ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
With NFL training camps opening soon, it's time to take another swing through the 2012 NFL Power Rankings. In the first edition of my 2012 ranking, Jacksonville held the #32 slot, while the San Francisco 49ers held the #1 position. The first list was based on pre-draft suppositions of team strength. Now let's see how team fare with their newest editions in house.
You would think all eyes would be turned to Indianapolis and #1 draft pick Andrew Luck, right? Nope! The Washington Redskins will garner far more attention with #2 draft pick Robert Griffin III. RGII is being treated like a hot stock tip, and Redskins fan are buying in, but so are NFL media smart-nicks. Do I think RGIII will have a Cam Newton type rookie year? No, but the reason why has more to do with how NFL teams have studied and adjusted for Cam, than any lack of talent in the Redskins' rookie quarterback. Three out of the first five game the Redskins will play this year are teams who had to face Cam Newton twice each last season. Other teams on their schedule will study those games closely too. I see the young Baylor star quarterback having a good year, just not as good as some others think.
The only team I see having a real problem with a hold out player is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Wallace is a talented wide receiver who wants way too much money from a team not famous for giving in to player demands. Add to this the Steelers having a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, and the lack of time spent in camp by Wallace will bite hard into Ben Roethlisberger targets when the season begins. The Steelers do have depth in their wide receiver corp, and Antonio Brown may find himself in the #1 wide receiver roll before all is said and done.
Cleveland is going to be interesting to watch. Can rookie running back Trent Richardson live up to the hype, even though he's entering the NFL on the tail of an injury he suffered late in his last college season? Is Josh Gordon going to be a last minute steal that'll save Mike Holmgren's job?
So much to think about when you try to decide where teams are in the overall scheme of things this season. Let's have a look at my Power Ranking - Worst to First...
32. Miami Dolphins - When the Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, everyone - and I do mean EVERYONE - expected the rookie to be under center on opening day. Nope! Somehow the 34 year old David Garrard and also ran Matt Moore have the starting job sewn up, with Tannehill left to clip board duty. So the one position where the Dolphins really needed improvement is ...well...NOT. The offensive line is a patchwork crew, and the wide receiver corp looks mediocre. So let's see: NOT - Mediocre - Clip board - REGGIE BUSH. This is going to be a long, long season for Miami fans. A 1 -15 record is definitely a possibility. They'll beat the Jets once, then slide the barn door closed.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mono-dimensional teams don't fare well in the NFL. Maurice Jones Drew is this team's single quantum string. Tough as nails, I can see MJD hit his usual 1400+ rushing yards this season. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is in a terrible position, with little hope of not repeating last season's beating. If there is a bright spot on this team, it's at the tight end position. Greg Olsen, Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller are a talented group. Look for Gabbert to live in the 5 to 12 passing zone for the majority of the year, and go TE or MJD in the red zone. First round draft pick Justin Blackmon could be facing a suspension for his DUI arrest. Some of the best NFL fans around will be looking at a 2 -14 season as a very real possibility.
30. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck has his college tight end Coby Fleener to lean on this season. The bad thing is NFL defenses will be leaning on Fleener too. Reggie Wayne decided to stay in Indianapolis instead of fleeing in free agency. The line on both side of the ball are ragged and living on past glories. This is a team in complete re-build mode. Running back Donald Brown could be a player to watch with a rookie QB at the helm. He looks to be a very busy player this year. They wangle 2 wins for a 2-14 season, and start planning for next year's NFL draft by the end of September.
29. Minnesota Vikings - USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil was their top pick in the 2012 draft, so they have one of the five piece Christian Ponder will need so he can sleep at night. The Vikings off season acquisitions still cause me to shake my head though. Spending all that money on TE John Carlson, then basically taking a pass on other team needs is bewildering at best. The defense is little changed from last season, which has to have Vikings fans nervous. Rookie free safety Harrison Smith was a great pick in the 2012 draft, but they need answers at corner back, linebacker, and their defensive line is aging. Jared Allen can't hold back opposing offenses by himself. The Vikes get 3 wins this season, and none of them in the NFC North.
