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2013 NFL PreSeason Power Rankings and Predictions

September 6, 2013

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With the NFL season under way tonight I thought I’d get my Power Rankings and Predictions in now. Since it’s a monumental task I filled in what I could and published it and will go back and complete the Power Rankings for the other teams over the next few days. They’ll all be done by Sunday so feel free to check back over the next few days if you’d like to get my thoughts on a team that hasn’t been written about yet.

  1. Seahawks: (13-3) Until the Seahawks lack of playmakers in the passing game becomes an issue I see them as the team to beat in the NFL this year. Last season they had the #1 scoring defense in the league and likely will be even better on that side of the ball. They added two pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and have a group of young stars in Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, KJ Wright, and Bobby Wagner that should only be better this year as they enter their prime. It was a dominant defense last year and I expect it to be even better this season so the offense just needs to not turn the ball over and be league average in points scored for the Seahawks to be the NFC #1 seed this season. I suspect a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and the football IQ of Russell Wilson will get that accomplished and is the reason why I have them as my Super Bowl pick this season.
  2. 49ers: (12-4) Their offensive line is the best in the NFL, they have not just the best but also the 2nd best linebacker in the NFL, Aldon Smith has more sacks in his first season than anyone in NFL history, and Colin Kaepernick has the talent to be a Top 5 QB. It’s very understandable why most have them as the best team in the NFL but I watched the 49ers-Seahawks game last last season and I can’t consider them the favorite because of that game. The 49ers will be missing Michael Crabtree for the majority of the year, NFL defenses will have much more film on Kaepernick this season than last, the defense lost their top safety Dashon Goldson, and Justin Smith might not be fully recovered from his shoulder injury. All are reasons why I have the Seahawks not the 49ers winning the NFC West, getting the top seed in the conference, and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. The 49ers will be very good but the Seahawks will be even better.
  3. Texans: (13-3) The Texans and Falcons seem to be the ugly ducklings of the NFL as no one wants to pick them as Super Bowl picks despite both having rare talent on both sides of the ball. The Texans especially as they boast the reigning DPOY in JJ Watt, a linebacker corp that will be dramatically improved with Brian Cushing’s return, and a secondary that now has ballhawking Ed Reed on the back end. Combine that with an offense that is one of the more balanced in the league and it’s surprising how few people think the Texans will take the next step. Their achilles heal is the Patriots but I’m predicting a down season for Tom Brady and company and therefore have the Texans as the AFC Super Bowl representative.
  4. Falcons: (12-4) The Falcons join the Cowboys as the best skill position players in the NFL. Matt Ryan at QB, Tony Gonzalez at TE, Roddy White and Julio Jones at WR, and now the recently signed Steven Jackson at RB gives the Falcons unlimited options. Their big issue is on the defensive side of the ball as they only have one above average pass rusher (Osi Umenyiora) and have a secondary full of inexperience. With Asante Samuel battling injury and age the Falcons will often be playing two rookies at cornerback and, while I thought Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were very talented prospects in the draft, it will be a tough task to be throwing into the fire immediately like they will be. They will have their growing pains but the Falcons offense should keep the team afloat as the rookies adapt and the hope is that by playoff time they will no longer be playing like rookies. If that occurs the Falcons will be legit title contenders but if the rookies don’t develop or there are significant injuries to their defense then the 2013 title chase could be derailed as the Falcons aren’t deep and could end the season with a defense in the bottom quarter of the league.
