Before Super Bowl XLVIII, I ranked all of the prior Super Bowls from best to worst -- and the order won't really have to change after Sunday's game, which might have been the 48th-best. Actually, come to think of it, 49ers-Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV is still the worst I've ever seen, though not by much.
Hey, let's look at the bright side of the Super Blowout. The completion of the 2013 season gives us a chance to reassess each of the NFL's 32 teams. Where does everyone stand after all the coaching turnover? How will the various salary-cap situations play out?
Below, you'll see our thoughts. As always, feel free to share your take ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from the Power Rankings that were posted at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season.)
Young core, coming off one of the most dominant Super Bowl performances ever ... it's scary how much potential Seattle has. Not only is this slot a no-brainer, but it's possible this team could go coast-to-coast at No. 1 -- from post-Super Bowl Power Rankings all the way through the 2014 season.
The second-best team in football is not the Denver Broncos. The 49ers won eight games in a row and gave the eventual Super Bowl champs all they could handle -- in Seattle, no less -- during the NFC Championship Game. There are, of course, concerns on defense, from Justin Smith's age (34) to Aldon Smith's reliability and NaVorro Bowman's knee injury. Also, organizational decisions need to be made regarding Donte Whitner and Anquan Boldin. Still, this team isn't going anywhere.
There might be some questions about Peyton Manning's future, and it's doubtful the Broncos will be able to retain Knowshon Moreno. That said, the defense will get Von Miller -- who was knocked out with a season-ending ACL tear in December -- back in 2014, and he'll be just one of many talented young players on the roster. Going through the minicamp and training camp motions will be awfully difficult for Manning after coming this far and playing so poorly in the Super Bowl.
This should be a very interesting offseason for the Patriots. Will they stand pat with the wideouts they have under contract, or will they attempt to re-sign Julian Edelman? Aqib Talib is up for a new contract, as well. And what about the status of Vince Wilfork, an aging player who missed nearly all of 2013? Here's the deal: The Patriots always manage these situations better than we analysts predict they will.
How much better would New Orleans have been if the defense had been playing with a full deck? Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman, Will Smith, Kenny Vaccaro, Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins all missed time, with some of them lost for the whole season. What if defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had all those players in the Saints' loss to the Panthers in Week 16's NFC South showdown? Even with all those injuries, the Saints still finished 11-5 and won a playoff game.
Carolina fans might be peeved that their squad is ranked below the
Saints, but the reality is that the
beaten handily at home in the playoffs after a regular season during which much went their way. This is not to say Carolina doesn't have a quality football team, but we need to see more than a single season of premium football from this group to merit placement over a healthy New Orleans club.
Re-signing Greg Hardy is going to be tough, given the Panthers' salary-cap situation. There aren't a lot of 25-year-old guys walking around with 15-sack seasons under their belts.
Like the Saints, the Chiefs were completely decimated by injuries -- and they still nearly beat the Colts in Indy during the wild-card round. Kansas City has some concerns with regard to pending free agents, like Tyson Jackson, Kendrick Lewis and Dexter McCluster -- though none of these guys would seriously hurt the team by defecting. The nucleus is intact and will hopefully be upright, unlike at the end of the 2013 campaign.
Having Aaron Rodgers healthy for a whole season would mean everything; ditto having a running back like Eddie Lacy fully involved from Week 1. The 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year, who should get even better at pass protection, could be a 1,500-yard back. However, the Packers' defense, which still has its leaks, must improve for Green Bay to get back to its Super Bowl-winning form of 2010. People forget that the Packers had the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFC that season.
The good news here is that the Colts' players play for Chuck Pagano and respond to Andrew Luck's leadership -- and the team figures to have a healthy amount of salary-cap space. The ambiguous news is that no one knows how effective Reggie Wayne will be in his 14th year after suffering a major knee injury in 2013, nor does anyone know what to make of Trent Richardson. The bad news is that the Richardson trade debacle left the team without a first-round draft pick.
Eagles are in nice shape, with coach
Chip Kelly entering Year 2 of his program with a franchise quarterback in tow (
Patrick Chung, who really didn't contribute a lot, and
Trent Cole, who is 31 and played somewhat out of position, could be salary-cap casualties, but don't misunderstand this team's situation; Philly has some room to maneuver with regard to other players.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles' front office pays free agents-to-be Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. The latter missed all of 2013, while the former has put up just one solid season. Oh, and then there's Michael Vick. Glad he thinks he's an opening-day starter. Does anyone else?
Perhaps the toughest team to rank here is the Arizona Cardinals, who take a slight plunge based on two factors: 1) the contract situations of key veterans like Larry Fitzgerald ( UPDATE: News broke after publishing of Fitzgerald restructuring his contract) and Daryl Washington (who stands to collect a $10 million option bonus); and 2) the play of Carson Palmer. Palmer has been unsteady -- to say the least -- since 2006. If the quarterback regresses, this squad will not have enough oomph to compete in an incredibly tough NFC West.