28. Cleveland Browns - Trent Richardson is going to be the most keyed on rookie running back in history. The jury is waiting for proof he can stand up to the pounding in the NFL, when he had a few dings in college. Brandon Weedon will be the oldest rookie QB to start an NFL game in quite some time, and his receiver corp is beyond suspect. Greg Little has the bust bees swarming already in Cleveland, and every pass he drops this season will add to the sting. Spending a second round draft pick in the supplemental draft screams desperation, and the red flags on their choice - Josh Gordon - speak volumes. Mike Holmgren is in his last hurrah if this team can't find a way to compete in the toughest division in the NFL. Look for zero wins in the first half of what has to be the toughest schedule I've ever seen. The second half doesn't get much easier, so a 3 -13 record is the best case scenario I can see.
27. The Washington Redskins - This is the "IF" team of the year. There are "IFs" galore at every position, with a few "What the IFs" on the coaching staff too. Robert Griffin III has a bulls-eye painted on him, but "IF" he can channel Cam Newton... "IFs" at running back, offensive line and wide receiver are more than plentiful, even though the Redskins made tons moves in free agency. Give the 'Skins front office an "A" for effort, but how will a mixed bag of players effect this teams ability to gel? The one shining part, though it lacks any kind of brilliant luster, is their defense. Solid pieces are there, but depth will be a question as the season wears on. I see 4 to 5 wins for DC's favorite sons, and a coaching change by season's end.
26. Carolina Panthers - Carolina spent a great deal of draft resources on strengthening their defense. Luke Kuechly is a solid linebacker prospect. Joe Adams, the speedy Arkansas wide out, could be a poor man's Desean Jackson, but his 11 fumbles give me pause. All in all, the Panthers are the same team they were last season, and Cam Newton has been under every defensive coordinator's microscope this off season. This is a team that will take a few steps back this season if their team depth is called into play. Though they'll still be an exciting team to watch, I don't see more than 5 wins being the best case scenario.
25. St. Louis Rams - Up one notch from my last Power ranking, the bump comes from not Sam Bradford or Steven Jackson. It comes from rumbling I've heard about Isaiah Pead. Hearing him compared to Ray Rice may be a stretch, but it's enough to make the team's stock rise. Rookie receiver Brian Quick is still a small school question mark, so the amount he'll contribute is looming large. The Rams defense will be their bright spot in 2012, and I see them breaking into the NFL's top 10 defensive ranks. The team does have a couple contract situations to think about though. They need to re-sign Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, or any forward momentum this team builds this year will be blunted by having to use the trove of draft picks the team holds on their replacements. Sam Bradford, do you have it in you to step up? I see 6 wins as the best case for a Rams team in the middle of a remodel.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is still my "Boom or Bust" team for 2012. The acquisition of Vincent Jackson gives this team two great wide receivers (Mike Williams being the other). I think where this team comes off the rails is Greg Schiano's run first mentality in the pass happy NFC South. The Bucs defense was horrible, so field position is still a problem for an offense led by the enigmatic Josh Freeman. I'm a fan of Freeman's, but something went terribly wrong last season for the once highly touted quarterback. The offensive line for the Bucs should be top notch with the addition of Carl Nicks. The problem I see barreling down the tracks is how fractured this team seems to be. Pieces-parts are all well and good, but add in a complete shift in team philosophy from an unproven NFL coach, and I get a vision of a team that will compete more with itself than its opponents. I see 6 wins to be the best possible outcome for this team unless something sparks them to gel - fast. If they do? Hmmm?
23. Oakland Raiders - There once was a team who relied on a running back who gets injured every year. The team's owner, pre-occupied by constant bad hair days, didn't notice because he was too busy thinking about moving his team to another city too care. Meanwhile, the quarterback they traded their future for, is quietly trying to figure out why the team lost the only other running back they had in free agency to the Chicago Bears. Underneath all of this is the sub-plot of a new head coach who was the defensive coordinator of a hated division foe only last season. The wide receiver corp is filled with jesters, juggling passes and pulling hamstrings, and their defense was battered by off season losses in free agency. They all got together 16 times during the 2012 NFL season - some only three or four times - and lost games. The End
There is trouble in Raiders town folks, and this season could be down right ugly. Last season, I rated the Raiders as one of the most talent laden teams in the NFL. They have devolved into a team who will be lucky to gather in 5 wins this season.
