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PFT’s Week 14 picks

Peterson Getty Images

With four weeks to go, the lead is back to three.

And we disagree on three games.

In other words, MDS a/k/a the master of Raiders exacta, could catch me by 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Last week, I went 11-5.  MDS was 10-6.  For the season, I’m now at 123-68-1, a 64.0 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 120-71-1, which equates to 62.5 percent.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: My amazing run of accuracy in predicting Raiders scores has put a lot of pressure on me to get this one right. So here’s what it boils down to: The Broncos are good, the Raiders are not, and the score won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Raiders 13.

Florio’s takePeyton Manning has never lost in Oakland.  Then again, he has played there only twice.  Make it three on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 13.

Rams at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ defense has turned things around recently, with Mario Williams getting five sacks in the last three games. I think Williams will bring the pressure to Sam Bradford, and the Bills will win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Rams 14.

Florio’s take:  The up-and-down Rams play very well inside the division and not so well outside of it.  The Bills sometimes play well at home, and sometimes they don’t.  The difference here is that the Rams have an arguably realistic shot at the postseason, and the Bills don’t.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 17, Bills 13.

Falcons at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Falcons are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Panthers are playing for the first overall pick in the draft. Advantage Atlanta.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 21, Panthers 13.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Panthers nearly toppled the Falcons in Atlanta.  The rematch comes in Charlotte, with the Falcons chasing the top seed and the Panthers pursuing respect.  As they move closer to proving that they’re ready to hang with the big boys, the Falcons prove that their near-miss against Carolina was a fluke.

Florio’s pick:   Falcons 31, Panthers 20.

Cowboys at Bengals

MDS’s take: This is a close, competitive game, and I have a funny feeling the Bengals’ superior special teams could turn out to make the difference. The Bengals will bolster their own playoff hopes and deal a lethal blow to the Cowboys’ hopes.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, the Cowboys won last week.  But they beat the Philly “B” team, barely.  The Bengals are moving in the right direction, and it’ll stay that way at least until they have to play the Steelers or Ravens again.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Chiefs at Browns

MDS’s take: The weekend’s worst game will be in Cleveland, where the Browns will win an ugly one.

MDS’s pick: Browns 15, Chiefs 12.

Florio’s take:  A week after the biggest win of his career, Brady Quinn returns to the place where his career started.  Though the Browns probably will win this one, I can’t pick against Quinn and the Chiefs.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 23, Browns 20.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Colts stumble on their march to the playoffs here — this team could be ripe for an upset after gutting out a tough, physical, hard-fought game in Detroit last week. I also have major doubts about the ability of the Colts’ defense to keep them in big games down the stretch. The Titans, however, don’t have much offensive firepower, and so I’ll take the Colts in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Colts 20, Titans 17.

Florio’s takeAndrew Luck and the Colts move closer to one of the most unlikely playoff berths in recent history.  Meanwhile, Titans owner Bud Adams moved toward a series of pink slips and middle fingers fired at his employees.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Titans 20.

Jets at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan gave Mark Sanchez what should be an easy win in Jacksonville. I’m not sold on Sanchez, but I am sold on the Jets’ ability to shut down the Jaguars’ offense.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:  Whether it’s Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Tim Tebow, Vinny Testaverde, or Joe Namath at quarterback, the Jets have the defense to shut down the Jacksonville offense.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 10, Jaguars 6.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: After an amazing start to the season, Chicago’s defense has declined in recent weeks. Playing against the struggling Christian Ponder is just the thing to cure what ails the Bears.

MDS’s pick: Bears 17, Vikings 7.

Florio’s take:  It’s the last, best chance for the Vikings to remain in the playoff race.  And it’s the last, best chance for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to show that he realizes that, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, there’s never a reason to pass the ball.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Bears 16.

Chargers at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s win over the Ravens, while the Chargers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals: The talent gap between these two teams isn’t big, but the Steelers play their best in crunch time, and the Chargers play their worst in crunch time.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 23, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers haven’t won in Pittsburgh since somehow toppling the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the 1994 AFC title.  The 0-6 streak will continue on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Chargers 13.

Eagles at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Greg Schiano’s guys are playing hard every week, win or lose, while Andy Reid’s guys have quit on the season. This is an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 35, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles.  That fact should hold for another week, or longer.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 27, Eagles 17.

Ravens at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Ravens’ run defense is terrible, and the Redskins’ run offense is excellent. Washington will rush for 200 yards and win a tough, physical game.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 13, Ravens 10.

