NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start at top
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): No team has gone back-to-back since the 2003-04 Patriots, but as of right now who is to say the Seahawks can’t repeat? We know what the defense can do, but the offense might just be getting warmed up. Russell Wilson has not even reached his prime and Pete Carroll has a stable of running backs he’s ready to unleash. Christine Michael would be a starter for about half the teams in this league and he currently sits third on the Seattle depth chart at RB.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3): In last season’s Super Bowl, the Broncos learned the hard way that simply having a great offense doesn’t guarantee you jack. You have to love the way John Elway responded. Swipe Aqib Talib from the Patriots, land T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware. Denver is all in on 2014.
3. New England Patriots (12-4): Bill Belichick would snort for several minutes if you accused him of being a copycat – particularly if you accused him of copying the man he replaced in New England way back when, in Pete Carroll. The Pats added a fired up Darrelle Revis – who no doubt does not take kindly to the notion that Richard Sherman is now considered the premier corner in the league – and former Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner. It could be New England’s best defense since the glory years.
4. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): A poor man’s version of the ’90s Buffalo Bills? San Fran lost in the NFC title game in 2012, lost in the Super Bowl in 2013 and fell in the NFC title game again this past January. Their previously outstanding defense isn’t slated to be as dominant this season with linebacker NaVorro Bowman and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey both on the shelf. Then there’s the tricky case of Aldon Smith.
5. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): The Broncos’ scoring records from a season ago might not stand for 365 days. The Packers “O” just may be that good this season with a healthy Aaron Rodgers and second-year running back Eddie Lacy ready to explode.
6. New Orleans Saints (11-5): The Saints also recognized this past spring that titles aren’t won without some semblance of balance. They grabbed one of the top defensive players on the market this off-season in safety Jairus Byrd.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): The excitement surrounding Chip Kelly’s innovative offense was thought to have reached its peak after last year’s season-opening win over Washington. That joy isn’t expected to subside at all this year, as many have the Eagles slated to make a leap into the elite class of the NFC.
8. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): It’s hard to recall a team having more “bounce-back year” buzz than the Falcons do right now, and no, it’s not just us drinking the Liev Schreiber “Hard Knocks” Kool-Aid. Keep a close eye on Julio Jones.
9. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): The best team to not make the playoffs in 2013, many were saying that if they were in the AFC they would have at least made the title game. The NFC is shaping up to be just as brutal this year – just look at the discrepancy on these rankings so far: just two AFC teams.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): There were plenty of laughs directed at the Bengals for the contract they gave Andy Dalton this summer. But when you see graphics like the one NBC put up last week that show that Dalton’s numbers are virtually identical to Peyton Manning’s through the first three years of their respective careers, you start to think, “Hey, you can do worse at the quarterback position.”
11. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Another big “bounce-back” candidate. Can offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak get Joe Flacco back to form?
12. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Heading into the 2013 postseason, much was made about how the Colts beat the Seahawks and Broncos in the regular season. But those wins came in the early portion of their season. Indy would certainly rather peak late from now on.
13. Chicago Bears (8-8): Jay Cutler is getting some “sleeper” buzz as a top fantasy football quarterback. The offense seems to be in good hands under Marc Trestman, but on defense the question is, “Does Jared Allen have anything left in the tank?”
14. San Diego Chargers (9-7): The Chargers have quietly re-tooled pretty well. They gave the Broncos some issues in that playoff game. Can Keenan Allen and the team as a whole take the next step?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Ben Roethlisberger’s contract situation comes up plenty when discussing the Steelers. He would do himself a favor by having a monster year and he has the weapons to do so. Expect big things from Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.
16. Detroit Lions (7-9): The NFC North. It ain’t your daddy’s black & blue division. The Packers, Bears, Vikings and Lions should all have dynamic offenses this season. Remember that Detroit’s new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, was the man behind making Drew Brees one of the best in the game.
17. New York Jets (8-8): Expect the Geno Smith jokes to subside this season. The kid has done some nice things this pre-season. The Jets’ problem may be their schedule early on. After seeing Oakland in Week 1, they play six straight projected playoff teams.
18. New York Giants (7-9): League historians are going to have problems assessing Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. But an above-average 2014 could help their legacies. The offense should be improved. It might not be as good as Odell Beckham projects but it’s hard to believe Manning has back-to-back horrid years.
19. Carolina Panthers (12-4): A good defense can still get the job done. People are freaking out over the lack of receiving options but it’s not as if Brandon LaFell and a 34-year-old Steve Smith were the second comings of Rice and Taylor last year. It all depends on the play and health of Cam Newton … again.
20. Houston Texans (2-14): At a cookout last week I had to ask several different knowledgeable sports fans who the Texans’ starting quarterback was. No one knew. After five minutes of iPhone Google searching, we landed on Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s the guy … right?
21. Washington Redskins (3-13): Cam Newton and the Panthers turned it around last year. Are Robert Griffin, entering his third season, and the Redskins this year’s version of Cam and the Panthers?
22. Miami Dolphins (6-10): The defense looks great. But will Ryan Tannehill be able to cut down on his interception totals? He had 13 in 2012 and 17 last year.
23. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Winning Week 1 in St. Louis is vital to the Vikings’ chances in 2014. They have the Patriots, Saints, Falcons and Packers in a row starting in Week 2.
24. Tennessee Titans (7-9): New head coach Ken Whisenhunt gets the most out of his quarterbacks. He did a nice job with Phil Rivers last year, got one more Super Bowl run out of Kurt Warner in Arizona and Ben Roethlisberger played his most efficient ball under Whisenhunt’s watch. What can Whisenhunt get out of Jake Locker?
25. Buffalo Bills (6-10): After several years of being overrated, it appears running back C.J. Spiller is now underrated.
27. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Is this the year the Cowboys finally break their longstanding tradition of perfectly average football? Yes … they’ll be much worse.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Lovie Smith went 5-11 in his first year in Chicago. Expect similar growing pains in Tampa.
29. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel will see plenty of action this season, mostly because the Browns will be in “Why-the-hell-not?” mode by Week 5.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Maurice Jones-Drew could help things offensively, but even if he’s right that doesn’t guarantee wins. It certainly didn’t in Jacksonville.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Blake Bortles should be solid … just not right away.
32. St. Louis Rams (7-9): The Sam Bradford injury hurts like hell.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBOS