NFL Power Rankings: Giants, Packers and the Top Teams Before the 2012 NFL Draft
After an eventful postseason which saw Eli Manning lead the Giants to their second Super Bowl title in five seasons, the slate is wiped clean on the 2011 season and all eyes are on April 26th. Every team will be looking forward to NFL draft day as a huge opportunity to not only improve as a team, but to sell to its fan base that they are serious about winning.
The Giants and Packers lead the pack in the pre-draft power rankings. After draft day, there may be significant alterations to some of the bottom-ranked teams depending, on potential trades and/or the selection of their next franchise player.
While it is certain that some teams will overachieve and others will be overrated, the teams will be ranked by their performance last season and acquisitions of players thus far.
No. 32: Indianapolis Colts
2011 record: 2-14
One can only speculate what the state of the Colts organization would be if they had managed to win five or six games last season. Perhaps they would not have been so willing to let their aging franchise quarterback go. That would have caused a less difficult decision for GM Jim Irsay to make, but it could have perhaps affected them once Manning elected to retire.
Entering the draft, they are a team coming off their first losing record since 2001. It happened at precisely the right time, however, as the consensus No.1 pick in the draft was dubbed as the best QB prospect since...their own Peyton Manning.
While the addition of Luck will instantly make their roster look more formidable, nobody can predict if he will be able to contribute as quickly as Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton were able to.
The Colts are not only in need of a signal caller—they have holes throughout their roster—but as Peyton Manning showed, one player can instantly change the perception-and-win total for a team.
No. 31: Cleveland Browns
2011 record: 4-12
They did not have the second-worst record in the league, but their offense will be extremely putrid this season. While Peyton Hillis suffered through an injury-plagued and Madden-cursed season, he is certainly an upgrade over their current running back situation.
Colt McCoy must take a leap forward this season if they are to win even a handful of games. His receiving corp is not the most talented either, which was led by Greg Little with 61 receptions.
The defense was actually second in the league in passing yards-per-game (184.9), but unfortunately the rushing defense was 30th. There are some playmakers on defense, led by D'Qwell Jackson, who recorded a team-high 158 tackles.
They will likely take a skill-position player on offense to upgrade, and Trent Richardson could certainly be a fit there.
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
2011 record: 3-13
Last season was nightmarish for Minnesota, but they have playmakers on the field who give them a core to build around for the future.
Christian Ponder took over for Donovan McNabb after their dreadful 1-5 start. Ponder was predictably mediocre, completing 54.3 percent of his passes for 153.5 yards-per-game.
The ground game is no problem, with the combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart combining for 145 yards-per-game.
They must improve their defense—which ranked 26th in opponent passing yards-per-game—before they lose the prime years of their best player, Jared Allen.
No. 29: St. Louis Rams
2011 record: 2-14
It's hard to believe that just a year ago the Rams looked so promising after finishing with a 7-9 record in Sam Bradford's rookie campaign.
Not much went right last season for them, including Bradford being limited to only 10 games due to injury.
Luckily they still have Steven Jackson, who can be counted on for 1100-plus yards. There is not much punch anywhere else, as Brandon Lloyd led the team in receptions with 51.
Head Coach Jeff Fisher will have a difficult task of rebuilding this franchise, but they can start by drafting a legitimate wide receiver for Bradford to throw to, such as Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State.
The defense was 31st in the league in opponent rushing yards-per-game at 152. Linebacker James Laurinaitis had a terrific year, but there is not much else there in terms of playmakers.
No. 28: Jacksonville Jaguars
2011 record: 5-11
While Andy Dalton stepped in immediately and changed the culture of the Bengals, rookie Blaine Gabbert was unable to convince the Jaguars' front office that he can be a franchise QB.
The Jaguars ranked dead-last in the NFL in passing yards-per-game at 136. Gabbert often looked overwhelmed by defenses, and completed only 50-percent of his passes.
Head Coach Mike Mularkey will have a tough call of when to make a switch to veteran Chad Henne if Gabbert's struggles continue.
