Final NFL Power Rankings: Eli Manning Proves He Is Elite

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Final NFL Power Rankings: Eli Manning Proves He Is Elite
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Well, after coming oh-so-close to not even having a 2011 NFL season, a new champion has been crowned—if the Giants can be considered a ‘new’ champion anyway.

The defending champion Packers were knocked out in their first-playoff game, as were the defending AFC Champion Steelers. In fact, of my preseason top 12, only one made it to Super Bowl XLVI—the New England Patriots.

Now let’s take a quick look ahead to next season. The NFL has announced there will be Thursday games every week from Week two through Week 15. Personally, I could not think of a worse idea. But it’s all about the money, so it doesn’t surprise me either.

The 2012 NFL schedule has been announced (everything except for actual dates, that is), and boy are there some juicy matchups to look forward to.

The Saints will host the 49ers in a rematch of arguably the best-playoff game from this season. The Packers host the Saints in a rematch in Week 1 in the opening night game. They also travel to New York to try and avenge their playoff loss to the Giants.

Tim Tebow (we assume) and the Broncos will host the Steelers. Although, to be fair, all 16 of Denver’s games will likely be considered must-see games—thanks to Tebow. The Giants will travel to San Francisco in a rematch of the NFC Championship game and to Baltimore for a rematch of the AFC Championship game.

These are just a handful of the great matchups 2012 is sure to bring.

So now that we have just a small taste of what to look forward to next season, here are the final rankings for the 2011-2012 NFL season (teams’ preseason ranking in ( )):

 

1. New York Giants (13): The Giants sat at 7-7 and had appeared to be out of luck, but they won their final two regular-season games and four-straight in the playoffs to become the first 9-7 team to ever win the Super Bowl.

During the season, their defense ranked 27th overall, but they got it going when it mattered—especially their defensive line. Eli Manning not only proved he is elite, but he might have even backed up his words from the preseason when he said he believed he was in the same class as Tom Brady.

Overall grade: A+

2.  New England Patriots (3): There simply was no dominant team in the AFC this year, which opened the door for the Pats. Their offense was once again unstoppable, especially with the emergence of their tight ends—specifically Rob Gronkowski. Their defense, however, was ranked 31st overall during the regular season—an area you can be sure they will try to improve in the offseason.

Overall grade: A

3. Green Bay Packers (1): Green Bay remained relatively healthy in 2011, which just proves how tough it is to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Green Bay ranked dead last in defense, just one season after finishing first. They must focus on getting another pass rusher alongside Clay Matthews. However, improving the offensive line wouldn’t hurt either.

Overall grade: B+

4. San Francisco 49ers (23): Perhaps no other team was a bigger surprise than the 49ers. Arguably two special teams-plays away from a Super Bowl appearance, they proved that even in a weak division—they are a legitimate team. Their main focus should be on offense, probably at wide receiver.

 

However, can you imagine how dangerous they might be with a legit quarterback?

Overall grade: A

5. Baltimore Ravens (7): The Ravens will spend the offseason wondering what might have been. A dropped game-winning touchdown and a missed game-tying field goal moments later crushed Raven nation. One has to wonder how much football some of their Hall of Fame defensive players have left. Assuming it’s at least one more year, the Ravens need to find another weapon on offense. Torrey Smith was a pleasant surprise, but Lee Evans did not pan out.

Overall grade: B+

6. New Orleans Saints (5): Drew Brees and the Saints broke all kinds of records this season, but it all went for naught as New Orleans couldn’t even make it to the NFC Championship game. The biggest question going into the offseason is whether or not the Saints and Brees will be able to agree on a contract.

My guess is they will, and the Saints will be a legitimate contender next season. When they won the title back in 2009, they had an above average defense. That is what they must improve on going into the 2012 season.

Overall grade: B+

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (4): Yep, they got Tebow-ed. I’m still shocked at how their playoff game ended. Regardless, the Steelers should still be a contender next season. They will come back healthy and hungry. I think one of their biggest needs is a running back. I’m not sold on Rashard Mendenhall, and if they had a great running game—they would be tough to beat.

