Thursday, June 30, 2011

NFL Pre-Season Power Rankings

Hallelujah!!! Football season is right around the corner! That is if this God forsaken lockout ever ends. Assuming that the lockout will come to a close in time for a full NFL season, I present to you my 2011 Power Rankings (complete with brief team summaries)! There's still some level of guessing involved considering the rookies have yet to prove themselves and learn in OTAs, but I will do my best. Enjoy! Hope this helps gets you football fanatics through the summer!

1. Green Bay Packers-
The Pack have become an extremely popular early favorite going into the 2011 season, and for good reason. When they won the Super Bowl last year, they were missing a considerable number of talented starters to injury. Now the entire roster is back and healthy, and the schedule is very manageable. Green Bay will be a force to be reckoned with and have a realistic chance to repeat.

2. Atlanta Falcons-
Could the Falcons offense get any better? The addition of Julio Jones gives Matt Ryan yet another formidable weapon. The question for this season is can the defense keep up with the offense. If things go as well as they could, Atlanta should be in for a very special season that will not soon be forgotten in the deep south.

3. New England Patriots-
As long as Tom Brady is under center and Bill Belichick is on the sidelines, the Pats will be a highly competitive force. The absence of Randy Moss has meant the lack of a solid deep threat, but regardless the offense is still potent. Belichick's defense needs no introduction.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers-
A big reason for the Steelers' failure in last year's Super Bowl was a lack of O-line depth. However, like the Packers, everyone is healthy again. The secondary still needs work, but the Steelers will surely be in for another successful season. The AFC North crown should be between them and the Ravens, but then again, when is it not?

5. Baltimore Ravens-
The Ravens offense continues to improve and catch up with their ever stalwart defense. Of course the defense is fantastic, under the leadership of players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata, and the offense continues to grow around Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Boldin has done well, but Flacco could still use some more help at receiver.

6. New York Jets-
The last two seasons have found the Jets on the edge of greatness, only to fall short. The first half of last year's AFC Championship was dismal. But the Jets go into 2011 with renewed hope and swagger. The defense could still use improvement in the pass rush (a need that was hopefully met with their first round draft pick, Wilkerson). Personally, I would still like to see more out of Mark Sanchez, but he continues to improve. Perhaps this is their year...

7. Indianapolis Colts-
The talents of this team is undeniable, but they aren't getting any younger. The window is slowly closing for Peyton Manning to win a second championship, however in my mind he has already solidified himself as one of the greatest QBs in NFL history. The Colts should have another admirable regular season, but that's about it. This could be the year that the Texans step up and finally make some real noise in their division. It's still the Colts' to lose.

8. New Orleans Saints-
After such a magical 2009 campaign, last season was somewhat forgettable for fans in the Bayou. The defense that made such a difference in their championship team became mild at best. The Saints made some salivating acquisitions in the draft though, and will look to make the NFC South one of the league's most competitive divisions.

9. Philadelphia Eagles-
Mike Vick is back and better than ever. He's dedicated and taken on a new leadership role and it shows. The fact that his play slipped a bit late last season does not worry me at all. The Eagles will be the early favorites to win the East, unless the Cowboys or Giants can buck up and take it from them. 

10. Kansas City Chiefs-
This is a young team brimming with talent and gaining experience. They won the AFC West last year, and I firmly believe that that represented a symbolic changing of the guard in that division from the Chargers to KC. Of course, the Chargers are still a good team, but it is becoming KC's time. Get ready for a pretty good season, Chiefs fans.

11. Chicago Bears-
Look for the Bears to take a considerable step back from last season. Jay Cutler wasn't a very good QB to begin with, and his lack of toughness may have lost his team's support. The defense will keep this team afloat, but they aren't getting any younger.

12. New York Giants-
They won 10 last year, but missed the playoffs. It was a mediocre season. The Giants have a lot to prove if they want to be considered an elite team again. Expect them to float around the middle of the East, making some noise with "cockroach wins"and possibly making the playoffs as a wildcard.

13. Dallas Cowboys-
The culture has been changed and the pieces are in place for the 'Boys to finally live up to their potential. Key needs remain in the secondary, but they will have the chance to fill those needs in Free Agency at the lockout's conclusion. If they don't fill those needs, I'd drop them down on this list at least two spots. Overall though, I remain confident about this year.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-
Like the Chiefs, this team is young and extremely talented. Behind Josh Freeman, this team has the ability to win a lot of games. However, they have the misfortune of being in the toughest division in the NFC. Their biggest needs were met in the draft. Don't be surprised when you see the Bucs on the SportsCenter ticker, puling a lot of upsets.

15. San Diego Chargers-
If you ask me, the Chargers' championship window closed when LT left the team. Regardless, this is a pivotal year for Norv Turner and the Bolts. They get a lot of guys back from injury in a time that KC is starting to assert itself as the division's dominant team. We'll see if Ryan Matthews is as good as SD seems to think he is.

