Wednesday July 24th, 2013

Joe Flacco (top) and the Ravens will have to find someone to replace the departed Anquan Boldin.
Peter Read Miller/SI

Tossing out a set of Power Rankings in late July is a bit like offering up grades in the immediate aftermath of a draft. You do the best you can with the information available ... and are ready to be proven entirely wrong in a matter of months, if not weeks.

Every team wants to believe it is a Super Bowl contender when camp opens. On paper, at least half the franchises in the league probably are not true threats to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy and there are maybe seven or eight teams that stand out above the rest heading into the year.

Of course, that's why they play the games and all that jazz.

So, here we go with your first chance to vehemently disagree with SI's NFL Power Rankings for the 2013 season.

NFL Preseason Power Rankings
1Baltimore Ravens
Last Week:
A matter of principle here -- you don't boot the defending Super Bowl champs from their perch before they play a game. Oh, and in turning over a huge chunk of their defense, Baltimore may have gotten better. The loss they might feel worst of all? WR Anquan Boldin. Without him the Ravens would not have been champs.
2Denver Broncos
Last Week:
The Broncos had the second-best offense in the league last season, then added Wes Welker and Montee Ball. So ... good luck stopping Peyton Manning. Will a defense that faltered in the playoffs be able to overcome Elvis Dumervil's departure?
3Seattle Seahawks
Last Week:
A different team in the second half of last season, Seattle finished the regular season 7-1 after a Week 8 loss in Detroit. All the Seahawks did this offseason was add one of the game's most dynamic weapons, Percy Harvin, and multiple D-line weapons.
4San Francisco 49ers
Last Week:
The 49ers badly need Boldin to play as he did down the stretch for Baltimore in 2012, because it's Michael Crabtree's Achilles tear that has the NFC West scales tipped ever so slightly in Seattle's favor right now.
5Atlanta Falcons
Last Week:
The Falcons are the NFC's Broncos, a team with a litany of options on offense (Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, Tony Gonzalez, etc.) and concerns on defense. If rookie CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford shine, this could be your Super Bowl champ.
6Green Bay Packers
Last Week:
The best team in a very tough division, the Packers' pressing question is if they've done enough defensively to be ready for an offense like the San Francisco one that shredded them in the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers, even down Greg Jennings, will find a way to put up points.
7Houston Texans
Last Week:
Is rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins the piece Houston had been missing? Should he adequately complement Andre Johnson in the passing game, maybe the Texans can get beyond the playoff's second weekend. Their true fortunes may rest on Ed Reed's health or D.J. Swearinger's development at the safety spot, where Houston lost reliable Glover Quin.
8New England Patriots
Last Week:
Not to put a damper on celebrations of the Patriots' demise, but this still should be a pretty good club. Tom Brady remains in that elite class of QBs who gives his team a chance to win each week, and the run game and defense might be better than in 2012. Plus, that Rob Gronkowski guy will return at some point.
9Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week:
If the Texans are the AFC team that just cannot break through, what's that make the Bengals, who were bounced by Houston in each of the past two postseasons? It might make them a team ready for Super Bowl contention itself, provided RB Giovani Bernard, TE Tyler Eifert and OLB (and longtime Steelers linchpin) James Harrison deliver.
10New York Giants
Last Week:
A one-point, Week 13 loss in Washington is ultimately what kept the Giants from the postseason last year. They're arguably even more dangerous on offense now, with TE Brandon Myers (though losing RB Ahmad Bradshaw stings). The NFC East is so tight that at least the top three teams - the Giants, Washington and Dallas - might be interchangeable here.
11Chicago Bears
Last Week:
No, the Bears did not qualify for the playoffs last season, but new coach Marc Trestman should kickstart a slightly stagnant offense. Whether or not he can maintain the traditionally strong Bears defense, minus Brian Urlacher, remains to be seen. An upgraded offensive line could be just the ticket to giving Green Bay a run in the NFC North.
12Washington Redskins
Last Week:
Placed here with an asterisk. Should Robert Griffin III actually get back on the field in game shape by Week 1 or 2, the Redskins will be tough to topple in the NFC East. And that's true despite a relatively quiet summer, brought on by cap penalties assessed prior to the 2012 season.
13New Orleans Saints
Last Week:
New Orleans' biggest acquisition after the 2012 season came in getting head coach Sean Payton back. Bringing in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan won't hurt either, after the Saints gave up more yards last year than any other team in NFL history. A still-lethal offense and improved defense should bump up that 7-9 record.
14Indianapolis Colts
Last Week:
Two teams in a row here, Indianapolis and Minnesota, that overachieved in 2012. And this is where they realistically fall again - below the "elite" squads but capable of surprising everyone again. With Pep Hamilton, Andrew Luck's offensive coordinator late in his Stanford career, now calling plays and Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield, the Colts will not be much fun to defend.
15Minnesota Vikings
Last Week:
In signing Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings made it obvious that they expect QB Christian Ponder (or backup Matt Cassel) to take the slack off Adrian Peterson. Can the defense, with questions at linebacker and Antoine Winfield deleted from the secondary, come up with enough stops?
16Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week:
Cards on the table, I think this is low for the Steelers. They won eight games last season and have a pretty friendly schedule in 2013. But, the offensive line is anywhere from a likely headache to a potential nightmare, Mike Wallace is gone and the defense continues to be picked through by salary-cap issues.