 

Overall grade: B

8. Houston Texans (15): Despite all the injuries, the Texans had a season to be proud of. They lost their best defensive player—Mario Williams, their best playmaker—Andre Johnson (missed nine-full games) and their top-two quarterbacks—Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.

They still managed to have the 13th-best offense, and the second-best defense. Not having Peyton Manning playing against them helped as well. Nonetheless, I believe the Texans will be even better next year. They are my AFC pick to reach the Super Bowl.

Overall grade: A

9. Denver Broncos (30): No team made a bigger jump in the rankings from start to finish than the Broncos. Despite finishing the season ranked in the top 10, I don’t believe they are one of the best 10 teams in football.

But, what Tim Tebow and company were able to do this season was remarkable—and they deserve their due. This team has to improve on offense because as bad as Tebow was in the first 45 minutes of most games, he didn’t have much help either. It will be very interesting to see if they give Tebow a shot as the starter next year.

Overall grade: A

10. Detroit Lions (16): The Lions' overall season has to be considered a success, considering their recent history.  I believe they still remain one or two players away from being a title contender, but they are right there on the edge. They need a playmaker in the secondary and a consistent running game (is a healthy Jahvid Best really the answer?).  Matthew Stafford proved that when he stays healthy, he is an elite quarterback in this league.

 

Overall grade: B+

11. Atlanta Falcons (8): Can we now stop looking at Matt Ryan as a great quarterback?

He is a very good, above average quarterback. But he is 0-3 in his career in the postseason. He failed to put any points on the board in this year’s Wild Card round.

Many people questioned Atlanta’s move to trade up and grab Julio Jones. I liked the move, and I think (when he’s healthy) it paid off. But unless Ryan can actually win a big game, it means nothing. With that said, Atlanta needs to focus on its pass defense as they ranked 20th in the league in 2011.

Overall grade: B-

12. Cincinnati Bengals (29): Many predicted the Bengals would be the worst team in football this year, and considering they were starting a rookie QB—who could blame them?

Some will argue that Andy Dalton should have won the Rookie of the Year award, and maybe that’s true. Or, maybe he should have shared it with teammate A.J. Green. Regardless, the Bengals were one of the biggest surprises of the season. They must try to build on that next season.

In my eyes, the Bengals don’t have any major holes to fill. They are solid almost everywhere, but perhaps—improving the running game would help out Dalton even more.

Overall grade: A

13. Philadelphia Eagles (2): The Eagles got off to a terrible start and just couldn’t overcome it. They showed signs during the season of the team they are capable of being, and I expect them to be a force next year.

 

Andy Reid was given another shot, deservedly so in my opinion.  I believe this team will rise to the occasion. The health of Michael Vick is crucial as always, but I just have this gut feeling he will somehow find a way to play in all 16 games.

The Eagles were fourth in total offense and eighth in total defense. However, they let numerous fourth-quarter leads get away, and if they can fix that—they could be dangerous.

Due to the sky-high expectations placed on this team, their terrible start and failing to make the playoffs—I have no choice but to give them an overall grade F.

And I think almost all Eagles fans would agree.

14. Dallas Cowboys (17): I’m still baffled by how Dallas managed to miss the playoffs. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter towards Tony Romo for not sucking it up and playing against the Eagles, (even though it was a meaningless game) because he cost me a fantasy football title. But I digress.

Dallas is still a very talented team, and I believe will be a playoff contender next season. They need a more consistent running game (a healthy DeMarco Murray may be the answer), and they need a return game because they ranked 29th in the NFL in return yards.

Overall grade: C

15. Tennessee Titans (24): The Titans had a surprisingly successful year. I thought they might be a sleeper to make a playoff appearance, but when Kenny Britt went down for the season—I thought they had no chance.

 

But Matt Hasselbeck played well, despite a poor running attack, and nearly got them a wild card. The struggles Chris Johnson had this year are well documented. He had a few impressive games, but as a whole—he was a major bust that had Tennessee ranked 31st in rushing offense.

The Titans need to get their running game right, and then improve their defense against the run—an area in which they ranked 24th in the league.

