The NFL Draft takes place on April 26th, so I decided to take a look at each team as they stand after the bulk of free agency ended. How would they stack up in a Pre-Season Power Ranking?
I've been a bit surprised by the teams that didn't make many moves in free agency. The Green Bay Packers, outside of the Jeff Saturday signing, really haven't done a thing to fix a woeful running attack. While they've benefited by player loyalty to the team itself, the Packers upper management looks like the draft will be their only avenue for improvement in 2012.
The same can be said for the Miami Dolphins, only to a greater degree. They not only didn't add talent to a already thin roster, they lost key players at a rate that suggests the team has little or no direction at all.
The St. Louis Rams have had a big off season. Their additions in coaching and front office staff are what give this team high marks though, not their free agent acquisitions. I like the Cortland Finnegan and Scott Wells signing; solid position fixes to be sure. How will the Rams rank in such an early Power Ranking? Let's find out, in my "Worst to First" pre-season ranking...
32. Jacksonville Jaguars - The best players they have aren't in a position to carry this team to anything but the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. In my opinion, they have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. Blaine Gabbert never had a chance after being drafted by the Jags, and he'll spent this season being pounded into the ground in the AFC South before slinking slowly into a bust status that never should have happened.
31. Miami Dolphins - I want to play Poker with the Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross. It seems like anyone that goes "all-in" on him wins ever time? He can't close a deal to save his life. His almost blind faith in team General Manager Jeff Ireland is just this side of unhealthy. Matt Moore and Reggie Bush will not repeat their 2011 performances, and their defense has lost key depth. At this rate, it is very possible they displace the Jags as the worst in the NFL by season's end, and a 0 -16 record isn't out of the realm of possibility in 2012.
30. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck will find life hard in the AFC South during his rookie season. He does have quite a few Manning Era pieces still on the team that could see him to as many as four wins in 2012; mostly because the Colts play Jacksonville twice. I'm not sure if there is another team in the NFL that needs their top four or five draft picks to hit, and hit big. Landing Coby Fleener somehow in the draft could go a long way toward Luck's development. The Colts failure this season will be the fault of owner Jim Irsay for going too far in his key player purge, and lack of aggressiveness in the free agent market.
29. Cleveland Browns - Team General Manager Mike Holmgren has spent the off season with his feet stuck in the proverbial mud. While the team has two first round picks in the coming draft (#4 & #22), I can't see how any players they take will give them the needed lift to improve over their 2011 performance. Colt McCoy has lost the confidence of both the fans and team's front office. Add in Holmgren's failed attempt to trade up to get Robert Griffin III in the draft, and you have a McCoy that seems destined to fail. The Browns need offensive weapons that can spark this team, so taking a running back like Trent Richardson will just add more blah to a duller than dull outlook for 2012.
28. The Washington Redskins - If Robert Griffin III has the kind of year Cam Newton had last season, this could be a fun team to watch. He won't though, and it will be more the fault of head coach Mike Shanahan than it will the the former Baylor University star. The Redskins have added some serious offensive weapons through free agency, and hats off to a front office for their mastery of their Salary cap after having a nice chunk of it whisked away by Rodger Goodell. None of these nice moves will make their life in the NFC East any easier, and they have serious depth problems at several positions. Wave goodbye to Shanahan by season's end.
27. Minnesota Vikings - If they don't take USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil in the 2012 draft, I actually feel sorry for Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. Their offensive line is a shadow of what it was only last year, and they weren't all that great. Minnesota's defense has quite a few question marks, so a high scoring offense would have been a nice thing to be able to count on. Since that isn't a possibility, look for the Vikings to lead the league in points scored by their opponents in 2012. Last place in the NFC North is going to be their's for quite some time to come.
26. St. Louis Rams - This team has made all the right moves in the off season. They've been extremely cautious with every free agent asked to visit Rams Park. The addition of a top wide receiver would have earned them straight "A-s" so far. This team will live and die by who they take in the 2012 NFL Draft. Holding the line at fewer than 10 loses will be considered a big win for Jeff Fisher's team. Look for the Rams defense to edge its way into the NFL's top ten in 2012. The offense is another story all together. Going into his NFL junior year, quarterback Sam Bradford needs to shake off the 2011 disaster season that saw him hobbled for the greater part of the year. Bust birds will be heard in the rafters of the Edward Jones Dome if he doesn't at least return to his 2010 rookie season form.
25. Carolina Panthers - If Cam Newton can just repeat his 2011 rookie performance, this team could make a serious move in the NFC South. He won't, not because of anything he does himself, but more because of what NFL coaches have done during the off season. They'll find "the book" on Cam, so it will be up to the Panthers' coaches to find a way to repair the Carolina defense, and make having to score 30+ points a game unnecessary to win. Don't be surprised if Carolina uses 80% of their 2012 draft picks on defensive players.
