What a Super Bowl, right? It was the second-greatest of the past few years, behind only Super Bowl XLII, when the New England Patriots' undefeated season went down in flames -- although Steelers-Cards (XLIII) certainly merits consideration.
Baltimore's win leaves many to wonder if the Ravens are in fact the best team in pro football. The Powers That Be at NFL.com saw this potential outcome and immediately thought: "Power rankings? Yeeessssss!" Let me show you how you find out you're getting an assignment at my place of work:
Twitter, of course. (There went my Super Bowl after-party -- and the better part of Monday.)
It's worth mentioning that I had written some pretty good rot before the power went out in my apartment. Yes, I was dominating Microsoft Word for Mac. To compare it to a football game, I'd say the score was 28-6. But the long delay allowed writer's block back into the fold, so this intro is being cut short.
How do the 32 NFL teams stand today, going forward into free agency and beyond? The answer key lies below. Feel free to pass along any thoughts on these rankings to the usual addy: @Harrison_NFL.
Let the dissension commence on this, the first official Power Rankings of the 2013 season ...
Baltimore Ravens fans ... agony for NFL.com's Power Ranker. Is Baltimore truly the top team in football heading into the 2013 offseason? I deliberated at my computer. I deliberated with NFL.com colleagues. I deliberated on the calf-extension machine ... at Q's Billiards ... at the tire place.
Here's the deal: Baltimore is No. 1, and not just because the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. This becomes clear through the process of elimination. Consider:
a) The Ravens have beaten New England in two straight meetings. You can make a solid case they should've won the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough last season, too.
b) San Francisco is an outstanding football team, but the 49ers also had to squeeze past Atlanta, were blown out late in the regular season at Seattle and went 0-1-1 versus the Rams. The Ravens won the Super Bowl fair and square, irrespective of what you might think about the officiating. Yes, there was a power outage, and some folks believe it had a glowing effect on the game. I don't. And anyway, if any team was helped by it, it was the 49ers.
c) It can't be Denver. The Ravens beat the Broncos in their stadium. Denver finally faced a team playing quality football (after hardly doing so for two months) and was beat, making us all wonder about the merit of the club's 11-game winning streak.
d) The Packers have lost two straight divisional-round bouts. No, they've been whupped in two straight divisional-round bouts.
e) Atlanta hasn't been able to close the door. Given the Falcons' mediocre running game, that's not likely to change.
f) We need to see a thicker catalogue from Seattle. Too soon.
g) Houston? Next.
Obviously, the contract situations of Joe Flacco and Ed Reed hover slightly above "relevant" in terms of importance. The Ray Lewis departure is a huge loss in the locker room but a gain on the field. I'll tell you what, though: Having a healthy Lardarius Webb in the secondary will make the defense better in 2013.
What a tough loss to take,
49ers faithful. The most mind-boggling aspect? The questionable play calling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman in the most important goal-to-go sequence of the season. He had been rock solid pretty much all year.
But don't worry. San Francisco is exploding with young talent: Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Culliver, Aldon Smith, Joe Staley and obviously Colin Kaepernick. Like the Pats, the Niners boast an excellent blend of young and old. So what will they get for Alex Smith?
The New England Patriots are still one of the top two teams in the AFC. That's becoming old hat. Still, it's been eight seasons since this team won the Super Bowl. The key for the Pats, as mentioned above, is their mix of veterans and young talent. Stevan Ridley, for example, just broke out in his second NFL season. The linebacking corps is turning into a team strength. If the Pats get Ed Reed, New England will be playing in New Jersey a little less than a year from now.
Concern abounded in this space a month ago regarding the possibility that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy could be distracted by potential head-coaching vacancies. Whether or not that played any role in
the loss to the Ravens is up for debate. The decision to run the ball three straight times and punt with 2:23 left was
John Fox's, not McCoy's.
McCoy is now gone, taking over as San Diego's head coach. So here are two other thoughts regarding the Denver Broncos:
1) Can Peyton Manning hold up for 16 games again at age 37? In 1998, a 38-year-old John Elway missed four starts, but Denver went 4-0, thanks to solid backup Bubby Brister. Denver doesn't have that kind of depth at QB right now.
2) How much of the Broncos' season-ending 11-game winning streak was legit? Just two teams beaten during that streak -- Cincinnati and Baltimore -- finished with winning records. And the Ravens, of course, ousted the Broncos from the playoffs.
This is a tough call. The Atlanta Falcons are capable of putting up 13 wins -- they've managed that feat in two of the past three years. They also have no problem getting out in front of opponents with coordinator Dirk Koetter's explosive offensive. The good news: Koetter signed a contract extension to remain in Atlanta. The not-so-good news: It doesn't seem that this team can change much to get over the hump. Mike Smith's club is already the least penalized, most disciplined team in the league. Getting Brent Grimes back will help. Nonetheless, little will change until this team learns to close the deal in the postseason. Even in the divisional-round win over the Seahawks, many felt Seattle should've pulled it out. I'll go with could've.
There are multiple question marks entering every offseason for every team, but in Seattle, the biggest has to be how this club will fare without defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who left for the head job in Jacksonville. We can talk free agents, or Russell Wilson's development. Still, much of 2013's success will boil down to how Dan Quinn does in his new role as Bradley's replacement. Luckily for the 12th Man, Quinn was in charge of the defensive line under Pete Carroll in 2010. He knows the personnel, and, more importantly, the drop-off should be nil. Should be.
Green Bay Packers are easily the favorites to win the NFC North. The bottom line for this group is threefold (yes, I'm in a listy mood):
1) Dom Capers' job might be safe, but the defense must improve to get to the next step. The Packers' D is decent now, but not stout enough to overcome ...
2) ... the running game. Averaging 3.9 yards per carry, Alex Green and the committee exhibited promise, but not enough to truly diminish the immense load on Aaron Rodgers.
3) Randall Cobb has developed? Doesn't mean Greg Jennings is expendable.
Is this a premium team? Houston Texans fans must be concerned with how this past season played out. The club couldn't get past New England in the playoffs and really played poorly for much of December. I could see Houston going 12-4 again or dropping a rung (or two). Brian Cushing's return should help immensely, as will playing in a still-weak AFC South.
Another postseason berth, another season-ender at Reliant. So what's in store for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013? This club has been in the playoffs three of the past four seasons, yet can't get past the first round. Heading toward next season, the hope is that the kids continue to get better, starting with A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Jermaine Gresham. Don't sleep on 2012 third-round draft pick Mohamed Sanu, who really came on before getting hurt. Better yet, the Bengals have a crapload of cap space (over $50 million).
If Robert Griffin III is back for the beginning of the 2013 season, the Washington Redskins are the frontrunners to win the NFC East. Not because they won it in 2012. No, because they won it in 2012 despite having two of their key contributors (Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker) miss almost the entire season. Having a healthy Orakpo on the defensive side of the ball is like having Kat Dennings return for another season on "2 Broke Girls." That's a big development ...
The New Orleans Saints need to clear some cap space this offseason. Nonetheless, this non-playoff team could quickly turn into a contender in 2013. Sean Payton is back, the bounty scandal is in the past and these players just saw the Super Bowl played on their field. This is a new team, without the biggest distraction since Spygate -- and the McRib.
Talk about never knowing what you're gonna get from a team ... From 9-7 Super Bowl champs to 9-7 postseason-free chumps. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has another foot surgery on his résumé, meaning David Wilson must be ready from the get-go (unlike in 2012). It was evident by midseason that Eli Manning had too much on his shoulders -- similar to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay -- yet Eli didn't play as well. It sure would help if Hakeem Nicks could ever stay healthy.
The Indianapolis Colts have some core pieces, no question. The expectation here, however, is that Indy will take a step back. The magical 11-5 season was just that. The Colts continually pulled out tight ballgames while getting blown out in losses. That's not to say this club falls to 6-10, but some of those squeakers will go the other way in 2013. The Colts were outscored by 30 points over the course of the season, and two of their most prominent players -- Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney -- are getting long in the tooth. Freeney, who didn't fit the new defensive scheme well, will likely be donning a new uni in 2013. They have some money to play with this offseason, so get ready for some Irsay tweetage.
Many Dallas Cowboys players -- including DeMarcus Ware -- were disappointed by the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Will Monte Kiffin be an upgrade? That's a difficult question. Honestly, it's tough to evaluate Ryan's performance in 2012, considering all of the injuries this team dealt with on the defensive side of the ball. (During one game, Dallas lined up with just five of its original starters on D.) That said, while Ryan has had one top-10 defense in his career as a coordinator, Kiffin's Tampa Bay defenses finished in the top 10 during 11 of his 13 years with the Bucs (1996 to 2008). That's why Ryan has been out of work for a bit longer than five minutes.
Sure thing: The Pittsburgh Steelers are always in the running. The Steelers have finished 8-8 or better in 12 of the past 13 seasons. So how much can they improve on 2012's .500 mark? Whether fans are sick of hearing it or not, age is still an issue to be addressed on defense. James Harrison is likely gone. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark only have so much gas left in the tank at safety. Where will Mike Wallace play in 2013? Who is the starter at tailback?
In our last regular season Power Rankings, I predicted the
Chicago Bears would surprise folks by pulling a name somewhat out of nowhere in their search for a new head coach.
Marc Trestman certainly qualifies. He did a nice job as the
49ers offensive coordinator in 1995-96 with Steve Young under center, and in Oakland as the OC on the team that went to
Super Bowl XXXVII. He even escaped the wrath of Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, unlike, uh,
Can Trestman get more effectiveness from Jay Cutler? More productivity from Michael Bush? How about the O-line? Also, will new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker find a way to create turnovers the way Rod Marinelli's defense did last season? Bears faithful, does the Trestman hire concern you? Hit me up @Harrison_NFL.
Like so many in my business, I was soooo wrong about the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. Didn't see 10-6 coming. And I can't see a repeat of it now. Not unless Christian Ponder takes a giant step in his third year, and an even larger leap is made by the receiver corps. Having Percy Harvin for 16 games instead of nine would be nice. Adrian Peterson going for 2,000 yards -- or at least 1.7K -- seems almost necessary. The club carries over some cap residual, leaving room to make (tempered) noise in free agency.
St. Louis Rams fans have to like what they saw from this club in 2012. The potential is there. I loved the way Jeff Fisher's team competed in Seattle on the last day of the regular season -- a possible contender for our Top 20 Games of 2012. The organization met with Dick Jauron on Monday for its vacancy at defensive coordinator. Jauron was replaced by former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton in Cleveland last month, but I think he'll get the Rams gig.
Ron Rivera held his job. Rob Chudzinski did not. Carolina's former offensive coordinator is now the lead dog in Cleveland, which is slightly relevant. Cam Newton and the offense came alive over the last nine games, scoring a whopping 251 points while going 6-3. Chudzinski played a large role in the late-season success. Now it's up to Mike Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to fill Chud's spot. Continuity is rarely a bad thing, and with Rivera retaining his gig, this move made sense. Carolina is over the cap, with Jon Beason, Chris Gamble and Jonathan Stewart (or DeAngelo Williams) subject to a possible release. Rivera has his work cut out for him.
What's the plan in 2013? In 2012, Greg Schiano made some noise by playing about 7,000 guys in the preseason. Tampa got hot in midseason and, at 6-4, was in prime wild-card contention -- until everything fell apart. Tampa Bay needs to draft the best corner available. The front office must get a deal done with Michael Bennett, whom I personally watched decimate the Cowboys in Week 3. Then there's the Josh Freeman enigma. Is he the answer?
Mike McCoy comes to town with perhaps the trickiest research project in the business: discovering what happened to Philip Rivers. (Well, other than the fact that Robert Meachem gave the San Diego Chargers virtually nothing in free agency, and ditto for Eddie Royal.) The Bolts' new head coach inherits a smart veteran quarterback, though he might not be as accomplished as Peyton Manning ... Still, Rivers once led all quarterbacks not named Otto Graham in career points per game. He's 31. Kurt Warner's career took a nosedive at 31, but he eventually got it back. Rivers can, too.
What if the Miami Dolphins signed Greg Jennings AND Mike Wallace? Yeah, and what if Charlize Theron became an NFL.com analyst? OK, dreaming aside, Miami does have the cap space to get an impact player. The Dolphins also must re-sign Jake Long and -- potentially -- Reggie Bush. With five picks in the top 100 of the 2013 NFL Draft, this 7-9 football team could be pretty damn good in 2013 ... or 2014.
Michael Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski are new to the party. Both have much to do. The former must retool a defense that was ransacked by injury early last season and could use pieces in the back seven. A free safety would be apropos, as would a healthy Chris Gocong at linebacker. In fact, add another linebacker to that list. And if another new guy in Cleveland, defensive coordinator Ray Horton, makes the switch to a 3-4, the defensive line will see a shakeup. Ironically, that might be the most talented section of the defense. Big question marks here, and we haven't even discussed Brandon Weeden.
The club has decisions to make on free agents-to-be Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Houston has been so-so, while Delmas has found it darn near impossible to make it through a 16-game season. The modern-day Bob Sanders played in just eight games last season. Secondary quagmires aside, Detroit can't allow 10 return touchdowns (most in NFL) again. Nor can Jim Schwartz's offense afford to run the ball so inconsistently.
