Baltimore won the Super Bowl, but as it relates to Athlon Sports’ early ranking of NFL teams for next season, not ALL of the spoils go to the victor. San Francisco, who came up short against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday night in New Orleans, comes in at No. 1, while the newly crowned world champions slot in at No. 4.
Note: 2012 Record includes playoffs, if applicable.
1. San Francisco 49ers (13-5-1)
San Francisco’s second-half rally comes up short against Baltimore, but the 49ers are well positioned to make another title run this fall.
2. Denver Broncos (13-4)
Even though Denver’s roster as a whole is relatively young, Peyton Manning (37 in March) is not, so the Broncos’ window may be closing sooner rather than later.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-6)
Greg Jennings may have played his last game in a Packers’ uniform, but the defense will get linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) back. A better running game certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
4. Baltimore Ravens (14-6)
Baltimore’s roster will look quite different for the Ravens’ championship defense this fall. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco will cash in handsomely, but his new contract will only add to team’s cap woes.
Related: Early Super Bowl XLVIII Contenders
5. Houston Texans (13-5)
Houston stumbled at the finish, but this team still has a bright future and the Texans' defense will get a big boost from the healthy return of linebacker Brian Cushing (ACL).
6. Atlanta Falcons (14-4)
Atlanta finally got that long-sought first playoff win for Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and company. First order of business this offseason is convincing Tony Gonzalez to come back for another run.
7. Seattle Seahawks (12-6)
Seattle and San Francisco going head-to-head in the NFC West should be a lot of fun to watch in the coming seasons.
8. New England Patriots (13-5)
Free agent Wes Welker is just one of several key Patriots who could be in a different uniform next season. Is this the end of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s run in the AFC?
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Pittsburgh would like nothing more than to knock defending Super Bowl champion Ravens from their perch atop the AFC North. Steelers will need to do some savvy cap maneuvering and draft picks to increase their chances of doing so, however.
10. New York Giants (9-7)
Focus will be on keeping enough pieces in the fold to make another run in the fall. Several key free agents and contract situations will dominate front office’s attention this offseason.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances, Cincinnati is out to prove it is ready to challenge Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Bengals have lots of cap space (reported $55 million) and an extra second-round pick in April to improve the roster and address areas of need.
12. Washington Redskins (10-7)
Washington’s 2013 season hinges on the healthy return of Robert Griffin III and when he gets back on the field. Next area of concern has to be improving NFL’s 28th-ranked defense.
13. Chicago Bears (10-6)
First-year NFL head coach Marc Trestman’s goal is to keep Chicago in playoff contention. The Bears’ offseason priorities are to fix the offensive line, help Jay Cutler take that next step and keep league’s No. 5 defense intact (Brian Urlacher?) and on the same page with new coordinator Mel Tucker.
14. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
New Orleans is happy to finally put BountyGate behind it. Reinstated and re-signed head coach Sean Payton ready to lead Saints back to Super Bowl contention.
15. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)
Indianapolis is hoping to build on this past season’s remarkable turnaround and has the plenty of cap space ($46 million) to help improve roster. Andrew Luck loses Bruce Arians, but gets to replace him with Pep Hamilton, his offensive coordinator his senior year at Stanford.
16. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)
Minnesota basking in Adrian Peterson’s MVP season, playoff berth, but the jury is still out on Christian Ponder at quarterback and a decision has to be made about Percy Harvin’s future with the Vikings
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Jason Garrett’s seat is only getting hotter in Dallas, as he brings Monte Kiffin back to the NFL to reinvent the Cowboys’ defense. Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” scheme probably means new personnel, but team’s cap situation ($18 million over) will hinder roster changes.
18. San Diego Chargers (7-9)
Mike McCoy may be a first-year head coach, but he’s already made wise decisions in retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano and bringing in Ken Whisenhunt to run the offense. If McCoy can do for Philip Rivers what he did for Peyton Manning, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow in Denver, watch out for these Chargers.
19. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1)
Jeff Fisher changes his mind about hiring Rob Ryan to run the defense. Besides finding a defensive coordinator, the team also must decide on whether free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola will be back in a Rams uniform or not.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Tampa Bay was quite competitive in first season under Greg Schiano. Can Doug Martin and Lavonte David avoid a sophomore slump and will Josh Johnson show that he’s the long-term answer at quarterback are a few key things to watch next season.
21. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Carolina finished the season with four straight wins, but lost offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland. Cam Newton’s continued development with new OC David Shula, sorting out a crowded backfield and getting under the salary cap headline the Panthers’ offseason to do list.
22. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Miami needs to give Ryan Tannehill a bona fide wide receiver and the Dolphins have enough cap room ($35.8 million) to go shopping in fairly deep free agent class. Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Jake Long and Randy Starks are key free agents that either need to re-signed or replaced.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
All eyes will be on Chip Kelly to see if he can make the jump from Oregon to the NFL, as well as how his up-tempo, high-octane offense fares in the pros. Michael Vick may have played his last game in an Eagles uniform, but Kelly has other weapons to work with and the defense was not the team’s biggest problem this past season.
24. Detroit Lions (4-12)
Detroit was unable to build off of its 2011 postseason appearance, as the Lions tumbled into the NFC North basement. This offseason is critical not only for the Lions, but also head coach Jim Schwartz, who could be headed to unemployment if he doesn’t turn things around in the fall.
25. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Ohio native Rob Chudzinksi lands dream job in taking over hometown team. The first-year head coach has some appealing pieces, including a young defense, in place; but he has several question marks (Brandon Weeden? wide receiver depth?) too.
26. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Doug Marrone jumps from Syracuse to Buffalo, as he will try and end the Bills’ 13-season playoff drought, the longest active one in the NFL.
27. New York Jets (6-10)
It’s put up or shut up time for Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez as Tim Tebow won’t be around next season to serve as a “distraction” or take the fall should things go wrong.
28. Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Mike Munchak has already made several coaching changes (Gregg Williams next?) in an attempt to start turning things around. Coaching changes aside, the Titans’ 2013 season, and most likely Munchak’s job, hinges on the development of quarterback Jake Locker and marked improvement on defense.
29. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Arizona replaced Ken Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians, this past season’s NFL Coach of the Year recipient. Unfortunately for Arians, he wasn’t able to bring Andrew Luck, or Indianapolis’ offensive line for that matter, with him. It doesn’t help Arians that he wasn’t able to keep Ray Horton on board as defensive coordinator either.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
Kansas City got its man when the Chiefs hired Andy Reid following his dismissal in Philadelphia. Now Reid will set to work on remaking the roster to his liking, and he has the No. 1 overall pick in April to help him do that.
31. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Not much went right for head coach Dennis Allen in his first season in Oakland. Given that the Raiders are already over the cap, any improvement will have to be fueled by its young impact players and this April’s draft, minus the second-round pick they traded to Cincinnati in the Carson Palmer deal from 2011.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
First-year coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell face league’s toughest task in trying to turnaround the Jacksonville franchise, both on the field and off.