2012 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Training Camp Edition

Jon DoveContributor IJuly 2, 2012

2012 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Training Camp Edition

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    The majority of NFL roster moves are complete. Only training camp and the preseason stand between now and the start of the season.

    However, it's entirely possible that each team's roster will look different by the time the regular season begins.

    Injuries and camp battles will adjust the order of this power ranking, but this is a good starting point.

No. 32 Minnesota Vikings

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    Team Strength: Defensive line

    Team Weakness: Secondary/offensive playmakers

    The Minnesota Vikings are rebuilding, which leaves their roster in a state of flux. There's talent, but they are young and inexperienced at several key positions. This team will be competitive, but they won't be able to pull off many victories.

    Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are still performing at a high level, and the former came close to breaking the single-season sack record last year. However, the rest of the defense lacks the talent to play at a high level.

    Last season, the secondary allowed more than 250 yards per game, and there's been little improvement. Minnesota is hoping that rookie Harrison Smith can help stabilize the back end of the defense, but this unit will experience growing pains and struggle to handle the high-powered passing attacks in the NFC North.

    Offensively, the Vikings will succeed only if Christian Ponder is able to move forward with his development, but the lack of offensive weapons is going to make that difficult. Starting the season without Adrian Peterson will be a major hurdle, too.

    Overall, Minnesota doesn't have the horses to play winning football. Even if Ponder takes a major step forward, they won't produce a successful season.

No. 31 Cleveland Browns

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    Team Strength: Overall defense

    Team Weakness: Passing game

    The Browns' decision to draft Brandon Weeden acknowledges that they have taken a step back in their rebuilding process. In order for any team to succeed, it needs stability at quarterback.

    Weeden has talent, but he is far from a finished product. This means Cleveland can expect to deal with another few years of waiting for a quarterback to develop.

    Despite the issues at quarterback, Cleveland added notable talent on defense over the past few seasons. Joe Haden, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin form a nice, young core.

    The defense will help keep games close, but the Browns don't have the offensive firepower to win many games. Their only chance to surprise people is if Trent Richardson has an MVP-type season.

No. 30 Miami Dolphins

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    Team Strength: Offensive line

    Team Weakness: Quarterback play

    This might be low for the Miami Dolphins, but I have little confidence in their quarterback situation. The best-case scenario is that either Matt Moore or David Garrard plays enough mistake-free football to squeeze out a few victories. However, it's more likely that Ryan Tannehill becomes the starter by midseason and really struggles.

    I have questions about their plan to play a 4-3 defensive alignment, as Jared Odrick, Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake are better fits in a 3-4 attack. Instead of heading into the season with confidence in its defense, Miami needs to worry about the unit adjusting to its new alignment.

    The decision to trade Brandon Marshall has left the offense without a No. 1 wide receiver; no, I don't count Chad Ochocinco as a No. 1 receiver. Either Moore, Garrard or Tannehill would have benefited from having a playmaker like Marshall in the lineup.

    Miami can surprise people, but only if the defense quickly adjusts and one of the quarterbacks shows promise.

No. 29 St. Louis Rams

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    Team Strength: Defensive line

    Team Weakness: Offensive weapons

    The St. Louis Rams added good, young talent in the offseason, but it won't be enough to produce a winning season. Their failure to bring in a top-notch wide receiver means that Sam Bradford will have another season of throwing to average targets.

    It's tough to predict a major turnaround for Bradford when the Rams don't increase the talent surrounding him.

    Defensively, the Rams should look a lot better. The additions of Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Michael Brockers greatly increase the talent level. I expect big things from this defensive line, especially from Chris Long and Robert Quinn.

    The success of this team comes down to the play and health of Bradford. Another below-average season could bring major questions about his future with the franchise.

No. 28 Arizona Cardinals

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    Team Strength: Wide receiving corps

    Team Weakness: Quarterback play

    The Arizona Cardinals find themselves toward the bottom of this list because of question marks at the quarterback position. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are surrounded with some excellent playmakers, but they just haven't done enough to take advantage of that talent.

    Larry Fitzgerald is a great talent, but he can't win football games by himself.

    Arizona's defense has a chance to be good, with talented players like Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Sam Acho, Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson. However, this unit can expect to spend a lot of time on the field if Kolb and Skelton continue to play inefficient football.

