Here comes the curve ball in Mile High Report's preseason NFL power rankings countdown. The staff here was pretty evenly divided on which team deserves that top spot and there was intense debate internally over whether the Denver Broncos have done enough to warrant a top ranking after their embarrassing showing in the Super Bowl.
At first I was full on homer, but one argument made too much sense, so I ultimately changed my ranking. The reasoning behind that compelling argument? A single game has yet to be played in 2014 and the last time the Broncos took the field they were completely demolished by the Seattle Seahawks. In my view now, the Broncos need to show they deserve the honor before they can get it and Week 3 is their first real chance at that.
Even so, with an even split of five votes for each team, we thought it would be fun to leave the final two rankings in the hands of Mile High Report users and the SB Nation community at large. We'll keep the polls open until July 1, 2014 at 9pm MT, then I will update this post for posterity.
MHR Staff Rankings
Denver Broncos (2013 Record: 13-3)
The Denver Broncos in 2013 had an historic season on the offensive side of the ball, which masked a disastrous season of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Ultimately, it all caught up with them in that Super Bowl catastrophe. This roster is one of the most talented in the NFL, however, so I fully expect the Broncos to compete for another championship in 2014.
Key Losses: Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Robert Ayers, Wesley Woodyard, Mike Adams, Knowshon Moreno, Trindon Holliday, Shaun Phillips, Jeremy Mincey
Key Acquisitions: DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, Will Montgomery
John Elway and the Broncos cleaned house in free agency, but they did so with something very specific in mind. Essentially, they got rid of any player that could be argued as soft in comparison to the players they signed or drafted to replace them. The only player sent packing that I would not consider soft at all was Wesley Woodyard, but his injury and subsequent play after that injury is likely why he is no longer a Bronco. It is what it is.
The fact of the matter is, the Broncos wanted to get meaner in 2014 and that was mission accomplished if you ask me. The question now is, was it enough to become as mean as the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers? I think so, if not equal, its darn close now.
The caveat for the 2014 season is the Broncos schedule. It's considered the second toughest schedule in the NFL for this season, but all that junk goes out the window once games are actually played. The only games on the Broncos schedule that I believe are "must win" are the matchups against the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. I would also like to see a 3-1 record against the NFC West if only to give the players confidence they can hang with the best division in football. If the Broncos can do that(excluding the desired wins against the NFC West), they take homefield advantage throughout.
Projected Record: 13-3
Kyle: The Broncos reloaded on defense in a big way. I’m looking forward to seeing this team play in 2014 - it’s a virtual Pro Bowl roster. But none of it matters if they don’t play better in February.
Jon: Dear DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward, please work out. Love, Jon.
Mike: All will depend on how that defense gels. But make no mistake NFL, the path to the Super Bowl once again rolls through Denver.
Jacob: Call me biased, call me skewed, but you can’t deny the fact that the Broncos were the most active and successful team in free agency and brought in the biggest impact players of anyone in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer are an upgrade on Eric Decker, Aqib Talib is equally-talented and more physical in coverage than DRC, Demarcus Ware takes pressure off of Von Miller in the pass rush, and TJ Ward is one of the best safeties in the NFL. If the underrated group of linebackers can succeed, and the defense can gel, the Broncos are poised to take another trip to the SB. This time we won’t have to listen to two weeks of garbage about cold-weather Peyton Manning (at least I hope not, considering the 49th Super Bowl will take place in Arizona).
Laurie: I may be drinking the Kool-Aid™ but I don’t care...it’s Orange & Blue and I’m all in. Besides, it’s the offseason - everyone’s healthy (or close), our Free Agency rocked (again), our draft picks are unknowns just like everyone else’s, no way this defense (or offense) gets down 35 points again, and no one else has John Elway leading the organization. I’ll buy 19-0 right now.
Pete: Broncos baby!!! This team made it to the Super Bowl with an insanely talented and equally injured team. So what do they do? They upgrade at every position there was to upgrade. Give the Broncos their 7 injured starters back for the Super Bowl, and it’s likely a different game. So are they content with simply getting healthy? Not on your life they aren’t! John Elway owned free agency and the draft. Sprinkle in our healthy starters, and you have the making of not only another Super Bowl appearance, but an appearance that won’t require Peyton Manning to play lights out in order to win. 19-0 baby! Here we come!!!
Seattle Seahawks (2013 Record: 13-3)
The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks own every legitimate reason from last season to continue owning the top spot in this preseason power rankings, but there could be debate on whether they did enough during the offseason to retain that top spot over some of the other elite teams in the NFL. The overused and often misunderstood phrase defense wins championships is something I usually dismiss almost every time I hear it, because 90% of the time its a belief based in fantasy. I did that same thing when I heard it last year, but alas, we were all looking at the rare 10% of the time and my orange and blue goggles denied that reality.
The 2013 Seahawks should be compared to the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and the 1985 Chicago Bears. It is a legitimate discussion now. The deal with those other teams is a complete lack of any follow up championships. It's possible the Seahawks could buck that long-standing trend of incredible defenses not winning multiple championships, but I am not real big on their chances of doing so.
Key Losses: Golden Tate, Clinton McDonald, Walter Thurmond, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Kellen Davis, Bren Giacomini, Paul McQuistan, Brandon Browner, Perrish Cox, Chris Maragos
Key Acquisitions: Phillip Adams, Taylor Price, Stephen Schilling, Greg Van Roten, Kevin Williams
The NFL absolutely gutted the Seahawks roster of every player they could possibly get their hands on and Pete Carroll replaced them with a bunch of scrub low-quality free agents. Not only that, they traded back in the 2014 NFL Draft to pick up a bunch of lower round draft picks. This has worked out in the past, but there will come a point when they will need first round athletic talent, especially when the team begins to lack solid chemistry. Will that happen in 2014? Probably not. The biggest hole that Carroll and his staff must figure out is how to plug the holes along their defensive line left by the departures of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.
Being the Super Bowl champions also means they have a gigantic target on their backs, especially with Richard Sherman's mouth running all day every day. The Seahawks 2014 schedule is not going to be an an easy road for the champs either, especially early. They will open the season against the Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in the first three weeks, but that isn't even the worst of it. The Seahawks must close out the season with divisional games in four of the final five games of the season, which includes the San Francisco 49ers twice! That one nondivisional game during that span? Oh, just a road game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Good luck finding thirteen wins in 2014, Seahawks fans.
Projected Record: 11-5
Kyle: Earth to homers. 43-8. FORTY-THREE TO EIGHT. There is nothing on-paper, nothing during the offseason, that can erase that score. When the Broncos were supposed to bring their best, they choked. When the Seahawks were supposed to bring their best, they thrived. The Seahawks are the best team in football, and it’s not close.
Jon: I ranked the Seahawks first before Richard Sherman won the Madden NFL 15 cover vote. All bets are off now.
Mike: To the victor belong the spoils. Enjoy our ring Seattle.
Jacob: I’m still bitter, and the Seahawks are still one of the best teams in the NFL. It would be nice if the Madden Cover curse took full effect this year and the Legion of Boom suffered for it, but I doubt that will be the case. The Seahawks should be perennial SB contenders until their young core is dismantled due to cap restrictions. 11-13 wins.
Laurie: Yeah, I did just do that. I’m an emotional fan, and I still hate Seattle and its 12th Man B.S. So just out of spite, I’m putting them behind us two spots. Critics be damned.
Pete: Mark my words, Seattle will be lucky to make the playoffs this year. They have 2013 Falcons written all over them. They think they can do nothing to improve because they are that good. Well guess what? The rest of the league tried to improve while you sat by and got worse. Enjoy your ring, it’ll be the last time you get one for a while!
Preseason Power Rankings
Let's also take a look at the thirty rankings beneath these two contenders. I've added the poll results for each ranking, so we can see how much you all agreed with our combined rankings. I included the average ranking results for each ranking as well, so we can see how close teams were in relation to each other.