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NFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Seahawks surging toward top spot

It's here. Real, live, consequential NFL football. We're officially in Week 1 of the regular season.

No more talk about practice incompletions. No more hyping us up for Sean Mannion-Cardale Jones third-quarter battles. Hackenberg vs. the Lions' front four? Be gone! Most importantly, costly injuries in meaningless games are now a thing of the past (well, until next year).

Oh, and no more rehashing the epic comeback/choke job in Super Bowl LI. It's tired, and we have new material.

In a related note, though, the Patriots begin their title defense by hosting the always-contending Chiefs on Thursday night. Kansas City can finally move beyond its own sour finish to the 2016 campaign. You know, when Eric Fisher bear-hugged James Harrison and potentially cost the Chiefs a trip to the AFC Championship Game -- in Foxborough. That's where we will get our football consciousness kick-started again, providing a welcome distraction from the news cycle. (Please.) Although not all news is separate from football, and not all news is negative:

Texans players have been busy with life lately, making the opener vs. the Jaguars an afterthought in the moment. But come Sunday, all of Houston will be supporting Watt and the city's football team. Again, distractions are good.

With a win, the Texans could slide right into the top 10 -- especially given how much has been in flux since the Preseason Power Rankings just one month ago. The whole league's been pretty batty of late, and we haven't even seen a game that counts since February.

So take a gander at the full rundown below, and -- as always -- give me your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let the dissension commence!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For a full hour of in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for the "NFL Power Rankings" show.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our preseason Power Rankings.

Watching UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen operate during that redonkulous game versus Texas A&M the other night, I couldn't help but think of the odyssey of Tom Brady. His days of winning bowl games for Michigan came nearly two decades ago. Yet here Brady is, 40 years old, and his last game that counted resembled the same wild comeback Rosen pulled off against the Aggies -- save for the fact that the Bruins QB is half Brady's age. Speaking of, Brady is half the reason the Patriots are No. 1. The supporting cast is still there, although replacing Rob Ninkovich and Julian Edelman -- especially in the locker room -- is challenging at best, unrealistic at worst.

Might have an early candidate for MVP: Russell Wilson. He sure as heck played up to that standard in the preseason. The franchise quarterback made plays out of the pocket, on the run, in the pocket, downfield and in the short game. Throw in a healthy running back rotation that will probably feature Thomas Rawls, with a (healthy?) serving of Eddie Lacy and the pesky Chris Carson as insurance. Lastly, one area (outside of offensive line) where Seattle appeared a little thin a week ago: the interior of the defensive line. Enter trade acquisition Sheldon Richardson. To all the haters, the Seahawks will be playing meaningful football in January again, like it or not.

Tough to move the defending NFC champs down. And no, some more lame reasoning (piling on) about the Super Bowl hangover is not coming in the next few sentences. The Seahawks looked formidable in the preseason. The Falcons did not against the Cardinals. Even the most ardent Atlanta fan will tell you there is some apprehension about new OC Steve Sarkisian running the attack, even if the offense looked viable in Weeks 1 and 2 of the preseason.

 **Side note:** Could it be that we are all missing the point with the 
 Falcons, i.e., that they might be -- could be -- more talented on the 
 *other* side of the ball? 

Aaron Rodgers barely played in August. Preseason football, yo. But I like what I'm seeing. All the hand-wringing about Ty Montgomery getting passed on the depth chart and losing opportunities to Jamaal Williams is going to go the same place as all those Najeh Davenport-is-gonna-run-for-1,100-yards takes: in the ... er ... trash. Depth on the offensive line and at linebacker is problematic, but the secondary -- despite popular belief -- is not.

The Steelers stay right in place, even with Le'Veon Bell back and Joe Haden in the fold. Bell hasn't played all summer, and the Browns were fine with letting the latter (and his contract) walk out the door. Thus, we're holding steady on Pittsburgh as a top-five team without overreacting, particularly to the Haden deal. Like the move, but remember, this is not the same Joe Haden that we saw in, say, 2013 or 2014. Remember the Titans, too. It was on AMC this week. Great movie. Before Ryan Gosling became a modern-day Clark Gable stud bowl, and before every high school played in a spread. Excited for Martavis Bryant.

