It’s the time of year when all things go quiet on the NFL front. Rookie minicamps are the only events that are actually taking place, and those aren’t televised like the NFL draft or combine. This is the time of year when we are no longer enjoying the meat of the NFL off-season, but we’re also not quite at the Pre-Season either.
Despite a handful of free agent additions that are expected to come after the June 1st cap casualties or maybe some training camp trades, the rosters are essentially set for the 2013 season. That means we have a good idea of what the year will look like and it’s as good a time as any to do power rankings.
1. Seattle Seahawks
There are a handful of things standing between the Seahawks and their first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, none of those things are talent related.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers responded to a disappointing loss in the Super Bowl repeatedly upgrading their roster this off-season. Trading Alex Smith for a devil’s ransom not only gave them an extra second round draft pick, it freed up the cap space for the team to acquire veterans Glenn Dorsey, Nnamdi Asomugha and Anquan Boldin. Smith and Dashon Goldson are the two most notable losses for the 49ers, but Smith was on the bench during last year’s Super Bowl run and Goldson really struggled as the starting free safety.
Kaepernick will obviously continue to start for Smith, but rookie Eric Reid will be expected to immediately translate from LSU to the NFL as Goldson’s replacement. Reid is a rangy player who is landing in the perfect spot for a free safety, the front seven in front of him is dominant and Donte Whitner will provide an intimidating presence alongside him.
The 49ers’ roster was so good that they could redshirt rookies such as Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore and Cory Lemonier, while only Vance McDonald and Quinton Patton have any chance to contribute on offense.
In 2013, we’ll find out what happens when you dramatically improve a roster that was one play away from winning the Super Bowl.
3. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have lost pieces this off-season, most notably John Abraham, Tyson Clabo and Dunta Robinson. However, they’ve also brought in players who could be just what they need to push them over the top. Steven Jackson’s presence in the backfield should allow the offense to become a full-on juggernaut. It’s going to be next-to-impossible to contain this offense with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Jackson and Matt Ryan on the field together.
Defensively, the lack of a legitimate pass-rush may continue to hurt them, but Osi Umenyiora is a specialist pass-rusher who can help, while much of the draft was spent investing in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan typically gets the best out of what talent is afforded to him. If Desmond Trufant or Robert Alford transition quickly to the league, the defense should be stout once again.
4. Denver Broncos
Much like the Falcons, the Broncos should be close to unstoppable on offense this year with a defense that is good enough to get by. The loss of Elvis Dumervil will hurt them, but improvements on the interior of the defensive line could counteract it. Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton and Shaun Philips will need to contribute positive displays in their new roles if the defense is to effectively complement Peyton Manning’s offense.
Manning’s offense is going to be taken to a new level with the additions of Louis Vasquez and Wes Welker, while Montee Ball is in a perfect position to prove all of his doubters wrong if Willis McGahee is released.
5. Green Bay Packers
Losing Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson in one off-season shouldn’t hurt the Packers, who have an established veteran locker-room with an overwhelming number of talented youngsters coming through. It’s the development of those youngsters on the defensive side of the ball that could make all the difference as Sam Shields, Casey Heyward, Nick Perry, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy will all be looking to take another step forward and improve the unit as a whole.
On the offensive side, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t at his best last year, but much of that was due to the inabilities of his supporting cast. After drafting two top running-backs, Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, and flipping Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton to Rodgers’ blindside, the Packers’ offense should be at it’s very best next year.
6. New England Patriots
Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Michael Jenkins, Danny Amendola, Lavelle Hawkins and Donald Jones are unlikely to improve the wide receiver position over Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd in 2013 at least, but the defensive improvements the Patriots are expecting should allow them to be a more balanced team this year. After retaining their starting cornerbacks, the Patriots added veteran fits in Adrian Wilson and Tommy Kelly who should improve the pass defense as a whole.
The importance of Rob Gronkowski and Chandler Jones’ health can’t be overstated.
7. New Orleans Saints
Forget about Sean Payton returning. Forget about Drew Brees having a full off-season to prepare with his teammates. Forget about Rob Ryan’s terrible track record as a defensive coordinator. Instead just look at the talent upgrades that the Saints have managed this year. By adding Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro and Victor Butler, the team’s pass defense should dramatically improve.
When the Saints are at their best, they don’t have a dominant defense, but one that is good enough to complement a dominant offense. By all accounts, they should be better on both sides of the ball this year.
8. Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman has made all the right moves so far this off-season. Hiring Aaron Kromer, former New Orleans Saints’ offensive line coach, as his offensive coordinator showed that he understood the Bears’ greatest weakness. By bringing in Jermon Bushrod, first round pick Kyle Long and tight end Martellus Bennett, he showed that he was going to be aggressive about winning during his first season in charge.
