The NFL draft is not a quick fix.
It's meant to be for long-term development of talent, to fill holes down the road or (hopefully) to land a superstar in the making.
But every draft has its instant stud.
Last year, one of the most prolific players in the NFL was rookie Cam Newton. Arguably, the "defensive Cam Newton" was Patrick Peterson, who had a fine rookie season as a corner and a historic rookie season as a return man. And we all saw in the playoffs just how valuable pass-rushers like J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith are.
So, while those type of impact players are few and far between, they do exist, and the teams that landed them greatly improved their chances to claim that coveted prize of a Super Bowl championship.
Taking into account those additions, free-agency additions (and losses), trades and just the overall shape of the roster, here is the hierarchy along the path to the Super Bowl XLVII title.
Key Draft Picks: Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton
Offseason Additions: Cory Redding
Offseason Losses: Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Jacob Tamme
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 500-1
The new era in Indianapolis began long before Andrew Luck's name was called on April 26, and you'd be insane not to love what the Colts were able to achieve (purely from an offensive standpoint) during the entire course of the 2012 draft.
But, their defense is woefully thin at certain spots, and the Colts did almost nothing in both free agency and the draft to improve it. That's a huge surprise, since Chuck Pagano is the new head coach, and he is bringing in a 3-4 scheme.
Can the Colts win the Super Bowl in year one of the reboot? Sure.
Will they? Nope.
Key Draft Picks: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden
Offseason Additions: Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker
Offseason Losses: Peyton Hillis, Artis Hicks, Mike Adams, Eric Steinbach
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 300-1
With a defensive line that is really coming along, one of the game's premier offensive linemen in Joe Thomas and one of the game's best young corners in Joe Haden, Cleveland's roster of veterans is a bit more impressive than the Colts'. Plus, this is year two of their rebuilding stage—not year one.
But after Trent Richardson, the Browns' draft was a serious roll of the dice—and not just because Brandon Weeden is 28 years old.
Several of their other pickups (Mitchell Schwartz, John Hughes) were reaches. I do like Emmanuel Acho, though, especially if his brother's rookie season in Arizona is any indication.
Key Draft Picks: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Blair Walsh
Offseason Additions: John Carlson, Jerome Simpson
Offseason Losses: Cedric Griffin, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 250-1
I do think the Vikings had an excellent draft.
Matt Kalil is definitely the best offensive-line prospect. Harrison Smith is a tremendous enforcer—not to mention a steal in the second round. Josh Robinson is lightning-fast and should help improve a terrible secondary that plays in a division with two of the best passing games in football.
And, Blair Walsh was the draft's top kicker.
Still, the Vikings lost key veterans this offseason, especially Hutchinson, and will be without Adrian Peterson throughout 2012. I don't care what the experts or the Vikings say; even if he recovers from his knee injury in record time and is the starter in Weeks 1 through 17, the running back wearing No. 28 will not be the Adrian Peterson we've come to know. He won't fully return until 2013.
Key Draft Picks: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, Josh LeRibeus
Offseason Additions: Pierre Garcon, Cedric Griffin, Brandon Meriweather
Offseason Losses: LaRon Landry, Sean Locklear
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 200-1
Don't get me wrong, Robert Griffin III was the right pick for Washington. They needed A) a quarterback, B) a mobile quarterback and C) to make a splash for the fans and media.
Unfortunately, I think Griffin will be a bust along the lines of Ryan Leaf, Rick Mirer and Akili Smith: quarterbacks who were propped up to be a "rival" to the draft's clear-cut No. 1 QB.
But even if I am 100 percent dead wrong and RG3 has a Cam Newton-like rookie season (and beyond), this Redskins team did almost nothing via the draft to improve and not that much more in free agency. Let's see how good Garcon is without Reggie Wayne opposite him. Furthermore, both Cedric Griffin and Brandon Meriweather had been discarded by their previous clubs.
Key Draft Picks: Bruce Irvin, Russell Wilson
Offseason Additions: Matt Flynn, Barrett Ruud
Offseason Losses: John Carlson, Robert Gallery
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 150-1
I'm sorry to say it, but this team seems to be going in reverse after their remarkable 2010 playoff run.
