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NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Preseason Week 2?

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 10, 2014

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Preseason Week 2?

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    You might be wondering what changed in one week of preseason action to yield an updated power-rankings article? A lot...injuries, retirements, new player signings and the analysis of players from camp and preseason openers.

    That may seem reactionary to some, but there is important evaluation of players and entire rosters happening in the preseason. It's why every NFL team employs dozens of scouts to monitor the preseason.

    And that's what we're doing, too—monitoring the preseason and moving teams up and down the chart if warranted, because that's what power rankings are—evaluating the moment and making changes. And as always, these rankings are based on the humble writer's expectations and thoughts for each club.

32. Oakland Raiders

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    Credit: B/R Design

    Why the Ranking?

    There is no movement for the Oakland Raiders this week after evaluating their opener against the Minnesota Vikings. As is the case for most preseason games, there isn't enough that can be learned about the team or the starters to warrant a move.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Matt Schaub 

    For the Raiders to have a chance at surprising us all and outplaying this ranking, the pressure is on Matt Schaub. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are on the hot seat, and for them to keep their jobs, Schaub must play more like he did in 2012 and a lot less like he did in 2013.

    The Raiders have an underrated group of talent on offense, but on that side of the ball, they will only go as far as Schaub takes them. With Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew capable of handling the workload in the run game and targets such as James Jones, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes to throw to, Schaub has enough weapons to get the job done.

    The Raiders drafted Derek Carr in the second round of the 2014 draft, and if Schaub struggles like he did in his final season with the Texans, we could see the rookie sooner rather than later.

31. Tennessee Titans

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    Why the Ranking?

    Looking at the Tennessee Titans roster, it's tough to make an argument for a move up or down this week. They hold steady near the bottom of the rankings and will likely do so until Jake Locker and the offense prove that they're good enough to get the job done.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Jake Locker

    The Titans fired coach Mike Munchak and brought in passing whiz Ken Whisenhunt to revitalize the offense—especially Locker. The quarterback enters his third season as a starter and must be on notice that this is a make-or-break year for him. 

    Locker has struggled to stay healthy in his short career, but he's also had issues with accuracy and lower-body mechanics as a passer. Whisenhunt will try to clean up those issues while focusing the offense on more downfield throws and hard-nosed running, with Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey carrying the load.

    With Kendall Wright a true No. 1 receiver and Justin Hunter coming along nicely, Locker has weapons. It's on him to deliver this year.

30. Houston Texans

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Houston Texans take a step down the rankings this week—just one spot—and it's not because of how terrible they looked in the opener. Jadeveon Clowney made an impact, J.J. Watt will once again be great and the young defense looks strong. The questions come at quarterback and in the secondary, though, and if Arian Foster cannot return to his pre-injury status, the Texans will struggle.

    This is a team in the midst of a rebuild, not a reload, so expectations should be low.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Arian Foster

    When Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, it's safe to say that someone else must carry the torch on offense. That player happens to be Arian Foster.

    The team's top running back, Foster has proved throughout his career that he's capable of putting the offense on his back and making plays. He's strong, shows great vision to the hole and is tireless when healthy. And with Ben Tate now in Cleveland, the pressure is on.

29. Cleveland Browns

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Cleveland Browns are expecting to hear soon whether they'll have Josh Gordon at all in 2014—and what I've heard from folks close to the wide receiver is that they're bracing for the worst. Without Gordon, this wide-receiver corps is the worst in the NFL. That alone is a big reason for a drop down the rankings.

    Johnny Manziel looked flashy and exciting in the preseason opener, and I'm rooting for him as the Week 1 starter, but he'll see faces in the huddle at receiver who wouldn't be starting on the other 31 teams.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Ben Tate

    Much like his former teammate in Houston, Arian Foster, Ben Tate will be the focal point of the offense for his team this fall. And the Browns need him to be as good as advertised while they suffer through a season without Gordon at wide receiver.

    Even with a very good offensive line, the run game will be the key for Cleveland. No matter if it's Brian Hoyer or Manziel under center, it will need a strong run game to loosen up the defense. If Tate can get rolling, his bruising style of play could lead to big things for the Browns.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Why the Ranking?

