NFL Power Rankings: Niners slide ahead of short-handed Broncos
The 49ers, with their dominant front seven, stand apart from the rest of the NFL, bookended by their counterparts on the other side of the Bay.
1. San Francisco 49ers : Denver's pass rush took a hit with the loss of Von Miller, giving the Niners have the best front seven.
2. Denver Broncos : Peyton Manning has enough weapons to outscore most teams until Miller gets back.
3. Seattle Seahawks : The Seahawks can run the ball on any team and they have enough pass rushers to overcome injuries and the suspension of Bruce Irvin.
4. Atlanta Falcons : They can release three receivers -- Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez -- and the opposing defense needs at least five in coverage. Steven Jackson gets looks he has never seen before. If the defense were better they would be higher up.
5. New England Patriots : The Patriots still have Tom Brady and he will find his open receivers. Their run game will be a top-five unit and the defense created more turnovers over the past three years than any team.
6. Baltimore Ravens : The defense looks better than it did last year, if you can believe that, and Joe Flacco is very effective with the no-huddle. Expect plenty of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the field together.
7. Green Bay Packers : With Bryan Bulaga out I do worry how the team protects Aaron Rodgers, the most-sacked QB last year but still an elite passer. The effort to run the ball more is a work in progress. The defense couldn't stop the pistol in the playoffs and faces Colin Kaepernick and RG3 in the first two games.
8. Cincinnati Bengals : The Bengals have depth in critical areas, Andy Dalton looks stronger than ever and they have waves of pass rushers.
9. Houston Texans : I think the Texans will ease Arian Foster back into the lineup but Ben Tate looked good at camp. The key will be getting DeAndre Hopkins on the field opposite Andre Johnson. Houston's receivers remind me of the Falcons' WR duo.
10. Washington Redskins : The team has looked impressive all summer, from my camp stop to the preseason games without Robert Griffin III. He will be back for the season.
11. New Orleans Saints : Sean Payton makes a difference and this offense will put up lots of points. The defense under Rob Ryan doesn't have to win games but it can't lose games with too much gambling. They need to create more turnovers.
12. Chicago Bears : As Jay Cutler goes so go the Bears. Coach Marc Trestman is good for him but the real bullets haven't been fired yet. The defense will be tough on most teams. The defense creates turnovers and limits scoring.
13. Indianapolis Colts : No surprise, Andrew Luck looks like a 10-year vet already and the defense is starting to show signs of improvement. A dangerous team.
14. Dallas Cowboys : The skill positions on both sides of the ball look impressive. The offensive line is a question mark and who knows if Jerry Jones gets too involved. Tony Romo isn't the big problem but there is a bull's eye on his back.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers : The offensive line lacks depth, and the running game isn't what Steelers fans want, but this is an angry group that usually rebounds after non-playoff seasons. Big Ben will find ways to win 10 games. He missed both Ravens games last year.
16. New York Giants : The injuries are already starting to mount with the offensive line and secondary. They need a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul back ASAP.
17. St. Louis Rams : The Rams can rush the passer and play man coverage on the back end. It comes down to the offense scoring more points than last year without Steven Jackson. They need a big year from rookie WR Tavon Austin.
18. Minnesota Vikings : As long as Adrian Peterson is in the backfield, Christian Ponder just has to play smart. The defense is solid up front, but I wonder about them against the elite passers.
19. Carolina Panthers : The Panthers have a playmaker at QB, a decent offensive line and promise to run the ball more this year. They need another receiver to emerge to balance the attack. The defense can rush the passer but questions in the secondary remain.
20. Detroit Lions : After all the issues this team faced heading into 2012, and then the failed season, we didn't hear a peep out of the Lions this offseason. I like the way they are working. Three of their first five games are against division opponents so it's all on the line early.
21. Arizona Cardinals : Carson Palmer threw for 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Raiders last year. He will put up even bigger numbers with Larry Fitzgerald and company. The defense will look better with improved support from the offense.
22. Miami Dolphins : Lots of offseason hype. Maybe they live up to it, but the pass protection is an issue. Replacing Reggie Bush isn't easy and the secondary will get tested.
23. Kansas City Chiefs : It's hard to leapfrog a lot of teams after a two-win season but this club may be positioned to do it. Andy Reid will ask Alex Smith to throw more than he has in the past and time will tell if that's a good formula. The defense has too many Pro Bowl players to be as bad as it was last year.
24. Philadelphia Eagles : Can Michael Vick stay healthy for 16 games? If he's out, can Nick Foles run the up-tempo offense? Is the defensive personnel suited for this 3-4 package? They open at Washington in front of 91,000 Redskins fans.
25. Tennessee Titans : No one really knows how Jake Locker will do this year. The coaching staff is tied to Locker and I wonder if they would pull him for Ryan Fitzpatrick if he gets off to a slow start.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers : Josh Freeman is in a contract year and has to play better to hit the big payday. I still wonder if the Bucs' pass rush can slow down division foes Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
27. Cleveland Browns : I was impressed with Brandon Weeden during my camp visit. It's a shame he will not have WR Josh Gordon to start the season. Weeden has thrown three touchdowns with no picks or sacks under Norv Turner this preseason. The defense is stout and can keep things close.
28. Buffalo Bills : The Bills found their quarterback of the future in EJ Manuel but it will take time to build the team around him. I think they will be a dangerous team in the second half of the season.
29. San Diego Chargers : Protecting Philip Rivers can be a problem and outside of Antonio Gates there really aren't many threats. Too many question marks across the board to get excited about this team.
30. New York Jets : A coach on the hot seat, a QB controversy, a running game that doesn't look strong -- a team headed in the wrong direction.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars : There's just not much to like about this team in 2013. Outside of Maurice Jones-Drew, not many playmakers, especially with Justin Blackmon suspended to start the season.
32. Oakland Raiders : This team has been strip-mined because of bad contracts over a long period of time. Two wins looks like the kind of season they are facing.
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