Slight move down for the Raiders. The secondary remains the Achilles albatross for this football team, at least until the corners play better. And as much as we're all hot dogs and apple pie and Skittles about Marshawn Lynch's return after a year off, we barely saw him play in the preseason. Those legs are fresh, for sure. But how explosive are they? If you watched the offense in August -- like against the Cowboys' kids in the secondary -- you know Derek Carr is going to be pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Don't think you'll be seeing much drop-off from Big Blue's defensive unit this season. I've already staked my claim on Janoris Jenkins, and Landon Collins could very well be the top safety in pro football. Teams are gonna suck trying to run up the middle on this group again. Concerns, you ask? Odell Beckham Jr. being healthy for the opener against Dallas, Brandon Marshall's stunted preseason, the run game. Especially the run game. Someone has to emerge, right? Or rather, be submerged behind that offensive line.

Everyone in a Randy White, Darren Woodson or Larry Allen jersey has to be waiting on the news to come down regarding Ezekiel Elliott's appeal of his six-game suspension. All generations of Cowboys fans are pumped about the team this year -- with Elliott. Without? Not so much. Dallas fans know their team, and there is no getting around the fact that there will be growing pains in the secondary, especially sans a stifling pass rush. Barry Church's departure via free agency hurt, although his comments about the Jags' talent level being higher than the Cowboys' didn't. While his new team has season tickets to 6-10, Dallas will be vying for the postseason. The Cowboys just aren't anywhere near the top-seeded outfit from a year ago. Speaking of outfits ... does anyone actually have a Larry Allen jersey? (@HarrisonNFL)

 *(**UPDATE:** Arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the six-game suspension, but Elliott will be allowed to play Week 1 vs. the Giants, due to the timing of the decision, while a judge weighs whether to grant a temporary restraining order blocking the suspension.) * 

While the Chiefs are one of the easier teams to rank for these purposes, it's difficult to decipher how serious of a contender we should consider them to be. Was anyone that shocked that K.C. lost in the Divisional Round of the 2016 playoffs? With Alex Smith at the helm for the fifth straight year, the offense should be viable. But will it have the vertical element it needs, especially with the running game a little less stout without Spencer Ware? If Justin Houston is 100 percent and Derrick Johnson makes it all the way back, I have few concerns about the defense. That group just needs to keep forcing turnovers for the offense.

After spinning yarn about the Chiefs and the lack of a downhill passing attack, I can say I have no such qualms about the Cardinals. John Brown truly presents a different dimension for the Arizona offense when he's right. Bruce Arians will call for two Carson Palmer moon balls per half, with one usually headed in Brown's direction. The question is the defense, which has several uber-talented pieces but can still get beaten up front by offensive lines like those of the Falcons, Cowboys or even Lions.

When it comes to the young quarterbacks in the league, give me Marcus Mariota. For all the Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz hype, it still seems as though fans are sleeping on the Titans quarterback. Not in fantasy, where Mariota's legs are absolutely a factor. Yet, his improvement, aligned with the additions of rookie receiver Corey Davis and veteran pass catcher Eric Decker, should make Tennessee the favorite in the AFC South. Now, that important third preseason game against the Bears? That sucked. And that, my friends, is the question: How much will the Titans play down to their opponents?

Thinking this team is hovering around the outskirts of the playoffs, fully capable of being the sixth seed in the NFC. Now, earlier in the offseason, I felt Detroit could win the NFC North. The injury to left tackle Taylor Decker since -- along with the obvious lack of a consistent pass rush -- affected that prognostication. The Lions should be fantastic up the middle, with A'Shawn Robinson, Haloti Ngata and rookie Mike 'backer Jarrad Davis. This secondary isn't Lem Barney, Dick LeBeau, Ray Crockett and Bennie Blades, though. They need pressure.

Less enthusiastic about the Bucs than I was during the offseason. Jameis Winston cannot be turning the ball over in the red zone. If Tampa needed that, the coaching staff would merely ask No. 14 to enter the fray. The ground game failed to impress in the preseason, as well, although Doug Martin should be the man once he returns from suspension. The defense, which just made a nice pickup in the form of T.J. Ward (something that could help this team move back up these rankings), could be a top-10 unit. Gerald McCoy is a great player who singlehandedly has plunged me into the world of G.O.T.

Quarterback has been, is and will be the football matter at hand for the Texans. Those issues far predate Bill O'Brien's staff, going back to the days when Matt Schaub slung 53 touchdowns over two years, then fell off a cliff. O'Brien merely hasn't been able to fix it. But let's see what Tom Savage can do with health on his side. Frankly, writing about football here, be it Savage or Deshaun Watson or whatever, seems off. What Houston has gone through with Hurricane Harvey is remarkable. How the people in Texas have rallied -- including one very large member of the Texans -- is equally so. If you haven't been keeping track of J.J. Watt's fundraising efforts, please do. You can donate here.