16. Houston Texans-
Although this city is nothing short of snake-bitten when it comes to football championships, this could be the Texans' year if they want it bad enough. The Colts are getting older and the Texans keep finding themselves on the edge of playoff greatness. I believe the talent is there, it just comes down to how bad they want it.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars-
They got their QB in Blaine Gabbert, but will it be enough to break out of their perrenial mediocrity? Good seems to be the Jags' glass ceiling, but can they break through? What they tend to lack in talent, they make up for in attitude. Can they put together a successful playoff season this year? I don't think so.

18. Oakland Raiders-
It looks like the Raiders are at last rising from the ashes of their recent awfulness. There is still more work to be done though. The defense needs to improve. I like the hiring of Hue Jackson though. His coaching could be a real difference maker for this franchise.

19. Seattle Seahawks-
Easily last year's most shockingly successful playoff team. But the team still has many holes to fill. They need to start grooming a QB of the future, and shore up holes on defense. They made many necessary, albeit not flashy, aquisitions in the draft. Lucky for them, they are playing in the NFL's worst division.

20. St. Louis Rams-
Behind the golden arm of Sam Bradford, this team's stock continues to go up. Although I have them ranked below their division rival, Seattle, I believe this team has the best shot at winning the NFC West. They aren't perfect by any stretch, but they have a great deal of young talent. That's what a few bad seasons yielding top draft picks will do for you.

21. Tennessee Titans-
Yes, they have Chris Johnson. And yes, they have some talent on both sides of the ball. But, they have a new coach with limited time to install his new system and no QB. I'm very skeptical of Jake Locker and his abilities. I wasn't very impressed with him in college and, generally speaking, when a player's draft stock falls as much as his did, it's for a good reason.

22. Detroit Lions-
Partially thanks to an awesome 2011 Draft class, the lions are beginning to build a real contender. Yes, that's right, the Lions. They finally figured out that taking a WR in the first round every year isn't a successful strategy. That being said, their hopes hinge on the health of QB, Mark Stafford. Best case scenario: wild card playoff appearance. Worst case: injured Stafford and another sub-par season.

23. Miami Dolphins-
The Dolphins need a QB bad. They could be very competitive if they had the right guy under center. Unfortunately they don't. Their offensive hopes hinge on their solid running game and o-line. 2011 will be an uphill battle in an AFC East that's heavy at the top.

24. Denver Broncos-
A tale of two QBs and a new coach, will still likely yield a last place finish in the AFC West.  Anything is possible of course, but the hole-filled Broncos also have an uphill climb in 2011.

25. Arizona Cardinals-
The Cards have all the pieces in place to be great again... except they too have no QB. It's a real issue in the league now. If they can manage to lure Kevin Kolb to Arizona, I'd certainly move them up on this list and say they were the favorites in the NFC West. But for now, they remain at a competitive 25th.

26. Washington Redskins-
The 'Skins have a LOT of work to do to be competitive again. They need a QB who is not about to retire or just awful as well as many other positions. Washington fans, start planning and getting ready for 2012, because this season won't be one to remember.

27. San Francisco 49ers-
While I do believe that Coach Harbaugh will prove to be the long term answer for San Fran, this is not the year to be a first year coach. He has the weakness of the division working in his favor though. He's got to find a QB and change the culture. This year is about building.

28. Cincinnati Bengals-
I crowned the Bengals as having the best draft class of of 2011. However, this is a team that is shrouded in uncertainty. Carson Palmer's future is a huge question and whether or not Andy Dalton will be able to fill his shoes. Regardless, Cinci has some great pieces to build around, including Andy. They also have to play the Ravens and Steelers twice...

29. Buffalo Bills-
The Bills will be playing with some new uniforms and some very talented rookies on defense. Unfortunately, it likely won't be enough to make any noise in the AFC East yet. The Bills haven't had a great QB since Jim Kelly, and that has been a big reason for their struggles.

30. Minnesota Vikings-
We all know the Vikings have talent (Adrian Peterson, minus the fumbles). But unless you are the 2000 Ravens, you cannot win without a QB. Sorry Vikes fans, but Christian Ponder is NOT the answer. If he exceeds expectations I will be stunned. The Vikes didn't win it all with Brett Favre and now they are back to square one. The Lions look to be better. Good luck.

31. Cleveland Browns-
Poor Cleveland. They doing well at meeting needs in the draft, but there are simply so many. If Colt McCoy turns out to be the QB of the future, things could look up. But for now, there are so many factors not in their favor. Maybe next year.

32. Carolina Panthers-
Anybody who thinks Cam Newton will be the answer at QB is kidding themselves. Even if he is, there is quite literally no help around him. Too many holes, too many needs, equals too many loses. Sorry Carolina.

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