  5. Broncos: (12-4) The Broncos are most people’s pick as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. While it’s not a terrible pick I worry about all of the injuries that have occurred already for the Broncos and also question their pass rush, running game, and secondary. I think too many people are focusing on Manning and his trio of wideouts (DeMaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker) and not enough on the fact that their top pass rusher (Von Miller) will miss the first 6 games, their #2 pass rusher left and was replaced by a player half as talented as Dumervil was, their top cornerback (Champ Bailey) looked average last season, their top rusher (Willis McGahee) was cut, their top center is out for the year, and their #2 center is on the PUP list which will cause him to miss at least the first 6 games. I call it the fantasy factor as the Broncos have a great fantasy football team with all of those wideouts catching passes from Manning and with Montee Ball possibly set for a breakout season but when you look at the Broncos as a team I see a lot more holes than I do on the Top 4 teams. Also Peyton Manning hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season yet everyone has him winning the AFC this year? It just seems a little odd to me and I’ll go against the grain by putting the Texans ahead of them.
  6. Packers: (11-5) The Packers are the last team in my Power Rankings that I consider “Super Bowl caliber.” Ironically enough I actually have the Bengals finishing 12-4 while the Packers only finish 11-5 but Green Bay has one thing Cincinnati doesn’t have that trumps everything: A franchise QB. Rodgers has 1 title under his belt and I fully expect him to have 3-4 before his career comes to an end as he’s on pace to become one of the best quarterbacks of all time and is the rare player that can single handedly win a Super Bowl for a team. Last year he got an absurd lack of credit for the season as the Packers were decimated by injuries and had a game stolen from them by the replacement officials, yet still finished 11-5 to win their division. Football Outsiders ranked them 1st with 108.1 Adjusted Games Lost (a complicated formula that ranks not just the number of games lost but also how valuable the player is who was lost aka Tom Brady’s ACL tear in 2008 was more impactful to the Patriots than Tyrone Crawford’s injury in 2013 will be for Dallas) and a lot of that came on offense as Greg Jennings (8 games) and Jordy Nelson (4 games) missed a number of games, Donald Driver regressed dramatically, their offensive line gave up the 2nd most sacks in the league, and their running game was below average (22nd in yards per attempt). Even with all of those issues Aaron Rodgers was 1st in the league in QB Rating (his 2nd year in a row at #1 and his 4th straight season in the Top 4) and the team was once again one of the Top 5 scoring offenses in the league. Everyone loves to say they think Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL but when he gets 0 first place votes for MVP (Adrian Peterson got 30 votes and Peyton Manning got 19) and NFL players voted not one but two QBs ahead of him (Manning was #1 and Brady #4 with Rodgers at #6) then I think it’s fair that I argue he’s underrated. The Packers don’t have a Super Bowl caliber roster but they still will be Super Bowl contenders until Rodgers stops playing at the historically high level he’s currently playing at.
  7. Bengals: (12-4) The Bengals are the best team in the league that isn’t a Super Bowl contender. The cutoff this season was at 6 teams and the Bengals are the 7th with the main reason being Andy Dalton. He’s been a very solid QB and the statistics back that up as he was 16th in the league in passing yards, 13th in QB Rating, and 7th in passing TDs yet when I watch the tape I see a player that holds back the offense more than accentuates it. He lacks great arm strength, isn’t a threat as a runner, and relies too much on the greatness of AJ Green. Take Green away from Dalton and we’re talking about a player that has below average numbers and is talked about as more of a great backup type player. Fortunately for Andy, AJ is on his team and will likely be for the next 10 years so there is a chance he’s able to continue to develop and take the next step as a QB. The Bengals surely are hoping for that as they have one of the better offensive lines in all of football and added two young playmakers (Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard) with their first two picks. The Bengals are neck and neck with the 49ers as the deepest roster in the NFL yet unless Dalton takes the next step as a QB they’ll still be on the outside looking in come late January/early February.