Make no mistake: Losing offensive coordinator
Ken Whisenhunt, who became head coach of the
Tennessee Titans, flat-out hurts. The offense was clearly the
Chargers' strength in 2013, and Whisenhunt's use of the ground game and rotation of running backs was imperative to San Diego making the playoffs. Give Whisenhunt some love for quarterback
winning The Associated Press' Comeback Player of the Year award -- Rivers, for the record,
would have been my choice, too.
Of course, one of my tweeps did point out that the Comeback Player of the Year award might be more appropriately given to someone coming off a major injury rather than making it a youkindasuckedlastyearbutmanagedtoplaybetterthisyearsohere'sanaward kind of deal.
The Bengals will have a new offensive coordinator in Hue Jackson, a hefty chunk of salary-cap space and, most importantly, the nucleus of an 11-5 team. So, it seems, all is well ... except for the huge question mark at quarterback. Seriously, it's as big as Larry Kinnebrew's belly. (Anyone remember him?) The AFC North cannot be any worse than it was last year; we can't assume the Ravens, Steelers and Browns will go 20-28 again. So even if Jackson does get the most out of Andy Dalton, the Bengals might wind up taking a small step back.
It's been a month now since the Bears locked up Jay Cutler with a seven-year deal, and $54 million guaranteed still seems like a lot of dough for a quarterback who missed more than a quarter of the season, has never finished in the top 10 in passer rating and was outplayed by his backup. As far as the 2014 NFL Draft goes, defensive line is a must for this group.
Ray Rice says he wishes he hadn't played through a hip injury in 2013, further twisting the knife on a bunch of fantasy owners who dropped a first-round pick on him. Hip injuries are different from regular injuries, as Dennis Pitta or Percy Harvin can tell you. Either way, Baltimore must commit to re-tooling the offense, starting at wideout.
After the Steelers' hot finish to the 2013 season, we were reluctant to move them down too far. However, the harsh reality is that they figure to face a complete lack of salary-cap space in 2014. Age in the secondary is also a major issue. Still, we can rattle off a comparative laundry list of problems for the Jets, Cowboys, Dolphins, Rams, Giants ... you get the point.
There is more to football in New York than a terribly boring
Super Bowl and
Geno Smith ... like, say, available salary-cap dollars. The
Jets should have more than $20 million to play with and -- aside from some starters who need to be re-signed -- look to be in decent shape. Draft-wise, wide receiver sure as heck had better be a primary concern.
The most important decision for the front office, however, is whether to let go of veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez. Pretty much the only news you hear about him these days has to do with the $8.3 million the team could save against the cap by giving him the boot.
Scott Linehan is the "play-caller" and
Rod Marinelli is the defensive coordinator, word is the
Cowboys are looking at bringing
Jon Kitna back, having Titus Young play slot receiver and asking Wayne Fontes to be a consultant.
OK, maybe not, but Cowboys fans surely must be wondering what's going on. Not to mention (but we'll mention): The cap situation figures to stink. #noroom # LionsSouth
The installation of a new front-office regime and some late-season regression by
Ryan Tannehill parks Miami here. Who thought an NFL GM job would be that hard to fill? For a while, it sounded like not even the GM of the local Pizza Hut would take the position -- for that matter, I don't know if
Pizza the Hutt himself would have gone for it.
The man who eventually accepted the title -- Dennis Hickey -- must decide what to do with the contracts of several starters. Free agent-to-be Brent Grimes, who had an outstanding 2013, is a candidate for the franchise tag. We've also seen a lot of chatter about offensive tackle Branden Albert being a target in free agency. Hickey will have the cap space.
What an interesting time for this franchise. While half the world is thinking the team will soon be sipping lattes and going to Def Leppard concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, the St. Louis Rams must decide what to do with the nine draft picks they have to play with come May. The team was already the youngest in the league in 2013; looks like it'll be getting younger, especially if the Rams trade down and acquire even more selections.
Whoa, some decisions to be made for Big Blue. What to do with Justin Tuck? How about Hakeem Nicks, who underwhelms like a boss? Linval Joseph? As things stand, the Giants will have 22 unrestricted free agents to address -- twenty-two. Last year, we drew ire for predicting an 8-8 season -- and New York went 7-9. For 2014, we'll go with 7-8-1.
Getting some help in the pass rush and the running game in this year's draft would be nice. It's a good thing the club
didn't bring John Abraham back for an eighth season in Atlanta in 2013; after all, he merely went on to record 11.5 sacks for the
Arizona Cardinals. Who needs a guy like
that running around and causing havoc?
All that said, the Falcons are in great shape, which is why they get a bump in the rankings. They a) have few of their own pending free agents to sign, with none being potentially catastrophic departures; b) have an owner willing to spend; and c) have a certifiable franchise quarterback -- unlike most of the clubs below. Oh, and getting Julio Jones back in the mix sure won't hurt matters.
