Former Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Winning Head Coach turned NFL analyst Brian Billick broke out his post-free agency/draft power rankings on Fox Sports. Of all NFL coaches turned NFL analysts, I respect old Bill the most. He was the man behind the plan during the Minnesota Viking's record setting seasons, and managed to win a Super Bowl with arguably the worst quarterback in the league at the time. Let’s go through the league and break down the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The 49ers have won back-to-back division titles and should be in line for their third, but it will be interesting to see if Colin Kaepernick can stay healthy for a full slate of games with his current style of play. He has the arm to win from the pocket and will need to stay there more often.
I have a hard time arguing against Billick here. I'm not putting them this high just because they went to the Super Bowl. The NFL is a fickle beast, and while they are surely to be in contention, I see too much talent growing around the league to have them at #1.
The Broncos were my favorite to win the AFC even before adding Wes Welker. The window is getting smaller for Peyton Manning, but this is easily the most talent-rich team he has entered any season with.
The Denver Broncos are my #1 team in the league as of right now. With the addition of Welker, Payton Manning has one of everything in regards to wide receiver. It will be fun watching Manning pick apart defenses, in what could be another MVP year for the old general.
The rich got richer with the additions of Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield. Russell Wilson set the bar pretty high for himself as a rookie, and he will need to be every bit as good to compete with San Francisco for the division.
On paper, and based off of a strong performance last season, the Seahawks look sharp as a tack going into this year. I dread the Seahawks more this year than the 49ers. They are a tough, physical team who can hang with anyone. a solid #3
Peyton Manning didn't win a playoff game until his fifth season in the NFL, just as Matt Ryan did last year. The monkey is off Ryan and Mike Smith's back, and now they are ready to take this team to the next level.
The Falcons are going to be downright scary this year. Steven Jackson is going to elevate the offense and provide time in the pocket for Matt Ryan. Every team will be preparing big time for the Falcons on their schedule. I would put them at #3.5 if I could.
It was panic mode in Baltimore during the first few days of free agency, but with the signings of Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff followed by yet another stellar draft, the Ravens fans are once again praising Ozzie Newsome.
Perhaps Billick's glory days are making his analysis fuzzy. The Ravens lost a lot this year. While they plugged a gaping hole with Dumervil, they just aren't equipped to compete in their division like they were in 2012. If their rookie class makes an immediate impact, I could be eating my words.
With Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both still nursing injuries and a depleted depth chart at the wide receiver position, this may be the least intimidating offense under Tom Brady in his years as a starter. But I'm guessing he still finds a way to make it work.
The Patriots belong below the Packers at #7. Tom Brady is going to get pressure a lot this year, with teams knowing he doesn't have the weapons, healthy or otherwise, to throw to. Amendola is a great pickup, but teams will play the game against him, hitting him at the line, and every chance they get in the open field. The Patriots are only a year or two away from becoming irrelevant.
The Packers will be a better team this year, and for reason's other than Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Pride is currently stuck in the collective throat of this organization, and if their is one organization you can count on to hauck that loogie out, it's Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is going to have a field day now that a solid running game is in town.
The post-Manning era in the AFC South hasn't been as friendly to the Texans as many had predicted. The Colts are the younger and more explosive team and may have already closed the gap in the division.
The Texans are way too high here. At this point I would push the Bengals ahead of them. Matt Schaub might put on a great aerial demonstration, but he just isn't the playoff quarterback. Tony Romo comes to mind here.
The Bengals won seven of their last eight regular-season games and their defense allowed just 12.8 points per game during that span. The Bengals were able to resign everyone on that defense except Manny Lawson and with the additions of Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard via the draft, the offense has also gotten even better.
The Ginger led Bengals are going to hit people in the mouth on defense. Those 3 and Outs are going to give their offense a ton of time on the field. Time on the field = winning time of possession = winning games. #8
One could argue that the Vikings’ three first-round picks were the best players in the class at their respective positions. Couple that with the addition of Greg Jennings, this team is markedly better in 2013 than the team that reached the playoffs in 2012.
