1. Seattle Seahawks- With the balance they display on offense and the physicality on defense along with having a secondary that can contain the best receiving cores in the league. The Seahawks will enter the year as number one on many people’s list of power rankings. The sky is the limit for Russell Wilson after winning a Super Bowl in his second season in the league. With Marshawn productive and good defense all around, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through Seattle once again.
2. San Francisco 49ers- Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach, the 49ers have been to three straight NFC Championship games and they’ve also made an appearance in the Super Bowl. This team has the confidence that they can win against anybody and they can win anywhere. The difference for the 49ers this season will be a healthy Michael Crabtree, Kap’s favorite target. Having Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis there too isn’t bad either. Defensively, they will rank among the top units in the league yet again as they look to win their third NFC West division title and get to a fourth straight NFC Title game.
3. Denver Broncos- They are still the team to beat in the AFC. After a record setting offensive season, Denver completely choked in the biggest game of them all. An offense that averaged over 35 points a game last season only put up 8 points. The defense was a struggle last season. With Von out the first six games then tearing his ACL, Denver would make some moves this off-season. Last year, they took care of the offense by signing Wes Welker. This year, they signed Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to improve that secondary and signed DeMarcus Ware to add another pass rusher. Denver will be one of the final four teams standing in January and considered a contender as always.
4. New England Patriots- Year in and year out, the Patriots will always be in the top five to a lot of people. They were a game away from the Super Bowl with all the injuries they endured but no coach will have his team more prepared and focused better than Bill Belichick. I expect this offense to be much improved this year with Amendola, Edelman coming back and Thompkins and Dobson having a year of experience under their belts. The biggest key for New England to get to where they want to be will be a healthy Rob Gronkowski. He’s the x factor and makes that offense much better. The Patriots improved their defense by signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and Wilfork is coming back to anchor that defensive line.
5. New Orleans Saints- They were a much improved team with Sean back roaming the sidelines. Having a guy named Drew Brees also makes things better too, right? The Saints can make a lot of noise this year if healthy. They have a much different look on defense but under Rob Ryan, they’ll be aggressive and physical just like last year. After losing Malcolm Jenkins in free agency, the Saints signed Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey to bolster the secondary. Pairing Jairus up with Kenny Vaccarro could make these two one of the best safety tandems in the league. The Saints offense will also have a different look without Darren Sproles.
6. Indianapolis Colts- This is the biggest threat to the Patriots and Broncos in the AFC. The Colts are back and are no fluke. They are very well coached under Pagano and they have a lot of key players coming back this season that were injured last year. Reggie Wayne is Andrew’s go to guy, having him back will make a huge difference, Dwayne Allen over the middle at Tight End, Vick Ballard will bring this team balance in the running game and the Colts also signed Hakeem Nicks to complement Reggie and will be a nice red zone target. The Colts can clinch a first-round bye if they play their cards right.
7. Green Bay Packers- Let’s look at it this way. The Packers were a quiet 5-2 before Aaron’s injury. All we spoke about in the NFC were the Seahawks and 49ers for obvious reasons and the resurgence of the Saints. The Packers were quietly winning football games with key players injured. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers coming back, a healthy Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy returning, Jordy on the outside and the signing of Julius Peppers though he’s not what he once was, the Packers can win some games. They are still a powerhouse in the NFC.
8. Philadelphia Eagles- We didn’t know what we were going to get last year under Chip Kelly in Philly. Michael Vick went down with an injury and Nick Foles came in, took over and never looked back. He led the Eagles to a 10-6 mark and their first NFC East division title in three years. The defense was the biggest concern for the Eagles. They couldn’t tackle nor cover in the secondary. The team signed Malcolm Jenkins in free agency and also acquired Darren Sproles. After releasing DeSean Jackson, the Eagles will count on Darren to bring that explosiveness that DeSean bought to the team every Sunday. I think we’re all curious to see how the Eagles will do in a very topsy-turvy division.
9. Kansas City Chiefs- What a story they were last year. In 2012, they won only two games. Under Andy Reid, they started the season 9-0 they began to falter some after that hot start. The defense improved drastically and Alex Smith bought a new feel to the offense. Jamaal Charles established himself as one of the best all around running backs in the NFL after last season. I think they are still the second best team in the AFC West behind Denver.
