but a not-so-good thing if you think of him as the AFC's Jay Cutler. Luck shares similitaries with both, but his performance in 2013 will show which quarterback he is more like.
13. New York Giants (0-0)
Just when you think the era of unstoppable Giants pass rushers has ended, a young guy steps up and keeps the tradition alive. This year, rookie Damontre Moore has emerged as the next pass rushing star for the Giants. On offense, receiver Rueben Randle and running back David Wilson will need to step up in their sophomore seasons if Big Blue wants to avoid another playoff-less season in 2013.
14. Minnesota Vikings (0-0)
The growth of Christian Ponder will be a storyline to watch as the 2013 season progresses. If Ponder is able to distract defenses even a little bit, then Adrian Peterson will have another historic season. Unfortunately for the Vikings, a return trip to the playoffs is unlikely if Peterson doesn't have another historic season.
15. Chicago Bears (0-0)
The success of the Bears in 2013 will hinge on quarterback Jay Cutler's ability to spread the ball around more than he did in 2012. Last season, he seemingly threw every ball to Brandon Marshall. This year, he must use his other weapons, such as second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery and former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett.
16. Cleveland Browns (0-0)
You're probably asking, why is Cleveland so high in these rankings? Well, back in July, this author picked the Browns to make the playoffs because of the combination of youth, continuity (the Browns are starting the same quarterback two years in a row for the first time since the Clinton administration), and talent that this Cleveland team now boasts. Look for the Browns to win against the Dolphins this Sunday as they begin their quest for the AFC's sixth playoff seed, sneaking into the tournament behind fellow AFC North teams Baltimore and Cincinnati.
17. Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
Finally, Larry Fitzgerald has someone to catch balls from, in quarterback Carson Palmer. Also, the Arizona defense is becoming one of the best ball-hawking units in the league, with LSU alums Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu patrolling the secondary. However, don't expect the Cardinals to rise in these rankings if Rashard Mendenhall doesn't get the ground game going.
18. St. Louis Rams (0-0)
The Rams boast a lot of young talent as they enter Week 1 against the Cardinals. The main question for St. Louis as 2013 progresses will be how well this youth can perform on a weekly basis. Look for the Rams' spot in these rankings to rise if Tavon Austin can establish himself as a premier possession receiver that quarterback Sam Bradford can trust in divisional games against the 49ers and Seahawks.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (0-0)
Playing against RG3 Monday night will be a good first test for a Philadelphia defensive unit that has undergone some significant changes in 2013, including the additions of corner Cary Williams, safety Patrick Chung (who was the object of Steve Johnson's uneducated smack talk on Monday), and defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga. If these new guys can slow down the Redskins in the opener, the Eagles would have an early jump in the NFC East title race.
20. Miami Dolphins (0-0)
The additions of pass rusher Danelle Ellerbe and corner Brent Grimes were great acqusitions for the Dolphins this offseason. Expect Miami to climb in these rankings as the season progresses, but only if running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are able to step up and become threats in the Dolphins' offense.
21. Dallas Cowboys (0-0)
If nothing else, the NFC East is the league's most perplexing division. While the Cowboys are ranked a lowly #21 in this week's power rankings, that number could change on a dime depending on how events play out in the first few weeks. The winner of Sunday's Giants-Cowboys matchup will gain significant momentum in the division.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)
A new coach, a new quarterback. Every team has to rebuild at some point. However, If the Chiefs can imitate what the Colts did last season even a little bit, Andy Reid and Alex Smith will receive positive reviews from fans. Expect the Chiefs to be more dangerous than AFC West rivals San Diego and Oakland, but they likely won't be in the playoffs.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)
The questionable cutting of Jonathan Dwyer and the even more questionable acquisition of Felix Jones won't help the Steelers win games at the beginning of this season. While Pittsburgh should be able to handle Tennessee in this Sunday, don't expect a second win against the Bengals in Week 2.
24. Buffalo Bills (0-0)
The Bills had better hope that E.J. Manuel is good to go Sunday against the Patriots, because the thought of starting an undrafted rookie free agent that was 4-22 in college is frightening to say the least. However, if the Bills are serious about giving the ball to C.J. Spiller as much as possible, then they will win some games this year. Not enough to make the playoffs, though.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
Judging from the preseason, it is clear that the Bucs want to throw the ball a lot this year. But will Josh Freeman be up to the task? 2013 is probably Freeman's last chance to prove that he is a starting-caliber quarterback in this league. With rookie quarterback Mike Glennon on his back, the pressure is on for Freeman.
26. Detroit Lions (0-0)
Acquiring Reggie Bush was a much-needed move for a Lions team that seemingly never handed the ball off last season. Matthew Stafford threw the ball a whopping 727 times last season. If Bush can make an impact in 2013, look for the Lions to rise in these rankings, and for them to push the Bears and Vikings for the NFC North silver medal.
27. Carolina Panthers (0-0)
The Panthers have a rough opening matchup against the Seahawks this Sunday, and if they are going to have any chance of winning, Cam Newton will have to have a big day with both his arm and his legs. On the other side of the ball, reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly must stop Marshawn Lynch early and often.
28. Tennessee Titans (0-0)
If the Titans make the playoffs and play the Patriots, they will be glad that they acquired safety Bernard Pollard in the offseason. Pollard seemingly ruins every Patriots season, dating back to 2008 when he crushed Tom Brady's knee as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Even when they aren't playing the Patriots, the Titans will be happy to have Pollard's physical and aggressive style of play.
29. San Diego Chargers (0-0)
If the Chargers are going to be any threat to the Broncos in the AFC West this season, they will need Ryan Mathews to stay off the injury report. In addition, they will need Malcolm Floyd to emerge as more of a playmaker at wide receiver, as they lost Denario Alexander to a torn MCL last month. San Diego's Week 1 matchup against the Texans outstanding defense Monday night will be a good test for Mathews and Floyd.
30. Oakland Raiders (0-0)
The Raiders hoped to rekindle the glory days of 2002 by acquiring Charles Woodson this offseason. In addition, they brought in former Broncos corner Tracy Porter and former Cowboys corner Mike Jenkins, and drafted corner D.J. Hayden. The revamped secondary won't translate to wins, however, if the quarerback issue isn't solved. Right now, that problem is looking pretty grim, with neither Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor looking like a viable starting option.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, their bold new uniforms won't make Blaine Gabbert a quarterback.
32. New York Jets (0-0)
It might not be a bad idea for the Jets to get Tim Tebow to play quarterback. OK, it's probably a bad idea. But so is starting Mark Sanchez. Or Geno Smith. Or Brady Quinn.
Read more from Connor Fulton:
Lazy Sundays: Examining the Best Non-Primetime Games
Meet Zach Sudfeld, the Patriots Next Tight End Star
It's A Passing League: The Top Ten Pass Rushers Entering 2013
Follow Connor Fulton on Twitter @CF_iSportsTimes
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