There are some pieces in place in Jacksonville that can benefit them otherwise.
Maurice Jones-Drew is only improving, and led the NFL in rushing last season with 1606 yards.
The defense was ranked sixth in the league and allowed a respectable 20.6 points per game. The duo of Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny is quite formidable and can become dominant as they progress.
While they are not in a terrible position, they must figure out their quarterback situation before they will be taken seriously as contenders.
No. 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 record: 4-12
The Buccaneers took a huge step back in 2011, which ultimately cost the job of Raheem Morris.
Quarterback Josh Freeman took a substantial step backward by throwing 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions for QB ratig of 74.6. He will certainly benefit from the addition of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who compiled 1,100 receiving yards last season.
LaGarrette Blount also had a disappointing year, following his 1,007 rushing yard season in 2010 with 781 last season.
The front office made a questionable decision by hiring former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano to be the head coach. While Schiano did a commendable job bringing Rutgers to respectability, they were never an elite program and was held in higher regard for his recruiting ability.
Nevertheless, the Buccaneers were 10-6 just two seasons ago, and it is possible their abysmal 2011 was the cause of a locker room mutiny against Morris.
They play in a tough division, and they have little or no shot to overcome the Saints, Falcons or even the upstart Panthers.
No. 26: Miami Dolphins
2011 record: 6-10
The Dolphins basically ended their season before they won a game last year by losing their first seven contests.
First-year head coach Joe Philbin will have a talented roster to work with, which will potentially receive a great upgrade if they are able to draft Texas A & M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.Even if they do draft him, Matt Moore would most likely begin the season under center.
The Dolphins defense is quite dangerous, as they ranked third in the league in opponent rushing yards-per-game. Cameron Wake is a tremendous pass-rusher, and Vontae Davis is one of the better cover corners in the NFL.
Reggie Bush also had a phenomenal season, averaging 5.0 yards per carry—which gives them the luxury of easing their future QB into the role if they do select a rookie in the draft.
Basically, the Dolphins were a very talented team that inexplicably began the season on a wretched losing streak.
No. 25: Oakland Raiders
2011 record: 8-8
The trade for Carson Palmer was supposed to greatly benefit the Raiders and launch them into the playoffs in a season where there was not a single dominant team in the AFC West.
Rather, Palmer went 4-6 in his 10 starts, threw three more interceptions than touchdowns and cost the Raiders draft picks in the future.
The Palmer trade was not successful and it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff will handle the situation if Palmer continues to struggle.
Darren McFadden and Michael Bush are premiere talents and allowed the Raiders to be ranked seventh in the league in rushing.
The defense is rather dreadful and ranked 29th in the league in total yards.
They do not have a first or second-round pick, which will hurt their chances of finding any defensive help.
No. 24: Buffalo Bills
2011 record: 6-10
The Bills got off to a tremendous start in 2011, and were the sleeper pick of many to win the division. Around that time, the front office decided Ryan Fitzpatrick was the QB of the future and locked him up to a six-year, $59 million contract. At the time, it seemed questionable. Well, after they lost seven consecutive games, it looks like a disaster.
Fitzpatrick had a mediocre season; he threw for 24 TD's against 23 interceptions.
Running back Fred Jackson had a terrific season, rushing for 5.5 yards per carry and six TDs.
Controversial wide receiver Steve Johnson broke out with 1,004 receiving yards and seven TDs, but there is not another deep threat aside from him.
The defense was ranked 26th in the league, and that must be addressed during the draft if they are to finally compete with the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
No.23: Seattle Seahaws
2011 record: 7-9
The addition of QB Matt Flynn will certainly be an upgrade for the Seahawks, as they averaged a measly 194.1 passing yards-per-game.
The combination of Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington is a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield, although they were ranked just 21st in rushing last season.
It is a risk signing a backup to a 3-year deal to be a starter, but Flynn certainly seems like he has the talent to be a winning QB, Pete Carroll will need him to step in and be effective if they are to compete with the 49ers in the NFC West.