10. Carolina Panthers- The Panthers surprised us all last season. Luke Kuechly won defensive MVP and the defense as a whole was one of the best units in the league. Cam really matured last year as a football player. He didn’t rely on his legs so much and developed himself as a passer from the pocket. The Panthers offense will look much different next season. With Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell gone, who will be that target on the outside for Cam?
11. Chicago Bears- The Bears offense had to carry the team on its shoulders last year. The defense, which is normally the talk of the team struggled immensely last season. So what does Phil Emery do? He resigns Peanut to a one year deal and he bolsters that defensive line by signing LaMarr Houston and Jared Allen. Those two moves could put the Bears in the drivers seat in the NFC North. The Bears biggest issue has been consistency. To play in January, they need to put together more complete games and close teams out.
12. Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals have a lot of talent. Giovanni Bernard, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones are some of the names we hear on the regular. The Bengals as a whole lack mental toughness. For the third straight season, they were one and done come playoff time and Marvin Lewis has never won a playoff game in his tenure as Bengals head coach. The defense has Geno Atkins coming back but they lost Michael Johnson to the Buccaneers. I need to see a bit more consistency from the Bengals if they want to take that next step.
13. Arizona Cardinals- They won 10 games a year ago and missed the playoffs. This is the third best team in the NFC West behind the Niners and Seahawks. Bruce Arians is a phenomenal coach. We all saw what he did with the Colts in 2012, the man can lead teams to wins. The Cardinals defense was a unit that was among one of the best in the league last year and they could be in the thick of a playoff hunt yet again in 2014.
14. San Diego Chargers- Philip Rivers had a very nice bounce back season under an offensive minded head coach in Mike McCoy. The biggest difference was Ryan Mathews. He finally looked like the guy we all expected him to be when he was drafted. When Malcom Floyd went down with an injury, Keenan Allen became the go to guy on this offense. To many, the Chargers are the third best team in the AFC West, looking up to the Chiefs and Broncos.
15. Baltimore Ravens- Life without Ray Lewis began in Baltimore last season. The Ravens defense was no issue at all. I like this unit moving forward. They are much younger, they’re quicker and they can get off the field a little more than the unit we saw with Ray and Ed in previous years. The offense was what struggled. Dennis Pitta was gone, Ray Rice wasn’t himself and they simply couldn’t score the football. They signed Steve Smith to bring a veteran presence to the offense. The key will be what Ray Rice will we see in 2014.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers- For the Steelers to get back to the top of the AFC North, Ben Roethlisberger has to be healthy. When he is 100%, the Steelers are a legitimate threat in the AFC. The Steelers need to get back to running the ball and playing the physical defense that they’re known for. They aren’t that unit on defense we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years. They can’t get you a takeaway a game like they could back then. After losing Mike Wallace last year and Emmanuel Sanders this year, the Steelers will rely heavily on Antonio Brown once again.
17. Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins started 3-0 last season. This is the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC East. They signed Branden Albert in March to help that offensive line out, retained Brent Grimes and bought in Cortland Finnegan . With a healthy Cameron Wake, the Dolphins defense will be a solid unit in the league in 2014. We all want to see if Ryan Tannehill will take that next step in his third season with Miami.
18. New York Giants- Let’s not forget, the Giants are one of the last three Super Bowl champions. Last year was just a wreck. The offensive line was terrible, Eli threw way too many interceptions and the defense didn’t generate that pass rush that the team normally feeds off of. The Giants made their moves this off-season. They signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond to better that secondary and they also bought in Rashad Jennings from Oakland to hopefully boost their running game up.
19. New York Jets- I already see a quarterback controversy brewing up with the green and white. Who will be the starter come week one? Will it be Geno Smith or Michael Vick. The Jets offensive woes from last year hopefully won’t transfer into this year . The Jets signed Chris Johnson and Eric Decker hoping they’ll bring some type of offensive fire power. I can never figure this Jets team out though. Too inconsistent for my liking.
20. St Louis Rams- The St. Louis Rams won 7 games in the toughest division in football in 2013. Behind a running attack from Zak Stacy, the Rams offense showed promise at times. We all just wish Sam Bradford could stay healthy because he could make a big difference. I really like the Rams’ defense. Robert Quinn has become one of my favorite players to watch and he’s a top three defensive linemen in the game right now. The Rams have the second overall pick courtesy of the Washington Redskins in the NFL Draft.
