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2016 NFL power rankings, Week 1: A year of NFC dominance

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The NFC is really top-heavy with teams like the Cardinals, Seahawks, Packers and Panthers head-and-shoulders above the rest. In the AFC right now, it’s the Patriots and a few teams with big question marks chasing them.

If nothing else, the last week gave us plenty of reason to reflect on the outsized role quarterbacks play in the NFL. No player on the field is capable of having as much impact on the game as the signal caller. They’re hard enough to find and even harder to replace.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in Minnesota. Two weeks ago, you would have seen the Vikings stuffed into the top five spots of these rankings, above the Packers. But losing Teddy Bridgewater to a gruesome knee injury changed the outlook for that team. They’re still a very complete squad overall. The defense is loaded with talent, the offense still has Adrian Peterson and even the special teams figure to be among the best in that category again.

Take away the quarterback and nobody’s really thinking about just how complete this team is. The odds of winning a Super Bowl shrank, but it could still happen for the Vikings. However, you can’t really put them in that upper echelon of teams because they lost their franchise quarterback. Sam Bradford is better than the typical replacement available in the offseason, but he’s still Sam Bradford.

Those other four NFC teams at the top of the rankings all still have their quarterbacks, good ones. But their advantages go way beyond that. All of those teams — Arizona, Carolina, Seattle and Green Bay — also have very good defenses, top-notch players at the offensive skill positions and, maybe most important of all, depth throughout the roster.

There are a lot of reasons why the NFC is so top-heavy. Quarterbacks are part of the answer, but not everything.

The top of the heap in the AFC

It’d be nice to put another team from the AFC besides the Patriots into the top five spots, but you just can’t do it. Tom Brady’s suspension will resolve itself after four weeks. It’s not going to be so easy to answer troubling questions for the rest of the best in that conference.

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Can the Steelers get a pass rush from someone besides 108-year-old James Harrison? And nothing about that secondary inspires confidence. The Bengals lost a lot of interceptions from their secondary as well. Andy Dalton’s thumb shouldn’t be too big of a problem, but what about Tyler Eifert?

The Raiders have one of the most complete teams in the AFC, but they’re young and history has never really been on their side. The defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are starting Trevor Siemian at quarterback, which is weird. The Chiefs should be good too, but how good are they going to be without Justin Houston for an undetermined amount of time?

The vast middle

These are always the toughest spots to sort out, especially without any regular season games. Any of the teams from 13 to 25, from the Cowboys to the Dolphins, are capable of breaking out and winning at least 10 games. The ceiling’s a little higher for some than it is for others, but even someone like the Titans could surprise us.

The two most talented teams in this group are the Dolphins and the Jaguars. Miami’s defensive front looks capable of giving the Patriots headaches, on paper. But their best hope for finally knocking New England out of the top spot in the AFC East rests on yet another attempt to get the most out of Ryan Tannehill.

Nobody had a better offseason than the Jaguars. They have the kind of talent to win 12 games this season, but they also had the talent to finish better than 5-11 last year. How much faith do you have in Gus Bradley?

Dallas could win the NFC East. Then again, Dak Prescott’s preseason performance could also turn out to be another reminder that standout exhibition play doesn’t always translate.

Bottomed out

Every team seems capable of winning 10 games this time of year. We’ve had nothing but glowing camp reports and meaningless preseason football to feed your optimism. It’s nice to feel good, but the reality is that the seven teams at the bottom of this list are going to have a rough season.

If any of those teams have a chance to elevate themselves out of the league’s worst, it might be the Lions. Losing a future Hall of Fame player like Calvin Johnson left a big hole in roster as well as the team’s identity. But they could do a better job filling that gap than most of us think.

The Browns are going to be an exciting team to watch. RG3 has his limitations, but Hue Jackson tipped his hand about how he intends to work around those. The defense is miserable, the offensive line is shaky, but there’s more talent among the skill positions than you realize.

Chicago and San Francisco look terrible. The 49ers are starting Blaine Gabbert, and it’s hard to identify anything they’ve done to get better from where they were last season. By December, the only easily identifiable difference between Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula will be one man’s porno mustache and the other’s affinity for nutrition shakes.

If there’s a worse quarterback situation than what the 49ers have, it might be the Rams. Not only are they starting Case Keenum, but Jared Goff, the rookie they traded two first-round picks and some change for, failed to lock down the backup quarterback job in the preseason. Their No. 1 receiver is a gadget player, the secondary lost a handful of starters and they’re coached by Jeff Fisher.

At least the Eagles are starting the quarterback they traded everything for this spring, Carson Wentz, but he missed most of the valuable reps available to him in the preseason with fractured ribs. Not that things would’ve been much better with Bradford, but at least they have that first-round pick back!

  1. Arizona Cardinals
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Seattle Seahawks
  4. Carolina Panthers
  5. Green Bay Packers
  6. Cincinnati Bengals
  7. Pittsburgh Steelers
  8. Minnesota Vikings
  9. Oakland Raiders
  10. Denver Broncos
  11. Washington NFL team
  12. Kansas City Chiefs
  13. Dallas Cowboys
  14. Jacksonville Jaguars
  15. Baltimore Ravens
  16. Houston Texans
  17. New York Jets
  18. Buffalo Bills
  19. Atlanta Falcons
  20. Tennessee Titans
  21. San Diego Chargers
  22. New York Giants
  23. Indianapolis Colts
  24. New Orleans Saints
  25. Miami Dolphins
  26. Los Angeles Rams
  27. Detroit Lions
  28. Philadelphia Eagles
  29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  30. San Francisco 49ers
  31. Cleveland Browns
  32. Chicago Bears