For the first time since being acquired from Denver, Jay Cutler has a supporting cast worth of working with him. He no longer has to carry the offense on his shoulders, but instead needs to prove that he can make the right decisions and get the best out of all the weapons that are afforded to him.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback, but Ozzie Newsome is an elite general manager. Newsome has masterfully rebuilt the Ravens’ roster after last year’s Super Bowl, so much so that they probably are better suited to win a Super Bowl this year than they were last.
Terrell Suggs should be healthy, so Paul Kruger’s loss won’t be felt. Even if he is not, the Ravens upgraded for a cheaper price when they landed Elvis Dumervil. Arthur Brown should be a better starting inside linebacker as a rookie than Ray Lewis was last year, while Michael Huff arrives to fill Ed Reed’s shoes without any of the same injury concerns the veteran fought through last year.
Add to those replacements a replenished defensive line and the defense should be better than good again next year.
Offensively, there are some questions that still need to be answered. Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk’s replacements aren’t obvious. A.Q Shipley was recently acquired to compete with Gino Gradkowski for the starting center spot, while a combination of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson looks to be the most likely way the team will replace Boldin at wide receiver. Those losses should be countered by the continued development of younger players such as Torrey Smith, Pitta, Dickson, Kelechi Osemele and Bernard Pierce.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
A case can be made that the Cincinnati Bengals have the most talented roster in the NFL outside of the quarterback position. Andy Dalton hasn’t developed since the start of his rookie season, which is fine for a team looking to just make it to the playoffs, but he will need to be much better in 2013 if the Bengals have greater aspirations. The additions of Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert should push the offense to the point of excellence, but that hinges on Dalton, while the defense will be it’s typical excellent unit under the guidance of Mike Zimmer.
11. New York Giants
The Giants can’t continue to sleep through parts of the regular season, but I also can’t imagine that their defensive line plays anywhere near as poorly as it did in 2012. There was likely a Super Bowl hangover in that locker-room, one that even Eli Manning couldn’t pull enough victories from for a playoff appearance. The hopeful return of forgotten man Terrell Thomas should aid the secondary, while Cullen Jenkins has the talent to improve upon the departed Chris Canty if his attitude is right.
12. Houston Texans
If I could be sure that the Texans were going to create a more dynamic passing offense that focused on their young wide receiving talent opposed to running the same rigid, zone-blocking scheme and tight-end-centric attack that they have run in recent years, the Texans would be higher on this list. So long as the defense stays healthy, it could be one of the best units in the league, but it’s hard to buy any stock in this offense once the playoffs begin.
13. Indianapolis Colts
There are a lot of holes on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster, but many of those holes will be papered over by their ultra effective young quarterback, Andrew Luck, and their returning head coach, Chuck Pagano. Like his brother John in San Diego, Chuck Pagano has the ability to get the best out of whatever talent he is given on defense. This year he has more talent than last year and isn’t expected to miss time through sickness. Offensively, the Colts haven’t given Luck any superstars to rely on, but they have improved his protection which was a huge problem last year.
14. Dallas Cowboys
I’m not a fan of these new Cowboys. I preferred the rosters that I could sit back and laugh at when other people talked them up based on their reputations. This year I actually like the Cowboys’ direction, if they can stay healthy that is. DeMarcus Ware obviously wasn’t at 100 percent last year and the move to defensive end could really play to his strengths. Having he and Anthony Spencer in that Monte Kiffin defense could lead to good things on the defensive side. Offensively, Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Terrence Williams and Joseph Randle may not be the most exciting group of additions, but they should bring to the table what Tony Romo needs to succeed.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
A second year in Todd Haley’s system should help Ben Roethlisberger be more efficient, while the departure of Mike Wallace should actually improve the unit as a whole. Walalce is a good player who will be good for Miami, but is departure allows the Steelers to move Emmanuel Sanders outside, to his more natural position, and it takes away a receiver who clearly wasn’t focused or committed on the field last year. The loss of Heath Miller could be a major problem to overcome however. Defensively, the Steelers probably won’t rank in the top five in points allowed, but with Steve McLendon, Cam Heyward, Jarvis Jones, Cortez Allen and William Gay coming into bigger roles, they should be able to create more turnovers.
16. St Louis Rams
Over the last two off-seasons, no team has improved as much as the Rams. Jeff Fisher has brought an accountability and winning culture that was lacking in St. Louis for some time, while the talent around Sam Bradford, James Laurinaitis and Chris Long is significantly better than it was three years ago. This team is on the verge of breaking out into something worth our attention. The only question mark is just how much attention they’ll demand.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
I’m not a big believer in Alex Smith, but it’s hard not to like any quarterback working with Andy Reid. Reid should help the Chiefs’ offense as a whole, while the defense has had some attitude added to it with the additions of Mike Devito, Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Resolve and direction was lacking in Kansas City last year, not talent. If Reid can set the tone of the locker-room, then they could be playoff-bound.
