It seems like yesterday.
But it was seven long months ago that Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens overcame an inconvenient power outage and a Kaepernick-led comeback by the San Francisco 49ers to capture Super Bowl XLVII.
Now, after an off-season filled with signings, firings, hirings, arrests, suspensions, and an unusually high amount of injuries, the regular season is finally upon us.
What better way to kick off the 2013 campaign than with our pre-Week 1 Power Rankings that will no doubt be turned completely upside down before the month’s end.
Welcome back, NFL.
Colin Kaepernick and company have a great chance of returning to the Super Bowl, but No. 7′s favourite receiver, Michael Crabtree, is out for the first couple of months of the season. With no proven weapon behind Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis at receiver, the 49ers pass offence leaves a lot to be desired.
The biggest surprise of 2012 did nothing but improve over the off-season, but injuries have plagued Seattle throughout training camp and the pre-season, with their biggest addition, Percy Harvin, out for at least the first six games. But with an elite defence and a maturing Russell Wilson, the Seahawks will be just fine.
While the 49ers lack in receiving depth, Peyton Manning and the Broncos boast the NFL’s best at the position. But there are big questions on defence with the embarrassing loss of Elvis Dumervil, the suspension of Von Miller, and a pass defence that failed them in the AFC Divisional game.
One of the NFL’s best passing teams improved drastically in the backfield, releasing the run down Michael Turner and replacing him with long-time Ram Steven Jackson. But, despite re-signing key players and drafting Desmond Trufant in the first round, Atlanta’s defence has to prove it can be championship-calibre.
After such a tumultuous off-season, Bill Belichick and the Pats will be happy to get back to football. The biggest question heading into the season is who will catch passes from Tom Brady? If Danny Amendola can stay healthy, he’ll have a career year. He looks like Wes Welker 2.0.
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers will always be a contender. Green Bay’s ultimate success, however, will be dictated by what the team hopes to be a reinvigorated running game behind second-round pick Eddie Lacy and continued improvement on defence.
The Bengals had one of the most impressive defensive units in the league last season, led by dominant defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Cincinnati will only go as far as Andy Dalton can take them. Dalton has no excuses for a poor season with star wideout A.J. Green by his side.
The Ray Lewis-less Super Bowl champions were ravaged by free agency and the leadership buck has been passed on to Joe Flacco. However, the offence has remained mostly intact and John Harbaugh did a stellar job filling defensive holes through signings and the draft.
Much like in Cincinnati, the Texans will need great play at quarterback to get over the hump. With the additions of impressive rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Ed Reed, it’s on Matt Schaub to push this team deeper into the post-season.
Given the go-ahead to start Week 1, Robert Griffin III staying healthy will be the key to the Redskins’ success in 2013. Due to major cap issues, Washington was unable to add any pieces this off-season but were able to keep the majority of last year’s NFC East-winning team together.
With a revamped offensive line, a solid running game, and a new offensive-minded head coach in former Als bench boss Marc Trestman, the spotlight is on Jay Cutler to get it done in the Windy City. The absence of Brian Urlacher on the defensive side of the ball will take some time to get used to.
The Saints are expected to get back on track with the return of head coach Sean Payton to the sidelines. Drew Brees and the offence are guaranteed to be one of the league’s best, but can the defence, which ranked 31st last season, improve enough to get the Saints back into contention?
The Giants injury-ravaged offence looked mediocre at best throughout the pre-season but are always a contender with Eli Manning under centre. Staying healthy in the secondary and along the defensive line will decide this team’s fate.
Andrew Luck lived up to expectations in his rookie season, and while the Colts didn’t make huge splashes in the off-season, they were able to beef up the offensive line, bring in help in the secondary and provide some more weapons on offence in Ahmad Bradshaw and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Now that Tony Romo has been paid, the Cowboys passing game will continue to improve with Dez Bryant, but a porous offensive line remains a big issue. Monte Kiffin has been brought in to fix the defence, which will likely dictate where America’s team finishes in the standings.