    Running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams can help this team push for a winning season. If they are able to stay healthy and produce, the offense will look more explosive, as it will take pressure off the quarterbacks.

    Unfortunately, neither Wells nor Williams have shown the ability to stay healthy, leaving the success of this team in the hands of either Kolb or Skelton.

No. 27 Tennessee Titans

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    Team Strength: Running game

    Team Weakness: Lack of elite talent

    The Tennessee Titans roster consists of players who have above-average talent, but it lacks a high number of elite players, save for Chris Johnson and Michael Roos. That deficiency doesn't mean the Titans won't be competitive; it just means their ceiling is limited.

    At some point this season, Jake Locker is going to take over at quarterback. That's when we'll be able to assess the future of this team. Locker has a ton of talent, but he'll need to show improved accuracy and feel for the game if he wants to have sustained success. He'll undoubtedly face ups and downs this season, which will limit the Titans' victory total.

    The Titans are a young group defensively, as starters Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey, Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy only have a few career starts. They will play hard, but expect to see costly mistakes.

No. 26 Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Team Strength: Overall team defense

    Team Weakness: Quarterback play

    The Jacksonville Jaguars will surprise people this year. There's real talent on this roster, and now they have a coaching staff committed to making them better. Mike Mularkey and company will infuse new life into the team and help develop a winning formula.

    Keeping defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was a major victory. He helps keep things moving forward for an up-and-coming defense. Last season, the Jaguars ranked No. 6 in the NFL in total defense, so expect them to take a step forward.

    However, the season rides on Mularkey's ability to improve the play of second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Because of the addition of wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, things already look much brighter, and Gabbert should cash in on his physical talent.

    Despite the positives, the Jaguars are a few key players away from contending. Gabbert will play better, but he still needs time to develop into a winning quarterback.

No. 25 Oakland Raiders

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    Team Strength: Team speed

    Team Weakness: Darren McFadden's injury issues

    A full offseason together will help Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders find consistency on offense. That Palmer was able to find any success last season was a major surprise; it had to be tough to join the team so late.

    While Palmer's play will be the focus, it's the health of Darren McFadden that really matters. This is an entirely different offense when he's in the lineup, as McFadden is one of the most explosive runners in the NFL. However, he hasn't proven he can actually play a full season, and without him, the Raiders will struggle to win a lot of games.

    Defensively, there is talent, but there are also some holes. Losing Kamerion Wimbley leaves the Raiders with a limited pass-rush. Most of the pressure now must come from Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy and Richard Seymour.

    Struggling to get after the quarterback isn't going to help a patchwork secondary. Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell are solid, but they are not lockdown defenders.

No. 24 Washington Redskins

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    Team Strength: Defensive line/pass-rush

    Team Weakness: Offensive line

    Robert Griffin III's arrival brings excitement to the Redskins. However, he's a rookie and will have his share of growing pains. There isn't enough talent on this offense to overcome the mistakes he'll make, especially when it comes to the running game.

    Roy Helu and Evan Royster are decent running backs, but neither is a game-breaker, and they will struggle if asked to play a major role. Unfortunately, the issues along the offensive line won't help open running lanes, nor will it help Griffin III ease his way into the position.

    Defensively, the Redskins have promise. The defensive line boasts two up-and-coming players in Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins. These two are teamed with the potent pass-rushing tandem of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. This unit will keep the Redskins in a lot of games.

    The long-term future of this team is brighter than its hopes for next season. Griffin III will show his talent, but it's the times when he shows his lack of experience that will hold this team back.

No. 23 Indianapolis Colts

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    Team Strength: Youthful talent/potential

    Team Weakness: Overall team defense/secondary

    The Indianapolis Colts are another team that will surprise a lot of people.

    Andrew Luck is talented enough to take advantage of the talent surrounding him. The offense has a good mix of young playmakers and veterans, and their ability to retain Reggie Wayne will do a lot for Luck's development.

    I loved the additions of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen via the draft. Utilizing a base offense that features two tight ends figures to keep defenses off-balance. Fleener and Allen do such a good job attacking the defense that they have an chance to put up some major numbers.