Greg Jennings is what this team needed, besides getting Ponder to wake up, to be legit. The Vikings can only ride the legs of Adrian Peterson for so long. If Ponder can live up to expectations, this team will compete hard.
11. Chicago Bears
It is rare that a new coach inherits a 10-win team and a franchise quarterback, but that is exactly what Marc Trestman got in Chicago. Trestman is the quarterback whisperer and he will do wonders with the talented yet inconsistent Jay Cutler.
Chicago is one of those teams that will cut a winning record, only to flop down the stretch and miss the playoffs. With new coaching I think the learning curve kicks in for the worse and the Bears take a step or two back. The Redskins belong here at #11.
The Colts were the surprise of the 2012 season, but now the expectations are high after making the playoffs in Andrew Luck's rookie season. I'm not sure they got any better this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how they live up to those expectations this year.
The surprise of 2012 will hit a sophomore slump this year. Luck took the bull by the horns and guided the team to victory and the playoffs. A quarterback can only do that for a year or two. I think the wall he didn't hit last year is looming on the horizon.
The Redskins made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but the fandom of RG3 overshadowed some obvious deficiencies that went unaddressed in free agency because of cap issues. This team may get worse before it gets better.
The Redskins have the tools to win this year. No, they didn't make huge splashes in the draft or free agency. Yes they have a quarterback coming back from major knee surgery. RGIII will learn from last year and improve, as will the team. Bump them up our rankings.
14. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have shown they are willing to take risks on players with off-field concerns in the draft, and if those players stay clean they will have a solid foundation for Jeff Fisher to continue to build. For their sake, I hope it works out.
Ranked here for the wrong reasons. This is an analysis that doesn't make sense. Even without the gambles Fisher has taken on character, this team is tough. An ever improving, dominant defense, coupled with an exciting young offense = success. This is the perfect ranking for the Rams however. An improvement over the average of #21 for last year's start.
15. New York Giants
Very different than the Rams, the Giants rarely ever take a risk and target only high-character guys in free agency and the draft. Rather than swinging for the fences and often times striking out, the Giants just go after solid singles and doubles.
The Giants make me scratch my head sometimes. Head Coach Tom Coughlin is a great player's coach though, and can eek out every last drop of talent from his roster. Don't sleep on the Giants.
Sean Payton's return cannot be overstated, but this team’s problems were definitely not on the offensive side of the ball. The 2012 Saints were possibly the worst defense in league history and therefore Rob Ryan is in line for all the credit if this team can turn it around.
The turn around team of the year will be the Saints. Like Billick points out, the return of Sean Payton is going to be fantastic for this club. The man has had an entire season to sit back and do nothing but dissect game film while relaxing on his deck drinking mojito's. The Saints are safe at #16, but will be in the top 10 before mid season.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Much like the Redskins, the Cowboys were handcuffed with cap issues in free agency and then had a highly questionable draft. The Cowboys won't make the playoffs in 2013 . . . they just aren't good enough.
The Dallas Cowboys are an enigma wrapped in a Big Mac. Which Tony Romo will we get this year? Which coach will be blamed for their failures? And how much more hair will Jerry Jones loose? The Cowboys belong much lower in this discussion, somewhere between the Steelers and Buccaneers.
18. Detroit Lions
Last year, Matt Stafford broke the record for pass attempts in a single season with 727. That is what happens when you are consistently playing from behind and have a putrid running game. The Lions will be much better in 2013 and finally have a defensive secondary to keep them from getting into shootouts week in and week out.
The Lions should be bumped up here. They have the talent to be crazy good in 2013. Matthew Stafford will continue to put up sick numbers, and the defensive front will keep teams more one dimensional.
Just like the Ravens, the Steelers have had their roster depleted with cap casualties and free agency departures, but unlike the Ravens, the Steelers have done little to fill the voids and plan for the future. It could be a long year in Pittsburgh.
What is going on in Pittsburgh? Maybe the Pirate's curse came across town and decided to cling onto Big Ben?
Darrelle Revis, even at 50-percent health, is better than most corners in this league and he is an obvious upgrade to an absolutely atrocious secondary from a season ago. But this is a quarterback-driven league and it's time for Josh Freeman to play up to the potential he showed as a second-year player.