Even if you ignore the character issues surrounding Bruce Irvin, he's still considered an incredible reach at No. 15. Yes, he had a great combine, but we all know how dangerous it can be to take a guy because he runs a 4.5.
And while it's impossible not to like the pick of Russell Wilson, he won't be of any help to the Seahawks in 2012—that's why they paid Matt Flynn to come to the Pacific Northwest.
The Seahawks still have a very thin collection of pass-catchers, an average defense and needs along the offensive line.
Marshawn Lynch better be ready for 350 carries in 2012—and a lot of time in the ice bath.
Key Draft Picks: Ryan Tannehill, Jonathan Martin, Michael Egnew, Lamar Miller, Oliver Vernon
Offseason Additions: E.J. Henderson, Gary Guyton, Legedu Naanee, David Garrard
Offseason Losses: Will Allen, Marc Colombo, Kendall Langford
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 150-1
Whether you love or hate Ryan Tannehill's value as the eighth overall selection, everyone can agree that this isn't a pick that makes the Dolphins instantly better. Tannehill is not Cam Newton; the former has limited quarterbacking experience.
So, in terms of their Super Bowl odds, the Dolphins didn't get any better with their first-round pick. Picks two through five, on the other hand, should provide some real value going forward—even if they're all at positions (minus right tackle) where they already have veterans.
But even if I were to say that the Dolphins made huge strides in the draft and the loss of Brandon Marshall meant nothing, just the fact that Miami has to look up at the Patriots, Jets and a fast-improving Bills team almost kills its shot at a postseason berth, let alone a Super Bowl victory.
Key Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon, Andre Branch
Offseason Additions: Laurent Robinson, Aaron Ross
Offseason Losses: Leger Douzable
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 150-1
Although they are often a punchline among NFL fans (including those in north Florida), watching the Jags play last year, I thought their only absurdly glaring weakness was in the passing game; for years, they've had an awful collection of wide receivers.
But, the Jags went out and grabbed Laurent Robinson via free agency, and then traded up to get the clear-cut top wideout in the draft in Justin Blackmon.
Couple those two with the NFL's rushing champion, Maurice Jones-Drew, and a resurgent (fingers crossed) Marcedes Lewis, and Blaine Gabbert has an excellent group of skill players with whom to work.
Still, the rest of the Jags' draft (minus Andre Branch, who is another choice I really like) and their free-agency moves were pretty thin. Add in the fact that they took a punter 70th overall, and there's still a feeling of S.O.J.—same old Jags.
Key Draft Picks: Michael Brockers, Mike Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Chris Givens
Offseason Additions: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Steve Smith, Scott Wells
Offseason Losses: Justin Bannan, Brandon Lloyd
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 125-1
Long-term, the Rams might be one of the premier teams in the NFL. They have a tremendous wealth of young talent to which they thoroughly added through the draft, not to mention the future picks they received from Washington.
But as far as 2012 is concerned, there's just too much raw talent to consider the Rams a Super Bowl contender. Sam Bradford has far more wear and tear—not just because he's been sacked so much, but also because of his shoulder injuries at Oklahoma—than any other 24-year-old quarterback should have.
So, Super Bowl XLVII champions? No.
Super Bowl L? Very, very possible.
Key Draft Picks: Mark Barron, Doug Martin, Lavonte David
Offseason Additions: Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Eric Wright
Offseason Losses: Josh Johnson, Michael Spurlock, Geno Hayes
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 100-1
Much like the Rams, you have to be extremely impressed with the long-term viability of this Bucs team. They added three fantastic talents in this year's draft and three more in last year's (Da'Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn and Mason Foster).
Still, with all that youth and an entirely new coaching staff coming in, it's hard to think that they'll be able to make the quick, overnight turnaround—especially since they play in such a jam-packed division.
Key Draft Picks: Luke Kuechly, Amini Silatolu, Frank Alexander
Offseason Additions: Mike Tolbert, Reggie Smith
Offseason Losses: Dan Connor, Legedu Naanee
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 80-1
In my humble opinion, the Panthers had one of the worst drafts of any team—and not just because I think Kuechly is overrated and will not have an easy transition to the NFL, especially if the Panthers permanently switch to a 3-4 scheme.
