It’s here. It’s finally here! The 2013 NFL season begins Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos. It’s a rematch of that epic divisional playoff game last season, where future Hall of Famer/playoff choke artist Peyton Manning served one up and punched the Ravens ticket to the next round … eventually, the Super Bowl.
But it’s a new season. All 32 teams are starting fresh, each one (well, let’s say at least 25 of them) has a chance to bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. With that in mind, Metro ranks the Top 25 in our first installment of our weekly NFL Power Rankings.
1. San Francisco 49ers: There’s a lot of concern over the 49ers’ muddled receiving corps. Don’t hit the panic button. Colin Kaepernick is a legit MVP candidate and the team has a bad taste in its mouth after losing the Super Bowl.
2. New England Patriots: Another team with questions at wideout. Does it really matter whoTom Brady is throwing the ball to? He’ll turn Kenbrell Thompkins into a star and Rob Gronkowski comes back Week 2.
3. Seattle Seahawks: No Percy Harvin hurts, but this team is built to run, with Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and rookie Christine Michael. If that doesn’t convince you, try and score on this defense.
4. Denver Broncos: Remember, it’s September. Way too early for Peyton Manning to choke. Besides, the Broncos added Wes Welker and are employing a new Pistol formation.
5. Houston Texans: It’s still hard to look at those uniforms and think powerhouse, but Houston has arrived. Question is, can they take the next step? Team was outscored 83-42 in two meetings with New England, including a playoff exit.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan finally earned a playoff win. Time to multiply that one. This team is too loaded on offense, with playmakers all over the field, not to win 13 games and be in the championship mix.
7. Green Bay Packers: We know the Pack is going to score points — lots and lots of points. Heck, Aaron Rodgers might throw for 5,000 yards. Green Bay just needs to hope its secondary can stick receivers.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: Maybe we’re drinking the Kool-Aid after watching HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” but these don’t look like your father’s Bengals. The defense is stout, the aerial attack looks scary good and running back Giovanni Bernard gives them an instant shot of adrenaline.
9. Baltimore Ravens: It’s pretty comical that the Ravens broke the bank to sign Joe Flacco when they quietly reinvented themselves as a running team. The duo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce is one of the best in the NFL.
10. New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton’s return can’t even be measured. He is the mastermind and mentor behind everything Drew Brees does. His absence spilled over to the defense, where the unit gave up 100 yards more per game last season than in 2011.
11. Washington Redskins: We should put an asterisk on this one. If Robert Griffin III stays healthy, the Redskins could be as dangerous as anyone in the NFC. If that balky ankle acts up, temper expectations — although Kirk Cousins isn’t a bad backup plan.
12. Detroit Lions: It’s the same old story in Motown, oodles of talent with questionable coaching and a lack of discipline. If Lions can’t punch a playoff ticket this year, then Jim Schwartz will get his walking papers.
13. New York Giants: The G-Men are an enigma. They could easily go 6-10 or 11-5, that’s how much they are hanging in the balance. Never count Eli Manning out, especially now that his receivers look healthy again.
14. Indianapolis Colts: It’s going to be very easy for the Colts to regress a bit after losing offensive coach/guru Bruce Arians. However, Andrew Luck hasn’t skipped a beat in the preseason, even throwing in a new talent: running.
15. Kansas City Chiefs: This isn’t a typo. Yes, I understand the Chiefs won just two games in 2012, but this is also a team that suffered through injury after injury and an identity crisis at quarterback. New coach Andy Reid has turned around franchises before and there’s enough talent here for him to do it again.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: The window appears to be closing on the Steelers. The roster’s average age is right around 30. That’s old in the NFL. Still, if the rookies can contribute, particularly injured back Le’Veon Bell, they could make some noise.
17. St. Louis Rams: Jeff Fisher’s boys went 2-1-1 against a tough NFC West last season in what was almost like a rebuilding year. Drafting speedy receiver Tavon Austin and meshing him with wideout Chris Givens means Sam Bradford is out of excuses.
18. Miami Dolphins: The Fins are the only real threat to New England’s mastery of the AFC East. They have the pass-rush to contend, but did they upgrade enough on offense? Jury’s still out on Mike Wallace.
19. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler is another quarterback running out of excuses. He’ll be running the West Coast offense that unleashed Steve Young and turned Rich Gannon into NFL MVP. Time for Cutler to grow up.
20. Minnesota Vikings: They upgraded the receiving corps significantly, but let’s get serious. They’ll go only as far as Adrian Peterson’s bulletproof legs can take them. Good news, Peterson is the best in the business.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa could be the biggest sleeper in the entire NFL, assuming CB Darrelle Revis is 100 percent and QB Josh Freeman can stay off the hot seat. The NFL’s worst-ranked secondary should be much improved.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly proved his exotic looks and unconventional ways will net points and yards, especially with guys like LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Mike Vick on offense. Problem is, can the defense get off the field?
23. Cleveland Browns: All those losing seasons are about to pay off. A stout defense mixed with an emerging quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and star running back (Trent Richardson) could finally breathe life back into the Dawg Pound.
24. Dallas Cowboys: By all accounts Dez Bryant and Tony Romo are getting along like a fat kid and cake, both poised for breakout seasons. Sorry, heard this way too often and not buying the hype.
25. Arizona Cardinals: Cards defense is stellar (6th-best in NFC). The unit just got gassed from being out there too long because the offense couldn’t score. Carson Palmer, while not great, will keep them in games.
The best of the worst: 26. Tennessee Titans, 27. San Diego Chargers, 28. Oakland Raiders, 29. Carolina Panthers, 30. New York Jets, 31. Buffalo Bills, 32. Jacksonville Jaguars