22. Arizona Cardinals - There isn't anyone in the world who can figure out how good, or bad, the Cardinals will be this season. Their defense should be at least as good as the squad who ended the 2011 season on a strong note. The offense though, is another question all together. Yes, Larry Fitzgerald will continue to be the second best receiver in the league because of guess what? Yup! The quarterback situation in Arizona is the worst in the NFL. I used to make fun of the lack of decision making by Ken Whisenhunt, but now I'm more concerned by the lack of separation between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. If Whisenhunt can't decide which of these two quarterbacks is better, why didn't they acquire a possible replacement during the off season? This team is mired in the mud by their quarterback situation, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. The Red Birds will play opponents tough, and may add a surprise win or two against highly favored foes. But when the desert dust clears, 6 wins is all they'll muster in 2012.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - If Jamaal Charles is truly healthy, this Chiefs team could be tough. They may have a tough time though due to an offensive line I'm not sold on just yet, so it could keep quarterback Matt Cassell fleeing for his life this season. It would be great to see Charles have a 1200+ yard season, but it won't be enough to win even the anemic AFC West. What gets them this high in the ranking is their 2012 schedule, which is one of the weakest in the NFL. They could feasibly back their way into the post season if they can sweep San Diego. I see an 8 win season, but at least half of those wins will come from NFC West opponents. Add in likely wins against Cleveland, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis and you get a team who must have had a party when the schedule was announced. Talent wise, the Chiefs should be in the bottom eight of this list.
20. Seattle Seahawks - When the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn in free agency, interest in the team's chances for 2012 rose. Then Pete Carroll threw the football world a curve ball by drafting Bruce Irvin in the first round of the NFL draft. Thousands of 'Hawks fans all went "Huh"? Then spin control took hold, and tape on the West Virginia defensive end showed a talented speed rusher who could blast quarterbacks from outside on passing downs. The choice still has me wondering why they'd pass on pure outside linebacker prospects for a player many feel will have a hard time finding a fit at the NFL level. Marshawn Lynch felt left out of the DUI derby, so he's done his best to catch up. Question marks remain at wide receiver, and I'm pretty sure the fan honeymoon with Golden Tate has run its course. I feel Doug Baldwin is a potential star, but who will be on the field with him? Problems galore loom for the Seahawks if they don't sort out the quarterback position before the start of camp. This team needs to know who will be at the helm, ASAP. I think this is the second best team in the NFC West, and they'll continue to shock teams who underestimate them. They will be an odds on favorite to hit 8-8 this season, but 7-9 is more realistic to me.
19. New York Jets - This team is becoming a dysfunctional mess. When they traded for his Tebow-ness, it wasn't done with football in mind. The media capitol of the world, New York City love for Lin-sane players knows no bounds. Tebow is there to be a brand, nothing more. The draft came out well for the Jets, and I think Stephen Hill may be this year's A.J. Green-Lite - as far as statistics any way. The one thing quarterback Mark Sanchez loves to do - with varying degrees of success - is to chuck the ball down the field. Hill has the speed to make those throws actually seem planned. If Quinton Coples shines, the Jets defense could be interesting to watch. Look for the Jets coach, Rex Ryan, to be on the hot seat by mid season if the team struggles out the gate. A record of 6-10 is where I see the Jets this season, and only the Miami Dolphins keep them out of the AFC East's cellar.
18. Tennessee Titans - The Titans are in an interesting position. While the return of Kenny Britt from a ACL/MCL injury last season is still uncertain, they have rookie Kendall Wright to help fill the void. Nate Washington had a career year in 2011 as the "fill in" #1 WR. Where concerns start is at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck is good, but that won't be enough to step up in the AFC South. Is Jake Locker the answer? If he was, wouldn't he be the starter headed into camp? Once again, the lack of separation between the two has to have Titans fans wondering. Chris Johnson is still the key to this team's success. Their offensive line is sound, though not spectacular. The Titans' defense has been strong in recent years, but free agency hit their depth chart. In 2011, the Titans picked outside linebacker Akeem Ayers out of UCLA, and in the 2012 NFL Draft took a flyer on Zach Brown out of UNC. Between these to high motor OLBs, the edge rush may finally have the tools they've sorely lacked in recent years. The Titans schedule screams 8-8 to some, but if Johnson lights it up a 10-6 record could be a realistic goal. Is 10-6 good enough to win the AFC South? I think it is...