The overall shape of the roster, as is, is very good. Obviously, Cam Newton is a star and should be able to take the next step in 2012. That running game is fantastic, even if the Panthers unload one of their three running backs, and that defense is one of the most underrated in the NFL.
Still, the Panthers play in a stacked division, and even if they manage to get through the NFC South, there are a handful of teams in the NFC that are far deeper and far more seasoned.
Key Draft Picks: Stephon Gilmore, Cordy Glenn, T.J. Graham
Offseason Additions: Mario Williams, Mark Anderson
Offseason Losses: Demetress Bell, Roscoe Parrish
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 75-1
There's no doubt that the Bills had a fantastic first two days of the NFL draft. Stephon Gilmore is a top-notch corner, Cordy Glenn was often projected as a Top 15 pick, and T.J. Graham runs as fast as anyone in the league.
But even though the Bills made perhaps the biggest free-agency signing this spring with Mario Williams and even though they had an excellent first month of the season last year, the Jets and Pats will make it very hard on them to earn a playoff spot.
If the Bills were to slide past those perennial contenders and land in the postseason, the collective team has virtually zero playoff experience, making them a very tough sell as a Super Bowl favorite.
But hey, the Rams did it in 1999, right?
Key Draft Picks: Michael Floyd, Jamell Fleming, Bobby Massie
Offseason Additions: Adam Snyder, William Gay
Offseason Losses: Sean Considine, Richard Marshall
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 60-1
I'm of the belief that every NFL team (well, every NFL team that hopes to be successful) needs to have two stud wide receivers. Defensive coordinators are too smart to let the same receiver beat them over and over again, so another option—or someone to at least draw attention away—is critical.
The Cardinals now have that player to be of tremendous aid to Larry Fitzgerald in Michael Floyd, and the addition of Bobby Massie as a fourth-rounder, when many thought he could be a late first-rounder, was huge.
But, Kevin Kolb did not play like a franchise quarterback last year, and there is going to be some serious turnover on the defensive side of the ball.
Still, like many of the teams at the front end of this list, the Cards are poised (Patrick Peterson, anyone?) for a great run in 2013 or 2014.
Key Draft Picks: Shea McClellin, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Hardin
Offseason Additions: Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush, Jason Campbell, Geno Hayes, Kelvin Hayden
Offseason Losses: Corey Graham, Amobi Okoye, Brandon Meriweather
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 50-1
Here's where we cross over into a "line of demarcation."
This is the start of the more viable Super Bowl contenders.
Granted, I don't think the Bears are going to be returning to the Superdome for a Super Bowl berth 26 years after the last time they did that, but the odds of them doing so are much greater than all the teams that precede them on this list.
The new front office in Chicago added some fine vets this spring. Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush will both be of great help to Jay Cutler, as will incoming rookie Alshon Jeffery, who was a steal in the second round.
But, the Bears still have one of the worst and most depleted offensive lines in football. No matter how versatile Matt Forte is and how many All-Pro nominations Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher have, they can't protect Forte on third down against a blitz.
Key Draft Picks: Tony Bergstrom, Miles Burris
Offseason Additions: Shawntae Spencer, Philip Wheeler, Ron Bartell
Offseason Losses: Michael Bush, Kamerion Wimbley, Kevin Boss, Stanford Routt, Samson Satele
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 45-1
It's hard to overwhelmingly improve your Super Bowl dreams (in one season, at least) when you don't have a first-round pick, so the Raiders' roster didn't exactly grow by leaps and bounds this weekend.
Furthermore, while they lost a handful of excellent players (most notably Bush and Wimbley) this offseason, they didn't do very much to offset those losses.
Still, the AFC West is fairly wide open, and at times last year, the Raiders looked every bit a playoff team. While their defense does have some holes, the Raiders do have Darren McFadden and a pretty impressive group of young pass-catchers.
Key Draft Picks: Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson
Offseason Additions: Eric Winston, Stanford Routt, Peyton Hillis, Kevin Boss, Brady Quinn
Offseason Losses: Brandon Carr, Leonard Pope, Le'Ron McClain, Kyle Orton
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 45-1
It may have been a big surprise on the first night of the draft, but the Chiefs grabbing Dontari Poe probably shouldn't have been. They wanted a 3-4 nose tackle, and Poe fits that mold better than anyone else did, including Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers.
