2014 NFL Power Rankings, Initial Rankings
With the bulk of NFL free agency transactions, 2014 NFL Draft and mandatory minicamps now behind us, we are less than a month away from when players report to training camp.
Six weeks from this Sunday, the NFL (pre)season kicks off with the Hall-of-Fame Game featuring the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
Here are our initial 2014 NFL power rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks - 2013 Record: 13-3
The defending Super Bowl champions open our power rankings in the No. 1 spot and are early favorites to repeat (according to Vegas). If they do, they will become the first team to do so in a decade — Patriots did it in Feb. 2004/2005. The Seahawks will have a healthy Percy Harvin to start the season, but they dominate with their defense and rushing attack.
2. San Francisco 49ers - 2013 Record: 12-4
Have you ever scored the second-most points in your fantasy league and lose (to the guy that scored the most)? That's essentially the case here as the 49ers are the second-best team in the NFL by a slim margin, but they unfortunately play in the same division as the No. 1 squad. In similar fashion, the 49ers are built similarly to the Seahawks — strong defense, running game and mobile quarterback. That said, they have a few more question marks — Navorro Bowman's knee, Aldon Smith's legal (and potential league-discipline) issues and Vernon Davis' desire for a new contract to name a few.
3. Denver Broncos - 2013 Record: 13-3
The Broncos had a historic offensive season in 2013 as Peyton Manning set NFL single-season passing records (5,477 yards and 55 TDs). Adding free agents like Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware and drafting Bradley Roby should help shore up their defense that will be often defending a lead. They are prohibitive favorites to win the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, but they appeared to be completely out of their league against Seattle's defense in SB48.
4. Green Bay Packers - 2013 Record: 8-7-1
Assuming good health for Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have an offense that can compete with anybody's. Not only do the Packers have one of the league's most talented receiving corps, but the Packers finally have a strong running game led by Eddie Lacy to match. The selection of Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 22 addressed one of their bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball.
5. New England Patriots - 2013 Record: 12-4
Since Tom Brady became the team's starting quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have won double-digit games every season. That's 11 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins! Over the past four seasons, they have managed to win a minimum of 12 games every season. Considering the turnover and injuries among pass-catchers last season, the offense should only be better in 2014 and the Patriots get several key components back healthy on defense.
6. New Orleans Saints - 2013 Record: 11-5
The Saints offense continue to fire on all cylinders under Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but Rob Ryan turned around their defense last year. (As a Cowboys' fan, it was a smart move in firing Ryan to turn around our defense — that clearly fixed the problem. UGH!) Anyways, the Saints went from having the league's worst defense in 2012 to finishing fourth in total defense.
7. Cincinnati Bengals - 2013 Record: 11-5
The Bengals have made the postseason for three consecutive years, but they have been one-and-done in each of those postseasons. Will they extend the streak to all four of Andy Dalton's seasons? And will they be able to get their first playoff win since 1990? The Bengals remain one of the most balanced teams in the league ranking in the top 10 in both total offense (No. 10) and total defense (No. 3) last season.
8. Indianapolis Colts - 2013 Record: 11-5
As the best team in the NFL's worst division, it is probably not much of a surprise that the Colts have the league's most favorable strength of schedule in 2014. (Of course, the other three teams have the next three most favorable SOS.) Lucky to be as bad as they were in the right year (2012) to secure the top pick to land Andrew Luck, the Colts should be perennial contenders in the division for the next decade.
9. Philadelphia Eagles - 2013 Record: 10-6
The high-flying Chip Kelly offense finished second behind the Broncos in yardage (417.3 per game) and fourth in scoring (27.6 PPG). After going from worst to first in the NFC East last season, the improvement on the defensive side of the ball will be the key to how much success they have in 2014.
10. Chicago Bears - 2013 Record: 8-8
In Trestman's first year as coach, only the Broncos scored more points than the Bears last season. As great as their offense was last season, their defense was just as bad — only the Vikings allowed more points than the Bears. Like the Eagles, the Bears' success this season will be a function of the improvement they can get on defense. Chicago used four of their first five drafts picks on defensive players.
11. Arizona Cardinals - 2013 Record: 10-6
The season-long suspension of Daryl Washington is a major loss for a team that was already thin at inside linebacker. The Cardinals were 2-2 without Washington, who was suspended for the first four games last year, and 8-2 with him. Winning 10 teams in Bruce Arians' first season in Arizona despite having to play the Seahawks and 49ers four times in addition to the up-and-coming Rams twice was impressive. Coupled with how brilliantly he filled in for Chuck Pagano last year, it's amazing that no team gave him a head-coaching opportunity sooner.
12. Carolina Panthers - 2013 Record: 12-4
The Panthers have one of the league's best defenses, but they lost their left tackle Jordan Gross to retirement and they still have one of the league's weaker receiving corps. (Then again, they had one of the league's weakest receiving corps last year as well and won the division.)
13. Baltimore Ravens - 2013 Record: 8-8
For the first time in Joe Flacco's career, the Ravens failed to make the playoffs and one of the reasons was the decline in their ability to run the ball. Baltimore averaged more than a yard less per carry in 2013 (league-worst 3.1 YPC) than in 2012 (4.3 YPC) as only five teams graded worst in run blocking via Pro Football Focus.
14. Atlanta Falcons - 2013 Record: 4-12
Injuries (Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson) and poor offensive line play hurt the Falcons offense. On defense, the Falcons have ranked in the bottom five in sacks for the past two seasons and losing Sean Witherspoon will hurt their overall defense this year. Rumored to be among the teams interested in trading up for a pass-rusher, the Falcons stayed put at No. 6 and selected Jake Matthews, perhaps the safest pick in the draft. Technically sound with solid athleticism and Hall-of-Fame pedigree, Matthews will help shore up the line. With a healthy year from Jones, White and S-Jax, the offense should bounce back in 2014.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - 2013 Record: 8-8
The Steelers run defense ranked in the bottom half (21st overall) and they allowed 18 rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth-most in the NFL) last year. From 2004 to 2013, however, the only other time that the Steelers ranked outside of the top three in rushing defense was 2011 (eighth overall). The Steelers used their first two draft picks on their front-seven with Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt.
16. San Diego Chargers - 2013 Record: 9-7
It will be an uphill battle with the Broncos (and Chiefs) in the division, but the Chargers have finished .500 or better in nine of the past 10 seasons. Not only did Philip Rivers have a bounce-back season, but Ryan Mathews played in all 16 games and Keenan Allen established himself as a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver as a rookie. The Chargers used their first-round pick on cornerback Jason Verrett and signed Brandon Flowers this month and they'll need to shore up their 29th-ranked pass defense if they want to take another step forward in 2014.
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