Overall grade: B

16. New York Jets (6): Rex Ryan should probably quit making guarantees. Thankfully he hasn’t made any yet regarding the 2012 season, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

The Jets still have an above average defense, but they have got to address their quarterback play. Mark Sanchez isn’t the answer, and I still can’t figure out why anyone ever thought he was.

Might this be where a certain Peyton Manning ends up?

Overall grade: C-

17. San Diego Chargers (11): A year ago the Chargers failed to make the playoffs, despite having the No. 1 overall offense and defense in terms of yards per game. This year, they finished sixth and 16th respectively in those categories—but it didn’t make a difference.

Philip Rivers had arguably the worst season of his career. Somehow, Norv Turner still has his job as head coach and nobody can seem to figure out why. It’s time to get a new face in San Diego. They are still a very talented team, but Turner has failed miserably to get that talent to turn into playoff wins.

 

Overall grade: C-

18. Seattle Seahawks (21): The Seahawks finished 7-9 for the second-consecutive season, but this year (thankfully) it did not result in them hosting a playoff game. The Seahawks have some good, young talent and are a team on the rise, but will find winning the division tough as long as the 49ers remain healthy.

The Seahawks have a top-10 defense, so their main focus should be on offense. I thought Tarvaris Jackson actually played decent for most of the season, but a quarterback change could still be coming. Perhaps, Matt Flynn could end up here.

Overall grade: C

19. Oakland Raiders (25): The Raiders have come oh-so-close to making the playoffs, but could not take care of business in the final week. Therefore, the Carson Palmer trade has to be considered a huge mistake. Perhaps, the biggest question is what new Head Coach Dennis Allen will do at quarterback.

Does he stick with Palmer or go back to last year’s original starter, Jason Campbell?

The health of Darren McFadden is a key issue as well.

Overall grade: C+

20. Arizona Cardinals (20): The Cardinals are the only team to finish the season ranked exactly where they started. Arizona was ranked as low as 30th at one point and as high as 18th. Their 1-6 start doomed their season, but they bounced back nicely to finish at a respectable 8-8.

 

Most Cardinals' fans seem set that John Skelton should be the starter over Kevin Kolb, but I don’t agree. I think overall Kolb is the better option. With that said, if Arizona has any shot at Manning, they need to pull the trigger. Overall grade: C

21. Chicago Bears (12): Losing Jay Cutler and Matt Forte was just too much for this team to overcome. However, their defense wasn’t as stout as it has been in the past, as it finished 17th overall.

The Bears must improve their defense if they want to be able to contend with the Packers and Lions. Giving Cutler some additional help on offense would be nice too. They just don’t have a true-legitimate threat in the passing game.

Overall grade: D

22. Carolina Panthers (32): The Carolina Panthers finished 6-10, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Their first-four losses were all by seven points or less, including games against the Packers and Saints.

Aaron Rodgers said it best when he said: "I think someone said in the locker room that I'm kind of glad we played [Cam Newton] early in the season," Rodgers said, "because when he figures it out fully, he's going to be even tougher to stop."

Cam Newton dazzled all season long, and broke numerous rookie records. He must cut down on his turnovers, and Carolina must improve the defense. If those things happen, look for Carolina to be a threat to make it to the postseason.

Overall grade: B

 

23. Miami Dolphins (27): It was a tale of two seasons for Miami. They began the season 0-7, but finished by winning six of their final nine. And overall, they had five losses by three points or less.

The simple fact that Miami had a legitimate chance to win nine or 10 games—have my mind spinning. Yes, Reggie Bush had a career year, but I just don’t see that much talent in Miami. Their defense ranked in the top half of the league, but on offense they only passed for 193 yards per game and with a weapon like Brandon Marshall—that has to improve.

Overall grade: C-

24. Kansas City Chiefs (9): The Chiefs fell further from the beginning of the season to the end than almost any other team. Major injuries are mostly to blame for that though. They lost one of the best defensive players, Eric Berry, as well as electric running back Jamaal Charles.

