1. San Francisco 49ers: Acquiring Anquan Boldin in the offseason might have been the smartest decision the 49ers could have made. It was no secret they needed a playmaker like Boldin, and nobody knew that better than San Francisco. Poised for another run, this is the team to beat this year.
2. Denver Broncos
If Wes Welker had great success with Tom Brady, imagine what he could do with Peyton Manning. Vonn Miller’s suspension and the loss of Elvis Dumervil will sting, but it won’t be enough to hinder the Broncos’ chances of repeating last seasons’ success.
3. Houston Texans
Arian Foster is ready to go, but there is no telling what form he will be in come Week 1. That being said, backup Ben Tate could serve as a viable option while giving Foster time to feel comfortable.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have the best wide receiver tandem in the league, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Both had big years last year and will only get better, and the defense will be a step up with Osi Umeniyora. It is very likely that the Falcons will have a repeat of a year ago.
5. Green Bay Packers
Despite the loss of Greg Jennings the Green Bay Packers still have a healthy arsenal of playmakers. They defense has made adjustments that should make them even better this year. Dujuan Harris and rookie Eddy Lacey will man the running back position, and if they are successful, the Packers could be the team to beat.
6. New England Patriots
The addition of Danny Amendola will help cushion the blow of losing Tom Brady’s favorite target of recent years, Wes Welker. Drafting Dont’a Hightower will solidify the linebacking core with Mayo and Spikes as the other two. It’s hard not to imagine the Patriots near the top heading into the season.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson burst on to the scene and made an immediate impact last year with his explosiveness and ability to lead a team. Percy Harvin’s July hip-surgery will keep him out until midseason a healthy return will add an additional threat to an already dangerous offense. A few questions on defense at certain positions, but they will still be tough.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Who Dey? Adding James Harrison to an already stellar defense will only make it better. The Cincinnati Bengals will have a top five defense this year, and possibly one of the meanest. Second year player Mohamed Sanu will be the No. 2 receiver and will be fun to watch alongside A.J. Green.
9. Chicago Bears
The loss of Brian Urlacher is big, but more so from an emotional standpoint. The Bears will still have a top five defense. The big question will be how Jay Cutler can perform. If he can eliminate his habit of producing unnecessary turnovers then the offense will excel.
10. Baltimore Ravens
Faced with some key losses on defense, mainly Ray Lewis, the Ravens also got some nice additions in Chris Canty and Daryl Smith. Anquan Boldin was a big loss on offense, but there are still a handful of weapons that were big contributors last year. The defending Super Bowl Champs might not have all the right tools, but they will still make a case in the AFC North.
11. New Orleans Saints
Fluke season last year? One might think so. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are still arguably one of the most talented teams in the National Football League. With a solid receiving core, and a strong running game the Saints won’t be strangers to the end zone. Some questions remain on defense for the Saints, but a stronger secondary this year will be vital in the team’s success.
12. New York Giants
Eli Manning has been in prime form the past few years, and the New York Football Giants will be the beasts of the NFC East. With the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw the Giants do not have a lot of experience in the offensive backfield, however, Andre Brown filled in admirably in Bradshaw’s absence last season.
13. Detroit Lions
With a healthy offense this team is as good as any, and quarterback Matthew Stafford is as tough as they come. It certainly helps that you have Calvin “Megatron” Johnson to throw the ball too. Acquiring Reggie Bush in the offseason adds some playmaking ability to the run game, something they thought they had with Jahvid Best.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Quarterback? Check. Running back? Check. Wide Receiver? Check. The Dallas Cowboys have the perfect situation to be as good as anybody on the offensive side of the ball. Combine that with a solid defense, and you have yourself a team that controls their own destiny.
15. Washington Redskins
The good news is Robert Griffin III will be ready to play in Week 1. Waiting for the bad news? There isn’t any. We saw what he is capable of last year, and there is no reason that he can’t duplicate such a season. If he can learn that the game is not all high risk as he likes to play then the Redskins will be in good shape. And oh yeah, they have a pretty good playmaker at running back too in Alfred Morris.
16. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are coming off of a year where they overcame a lot of adversity. From dealing with the loss of longtime quarterback Peyton Manning to first year quarterback Andrew Luck to head coach Chuck Pogano going through chemotherapy, the Colts had a year not many thought they would have. The potential is certainly there for a duplicate performance of a year ago.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly is entering his first year as an NFL coach. But he came from a school that some might say could play at this level, Oregon. Philadelphia has the tools to make the transition as easy as possible for Kelly.
18. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson said he was going to break Emmitt Smith’s single season rushing record. Christian Ponder made some big steps last season. With two big offensive additions in Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings, Ponder finally has himself some trustworthy targets. Some questions still lurk on defense, particularly in the secondary, but the Vikings could have a notable season.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
The relationship between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley will play a key role in the offensive success this year. With a lot of young guys stepping in to fill roles this year and some uncertainty in certain areas, the expectations are not very high.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay looks to have a solid offensive season with second year running back Doug Martin. The additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson will shore up the secondary, and quarterback Josh Freeman has some nice targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
21. St. Louis Rams
Can rookie Tavon Austin step on the scene and make an immediate impact? He would certainly provide a dangerous weapon for Sam Bradford and the offense, particularly with the loss of Danny Amendola. With Chris Long coming off arguably his best season to date, he along with James Laurinaitis would lead a defense that has potential to be among the top.
22. Cleveland Browns
Perhaps one of the more underrated teams coming into the season, the Cleveland Browns showed glimpses of potential last season. With the amount of young talent on both sides of the ball, this Cleveland team could be one that we haven’t seen in some time. The addition of a guy like Paul Kruger on defense will only improve the overall production from last year.
23. Carolina Panthers
With the best running game in the league and the dangerous Cam Newton behind center, the Panthers will cause havoc for any defense, but their defense will struggle. Second year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly will have a tall task leading the Panthers defensive unit.
24. Miami Dolphins
The addition of a downfield threat in Mike Wallace will certainly bolster the passing game for the Dolphins. The only question is whether second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill makes the Wallace acquisition worthwhile.
25. Kansas City Chiefs
New quarterback. New head coach. Same old Chiefs? It’s hard enough make it through a season with a new coach, let alone a new quarterback as well. However, Andy Reid and Alex Smith are not facing their first rodeo. Between the two of them they could certainly bring the Chiefs to a respectable rating in the NFL.
26. San Diego Chargers
After an offensive debacle last season, can Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates rebound back to the stars they once were in this league? That will be crucial in San Diego’s success this season. It won’t all fall on their shoulders, but they were two of the bigger disappointments last year.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Do the Cardinals finally have a quarterback for Larry Fitzgerald? We know what Carson Palmer has been capable of, but he just isn’t the same quarterback he was in Cincinnati. Veteran running back Rashard Mendenhall has joined the team after being let go by Pittsburgh, but his injuries may make him another Chris “Beanie” Wells.
28. Tennessee Titans
Can running back Chris Johnson rebound from his mediocre performance from a year ago? With an improved offensive line in front of him that shouldn’t be a problem. Some key additions on offense will be a big help, and quarterback Jake Locker looks to have his best year to date.
29. Buffalo Bills
There must be something in the water that the AFC teams from New York are drinking because the Buffalo Bills have questions at quarterback as well. The Bills acquired Kevin Kolb in the offseason and parted ways with former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Can Kolb have better success in Buffalo than Arizona?
30. New York Jets
When you hear the words “quarterback issues,” the first team that should come to mind is the New York Jets. New York hasn’t had a solid quarterback since Brett Favre was its leader in 2008. Same story just a different chapter for the J-E-T-S JETS! JETS! JETS!
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been rebuilding for many years, and this year is no different. Like the Raiders, the Jaguars’ key offensive weapon is coming off an injury plagued season. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew suffered an injury in week 6 last year that ultimately put an end to his 2012 campaign.
32. Oakland Raiders
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Raiders are entering the 2013 season at the bottom of this list. Coming off a 4-12 record from a year ago, Oakland faces some struggles. On offense their only weapon at this point has been Darren McFadden, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy in recent years. With newly-acquired quarterback Matt Flynn and second-year pro Terrelle Pryor both struggling in the preseason, it will be a rebuilding year for the Raiders.