    A strong preseason opener from the Jacksonville Jaguars and rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was impressive, so why are they moving down?

    The injuries piling up at wide receiver are alarming, for one. And despite the team's performance in the opener, the interior of the offensive line and the skill and experience on the edge are concerns. Flashy play early could lead to bigger and better things in the regular season, but for now, betting on a young team like this is risky.

    It's no secret, though, that I love what the Jaguars are doing by building for the future.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle Luke Joeckel

    Speaking of the future, a big part of that puzzle is Luke Joeckel. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, he missed a good chunk of his first season due to injury. But now he's back, playing on the left side and ready to prove why he was my top-rated offensive tackle ever graded predraft.

    The Jaguars have tons of young offensive talent, but in 2014, they need Joeckel to become a bookend protector in the passing game. He has the tools and athleticism to be a 10-year anchor on the offensive line for them.

27. Buffalo Bills

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Bills move up this week—even after a terrible preseason-opening performance from EJ Manuel— thanks to a very strong defense and a run game good enough to fuel the team to victories when the weather in Upstate New York gets cold.

    The team's second preseason game was more impressive for everyone involved—and the run defense looked crazy good—but this is still a team relying heavily on the quarterback in a big season for all involved.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback EJ Manuel

    You might think wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the team's most important offensive player, but Watkins cannot produce without a quarterback capable of getting him the ball. 

    As I tweeted this week, Manuel is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL heading into the season, but he's young enough for that to change. The trouble is he didn't show anything worth noting in the preseason opener. Yes, that's only the preseason, but Manuel's bad habits were still on display as his second season started.

    Staring down receivers and poor timing on downfield throws hurt him in 2013, and looking at one quarter of play so far, it's still an issue. He did look better statistically in the second game, but he still has the habit of looking at one receiver throughout his drop and too often locking his eyes on that one target.

    For Manuel to evolve and improve as a quarterback, he must learn to focus his eyes away from the target—even on hot reads.

    The offense has a good offensive line, a talented crew at running back and explosive potential at receiver, but none of those things will matter if defenses don't respect Manuel.

26. Washington

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    Why the Ranking?

    Ranking Washington at No. 30 overall wasn't based on talent level, but on its predicted win-loss numbers in a very tough division with a very tough schedule. On talent, it deserves to be higher. And if the wide receivers come together, they could be poised to surprise a lot of people (me included).

    There are questions still on defense, especially in the secondary, but the team is too good to appear this low. 

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Robert Griffin III

    This goes without saying, but Washington will go as far as Robert Griffin can carry them. Backups Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy looked good in the preseason opener, but this team belongs to RGIII, and he has to be the catalyst for success.

    With new head coach Jay Gruden bringing his offensive system to town, Griffin should have plenty of chances to make plays in the passing game, but Gruden must help him out by relying on the run more than he did in Cincinnati. If the two come together, Griffin has the tools to bounce back to 2012 levels.

25. Miami Dolphins

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Miami Dolphins preseason opener taught us that Ryan Tannehill and new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have potential to be great for each other, but there are still enough question marks on this roster to justify a move down.

    Losing Reshad Jones—a player I've liked as one of the best safeties in the league the last two years—for four games is huge. Jones is needed in the heart of the defense, and without him, we'll see the team tested. That, plus five new starters along the offensive line, is why Miami is on the way down.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

    The 2014 season will be make-or-break for head coach Joe Philbin, and he needs Tannehill to prove him right as an evaluator and coach. If the quarterback improves, the Dolphins will inevitably start to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East. And that's needed for Philbin to stay employed in Miami.

    The scheme will be new to Tannehill for the first time since he was a college signal-caller at Texas A&M. His head coach in College Station, Mike Sherman, became his offensive coordinator in Miami for two seasons. Now, Tannehill will learn Lazor's scheme, and the hope is that what he was able to accomplish with Nick Foles in Philadelphia rubs off on Miami.

    For the Dolphins to have a shot at a winning record, Tannehill must be smarter, quicker and more accurate. The pressure is on heading into year three.

24. Minnesota Vikings

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Minnesota Vikings move up one spot, not so much on the strength of a preseason opener but more so on the strength of a roster that's coming together very well in training camp.