So, if Poe can anchor that young and supremely talented front seven, then Romeo Crennel really has something to work with in K.C. The offense should still have some question marks (especially the return of Jamaal Charles), but they filled key needs at tackle with Eric Winston and draftees Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson.
There are a lot of new and hopefully interchangeable pieces to this roster, but the AFC West does not have a favorite right now, which means a home playoff game is a very real possibility for all four teams.
Key Draft Picks: Derek Wolfe, Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman
Offseason Additions: Peyton Manning, Justin Bannan, Tracy Porter, Jacob Tamme
Offseason Losses: Tim Tebow, Brodrick Bunkley, Eddie Royal, Dante Rosario, Daniel Fells
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 35-1
Here's another contender for a home playoff berth in the most top-to-bottom competitive division in the NFL.
Yes, Peyton Manning is a game-changer, and since there seems to be no lingering effects of his neck injury, he gives the Broncos an uncanny on-the-field leader and a passer who can take full advantage of two very talented receivers in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
But, that defensive line suffered some losses this offseason, and the running game features Willis McGahee, a back with tons of miles on him. And, as much as I like Thomas and Decker, if they are going to run that Peyton Manning offense, they need at least four above-average wide receivers.
In the draft, Denver passed up several options that I thought could have filled out those four-receiver sets in favor of players like Brock Osweiler, who probably won't have any impact in 2012 or 2013.
Oh, and with "Tebow Time" now over, the Broncos have to find a new rallying cry.
Key Draft Picks: Kendall Wright, Zach Brown, Mike Martin
Offseason Additions: Steve Hutchinson, Kamerion Wimbley
Offseason Losses: Cortland Finnegan, Barrett Ruud, Jason Jones
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 35-1
The Titans came very close to a surprise playoff berth last season, and with the rest of the AFC South fairly light (not the Texans, obviously, but the Jags and Colts), Tennessee has a very good shot at playing into December.
Furthermore, the Titans landed a tremendous star in Steve Hutchinson, who might be able to offset the loss of Cortland Finnegan in terms of leadership. And while Kendall Wright makes for a nice complement to either Kenny Britt and/or Nate Washington, grabbing Zach Brown in the second round was even more impressive.
Still, the quarterback position is pretty mediocre compared to the rest of the NFL elite. Neither an aging Matt Hasselbeck nor a raw Jake Locker is going to make an enormous impact, and the secondary is now pretty thin.
Key Draft Picks: Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford
Offseason Additions: Kyle Orton, Brandon Carr, Dan Connor, Brodney Pool, Lawrence Vickers
Offseason Losses: Martellus Bennett, Bradie James, Terence Newman, Laurent Robinson
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 25-1
You have to love the pickup of Claiborne—Dallas really wanted Patrick Peterson last year, so this is the next best thing.
But other than that move, I don't think the Cowboys got that much better this offseason.
Carr really just replaces Terence Newman, Pool is now with his third team in three seasons, and Connor, Vickers and Orton aren't going to be dominant forces.
This is a team that has tons of talent, especially on offense, as well as one of the game's best pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware. But, that NFC East is so tough that the Cowboys needed to get exponentially better this spring to be considered a real Super Bowl threat.
That has yet to happen.
Key Draft Picks: Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Brandon Taylor, Ladarius Green
Offseason Additions: Jarret Johnson, Robert Meachem, Dante Rosario, Eddie Royal
Offseason Losses: Vincent Jackson, Steve Gregory, Mike Tolbert
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 25-1
Of all 32 teams, there's a case to be made that the Chargers had the best four-round draft.
Melvin Ingram is a premier defender, Kendall Reyes provides a great interior presence, Brandon Taylor is vastly underrated and fills a huge need, and Ladarius Green provides tremendous insurance for Antonio Gates and his aching body.
However, those players alone don't negate the fact that the Chargers lost Vincent Jackson, for whom Robert Meachem is not an even swap. And they'll definitely miss Mike Tolbert as well.
But Philip Rivers should bounce back, Ryan Mathews is poised for a breakout season, and they finally have a veteran with great experience (Johnson) to play the outside 'backer position.
