These are pre-preseason rankings. They might change a bit over the next month. We have four preseason games (and Sunday's Hall of Fame Game) to watch. Injuries will happen. Key starting jobs will be claimed. Teams will look better or worse than anticipated. So there could be some shuffling before Seattle and Green Bay kick off the regular season on Sept. 4, but here is our first look at how the teams shape up after a long, long offseason (click the team name to read an in-depth preview on that squad).
There's still parity in the NFL. It's near the end of the rankings and in the middle class. At the top though? It's four great teams and then everyone else.
The best team doesn't always win the Super Bowl. Many fans hate hearing that. They want to feel like the Super Bowl provided a definite answer on who was the best team, and the notion that the champion and the best team aren't one in the same bothers them. But that's never guaranteed in a single-game elimination tournament. All you need to win is a playoff berth and have a hot month. So the champion isn't guaranteed to come from the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks or 49ers. But there's a big divide right now between Nos. 4 and 5.
The Patriots and Broncos each added a lot of talent to what were already the two best rosters in the AFC, either via free agency or just getting great injured players back. The 49ers and Seahawks weren't as active in free agency, but they kept the core of their great rosters and nobody in the NFC has closed the gap with them.
There are no lost-cause teams this season, but someone had to be 30, 31 and 32. There are teams in the 20s that could move up quickly. Look at the teams in the teens and realize that there are some very good teams that will be left out of the playoffs, especially in the brutal NFC. But right now, the top four are locked in pretty tight, and there's not a lot of separation between Nos. 4 and 1.
For more discussion on the power rankings, check out the first Shutdown Corner Podcast of the 2014 season (iTunes subscribers can click here or click the link below if the player doesn't appear in your browser).
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
There are some positive things happening in Jacksonville, but there was a lot of work to be done.
31. Oakland Raiders
They have the toughest schedule I can remember seeing.
30. Washington Redskins
If Robert Griffin III doesn't have a good year, with those receivers, something's wrong.
29. Cleveland Browns
Lost with all the Johnny Manziel hype is the Browns are building a pretty darn good defense.
28. Minnesota Vikings
There really isn't any need to keep Teddy Bridgewater waiting for that long.
27. Buffalo Bills
There's a lot of pressure on quarterback E.J. Manuel, but Sammy Watkins will help him out.
26. Tennessee Titans
They could surprise if Jake Locker stays healthy, but is that a realistic expectation?
25. Houston Texans
You know, I know, Andre Johnson knows ... this team isn't going to the playoffs.
24. Dallas Cowboys
If the defense doesn't rank in the 30s, new coordinator Rod Marinelli deserves a nice raise.
23. New York Jets
If they don't succeed, it won't be because they lack confidence.
22. Atlanta Falcons
Hopefully Julio Jones picks up right where he left off last season, when a foot injury ended a monster start.
21. New York Giants
They added a ton of free agents, and if even half of them hit they'll be in good shape.
20. Miami Dolphins
Excuse me if I wait to buy the Lamar Miller hype until the Dolphins just once show they trust him in a game.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
A huge step back this offseason after such a promising 2013.
18. Baltimore Ravens
The bad news for the Ravens about Ray Rice's short two-game suspension is it means the team might have to suffer through the lumbering 2013 version of Rice on the field for 14 long games.
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17. Detroit Lions
No more excuses, Matthew Stafford.
16. San Diego Chargers
I'm starting to think Mike McCoy might be a really good coach.
15. Arizona Cardinals
For the money the Cardinals gave Patrick Peterson, he better be a defensive player of the year candidate. And he could be.
14. St. Louis Rams
If they start the season using Tavon Austin as a conventional slot receiver in an uncreative offense, I give up.
13. Carolina Panthers
Too many glaring holes (receiver, offensive line, secondary) to predict a NFC South repeat.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hey, someone's going to be 2014's surprise team.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Really looking forward to seeing rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier play. He is going to be tremendous.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton could throw for 6,000 yards and it won't matter to everyone if he doesn't win a playoff game.
9. Green Bay Packers
I could be talked into Aaron Rodgers carrying this team up the list in a hurry.
8. Indianapolis Colts
Hakeem Nicks is the guy you'll want to draft in fantasy. Big rebound year coming.
7. Chicago Bears
I don't know how anyone defends this offense. If Jay Cutler doesn't make his second Pro Bowl this season, it's not happening.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
Once the Eagles locked in on Chip Kelly's schemes and Nick Foles was given the quarterback job, they went 7-1 in the second half. Expect more of the same.
5. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees, 2014 NFL MVP.
4. New England Patriots
If Rob Gronkowski does stay healthy for 16 games, this team goes from very good to great.
3. Denver Broncos
How many AFC champions add six blue-chip players (Ryan Clady, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders) like the Broncos did?
2. Seattle Seahawks
Still a great roster, but defending a Super Bowl championship is really hard.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is going to rise to an elite level, and he's going to lift the 49ers to a championship along the way.
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