Before you sharpen your pitchforks, a short note on how we’ve come to rank the teams as we have: all NFLTR writers have compiled their own NFL power rankings, which we’ve compiled and averaged in the list below. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor, and feel free to agree, disagree, or roast us in the comments below.
#1) San Francisco 49ers
If I have to pick the best team in the league entering this season, it has to be the 49ers. Even with the loss of Michael Crabtree and question marks at receiver and cornerback, they’re still too talented to not be favored in almost every game they play this season. The NFC is loaded, but San Francisco has the fourth easiest schedule of any team in the conference, which should lead to at least 11 wins.
#2) Seattle Seahawks
While I give the benefit of the doubt to the 49ers as the best team in the league, there’s no question that Seattle isn’t too far off. It would be great to see their defensive line at full strength, but there’s no point in rushing some of these guy when you as much depth as they do. Look for Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to continue their efficient offensive production this season. They have a big Week 2 matchup against San Francisco, but overall their schedule is the easiest in the NFC, based on our Strength of Schedule rankings.
#3) Denver Broncos
I’d personally lean towards the Patriots as the No. 1 team in the AFC, but it appears as though I was ruled out in favor of Denver. Either way, it wouldn’t come as much of shock to see the Broncos win the most games in AFC seeing as they’ll have four games against the Chargers and Raiders. Clearly being without Von Miller for a portion of the season hurts their defensive unit. They’ll need to find some creative ways of getting the passer, but this offense will be tough to keep up with. Denver has the fourth easiest schedule in the league, according to our Strength of Schedule rankings.
#4) Green Bay Packers
There has been plenty of talk regarding the Packers additions at running back, and while I do think they’ll be a better team overall, my concerns lie with their offensive line. Rookie Eddie Lacy could be in for a pounding in year one if Green Bay can’t improve upfront. I do like the additions that they’ve made on defense and believe this unit should be greatly improved from a season ago. Green Bay has the No. 4 hardest schedule in the league, according to our Strength of Schedule rankings, so a quick start would be a huge plus for this team. The Packers, once again, look like the class of the NFC North.
#5) New England Patriots
New England’s offense has been tumultuous to say the least, but this franchise takes the hits as well as anyone. There has been good news regarding Rob Gronkowski in recent weeks and Danny Amendola looks to be an adequate replacement for Wes Welker. I’m most interested in seeing if their defense is capable of limiting the amount of yardage allowed this season, especially against solid passing offenses. They start off the season with a pretty easy stretch against the Bills, Jets and Buccaneers, so we may not know a lot about them until the midway point in the year.
#6) Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta took another step last season, but unfortunately couldn’t make it the Super Bowl. The good news is that they managed to keep their offensive core intact while bringing in an upgrade to Michael Turner in Steven Jackson. I still have some questions regarding their defense and ability to get to the quarterback. They open the year on the road against the Saints and then draw the Rams and Patriots in two of the next three weeks. I have the Falcons as a wild card, but you could easily make the case that their roster is better than New Orleans.
#7) Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati’s front office deserves some credit for putting together one of the deepest rosters in the league, especially in terms of young talent. Locking up Geno Atkins earlier this week was a great decision for them moving forward. I wish I could dispel the narrative regarding Andy Dalton being the linchpin for the Bengals, but it’s once again the biggest question mark facing Cincinnati. They should have a favorable schedule this season and will be interesting to see what kind of mismatches they can create with their new rookie offensive weapons in Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals D is a very solid unit, but they do have an interesting Week 1 test when they go up against the new Bears offense. I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t compete for the AFC North title.
#8) Houston Texans
The Texans got good news on Wednesday as first-round pick WR DeAndre Hopkins passed his concussion tests. There already has been a lot of talk regarding Arian Foster’s health, and it appears as though Houston will need to rely on Ben Tate more this season to mitigate Foster’s workload. The Texans get the Chargers in Week 1, which is great when you consider that their next three games are at Baltimore, home for Seattle and at San Francisco. After that stretch, things get much easier for Houston. There should be increased competition from the Colts in 2013, but even with their improvements, you have to give the Texans the benefit of the doubt in the AFC South.
