NFL Power Rankings Week 1: Seattle Seahawks claim top spot
The 2013 NFL season was an unusual one in that the balance of power did not shift all that much from start to finish. Yes, a few teams tumbled unexpectedly (Houston was No. 6 in our post-Week 1 Power Rankings, only to finish 2-14), and a few others exceeded expectations (Carolina and Arizona sat Nos. 26 and 28, respectively, after 0-1 opens).
But the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers and Patriots -- the four teams that participated in the division-title round -- all maintained consistent spots atop the NFL pecking order throughout the season.
They all are still at or near the top as 2014 opens, too. Will this season hold to form?
78.6: That's the percentage of field goals that new Titans kicker Ryan Succop converted last season and approximately the number of Simpsons episodes I watched during the recent marathon. It's also Russell Wilson's completion percentage from the preseason. The exhibition slate produces grain-of-salt conclusions, but suffice it to say, no quarterback looked more ready for the real deal than Wilson.
"You just don’t go out and go a step further because you went that far last year," Peyton Manning said this summer, a reminder that nothing will come free for the Broncos this season. Or maybe he was explaining the production decisions behind his and Eli's latest rap video. Who knows.
The offense? Still fun. The defense might be closer to having more talent overall, though, thanks to the dynamic Kenny Vaccaro-Jairus Byrd pairing at safety and a Junior Galette-Cameron Jordan combo that might be as lethal off the edge as any in the league.
Mike McCarthy says this year's offensive line may be the best he has ever had in Green Bay. How many more seasons does Aaron Rodgers have to do his thing before we can legitimately wonder if he is the best quarterback McCarthy has ever coached, too?
Shy of team doctors okaying a Tom Brady lifetime contract by announcing that "somehow, though we cannot explain it, he has stopped aging," few things could have made Patriots fans happier than Rob Gronkowski's pre-Week 1 declaration: "I’m good to go. I’ll be playing.”
Lest the princely sum paid to Colin Kaepernick confuse anyone, this is still a team that hangs its hat -- or pleats its khakis, as the case may be -- on the run game and defense. The former should click again, assuming Frank Gore stays healthy; the latter, well ... check back in around Week 10, when NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith should be back in the lineup.
Everyone on the the-league-will-figure-out-Chip-Kelly bandwagon makes it sound like Kelly spent the offseason binge-watching Orphan Black or something. In reality, Kelly has earned a reputation for being able to make quick, smart adjustments -- be it game-to-game or play-to-play. If defensive coordinators find a hole in his attack, count on Kelly countering again.
The defending AFC South champs carry myriad questions into the regular season, like whether or not the interior of their O-line can keep it together or how well they can replace Robert Mathis' production for four weeks. They also have one very emphatic answer: Yes, Andrew Luck really is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Are we going to talk about this schedule or just assume the Bengals get the win total they need for a fourth-straight playoff trip? Cincinnati travels to New England, Indianapolis, New Orleans and sleeper darling Tampa Bay, plus hosts Denver and has the usual AFC North gauntlet. The talent is there for a repeat division title, but it's going to be a chore.
The Ravens have had seven total picks over Rounds 1-3 of the past two drafts. They have spent six on their defense (the seventh, a third-round choice this year, was used on TE Crockett Gillmore). For as much as this offense needs kickstarting, GM Ozzie Newsome's toughest task remains reestablishing a defensive identity in a post-Ray Lewis/Ed Reed world.
The run defense was so disgustingly bad last season that if you fire up the game tape from Week 16 at Philadelphia, LeSean McCoy pops out of the screen and sprints to the nearest end zone like an NFL version of The Ring. Even moderate improvement there puts the Bears in contention, because that offense -- Jay Cutler-led or otherwise -- is going to roll.
The Steelers are not turning to dust quite as rapidly as they were a couple years ago -- at least a dozen of their projected starters entered the league in 2010 or later. But Ben Roethlisberger is not one of them, so the sense of urgency in getting it done before Big Ben breaks down remains.
The No. 4 wide receiver for Cam Newton is Brenton Bersin, who has zero catches in two seasons in the NFL. No. 5 is Philly Brown, an undrafted rookie from Ohio State. And, should it come to this, the sixth wide receiver up is Jake, from State Farm. (Really, it's Stephen Hill.)
Andy Reid's squad was 9-0 last season before limping to the finish with a 2-4 close and subsequent playoff loss. The Chiefs might happily take a 3-3 start in 2014, with games at Denver, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego as well as a home matchup versus New England packed into an early six-week stretch.