    The defense still lacks the talent to shut down opposing offenses. However, Chuck Pagano still has Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to create pressure off the edge. Look for Pagano's schemes to make this unit more successful.

    Despite all the positives, there are enough holes to keep this team from making a playoff run. Running back Donald Brown hasn't shown enough to inspire confidence in his ability to handle the starting job. A lack of a running attack won't help Luck's development, nor will the suspect offensive line.

    The defense might look a little better this season, but it is a long way away from being a winning unit.

No. 22 Seattle Seahawks

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    Team Strength: Secondary

    Team Weakness: Explosive offensive weapons

    The Seattle Seahawks are a tough team to figure out because of the unknown that is Matt Flynn. If Flynn can play the way he did in Green Bay, this team has a great shot of making the playoffs. However, his small sample size isn't enough to make me feel comfortable about his future.

    Luckily, the Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch heading a strong running attack. Lynch's hard-nosed running style allows him to gain yards even when there isn't much running room. Another season of inconsistent quarterback play will mean Lynch again will have to take on eight men in the box.

    Defensively, Seattle has one of the more underrated group of defensive backs. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have a chance to develop into one of the better units in the NFL. Their play helps make things easier for pass-rushers like Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin.

    This team has some real promise, but until we know more about the quarterback position, expectations should be tempered.

No. 21 New York Jets

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    Team Strength: Cornerback position

    Team Weakness: Quarterback play

    The New York Jets are just too dysfunctional to inspire much hope for a great season. Santonio Holmes, Tim Tebow and Darrelle Revis bring more attention off the field than on it. At the moment, this looks like a team without direction.

    The Jets want to be a hard-nosed running team that wins with defense. However, they don't have a running back capable of dominating. Shonn Greene has talent, but has only performed well in spurts. In order for this offense to succeed, he needs to perform with more consistency.

    Speaking of consistency, Mark Sanchez is entering a season when there will be a lot on the line. Another below-average performance could spell the end of his career in New York. This is going to be a pressure-filled, chaotic and disappointing season for the Jets.

No. 20 Carolina Panthers

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    Team Strength: Cam Newton

    Team Weakness: Interior defensive line

    Cam Newton is already a star and close to becoming the next face of the NFL. His electrifying play quickly put the Carolina Panthers back on the map, and they're just about ready to make a playoff push.

    However, there are still issues on defense that will keep the Panthers out of the postseason.

    An average secondary and weak interior defensive line will allow opposing offenses to find success. The return of Jon Beason and addition of Luke Kuechly will make things look better, but these two won't make them winning defense on their own.

    Despite his great production, Newton still has room to grow as a quarterback. Finding a way to utilize players other than Steve Smith will be one key. Opposing defenses know that Smith is his favorite target, so look for them to force Newton to use different targets.  

No. 19 Buffalo Bills

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    Team Strength: Defensive line

    Team Weakness: Lack of an elite offensive playmaker

    Despite faltering toward the end of last season, the Buffalo Bills showed enough promise to raise expectations. The addition of Mario Williams gives reason to believe the Bills have a chance to make a playoff push.

    Chan Gailey didn't get enough credit for the way he inspired his team. Last year's roster didn't feature a lot of elite talent, but Gailey found a way to get everyone to play with great effort and belief. Most of the success last season came because of the way the offense produced.

    However, this year, it will be all about the defense.

    Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson form a highly talented defensive line that will determine the team's success. These four should be able to control the line of scrimmage and create pressure on the quarterback. Don't sleep on this secondary, either.

    However, any playoff hopes rest on the play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. His late-season struggles raised questions about his early success. He needs to cut back on turnovers and avoid a drop in production if the Bills want to make a playoff appearance.

No. 18 Atlanta Falcons

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    Team Strength: Wide receiving corps

    Team Weakness: Pass protection

    The window might be closing for the Falcons. Their disappointing playoff appearances have taken their toll, as has the age of some of their stars. Matt Ryan and the passing game are the only hope the Falcons have of making a good playoff run.

    Atlanta must begin to shift away from its run-heavy attack and start featuring wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones more. These two are the Falcons' top playmakers and have a chance to be truly dominant. However, the coaching staff must move away from giving Michael Turner such a heavy dose of the touches.

