Aug 17, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
The season that "IS" begins with the New York Giants facing off against the Dallas Cowboys. A Wednesday game, of all things, to accommodate a convention... Seems fair though, since a hurricane named Isaac changed another convention's purported date with destiny. In what may be a harbinger of what will come in the 2012 NFL season, a theme may have been set just as the lockout set a tone for the 2011 season. The theme? Replacement... Things are o' changing in the NFL that "IS", from what it was only a few short pre-CBA years ago. Rookie players will dominate the NFL story lines this season, with an unprecedented five - FIVE - rookie quarterbacks taking the field as starters for their teams. We'll have short guys and tall, draft day gambles all.
Then we'll have the replacement referees, which won't add drama as much as groans and comic fodder for late night TV hosts. There will be Gifs o' plenty of steely eyed coaches glaring at intimidated refs until they pick of their penalty flags. I wonder if they'll have to genuflect to the coach, or simply follow the company line that "It fell out of my pocket..."
Replacing veteran players on rosters with rookies seems to be the rule of the day for NFL 2012, which has to be a direct reflection on the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2011. With rookie salaries cut by as much as 70% in some cases for top draftees, this may very well be the first year every NFL team makes a profit? Just kidding! They ALL make a profit, creative bookkeeping aside, but now they'll make even more money. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it? It's nice when something happens in a billionaire's life that can add a smile as a "bwah-ha-ha" slips past his lips...
The NFL of 2012, while featuring rookies as a keynote, is marching onward with only a few changes in the upper stratum of elite teams. The Power Ranking to follow will list those teams looking at the mountainous climb ahead of them to the top, as well as teams who seem to rule the ratified air of perennial Super Bowl contenders. Let's have a look in my "Worst to First" 2012 NFL Power ranking. The positions given will be driven by the Draft, Free Agent acquisitions, team depth, preseason play, and injuries to date, not to mention my new solar powered crystal ball I bought from 3k at his garage sale...
32 - Miami Dolphins - "It's as if Jeff Ireland is _______ "(insert your own answer here). For the life of me, I can't see why he makes the moves he does? This team has no wide receivers to speak of, has a suspect offensive line, a defense that showed sparks but no flame in 2011, and a rookie quarterback. This may be the most bizarre rookie quarterback situation of the five starting this season for NFL teams. Virtually all the way through training camp he was listed at #3 on the depth chart. Free agent David Garrard looked like he had the starting position sewn up, even saying the job was between he and the uber mediocre Matt Moore. Then an injury to Garrard caused a Darwinian promotion for Tannehill, who leaped past Moore somehow to be named the starter on opening day? Tannehill hasn't shown anything to warrant his brisk move up the food chain. Make no mistake, young Ryan will be exactly that this season - FOOD. Opposing defenses will eat him alive. The only bright spot I see is for Fantasy Football owners of Reggie Bush, who'll be handed the ball so many times he may very well have a chance for running back fame. Now if he only had someone who could block for him? The Dolphins scratch out a single win this season, and Jeff seeks safe harbor on the "Emerald Isle" as he slinks out of town...
31 - Kansas City Chiefs - This team has talent. In a way, they remind me of the Philadelphia Eagles last season, talent everywhere, but not a team. While it's true the Chiefs suffered from devastating injuries to key personnel last season, the moves made in the off season did little to re-define or add any depth. This team played so badly in the preseason it made me wonder if they were sandbagging? They weren't, and K.C. remains a team an injury away from straight out oblivion for 2012. Jamaal Charles looks slower, and free agent Peyton Hillis looks even more so. Dwayne Bowe came back to camp after a short hold out, but Matt Cassell looks just a hair's breadth from the gun shy label being firmly affixed for all time. A once feared defensive line looks lost, and their secondary looks more like a herd of cats when the ball is snapped. If there is one team I'd wish this not to be the case, it would be the Chiefs. If they have any hope of a winning season, it will come mid-season as it almost always does. Flash out a couple wins, then sink from injuries that seem the 2012 destiny for the pride of Arrowhead. Three wins are what I see, and this will be more from the weak in-division foes than outside.
30 - Jacksonville Jaguars - This team has crushed Blaine Gabbert, a once promising rookie quarterback. They were completely inept in the off season, adding no player of any real worth. Maurice Jones Drew knows I'm right, and it's why he decided to play the "I'm all you got" card in his protracted holdout. This team lacks any real position depth, and will more than likely challenge for #32 on this list by mid-season. They only get a bump to #30 here because Drew returned to the team, and he'll will pound the ball every game for 1400-ish rushing total yards by season's end. There are no bright spots, just passport photos on the horizon for this team who'll be playing a few games abroad over the next few years. Two wins and a handle bar mustache are all I see for a team with some of the best fans around.
29 - Cleveland Browns - Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will start his first regular season game at age 28, which in and of itself isn't that worthy of remark. What does perk my Power Ranking antenna is what's around Mr. Weedon. A potential star running back who showed up to camp nursing a bad knee that went south soon after? Check! Wide Receivers who can't really catch? Check! Anyone not named Joe Thomas who can block? Check! No Defense? Did I just hear an echo? It got a bit worse for the Browns when it was announce Joe Haden, the team's best defensive player, had been suspended by the league for substance abuse (read: Adderall). While the Browns showed some flashes during the preseason, there is little thunder to follow. Tough time ahead for a team in the division I consider the toughest in the NFL. Two wins, and one of those will come on a last minute save by someone who wasn't even on the field at the start of the season. It's as if I were a wizard?