The window is quickly closing on a Steelers team that failed to address many big needs this off-season. Dick LeBeau’s defence is bound to be solid once again, but Ben Roethlisberger’s health and his ability to lead an offence with a severe lack of playmakers and virtually no proven running backs is a major concern.
This is a make-or-break year for quarterback Sam Bradford. Heading into his fourth season, the former No. 1 overall pick has yet to really impress. Jeff Fisher has built one of the NFL’s up-and-coming defences, added protection in Jake Long, and a dynamic playmaker for Bradford in Tavon Austin.
Two words: Adrian Peterson. The Vikings did what they could for Christian Ponder during the off-season, signing Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarelle Patterson in the first round of April’s draft. Don’t get me wrong though, the Vikings fate rests in the hands of AD.
Carson Palmer gets what will likely be his final shot at starting in the NFL, and there are lofty expectations for him and Larry Fitzgerald in the desert. Like their NFC West rivals, the Cardinals’ defence is on the verge of greatness after intriguing additions through the draft and free agency but it all comes down to Palmer.
Reggie Bush definitely adds playmaking ability in the backfield for an already explosive offence, but outside of him and Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford has very little to work with. The defence still has a lot of question marks, but may be much-improved if the defensive line lives up to its full potential.
The Chiefs may have been one of the best 2-14 the NFL has ever seen, and added some impressive pieces in the off-season. With quarterback Alex Smith leading the offence, new head coach Andy Reid could bring Kansas City back to the post-season.
Josh Freeman is just one more among a half a dozen quarterbacks that could face big consequences if he doesn’t show up in 2013. The additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson help boost a Bucs defence that struggled last season. They have playmakers on offence in Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams so Freeman has to bring it all together.
The Dolphins were the NFL’s biggest spenders in free agency, bringing in Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, and Brent Grimes among others. Handing out big wads of cash doesn’t always translate into wins (See: 2011 Eagles, 2006 Redskins), but the potential is there for this young Miami team to turn some heads in the unimpressive AFC East.
Cam Newton will look to quiet his critics after being overshadowed by RG3, Kaepernick and Wilson last season, but it’s going to be tough in an offence that didn’t improve much. Expect second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly to contend for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Brandon Weeden performed well throughout the pre-season after feeling some pressure from Jason Campbell. The Browns’ passing game has the potential to be much improved and could climb out of the AFC North basement if Trent Richardson stays healthy and the defence holds up.
Michael Vick was named the starter after all but there are still so many unknowns with Chip Kelly and the new-look Eagles that it’s hard to know where to place them. The team has talent but there are big questions everywhere, especially on a defence that continues to give up a lot of big plays.
The Titans bolstered their offensive line in the hopes of a big season from Chris Johnson, who will determine where Tennessee finishes in 2013. Jake Locker, now in his third season, has some talent around him on offence and will have to show Mike Munchak that he is the guy.
It’s going to be a tough season for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Rivers isn’t going to be protected well and the offence has been devastated by injuries. San Diego’s defence doesn’t leave much to be desired either. Manti Te’o may just be the most intriguing part of the Chargers’ season.
The injury bug has latched itself on to the Bills and refuses to let go, the latest victim being Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd. The good news is C.J. Spiller is healthy, E.J. Manuel is ahead of schedule in his rehab, and both will lead this team into what is likely to be another disappointing season in Orchard Park.
Maurice Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract and will likely move on next season, so expect to see a lot of the running back in 2013. New head coach Gus Bradley has given Blaine Gabbert one more shot to prove he can be a legitimate starter. Bradley was the genius behind the Seahawks’ defence, so there should be an improvement on that side of the ball.
Geno Smith will likely be the starter in New York this season and, barring some major shocks, will head up one of the NFL’s worst offences. Rex Ryan will field a capable defence but he and Mark Sanchez are likely heading into their last season in the Big Apple.
Terrelle Pryor is expected to get the nod under centre over Matt Flynn, but it won’t make much difference in the Raiders’ final results. Oakland’s offensive line is going to struggle in 2013, which is bad news for running back Darren McFadden and whoever starts at quarterback. The defence doesn’t look much better.