24. Arizona Cardinals - Don't tell anyone, but I kind of like these desert buzzards. On defense, they have some serious pieces in place to make any NFL team miserable on game day. The same can't be said for their offense. LARRY FITZGERALD... That's it! This is a team that needs to decide on a quarterback and go into the season in "sink or swim" mode with either Kolb or Skelton. Neither of these guys has had a chance to become a true NFL starting quarterback. Pulling one, and substituting the other, will lock this team's offense in mediocrity.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is my "Boom or Bust" team for 2012. They are either going to wallow miserably at the bottom of the NFL, or soar into the post season playoffs. There isn't going to be any in-between for the Bucs. Adding Elite players in free agency like San Diego's Vince Jackson and New Orleans All- Pro guard Carl Nicks tells me the Glazer clan are serious about turning around their team right now. This will be a pivotal season for quarterback Josh Freeman. He and the St. Louis Rams' quarterback Sam Bradford are in the exact same boat: It's time to sink or swim.
22. Oakland Raiders - This same time last year, I was touting the talent of the Raiders and how they'd finally found the head coach that could lead them to the playoffs. Since then, Hue Jackson is history - along with most of the Raiders draft picks for 2012. Carson Palmer arrived mid-season in 2011, and the once proud Raiders franchise is being led by Al Davis' son who appears to be lacking his father's NFL genes. I can't figure Mark Davis out just yet, but I don't think I'm out of line when I say he's trying to live under a very large shadow? Free agency hit this team hard, so I have my doubts as to whether their defense has the depth they'll need. Their offense is now without the services of Mike Bush, so a healthy Darren McFadden is crucial just to staying out of the AFC West cellar. 5-11 is the best they do in 2012.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - This team is the Waldorf salad of the NFL: Nuts, fruit, veggies and mayonnaise all mixed up in a bowl called Arrowhead. None of the parts of the 2012 Chiefs seem to really go together at this point? Yet, I don't doubt they will go on a four or five game win run at some point during the 2012 season. Jamaal Charles has to make it through at least half this season, right? Matt Cassell will at some point prove he's a Tom Brady clone, won't he? Lots and lots of pieces, and no way to know if they will or won't be a part of this team's season. I look for the Chiefs to land in the six to seven win range.
20. New York Jets - If there is a better kid in the NFL than Tim Tebow, I can't think of who it could be? Yet, the arrival of his Tebow-ness in Gotham will just be another excuse for Rex Ryan's team to fail in 2012. Mark Sanchez oozes prima donna quirkiness. The first calls of - "TEBOW! TEBOW! - from the stands will give TV audiences a chance to watch Sanchez dissolve into a puddle right on the field. The Jets defense will be the only thing holding this team together this season. Not only do I see the Jets maxing out at 7 wins, but I look for Rex to make a mid season exit too.
19. San Diego Chargers - This is now a mid-line talented team. They lost key parts of their offensive line to retirement and free agency. The loss of Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay will be tough to solve, but New Orleans perennial #3 receiver Robert Meachem is a decent gamble. The Chargers running game will be a bit thin in depth, and quarterback Phillip Rivers will spend the season running for his life. I can easily see him throw more interceptions than touchdown passes this season. The thing that puts them in the possible eight wins category is the weakness of the AFC West.
18. Seattle Seahawks - Signing Matt Flynn in the off season is still a "Kolb" until proven otherwise. Head coach Pete Carroll showed some smarts by not guaranteeing Flynn the starting quarterback gig. The Seahawks took a small hit on defense in free agency, but could easily fill positions lost in the draft. They added needed depth in free agency in a few positions too. I give them "B" for their off season moves. I can see Seattle hitting the seven to eight win zone easily.
17. Tennessee Titans - The Titan's fate will turn on running back Chris Johnson. Quarterback questions aren't as severe for them as they are for other teams, but they do need to be answered soon. Do they move forward with Jake Locker at the helm? I think they have to take the training wheels of the former University of Washington star at some point early in the 2012 season. All eye will be on the return from injury of wide receiver Kenny Britt. The AFC South could be up for grabs this year. Could the Titans win their division with nine wins? This year, I think they can...