17. San Diego Chargers - I stand by my statement in the last Power Ranking post that this is a team with mid-level talent. It may actually help them though. High expectations are a thing of the recent past, so maybe this team can settle in and just play the game? Hard to sell mediocrity as a strong point isn't it? Yeah, I don't buy it either. Philip Rivers will be in a fight for his life - or at least body - this season. Second tier receivers are all he has to throw to, but I think Vincent Brown is the best of the lot and will shock a few teams this seasons. The defense scored in the draft with Kendall Reyes and Melvin Ingram. Lucky for them they are in the AFC West, so a fight to the post season isn't out of the question. San Diego fans may think I'm hating on their team. I'm not. I'm just tired of seeing all the talent on past Chargers teams adding up to nothing. The first half of the season, the 'Bolts have a chance to be 6-2, and the second half could improve their record to 11-5 by season's end. They have a tough 1-2-3 of AFC North teams that will be extremely tough. All that being said, look for the Chargers to win out of the gate, instead of at the end of the season like the past few years.
16. Denver Bronco - The AFC West is weak at best. Denver has the tools to take command of this division early, and only San Diego looks like a challenger. Yet, I can't help but feel this team is teetering in the edge of whatever pins are holding Peyton Manning neck together. Elvis Dummervil is looking at a suspension for his latest antics with the law. The player I plan to watch on this team is Ronnie Hillman. Yes, he's a rookie, but I personally think this third round pick was the only bright spot in their 2012 draft. Taking quarterback Brock Osweiler in the second round was a pure panic pick, and a waste to boot. Derek Wolfe was a decent pick, but he isn't a plug and play type of player, and he'll need time to develop. I see two different records as possible due to my "Manning Doubt". With him, Denver goes 10-6, without him, they go 6-10.
15. Buffalo Bills - Here is a team who flat out stunned both opponents and fans last year at the beginning of the season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went from a cut, back up for the St. Louis Rams to a star when he landed in Buffalo. Head coach Chan Gailey's team played the best football I've seen by the Bills in at least a decade. Then injures took their toll, and the fairy tale sort of floated away. This season will have the Bills competing with the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown they've held captive for too bloody long. The Bills could be the best defensive team in their division this season with the addition of Mario Williams. They have the tools, and even a bit of depth on offense to help the Bills excel beyond the first 5 or 6 games. Stop shaking your head at me! This could be a very good team. They could also crumble too. I'm still a bit edgy about their offensive line. They added two great line prospects - Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders - but the idea of two rookies starting the season as bookend tackles is troubling. They have one of the best offensive guard tandems in the NFL, so this line may rival the Patriots crew in the next couple years. The players who need to not only play great, but stay healthy too, are running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver Stevie Johnson. I'm not buying the idea of a two-back offense working well in Buffalo. I see this team as a solid 11 win team this season, and that's the floor. They are a lock for the post season as a wild card at the very least.
14. Cincinnati Bengals - In my last Power Rankings, I had the Bengals as my favorite to outright win the tough AFC North. I haven't changed my mind. This is a solid team folks. Their offensive line may be the best in their division, and by season's end could be mentioned as a Top 5 line. The Cincinnati defense is solid; featuring a great corp of linebackers and a defensive line that's improving to the point that I doubt Ray Rice will have an easy time.. My big concern is who will take the heat off A.J. Green? For the second year in a row, the Bengals may have the answer in a rookie named Marvin Jones. The Cal product has his detractors, but I see a skill set that can compliment Green on the field. Another area of worry will be running back. I scratched my head a bit when they spent a few buck on BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Outside of being known for NOT fumbling, I don't see a real play maker in the "Law Firm". Just my opinion, but they needed Cedric Benson to hang around at least another year. Quarterback Andy Dalton heads into his sophomore year with heavy expectations, and I don't see why he can't surpass them. The steal of the draft in 2011, Dalton needs to improve his throwing velocity, or teams will be picking off his passes in droves this year. In the toughest division in football, look for the Bengals to hit 11 wins and if some of those wins are against the right team, the AFC North title is their's in 2012.