As far as the AFC West goes, the Chargers have to be the very early favorite, and division titles are key to a Super Bowl run.
Key Draft Picks: Akiem Hicks, Nick Toon
Offseason Additions: Ben Grubbs, Brodrick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne
Offseason Losses: Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 20-1
Although pretty much everything has gone wrong for them this offseason—"Bountygate," eavesdropping allegations, Drew Brees' contract issues and losing Meachem and Nicks to free agency—you can't just completely write off the Saints after they had an incredible 2011 season.
Brees will still be behind center all 16 games next season, and he will still threaten to break all the records he set last year (maybe even Tom Brady's touchdown-pass mark, too). And that backfield, although crowded, is easily the deepest and one of the best in the NFL.
Furthermore, while the Saints may be starting from scratch on defense (and will probably be without Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Will Smith and others at times during the 2012 season), Steve Spagnuolo will (at the very worst) get above-average production out of it, given the free-agent additions of Brodrick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne.
Key Draft Picks: Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes
Offseason Additions: Asante Samuel
Offseason Losses: Curtis Lofton, Kelvin Hayden, Eric Weems
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 20-1
For the Falcons and their fans, it's a bit unfortunate that the front office did comparatively very little to take advantage of the Saints' horrific offseason.
Yes, they grabbed Asante Samuel away at a great price and spent early draft picks on bolstering a shaky offensive line. But other than that, they really didn't get much better, and that linebacking corps is now thin, with Curtis Lofton heading to New Orleans.
Are the Falcons still a threat to make it all the way to the Super Bowl, where playing on their rival's turf would be quite an insult to the Saints? Definitely, but no more so than they were one year ago today.
Key Draft Picks: Quinton Coples, Stephen Hill, Demario Davis
Offseason Additions: Tim Tebow, LaRon Landry, Drew Stanton
Offseason Losses: Brodney Pool, LaDainian Tomlinson
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 18-1
It's always popular to beat up on the Jets, and with everything that's taken place regarding Tim Tebow this offseason, that's even more true than it was before.
But I absolutely love what the Jets did in the draft, and I think both Coples and Hill are players who can make an instant impact. Since it's rare to find one—let alone two—of those types of rookies, the Jets might be back in the hunt to achieve Rex Ryan's Super Bowl-or-bust goal.
Forgetting about Tebow for a minute; adding Hill to take deep-downfield attention away from Santonio Holmes will invigorate New York's shaky passing attack. Coples should allow Ryan to send fewer players at opposing QBs, thus allowing for more second-level defenders to defend against intermediate passes—which is something the rival Patriots excel at.
Key Draft Picks: Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Devon Still, Mohamed Sanu
Offseason Additions: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Terence Newman, Jason Allen, Jamaal Anderson
Offseason Losses: Frostee Rucker, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson, Jonathan Fanene, Nate Livings
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 18-1
Much like the Chargers, the Bengals had an incredible early-round haul, so if you add those four very promising rookies to a playoff team, the Bengals will remain a serious threat in the AFC North.
Dre Kirkpatrick is insurance for Leon Hall's injury, not to mention the advanced ages of both Nate Clements and Terence Newman. Zeitler and Still also fill needs on their respective front lines.
But it's the addition of Sanu that is most important. The Bengals need to draw attention away from A.J. Green, and Jordan Shipley is coming back from a terrible knee injury.
So, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis protecting the football and being a fine red-zone runner, the Bengals will challenge the Ravens and Steelers for the division title, and perhaps a Super Bowl berth along the way.
Key Draft Picks: Riley Reiff, Ryan Broyles, Dwight Bentley, Ronnell Lewis,
Offseason Additions: Jacob Lacey
Offseason Losses: Eric Wright, Bobby Carpenter
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 15-1
Riley Reiff is a great pickup for the Lions, as they will someday lose Jeff Backus to retirement, and Ryan Broyles gives them a third young wide-receiving option behind "Megatron" and Titus Young.
I most like the pickup of Ronnell Lewis, who will instantly fit into Jim Schwartz's scheme and really provide some versatility against the rival Packers' great passing attack, assuming Lewis can move to outside linebacker.