17Dallas Cowboys
Last Week:
In back-to-back seasons, the Cowboys have finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs by virtue of a Week 17 intra-division loss. And this version does not look appreciably better (or worse) than its previous two incarnations. That makes it hard to count on a real change in the Cowboys' fortunes.
18Miami Dolphins
Last Week:
Only one team that scored less points than the Dolphins last season finished above last place in its respective division. That team? The Jets. So, the Dolphins bolstered their O-line and handed WR Mike Wallace a massive deal. The points, then, should come. And if the defense posts another top-10 finish, Miami can contend in the AFC East or swipe a wild-card spot.
19St. Louis Rams
Last Week:
The Rams were 7-8-1 in 2012, with a 2-1-1 mark against San Francisco and Seattle. Did anyone notice? Sam Bradford's in a make-or-break year, flanked by new arrivals Jared Cook, Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy. The defense is counting on rookies Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald - possibly too much for this team to be considered a true threat before 2014.
20Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week:
The secondary, with Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks, should be leaps and bounds ahead of the 2012 version, even if Tampa Bay's pass rush still looks shaky. Doug Martin's a star at running back, but what can we expect from QB Josh Freeman? The Bucs don't even seem to know. In a very competitive division, Tampa Bay has the worst situation under center.
21Tennessee Titans
Last Week:
The O-line should be substantially better with Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre at guards - maybe even good enough to revive Chris Johnson's fading legacy and get the Titans into postseason contention. As with a lot of the teams down here in the rankings, though, uncertainty at quarterback could be too much to overcome.
22Carolina Panthers
Last Week:
The Panthers we've seen over the second halves of the 2011 and '12 seasons are an NFC South contender; the first-halves version is a bottom-feeder. Cam Newton is as worrisome as they come for opposing defenses, but even off-the-charts performances from him may not make up for a secondary that the Panthers failed to upgrade enough after a crummy 2012.
23Detroit Lions
Last Week:
As a video-game offense, the combo of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will make the Lions thrilling. As a real-life team? The Lions will go only as far as a reworked offensive line and a defense featuring at least five new starters will take them.
24San Diego Chargers
Last Week:
This is where the second AFC West team is in our rankings, so that should give you some sort of idea of how big a favorite the Broncos are. San Diego, 7-9 a year ago, may far exceed this preseason pegging, if Mike McCoy reverts Philip Rivers to Pro Bowl form and newcomers like Dwight Freeney and Manti Te'o buoy the defense.
25Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week:
A popular playoff pick a year ago, the Chiefs flopped. Now, with new QB Alex Smith and new coach Andy Reid, the expectations are tempered ... and the Chiefs might blow past them. Reid has way more talent to work with than you'd expect from a coach inheriting a 2-14 team. The defense has top-10 potential -- CB Brandon Flowers said the Chiefs have the best secondary in football, with the arrivals of Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith.
26Buffalo Bills
Last Week:
New coach Doug Marrone's first draft, and possibly his entire Buffalo career, will hinge on the franchise's decision to nab QB E.J. Manuel in Round 1 this year. Is Manuel the starter out of the gate or will Kevin Kolb get the nod? Either way, the Bills might be hard-pressed to top last year's six-win total against a tough schedule.
27Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week:
If you're a full believer in the power of Chip Kelly's offense, you'll want Philadelphia much higher than this. But a reminder that a) Kelly has yet to settle on a quarterback, and b) the Philadelphia defense was pretty putrid in its own right last season (29th in points allowed). Even if Kelly's an NFL genius, this is not an overnight fix.
28Cleveland Browns
Last Week:
When we get down here in the rankings, we're looking for teams that seem destined to finish fourth in their divisions. Cleveland fits the bill, despite a long rebuilding project that finally feels on track. The Browns have not won more than five games since 2007. They could top that total in 2013, if QB Brandon Weeden raises his game and their new 3-4 D - featuring Paul Kruger and rookie Barkevious Mingo - wreaks havoc.
29New York Jets
Last Week:
If you were to bet on which team would score the fewest points in 2013, the Jets would have to be in consideration. They may turn to QB Geno Smith sooner rather than later, but that doesn't change the fact that they're bereft of much talent at receiver. The defense could be fun to watch, should rookies Sheldon Richardson and Dee Milliner carry over their college success to the NFL.
30Arizona Cardinals
Last Week:
Carson Palmer makes this team better, as should new coach Bruce Arians. It's still the worst squad in a division with a pair of Super Bowl favorites. Where are the Cardinals going to find wins? They could be 0-8 at their bye and no one would be stunned.
31Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week:
I'm a believer in Gus Bradley and think that the work he did this offseason absolutely made the Jaguars better. Bradley also landed in a mess that will take three or four seasons to break out of, not just one decent stretch. Oh, and how many more chances does Blaine Gabbert have left?
32Oakland Raiders
Last Week:
Let's give a little credit to GM Reggie McKenzie here. Entering his second year on the job, he recognized what a talent - uh - black hole he had on his roster, so he set to work to scrap it and start over. The result: new faces everywhere, with at least a handful of high-upside players. Good start, though like Jacksonville, this will be a lengthy process.

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