13. Houston Texans - In a classic one step forward, two steps back, the Texans improved on offense, while bumbling backward on defense. I'm not too worried, since the position depth in Houston may be their biggest asset. The most troubling player is Andre Johnson. He hasn't had a complete season since 2009. Injuries have kept one of the best wide receivers in the business from having any kind of meaningful effect. He must stay healthy, or I see a repeat of 2011 on the Texans' horizon. Quarterback Matt Schaub is coming back from a troubling foot injury, and running back Arian Foster has had a few nagging injuries too. These three guys hold the key to the Texans being anything more than a good team.
The defense took a huge hit from free agency, but if rookie defensive lineman Jared Crick can contribute this year, player depth on the roster should see them through. Look for the Texans to come out swinging in 2012, and win their first four games before heading into Green Bay in week 5. I see 11-5 as their floor this year, but lots of things will have to happen for them to add a win to that total in 2012.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers - In the first Power Ranking I did in April, this team was back a few spots to the middle of the pack. The Steelers draft moved them up a few notches though. They absolutely killed in the draft. They desperately need offensive line help, and the Draft Gods found a way to make Stanford guard David DeCastro and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams fall to the terrible towels. Their line went from shaky to strong in this draft. DeCastro will start day one, and Adams will at the very least be great off the bench his rookie season. The Steelers' defensive line is solid, and the addition of Alameda Ta'amu from the University of Washington should be welcome insurance for aging nose tackle Casey Hampton. Now, if they could only find a way to make star wide receiver Mike Wallace happy? As strong as the Steelers front office has been through the years, I hope they don't fall victim to arrogance when it comes to Wallace. True, Pittsburgh has depth at the wide receiver position - on paper any way. Emmanuel Sanders is not Mike Wallace, and I'm sure they know this better than anyone. But they are going to say "no" to the wrong guy here, and they need to lock Wallace up as soon as they can. The Steelers will win some, and they will lose some too. I see 10 - 6 as the best they can muster, and they'll miss the playoffs due to a Black Bird and a Big Orange Cat.
11. Detroit Lions - "Wanted - 7'5" - 450 lbs man with a black belt in Karate. Needs to have the patience of an oyster to deal with instantly wealth adolescences. A degree in Psychology a must , since your job will be to explain to professional athletes why being total screw ups is a bad thing. Pay will be based on how many players AREN'T on suspension by season's end." Appy in person - FAST - at Detroit Lions headquarters"
I wish I was joking, but the Detroit Lions need a babysitter for their players. This is the only team in my Power Ranking to slide backward, even though their talent level went UP this year. They are finding ways to lose games off the field, and that's never a good sign. This season, they have depth at more positions, and the sad thing is this new found asset will be used to cover league suspensions and not for injured players. I'm not going to mention a single player in this little ranking snippet. The elephant in the room for the Detroit Lions is their inability to act like professional athletes who care about what they do for a living. The sky is the limit for this team if they ever grow up. In my opinion,11 -5 is their record this season. Let's move on...
10. Dallas Cowboys - This team improved this off season in key areas. A draft day move to take Morris Claiborne - the talented corner back out of LSU - filled a dire need in their defensive secondary. Rob Ryan should have the tools to form a defense that'll wipe away last year's bumbles. Dez Bryant appeared to be maturing, but his recent arrest may limit his contribution to the team in the near future. Tony Romo will be expected to deliver on his mostly made up promise of only a couple years ago. Mile Austin hopefully found a trainer in the off season to keep him on the field this season. The big questions on offense will be the #3 wide receiver position, and the offensive line. After having a look at Demarco Murray's college injury list, I think the Cowboys need keep Felix Jones happy. The bottom line for the 2012 Cowboys is they need to come out of the gate strong when the season begins. They need to be 4-1 when their bye week hits in week 5, then grab at least two upsets down the stretch. Sweeping Washington would help their quest for the post season too. With their schedule, I can see the Cowboys' season come down to the final week against Washington. If they sweep the 'Skins - 10-6. If they bumble and stumble out the gate, 6-10 is a very real possibility and a place in the cellar of the NFC East.
