[Editor’s note: The five PFT writers will vote each week on every NFL team, top to bottom. We were going to call it something really cool like Pro32, but the AP beat us to it. So here they are as we prepare for the first week of the season — power rankings.]
1. Packers (four first-place votes): The best team on paper entering camp remains the best team on paper entering the season. But who really uses paper anymore?
2. Giants (one first-place vote): Lost in their conference, lost in their division, and lost in even their hometown, it’s still impossible to overlook the defending champs, who have a knack for winning when they need to.
3. Patriots: The best team in the AFC doesn’t need its defense to get much better to make another run at another Super Bowl win. It’s been eight years since the last one, and nearly all of the guys in the locker room don’t have rings of their own.
4. Ravens: The offense keeps improving and the defense keeps hanging on. The best news for the Ravens would be a season from quarterback Joe Flacco that forces the franchise to pay him like the elite quarterback he believes he is.
5. Texans: Despite plenty of changes, the Texans continue to be among the league’s elite team until they prove otherwise. And Matt Schaub will continue to be regarded as an injury-prone quarterback until he proves otherwise.
6. Steelers: If the Steelers were any team but the Steelers, the transition and turmoil they’ve experienced would have been enough to knock them out of the top 15. But the Steelers under coach Mike Tomlin typically find a way to contend, regardless of the changes.
7. Saints: The key to getting to the Superdome for the Super Bowl will be making the road to the Superdome go through the Superdome.
8. 49ers: Perhaps the most complete team in the NFL lacks the one thing it needs to get to the next level — a franchise quarterback.
9. Eagles: They’ll need to finish higher than ninth to get Andy Reid a 15th season.
10. Falcons: Better than they’re perceived, the Falcons won’t be taken seriously until they win a playoff game.
11. Bears: A playoff team in 2012 but for injuries to Matt Forte and Jay Cutler, the Bears are in better position to contend than many realize.
12. Lions: The ability of this team to take the next step hinges on quarterback Matthew Stafford staying healthy and the defensive backfield finding a way to keep the opponents under 50 points. And, yeah, the ability of certain players to stay out of jail.
13. Cowboys: All this talk about when the window is closing presumes it was ever open. One playoff win in 16 years suggests otherwise.
14. Broncos: Yes, Peyton Manning is now in town. Unless he can play like he did before his 2011 neck surgeries, it may not matter much.
15. Panthers: Ryan Kalil’s prediction of a Super Bowl win could be a little premature, but the arrow is pointing up for a team that could be in possession of the next great franchise quarterback.
16. Seahawks: Then again, maybe the Seahawks have the next great franchise quarterback.
17. Bengals: They’ve never made it to the postseason in two straight non-strike seasons. That streak could end in 2012.
18. Bills: They haven’t made it to the postseason at all since 1999. That streak could end in 2012.
19. Chiefs: If Matt Cassel can play like he did in 2008 and 2010, the Chiefs could be climbing, quickly.
20. Chargers: Having a franchise quarterback and not much more makes for an interesting experiment in San Diego. It also could make for a new G.M. and head coach by next year.
21. Titans: If Chris Johnson can play like he did before 2011, the Titans could give the Texans a real fight for the AFC South crown. It also would help if Kenny Britt can get healthy, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble.
22. Jets: In an era of new-school, high-octane offense, a team built on an old-school, ground-and-pound approach seems destined to struggle.
23. Raiders: To move in the right direction over the long term, this team needed to move in the wrong direction in the short term.
24. Redskins: After 27 starting quarterbacks in 27 years, the Redskins finally have real hope at the position. Here’s hoping that there’s not ultimately a repeat of the Shuler-Frerotte fiasco of 18 years ago.
25. Cardinals: The Cardinals would welcome a Shuler-Frerotte fiasco right about now.
26. Colts: Andrew Luck looks the part. Then again, so did Peyton Manning as a rookie. And he won only three games.
27. Buccaneers: A year ago, there was plenty of hope in Tampa. At least they now have an excuse for being unable to sell tickets.
28. Jaguars: Barring significant improvement, playing one game per year in London won’t necessarily be the best way to build a fan base there. Or anywhere.
29. Vikings: The last time the Vikings won only three games, Bud Grant came out of retirement to save the day. This time around, re-animating Lombardi wouldn’t be enough to make a difference.
30. Rams: At some point during his first year of getting paid to coach the Rams, Jeff Fisher will long for his year of getting paid to not coach the Titans.
31. Dolphins: At least they’ll outscore the Marlins. Most of the time.
32. Browns: Jimmy Haslam wants to know where the line is to return a $1 billion football team.