1. New England Patriots
Another year of Brady and Belichick. The Patriots look to rebound from a dismal playoff showing against the Jets. They have all the offensive tools to compete but their pass rush remains the biggest question. Despite that, they are my clear favourite to win the Super Bowl this year.
2. Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl Champions. It has a nice ring to it. The Packers don’t have a lot to prove but major injuries that were suffered last year to Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley they should have enough fire to compete hard. If Aaron Rodgers wants to be considered elite with Brady and Manning, he needs another great year and with the weapons available to him, he should get to that level.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers enter this season on much better terms than last season. They have less serious scandals to deal with. The team is mostly the same that went to the Super Bowl last year and has signed the players that they needed to. Ben Roethlisberger should be better connected with his receivers so watch for a lot of pump fakes followed by the bomb to Mike Wallace. Not surprisingly the favourites to win the AFC North.
4. Atlanta Falcons
I feel like the Falcons underachieved last year even though they were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl Champions. In the off season they went out and made a bold move on draft day where they traded up for Julio Jones. I don’t know how good he is but if he is able to create a little more space for Roddy White and possibly Tony Gonzalez, he might be worth the price they paid for him. Matt Ryan is a solid quarterback and surprisingly ranked third on ESPN’s new QBR system (which is a good tool to measure QBs but like any advanced statistic has its flaws). Their battle with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be the most interesting divisional battle that we’ll see this season.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
The Michael Vick comeback story continues for another year and Philadelphia became the free agent hot spot as they landed Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, and Cullen Jenkins. In addition they added Rodgers-Cromartie through the Kevin Kolb trade. This should improve a defence that gave up the 11th most points per game last season. How far the Eagles end up going will be determined by how healthy the Eagles stay because Vick, Maclin, and Jackson will all have some injury histories. This team will be one of the most polarizing and watched teams of the season and I look forward to every one of their games.
6. New Orleans Saints
The Saints lost to Seattle in the most pathetic fashion last year during the playoffs. That being said the Saints are well coached, have an excellent quarterback and just traded up to get the best college running back from last year. I don’t know how Payton will use Ingram but I have no doubt he will be effective.
7. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens aren’t quite as good this year as they were last year but are still among the playoff contenders. Joe Flacco doesn’t expect to be much better than he was last year but he is still a really good quarterback. I expect Ray Rice to have a monster year and I suspect he ends up being the number one fantasy running back this year.
8. San Diego Chargers
The team the benefits the most from the kickoff change is without a doubt the Chargers. The Chargers were the number 1 offence and defence last season and still failed to make the playoffs. I think that shows that they were fairly unlikely. Phillip Rivers should be an MVP contender this season and with Vincent Jackson having a contract and Antonio Gates the best tight end in the season, the Chargers could make a run to the Super Bowl.
9. Dallas Cowboys
I honestly don’t know how good the Cowboys will be this year because I don’t know which team will show up. Will it be Jason Garrett’s second half team or Wade Phillips first half team? It is unclear. A healthy Tony Romo should provide a boost to the team but the offensive line has some questions and the defence ceiling is unclear. I expect that the Cowboys will be an elite offensive team and should make the players as a wildcard team.
10. New York Jets
The Jets are this high because of their defence. Mark Sanchez is not an elite or even good quarterback. I think that the Jets will not be as good as they were last year. Losing Braylen Edwards is a big blow to their offence and its possible their rushing attack won’t be as good as last year because Tomlinson is a year older and looked down two years ago. Can he stay rejuvenated? I really don’t think so. Could be a tough year for Jets fans if their defence doesn’t step up and win some games this season as the grapple with how bad their quarterback actually is.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The city of Tampa Bay seems to be really screwed in the divisions that they are in (obviously excluding hockey). Both the Rays and Bucs are really good teams that if they were in another division, they would probably have an easier time making the playoffs. I think that Freeman builds on his season from last year and Blount continues to run over players. The team didn’t spend money over the season but they should still be very competitive. They should finished third in the division but still battle for the second wild card in the NFC.
12. New York Giants
The Giants preseason worries me a little bit. I continue to disrespect the lesser Manning but he’s really not that good. He’s lost Steve Smith and their O-line may have trouble stopping people. I like the Giants defence but that may not be enough to save them this year and there will be more questions about the coach, Tom Coughlin. They may move down due to injuries though.
13. St. Louis Rams
The Rams are the favourites for a weak NFC West but I like them to be a difficult team to defeat in the playoffs. With the addition of Josh McDaniels as an offensive coordinator Sam Bradford’s development should take another step forward. Losing last year to Seattle in the final game to lose their playoff berth must have hurt and Stephen Jackson may be too old but the Rams will still be the best team in a very weak division.
14. Miami Dolphins
So many people seem down on the Dolphins but I feel like they aren’t giving them enough respect on defence. Yes we know that Chad Henne is pretty miserable. We have seen enough of Reggie Bush to recognize that the college talent hasn’t translated to the NFL. But Miami’s defence is talented. Led by former BC Lion Cameron Wake, Miami possess a very strong pass rush. I think Miami will outperform their expectations but that probably won’t be enough to get them to the playoffs, unless Henne explodes for a monster season but that seems fairly unlikely.
15. Detroit Lions
The Lions could climb the power rankings by the end of the season if Stafford manages to stay healthy. Suh is an animal and leads one of the most impressive D-lines in the league. He will get fined and possibly suspended this season while he shreds O-lines and destroys QBs. Detroit will compete for the second wild card in the NFC North but it may be another season until the Lions make the playoffs.
