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NFL season preview Power Rankings

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The Ravens went 1-1 against the Broncos in 2012, knocking Denver out in the AFC Divisional round.

Excitement tinged with a healthy dose of relief. Such is the emotional mix most NFL fans feel when Week 1 of the regular season arrives.

SI.com predictions: Super Bowl XLVIII, awards, more | MMQB preview spectacular

Finally, after months and months of mostly idle discussion over how each individual team and player will perform in the coming year, the games arrive to give us something tangible to dissect. If we've learned anything over the NFL's long history, it is that trying to predict what will happen is something of a fool's errand.

So you can fully expect the first Power Rankings of the regular season to look almost totally different from the final version, some four months from now. But, hey, you've gotta start somewhere ...

NFL Power Rankings
1Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 1
I made the point in the Pre-Preseason Power Rankings that the defending champ keeps the top spot until proven otherwise. The Broncos may do that on Thursday night. Until then, the Ravens preside over the rankings like a giant Joe Flacco banner.
 
2Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 3
Christine Michael's preseason emergence as a legitimate addition to the backfield further cements this team as a contender. Avoiding a repeat of last season's 4-4 start is imperative.
 
3Denver Broncos
Last Week: 2
A six-game suspension for Von Miller and a Bermuda triangle at the center position should temper early expectations for Peyton's crew. An 0-2 start (Baltimore, at the Giants) is not out of the question.
 
4San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 4
There's reason to be worried about the wide receivers still -- at least until Michael Crabtree and/or Mario Manningham get back. Continued development from Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore would help round out what's already a lethal offense.
 
5New England Patriots
Last Week: 8
Rob Gronkowski could be back as early as Week 2, bolstering both the run and pass games. This defense could be pretty stout, too, and it opens against rookies EJ Manuel and Geno Smith.
 
6Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 6
Green Bay's first two games (at San Francisco, Washington) will be telling. Have the Packers figured out how to stop offenses with mobile QBs and read-option plays? If not, getting through the NFC will be tough.
 
7Houston Texans
Last Week: 7
A three-game stretch starting in Week 3 -- at Baltimore, vs. Seattle, at San Francisco -- will give us a pretty solid idea where Houston stands in the NFL's pecking order. There's little doubt this is the team to beat in the AFC South.
 
8Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 9
The Ravens' grandfathered claim to the No. 1 spot has the top three teams in the AFC North more spread out than they probably should be. Cincinnati has the pieces to replace them on the throne this season.
 
9Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 5
The jury is still out on the offensive line and a young secondary (save for Asante Samuel). The Falcons have established themselves as perennial contenders, but are they any better than they were last season?
 
10Washington Redskins
Last Week: 12
Robert Griffin III's impending return to the field (temporarily?) moves Washington to the front of the NFC East. Is this the team that finished last season with seven straight wins or the one that opened it 3-6?
 
11New York Giants
Last Week: 10
The Giants are more banged up than they'd like to be considering the regular season has not yet begun. Andre Brown, David Baas and David Diehl are all out for at least the opener, while Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Jason Pierre-Paul have battled their own injuries all preseason.
 
12Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 16
Opinions vary on the Steelers. They're capable of winning it all and could just as easily slump below .500. It says here they're somewhere in between: an AFC North contender that could be more -- or less -- depending on how the breaks fall.
 
13Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 14
Ahmad Bradshaw could be a massive piece to the puzzle, though health concerns clearly follow him now. The Colts were 9-1 last season in games decided by fewer than 10 points. Is a regression to the mean on tap there?
 
14Chicago Bears
Last Week: 11
Jay Cutler was less than dazzling in the preseason, with Marc Trestman's offense in place. Getting Brandon Marshall back in the fold will help greatly, but how quickly will this all come together?
 
15New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 13
For a team that was horrifyingly poor on defense last season, the last couple of months have been a nightmare. The Saints have lost Victor Butler, Will Smith and Kenyon Coleman for the year, while Jonathan Vilma is out until at least Week 9.
 
16Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 17
The Cowboys were concerned enough about their D-line and the health of Anthony Spencer to trade a conditional 2015 draft pick for Caesar Rayford, an undrafted player this past April. The offense, led by Dez Bryant, will have to cover up a lot of issues.
 
17Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 16
Greg Jennings caught all of three balls in the preseason, so the Vikings are hardly ready to roll at receiver. And barring a breakthrough year from QB Christian Ponder, the plan -- all Adrian Peterson, all the time -- will be more of the same.
 
18Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 20
With Darrelle Revis set to return, the Bucs have a great shot to start 1-0 in New York against Geno Smith and the Jets. They had better do so, with the Saints and Patriots next up on the schedule.
 
19St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 19
Jeff Fisher claims the Rams will use Tavon Austin far more -- and far more creatively -- than we saw in the preseason. How deadly Austin is with the ball in his hands could determine what this offense is capable of accomplishing.
 
20Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 18
The defense has a chance to be stout, thanks to the offseason additions of Brent Grimes, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. Will the offense keep pace? Miami has yet to see it all come together on that side of the football.
 
21Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 21
Behind new guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, Chris Johnson is on track to restore some of his former glories in 2013. Alone, that will not be enough to get to nine-plus wins. Jake Locker and a defense that finished dead last in points allowed in 2012 have to be better.
 
22Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 22
The Panthers are a bit of a chic pick to surprise people in 2013. That optimism starts with QB Cam Newton, even though the loss of RB Jonathan Stewart hurts. Unfortunately, the shoddy secondary will cost them some games.
 
23Detroit Lions
Last Week: 23
Stop me if you've heard this one before ... the Lions have an exciting offense, spearheaded by Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson; they also have worries on the O-line, in the secondary and, worst of all, with on-field discipline.
 
24Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 25
Of all the teams in the bottom-half of these rankings, the Chiefs may have the best chance to rise up. Expecting a jump from 2-14 to the playoffs is asking a lot, though, even in a suspect AFC.
 
25Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 30
Tyrann Mathieu may turn a talented secondary into one of the league's best. The offense will be stronger, as well, with Carson Palmer seeking out Larry Fitzgerald. But it's a bad time to be rebuilding in the NFC West.
 
26Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 28
Count me among the believers: Cleveland is headed in the right direction. But until Brandon Weeden shows real progress during the regular season, the bandwagon is likely to remain less than full.
 
27Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 26
Maybe EJ Manuel follows in the footsteps of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson and sparks a rapid revival here. The safer bet is that Buffalo needs at least one more year to get the right players in place for new coach Doug Marrone.
 
28San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 24
The Chargers seem a little stuck, between trying to stay competitive and hitting the reset button for a full rebuild. The 2013 team may not have the right formula to pull off either plan.
 
29Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 27
Led by Michael Vick, the Philadelphia offense could be must-see viewing. The problem is the up-tempo attack will put more pressure on a defense that could be among the league's worst. If this D gets stuck on the field for 40 minutes a game, Philadelphia will be in for a very long season.
 
30New York Jets
Last Week: 29
The Jets' defense may win them a few ballgames here and there. The offense probably will cost them at least a couple. Geno Smith may be a lights-out QB in this league ... eventually. For now, he appears to be in over his head on an undertalented unit.
 
31Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 31
The Jaguars' 2014 QB almost certainly is not on the roster now, barring a shocking turnaround from Blaine Gabbert. So any positive momentum is of the baby-steps variety until next draft rolls around.
 
32Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 32
A unanimous pick in our SI.com preseason predictions to land the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. If nothing else, Terrelle Pryor's move to the front of the QB depth chart adds a little excitement for the Raiders out of the gate.

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