  8. Patriots: (11-5) The Patriots have won 10 or more games each of the past 10 years so it’d be rather dumb for anyone to write them off this season. Yet with Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker they were defeated rather easily at home by the Ravens and the formula is the same each time. If a defense can come in and pressure Tom Brady with their front four and drop 7 into coverage the Patriots offense comes to a screeching halt. That is what occurred last year against the Ravens, that is what occurred two years ago against the Giants in the Super Bowl, and that is what occurred in Game 3 against the Lions this preseason. Preseason football must be taken with a grain of salt but that was starting unit on starting unit and at halftime the Lions were up 16-3 and Tom Brady couldn’t find an opening receiver anywhere. The Patriots will still win the AFC East, as it’s arguably the weakest division in all of football, but they won’t do anything this season in the playoffs. They are the #8 ranked team on my list and are not Super Bowl contenders in my opinion.
  9. Redskins: (11-5)
  10. Cowboys: (10-6) Da Boys are absolutely stacked at the skill positions with Tony Romo at QB, Jason Witten at TE, DeMarco Murray at RB, and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin at WR. Yet they’ve been that way for the past two seasons and have yet to end a season over .500 as an overmatched offensive line and an underachieving defensive unit have been their Achilles heel. This season I think they made strides in fixing both problems and expect them to go 10-6 and sneak in the playoffs as a wildcard team. They sent away Rob Ryan and brought in Monte Kiffin which should lead to more discipline and consistency from the defense. Also the impact injuries had to the Cowboys defense last year can’t be overstated as by the end of the season they were missing both starting defensive tackles (Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent), both interior linebackers (Sean Lee and Bruce Carter), and their starting strong safety (Barry Church). Those injuries gutted their interior and caused a few horrific performances late in the season against the Saints and Redskins. Every year for the past 4 seasons I’ve looked at the Cowboys roster and considered it a playoff caliber team. This year is no different but we will have to wait and see if Dallas can finally put it all together and get to the postseason. I suspect they will as Dez Bryant appears poised to have one of those rare seasons of +1,500 yds and +12 TDs while the defense should be improved and could become dominant once Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff get back from injuries.
  11. Rams: (9-7) If I could choose one team for being the most underrated going into the 2013 NFL season I would choose the Rams. Last year they were 7-8-1 while having a winning record (4-1-1) against their division opponents. That is important as they play in the toughest division in football and it only got tougher after the 49ers and Seahawks upgrades this offseason. The Rams led the NFL in sacks last year and have one of the best defensive lines in all of football. It’s also a line that is improving each year as Chris Long is the elder statement at only 28 years old with Kendall Langford (27), Michael Brockers (22), and Robert Quinn (23) being at the ages where each year they should take another step in their development as NFL players. Add in to that mix an impressive duo of corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins as well as two stud linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree and you have a defense that easily could ascend like Seattle’s did last year. Sam Bradford and the offense is the main question mark as the defense at worst will be a Top 10 unit and if the offense can better protect Sam and the young group of playmakers around him can develop the offense could be above league average. I gave Bradford an elite grade coming out of college due to his impressive arm talent as he’s tall (6’4), strong armed, and accurate yet to this point he’s been a disappointment. His career high in QB Rating is only 82.6 which means that at his best in his first 3 seasons he’s only been slightly below average. That won’t get it done and with the additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin to the passing game and Jake Long to the offensive line I think the supporting cast is sufficient around Bradford that anything less than an 8 win season will put the blame on him. This is a make or break season for Bradford and I suspect it will end well as the Rams have too much talent on their roster to not at least compete for a wild card spot next season. They are my surprise team for 2013 and I could easily see them make the playoffs.
  12. Colts: (10-6) From Year 1 to Year 2 Peyton Manning went from a 26/28 TD/INT ratio and a 71.2 QB Rating to a 26/15 ratio and a 90.7 QB Rating. That was the impetus that had the Colts flip record wise from 3-13 to 13-13 and is the type of development I expect this year from Andrew Luck. RGIII won ROY and Russell Wilson broke Peyton Manning’s rookie TD passing record but Andrew Luck was the rookie who impressed me the most as the Colts were one of the 5 least talented teams in the league last year yet somehow ended with the 6th best record in the league at 11-5 and much of it had to do with the toughness and clutch play of Luck. He was sacked 41 times last year which was 4th most in the league and was pressured an NFL leading 268 times (per Pro Football Focus which counts sacks, hits, and hurries) yet somehow still threw for a rookie record 4,374 yds. He has been given more help this year with an improved offensive line as well as Darius Heyward-Bey and Ahmad Bradshaw yet it will still fall on Luck’s shoulders as I don’t consider this roster playoff caliber. That being said I think Luck is that rare talent who will be leading his team to the playoffs year in and year out no matter the roster composition and expect him to take that Peyton Manning level jump as a 2nd year player. That puts me in direct conflict with guys like Matthew Berry who expect him to regress and if they are right and I’m wrong it will be obvious immediately as few teams need their quarterbacks to do more than the Colts with Luck. If he’s up to the challenge like I expect than they will be 10-6 and repeat as playoff contenders yet if he isn’t they could be 8-8 or worse as this offensive line is still shaky and their defense has little star power on it.
  13. Bears: (9-7) It seems like for the past decade the Bears have been a dominant defense and have always been just bad enough on offense to keep them from being a playoff team. Since their Super Bowl run in 2006 they’ve been between 7-9 and 11-5 each of the past 6 seasons yet somehow only made the playoffs twice. This year appears no different as I have them as the 7th best team in the NFC or the best non-playoff team in the conference. Once again Cutler will force feed the ball to Brandon Marshall, often at the detriment to the overall offense, and once again there will be huge blowout wins for the Bears. Yet in the end the Bears will be just short and next offseason will become very interesting as Cutler, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, James Anderson, DJ Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould, and Roberto Garza are all free agents at the end of the season. I can’t remember ever seeing a team go into a season with 6 pending free agent starters on a defense and I could see it become a distraction. If the season gets off to a poor start things could get ugly but both the offense and defense have enough talent that I expect them to keep it together and play somewhere around .500 ball this season. Then the housecleaning likely will begin as this team was built by Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman has gone with the idea that we keep this team together for one finally season and then begin reshaping it into a team of his own creation.
  14. Saints: (9-7) No team is as more one sided as the Saints. I expect them to have one of the top 3 offenses in the NFL this year but also expect them to miss out on the playoffs as they will have the worst defense in the NFL and possibly the worst defense in NFL history. Last year they gave up the most yards ever in history and, while their change in defensive coordinators from Steve Spagnaola to Rob Ryan should help, their personnel looks even worse this year. They’ve already lost Victor Butler, Will Smith, and Kenyon Coleman for the year but also have Jonathan Vilma on IR with the designation to possibly return. That is four starters out for most if not all of the year and the season hasn’t even begun. Their best pass rusher appears to be Martez Wilson, who only has 4 career sacks, and their best cover corner is Jabari Greer who probably would slide in as the #3 CB on many NFL rosters. The Saints will be a part of a lot of shootouts this season but I doubt they win more than half of them and will again be on the outside looking in.
  15. Giants: (8-8) While many people look at the Giants winning 2 Super Bowls in the past 5 seasons and consider them a dynasty I look at the fact that they’ve missed the playoffs 3 of the past 4 years and consider them a team on the decline and an asterisk team for history ala the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The Giants once were a hard nosed team that ran the ball regularly and beat up an opposing offense with a dominant front four. Neither aspect appears on this 2013 Giants team as their offensive line is already a mess with David Diehl, their right tackle, and David Baas, their center, out to start the season and their front four is high on recognizable names but low on production. Justin Tuck is coming off back to back down seasons and is one more poor season away from being considered washed up. Jason Pierre Paul had an underrated season last year as his sacks were cut from 16.5 in 2011 to only 6.5 in 2012 but still was a force in the run game. That being said he’s coming off back surgery and appears to still not be 100%. If he were to have a down year and Tuck continued his regression the vaunted defensive line of the Giants would be in even further disarray and that would be a deathblow for the Giants as the offense has looked atrocious in the preseason and the linebacker and secondary are mediocre at best. This team will live and die by how their defensive line plays and in 2013 I think they will die by it. This time next year people will no longer be talking about the Giants as former champs but will mention them for what they truly are, a struggling team without an identity that has been habitually overrated by the media. Final thought: With the Cowboys in Week 1 and the Broncos in Week 2 I fully expect the Giants to start 0-2 and have the full spotlight of the NY media on them early this season.
  16. Steelers: (10-6) Yes the 10-6 Steelers are lower on my power rankings than the 9-7 Giants are but that’s just because the AFC is very top heavy. After you get past the Texans, Broncos, Bengals, and Patriots there is little else to really fall in love with. I eventually settled on the Steelers as Roethlisberger is night and day better than Flacco and because the Steelers had a very nice draft this year with players in Rounds 1 (Jarvis Jones), 2 (Le’Veon Bell), and 4 (Shamarko Thomas) that not only will contribute in 2013 but fit the Steelers mold. This infusion of youth along with a bounce back season by Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley should allow them to sneak into the playoffs as the #6 seed. I’m hardly a fan but they’re the best looking horse in the glue factory so I’ll go with them.
  17. Buccaneers: (7-9)
  18. Cardinals: (7-9)
  19. Titans: (8-8) Ironically enough the Titans would be a playoff team this year if they benched Jake Locker and went with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Locker has been outplayed this preseason, and I consider Fitzpatrick a far superior QB to Locker, so I think it’s just a matter of time before the QB controversy begins in Tennessee.
  20. Ravens: (8-8) I’ve been arguing for awhile that the 2013 Ravens will be terrible as they lost their emotional leaders on offense (Anquan Bolden) and defense (Ray Lewis) as well as some underrated talent (Paul Kruger, Dennis Pitta). Yet I no longer am as sure about this as I was months ago because I really like the Elvis Dumervil signing and can’t put my finger on that #6 seed in the AFC. In the NFC I have 8 teams I really like as playoff guys with the Rams and Bears (both barely missing the cut as my #6 seed in the NFC) being neck and neck with the Colts who easily slide in as the #5 seed in the AFC. I’m still going with the Ravens on the outside looking in but I just not as sure anymore.
  21. Lions: (7-9)
  22. Dolphins: (7-9)
  23. Vikings: (6-10) The Vikings look primed for a fall from the playoff seedings. They still have Adrian Peterson and a very underrated offensive line with Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, and Phil Loadholt being all severely underrated by the media, yet I don’t see the formula working this year. It all will depend on whether Christian Ponder takes the next step this season and since I don’t see that occurring I can’t justify this roster as playoff caliber. Greg Jenning, Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson, and John Carlson is a solid enough duo of wide receivers and tight ends but neither Ponder nor Cassel will be able to get them the ball. Next year they will be looking to replace
  24. Panthers: (6-10) At some point it has to be Cam Newton’s fault right? After two seasons of below .500 football Cam will FINALLY have a target on his back. Yes he’s a great fantasy QB due to his running ability but at the end of the day he isn’t accurate, isn’t a leader, and can’t consistently threaten a defense down the field. After Year 1 he was an up and coming superstar, after Year 2 his lack of success was both accentuated but also overshadowed by the storylines created by “the trio” (RGIII, Luck, Wilson), but after Year 3 people will finally begin turning their back on Cam. He’s supremely talented but 3 straight seasons of non-playoff football will change his reputation.
  25. Chiefs: (6-10) They somehow have become the popular pick as a surprise wildcard team in the AFC and I just don’t see it. Yes they have a lot of talent at certain spots but they also have holes in other areas and still have one of the worst quarterbacks in football starting for them. The difference between Alex Smith and Matt Cassel is supporting cast. In 2008 Alex Smith was a backup QB with 0 starts that year due to his 2-5 record in 2007 that was largely his fault (57.2 QB Rating that year). In 2008 Matt Cassel was a backup who was thrust into a starting role due to a Tom Brady torn ACL and led the team to a 10-6 record. Anyone in football would have taken Cassel over Smith at that time yet now the roles have reversed and Smith is the hot commodity. In the past two seasons Smith has a 19-5-1 record while Cassel has a 5-12 record yet I still say that at the end of the day they are the same QB. The Chiefs have a good defense and running game so it won’t be a disaster but Alex Smith to me is one of the 5 worst starting quarterbacks in football this year so I still see them getting a Top 10 draft pick next year.
