5 Teams That Look Like Super Bowl Contenders Heading Into The 2013 NFL Season

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5 Apparent Super Bowl Contenders For The 2013 NFL Season

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL season is right around the corner. Teams are finishing up preseason games this week and the regular season kicks off a week from Thursday, when the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens head to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos.

Led by quarterback Joe Flacco and since retired linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens made an improbable run to a Lombardi Trophy last season. They snuck into the playoffs and surprised team after team before defeating the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens lost a lot of talent and leadership this offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Lewis, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Paul Kroger and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe all moved on this offseason. On offense the Ravens will need to replace the receiving production of Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the 49ers, and Dennis Pitta, who is likely out for the season with a hip injury. The Ravens have a ton of question marks on their team, and while it is not wise to count them out, I cannot make them one of my Super Bowl contenders with as many holes as they have to fill.

The NFL is obviously a passing league now. I strongly believe that you need a competent quarterback to be a legitimate contender in the league. If you have an elite quarterback, then you have a huge advantage over a majority of the teams in the NFL.

As you will see, all of these teams either have an elite signal caller or a guy that has the potential to take the next step and become elite. Obviously, the other positions are important too, but make no mistake, quarterback is the most important position in professional sports. Here are my top 5 contenders to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season in New Jersey.

Daniel is a writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @D_Schmelzer, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Atlanta Falcons

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There were a handful of teams I considered here, but I chose the Atlanta Falcons because of their elite offensive weapons. Quarterback Matt Ryan has arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both players are extremely talented and reliable pass catchers for Ryan. Working the middle of the field, the Falcons have tight end Tony Gonzalez, who continues to be extremely productive, even in his later years. The Falcons added running back Steven Jackson this offseason, who should be a big upgrade over Michael Turner from last year. The Falcons have question marks along the offensive line and on defense, but I think the collection of skill position talent they have on offense makes them legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

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4. Seattle Seahawks

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I love what Pete Carroll is doing with the Seattle Seahawks. They have one of the best defenses in the league, an incredible offensive line and an elite running back in Marshawn Lynch. The key to the success of the Seahawks this season is the continued improvement of quarterback Russell Wilson. Seattle drafted Wilson in the 3rd round last season, and he immediately impressed with his knowledge of the game and maturity beyond his young age. Wilson also impressed on the field last season and is now one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the game. If Wilson can continue his stellar play, the Seahawks will surely be in the thick of things late in the season.

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3. Denver Broncos

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When you have an elite quarterback you have a good chance, and Peyton Manning is as elite as it comes. The surefire Hall of Famer came back from neck surgery last season and did not miss a beat. The Broncos added Wes Welker to an already impressive receiving corps this offseason giving Manning more than enough weapons to throw to. The defense was fantastic in 2012,but they are aging a bit and I wonder how the six-game suspension of outside linebacker Von Miller will impact this group. The running game is very unproven with a timeshare featuring Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball seeming likely. That being said, Manning and his receiving corps give the Broncos enough ammunition to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

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2. New England Patriots

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We all know that the New England Patriots lost a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. That being said, as long as Tom Brady is playing quarterback and Bill Belichick is the head coach, the Patriots are a dangerous team. Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead are all gone, and Rob Gronkowski continues to struggle with injuries. I think the Patriots are planning to lean on the running game, led by Stevan Ridley, more than in past seasons, and Shane Vereen seems to be ready to take over a larger role on the offense. Danny Amendola will surely take a ton of the available targets if he can stay healthy and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and Aaron Dobson look ready to contribute as well. Defensively, the Patriots are young and improving year by year, and I see a big improvement coming again this season. Brady is the key to this team. He has performed with a lackluster supporting cast before, and I see no reason why he cannot do it again.

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1. San Francisco 49ers

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The 49ers are my favorites to win the Super Bowl this season. This team simply has very few flaws. They have one of, if not the, best offensive lines game. Their incredible O-Line opens up holes for their stable of running backs led by Frank Gore. I think the 49ers have the most talented defense in the league. They have stars all over the field such as Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith. I fully expect the 49ers' defense to perform at an elite level once again this season. With the injury to Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin is the only proven wide receiver on the 49ers. Guys like Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Austin Collie and Quinton Patton will look to help fill the void left by Crabtree. The wide receiver position is the only obvious flaw that the 49ers have.

I think the success of the 49ers depends on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took the league by storm last season with his incredible rushing ability and strong throwing arm. Kaepernick is a very unique player that is tough for opposing defenses to contain. If Kaepernick continues his great play from last season and the team stays relatively healthy, I think the 49ers will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Jersey.