No. 22: Washington Redskins
2011 record: 5-11
It's hard to take a team seriously that has Rex Grossman as its starting QB. No disrespect to Grossman, who took the Bears to the Super Bowl, but they cannot compete in the pass-heavy NFC East with a QB that throws more interceptions than TDs.
Well, it seems like a certainty at this point that they will use the second overall pick to select Robert Griffin III. The Redskins are hoping the reigning Heisman award winner can step in and succeed the way Cam Newton was able to.
They have some serious talent on both sides of the ball. Roy Helu seemed to develop into one of the better young running backs in the game last season. Tight end Fred Davis accumulated 796 receiving yards.
On defense Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan form a dyamic duo of pass-rushers.
They can potentially be a dangerous team this year if they are able to get solid production out of RGIII.
No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs
2011 record: 7-9
The Chiefs' 2011 season will be remembered for ruining the Packers' attempt at an undefeated record in Week 15, but Romeo Crennel has a pretty solid team at full strength.
Obviously, the team made a mistake by having Tyler Palko start four games. That was an unmitigated disaster.
When they made the move to fire head coach Todd Haley at a 5-8 record, they seemed out of contention. They hung around until the final week and at least began playing harder under Crennel.
They will be a much improved team with a healthy Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles.
They may not win the division, but the Chiefs seem like a .500 team that could make some noise the way they did in 2010.
No. 20: Arizona Cardinals
2011 record: 8-8
The Cardinals got off to a dreadful 1-6 start last season with QB Kevin Kolb under center.
Strangely enough, John Skelton led them to a 7-2 mark and nearly had them sneak into the playoffs.
It remains to be seen who will be the starter this season, but if Skelton's performance was for real, they may have a tough decision about what to do with Kolb's contract.
They do not have enough to edge the 49ers in the division, and they must improve their defense which was ranked 18th, but any offense with Larry Fitzgerald has the opportunity to put up points in bunches.
No. 19: Carolina Panthers
2011 record: 6-10
The Panthers shocked a lot of teams with their offensive prowess last season thanks to the incredible success of Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton, who accounted for a combined 35 touchdowns.
It's hard to imagine he can improve on his numbers anymore, but people have learned to stop doubting Newton—who obviously thrives on the doubters.
Steve Smith is still one of the best receivers in the game, but they may look to upgrade the receivers around him.
The defense must be a priority for head coach Ron Rivera, who saw the unit undermine the team and allow 378 yards-per-game.
They will have to find a way to stop the powerful offenses in the NFC South if they plan on competing in the near future.
No. 18: Tennessee Titans
2011 record: 8-8
The Titans just missed out on sneaking into the playoffs last season, which would have been a huge surprise.
Matt Hasselbeck had a respectable season, completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 3571 yards. This season, reports are that he and Jake Locker will compete for the starting job in training camp.
Running back Chris Johnson got off to a brutal start, but turned it on later in the season to barely eclipse 1,000 yards.
The defense was ranked 18th in total yards, which they may look to upgrade in the draft.
No. 17: San Diego Chargers
2011 record: 8-8
Generally, the Chargers like to start the season slow and then end on a huge win streak as they did in 2009. Last season they decided to have their losing streak in the middle of the year, which ultimately negated their three-game win streak in December.
Philip Rivers put up his usual astronomical numbers. He completed 63-percent of his passes for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns. His defining moment of the season, however, will be his botched snap against Denver—which cost them the game in overtime. It was a crushing blow to their season, considering it was against a division rival.
It will be intriguing to see Rivers match up against Peyton Manning for the division title this year, especially if Manning is at full strength.
The Charger defense must improve, as they gave up 30+ points on seven different occasions last season.
Norv Turner has constantly had the Chargers on the precipice of big things, but this year may be his last opportunity if he fails yet again.
No. 16: Cincinnatti Bengals
2011 record: 9-8
The Bengals shocked most NFL fans by winning the Wild Card with a rookie QB and star wide receiver. The front office knew what they were doing by waiting until the second round to select their franchise QB. Dalton stepped in from day-one and impressed everyone around the league.