21. Miami Dolphins
Even with the timely addition of Tyson Clabo at RT, there is still a huge question mark whether Jonathan Martin can keep Ryan Tannehill's blindside protected. The Dolphins made some high-profile additions in free agency, but they are big risk/big reward-type signings due to limited amount of experience.
Dolphin hate much? This is another under the radar team that will surprise in 2013. They made all the right moves to dominate their division. If Ryan Tannehill can actually play quarterback, look out NFL. Good initial ranking, but will climb quickly.
Eric Fisher wasn’t the sexiest of draft picks, but he will be a long-term fixture at left tackle and will allow Brandon Albert to play his more natural position of left tackle . . . if he isn't traded in the meantime. This team has a talented roster and Andy Reid should help that correlate to wins on Sunday.
This is another team that leaves me almost speechless. If Alex Smith is the answer, maybe they go places.
Keenan Allen falling to the third round may have been the steal of the draft. He can grow into the player that Vincent Jackson was for Philip Rivers. The key for Rivers and the Chargers in general will be their ability to limit turnovers.
The Chargers have been trying to find the winning formula ever since LaDainian Tomlinson lost a step and went to New York. I think they belong a little lower due to their youth movement.
The Eagles finished the season by losing 11 of their last 12 games and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, but that means nothing to new head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly has a great football mind, but it will be his leadership in the locker room that will be most important to this team as they try and bounce back from a couple of disappointing seasons.
This is the point in the rankings where things get murky. The Eagles just outright sucked last year. They have hope on the horizon, but with a rookie Head Coach, they will be lucky to not fall fast.
25. Tennessee Titans
CJ2K's tweet on draft night said it all: "Thank god." With the signing of the best interior OL on the free-agent market followed by one of the highest graded interior offensive linemen in recent draft history, the Titans now have the pieces in place to get back to a dominant running game.
Perhaps he is right and we will again be treated to the Chris Johnson Show.
26. Buffalo Bills
The Bills took a flier on E.J. Manuel, but I have equated his athletic upside to Steve McNair. If they can get that type of play from the first QB selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, then they got him for a steal.
Be honest, who had heard of E.J. Manuel two years ago? Anyway, this is still the same team as last year, and I don't see them being a legitimate contender for a few more years as they build around their 1st rounder.
The Panthers won their final four games of the season and ended the 2012 campaign by putting up 44 points, good for their fifth-best scoring effort in team history. They got two highly regarded defensive tackles in the draft, but failed to add any weapons for Cam Newton to take the next step in his development.
Now that I live in Charlotte, I really hope the Panthers can win some games, or at least the ones I go to. Cam Newton can't do it all for them. Another team that will be at the bottom for a while.
28. Cleveland Browns
It appears as if the near future of the Browns will still be in the hands of Brandon Weeden, but with the signing of Jason Campbell, he will have a short leash. I liked the draft pick of Barkevious Mingo, but I'm not sure Davone Bess or David Nelson is the answer for a subpar receiving corps.
If anyone can get Carson Palmer to return to form it is Bruce Arians, but Bruce Arians won't be playing offensive tackle. The Cardinals’ two starting tackles from last season finished first and second in the league for sacks given up and they did nothing to address the need so far this offseason.
I wouldn't bet on the Cardinals doing anything other than losing this year. You can put a dress on a moose and it's still a moose.
30. New York Jets
Mark Sanchez completed less than 50 percent of his passes in more than half of his starts last season, but he will most likely enter the season as the starter with Geno Smith hot on his heels. I'm not sure this team has the offensive firepower for either one of them to actually "win" a game, both will just need to make it a priority not to "lose" the game.
If Sanchez can become Dilfer 2.0, this team could actually be competitive again. Butt Fumble. God that's good.
The Jaguars have plugged some much-needed holes on offense with Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, but they had their best statistical games with Chad Henne at quarterback and now Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season with a substance-abuse violation. Two steps forwards, one step back for the Jaguars.
No argument here. Bottom of the barrel for sure.
32. Oakland Raiders
You would think Al Davis was still running this team into the ground.