    The lack of a pass-rush has kept this defense from playing top-notch football. John Abraham can still get after the quarterback, but Ray Edwards' lack of production allowed opposing offenses to focus on neutralizing Abraham.

    Playing in the NFC South isn't an easy task and could be one of the main reasons the Falcons fail to make a playoff appearance this season.

No. 17 San Diego Chargers

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    Team Strength: Offensive production

    Team Weakness: Consistency

    Philip Rivers will bounce back from last year's disappointing season, largely due to the Chargers adding talent on offense. Wide receivers Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem give Rivers a different type of weapon. Royal's ability to work out of the slot could help overcome another injury-riddled season by tight end Antonio Gates.

    The Chargers drafted two promising defensive playmakers in Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes. However, the addition of Jarret Johnson might be an even more important. Johnson brings leadership, experience and toughness.

    Look for the defensive unit to show a lot of improvement.

No. 16 New Orleans Saints

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    Team Strength: Drew Brees

    Team Weakness: Unstable coaching staff

    No amount of talent is going to be able to overcome the upheaval on the New Orleans Saints coaching staff. The loss of Sean Payton is going to impact all aspects of the team, most notably the offense. Take away the Saints' high-powered offense, and this team isn't capable of winning many games.

    I'm not saying that the offense's production is going to disappear. Drew Brees and company are still talented enough to put up a ton of points. However, without Payton, it's the little things like weekly game plans that will be affected most.

    Defensively, the Saints are trying to change from Gregg Williams' very aggressive approach to a different type of aggressiveness. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows how to generate pressure, but he expects most of it to come from the front four. At this point, he lacks the pass-rushers to truly run his attack.

No. 15 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Team Strength: Experience

    Team Weakness: An aging defense

    The Pittsburgh Steelers did a great job rebuilding their offensive line this offseason. However, they didn't add many young playmakers on defense. So much of this team's success will depend on the health of the defense.

    Pittsburgh's aging stars have enough in the tank for another Super Bowl push, but they could struggle this season.

    Ben Roethlisberger should have a better season based solely on the improvements made along the offensive line. He'll take fewer hits and should be much healthier. However, there might be problems with the running game that hurt the offense's overall production.

    There's also the time it will take for Todd Haley to comfortably install his offense. Playing in the tough AFC North doesn't leave much room for error.

    If this change in the offense doesn't mesh with the players, it could be a season full of struggles in Pittsburgh.

No. 14 Cincinnati Bengals

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    Team Strength: Depth and youthful talent

    Team Weakness: Running game

    The Cincinnati Bengals are ready to unseat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens atop of the AFC North.

    Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have the potential to develop into one of the top tandems in the NFL. However, they aren't the only offensive playmakers. Jermaine Gresham and a healthy Jordan Shipley also boast a lot of talent.

    Green and Dalton got a lot attention last season, but it was the play of the defense that allowed this team to make a playoff appearance. This unit has depth and talent, and they only improved after some excellent additions via the draft. Look for rookies Dre Kirkpatrick, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson to make an instant impact.

    The one thing holding the Bengals back is the lack of a top-notch rushing attack. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and company are solid, but they don't scare opposing defenses. Dalton's development could be stunted a little because of this, as young quarterbacks need a rushing attack to help absorb some pressure.

    I expect Dalton to progress, but there's a chance he suffers a sophomore slump. After all, nobody predicted that Sam Bradford would have such a terrible second season.

No. 13 Denver Broncos

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    Team Strength: Pass-rush

    Team Weakness: Lack of weapons in the passing game

    A healthy Peyton Manning is capable of leading just about any team to the playoffs. However, we won't know how healthy he is until training camp begins. Still, this Denver Broncos roster features enough talent to reach the playoffs, even with Manning not being 100 percent.

    The pass-rush tandem of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil creates a lot of pressure on the quarterback. That makes those around them better and helps mask the weaker aspects of the defense.

    The Broncos defense should be more productive this season because it won't spend as much time on the field. Manning doesn't create a lot of three-and-out scenarios—especially not as many as Tim Tebow did last season. More rest means a fresher defense and higher production.