    This is a team with talent at every position surrounding an uncertain situation at quarterback. If the offense is able to play above expectations—which are incredibly low—Mike Zimmer will have his defense hitting hard and attacking. The Vikings might not win eight games, but by season's end, no one will want to play them.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Adrian Peterson

    There is enough talent on this offense to surprise people—especially if one of the quarterbacks can step up—but the Minnesota Vikings will go as far as Adrian Peterson's two legs can carry them. And even though his nickname is "All Day," it's unlikely he'll be able to take on a load large enough to result in a major change.

    Peterson will be the focus for Zimmer's team, and the hope is that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be smart about protecting Peterson's workload and mixing in enough play action to keep defenses honest. 

    If Peterson can boast a 1,500-yard season with 35 or more catches, the Vikings might be a contender in the NFC North earlier than expected.

23. St. Louis Rams

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    Why the Ranking?

    A slight move up the rankings this week for the St. Louis Rams, as it looks like the defensive line will once again be one of the best in the game. If this offense is healthy and the secondary grows up a little on the job, the Rams could easily be one of the early movers in the rankings this season.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Sam Bradford

    For the Rams to continue their ascension when the games matter, they'll need a healthy and productive Sam Bradford. We started to see flashes of that last year before injury, when he was playing his best football, but once again his season was cut short. That's been the story for the former No. 1 overall pick far too often in his career, but the hope is that 2014 will be different.

    Bradford has a top-10 offensive line, potential stars at receiver, a strong running-back group and an athletic freak at tight end. The pieces around him are good enough to make noise—even in the NFC West—if he can get the ball out on time and in place.

    If Bradford becomes the player we all thought he was at Oklahoma, the Rams will be a playoff contender in a hurry.

22. Atlanta Falcons

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    Why the Ranking?

    The "Hard Knocking" Atlanta Falcons remain stagnant this week, and after one game, many questions remain unanswered.

    The pass rush is still unproven—and the team's nickel defensive line of Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai just won't work against NFL offenses. On offense, we know Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones are great, but the offensive line and run game are each a work in progress.

    For a football team wanting to be tougher and meaner in 2014, the Falcons need to prove they can lower their pads and hit on both sides of the ball.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Matt Ryan

    Ryan is the leader of the offense and a productive player, but he's still trying to prove that he's capable of taking this team deep. They were in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago but fell off the map last year due to injuries and regression. For the Falcons to get back into contention, Ryan must be great.

    Getting White and Jones back healthy will be key, but Ryan must also find a new safety valve now that Tony Gonzalez is retired. That's a development worth watching as the season kicks off.

21. Carolina Panthers

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Carolina Panthers are, believe it or not, one of my favorite teams to watch on game day and when going back through for film study. That said, I still can't buy into this team as a playoff contender this year.

    The Panthers lost a ton of talent along the offensive line and at wide receiver, and they're still trying to build a secondary that's capable of stopping high-end passing games. The pass rush helps there, but Greg Hardy is facing disciplinary action for domestic violence, which could hamper the up-front production.

    For the Panthers to be great, Cam Newton has to be out of this world in 2014.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    The offensive line

    You would think Newton would be the answer here, but we know how great he can be. The offensive line, on the other hand, is the unit most needing to step up and perform. No matter how far Newton has come as a leader and a passer, he can't run this offense on his back. 

    For all his brilliance on the move and in space, Newton needs room in the pocket to operate. The chemistry he's building with Kelvin Benjamin will be all for naught if the two don't have time to attack the defense.

20. New York Jets

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    Why the Ranking?

    The New York Jets hold steady this week and see no movement up or down the rankings. Not even a flashy Michael Vick run could move them up, but there were positives on display that may help in future weeks.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Geno Smith

    Geno Smith's first action with the starting offense (two series) saw him completing passes, moving the ball effectively and getting the team points (a Nick Folk field goal). Smith was efficient, and in a preseason game with little-to-no game-planning, that's as much as you can hope to see.

    That must continue into the regular season for the Jets to have a chance this year. Smith has to be smart with the ball and limit the turnovers that plagued him last season. He has much better weapons to work with this season, though, and in year two it's likely we'll see Smith cement his hold on the starting job and prove why so many liked him predraft.