The K-Gun offense is all the rage in Buffalo. It's being resurrected at the rate of hobbits, nerd-turned-"cool guy" commercials and coaches reportedly throwing Super Bowls. But here's the problem with head coach Doug Marrone's master plan: Who's gonna throw the ball, i.e., run the offense? Ryan Fitzpatrick? OK. Where's Andre Reed, James Lofton and Keith McKeller (whom the offense was named after)? Does Buffalo have the personnel? If the answer in the minds of Bills fans is "yes," that means they're only worried about new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's lack of experience. I don't blame them. If Buffalo is to go up-tempo, it has to be all in, or the fast-track approach likely won't work.
Oh, boy. With over $140 million committed toward the cap and a very public quarterback issue, this organization is going to get worse before it gets better. When it comes to people in new jobs, who thinks New York Jets general manager John Idzik has the most formidable challenge? To trade or not to trade the best cover corner in pro football -- that is the first, best question. At least Idzik called Darrelle Revis, pulling a Sergeant Schultz "I know nothing!"
Chip Kelly made the big move. Now, can the Philadelphia Eagles make a move out of the NFC East cellar with a whole new offensive system? Well, it could mean boffo numbers for LeSean McCoy. But it definitely means the Eagles have some gnarly choices to make at quarterback. Could Kelly make it work with Nick Foles? That's a rather significant uncertainty. Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves: There's a solid chance Michael Vick could return, despite everyone assuming, just a few weeks ago, that he would be gone.
Ray Horton is now spearheading the defense in Cleveland. Still, the
Arizona Cardinals have the parts on that side of the ball. Unfortunately, this team's massive offensive questions overshadow the defensive strengths. Those questions exist at quarterback and offensive line. (Yup, two pretty substantial areas.)
New head coach Bruce Arians was hired to work wonders with the NFL's worst offense this side of the Jets. (Is it any surprise these two clubs played a 7-6 barnburner in 2012?) The money is on Kevin Kolb to win the QB job. (Especially considering the actual money spent on Kolb, which usually rules the day when it comes to closely contested position battles.) Regardless of who's under center, the offensive line must improve. Even a Frankensteining Kurt Warner wouldn't be able to accomplish much behind a line that gives up 58 sacks.
Chris Johnson wasn't overly excited with the direction of the team last month, when some position coaches lost their jobs. Sometimes that's what happens when a head coach (
Mike Munchak) keeps his job after a 6-10 season. What CJ2K
will like is an upgrade at offensive line. While he was inconsistent in his own right, Johnson often had nary a crease to run through. The interior of the line was banged up, but it could be retooled in a draft that actually has some guards to go around. It will be interesting to see what the team will do with the 10th overall pick. Could the
Titans trade down and get line help later?
John Glennon of The Tennessean wrote an informative piece detailing the O-line, identifying some free-agent names in the process. Still, methinks April's draft is the solution here, despite the Titans having a healthy amount of cap space (almost $20 million).
Love the Gus Bradley hire. The offense was supposed to be the big problem in 2012, particularly after Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, but the defense was miserable for much of the season -- finishing 30th overall. Bradley was the only head coach of the eight hired in January whose discipline falls on the defensive side of the ball. I'd like to see Daryl Smith return, as he had been one of the AFC's most underrated linebackers before an injury-riddled 2012 campaign. New Jacksonville GM David Caldwell has expressed optimism regarding Blaine Gabbert. We'll see how long that lasts.
This is perhaps the most interesting NFL locale as we transition to the 2013 season. When Andy Reid took over the Eagles in 1999, they were nothing short of awful. (Philadelphia had won three games in the previous season.) But by 2000, Reid's group was 11-5 and won a playoff game. Much of that had to do with the emergence of quarterback Donovan McNabb. So who will be the man under center at Arrowhead this fall? Reid is obviously catching up on the "play" of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. This isn't the draft for quarterbacks. Then again, 1999 was supposed to be a great year for quarterbacks, and McNabb was pretty much the only guy who ended up having a lengthy, productive career.
It's not easy ranking the Oakland Raiders dead last. Except it kind of is. Oakland showed virtually no improvement down the stretch in 2012, losing eight of the last nine games. Though Dennis Allen is a defensive-minded coach, his D allowed more than 28 points per game during that stretch. Carson Palmer didn't play poorly, but too much of his production came in garbage time -- solid in fantasy, worthless in reality. So what now?
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.