9. New Orleans Saints - After signing Drew Brees, I could have swore I heard a "Who dat" sigh of relief? But "Bounty Gate" still haunts this team, with legal action pending for later this month. The player I can see having a truly great year is Lance Moore, the Saints slot receiver. Without Meachem - who left in free agency - the #3 receiver question is hanging in the air. Lost in the record passing flurry of last season was Moore's 52 catches for 527 yards and 8 touchdowns. He quietly scored 28 touchdowns in the last four years. The Saints defense should be less of a wild, free for all this season under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Biggest question looming is how the Saints will wire in Sean Peyton to the sidelines to call plays? Kidding! Though it raises a valid question about who will be the offensive mind behind the Saints this year. This team shouldn't be this tough to call, but the AFC South is theirs if they can hold distractions to a minimum. A 10 wins season seems the floor, and 13 wins the ceiling, but only "Who Dat" knows...
8. Atlanta Falcons - How does this team lose a game? Well, the defensive line will allow a few rushing yards, that much seems clear. They won't get to the opposing quarterback much either. Yup! The only way they lose a game will be their defense, right? Nope! This team is two quality offensive linemen away from being among the best teams in the NFL. No, really! They have a Top 5 receiver corp, a Top 5 running back tandem and a quarterback who could be elite if he stopped throwing blind bombs. The real hole in the seed bag for this team is offensive play calling. Hey! Mike Smith! Listen up, you don't have the Bill Walsh gene. Last season, you talked secretly on the phone far too often to Josh McDaniels, didn't you? The thing is, you have great players Mike, so let them play the game, and you just sit back a watch this season - OK? This is a team that can literally win 14 games this season, but they won't because of "Mr. Over Think". An 11-5 record is where they'll be, and a quick exit from the playoffs is what I see.
7. Chicago Bears - This team will be more a slow, plodding monster than an offensive juggernaut. Doesn't really matter though. They are going to win against more highly touted rivals in the NFC North every now and then. They'll do it enough to displace the Detroit Lions from second place in their division. Green Bay is another matter. The Chicago defense is the key - once again - to this team's post season aspirations. The draft saw Boise State's Shea McClellin heading to the "Windy City", and he could hold the key to an improved pass rush. Quiet Chicago fans! Say what you want, but you need just a bit more heat coming off the edge, and I'm still pissed you picked up Jabara Williams last year. On defense, Chicago has to be all about the speed rush this year if they're to have a chance against Green Bay. I see 13 - 3 as your record this year IF your linebacker corp stays healthy. Matt Forte will be a monster, but don't think for a minute Brandon Marshall will be much more than a 6 to 8 TD guy this season. Michael Bush was the best off season move for "Da Bears", wait and see...
6. Baltimore Ravens - Joe Flacco is more of an offensive steward than a key component. Ray Rice is THE guy, but Anquan Boldin needs to be more of a factor than he has been in the red zone. Where the Ravens strike a bit of dread in their opponents is - and will forever be - defense. The Ravens defense has been just shy of a work of art for the past decade. The loss of Terrell Suggs this off season puts way too much pressure on rookie Courtney Upshaw. If he plays well, this defense will continue to stifle opponents. They addressed a few weak point in the offensive line in the 2012 NFL Draft. Kelechi Osemele out of Iowa may see action at left guard this season, so look for Flacco to have his head on a swivel if the rookie stumbles. The thing about the Ravens, as a team, is they are deep at almost every position. I do think they need a true #1 wide receiver, but they haven't had one for so long, I'm not sure they'd know how to call his number? Some may wonder why I have the Ravens ranked so much higher than the Bengals, when I openly say they'll win the AFC North. Quite simply, never bet against a winning resume and position depth. If this team had found a way to land Robert Griffin III, I'd have them as my AFC favorite to go to the Super Bowl. They are inches away - as they have been for the last decade - of being a legendary team. Yes, when I say inches, I mean Flacco. Very Freudian of you to think the same thing though, eh? 11 -5 is where I see this team, but 13 - 3 isn't out of the question.
5. New York Giants - Hakeem Nicks represents a depth flaw at wide receiver for the defending NFL champs. Sorry, but there is no way I'd bet on Nicks being ready by the start of the season. Taking LSU's Rueben Randle in the draft was a solid move. I don't see Victor Cruz having another career year without the Nicks offset. This Giants team will win a wild card spot this year, and find a way to make it to the NFC title game. But the fairy tale ends there. I love the Giants defense. They will be in the top 5 of all NFL defenses in 2012. Their secondary has improved over last season, and their defensive line is second to none. On Offense, Eli will need a repeat of his numbers of last season, and I have to worry about the tight end position for this team. Fewer tools will make Eli's life miserable. That being said, this still will be the team to beat going down the stretch. 10 - 6 is where I see them, and a big 'ol bird will be leading their division.