Dalton completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns against only 13 interceptions.
Rookie wide receiver A.J. Green had a phenomenal year, catching 65 passes for 1,057 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The defense was dominant and allowed only 316 yards-per-game, which was ranked seventh in the NFL.
This season their schedule will be stiffer including a brutal five-game stretch which will have them face San Diego, Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Ouch.
No. 15: New York Jets
2011 record: 8-8
It is unclear whether the Jets are actually trying to fulfill Rex Ryan's prediction of winning the Super Bowl or if they just want the most attention surrounding their team.
The Jets traded for quarterback Tim Tebow last month which will add another level of intrigue to their season, and more pressure on Rex to finally get to the Super Bowl.
There are holes all over the roster, despite appearing in back-to-back AFC Championship games in January of 2010 and 2011.
The offense is inconsistent, and it will be difficult for them to establish any sort of continuity if Tebow is, in fact, used in wildcat formations.
The defense, despite being ranked fifth in total yards, allowed 23 points per game. Some of that could be attributed to the amount of time they are on the field, but they certainly need to add a dominant pass rusher in the draft.
Will they finish ahead of the New England Patriots in the standings? Unlikely.
Will they have more players featured on TMZ than any team in the league? Undoubtedly.
No. 14: Dallas Cowboys
Not many teams are more of a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" team than the Cowboys.
They began the season 2-3, which caused everyone to assume they would have a terrible season. They righted the ship and won five of the next six , which put them in the thick of contention. Ultimately, they lost four of their last five including two to the rival New York Giants.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should be the one shaking his head as his unit had several late game leads slip away and they were ranked 16th in points-per-game.
Defensive end Demarcus Ware is their stud, as he recorded 19.5 sacks, but he will need some help around him. They may look to draft an outside linebacker in the draft.
This will be a huge season for Romo and company especially since their rivals now have two titles during his tenure.
No. 13: Philadelphia Eagles
2011 record: 8-8
The Philadelphia Eagles won their final four games of the season and appeared like the most dangerous team in football. Unfortunately, they dug themselves in a tremendous hole by starting the season at 1-4.
They were the self-proclaimed "Dream-Team", but their play was more indicative of a nightmare as QB Michael Vick struggled to find his consistency and missed time due to injury.
Inexplicably, they began the season 1-5 at their home park and seemed to lose every game in the fourth quarter.
Eventually, they fired on all cylinders and they were led by running back Lesean Mccoy's 1,309 yards and franchise record 17 rushing touchdowns.
Jason Babin had a dominating season on defense and recorded 18.0 sacks.
The feared trio of cornerbacks combined for only six interceptions, with Asomugha recording half of those.
They will certainly be a much more cohesive unit this season and they may actually perform closer to their final four games as opposed to their first five.
No. 12: Atlanta Falcons
2011 record: 10-7
At this point, it seems like head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan are just not meant to win a playoff game.
They have had some terrific regular seasons, namely a 13-3 record in 2010, but they have not won a postseason game with Matt Ryan under center.
Last season ended with an ugly 24-2 loss at the hands of the New York Giants. It appeared they were simply overwhelmed by the pass-rush of the Giants.
On paper, they are still a terrific team. Ryan threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. Running back Michael Turner rushed for 1,340 yards and wide receiver Roddy White caught 100 passes for 1,296 yards.
The defense was ranked 18th in points-per-game, but as we have seen in recent years, defense does not win championships.
If they are to get over the hump finally, they need to start by winning the first playoff game.
No. 11: Chicago Bears
2011 record: 8-8
What a difference a solid quarterback makes.
On November 20th, the Chicago Bears were sitting pretty in the NFC North at 7-3 and Jay Cutler having a strong season.
When he went down, their season instantly changed and they lost their next five games while Caleb Hanie was calling the signals.
Ultimately, they switched to Josh McCown but it was too late. The Bears had a lifeless offense and Hanie did a dreadful job while he had the opportunity to seize control.