And although they didn't really do very much of anything in terms of adding to the roster via free agency, since Eric Wright was Detroit's only real loss, the Lions didn't take a step backwards.
Virtually everyone on that team may be young, but they all earned valuable playoff experience last year, and with that front four, they'll always be capable of making game-changing plays on defense.
Key Draft Picks: Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Nick Foles, Vinny Curry
Offseason Additions: Demetress Bell
Offseason Losses: Asante Samuel, Steve Smith, Juqua Parker
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 12-1
The Dream Team Part Deux hasn't seen nearly the type of free-agency explosion as its predecessor did,—in fact, the Eagles lost more than they gained—but their draft haul and the talent already on the roster make them a Super Bowl threat for certain.
Of all the selections this year, Fletcher Cox may have been the best fit for this team's particular scheme and situation. Cox is the interior presence the wide nine was missing throughout 2011, and Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry are going to be nearly as vital on the edges, even if it's only in specific situations.
Let's face it, for all their problems in 2011, that Eagles offense still was masterful.
LeSean McCoy had an incredible season, Michael Vick was still Michael Vick when he was actually on the field and healthy, and with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have tremendous options in the passing game. If that offensive line can somehow survive the loss of Jason Peters, they'll challenge the Giants for NFC East supremacy.
Key Draft Picks: David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Alameda Ta'amu, Chris Rainey
Offseason Additions: Leonard Pope
Offseason Losses: Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, William Gay
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 12-1
Obviously, there is some level of transition going on in the Steelers organization, with the retirements of Hines Ward, Chris Hoke, Aaron Smith and James Farrior being released.
However, they still have three of the game's premier defensive players (Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley) and two very talented, young defensive ends in Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood.
And—not to sound like Jon Gruden, who seemed to love every player selected in 2012—I think the Steelers' selection of Alameda Ta'amu was one of the biggest steals in the draft. He played at the second-highest level of competition in college football (for my money, the Pac-12 rates second behind the SEC) and is enormous. He'll either replace or spell Casey Hampton.
But it's the offensive additions Pittsburgh made on draft day that should have the Steelers back in the Super Bowl hunt. DeCastro is pro-ready and has some Alan Faneca to him, while I think Chris Rainey can really become a fine third-down/pass-catching option for Ben Roethlisberger, who has enough talent in the receiving corps to overcome the loss of Rashard Mendenhall.
Key Draft Picks: Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce
Offseason Additions: Jameel McClain, Sean Considine, Curtis Painter
Offseason Losses: Jarret Johnson, Ben Grubbs, Lee Evans, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 10-1
Don't get me wrong, the selection of Courtney Upshaw was a big addition for the Ravens, but I really thought they had sewn up that spot left open by Jarret Johnson's departure with Sergio Kindle. If I'm wrong, so be it, but if Kindle was/is capable of doing so, then that first-round choice might have been better spent elsewhere.
Sure, you can say, "Always take the best available player," but when you're a Super Bowl contender, that's not always true. Would the Packers have taken RG3 if he were available?
So, while the Ravens are still a threat to reach the Super Bowl—a game they came so close to reaching last year—they are a year older and didn't improve very much on either side of the ball.
And that loss of Ben Grubbs really hurts.
And if Ray Rice sits out? All bets are off.
Key Draft Picks: A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney
Offseason Losses: Josh Morgan, Reggie Smith, Adam Snyder, Shawntae Spencer
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 10-1
Just because A.J. Jenkins wasn't on anyone's mock draft as a first-rounder doesn't mean the 49ers reached or made a mistake. And since wide receiver is still a need position, despite signing Mario Manningham and taking a flier on Randy Moss, the 49ers could have done a lot worse.
Ditto on LaMichael James, who gives them another insurance piece alongside Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs should Frank Gore break down.
So, for a team that came within a fumbled punt of the Super Bowl, the 49ers are poised for another great season.
And what I like most about the 49ers' offseason is this: Just because Alex Smith protected the football last year, had an incredible game in the playoffs against New Orleans and was lionized in the press for a "career resurrection," that doesn't mean the 49ers are going to hand him the keys to the castle. They signed Josh Johnson and are fully investing in Colin Kaepernick.