4. Green Bay Packers - The Green Bay Packers are a great team, there's no denying that - no way, no how... Great teams find a way to get better, and the Packers attacked the 2012 NFL Draft with defense on their shopping list. USC's Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy out of Michigan State give the Packers' defense some serious help. If there is a spot I wish they'd address it would be running back. This season, James Starks looks like a proverbial one man show. He ain't exactly moldy cheese, but he isn't the answer either. This team has something no other NFL team has: Karma. They have the best college scouting in the league, and regularly find late round diamonds. Their coaching staff builds player, and the players themselves are loyal to the team as a whole. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game today, and he doesn't even have a bevy of hair stylists. They won't be the awe inspiring offensive team they were last year, but they'll come close. I see 13 - 3 without this team breaking much of a sweat and NFC North champions. But, like the Giants, their is a big bird that's going to rain on their post season parade.
3. San Francisco 49ers - Stop with the bomb threats, OK! Just because I ranked the 49ers #1 in my last Power Rankings, doesn't give NFC West fans the right to steal my Yugo either, so bring it back. It misses me!
The 49ers are a solid, solid team. True, the chances of Alex Smith being able to hit a wide step up. The 49ers are going to be a run first team, and they are so stacked at running back it borders on the absurd. Frank Gore has quite a few running back pretenders nipping at his heals. So ... Run Frank! Run! The 49ers defense will - Gulp! - be better than they were last season... Er, uh... That was a quote from a speech Ryan Van Bibber gave to his secret 49ers fan club, so take it up with him and not me? OK, it wasn't Ryan.. It was 3k! Even though Aldon Smith pulled a "D. Lions" worthy move in the off season, the San Francisco defense is littered with position depth. They will still rule the roost in the NFC West in 2012, and be there for a short outing in the playoffs. Their strength of division gives them a 14 - 2 record by season's end - Joe Mazzi told me I had to say that by the way...
2. Philadelphia Eagles - Here they are, the Big Bird I've eluded to throughout these Power Rankings. This team is so solid on defense right now it should be outlawed. Their secondary, filled with talent that under-performed last year, will rise up and make even Aaron Rodgers gulp when he drops back for a pass. The Eagles linebacker corp received a huge boost when Houston staged a nutty and gave them DeMeco Ryans for chump change, and added Cal's Mychal Kendricks in the draft. Their defensive line was blessed by quite possibly the best "D" draft in Eagles history, when they picked Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox. (insert giddy, fear tinged laughter). This defense is going to shred opponents, make no mistake about it. The Eagles' defensive coordinator finished his therapy sessions, so he knows he isn't an offensive coordinator any more. He will no longer ask defensive linemen to block and give linebackers post routes to run before the snap. Andy Reid has had a full off season to gather this Philly hoard, and make them a team. If Michael Vick comes out throwing, this team could hit 14 - 2 by year's end. NFC East Champs who will ride the great bird to the Super Bowl...and lose. For more on that, see who's next on the list...
1. New England Patriots - The Patriots proved they could win, even though two key areas of their team were suspect all last season. Guess what? Those areas aren't suspect any longer. Bill Belichick hit the NFL Draft like he was on a mission. Somehow, the wily one managed to pick up Dont'a Hightower out of 'Bama and Chandler Jones of Syracuse. He added Alfonso Dennard, despite a pending legal issue, to bolster a sagging secondary. Then he pounded free agency and brought in Brandon Lloyd to give quarterback Tom Brady a lethal weapon at wide receiver. Add in the current bevy of stars like Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker littering the roster, and I start to get a queezy feeling. This great team just became a monster. Buffalo is the only team they have to worry about in their division, and the rest of their schedule looks more than do-able. I see 15 and 1 for the 2012 Super Bowl runner up-s, and a solid chance to win the big game in 2013.
There you have it, my pre- training camp Power Ranking. I'll have another one prior to the start of the regular season. Thoughts?