16. Chicago Bears
The Bears are a weird team. On one hand they went to the NFC Championship game last season but on the other hand I feel as if I have ranked them way too high. Jay Cutler scares me and their special teams’ advantage appears to have weakened. Devon Hester has been effectively neutered by the new rule which means the Bears could be in trouble. It feels like I say this every year and the Bears continue to outperform expectations but after cutting Western alumni, Andy Fantuz, I have a pretty good feeling they won’t be participating in the playoffs this season.
17. Arizona Cardinals
Oh Cardinals, what team will you be this year? Will Kevin Kolb lead the team to greatness with Fitzgerald or will their weak defence and weak O-line and lack of solid running backs be the end of the season? I have faith in Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals should have a chance being in the incredibly weak NFC West.
18. Houston Texans
Seems a little low on a talented Texans team but at this point it really is show me. Kubiak should be on the hot seat this year, in fact I would have fired him last year, but he has a lot of talent to make the playoffs. Andre Johnson is the best wide receiver in the game and Arian Foster is one of the best running backs in the game but his lingering hamstring injury may be an issue for the team. Hiring Wade Phillips as a defensive coordinator seemed like a big move but I don’t think that the Texans will be drastically improved.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
I thought David Garrard was good, not the answer, but good. I didn’t expect him to be replaced. I suspect at some point we will see Gabbert this season as they have clearly given up on the year. This is kind of too bad because with Manning’s injury Jacksonville may have had a chance at the division. MJD worries me but his knee starts the season healthy. They will need some more miracle wins, similar to the one against the Texans this year, if they have any chance at the division or a wild card spot.
20. Kansas City Chiefs
Last year the Chiefs crapped the bed in the playoffs and don’t look this year. Cassel lost his offensive coordinator and their schedule is significantly more difficult this year. Although they still play Oakland and Denver twice. Their running game should be strong once again but I am still worried about Cassel’s ability to move the ball. Without an easy schedule, Chiefs fans could be in for a long season even with Jamal Charles burning up the grass.
21. Indianapolis Colts
I originally had the Colts ranked 7th and then 13th but the news about Manning may be damning. An unhealed neck injury, I never thought the Colts would be the victim of the lock out but it looks like it will probably be that way. They should have been easy favourites in the surprisingly weak AFC South but without Manning the Colts are no better than the Jaguars. I suspect Manning will be back at some point but will it be early enough for him to save Indy’s season? Indy fans certainly hope so as they will have the Super Bowl this year and they would be happy to see the home team there.
22. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are a fun team to cheer and a fun team to watch because you literally never know which team will show up. Jason Campbell returns with another new head coach (he really goes through them) and fewer weapons as Zach Miller departed in the offseason. Know how odd the Raiders are: they were the only team to not vote on the new CBA agreement. They abstained from the vote. I hope Al Davis never dies!
23. Denver Broncos
John Fox is the new head coach and he doesn’t have a lot to work on. He has a media quarterback controversy as many fans (and media members) are clamouring for Tim Tebow to start the season. Sadly, Tebow is terrible but the distraction may affect Orton’s game. The Broncos gave up a lot of yards last year and even with Fox their defence may not be as good as last season. It doesn’t look like Denver is going anywhere fast this season.
24. Cleveland Browns
I like Colt McCoy but I am worried about the rest of the team. Peyton Hillis is an injury risk and a Madden Curse risk. The team didn’t have much of an offseason and they weren’t particularly good last year. I don’t think that they will be much of a factor this season in the top heavy AFC North.
25. Buffalo Bills
The Bills aren’t going to have a good year. I want to believe that they are heading in the right direction but its hard. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a good quarterback? I don’t think so but I really don’t know. Can C.J. Spiller become an elite running back? Unlikely. Will Marcell Dareus be the most interesting and important player on the defence? Almost certainly. So many questions and when you’re struggling to come with answers and face a fairly difficult schedule the chances of making the playoffs are pretty slim.
26. Tennessee Titans
The Titans had an interesting off season by getting rid of their QB1 then firing their coach, followed by their running back holding out for most of camp. I can’t imagine a least prepared team this year. The replacement for the coach is questionable as he has never been a coordinator and the quarterback is Matt Hasselbeck who has unquestionably seen better days. Chris Johnson is talented but this team is rebuilding and isn’t going to contend for anything this season.
27. San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith is still their quarterback. They have some talented offensive players including Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Braylen Edwards but they have a new coach who has not had a full offseason to work with his team. The do reside in an easy division but I have little faith in their quarterback which in case you didn’t realize is kind of important in this league.
28. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton hasn’t looked good at all pre-season. Panthers’ fans must be frustrated that Andrew Luck stayed in college. I suspect Carolina runs the ball really well but because of their difficult division and lack of Number 1 QB, they don’t really have a shot for the playoffs.
29. Minnesota Vikings
I rank them this low because I don’t have any belief in McNabb. Adrian Peterson will have to carry this team for them to get anywhere. I can’t believe it was only two years ago that Brett Favre threw the most devastating interception in Vikings history and that game changed the playoff overtime rules.
30. Seattle Seahawks
Ugh the prototypical Suck for Luck team. Tavares Jackson is their starting QB which should tell you all you need to know. The only reason they aren’t lower is because they have a really nice stadium that you can’t hear in and they play in a weaker division.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
I am still amazed that Palmer retired. Andy Dalton hasn’t looked very good this preseason and although he is surrounded by some very talented receivers and I don’t think he’ll succeed right away. I hope this season doesn’t crush his confidence but it might. Even though Cedric Benson avoids in season jail time, the Bengals won’t be very good.
32. Washington Redskins
Rex Grossman is your starting quarterback. Remember when he made it to the Super Bowl. Yeah he wasn’t good then and he still sucks now. Suck for Luck is in full swing for the Redskins this season.