16. Denver Bronco - Manning, Manning, Manning... Blah, Blah! There is absolutely no way to know how Peyton Manning will do in 2012. Last season, the entire team road an emotional high behind the heroics of Tim Tebow. How that will transition to the General Patton-esk barking of Manning is anyone's guess. The Broncos defense lost a couple of pieces to free agency, and future Hall of Fame corner back Champ Bailey will be 34 in June. This team is missing just enough pieces to make winning AFC West a coin flip. I think I saw Pat Robertson in line at the Sports Book betting on the Broncos to lose?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Middle of the pack you say? Yes I do! There are big questions swirling around this team in 2012. While I still think they have a great receiver corps even if Mike Wallace doesn't return or holds out, there are serious concerns along the Steelers offensive line. The team is getting older in the trenches - on defense too. The draft won't answer all their needs, and they haven't made any great moves in free agency. I said before that when the Steelers go into re-build mode it happens without notice. This season could be the beginning of a couple of dark years for the Steeler faithful. Right now, Pittsburgh looks like the third best team in their division.
14. New Orleans Saints - This has more to do with 'Bounty Gate" than it should. No telling what will happen when player punishments come down from NFL headquarters for their part in the "Pay for Pain" debacle. Even if they spread out any suspensions handed out, this team will have holes in their defense that at this point can't be controlled. Vilma is no doubt gone for a good chuck of 2012, if not the entire season. But imagine if say five defensive players are given varying length suspensions? If these players are starters, then almost half their defense is gone going into the season. Add in injuries, and the fact that they still only get a 53 man roster... You can see where I'm going with this, right? They won't be the team we saw last year, and game officials will be throwing flags on their defense just for sneezing. Tough year coming for the "Who 'Dat" nation. Did you notice I didn't mention they haven't signed Drew Brees yet?
13. Buffalo Bills - Their defense could be something special in 2012. They threw buckets of cash at Mario Williams and he snagged it all out of the air. People won't be talking about Detroit's vaunted defensive four this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick will need to show his 2011 season wasn't just an aberration. They have a huge hole to fill on their offensive line with the loss of Demetrius Bell in free agency. Could the Bills make a serious run at the New England Patriots this year? I definitely see them as a wild card playoff team this season. This is a 11 win team this year if they stay healthy.
12. Dallas Cowboys - I write this while I all but know Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is going to do something wild on or before NFL Draft Day. This is a team that is convinced quarterback Tony Romo can take them to the Super Bowl. So if they believe that, they'll believe Vontaze Burfict really is worth their first round pick, right? OK, you found me out! I'm not a Romo fan. I think this team has all it needs to get to the big dance, but I just don't see Romo as the guy to get them there. I'd love to see Jones make a move up in the draft if Tannehill drops into the "Pick #10" range. The NFC East is only getting tougher. The Redskins could make a move up to third in the division if RGIII has a stellar rookie season. That puts "Big D" in last place in the NFC East. How much Romo love will be there if it happens?
11. Cincinnati Bengals - Here is my dark horse to win their division outright. They have a young, talented team. A class on what not to have mailed to you wouldn't be out of place though... Quarterback Andy Dalton showed poise well beyond his draft status, and wide receiver A.J. Green is already being talked about as a top NFL receiver with only one season under his belt. Their defense is loaded with talent, and they have two first round picks in the draft this year. This season is looking so bright, they gotta wear shades! Where they could put the icing on the cake is with another talented receiver. If re-signed, Jerome Simpson is going to have a shortened season due to legal problems. Get a guy who can take some of the defensive heat that's coming Green's way this season: Kendall Wright? Look for the "Tigrr-s by the lake" to win at least 11 games this season.
10. Detroit Lions - There is an entire city in Michigan praying that last season wasn't a fluke. It wasn't. This team has all they need to make a playoff run, though depth at running back has to be at the top of their NFL Draft shopping list. They have to find a way to beat Green Bay, and I know of few better ways than slowing the game down by running the ball. They could use some help at safety too. Teams scored on - what should have been a shutdown defense - almost at will. When the Packers back up quarterback, Matt Flynn, shredded them in a six touchdown performance, I know I wasn't the only one saying: "What the *%$#?" The Lions see their way into the 11 to 12 win column this season.
9. Atlanta Falcons - Ok, so you have this Ferrari that loses a race to a Volkswagon... That isn't the start of a joke, it's what happened to a talent filled Falcon's team last season. Crushed - for what seems like the thousandth time - in the first round of the 2011 NFL playoffs, this is a team that needs to finds answer. They have no first round pick in the draft this year due to the trade up last year to secure Julio Jones, so they need to find late round answers or look from within. They did a fair job re-signing some key defensive free agents, but the Falcons stopped there. They need a top offensive tackle, and they need it now. I see 11 wins in their 2012 future, and their division is up for grabs.
8. Chicago Bears - I'm biting on the fact that this team is fewer pieces away from being an elite NFL team in 2012 than many others believe. I don't like the thought of Matt Forte holding out due to a brewing contract dispute, but the signing of Mike Bush could ease that damage. The Brandon Marshal signing is a coin flip at best, but I like the way they went after a solution. The Bears have some offensive line concerns, but since Mike Martz isn't the offensive coordinator any longer, those needs may lower. Quarterback Jay Cutler may actually have his line blocking for him this season? The Bears defense is it's lynch pin. I see a real battle brewing in the NFC North.