    No one player on offense has more pressure on him to perform than Smith.

19. Detroit Lions

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Detroit Lions were solid in their preseason opener but see no movement after the first week. Given the team's question marks in the secondary and the fact that it faced the Cleveland Browns, there wasn't enough information or evaluation there to feel comfortable moving the Lions up or down this week.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Matthew Stafford

    The Lions have handed Matthew Stafford the keys to be great; now he must live up to the expectations placed on him as a No. 1 overall pick and 5,000-yard passer.

    Stafford has a crazy-talented group around him. Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Reggie Bush sound like a fantasy football roster and give Stafford the best all-around talent he's had on offense in Detroit. That sounds great, but the former Georgia Bulldog must step up and deliver now that he has those weapons at his disposal.

18. Dallas Cowboys

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Dallas Cowboys see no movement this week but are a team to watch in the near future. 

    When the starters get more reps, focusing on the defense and running game will be key. In the opener, the team struggled to stop the run, but it also sat many expected starters. It's tough to grade and evaluate the implications of the Cowboys' performance with so many players out.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back DeMarco Murray

    Tony Romo will face his share of pressure—especially from fans and the media who cannot accept that he's actually pretty good in the clutch.

    But the real pressure will be on DeMarco Murray. He's the talented but oft-injured back with the skills to lead the league in rushing if he can put together a 16-game season. He'll need to be on the field this year to propel Dallas past the Philadelphia Eagles in the division.

    We know what Romo and Dez Bryant can do, but with a much-improved offensive line, Murray must produce.

17. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Kansas City Chiefs pulled out an exciting win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason opener, but the 41-39 shootout does little to change any perceptions about this team heading into the season. There's no movement for Kansas City as of yet.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe

    Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles are the keys to the offense, but for the Chiefs to have a shot at getting back to the playoffs, Dwayne Bowe must stand out. He's the only go-to receiving threat in the passing game right now (even if Travis Kelce looked amazing in his debut).

    Bowe had to consistently beat press coverage and safeties spying him in coverage because everyone knows he's Smith's best bet. That pressure is huge, but Bowe must produce if Kansas City is to win ballgames.

    The emergence of Kelce and players such as De'Anthony Thomas may help, but the Chiefs cannot expect to run the ball 35 times a game under Andy Reid and win. They're not built for that. What they are built for is an explosive yards-after-catch passing game, and Bowe needs to be the catalyst for that.

16. Arizona Cardinals

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Arizona Cardinals would have made a big jump up if their Week 1 domination of the Houston Texans was in a regular-season game. But since this is only the preseason, they hold steady at No. 16 for at least another week.

    The concern in Arizona is that without Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, the middle of the defense will fold. Add in that Tyrann Mathieu is questionable to start the year and the questions on defense are pretty substantial. There is reason for optimism with Mathieu's return, but for now, it's more a question than an answer.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle Jared Veldheer

    Another player who must be more of an answer than a question is left tackle Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals paid him well to come fix the offensive line in free agency, and he must be the blindside protector Carson Palmer needed so badly last year.

    Veldheer is a big, strong, talented blocker, but he's stood out more in the run game during his career. For the Cardinals to effectively run Bruce Arians' offense and use all their talented wide receivers, Palmer must have time to throw. That pressure falls squarely on the big shoulders of Veldheer.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Pittsburgh Steelers, like many teams, stand still this week.

    This is a team tough to grade in the preseason without seeing starter reps. Valid questions that must be answered—especially on defense—will come in valuable minutes against offenses that are game-planning for their weaknesses. Working against the New York Giants second and third teams doesn't help ease those concerns.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Wide receiver Markus Wheaton

    On offense, the team should be set, but one player is primed for a big year. Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton will be asked to step in and fill the hole created when Emmanuel Sanders left in free agency. Wheaton will be pressed into starting duty, and he's definitely talented enough to perform in that role.

    Wheaton may be the missing piece on an offense that has been up and down in recent years. But with Ben Roethlisberger back, Le'Veon Bell in the backfield and a solid offensive line on paper, Wheaton cannot afford to let the team down.

14. New York Giants

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    Why the Ranking?

    With two preseason games under their belt, the New York Giants have shown more than most teams, but we're still waiting to see meaningful minutes from the starters on both sides of the ball. Until that happens, there's no reason for movement from Tom Coughlin's team.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle William Beatty

    Eli Manning is a good pick for most important offensive player, but that may be too obvious. For Manning to do his job, and get his interceptions down this year, William Beatty must exhibit growth as the team's blind-side protector.

    If Beatty cannot keep Manning's jersey clean, he'll go back to pressing routes and throws. That's what led to a career-high 27 interceptions in 2013 and is a big part of the reason why the Giants missed the postseason.

    Manning has to be better, but for that to happen, Beatty must be healthy, productive and improving at left tackle.

13. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Cincinnati Bengals opened with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they still managed to score 39 points. The bad news is that they allowed 41.

    Even so, it's the preseason, and Marvin Lewis is notorious for playing without a game plan in these games. He's trying to evaluate his roster, and after one game, it's tough to find any reason to slide the Bengals up or down. We'll wait until after Week 3, when most teams play their starters, or until another meaningful event happens.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Andy Dalton

    Andy Dalton is being paid like a franchise quarterback now—even if he's not on the upper level of that scale. It's time to play like one in the regular season and the playoffs.

    Dalton has been to the postseason every year since he was drafted, but he's never won a game there. With new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson determined to run the ball more and let Dalton put the ball up for A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, we could see the franchise-quarterback play from him that many have been waiting for.

    It's tough to put the success of an entire team on one player's shoulders, but the Bengals' success is tied directly to Dalton.

12. San Diego Chargers

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    Why the Ranking?

    The San Diego Chargers looked smooth in beating the Dallas Cowboys in the opener, especially when watching the strength of their run game. The Chargers would have moved up a few spots in the regular season, but with Dallas holding several starters out of the game, it's tough to assign too much credit to the San Diego offense just yet.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle King Dunlap

    Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown could all be mentioned here, but for the skill players to do their jobs, Rivers must be protected. That's where King Dunlap comes in.

    The 2013 season was Dunlap's best, and it's a testament to the coaching in San Diego that the Eagles castoff was able to come in and be a key starter at the offensive line's most important position. But now, the Chargers need a repeat performance from him, and that's something Dunlap hasn't done yet in his career—play well in back-to-back seasons.

    For the offense to keep up with last year's levels, or hopefully improve, Dunlap must hold his ground.

11. Baltimore Ravens

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Baltimore Ravens smoked the San Francisco 49ers in the preseason opener, but no one remembers exhibition stats or win-loss records once September comes around.

    There's nothing new for the Ravens this week, so no movement. Even with Ray Rice out for the first two games, this is a roster built well enough to keep overcoming controversy and loss. And if 2013 was any indication, the Ravens may be better off without Rice getting the majority of the touches.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Bernard Pierce

    With Rice out to start the season, Bernard Pierce will get a chance to prove he's the best back on this roster. The young back started to show signs of it during the team's Super Bowl season of 2012, but then he fell off a little in 2013 as the offense struggled.

    With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak bringing a zone scheme to the Ravens, it's Pierce who is best suited for the touches given his power, vision and speed. Don't be surprised if he's carrying the load for the offense with and without Rice.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Why the Ranking?

    As soon as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith, I was on board with them being the turnaround team of 2014. The offseason only reinforced that feeling, and Week 1 of the preseason will do nothing to change it, either.

    Barring injury or suspension, the Buccaneers are in good shape to enter the season as a top-10 team. A lackluster performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars shouldn't be cause for panic among fans. Smith will have this team ready to play when the games count.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Josh McCown/Mike Glennon

    The only questionable position on the roster heading into the season happens to be the most important one. But it's not like the Buccaneers don't have options or talent at quarterback—in fact, they have two very capable starters.

    Josh McCown has experience under Smith and is the safer option, while Glennon is young and made mistakes in his rookie season, but he has the higher ceiling. McCown presents the chance to win now, though, and that's where the team is likely to go.

    No matter who is under center, though, this is the position that will make or break the Buccaneers season. With so much talent on offense and a solid offensive line assembled, the heat on the starting quarterback will be intense.

9. Green Bay Packers

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    Why the Ranking?