#9) Washington Redskins
Washington’s 2012 season was clearly a success in a number of ways. It just would have been great if that whole RGIII knee injury never happened. Either way, Griffin appears to be fine and will be under center to start the season. The NFC East could end up being one of the toughest divisions in all of the NFL, which means there’s a chance only one team comes out of this division. Washington has the No. 2 hardest schedule in the league, according to our Strength of Schedule rankings, so a win over the Eagles in Week 1 could go a long way towards making the playoffs. In the first four weeks they’ll be up against the Lions and Raiders as well, so this is a great opportunity to capitalize on what appears to be their easiest stretch of the season.
#10) Baltimore Ravens
It’s probably blasphemous to rank the defending Super Bowl champs as the No. 10 team entering the next season, but few Super Bowl winners seen as much roster turnover as the Ravens did this offseason. You could easily make the argument that they’re better and more athletic on defense. They did however lose key offensive contributors like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta (injury). It’s worth noting that the Ravens are very optimistic that Pitta could be back later this season. According to our Strength of Schedule rankings, Baltimore has the hardest schedule of any AFC team. The improvements from the Bengals and Browns have narrowed to gap to some degree. The Steelers figure to still be in the mix as well, so I’d be pretty surprised to see them win more than 11 games this year.
#11) New York Giants
I feel like the Giants have been forgotten this offseason in some ways. I think their offense has more big-play potential than it has in the past few seasons. David Wilson, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle and Brandon Myers round out a very solid group of skill position players. Losing Andre Brown was a bit of setback, but the placed him on IR with the designation to return later in the year, so he could be back to full strength around Week 8. New York also got younger on defense, but they’ll need their defensive line to continue being a solid force them. For the record, I have the Giants winning the NFC East.
#12) New Orleans Saints
2012 could only have gone worse if blew out his knee. That’s about it. I’m willing to put that season in the past and give this team the benefit of the doubt. There’s no question that getting Sean Payton back is a huge plus for them. Rob Ryan’s new defensive scheme could be an obstacle for them, seeing as he inherited a rather underwhelming group of players to work with. Kenny Vaccaro will hopefully be able to pay dividends in year one, but they’ll need to generate a pass rush somehow to prevent opposing offenses from torching them again in 2013.
#13) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts like almost every other team in the AFC have a decent schedule this season. Four games against the Jaguars and Titans always helps, as does playing the AFC West this year. Andrew Luck appears to be as good as advertised, so I expect him to take the next step and solidify a spot in the top-ten quarterback discussion. The Texans are their main obstacle, but it’s not as though they’re unbeatable. If Indy’s defense can show some improvement, they should be able to contend in almost every game. We’ll have to see if losing Bruce Arians has any impact on their offensive production in 2013.
#14) Dallas Cowboys
Dallas gave Tony Romo a very sizable contract extension during the offseason, so there’s no question that expectations have increased proportionally for him and the Cowboys offense. Dez Bryant looks to be poised for a monster year, but he’ll need more help from guys like Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray if they’re really going to have a shot at winning the NFC East. I’m still concerned about their interior defensive line, but having healthy Sean Lee back should mitigate some of concerns. It would also be great to see some improved play from Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. I still can’t see them beating out the Giants or the Redskins for NFC East title. I should also mention that Dallas has the No. 6 hardest schedule, according to our Strength of Schedule rankings.
#15) St. Louis Rams
St. Louis has been a popular breakout candidate, but the more I consider the idea, the more I feel like this team will probably end up closer to the middle of the pack. Yes they added some quality talent in Jake Long, Jared Cook, Tavon Austin, and Alec Ogletree, but I just don’t think it’s going to be enough to compete with the other NFC teams who are likely to be in the hunt for a wildcard spot. The Rams have the No. 8 hardest schedule, according to our Strength of Schedule rankings. I should mention that they played the 49ers as though as anyone last season, so that could allow them walk away with a few important wins over San Francisco and possibly Seattle. If they make the playoffs, feel free to let me know I was wrong about them.