Key Draft Picks: Whitney Mercilus, DeVier Posey, Brandon Brooks, Ben Jones, Jared Crick
Offseason Additions: Bradie James
Offseason Losses: Mario Williams, Eric Winston, Jason Allen, Lawrence Vickers
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 8-1
It's easy to jump on the Texans' bandwagon, and I'll be the first to hop right aboard.
Forget about the loss of Mario Williams; after all, for all intents and purposes, they lost him in October and still had the best season in franchise history. That defense did a complete 180 and dominated the AFC South.
With J.J. Watt on the fast track to superstardom, stealing Whitney Mercilus at the end of the first round and making a similar theft in the fourth round via Jared Crick, Wade Phillips' unit will be even better in 2012.
On the other side of the ball, the passing game should get back to full strength behind a healthy Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, and it could maybe even improve with the addition of Posey and Brooks, who was a repeatedly overlooked second-round talent.
Most importantly, however, the Texans play in a division without a clear-cut playoff threat to challenge them.
They're the only AFC team who can say that.
Key Draft Picks: Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward
Offseason Additions: Jeff Saturday, Anthony Hargrove
Offseason Losses: Matt Flynn, Scott Wells
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 7-1
Prior to the draft, the Packers really didn't do very much to improve; Jeff Saturday is a swap for Scott Wells.
But, that offense was so loaded that there was probably no need to add to it through the draft or free agency. (Of course, that is assuming Derek Sherrod is healthy in 2012.)
Obviously, the other side of the ball is a different case, but Perry, Worthy and Hayward all fill huge needs. If even one of them becomes that instant starter/contributor, it will make a huge difference, and the Packers' defense should at least become decent.
How can it not with Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson already in place?
Still, since the Giants went into Lambeau and smashed them in the NFC Championship Game (and hung very closely with them in Week 13), Green Bay has to be considered a narrow runner-up to the G-Men in terms of NFC-favorite status.
Key Draft Picks: David Wilson, Rueben Randle, Jayron Hosley, Adrien Robinson
Offseason Additions: Martellus Bennett, Sean Locklear
Offseason Losses: Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs, Aaron Ross
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 5-1
In terms of offense—specifically the passing game—the rich got richer after the 2012 draft.
The Giants replaced Brandon Jacobs with David Wilson and Mario Manninghanm with Rueben Randle. While it may take some time, I think both are upgrades in the long term and maybe even come playoff time this upcoming season. (On a side note, Hosley won't be an instant upgrade over Ross, but with Prince Amukamara ready for a full season, he should dominate.)
It's true that before the Giants won the 2012 Super Bowl they were in a tailspin, starting with the 2008 postseason and into the next two years. But this team is built to be much deeper. Eli Manning is now the centerpiece of the organization, and he's become as consistent and reliable as any player in the NFL.
Key Draft Picks: Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson, Jake Bequette, Alfonzo Dennard
Offseason Additions: Brandon Lloyd, Steve Gregory, Anthony Gonzalez, Will Allen, Bobby Carpenter, Daniel Fells, Robert Gallery, Dont'e Stallworth, Jonathan Fanene
Offseason Losses: Mark Anderson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Gary Guyton
Super Bowl XLVII Odds: 3-1
Losing to the Giants for a second time in four years will only irritate and motivate Blll Belichick even more. And with the addition of possible starters like Brandon Lloyd and Steve Gregory, plus nice role players in Anthony Gonzalez, Will Allen, Bobby Carpenter, Daniel Fells and Robert Gallery, the Pats are extremely deep on both sides of the ball.
But that's not the reason why the Pats have to be considered the Super Bowl favorites—the Pats' last two draft classes are.
First, the 2011 edition:
Nate Solder should become even more consistent in his second season. He was the big name the Pats acquired, but they added so many potentially good (maybe not great) players after that—Ras-I Dowling, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Marcus Cannon and even Ryan Mallett—that their depth is perhaps the best in football. With a full season at the NFL level under their belts, they will be ready to contribute.
The same is true for 2012. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower were the headliners, and I think they will have long-term success, but Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard and Jake Bequette give New England even more.
Add that depth to the game's most decorated quarterback in Tom Brady, a ridiculous duo of tight ends, Wes Welker and real interior defensive studs in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and New England will be so difficult to beat in 2012.