Steady placing for the Dolphins since the preseason, although this could be a team primed for a postseason run again. That level of play simply wasn't present in the preseason. The defense struggled in Philadelphia, while the first-team offense barely performed together. The Jay Cutler addition no doubt can make Miami better, but he was out there for two drives against the Ravens and 18 plays versus the Eagles. Jay Ajayi received solid reviews, however. More consistency from him greases the skids for everybody else -- including the defense.

Defense is never the issue for the Broncos. Von Miller gave everybody one hit single in the preseason, like that 50-year-old dude who can stroll into a bar, prove he's still got it and jet. Can Shaquil Barrett be a formidable complement? How much will everyone miss T.J. Ward's energy? Other than those questions, the D is set. Now QB is, too, thankfully. Trevor Siemian earned the job, even if it was sort of by default. At this point, throw the draft pedigree (or lack thereof) out the window and let him rip, Elway and Co.

Not sure anyone in the football industry knows what to make of the Redskins. The preseason rendering, especially versus the Ravens' and Packers' first-teamers, was not pretty for the offense. The other side of the line is no sure deal, either. The back seven carries plenty of talent. How much push will Washington get up front? Luckily, the ground game is not a strength of the Eagles or Giants. That said, in Weeks 13-15, with the playoffs potentially on the line, this group will face Zeke Elliott, Melvin Gordon and David Johnson.

Which preseason storyline might you have missed amidst all the weird trades, Zeke Elliott drama, injuries, prayers for the cancellation of the fourth week of preseason and more strange trades? The Saints' defense, which got after it for the preponderance of August. Look, these are merely exhibition stats, but 235.5 yards per game, 10.2 points per game and 17 sacks are legit figures. Well, at least in the context of how historically bad the defense was over the last three seasons. No more 7-9, not if coordinator Dennis Allen's guys fly to the football like they did this summer. The NFC South looks to be up there with the AFC West and NFC East this year.

It's very possible that the Eagles can be one of the six new playoff teams the league averages every year. Last year, the Giants, Cowboys, Falcons, Lions, Raiders and Dolphins were newbies. Philadelphia should be able to hold its own against those squads. We saw it against Miami in the preseason. What we haven't seen enough of is a new-look first-string offense, which my colleague Brian Baldinger so aptly pointed out.

This spot seems low for the Vikings, at least considering the national perception that Minnesota is a wild-card team. Mike Zimmer certainly owns a roster capable of a 10-win season. The reality is that Minnesota didn't look all that impressive in the preseason. The starting offense struggled to sustain long drives and put the ball in the paint, going TD-less in August. The secondary was asleep in Seattle. The opener against Drew Brees and the Saints will reveal much about the Vikes.

The Chargers could easily reside higher on this NFL pecking order. While not enjoying a stellar 2016 campaign, and while they lost their first two 2017 draft picks to injury early, the Bolts looked sharp in the preseason. Philip Rivers is ready to rock. Melvin Gordon can be placed in the Ascending Player category. Keenan Allen appears quick and healthy, and given that his knee injury came a full calendar year ago, he probably is. The pass rush could terrorize quarterbacks with a Melvin Ingram/ Joey Bosa sandwich. Perhaps most exciting: Having a healthy Jason Verrett prove he is a top-flight corner for 16 games. Look out for these guys.

An ascending team. You might ask why the Ravens were 28th in the first place. Well, at that time ... No sure timetable for Joe Flacco's return, an underwhelming run game and the prospects of a Ryan Mallett-dependent offense -- that's why. Then the defense came on in the preseason like a ton of bricks in the face of Kirk Cousins, Jay Cutler and Nathan Peterman. Brandon Williams, Brent Urban and Matt Judon are rising talents, while veteran team leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle can still play. The defense will be top-five. The win total depends on how rusty Flacco is out of the gate. We should find out Sunday at Cincinnati.

The most unrankable group for Week 1. Admittedly, I am probably too low on the Panthers. This feels like a possible 9-7 outfit, but only one team can inhabit the No. 16 spot in these rankings. And of the groups in pro football's Middle Earth, I have the most concerns and questions about this Carolina team:

1) What about the pass rush coming off the edge?

2) Who can hold coverage, other than James Bradberry?

3) Who is the vertical threat in this offense?

4) Cam Newton threw all of two passes in August.

5) How long can Greg Olsen keep being the top option?

Am I missing something? Would love a few Panthers hot takes. (@HarrisonNFL)

Just how close are the Bengals to returning to the playoffs? Depends on the defense -- specifically, the newbies in the front seven. Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson were added in the draft to provide Carlos Dunlap with some semblance of help. Pressure would make the secondary -- and especially the safeties -- appear much better than their showing in the preseason. Funny how things change ... When the defense was balling out, everyone complained about Andy Dalton. Now Dalton is the best thing that ever happened to this football team.