#16) Minnesota Vikings
I personally think this is a little high for the Vikings entering the season. First off, they have the hardest schedule in the entire NFL based on our Strength of Schedule rankings. Their season starts with back-to-back division games on the road. A slow start could really submarine their 2013 season and possible hurt them down the stretch. Secondly, Christian Ponder continues to look like as spotty as ever. Hopefully the Vikings are just holding him back until the start of the season, but I’m not sure that Adrian Peterson and the additions of Greg Jennings and Corderalle Patterson will be enough to mitigate average, or possibly even below-average quarterback for another season. It’s just unrealistic to expect Peterson to carry them to the playoffs again. Their defense has gotten younger and more athletic, so it could be enough for them to hang around in games and pull out some late victories. Either way, I feel better about projecting them to take a step back in 2013.
#17) Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has been one of the oldest NFL rosters for a number of years now. Losing RB Le’Veon Bell for what appears to be a few weeks is a setback, but it helps to open the season against the Titans. I’ve been really high on Markus Wheaton for a number of months now, so it will come as no surprise to me if he’s able to step in and perform from day one. Their defense has gotten a little younger too and Troy Polamalu is reportedly healthy as well, which means their defensive unit could be on the uptick. I should also point out that the Steelers have one of the easiest schedules in the league this season.
#18) Detroit Lions
Detroit, for some reason, can’t find an adequate No. 2 receiver to pair with Calvin Johnson. Their offensive line is an area of concern for me as well, although I really like addition of Larry Warford at guard. With that being said, Detroit’s offense should still be able to put up some great numbers this season. I really like their depth a defensive line, beyond just Suh and Fairley. Every offensive line that goes up against this unit is in for a long day to say the least. I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit ended up as the No. 2 team in the NFC North, although they have a pretty hard schedule this season.
#19) Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman’s new system is probably one of the biggest enigmas in the league as we head into the 2013 season. I’d expect to see a good balance overall. Chicago added some great pieces in Martellus Bennett, Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long, all of whom are great blockers. Even a modest improvement from Alshon Jeffery could really go a long way for Chicago. I’m still not sure what to expect from their defense now that Lovie Smith is no longer around, but they still have a good core and have also added some young talent in guys like Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
#20) Kansas City Chiefs
The Andy Reid era begins in Kansas City with Alex Smith under center to start the season. I’m not sure that I could have written a more boring sentence than that. Either way, this team looks to be the second best team in the AFC West on paper, despite winning enough games to secure the No. 1 overall selection in last year’s draft. The good news is that they do have talent on both sides of the ball. Their defense is good enough to keep them in most games and a big season from Jamaal Charles could be enough for them at least have a shot at a wildcard this season. Add in the fact that they have the easiest schedule in the entire league, based on our Strength of Schedule rankings and the idea doesn’t appear to be that farfetched.
#21) Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins weren’t shy about bringing in talent this offseason. Miami didn’t mind being aggressive in free agency, but there are some questions as to whether or not this was money well spent. The loss of Dustin Keller really hurts because he could have been a real bargain for them. Other than that, Brent Grimes is the only player who appears to be a reasonable deal. The bid high on Mike Wallace, but he really only offers one solid attribute and Dannell Ellerbe got paid for one good season. Meanwhile, they have major issues at left tackle and there really isn’t a lot of depth on this roster. I will say that I do like Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller, who should be solid pieces for them moving forward. Even in a division with the Jets and Bills, it’s still hard to be overly optimistic about this team. Miami’s schedule is brutal by any means, so I don’t think a 9-7 season is out of the question, but I just can’t see them being a contender in the AFC East.
#22) Philadelphia Eagles
For as excited as I am to see their offense this season, I’m just as concerned about their defense and ability to stop the pass. Philadelphia made an effort overhaul their secondary this offseason, but Kenny Phillips has already been cut loose and their preseason performance was hardly encouraging. If they can shore a few things up on that side of the ball, they could easily be in the mix for the NFC East title. I think this team has more upside than the Cowboys, which means they could be moving up the ranks in coming weeks.
