Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams based on his observations, while Fancy Stats blogger Neil Greenberg mines the numbers to generate a stats-centric power ranking of his own. Compare, contrast and sound off in the comments.
1. Seattle Seahawks (2013 Record: 13-3) | It is oh-so-difficult to repeat. The champs might not be quite as deep or quite as motivated as they were last season. That remains to be seen. But it’s clear that they still are among the league’s best and they certainly have a great chance to be one of the final teams left playing at season’s end. And if they are, Russell Wilson could soon cash in.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3) | The defense has been bolstered and Peyton Manning shows no signs of letting up. The NFL rules have been emphasized in his favor and there’s no telling what kind of numbers he can put up this season if he remains healthy and in the lineup.
3. New England Patriots (12-4) | Tom Brady’s chances to win a fourth Super Bowl title, which has eluded him for a decade, are dwindling. If this is among his last chances, it also could be among his best. The secondary is better and the corps of receivers at Brady’s disposal has been upgraded.
4. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) | The preseason signs weren’t promising and the defense will be at less than full strength through the season’s early stages (with Aldon Smith suspended for nine games and NaVorro Bowman injured). But don’t be fooled, it’s a long time until February. This remains a terrific team and it could be on the upswing as the season winds down.
5. New Orleans Saints (11-5) | Drew Brees had an oblique strain in training camp. Jimmy Graham arrived at camp fresh off an offseason contract feud with the team and drew Sean Payton’s sideline ire for a pair of illegal celebratory dunks over the goal post in the same preseason game. No matter. The Saints play in a relatively weak division and have a fine chance to compete for the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed.
6. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) | Andrew Luck was beaten to the Super Bowl winner’s circle by fellow 2012 draftee Russell Wilson. He has some catching up to do. The Colts are good enough to be among the AFC’s elite but it might be difficult to get through the Patriots to reach a Super Bowl this season.
8. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) | They’re in the conversation with the Seahawks, 49ers, Saints and Eagles as to which team will be the NFC’s best. As long as Aaron Rodgers is in the lineup, they can compete with anyone.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) | Maybe Nick Foles can’t put up the same otherworldly numbers, and maybe the league will figure out Coach Chip Kelly’s offense just a little bit. DeSean Jackson might be missed to some extent. But this is probably a better all-around team than it was last season.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) | They were on equal footing with the Broncos for much of last season before fading down the stretch. Their staying power could be better in Year 2 under Coach Andy Reid.
11. Detroit Lions (7-9) | They might not be able to overtake Green Bay in the NFC North. But a wild-card spot is well within reach.
12. Baltimore Ravens (8-8) | Things seemed to run smoother in the preseason under new offensive boss Gary Kubiak. They’re probably a step behind the Bengals in the AFC North but it’s reasonable to think the division could produce two playoff teams.
13. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) | They were on the outside of the playoffs looking in last season despite a 10-win season. The loss of Darnell Dockett to a season-ending knee injury suffered during the preseason hurts but this remains a solid defense and a good team.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8) | If Jay Cutler makes good decisions in the pocket, the Bears should be productive on offense and in the playoff mix. Can he be trusted to do that on a consistent basis?
15. Miami Dolphins (8-8) | The offensive line and running game simply need to be better than last season. Ryan Tannehill is ready to be a star if those around him give him a chance.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) | The trade for Logan Mankins could make a big difference. The offensive line was a huge question mark and his arrival helps to stabilize it. A lot of other parts are in place for a possible run at .500 and maybe, just maybe contending for a wild-card spot.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) | They were newsworthy again during the preseason but for all the wrong reasons, courtesy of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7) | Philip Rivers is very, very good and the run to the playoffs last season was a nice accomplishment. But it’s difficult to envision the Chargers overtaking the Broncos or Chiefs in the AFC West and unlikely that the division would get three teams into the playoffs again.
19. New York Giants (7-9) | They need the good Eli Manning to show up. And for that to happen, his offensive line needs to give him time and space in the pocket to throw. The bad Eli Manning seems to show up when the pass rush closes in.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12) | If and when Blake Bortles plays, this could be a really interesting team. Until then, not so much. But slight improvement does seem possible with Chad Henne in charge.
21. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1) | When does Teddy Bridgewater get to play? It’ll be time to start paying attention then.
22. New York Jets (8-8) | It doesn’t appear that Michael Vick ever was given a legitimate chance to unseat Geno Smith. But Vick’s chance probably will come.
23. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) | Things shouldn’t be as bad as last season. But back to contender’s status? That seems like a stretch.
24. Carolina Panthers (12-4) | Cam Newton enters the season with a hairline fracture of a rib and major questions about his offensive line and receivers. The offense almost certainly won’t be the same and few would be surprised if the Panthers don’t resemble the team they were last season.
25. Washington Redskins (3-13) | Jay Gruden was brought in to fix Robert Griffin III. The early returns during the preseason weren’t promising. It’s a situation that calls for patience and calm, commodities that usually have not been found in abundance at or around Redskins Park.
26. Houston Texans (2-14) | The pass rush could be overpowering with newly rich J.J. Watt and rookie Jadeveon Clowney. But the quarterbacking promises to be underwhelming.
27. Tennessee Titans (7-9) | Ken Whisenhunt has come in and demonstrated confidence in Jake Locker. It’s time to find out if that confidence will be rewarded.
28. St. Louis Rams (7-9) | It would have been interesting to see if they could have succeeded in their plan to build around Sam Bradford and if they would have made progress this season. Bradford’s second torn ACL in less than a year made those points moot. Now, the next really interesting thing will be to see what the Rams do with Bradford after the season.
29. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) | The offense isn’t bad. There’s Tony Romo. There’s Dez Bryant. There’s a very promising offensive line. But that’s unlikely to be enough to compensate for that defense.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-12) | Rookie Derek Carr becomes the starter at QB in a last-moment switch. That says as much about Matt Schaub as it does about Carr.
31. Buffalo Bills (6-10) | Is EJ Manuel ready to take the next step? It didn’t appear like it during the preseason.
32. Cleveland Browns (4-12) | Brian Hoyer has done nothing in his career to earn the benefit of the doubt and did next to nothing during the preseason to win the starting QB job. But he’s the starter because Johnny Manziel looked so ill prepared for the job. The receiving corps is lacking. How will this offense score points?