21. Detroit Lions- Signing Golden Tate was a huge addition. They needed a guy to take pressure and be a complementary piece to Megatron and to bring some edge to the offensive side of the football. Golden Tate is a poor man’s Hines Ward. He maybe small but he can make big plays just like Hines did in his playing days. The Lions need to close games out and hold leads in order to win games. The talent is there and Jim Caldwell is now the head coach in the motor city.
22. Atlanta Falcons- They were one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL last year. After signing Steven Jackson to a free-agent deal, everybody thought the Falcons would be the team to beat in the NFC. It didn’t really work out that way. Injuries plagued this team and they just weren’t a good team all around. Julio Jones being gone really hurt this offense and the defense was soft. They signed Paul Soliai to fix that defensive line which has lacked a pass rush over the last three years.
23. Dallas Cowboys- The Cowboys offense was fine last year. The defense was the worst in the league. We always seem to say the same thing about the Cowboys over and over again each year. The talent is there. You have a top five receiver in Dez, a top four tight end in Jason Witten and a very serviceable running back in DeMarco Murray when healthy. Like every year, they can win the unpredictable NFC East as any other team in that division can.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I see them making a turnaround this year if everything can mesh. Greg Schiano is out and Lovie Smith is in and back on the sidelines. With a healthy Doug Martin coming back, the Buccaneers can be a balanced offense. I see the Buccaneers making a run for the Wild Card in the competitive NFC. To make that a reality, they need to win within their division.
25. Tennessee Titans- The Tennessee Titans are hit or miss. They were off to a 4-1 start before Jake Locker got hurt and it all went downhill from there. Chris Johnson is now gone and Mike Munchak was fired and the team hired Ken Wisenhunt, a nice offensive minded head coach. The Titans also lost Alterraun Verner who was their best cover corner in the secondary.
26. Buffalo Bills- They play extremely hard, I will say that much. They just shoot themselves in the foot at times which gets them into trouble. The Bills have a nice offensive nucleus in place. E.J. Manuel, Stevie Johnson, Scott Chandler and Robert Woods are all playmakers and will be something special in years. Mario Williams looked like the Mario Williams of old at times last year. The biggest question will be is how will the secondary fare without Jairus Byrd.
27. Cleveland Browns- When Brian Hoyer took over, many thought the Browns would be the surprise team in the league. After a surprising 3-2 start, Hoyer tore his ACL and with Brandon Weeden starting again, the Browns went 1-10 in their final eleven games to finish out the season. Josh Gordon flourished onto the scene and became one of the best young wide receivers in the game. I like the Browns defense. With Mingo and Kruger up front on the defensive line and Joe Haden in the secondary, the Browns could put together a special unit on defense.
28. Minnesota Vikings- It was another down year for Minnesota after sneaking into the playoffs the year before. Adrian did his usual it was everyone around him that struggled. They’ve had issues at quarterback since Brett Favre retired from them after the 2010 season. Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel both struggled. Hopefully come next week’s draft, they could land a Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater. Mike Zimmer will begin his first season as a head coach.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars- They only won four games last season but they played teams extremely tough especially when people didn’t give them a chance to do so. I liked the moves the Jaguars made to improve that defense. They added Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood and Red Bryant. Gus Bradley is a defensive minded guy that can really fix this unit up. Many mock drafts have Jacksonville taking Khalil Mack.
30. Washington Redskins- They were awful last year. I truly believe they rushed Robert Griffin III back way too soon and it backfired. You could tell he wasn’t 100% healthy every time he dropped back to pass. Washington made a splash when they signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year deal to give them a nice receiving core. Another big signing was Jason Hatcher who can hopefully help out that defensive line.
31. Oakland Raiders- The Raiders have some talent. The lack of discipline and mental toughness is what hurts this football team. It just never seems to go their way and if they don’t get this right this upcoming season, the Raiders and Dennis Allen I feel will part ways. Oakland has the fifth overall pick in the draft. They could go quarterback or defense to replace LaMarr Houston.
32. Houston Texans- All eyes are on the Texans as they hold the number one pick in the draft and they look to bounce back from a season in which they lost fourteen games in a row. Will Bill O’Brien pick a quarterback with his first pick or will he take the guy who the Texans have taking first overall in Clowney? Just think of a tandem of J.J. Watt and JaDeveon Clowney. That’s a scary thought.