#23) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay at least has some exciting players on their roster. Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson are both must-watch players. They have a great guard tandem upfront and their secondary looks really pretty good on paper. Who knows if Josh Freeman will be able step up in what appears to be a make-or-break season, but overall I’m just not buying this team’s depth. They play in a division with two perennial playoff contenders. I’d feel a lot better if they committed more towards their defensive line and adding some solid pass rushers to their defense. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are both pocket passers and the best way to disrupt these offenses is apply pressure. Of course having a great secondary, but it’s just hard to expect defensive backs to hold up when the quarterback has all day. Either way, I don’t see them being any better than No. 3 in the NFC South.
#24) Carolina Panthers
Other than Luke Kuechly, this team really isn’t that exciting to me. Cam Newton looks great against average teams, but hasn’t been able to put up the same numbers against quality opponents. This could be because of the limited help he has at receiver beyond Steve Smith. Carolina’s running game is a concern too, despite the fact that they’ve committed a staggering amount of money to Jonathan Stewert and DeAngelo Williams. They at least addressed their defensive tackle deficiencies this offseason when they drafted Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. Carolina’s upside probably isn’t enough for them get out of the bottom third of the league.
#25) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are a team that I’m a little higher on the rest of our staff. I’m buying Carson Palmer being and upgrade for Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona offense as a whole. I like what they’ve done on defense this offseason with the additions of John Abraham, Tyrann Mathieu and Karlos Dansby. Even if these guys play limited roles, they still have enough talent in place to be a pretty good unit. I doubt they’re the worst NFC team at the end of the season.
#26) Cleveland Browns
Cleveland continues to slowly get better. There’s a lot of buzz regarding Norv Turner’s impact on their offense this season, but I still have a hard time believing that Brandon Weeden is ready to be a difference maker for them. And improvement rushing attack and defense should help them compete in a very strong AFC North. I just can’t pick them over the Bengals, Ravens or Steelers.
#27) San Diego Chargers
You could make the case that the Chargers could be lower on this list than just No. 27. They have already dealt with a number of injuries to key players this offseason and they have major issues on their offensive line. King Dunlap will be their starting left tackle. Their defense also has a few holes and limited depth behind their starters. Even with a decent schedule, I can’t see them winning more than 6 games this season.
#28) Buffalo Bills
It looks like first-round pick E.J. Manuel has a shot at playing against the Patriots this weekend, which is good news given that their alternative was to start a rookie undrafted free agent. Losing Stephon Gilmore for an extended period of time really hurts their defense, but I would still expect Buffalo to be better than the bottom five teams by the end of the year. I’ll admit that this really isn’t saying a whole lot, but I just don’t see them being as bad some other teams if Manuel is able to play the whole season.
#29) Tennessee Titans
Tennessee deserves some credit for bringing in two upgrades at guard. I also like what they’ve done with Jake Locker as it appears as though they’re keeping things simple for him and allowing him to make plays rolling out. I’m still not sure what to expect from the on defense. A four or five win season seems like a pretty good bet.
#30) New York Jets
This year will purely be a long-term evaluation of their roster. I’m sure even the Jets front office has tempered any expectations they have for winning this season. New York does have talent. Chris Ivory could prove to be a good pickup and their defense has some good young pieces to work with. Until we see improvement from their quarterbacks, none of this really matters.
#31) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are clearly focused on the long-term, so I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Blaine Gabbert this season. They actually turned over 13 percent of their roster on Sunday and Monday, so expectations are likely low when it comes to total wins in 2013. I’m interested in seeing Maurice Jones-Drew does in a contract year, as there appears to be a good chance he’s playing elsewhere next year.
#32) Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders will start Terrelle Pryor in Week 1, which is a little surprising given that they traded two draft picks for Matt Flynn and then paid him $6 million. I’m still giving GM Reggie McKenzie the benefit of the doubt because of the horrible roster and cap situation he inherited. Gutting a team can be ugly, so I think it’s fair to start judging him on results after this year.