Florio’s take:  The Redskins currently look more like the potential Super Bowl team, beating every other team in the NFC East in a three-game stretch.  Though it remains to be seen whether God really is on the Redskins’ side, He’s definitely not on the Ravens’ this year.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 23, Ravens 21.

Dolphins at 49ers

MDS’s take: Colin Kaepernick may have taken a step backward last week against the Rams, but he’ll show against the Dolphins that Jim Harbaugh made the right decision. And even if Kaepernick has a bad game, it’s not like the Dolphins are putting many points on the board against San Francisco’s defense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Dolphins 6.

Florio’s take:  This game has considerably less hype than their Super Bowl XIX rendezvous.  But the outcome will be similar.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 38, Dolphins 16.

Saints at Giants

MDS’s take: The Saints are out of the playoff race, but they’re still a dangerous team, and I’m tempted to pick them against the Giants, coming off a tough loss on a short week. But the Giants know their backs are against the wall, and that’s when this team usually plays its best football.

MDS’s pick: Giants 28, Saints 27.

Florio’s take:  New York’s margin for error has, for now, shrunk to zero.  Which matches the Saints’ chances of getting to the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 28, Saints 17.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: With the Cardinals’ horrendous offense playing in a tough environment in Seattle, this game could get ugly. Looks to me like the biggest mismatch of the week in the NFL.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 3.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks don’t lose at home.  The Cardinals don’t win anywhere.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have a knack for playing well enough against good teams to keep it close, and then losing. That’s what they’ll do in Green Bay, where Calvin Johnson will have another big-time performance but Aaron Rodgers will pick apart Detroit’s secondary.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Lions 27.

Florio’s take:  The Packers need to keep winning.  For the Lions, it’s too late.  At this point, they’re playing only for Calvin Johnson to break Jerry Rice’s record.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 20.

Texans at Patriots

MDS’s take: Now this is a great Monday Night Football game. If the Texans win, the race for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs is pretty much over. But I think the Patriots are a better football team right now, and they’re going to take this one and make a big statement that they’re the favorites to get to the Super Bowl out of the AFC, even if they have to win a rematch in Houston in January to get there.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Texans 14.

Florio’s take:  The Pats make their move toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff field.  It’s a great game on paper, but it’s got the potential to be a snooze-fest.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Texans 24.

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PFT’s preseason power rankings, sorted by division

Jeff Fisher, Bruce Arians AP

PFT wrapped up our 2014 preseason power rankings Tuesday by unveiling our top-ranked team, the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our top two teams are out of the same division, with the San Francisco 49ers — NFC West and NFC runners-up a season ago — taking the No. 2 spot.

With the ultratough West in mind — what a challenging draw for the Cardinals and Rams — here’s a division-by-division look at the power rankings. Teams are ordered within their divisions by their overall ranking:

AFC East

4. New England Patriots. (AFC rank: 2.)

19. New York Jets. (AFC rank: 9.)

28. Buffalo Bills. (AFC rank: 12.)

31. Miami Dolphins. (AFC rank: 15.)

AFC North

7. Baltimore Ravens. (AFC rank: 3.)

9. Cincinnati Bengals. (AFC rank: 5.)

15. Pittsburgh Steelers. (AFC rank: 6.)

22. Cleveland Browns. (AFC rank: 10.)

AFC South

8. Indianapolis Colts. (AFC rank: 4.)

25. Houston Texans. (AFC rank: 11.)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars. (AFC rank: 13.)

30. Tennessee Titans. (AFC rank: 14.)

AFC West

3. Denver Broncos. (AFC rank: 1.)

16. San Diego Chargers. (AFC rank: 7.)

17. Kansas City Chiefs. (AFC rank: 8.)

32. Oakland Raiders. (AFC rank: 16.)

NFC East

13. Philadelphia Eagles. (NFC rank: 8.)

18. New York Giants. (NFC rank: 10.)

23. Washington Redskins. (NFC rank: 13.)

24. Dallas Cowboys. (NFC rank: 14.)

NFC North

5. Green Bay Packers. (NFC rank: 3.)

12. Chicago Bears. (NFC rank: 7.)

21. Detroit Lions. (NFC rank: 12.)

27. Minnesota Vikings. (NFC rank: 16.)

NFC South

6. New Orleans Saints. (NFC rank: 4.)

10. Carolina Panthers. (NFC rank: 5.)

14. Atlanta Falcons. (NFC rank: 9.)

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (NFC rank: 15.)

