The 2014 NFL Preseason will officially start this weekend. Training camps around the country are in full force. Every year sports analysts get together to rank the relative strengths of all NFL teams. To provide the power ranking data advanced computer simulations are performed, inputting thousands of statistics, and running through more than 10,000 simulated games to see what teams comes out on top. The simulations even take into account hard to measure variables such as crowd noise levels at various stadiums, the time of year, roster proneness to injury, and historical rivalries. With that said, there are a reason why games are played. Throughout the year a lot can change causing teams predicted to do very well to fall flat on their faces, and underdogs to rise up through the ranks. Going into the 2014 NFL season, the top ten NFL teams are:
Now in his eleventh season, coach Marvin Lewis has taken the Bengals from one of the worst teams in the NFL to a team that has consistently made the playoffs. During the 2013 season the Bengals, despite consistently being considered an underdog, managed to outscore their opponents by 125 points, a margin greater than the seasons they made Super Bowl appearances in 1981 and and 1988. One of the biggest strengths of the Bengals is their defense. Considered to be one of the league’s best (only Seattle gave up less yards per play), if the defense can deliver in key situations, the Bengals may have a chance of making it past the first round in the playoffs.
With the rushing leader last season, LeSean McCoy, and the breakout performance of Nick Foles the Philadelphia Eagles are poised to have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. The weak link of the Eagles last year was their defense. Luckily, during the offseason, the Eagles focused on improving their defense. By using all, but two of their draft choices on defensive positions, the Eagles are well-positioned to be a top competitor in their division during the 2014 season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the power rankings is the Arizona Cardinals. Having finished 10 – 6 last season, the Cardinals, under the leadership of coach Bruce Arians has a stellar defense and an offense that is capable of pointing up points. The size and strength of Larry Fitzgerald consistently gives the Cardinals a reliable target in their passing game and makes him a threat to any defense in the league. However, the biggest strength of the Cardinals remains their secondary. With Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals have one of the best cover corners in the game today. If the Super Bowl proved one thing, it is that a strong secondary can make all the difference in the world, even against the number one offense in NFL history.
The Indianapolis Colts proved last year that they are capable of taking down the best teams in the league, including the both the Super Bowl teams the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks . The problem though, is that they are inconsistent. They also lost to some of the worst teams in the league last year. If the Indianapolis Colts can find their stride and stay consistent they are as good as any team in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, they will always be a considered one of the strongest teams in the NFL. Considered to be a high-precision passer that can also run the ball, Rodgers knows how to gain yardage on the ground without putting himself in danger. So long as Rodgers can stay healthy in 2014, the Packers should handedly win the NFC North. The biggest unknown for the Packers is whether or not the defense will help enough in the postseason to advance past the divisional round.
New Orleans Saints
Despite being the subject of controversy last season, the New Orleans Saints are a strong team. The Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham duo on offense is deadly. Now in his 14th season with the Saints, Drew Brees isn’t slowing down. With Shaun Peyton calling the plays, the Saints will have one of the top passing games in the NFL making them a threat to any defense in the league.
New England Patriots
Although the New England Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in 9 seasons, the fact that coach Bill Belichick has managed to have 13 straight winning seasons is an accomplishment all in its own. Competing in the AFC East, the New England Patriots shouldn’t have an issue with making it a 14th. With the offseason additions, the New England Patriots are very likely to have an even better season than last year. With more time to work with his young wide receivers, Tom Brady’s passing game is expected to improve in 2014.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have made it to three straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl in the last three years. Since Harbaugh took over the reigns as coach, the 49ers have been one of the top teams in the NFL. Beginning with Harbaugh’s college career at Stanford, he has managed to create an identity of winning through a combination of a tough defense and a smash mouth offense. The San Francisco 49ers are well positioned to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2014.
Despite having one of the worst Super Bowl appearances in NFL history, the Denver Broncos are back for vengeance. During the offseason, the Broncos have made significant upgrades to their subpar secondary. With their first round draft choice, Bradley Roby, they hope to add much needed energy to the defense. With Peyton Manning at the mantle, and playing better than ever, the Denver Broncos will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. A lot of the Broncos success this year is dependent on how well the new defense plays and how well they are able to keep them in the game when the offense doesn’t have a good game. It will be interesting year to watch the Broncos.
The Super Bowl champions who won the big game in a decisive manner are likely to be just as strong this season. The core of Seattle’s impressive secondary including Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor remains intact. During the draft, the Seahawks were able to add additional offensive weapons including the lightning quick wide receiver Paul Richardson drafted in the second round from the University of Colorado. By all accounts, the Seattle Seahawks are ranked as the number one strongest team in the NFL going into the 2014 season.
Featured image: Flickr by Phil Robertson