Detroit's 2013 season implosion may not have been all the head coach's fault, but it felt like it was all the head coach's fault. So the front office turned 180 degrees from Jim Schwartz by hiring the stoic, steady Jim Caldwell. Who gets the blame if he falls just as short with a win-now roster?
Bruce Arians pulled a rabbit (and 10-6 record) out of his hat last season, in large part due to the efforts of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Missing from the roster now, though, are Daryl Washington (suspended), Darnell Dockett (injured) and leading tackler Karlos Dansby (signed with Cleveland). "This defense is better than that one," Arians said recently, before sitting silently for five minutes while reporters waited for him to add, "Nah, just kidding."
The Dolphins allowed 30 points just once last season but only topped the 30-point mark once themselves (somehow, in the snow at Pittsburgh). Mix a bend-but-don't-break defense with a bend-but-don't-breakthrough offense and you get an 8-8 mark. Will either unit take charge in 2014?
This is akin to scoring tickets to a Broadway show, only to discover an understudy in the lead role. Shaun Hill, a very competent backup, might thrive as Sam Bradford's replacement at quarterback -- there is loads of ability around him on both sides of the ball. But he also might be in over his head.
Something that the Broncos, Chargers, Lions, Packers, Bears and Patriots all have in common? They finished in the top 10 in passing yardage last season. Oh, and they're all on the Jets' schedule, meaning that GM John Idzik's borderline stubborn reluctance to upgrade his cornerback situation could come back to bite him.
Ever trade baseball or football cards as a kid? You'd buy a pack, attempt to eat that razor-sharp "gum" inside, check out who you had and ... usually be disappointed. Luckily, if a couple friends were there, you could start swapping guys quick. This is my roundabout way of saying that Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht went kind of bonkers this offseason retooling here. It might work -- plenty of people believe this squad is a wild-card contender.
Eventually, maybe even in the very near future, the Vikings and rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater are going to be contenders. Right now, they are to the NFC North what "Trefoils" are to Girl Scout Cookies. It might be a perfectly fine cookie, but you're not going to choose it over the other offerings.
The hope is (was?) that Ben McAdoo could do for Eli Manning's career what Mike McCoy did for 2013 Comeback Player of the Year Philip Rivers. The early returns have been ghastly. The Giants did go 5-0 in the preseason, but save for a couple long runs, had little to no mojo on offense.
Quick, name five Titans. The hardcore fans outside (and hopefully some folks in Tennessee) might have pulled it off, but with Chris Johnson and Alterraun Verner playing elsewhere, this is a rather anonymous bunch for the casual football viewer. This does not necessarily spell doom, but it would have been reassuring to see the Titans get more accomplished this offseason.
This is season three for RGIII. Season RGI was breathtaking, right up until the Washington quarterback injured himself against Baltimore and then suffered that devastating setback versus Seattle; season RGII then was mostly a bust. The preseason was not all that reassuring, except for a Redskins defense that appeared much more aggressive than in 2013.
Might be hard to tell the difference between an actual Cowboys game and one of those events where Jerry Jones lets kids play "Madden" on his stadium's massive scoreboard. This will be video-game football at its finest (or its worst, depending on your point of view): lots of passing, tons of points and, from Dallas' perspective, probably a few too many losses.
Thank goodness for assistant coach Bryan Cox, who has kept this season of Hard Knocks afloat almost single-handedly. If the 46-year-old could round back into playing shape and help the Falcons' troublesome defense, that would be a bonus.
An energetic coach, a promising young GM, perhaps the NFL's next star quarterback, a noticeable increase in talent across the board. And pools! Luxury-suite pools all over the stadium! There is a lot to like in Jacksonville at the moment. This might be the floor for the Jaguars this season.
You know how the old adage goes: When you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. And when you have one Johnny Manziel, it feels like you have 12 because of all the extra attention. Sadly, the most impressive quarterback for Cleveland this preseason might have been Connor Shaw, which ... is a problem.
The last time the Bills produced a winning season, Drew Bledsoe was their quarterback, Willis McGahee was the running back and a 29-year-old London Fletcher led the team in tackles. Since that 2004 campaign, Buffalo has failed to even get back to 8-8. Snapping that skid this year might push Doug Marrone into Coach of the Year conversations.
Oakland is better off with Derek Carr at quarterback, regardless of what his win-loss record turns out to be. Look, at some point the Raiders have to enact a youth movement. In general, modeling a roster rebuild around the theories of David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused is a poor choice -- "I get older, they stay the same age."
Are the Texans still the worst team in the NFL? On paper, no. At quarterback, maybe. That's enough to keep them buried down here until either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Mallett proves he is an upgrade on the Case Keenum/Matt Schaub/T.J. Yates debacle from last season.