Buffalo should be in an excellent salary-cap situation, meaning it can fill several small holes at linebacker, on the offensive line and in the secondary, and figure out what to do with Jairus Byrd. Coach Doug Marrone has so much young talent; it will be up to his staff to develop it. Drafting another 'backer would be pleasant, too.
I like the Ken Whisenhunt hire, but running back Chris Johnson isn't getting any better, younger or healthier -- and he might not even stay in town. This team still hasn't figured out its quarterback situation, either. And though the defense wasn't exactly a problem in 2013, the unit could really use a major impact player besides Jurrell Casey.
Discipline is the word of the day around Detroit, with Reggie Bush saying recently that "culture is going to be the biggest thing we're gonna need to improve on in our locker room." Agreed. That could start with Bush -- who lost four fumbles in 2013 -- not putting the ball on the carpet anymore. Getting rid of the dumb penalties and all the dropped passes from everybody else sounds super, too. We'll see if new coach Jim Caldwell is the man for the job. The Lions fans I've spoken with -- and I know many -- call it an "uninspired hiring." Sports-cliché alert: Time will tell.
Can new coach Mike Zimmer turn around a defense that gave up the most points in the NFL in 2013? That's the question in Minnesota. He'll need the team to add more talent via the draft, perhaps targeting a defensive end first. Additional linebacker help wouldn't hurt, either, and while we're at it, some health might be nice, too. Safety Harrison Smith missed half the 2013 season. The Vikes need him to develop.
My colleague Daniel Jeremiah says that, when it comes to the 2014 NFL Draft, an edge rusher would fit the bill for new Bucs coach Lovie Smith and new GM Jason Licht, and the feeling here is the same. Since Jon Gruden left Tampa Bay five seasons ago to start doing broadcasting work and bad commercials with USFL highlights in them, the Bucs have racked up just 139 sacks, the worst mark in the NFC and second-worst in the NFL over that span. Tampa should have the salary-cap room to sign some free agents. More important than that, however, will be getting a healthy Carl Nicks back.
Owner Shad Khan sure wouldn't be very good at
Stratego, as he'd probably divulge the location of his flag right off the bat. Still, kudos to him for
acknowledging the obvious: that the Jags will be looking to draft a quarterback in May. Then he went a step further, adding, "... maybe two." Call it refreshing.
In other news, the Jaguars figure to have a ton of money to work with in free agency -- just like the Browns and Raiders. And also like both those clubs, Jacksonville will have the opportunity to make over much of the roster.
You feel like CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi have the tortillas, beans and enchilada sauce ... they merely need the right kind of cheese. Think about it: Cleveland should have somewhere between $40 million and $50 million in cap space to play with, plus the fourth
and 26th overall picks in the 2014
NFL Draft --
thank you, Trent Bustardson. The
Browns also have some good, young pieces, starting with receiver
What's the right move at quarterback? Retaining Brian Hoyer on the cheap (he's set to earn $1.25 million) while using the cache of picks to get the young signal-caller they covet would seem to be the proper play. Of course, given the fact that the Browns want to establish a franchise quarterback, was Mike Pettine -- who cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator -- the correct choice for head coach? I'll let the Dawg Pound answer that one ... @HarrisonNFL.
Expected to have more than $60 million in cap space, the
Raiders are like that kid down the street whose parents gave him an allowance that was five times as big as every other kid's -- he had both
the Death Star AND
the Millennium Falcon -- despite the fact that he was so annoyingly misbehaved that you would rather go to school than have to play Hot Wheels with him.
Almost everyone I know wants Oakland to be effective this offseason and be competitive in 2014. This Raiders organization has had nary a winning season since 2002. Here's the thing: The league is, well, cooler when the Raiders are good. After patiently clearing out the team's finances over the past two years, GM Reggie McKenzie has the cash and the draft ammunition (starting with the fifth overall pick) necessary to implement his plan -- which hopefully starts with getting a quarterback and fortifying both the offensive and defensive lines.
With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, plus tons of talent already on the roster, the Texans climb out of the cellar in our Power Rankings. The Bill O'Brien hiring made a lot of sense, given where the team is picking and given the fact that quarterback is THE issue here. Veteran receiver Andre Johnson is going nowhere; meanwhile, don't be so quick to assume that Ben Tate is for sure gone. He's younger and doesn't have the wear and tear of Arian Foster. Foster, on the other hand, would be tough to find a trade destination for, given his health and the way 2013 played out -- but that doesn't mean the club couldn't release him. Not saying it will happen, just saying it's a plausible scenario.
With the second-worst record in the NFL, no first-round draft pick and a new head coach in Jay Gruden -- who took some heavy criticism when he was offensive coordinator in Cincinnati -- the Redskins have to start at No. 32. The positive thing for the team is that, unlike last offseason, Washington is projected to have a relatively large amount of cap space. I don't believe the Redskins will be mired at the bottom for long, especially if Robert Griffin III can turn it around.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.