Their usual strength, defense, slipped to 14th in the league in points-per-game, which could have been due to frustration from the inept offense.
This season they will be legitimate threats with the return of Cutler and the addition of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.
No. 10: Detroit Lions
2011 record: 10-7
The Detroit Lions capitalized on the collapse of the Chicago Bears to win a wild-card berth. They were promptly stampeded by the Saints in the first round.
The Lions have a dynamic offense led by Mathew Stafford, who threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in his third season.
Calvin Johnson is simply on another planet and he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Stafford has others weapons to throw to such as Brandon Pettigrew and Nate Burleson.
The defense was a bit overrated and ranked 23rd in the league in yards-per-game. They will need help in the secondary so they can stop the elite aerial attacks of the NFC.
They will be in a dogfight with the Bears to compete for a wild-card spot this season.
No.9: Houston Texans
2011 record: 11-7
The Houston Texans took advantage of the absence of Peyton Manning and won the AFC South for the first time in their existance.
They finished the regular season on a dreadful three game losing streak, but in their defense, they were hit with a horrendous case of the injury bug. They lost QB Matt Shaub, defensive end Mario Williams and Andre Johnson for extended periods of time.
They did lose Williams and Demeco Ryans to free agency, but the mere presence of Johnson and Schaub will instantly make them a contender in the division.
The defense is still very strong, led by Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt, and they gave the Ravens all they could handle in the AFC Divisional Round.
They should be the favorites entering the season in the AFC South.
No. 8: Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 record: 12-5
The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their season in a shocking fashion by losing to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
The Steelers seem to be the same type of team every year, characterized by a strong running game, stifling defense, gutsy quarterback and a genius defensive coordinator.
They had the number one ranked defense as usual, and feature several defensive standouts such as James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel. They will still be dominant, but their defense is getting old, as they have eight starters that are older than 30.
Roethlisberger was able to throw for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he experienced a gruesome ankle injury which severely limited his mobility late in the season.
He has several weapons, but will be without Hines Ward for the first time in his career who has retired. They must also re-sign Mike Wallace who is a huge play maker, and averaged 16.6 yards per catch to go along with eight touchdowns.
The Steelers will be right in the thick of the AFC North race with the Baltimore Ravens, but there work will certainly be cut out for them.
No. 7: Denver Broncos
2011 record: 9-9
The Broncos 2011 season could be described as "heavenly". They have replaced their biggest preacher, however, with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
After a 1-4 start, Tebow led a furious hot streak which allowed the Broncos to capture the AFC West title in the final week of the season. They were the heavy underdogs in the Wild Card round which saw the epic overtime thrilling touchdown by Tebow. The season was ended abruptly by Tom Brady's 6 touchdown passes.
This season will be contingent on the health of Manning. If healthy, he will make the Broncos a threat to challenge the Patriots for the AFC title.
If not, they will struggle to stay above .500 due to their mildly talented roster.
Willis McGahee had a terrific comeback season and rushed for 1,199 yards and 4 touchdowns. He doesn't need to duplicate that success if Manning is firing on all cylinders.
The defense received much praise during the winning streak, but actually was ranked 20th in the league in total yards, allowed 24.4 points per game and allowed 30+ points on seven different occasions.
They will have a great shot to win the division, but it will be with a whole separate system in place then the gameplan John Fox was forced to implement with Tebow under center.
No. 6: New Orleans Saints
2011 record: 14-4
There is much controversy surrounding the Saints alleged "bounty program" which caused a one-year suspension of head coach Sean Payton.
Will it effect the play on the field? That is anybody's guess, but they have the talent to duplicate the success of last season.
Drew Brees set a single-season record by passing for an unfathomable 5,476 yards. They won their final eight games of the season and the Wild Card round before losing the classic divisional round game in San Francisco. During the winning streak they operated with machine-like efficiency and averaged 37 points per game.
They have 4th and 5th options who would be the top play maker on many teams.
The defense, led by Gregg Williams, were ranked 24th in total yards, but have ball hawks such as Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma and Jabari Greer that can make plays as consistently as anyone in the league.