    Is Aaron Rodgers healthy? If yes, the Green Bay Packers are not dropping in the preseason rankings.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle David Bakhtiari

    General manager Ted Thompson has put together a complete offense capable of winning a Super Bowl, but to make that a reality, Rodgers must be protected and kept healthy. And that's been a bit of an issue in his career.

    Rookie David Bakhtiari came out of nowhere last season to outplay many of the tackles selected in the first 10 picks of the draft. The fourth-rounder was solid and stout and will be leaned upon heavily this year to keep Rodgers' back clean and open holes for Eddie Lacy in the run game.

    While Rodgers is undoubtedly the team's MVP, Bakhtiari represents the man setting up Rodgers to do his damage. If the second-year tackle struggles, Rodgers will, too.

8. Chicago Bears

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Chicago Bears opened against the Philadelphia Eagles with an exciting (for the preseason) 34-28 win. The defense picked off Nick Foles twice and showed an improved pass rush on the way to the win. You'd think that would be good enough for a move up, but let's see them do it in a regular-season game, too.

    I'm high on the Bears this year and picked them to win the NFC North, but reacting to the preseason opener is tricky if there wasn't an injury or suspension. The Bears walked away healthy, but they aren't on the rise just yet.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Jay Cutler

    It's all on Jay Cutler in 2014. Josh McCown isn't there to pick the team up if Cutler is injured, and he's also not there to be the rallying cry for fans frustrated with No. 6's play. But this is a new Cutler, or so we've all been told by the Chicago Bears. He's a leader, more involved with his teammates and ready to win.

    The Bears' success rests solely on his right arm. Sure, the offensive line, run game and defense are important, but if this team is to live up to division-champ status, it will be because of Cutler.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Why the Ranking?

    Too many people were quick to react when Nick Foles matched his 2013 interception total (two) in the preseason opener. I'm not one of those people. It's the preseason, and Foles' play will be forgotten in a week as long as he gets back on track. And he should, as the entire offense will be in better shape, with better chemistry and perhaps a game plan for Week 2.

    The Eagles aren't moving down, even after a loss to the Bears in a close game.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin

    With DeSean Jackson in Washington, Jeremy Maclin comes off injury and immediately becomes the focal point of the Eagles passing attack. Sure, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz are moving the needle for defensive coordinators, but Maclin is the player they'll stay up at night worrying about.

    Replacing Jackson's production and impact is huge, but Maclin must also mimic Jackson's ability to scare safeties and create hesitation in the secondary. If he can do that, this offense can roll without skipping a beat.

6. Indianapolis Colts

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Indianapolis Colts do not plummet in the rankings because they lost their preseason opener—that would be beyond silly. Instead they move down due to concerns about the wide-receiver corps and how well this offense will click in 2014.

    Hakeem Nicks was supposed to be the missing piece in the offense, but he's struggled in training camp and may not be the factor everyone expected him to be. Until the offense proves itself—and that really can't happen in the preseason—the Colts will move down a few spots.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Trent Richardson

    You could easily list Andrew Luck at quarterback and T.Y. Hilton or Reggie Wayne at wide receiver, but Trent Richardson is the guy the team needs to lean on for a deeper playoff run.

    Richardson was worth a first-round pick to the Colts when they traded for him early in the 2013 season, but he failed to live up to that cost last year. Maybe it was injury or a new scheme or a little of both, but Richardson looked completely different from the player I saw at Alabama. 

    It may seem crazy to expect or predict this, but Richardson is primed for a big season in Indianapolis, and I think he can do it.

5. Denver Broncos

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    Why the Ranking?

    The Denver Broncos are in the conversation as one of the league's best teams, and they're firmly in the top five with the Indianapolis Colts moving down one spot this week. The Broncos have the talent to climb steadily throughout the season—and it would surprise no one if they're at the top spot when the confetti falls in Phoenix at season's end.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Running back Montee Ball

    Peyton Manning is the team's MVP, but if the 2013 season taught us anything, it was that Denver needs a strong run game if the Broncos are to compete for a Super Bowl ring. Manning can get them there, but Montee Ball must carry the load for him along the way in the face of hard-hitting defenses and cold weather.

    Ball will step into the featured-back job, and he's suited to be the man for the team. But he must be ready to roll for 16 weeks and the postseason. After a college career that saw him touch the ball 983 times, per Sports-Reference.com, Ball must show he's durable enough to withstand another 300 touches per season.

4. New Orleans Saints

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    Why the Ranking?

    The New Orleans Saints traded places with the Indianapolis Colts this week. And given the way this team has looked in training camp, it's well-deserved.

    The Saints defense has been sharp, crisp and hard-hitting—basically a Rob Ryan defense. That's what will be needed to win the NFC South and make a run at another Super Bowl trophy.

    With Drew Brees and Co. back and loaded on offense, and rookie Brandin Cooks looking like the next Percy Harvin, there should be plenty of points on the board for New Orleans. As long as Ryan's defense can hold opponents under 20 each week, the Saints could have the league's best record.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Left tackle Terron Armstead

    For all the talent assembled on offense, the real unknown is how well the offensive line will hold up over the course of a season. With Charles Brown now a backup in New York, second-year man Terron Armstead will take over the full-time starting job at left tackle.

    Armstead is a fantastic athlete with unreal mobility, and he played well in two starts last year, but he'll feel the pressure of protecting Brees' blind side this fall. For the Saints to live up to their potential, Armstead has to be rock-solid.

3. San Francisco 49ers

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    Why the Ranking?

    Injuries are piling up in San Francisco while the team prepares for a significant suspension of outside linebacker Aldon Smith. The 49ers are still talented enough to make a serious Super Bowl run, but they had to drop down in the rankings this week due to injuries and looming suspensions.

    And sure, it didn't help that backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert reminded everyone just how valuable Colin Kaepernick is. In the preseason opener, Gabbert managed an incredibly bad passer rating of 1.7. And that's why the team's most important offensive player shouldn't surprise you.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

    Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have built an offense with all the tools to win a Super Bowl. They have a top-five offensive line, a very talented one-two punch at running back (Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde) and a receiving corps with talent, experience and depth. 

    The only question mark is if Kaepernick's play will continue to improve and begin to make the team around him better.

    Kaepernick has been phenomenal in his two seasons as a starter in San Francisco, but it's time to take his game (and the offense) to another level. His overreliance on Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis must give way to spreading the wealth between Stevie Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton, Vance McDonald and Bruce Ellington. Kaepernick has weapons; it's time to use them.

2. New England Patriots

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    Why the Ranking?

    The New England Patriots capitalize on the injuries in San Francisco and jump one spot in the rankings this week. That's how it goes for power rankings—one team is knocked down a few pegs and the next in line gets a raise. The preseason opener did little to change the belief that the Patriots will be dominant again—especially with Tom Brady standing on the sideline for all 60 minutes.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Tight end Rob Gronkowski

    You might think Brady is the most important player for New England, and he is definitely the most valuable. But without a healthy Rob Gronkowski this year, we'll continue to see New England fall short in the playoffs. 

    Gronk's importance is huge, as the offense operates best with a big tight end working the middle of the field and the seams. The offense will flow through Gronkowski as he sets up the run game as the league's best blocking tight end—but also the passing game, because he's the type of tight end that can hold safeties deep in coverage and open up the outside attack for Brady.

1. Seattle Seahawks

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    Why the Ranking?

    To be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Seattle Seahawks are still the best team in the NFL—at least on paper.

    Unlike the Baltimore Ravens or New York Giants as Super Bowl winners before them, the Seahawks look poised to make a run at repeating. The offense remains intact—and maybe even improved at right tackle and wide receiver—and the defense is still a hard-hitting, fast, young group. Even if the NFL changed defensive-holding rules with the Legion of Boom in mind, this group can be excellent.

     

    Most Important Offensive Player for 2014

    Wide receiver Percy Harvin

    The offense will need to be more explosive this year, and a healthy Percy Harvin is vital to that potency. We all saw what impact he had in the Super Bowl, and the Seahawks are hoping for that level of play for a full season.

    Harvin opens up the offense as a speedy receiver but also as a stud on jet sweeps and quick hits that allow him to run in space. He's a true offensive weapon with few peers, and the Seahawks will need that when they face a brutal NFC West schedule.

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