7. Houston Texans - Not many teams could wave bye-bye to a player the caliber of Mario Williams and not bat an eye. This is a team marked by it's positional depth. In 2011, it was also among the most savaged by injury teams in the NFL. Injuries will be their Achilles heal this season too. They could dominate an up for grabs AFC South this year, or crawl to the finish. This team is as good as any in the NFL when healthy. Their head coach, Gary Kubiak, will be on the hot seat from the first snap of the ball on NFL opening day. I see 12 wins for the Texans this season if they stay healthy.
6. Philadelphia Eagles - On paper, the Eagle should be in the top two or three on this list. They aren't, due to the fact you can't be sure if they've shed their 2011 "Dream Team" chip on their shoulders. Andy Reid has done a great job this off season in free agency and re-signing players. The Eagles have one first round, and two second round picks to help fill in a few gaps on defense. I'm more concerned about Michael Vick? He was beaten to a pulp last season. The loss of Jason Peters for the 2012 season to injury had to have caused Vick to groan, but Reid snatched the Bills' Demetrius Bell out of free agency to fill the gap. They acquired linebacker DeMeco Ryans from Houston for what amounts to chump change, filling a critical need on their defense. If anything, the Eagles are more "Dreamy" than they were last season? Of late, I've come to like the "Trying to herd cats in a straight line" analogy. It really applied to the Eagles last year. This year, every player on this team has to come through and play to their potential. It's now or never for the big green birds...
5. Baltimore Ravens - Outside of their defense, the Ravens have some questions. Joe Flacco says he's the best quarterback in the NFL... Er, uh...OK? The only thing I like about the Baltimore offense is Ray Rice -that's it! There offensive line is aging but serviceable. Their wide receivers are good, sorta? They have an excellent coaching staff and front office. So why will they win in 2012? Well, defense o' course! What else? They need to find the heir to Ray Lewis' throne in the near future, and quite a few other team members are getting a bit long in the "NFL tooth". This is a team nearing the end of era, but they still play football at an incredible level. I see 12 wins coming their way, but injuries could easily knock them down to 10. They can feel the Bengals knocking on their chamber door...
4. New York Giants - Call it Super Bowl hangover. I don't see them back in the big dance this year. I do see them in it right up to the NFC Championship. The big question will be how Eli Manning starts the season, as well as how his receiver corps performs without Mario Manningham. While considered a number three receiver at best during his time with the Giants, he did offer an able fill in when Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz took a breather. The Giants are in need of a quality Tight End and Running back. Free agency wasn't a Giants strong point this year, so they need some hits in the draft. 12 to 13 wins are where I see them for 2012.
3. Green Bay Packers - Last season showed us not only an excellent team, but also where they were extremely thin on the roster too. Their defense has some pressing needs. The Packers sign former Colts center Jeff Saturday to replace Scott Wells who departed in free agency. All in all, unless they land a Draft Day coup, this will be the same team we saw in 2011. It will score, then score again. Aaron Rodgers played out of his mind football last season. His receiver corps is unparalleled in the NFL for quality and depth.
2. New England Patriots - Great teams always find a way to get even better. Bill Belichick's team gets an "A" from me for their off season moves. They moved to mimic Green Bay's wide receiver depth, while plugging gaping holes in their defensive secondary and line. I think they have their eyes squarely fixed on Alabama safety Mark Barron in the coming draft. The Patriots have two first round, and two second round draft choices on April 26th, so look for their defense to use the lion's share of those picks. I see 12 to 14 wins in the Patriots 2012 future.
#1 San Francisco 49ers - While tears rolled down my face as I type this team's name, I looked to the heavens and cried "WHY ME! WHY THEM?" I went to make sure my front door was locked, as I thought about changing my name. Yes, I'm not what you'd call a fan of this NFL team from out Bay Area way. A Ram fan for more than four decades, I just can't believe what I'm writing?
Yet, when I affix my analytic cap squarely on my pointy head, I can't get by how thoroughly solid this team currently is in the grand NFL scheme of things. Their one huge need, they addressed with abandon in free agency: Wide Receiver. They did an excellent job of resigning key free agents too. Their defense will be better than it was in 2011 in my opinion, and their offense will have viable weapons that even Alex Smith can hit with a pass. Strong special teams... Find a flaw in this team as we head into the draft... I see 14 wins as the floor for this team in 2012 and a trip to the Super Bowl. Now you'll have to excuse me. I hear something ticking under my chair...