18. Miami Dolphins
After all that work this off-season, I still can’t buy the Dolphins as anything greater than an average team. It’s hard to throw an abundance of talent together and expect it to fall into a winning team. Having an outstanding young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill should help, but making Jonathan Martin his starting left tackle is a major liability that could lead to disaster.
19. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers were very fotunate to land Star Lotulelei during the draft. Adding Lotulelei to a front seven that already boasts Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason makes for a very dangerous defensive unit if everyone is healthy. The Secondary is a major concern, but the expected pass-rush upfront should aid it while the offense should continue to be explosive with Cam Newton under center.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Statistically, Josh Freeman was better last year, but in terms of actual play on the field, he was not. Darrelle Revis is an excellent addition, but expecting he and Dashon Goldson to immediately change the fortunes of the team’s pass defense in a division with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton is just foolish.
21. Minnesota Vikings
It’s hard to imagine that Adrian Peterson will repeat his performances of last year, while the defense has lost Antoine Winfield. Christian Ponder could improve, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference unless the Viking completely change their offensive scheme now that they have Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson.
22. Cleveland Browns
Much like the Vikings and Bengals, the Browns appear to have much better rosters than their actual ranking, but inefficiencies at the quarterback position look set to handicap them once again. Jason Campbell could actually improve the Browns’ ranking if he is named the starter, but Brandon Weeden will be anchoring them to this area of the totem pole for at least one more season. The roster is definitely heading in the right direction around him though and the coaching hires this off-season were impressive.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly intrigues me because he has a lot of talent to work with, but the idea of Michael Vick making quick decisions in a hurry-up offense for four quarters on Sundays scares me and their secondary is terrifyingly bad. Kelly may need to average 40 points per game with this team if he is to go anywhere, 50 if where he wants to go is the playoffs.
24. Washington Redskins
They lack a lot of talent in a lot of places, but even though teams should be better prepared to handle their offensive scheme next year, Robert Griffin III for 13 games or more should be enough to make them a mediocre football team.
25. Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker just hasn’t done enough to this point for anyone to really believe in this team. Unless the Titans unexpectedly break out the option-offense and have a Kaepernick-like impact with Locker, something that is feasible considering their offensive personnel, the Titans appear destined to fall to the bottom of the league again this year. The Titans have loads of talent, but they lack direction and coaching seemingly.
26. San Diego Chargers
It appears that the Chargers are currently considering signing free agent left tackle Max Starks, who could dramatically improve their offense. Starks is only an average player, but his impact could be massive for Philip Rivers who is just looking for an offensive line that he can trust. Having that offensive line would allow the Chargers’ offense to at least function, while the defense should be effective under John Pagano at the very least.
27. Buffalo Bills
Doug Marrone is an intriguing head coaching hire. His philosophy permeated through the draft as they brought in weapons to try and improve the team’s standing on offense. Having Robert Woods, Stevie Johnson, EJ Manuel, CJ Spiller and Marquise Goodwin on the field together should make this offense very exciting, but Manuel’s development and a defense with more holes than a sinking ship should prevent them from making a playoff run.
28. Detroit Lions
The Lions have slightly improved over last year, but unless Matthew Stafford suddenly finds the discipline that hasn’t been there throughout his career, or Ndamukong Suh develops an affinity with stopping the run, this team will be in the lower depths of the NFL once again. The Lions are the NFL’s version of Wilt Chamberlain, they have the ability to do whatever they like, but it’s a pity that winning championships isn’t what they ever commit to doing…despite what Nick Fairley says.
29. Arizona Cardinals
They may be much further down this list in terms of it being a draft order for next year, but that will largely be because they play in the best division in football. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will lead an offense with some valuable young pieces to effectiveness, but the defense has significantly worsened since reaching the lofty heights that were enjoyed early on last season.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
This ranking doesn’t really reflect the good work of Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley this off-season. The Jaguars have taken one huge step towards relevance this year, while a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew could carry them away from the top five of next year’s draft. However, the defense has been gutted and Gus Bradley is going to need time to turn things around.
31. New York Jets
The Jets don’t seem to know what they want and so far it appears that Geno Smith is going to be a perfect fit for them…that is not a good thing. The defense could improve, but moving Quinton Coples to outside linebacker is a very questionable decision and the offense is built for the stone-age once again.
32. Oakland Raiders
You can’t continually cut your best players and bring in bargain free agents and expect to win games. I’m not sure that the Raiders do expect to win games, but at the very least, it’s probably a very good year to tank.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf