- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2013

1. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have an extremely talented roster and, most importantly, an explosive young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. Coach Jim Harbaugh has proven he’s a winner at Stanford and through two seasons in San Francisco. The team gained experience from losses in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl in consecutive seasons. The 49ers also drafted six players in the first four rounds this year, led by LSU S Eric Reid. Their receivers will get healthy eventually. The 49ers are set to be good for a long time.

2. Atlanta Falcons

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QB Matt Ryan has 56 wins in his first five NFL seasons. He’ll likely break Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL record of 60 in six seasons. Ryan is one of many young playmakers on Atlanta’s loaded roster. The Falcons added RB Steven Jackson, 30, to an offensive corps that features physical WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White. First-round rookie CB Desmond Trufant and second-round CB Robert Alford should eventually stabilize the pass defense.

3. New England Patriots

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have set the 21st century standard for staying power in the NFL. The Patriots have made the playoffs in 10 of the 11 full seasons in which Brady has been healthy. And in the year he was knocked out in Week 1, Belichick managed to get 11 wins out of his team.
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have set the ... more >

The Patriots have established the modern-day blueprint for staying power: an elite quarterback and masterful head coach have produced nine AFC East titles in the past 10 seasons. Tom Brady is 36, though, and is dealing with a depleted receiving corps. The Pats return 10 starters from a defense that ranked 29th in yards per pass. Re-signing CB Aqib Talib is a step in the right direction.

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4. Green Bay Packers

An elite quarterback can cover for many other deficiencies, as Aaron Rodgers has proved in Green Bay. Defenses started disrespecting the Packers’ running game last season and instead defended the pass with two high safeties. General manager Ted Thompson adjusted by drafting Alabama RB Eddie Lacy in the second round. Of mild concern: Green Bay in the offseason devoted $55 million in signing bonuses to two players — Rodgers and OLB Clay Matthews.

5. Baltimore Ravens

The defending Super Bowl champs have had only three losing seasons since 2000. General manager Ozzie Newsome and longtime top college scout Eric DeCosta have combined for one of the best draft records in recent history. If Baltimore steps back this season after losing FS Ed Reed, ILB Ray Lewis and others, it would be only temporary. It still has franchise QB and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice.

6. Houston Texans

The Texans have proven the most important component to staying power is talent. Stars on both sides of the ball got them to within one win of home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson arguably comprise the best offensive trio in the NFL. DE J.J. Watt, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, and LB Brian Cushing are joined by free agent FS Ed Reed.

7. Denver Broncos

Denver, winner of the woeful AFC West, has reloaded for another run at the Super Bowl. The Broncos’ staying power, however, largely depends on how long 37-year-old QB Peyton Manning plays at a high level. Disciplinary problems — DUI arrests of two personnel executives and the substance-abuse suspension of All-Pro DE Von Miller — marred an otherwise productive offseason.

8. Seattle Seahawks

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