The 49ers have won back-to-back division titles and should be in line for their third, but it will be interesting to see if
Colin Kaepernick can stay healthy for a full slate of games with his current style of play. He has the arm to win from the pocket and will need to stay there more often.
The Broncos were my favorite to win the AFC even before adding
Wes Welker. The window is getting smaller for
Peyton Manning, but this is easily the most talent-rich team he has entered any season with.
The rich got richer with the additions of
Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett,
Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield.
Russell Wilson set the bar pretty high for himself as a rookie, and he will need to be every bit as good to compete with San Francisco for the division.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Peyton Manning didn't win a playoff game until his fifth season in the NFL, just as
Matt Ryan did last year. The monkey is off his and Mike Smith's backs, and now they are ready to take this team to the next level.
It was panic mode in Baltimore during the first few days of free agency, but with the signings of
Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff followed by yet another stellar draft, the Ravens fans are once again praising Ozzie Newsome.
6. New England Patriots
With Aaron Hernandez and
Rob Gronkowski both still nursing injuries and a depleted depth chart at the wide receiver position, this may be the least intimidating offense under
Tom Brady in his years as a starter. But I'm guessing he still finds a way to make it work.
7. Green Bay Packers
The best player in the NFL is now also the highest paid, and he is worth every penny. Rookies
Eddie Lacy and
Johnathan Franklin should finally provide a steady presence in the Packers backfield.
The post-Manning era in the AFC South hasn't been as friendly to the Texans as many had predicted. The Colts are the younger and more explosive team and may have already closed the gap in the division.
The Bengals won seven of their last eight regular-season games and their defense allowed just 12.8 points per game during that span. The Bengals were able to resign everyone on that defense except
Manny Lawson and with the additions of
Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard via the draft, the offense has also gotten even better.
10. Minnesota Vikings
One could argue that the Vikings’ three first-round picks were the best players in the class at their respective positions. Couple that with the addition of
Greg Jennings, this team is markedly better in 2013 than the team that reached the playoffs in 2012.
11. Chicago Bears
It is rare that a new coach inherits a 10-win team and a franchise quarterback, but that is exactly what Marc Trestman got in Chicago. Trestman is the quarterback whisperer and he will do wonders with the talented yet inconsistent
12. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were the surprise of the 2012 season, but now the expectations are high after making the playoffs in Andrew Luck's rookie season. I'm not sure they got any better this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how they live up to those expectations this year.
13. Washington Redskins
The Redskins made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but the fandom of RG3 overshadowed some obvious deficiencies that went unaddressed in free agency because of cap issues. This team may get worse before it gets better.
14. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have shown they are willing to take risks on players with off-field concerns in the draft, and if those players stay clean they will have a solid foundation for Jeff Fisher to continue to build. For their sake, I hope it works out.
15. New York Giants
Very different than the Rams, the Giants rarely ever take a risk and target only high-character guys in free agency and the draft. Rather than swinging for the fences and often times striking out, the Giants just go after solid singles and doubles.
16. New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton's return cannot be overstated, but this team’s problems were definitely not on the offensive side of the ball. The 2012 Saints were possibly the worst defense in league history and therefore Rob Ryan is in line for all the credit if this team can turn it around.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Much like the Redskins, the Cowboys were handcuffed with cap issues in free agency and then had a highly questionable draft. The Cowboys won't make the playoffs in 2013 . . . they just aren't good enough.
18. Detroit Lions
Last year, Matt Stafford broke the record for pass attempts in a single season with 727. That is what happens when you are consistently playing from behind and have a putrid running game. The Lions will be much better in 2013 and finally have a defensive secondary to keep them from getting into shootouts week in and week out.
Just like the Ravens, the Steelers have had their roster depleted with cap casualties and free agency departures, but unlike the Ravens, the Steelers have done little to fill the voids and plan for the future. It could be a long year in Pittsburgh.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Darrelle Revis, even at 50-percent health, is better than most corners in this league and he is an obvious upgrade to an absolutely atrocious secondary from a season ago. But this is a quarterback-driven league and it's time for Josh Freeman to play up to the potential he showed as a second-year player.
Even with the timely addition of
Tyson Clabo at RT, there is still a huge question mark whether
Jonathan Martin can keep
Ryan Tannehill's blindside protected. The Dolphins made some high-profile additions in free agency, but they are big risk/big reward-type signings due to limited amount of experience.
22. Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Fisher wasn’t the sexiest of draft picks, but he will be a long-term fixture at left tackle and will allow Brandon Albert to play his more natural position of left tackle . . . if he isn't traded in the meantime. This team has a talented roster and Andy Reid should help that correlate to wins on Sunday.
Keenan Allen falling to the third round may have been the steal of the draft. He can grow into the player that
Vincent Jackson was for
Philip Rivers. The key for Rivers and the Chargers in general will be their ability to limit turnovers.
24. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles finished the season by losing 11 of their last 12 games and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, but that means nothing to new head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly has a great football mind, but it will be his leadership in the locker room that will be most important to this team as they try and bounce back from a couple of disappointing seasons.
25. Tennessee Titans
CJ2K's tweet on draft night said it all: "Thank god." With the signing of the best interior OL on the free-agent market followed by one of the highest graded interior offensive linemen in recent draft history, the Titans now have the pieces in place to get back to a dominant running game.
26. Buffalo Bills
The Bills took a flier on E.J. Manuel, but I have equated his athletic upside to that of Steve McNair. If they can get that type of play from the first QB selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, then they got him for a steal.
27. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers won their final four games of the season and ended the 2012 campaign by putting up 44 points, good for their fifth-best scoring effort in team history. They got two highly regarded defensive tackles in the draft but failed to add any weapons for
Cam Newton to take the next step in his development.
It appears as if the near future of the Browns will still be in the hands of
Brandon Weeden, but with the signing of
Jason Campbell, he will have a short leash. I liked the draft pick of
Barkevious Mingo, but I'm not sure Davone Bess or
David Nelson is the answer for a subpar receiving corps.
If anyone can get
Carson Palmer to return to form it is Bruce Arians, but Bruce Arians won't be playing offensive tackle. The Cardinals’ two starting tackles from last season finished first and second in the league for sacks given up and they've done nothing to address the need so far this offseason, although they should get starter
Levi Brown back from injury on the left side.
30. New York Jets
Mark Sanchez completed less than 50 percent of his passes in more than half of his starts last season, but he will most likely enter the season as the starter with
Geno Smith hot on his heels. I'm not sure this team has the offensive firepower for either one of them to actually
win a game; both will just need to make it a priority not to
lose the game.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have plugged some much-needed holes on offense with Cecil Shorts and
Justin Blackmon, but they had their best statistical games with
Chad Henne at quarterback, and now Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season with a substance-abuse violation. Two steps forwards, one step back for the Jaguars.
32. Oakland Raiders
So the Raiders are pinning their future on
Matt Flynn -- a quarterback with two NFL starts to his name after five years in the league. It sure didn't work for the Seahawks.