A young up-and-coming tight end Tony Moeaki also missed the entire season, and quarterback Matt Cassel missed seven-full games. Because of the injuries on offense, Kansas City finished 27th in total offense. If they can regain their health, I like their chances in the upcoming season.

Overall grade: C-

25. Buffalo Bills (31): The Bills took the league by storm the first few weeks, starting out 4-1 and scoring 33 points per game. However, they went 2-9 over their final 11, and the slide began right around the time they gave Ryan Fitzpatrick a massive contract. However, their offense should be good enough to compete. Their defense is the area that needs work the most. They ranked 30th in points allowed and 28th in rush defense.

 

Overall grade: D

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (22): Blaine Gabbert struggled mightily in his first season, but he doesn’t have anyone to throw to either. The Jags defense was very good all season, but on offense they ranked dead last in total yards per game, passing yards per game, and 28th in points per game.

I wouldn’t necessarily give up on Gabbert yet, but they must address the offense in the draft. Justin Blackmon would be a nice addition—but it won’t be enough.

Overall grade: D

27. Washington Redskins (28): In the end, the Redskins' season went opposite of what Rex Grossman thought. But pretty much exactly like everyone else thought, bad.

The Redskins were a fairly mediocre team all season, but struggled to run the ball consistently. They ranked 25th overall in rushing with just barely over 100 yards per game and 26th overall in points per game. The defense isn’t much better, so they need to focus on both sides of the ball. However, quarterback has to be a top priority.

Overall grade: D

28. Minnesota Vikings (19): The Vikings went from a near-Super Bowl berth two years ago to one of the worst teams in the league. They still have loads of talent, but just couldn’t put anything together.

Percy Harvin is lightning in a bottle, but they don’t have any true legitimate weapons for Christian Ponder to throw to. The nasty knee injury suffered by Adrian Peterson could leave major question marks in the running game heading into next year as well.

 

Overall grade: D+

29. Cleveland Browns (26): The Browns appear as if they will remain in the cellar of the AFC North for years to come. They struggled mightily on offense in 2011, and some of that can be contributed to the fact that all three-divisional opponents were in the top seven in total defense. The Browns finished 29th in yards per game and 30th in points.

Their pass defense was ranked seventh overall, but mostly because teams decided throwing against them was pointless since they had the 30th ranked rush defense. They need to improve their rush defense, but the offense needs a total makeover.

Overall grade: D-30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14): The Buccaneers were coming off of a 10-win season, in which they just missed the playoffs. Expectations were especially high, which may have caused some pressure for the players. Tampa started off promising with a 4-2 record, but went on to lose 10-straight games to end the season—ultimately costing Raheem Morris his job.

The Bucs defense is their biggest problem (though ranked 21st overall, their offense isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard), as they allowed 31 or more points in half of their games, and ranked 30th in overall defense. With Carolina up and coming, it looks like the Bucs could be in for some rough times ahead.

Overall grade: F

31. Indianapolis Colts (10): The Colts fell further in the rankings than any team, which you might expect once Manning wasn’t going to play at all. Nonetheless, Indy has talented players on offense, yet still finished 30th overall in that category. The importance of a solid-backup quarterback has never been more obvious.

 

Despite having the first overall pick, the Colts finish 31st in the rankings because they showed signs of life at the end of the season. Regardless, quarterback is the biggest concern for this team, as it appears they will go after Andrew Luck and likely part ways with Manning. The only reason they don’t receive a failing grade is because Manning missed the entire season.

Overall grade: D-

32. St. Louis Rams (18): The Rams finished dead last in the rankings to finish the 2009 season, and they repeat history at the end of 2011. After surprising people last year and nearly making the playoffs, the Rams were expected to take that next step.

Well they took that step and fell flat on their faces. At 22nd overall, the Rams defense was hardly impressive—but offense is their biggest flaw. They finished 31st in overall offense and dead last in points per game. They have absolutely no weapons for Sam Bradford (when healthy) to throw to.

Steven Jackson should be given some sort of medal for what he has to go through year in and year out. If he had played his career with even a decent team, we might be looking at a Hall of Famer.

Overall grade: F

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