  26. Bills: (6-10) Buffalo is the team that I’m the most unsure about. On defense they have three elite players in Mario Williams, Jarius Byrd, and Stephon Gilmore yet there are enough holes that I suspect they’ll settle for being a league average unit this year. On offense they didn’t add anyone of talent but possibly could be improved due to their reported commitment to using CJ Spiller more regularly. The last two seasons I’ve been a big advocate of both coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as they held this offense together with duck tape. The past two seasons they finished as the 14th and 21st best scoring offense despite having a combination of no name and previously cut players like David Nelson, Scott Chandler, and Donald Jones. CJ Spiller and Stevie Johnson are the only legit talents at the skill positions yet they’ve Gailey coached them up into an league average offense. I see Doug Marrone as a downgrade over Gailey and EJ Manuel, at least in his first year or two, as a downgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick so I expect them to be one of the worst teams in the league. Many disagree with me and my lack of film study on them makes me unsure but at best I still don’t expect anything more than 8 wins from them so the playoffs shouldn’t be expected.
  27. Eagles: (5-11)
  28. Browns: (5-11)
  29. Chargers: (4-12)
  30. Jets: (4-12) If Rex Ryan wasn’t coaching this defense I would lump the Jets in with the Jags and Raiders as they have just as little talent. Yet Ryan is still a genius defensive coordinator in my opinion and he’ll have Muhammad Wilkerson and Antonio Cromartie exploiting opposing offenses enough to keep them from being the worst team in the league. Of course that still won’t allow him to keep his job so next season some team will get a huge boost when Rex joins their team as a defensive coordinator only. His schtick grew old years ago in the Big Apple so it’s probably best for everyone that he move on but don’t forget just how good he is. This year he’ll play the goat for the Jets but next year he’ll once again get to play the hero for some lucky franchise: Seahawks? Wow that’d be scary.
  31. Jaguars: (3-13) The only reason the Jaguars don’t have the lowest spot in my Power Ranking is because of MJD. I think he has 2-3 elite more years left in him and one of them will be this season. The Jaguars don’t have a lot of talent but they do have a pair of good young tackles in Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel which should give them enough running room to force feed MJD. Gabbert will once again fall flat on his face and fail as an NFL starter yet I think that’s actually what management wants as they signed no one last offseason (they still have $17.35 million available) and appear headed for one of the top 2 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since the top two teams will get to add either Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater to their roster it makes a lot of sense and there’s no easier way to be terrible this season than to start Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. I’m glad to not be a Jaguars fan.
  32. Raiders: (0-16) Yes I’m picking the Raiders to go 0-16 but can you blame me? Darren McFadden is always hurt and if/when he goes down again the Raiders will have Terrell Pryor throwing to Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Brice Butler, and David Ausberry. I don’t think those playmakers would be dominant in college let alone the NFL so I expect the Raiders to have a lot of blowout losses similar in style to the 22-6 loss they had last week in the preseason.

Predictions
Division Winners:

NFC East: Redskins

NFC South: Falcons

NFC West: Seahawks

NFC North: Packers

NFC Wild Cards: 49ers, Cowboys

NFC Championship Game: Seahawks vs. Packers

AFC East: Patriots

AFC South: Texans

AFC West: Broncos

AFC North: Bengals

AFC Wild Cards: Colts, Steelers

AFC Championship Game: Texans vs. Broncos

Super Bowl: Seahawks vs. Texans

Super Bowl Winner: Seahawks

Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware

Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jarvis Jones

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy

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