The Seahawks’ roster checks a lot of boxes: Good young quarterback; talented back seven on defense; strong running game. They seem to be a team rising fast behind QB Russell Wilson. Teams will try to contain the 5-11 speedster in the pocket, but that didn’t happen often at the end of last season. Some key free agent additions — injured WR Percy Harvin (hip), DE Cliff Avril and CB Antoine Winfield — have positioned Seattle for an entertaining NFC West rivalry with the 49ers.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s difficult to achieve staying power while competing in the AFC North against organizations such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Bengals, however, have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons with a prime combination of talent and youth. QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green, both in their third year, form an explosive tandem. The Bengals’ defensive front seven, led by DE Michael Johnson and DT Geno Atkins, is young, fast and physically imposing.
10. New Orleans Saints
Another prime example of how an elite quarterback compensates for deficiencies and establishes staying power. The Saints surrendered an NFL-record 7,042 yards last season and played without suspended coach Sean Payton but still won seven games with Drew Brees, now 34, at the helm. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is implementing a pressure-filled 3-4 scheme. Generating a consistent pass rush will be the Saints’ greatest challenge.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
One of the NFL’s most stable organizations wobbled a bit last season as part of an ongoing transition. The Steelers’ effort to make their stellar defense younger and more opportunistic continued in the offseason. They parted with OLB James Harrison and NT Casey Hampton and drafted Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones 17th overall. At age 31, QB Ben Roethlisberger must live without top deep threat Mike Wallace, who signed with Miami.
12. New York Giants
As long as Tom Coughlin, 67, is coaching and Eli Manning, 32, is quarterbacking, the Giants will contend for the playoffs. They haven’t had a losing season since Coughlin’s first year in 2004. WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and RB David Wilson are young, explosive scoring threats. If the Giants could regain some toughness up front in stopping the run, they would be the favorites in the NFC East.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Nothing helps the staying power ranking more than a smart, talented, young QB. Andrew Luck threw for a rookie-record 4,374 yards and 23 touchdown last seasons in helping the Colts finish 11-5 after going 2-14 the previous season. If the Colts progress in the second year of their transition to a 3-4 defensive front, they could reclaim the division throne from Houston. They signed former Redskins SS LaRon Landry to help that.
14. Washington Redskins
The Redskins have advanced from a three-year rebuilding period and are positioned to make the next step — as long as dynamic QB Robert Griffin III is healthy. Their depth has significantly improved, and they finally have top offensive talent in RB Alfred Morris, LT Trent Williams and WR Pierre Garcon. Their staying power is weakened, though, by a $36 million salary cap penalty that will have a lasting impact and the loss of two first-round picks in the trade for Griffin.
15. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings won 10 games and made the playoffs with a one-dimensional offense, so the potential for staying power exists. Third-year QB Christian Ponder has new WRs Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson to target. His completion percentage improved from 54 to 62 last season, a sign of significant growth. But defensive stalwarts Jared Allen, 31, and Kevin Williams, 33, are in the last year of their contracts.