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks (NFC rank: 1.)

2. San Francisco 49ers. (NFC rank: 2.)

11. Arizona Cardinals. (NFC rank: 6.)

20. St. Louis Rams. (NFC rank: 11.)

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Jameel McClain OK after injury scare at training camp

mcclain AP

There’s good news on Giants linebacker Jameel McClain, who was carted off the field on Tuesday at training camp.

According to multiple reporters on the scene, X-rays were negative and McClain is believed to have nothing more serious than soreness in his foot. If McClain is still in pain tomorrow he’ll get an MRI on the foot, but it appears that the Giants’ starting weak side linebacker will be fine.

It wasn’t all good news on a hot and humid day at Giants camp, as coach Tom Coughlin said he was disappointed that multiple players had to step off the practice field for heat-related reasons. But in the case of McClain, things have turned out OK.

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Ravens expect NFL to be “fair” and “judicious” to Ray Rice

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens are bracing themselves for being without running back Ray Rice.

But they’re not worried about how long, at least not yet.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t think the timing of Rice’s punishment (for assaulting his now-wife) would be a problem for the team, as long as they knew by the middle of the preseason.

“It’s not my decision to make or any of us here,” Harbaugh said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “It’s in other people’s hands. I’m sure there’s a lot of complications making those kind of decisions. There are many sides to every story, and there are a lot of factors. There are other people involved.

“There are other disciplinary situations involved around the league. That has to be weighed and taken into context They’re going to have to sort through that to be fair about the whole thing. I know the league is really judicious about that. I think they work really hard to do the right thing. I don’t think they worry about public opinion too much. I think they want to do the right thing by the people involved and see where it goes.”

Of course, if the Ravens were concerned about public opinion, they might not have live-tweeted Rice’s wife apologizing for getting knocked out.

But that’s just one of the issues they’ve faced this offseason, as they led the league with five arrests.

Asked how he addressed that surge in off-field activity, Harbaugh replied: “I think the point has been made.”

Now we get to sit back and see if it is heeded.

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Coughlin thinks Giants will be rejuvenated under new offense

coughlin AP

The oldest coach in the NFL wanted some fresh blood in his offense.

That’s why, Giants coach Tom Coughlin told Josina Anderson on ESPN, he decided to hire Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. Coughlin said he thinks McAdoo’s playbook will go a long way toward making Eli Manning look more like he looked in the Giants’ two Super Bowl seasons, and less like he looked during his 27-interception 2013 season.

“I felt like this would be an opportunity for us to rejuvenate those veteran players who were here, Eli for one, to force all of us to learn, again, a new system, a new communication process,” Coughlin said. “For 10 years we had used the same system — we got two Super Bowls and accomplished an awful lot of things offensively — but last year wasn’t one of those years. We turned it over way too much.”

Coughlin was careful not to make it sound like he was taking shots at former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. But it’s clear that Coughlin believed a change was in order.

“I just felt like after Kevin retired that this might be the time to make a wholesale change and in so doing reinvigorate the entire system, the coaches that were kept, the veteran players who have been here, to put new energy into their preparation,” Coughlin said.

Rejuvenating the Giants’ offense this year may be Coughlin’s last hope of making a run at his third Super Bowl ring.

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Texans, Andre Johnson’s agent are communicating

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans Getty Images

On Monday, Texans receiver Andre Johnson reportedly was back in the building.  On Tuesday, agent Kennard McGuire declined to address those reports.

“I am not refuting, confirming or denying any reports or stories,” McGuire told Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston.  “Per the collective bargaining agreement there’s a period in which veteran players are not allowed to participate or be in their team’s facilities.”

As explained earlier in the day, veteran players currently may work out on their own at team facilities.  Which is all that Johnson could have been doing, under the CBA.

While not addressing whether Johnson visited the team’s facility, McGuire admitted that he has been talking to the Texans on Johnson’s behalf.

“While I am personally in contact with the Texans organization, those conversations will remain between myself, the organization and Andre Johnson,” McGuire told Berman.

Johnson reportedly was willing to report for OTAs, but the Texans refused to give him a chance to earn back a $1 million roster bonus that Johnson forfeited by missing the first two phases of the offseason workout program.  That impasse caused Johnson to skip all remaining offseason activities, including a mandatory minicamp.  The question now becomes whether Johnson will show up for training camp.