28 - Minnesota Vikings - This team could very well be moving down this list very soon. They are a Harvin headache away from having zero offensive weapons. Adrian Peterson will be eased onto the field, and one can only hope the player and his coaches aren't rushing him back to soon? Rookie tackle Matt Kalil has his work cut out for him, so don't be surprised to see him stumble a bit on the way to a bright career. But you see, it the stumble that's goin' to kill ya' in the NFL, and quarterback Christian Ponder will be running for his life most of the season in the defense heavy NFC North. Team depth is VERY thin, and their off season moves inspire little or no confidence. Three wins, all at home, are what the crystal ball says, so if it's wrong, contact 3k. He gave me a guarantee when I bought it...
27 - Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III is a great athlete. His biggest problems come from two directions. First, he needs an offensive coordinator who can build an offense for him, and not one who is trying to prove the plays called last season merely lacked the right guy to run them. Vindication just isn't going to come your way Mike S., so move on before you destroy yet another season. Second, and this bodes badly for RGIII, is in the first five games his team faces opponents who are familiar with a guy named Cam Newton. They play against him twice a year, so the idea of a scramblin' passer isn't something that's new to them. In fact, they'll be so ready to see Griffin that other teams will be studying these games all year. Cam kind of screwed you RGIII, but take heart. Your team's defense is actually pretty good, though it lacks the depth you'd like to see in the physical NFC East. The running back situation in DC has this team ranked this low. Mike Shanahan is dismal when it comes to evaluating of running backs who aren't named Terrell Davis. Four wins is the best the Redskins can do this season, with an outside chance at a fifth win if they can continue to vex the New York Giants.
26 - Arizona Cardinals - This quarterback thing has to stop. No really! How absurd is it for a team with marked skill players like Larry Fitzgerald to have to suffer through this teams' inability to find a competent quarterback? Hell, bring in a consultant, and let him find a guy. Take an Ad out in "Professional Scouts Weekly". At this point you may as well ask a guy name Bayless, because it can't get any worse than it is right now. Ken Whisenhunt has turned into a little girl who can't decide which $5 dress to wear. Let me help you out Ken, low quality is low quality, so pick one and move on. Kolb or Skelton (who has won the starting job - for now) aren't the answer. When you change the starter to Kolb week #2, back to Skelton week #3, and so on, you're proving to the world Kurt Warner showing up for a couple of seasons was the merest fluke, and not genius on your part. The Cardinals have serious issues at offensive tackle, both right and left. Bodes well for the ol' quarterback controversy, doesn't it? As mind numbing as the problems are on offense for the desert birds, the defense is something on the verge of being special. Calais Campbell is a pure stud, they have a secondary coming along nicely, and only lack a great outside linebacker to make this a scary unit indeed. Five wins is what I see for Arizona in NFL 2012.
25 - Indianapolis Colts - I've been impressed by Andrew Luck so far, but I'm more impressed with the Colts' front office. They've made moves in the off season to bolster their defensive secondary and wide receiver corp. They've built out from young Mr. Luck like he's a proven commodity, and I can't say I'm surprised. Their offensive line will have to give a 2011 Denver Broncos effort to keep Luck on his feet though. Letting Jeff Saturday leave in free agency may haunt this team. Running back Donald Brown could be a sleeper find for Fantasy Football owners too. Look for the talented UCON grad to get the ball early, and catch little flair passes all season long. Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, who coached up a guy nick named "Big Ben", may be the best player/coach move of the off season. Not long ago, I had this team near the bottom of my ranking. Only team depth will keep this team from the post season as the shocker from the AFC South. Six wins, and at least four coin flip losses will tell the tale of this team in 2012. The future is looking bright in Indy.
24 - St. Louis Rams - Make no mistake, this is a six win team, and not much else - for now. What I see are some great off season moves, and a few that having me scratching my head. The trade of Greg Salas is one I think head coach Jeff Fisher will want to do over and have general manager Les Snead groaning. Purging players from past regimes may sound good, but cutting a receiver who started to shine before he broke a leg seems iffy at best. OK, I get it. You're on a rookie binge. But what started out as a re-model has turned into burning down the house and starting over. Yes, the foundation is still there in the form of Chris Long, Steven Jackson and James Laurinaitis. You have a potential star in defensive end Robert Quinn too. You've added Michael Brockers, who when he returns from injury will form a great defensive tackle duo with Kendall Langford. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins look great in the secondary too. You even went so far as giving the finger to the injury Gods by trading corner backs the team would have killed for last season when 10 went down to injury. Gone from the 2011 offensive line are all who could contribute to quarterback Sam Bradford's PTSD except Rodger Saffold and Harvey Dahl. So where does this put a team who would appear to be rebuilding, and not just dotting a few misplaced "i-s" from last season? It leaves me with the notion this team will be slow out the gate in 2012. If they can hit mid-season with two wins, they will count themselves lucky. What it will come down to is how soon this mixed bag of players can gel as a team. I can see a few upsets, and a few blow outs by weaker teams. This team will grow or devolve week to week. In the end, the Rams wind up on the same street as Indy, one that's wind open down the way in 2013.