They are certainly the favorites on paper to win the NFC South again, but it will be interesting to see if their focus will be effected by the absence of Payton.
No. 5: Baltimore Ravens
2011 record: 13-5
If not for the missed field goal by Billy Cundiff in the AFC Championship Game, perhaps it would have been the Ravens that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens season was very successful in that they were finally able to overcome the Steelers head-to-head, but frustrating that they lost to a couple teams that had no business beating them.
While Joe Flacco had a sufficient 80.9 QB rating for a team that is built on its defense and rushing attack, the team would certainly like to see him progress into more than a game-manager. He has weapons around him in Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Lee Evans.
The biggest weapon on offense is Ray Rice, the diminutive RB out of Rutgers who ran for 1,364 yards last season.He is one of the best in the game.
The defense is still dominant, led by Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed.
2012 will be a big year in the development of Joe Flacco who is entering his 5th season.
No. 4: San Francisco 49ers
2011 record: 14-4
The 49ers had a tremendous 2011 campaign despite losing to the Giants in that thrilling NFC Championship game.
They had one of the most ferocious defenses in the league, regularly injuring running backs from devastating hits. They allowed a league-best 77.3 rushing yards per game.
The linebacker corp of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is very likely the most formidable in the NFL.
On offense, they rely on RB Frank Gore to pound the ball. He ran for 1,211 yards on the season. QB Alex Smith came into his own and completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 17 TDs against only 5 interceptions. He played exceptionally well in the classic divisional round game verse New Orleans.
They will likely have another solid season partly due to the mediocre NFC West but mainly due to their stout defense.
No. 3: New England Patriots
2011 record: 15-4
Ho-hum another divisonal title for the New England Patriots in 2011, which makes eight of the last nine.
On November 6th, they sat at 5-3 after a loss to the New York Giants and some wondered whether there would be a changing of the guards in the AFC East with the Jets having the look of a real contender. That was put to rest when they defeated the Jets the following week by a score of 37-16.
The Patiots will be the Patriots until Brady and Belicheck are gone. They have moving parts everywhere except at the QB position and generally the offensive line.
It does not matter that they cut their most talented defensive back during the season (sorry Leigh Bodden), because Brady finds ways to score, and Belicheck finds players like Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich who make plays on defense.
It also helps to have one of the most dynamic tight end combination in the history of the NFL.
Look for the Patriots to continue their success once again in 2012.
No. 2: Green Bay Packers
2011 record: 15-2
The Packers seemed well on their way to repeating as Super Bowl Champions by winning their first 14 games of the season.
When they lost their first game, some saw it as a chance for them to relax and re-focus. In reality, it may have served as a blueprint for other teams, which the Giants ultimately exploited.
QB Aaron Rodgers won the MVP Award by having one of the most efficient seasons in history for a passer. He recorded a mind-boggling QB rating of 122.5.
They will certainly have no trouble scoring on offense, as they will again have Rodgers during his prime years.
On defense, they basically incorporated the mentality of 'bend, don't break'. They allowed a league worst 412 yards per game. Granted much of that came during garbage-time of blow outs, but they do not possess the Steelers type of stifling defense.
For them to return to the top, they must find a way to stop elite offenses from running up and down the field at will, as the Giants did in the NFC Divisional Round.
No. 1: New York Giants
2011 record: 13-7
The 2011 Giants proved you do not need to necessarily be the best team to win the Super Bowl, you just need to get hot at the right time.
While head coach Tom Coughlin's job was on the line when they were 6-6, he now has two rings in the past five years, both over Bill Belicheck.
The Giants are built to win high scoring games, led by Eli Manning under center, and deep threats Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz leading the charge. Very few people outside of Giants camp ever heard of Cruz before the season, then he went out and broke the franchise single-season record for receiving yards.
On defense, the Giants rely on their incredible pass rush led by Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. They do not particularly care about preventing yards as much as they capitalize on turnovers and preventing touchdowns.
They will find it incredibly difficult to defend their title as they are faced with one of the most difficult schedules ever.