Veterans are due to report in Houston on Friday.

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Saints sign two undrafted rookies

Tyrone Ezell AP

The Saints have added two undrafted rookies who had previous short stints with other NFL clubs, signing linebacker Marcus Thompson (ex-Dolphins) and nose tackle Tyrone Ezell (ex-Texans) on Tuesday, the club said.

A Rutgers product, Thompson (6-1, 250) recorded 5.5 sacks in 2013 and was one of the team’s defensive MVPs. The Dolphins waived him on July 1.

Ezell (6-4, 305) had a three-day stint with Houston in May. He was a 12-game starter for the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and was a team captain.

In corresponding roster moves, the Saints waived/injured third-year outside linebacker Cheta Ozougwu and undrafted rookie nose tackle Moses McCray.

The Saints have all 90 roster spots filled.

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Pat Angerer signs with Falcons

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the Falcons lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the season, there were several veteran free agents mentioned as possible signings to shore up the team’s inside linebacker group.

Former Colt Pat Angerer was on that list and he worked out for the team on Tuesday. The workout apparently went well because Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Angerer is the newest member of Atlanta’s roster.

Angerer ended the 2013 season on injured reserve after hurting his knee and required microfracture surgery to repair the injury. That kept him from shopping himself as a free agent this spring, but things have obviously progressed well enough to satisfy the Falcons.

Angerer, a second-round pick in 2010, played 54 games and made 39 starts during his time with the Colts. The Falcons have Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and rookie Prince Shembo among the in-house options who will compete with Angerer to fill the starting linebacker jobs come the regular season.

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Shoulder healed, Eric Fisher gets back to left tackle

Fisher AP

When the Chiefs made Eric Fisher the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, they didn’t intend for Fisher to be the team’s long-term right tackle.  Now that Branden Albert has exited via free agency, Fisher can flip back to his natural position.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Fisher told reporters on Tuesday regarding the change.  “I felt good out there today. It’s a lot more natural for me. I’m really excited about it.”

Fisher has been permitted to show up early for camp because of the shoulder injury that resulted in surgery.  His weight is at 315 pounds, he’s been lifting again since before OTAs, and he’s ready for his second NFL season.

“I’ve been working my butt of and am just glad to be out here,” Fisher said.  “I never really lost strength.  I’ve been in there working and when you can’t bench there’s other things you can do and that’s what I was doing.”

Fisher said his shoulder is healed and he’s “ready to go.”  Fisher believes he’ll take part in the first padded practice of the year, on Saturday.

Apart from the injury, Fisher struggled at times as a rookie, creating real concerns as to whether he’s ready to play left tackle for the Chiefs.

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Doug Marrone indicates there’s competition to back up EJ Manuel

Jeff Tuel,EJ Manuel,Thad Lewis AP

The Bills’ backup quarterback situation is one to watch, even if only for the events of a season ago.

Starter EJ Manuel missed six games because of injury in 2013, and key veteran Kevin Kolb suffered a career-ending concussion in the preseason, leaving Thaddeus Lewis (five starts) and then-rookie Jeff Tuel (one start) to carry the load at times.

An undrafted free agent from Washington State, Tuel struggled in his first NFL season, completing just 26-of-59 passes (44.1 percent) with three interceptions and just one score. Lewis, who had prior NFL stints in Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, fared somewhat better after taking over as the top backup. He was far more accurate, completing 59.5 percent of his attempts (93-of-157). However, he had more turnovers (six) than touchdowns (five).

However, if Lewis is going to win the top reserve role once again, he may have to hold off a challenge from Tuel, who reportedly got some work with the second-team offense on Tuesday. Afterwards, Bills coach Doug Marrone told reporters there was competition for the primary backup job behind Manuel.

“Sure, we have a battle for the second team quarterback,” Marrone said, according to a transcript of his post-practice remarks from the club. “We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs, and he’s earned himself some more reps.”

The Bills carried just two quarterbacks to begin the 2013 season. And that means Tuel, Lewis and fourth-stringer Dennis Dixon could potentially be fighting for just one spot.

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Broncos make Joel Dreessen an even lower-paid ($0) tight end

Joel Dreessen AP

If Joel Dreesen thought tight end pay was unfairly low before, he’s in for a shock this summer, with no pay whatsoever.

The Broncos announced they had released the veteran tight end with a failed physical designation Tuesday.