Mike Glennon is your Bears starter. For Week 1, anyway. Had the lanky former Buc not looked efficient against the Titans a couple weeks ago, Mitchell Trubisky would be getting the nod right out of the gate. Unfortunately, whoever's under center will definitely miss Cameron Meredith -- the Bears' best wideout is already out for the season. So why is Chicago UP in these here rankings? The vastly underrated front seven -- and because the Jags, Bills and Rams stepped in it more than they avoided it in the preseason.

The Bills Mafia is dejected, and with cause. The potential of Sammy Watkins is now gone, as are Buffalo's second-round picks from 2015 and '16. No one really knows if Tyrod Taylor is the answer, but what we do know is that the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott regime is working toward 2018 and beyond. There is no shame in it. It took guts for Beane to deal Watkins, Reggie Ragland and Ronald Darby in his first few months on the job. It also essentially assures no playoffs for the 18th straight season. The defense is going to play for McDermott this year, though.

GM Chris Ballard let it be known that Andrew Luck is definitely out Week 1, which means the Colts' chances of starting 1-0 rest on the shoulders of Scott Tolzien. Obviously, no one is high as a kite about Indy's prospects with the career backup, but going on the road to face a decent Rams defense (even without Aaron Donald's services) makes this an even taller order. On that subject, the prognostication for Indy's defense? Less than decent. Fair? Probably, although Jared Goff won't present a stiff challenge. After looking pedestrian through the first two weeks of preseason, Chuck Pagano's D made a few plays in Pittsburgh. Takeaways will be the key for this unit.

The 49ers are better than you think. Brian Hoyer will flourish in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Yet, far more exciting than what's going on with the offense is the potential on defense. No, seriously. Eric Reid's move to strong safety plays to his strengths. Reuben Foster is the real deal. When DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas start playing on feel -- i.e., when the game slows down for them further -- the San Francisco front will rival any in the NFC West. The key figure here, though, might be a guy who is not on the field: defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, whose mind for chess could reveal itself in alignment and scheming all year. Excited about this 49ers group.

The Rams, for all their door dings and cracked engine blocks, have an incredible opportunity to open the season. First, they'll face the Andrew Luck-less Colts at home. After dodging one of the better quarterbacks in the game, they will have to take on another in Kirk Cousins -- but the Redskins QB is still trying to mesh with his new offensive teammates, and that game is also in Los Angeles. Thus, the Rams could be 2-0. Then L.A. plays at S.F., another winnable game. The following week brings a trip to Dallas, for which the Cowboys could be missing Ezekiel Elliott. Maybe by the time the Rams see the Seahawks in Week 5, A) The light bulb will have come on for Jared Goff, and B) Aaron Donald will be on the field, playing lights out.

Smart move to start DeShone Kizer now. The Browns aren't expected to compete for the AFC North in 2017, and Brock Osweiler clearly was not the answer. Although, you must hand it to team brass for trying to get something for Brock Lobster. Cleveland's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had a better chance hiring Axl Rose as a tour guide than the Browns did of acquiring so much as a conditional fifth for Osweiler (who openly stated he would've returned to the Broncos as a water boy). Non-sequitur: Cleveland is going to give Pittsburgh a heckuva ballgame Sunday.

Incredible. Incredible that Doug Marrone would hand the reins back over to Blake Bortles, citing the mobility factor while saying Bortles' good plays versus the Panthers were essentially non-factors. Huh? While Bortles isn't bad on the move, he's no Randall Cunningham, much less a 1996-esque Mark Brunell. Not to mention (but we'll mention), what message does this send to the rest of the offense? That Bortles' "benching" -- and the brief transition to Chad Henne -- was merely a stern directive to the young quarterback to get into gear? Maybe Leonard Fournette will go off versus the Texans on Sunday, rendering this whole point moot. Against that stout Texans front. Yeah, and maybe the Browns could have gotten a first-round pick for Osweiler via trade ...

As much as it is on point for Cleveland to evaluate DeShone Kizer now, consider it equally adept of the Jets to lend the starting nod to veteran Josh McCown. Christian Hackenberg displayed a ... well ... lack of readiness, to put it kindly. It's one thing to go into eval mode early; it's entirely another to get a young quarterback flattened by the Bills' front seven while the rest of the team slides into frustration. On the subject of defensive fronts ... Doubt anyone was surprised by the Sheldon Richardson trade. His continual picking at the Brandon Marshall locker room scab probably didn't thrill the front office. Merely a guess.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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