He caught 41 passes for the Broncos two years ago, but only caught seven passes last year as Julius Thomas flourished as a target for more catches (and ostensibly, more money).

He had three operations on his left knee in the span of a year, and battled through problems with that joint this offseason.

So now the Broncos get to take his $2.5 million in base salary and give it to another tight end.

Or not.

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Chargers part ways with Larry English

Seattle Seahawks v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The Chargers haven’t opened up training camp yet, but they’ve already decided that linebacker Larry English won’t be a member of their 53-man roster.

The team announced Tuesday that they have released English. The Chargers also announced that they have signed center Khalil Wilkes.

English was a first-round pick in 2009, but never developed into the player they hoped to get when they selected him out of Northern Illinois. English made just nine starts in his 52 appearances with the Chargers and produced 11 sacks and one forced fumble over that stretch. Injuries contributed to keeping him off the field, including a pec injury that sent him to injured reserve last season, but English wasn’t much of a factor when he was healthy.

English is not subject to waivers, so he is free to sign with any team once now that he’s been officially dropped by the Chargers.

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Dispute over Patriots’ Hernandez records resolved

Paperwork Getty Images

The lawyers representing former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez wanted to get a wide variety of documents from the team.  The team didn’t want to surrender certain things. A middle ground has been identified.

According to the Associated Press, attorney Michael Fee said in court on Tuesday that the dispute has been resolved.  Lawyers for both Hernandez and the Patriots declined comment.

The Patriots previously had agreed to surrender 317 pages of personnel records, but the team refused to produce a scouting report and a one-page summary of Hernandez’s pre-draft psychological assessment.

Hernandez’s lawyers have argued that the documents may contain critical information about Hernandez’s state of mind, which could be a hint that the lawyers are exploring the possibility of using some type of insanity-based defense as an alternative to arguing that Hernandez didn’t kill Odin Lloyd.

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Judge denies Rolando McClain’s request to delay trial starting Friday

Rolando McClain AP

The Cowboys traded for linebacker Rolando McClain earlier this month as they try to find options to step in for the injured Sean Lee, but it looks like he’s going to miss a little bit of his first training camp with the team.

The Associated Press reports that Judge Bill Cook Jr. ruled that McClain’s trial in Alabama on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct will not be moved from a scheduled Friday start. McClain’s attorney had requested a delay because of the conflict with Cowboys camp, but the linebacker will now either have to settle the case before Friday or miss some practice time while the case is heard.

McClain pleaded not guilty to the charges, which resulted from an April 2013 incident in Decatur, Alabama, last year.

It’s certainly not an ideal situation for McClain, who is trying to resume the football career he put on hold last season to deal with mounting legal issues stemming from his off-field behavior. Even with Lee out of the lineup, McClain faces an uphill battle in a short amount of time to show that he’s both fit enough and committed enough for the Cowboys to keep around.

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Jameel McClain carted off the field at Giants camp

Giants Camp Football AP

One of the rites of training camp season is the emergence of the cart as a harbinger of bad news.

And in Giants camp, they’re going to need a bigger one.

According to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, linebacker Jameel McClain was hauled off the field in the dreaded cart, with what appeared to be a left leg injury.

While we don’t know the severity of McClain’s problem at the moment, we know they’re already thin there, with linebacker Jon Beason on the physically unable to perform list.

Guard Brandon Mosley was also hauled off earlier. He was working with the starters after the retirement of veteran Chris Snee, and was apparently replaced with the ones by rookie Weston Richburg.

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Super Bowl champion Seahawks are at the top of PFT’s preseason rankings

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl by 35 points over the Denver Broncos in February. They re-signed several key players to long-term deals this offseason and suffered few significant losses to free agency this spring.

With all that in mind, the Seahawks had to come in at the top of our preseason power rankings.

The Seahawks have few questions as training camp gets set to open on Friday. Seattle’s offense has the potential to be more explosive this season with a healthy Percy Harvin in the lineup and Russell Wilson having another year of experience under his belt. The defense will remain as one of the most physically imposing units in the league with their key pieces intact and star-studded secondary locked up for the next few years.

However, the San Francisco 49ers remain directly in the rear-view mirror and the battle for NFC West should once again be must-see entertainment this fall.

Our full Seahawks preview is located here. Tell us in the poll below if you feel the Seahawks deserve the ranking we gave them heading into the season.

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