    Denver didn't bring in Manning just to make another playoff appearance; the Broncos want to win Super Bowls. Their chance to reach that goal depends on Manning's ability to remain healthy and mesh with his new teammates. He no longer has the luxury of throwing to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Denver's receiving corps has talent, but players like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas lack experience.

    We could see some early offensive struggles in Denver this season.

No. 12 Kansas City Chiefs

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    Team Strength: Defensive depth

    Team Weakness: Quarterback play

    I have a lot of confidence in the Kansas City Chiefs making a strong playoff push. This team is balanced and oozing with young talent. The offense has playmakers like Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin, Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. They are anchored by a strong offensive line that could be one of the better groups in the NFL.

    The defensive line looks ready to take a major step forward. Don't overlook the addition of Dontari Poe and his ability to occupy space. The linebackers will find it much easier to flow to the football with Poe in the lineup.

    Speaking of linebackers, the duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston continues to improve and appears ready to break out. Opposing offenses are going to have a tough time keeping them out of the backfield.

    All this is a recipe for success, but the Chiefs are missing one key ingredient: Their quarterback play isn't exactly stable. Matt Cassel has shown flashes, but he hasn't been able to put it all together for an entire season. A struggling Cassel has the potential to quickly end the Chiefs' playoff hopes.

No. 11 Detroit Lions

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    Team Strength: Passing game

    Team Weakness: Immaturity

    The Detroit Lions are loaded with talent, but off-the-field issues are starting to take their toll and become a distraction. A large number of arrests can only distract a team from playing good football. Too many key players will need to worry about legal situations; those who won't need to put extra focus on remaining in good standing with the law.

    Luckily, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are two of the game's top playmakers. If these two match last year's production, the Lions have a great chance of making another playoff appearance. However, it's also important that running backs Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure remain healthy, as a balanced attack could make this offense nearly unstoppable.

    Detroit's defense has upside, but there are question marks in a secondary that will have a tough time handling high-powered offenses. If the defensive line is unable to match last year's sack totals, the defense could be the unit that keeps the Lions out of the playoffs.

No. 10 Dallas Cowboys

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    Team Strength: Passing game

    Team Weakness: Interior offensive line

    Is this the year Tony Romo lives up to expectations and helps the Dallas Cowboys make some noise in the playoffs?

    The roster absolutely has enough talent to reach that goal, but the ceiling of this team depends on their QB. Romo needs to remain healthy and avoid the costly mistakes that have hurt this team in the past.

    Dallas fixed its secondary successfully, making the defense more than capable of playing winning football. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are going to make it difficult for offenses to attack through the air, especially when DeMarcus Ware is bringing pressure off the edge.

    I have concerns with the Cowboys' rushing attack, though. The interior offensive line isn't capable of playing at a high level, and it's tough to predict what we'll see from running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones. Both are extremely talented, but also have some durability concerns.

    A injury-prone rushing attack will put a lot more pressure on Romo.

No. 9 Philadelphia Eagles

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    Team Strength: LeSean McCoy

    Team Weakness: Michael Vick's durability

    The Philadelphia Eagles could either play in the Super Bowl next season or find themselves out of the playoffs altogether. To avoid the latter, this team needs Michael Vick to avoid taking big hits so he can remain on the field. Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards or Nick Foles aren't capable of taking advantage of the Eagles' offensive weapons.

    Defensively, this unit looks a lot better than last season. The additions of Fletcher Cox, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are going to make a difference. They will do a much better job against the run while continuing to generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback.

    As I mentioned, this team's success depends on Vick. It has the potential to be the best team in the NFL if he remains on the field.

No. 8 Chicago Bears

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    Team Strength: Linebacking corps

    Team Weakness: Offensive line

    The Chicago Bears offense is finally ready to take the reins from the defense. Jay Cutler has the weapons and coaching support he needs to lead this team to a successful season.

    Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery give Chicago the best receiving corps it's had in a long time. Combine that with the excellent running back tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, and the Bears offense could put up big-time numbers.

    The offensive line is the one thing that could derail everything. The Bears are hoping that either J'Marcus Webb or Chris Williams can play winning football at left tackle. However, neither has proven he is capable of meeting the Bears' expectations.

    Defensively, the Bears have the pieces to play at a high level. They are counting on young players like Henry Melton, Shea McClellin, Major Wright and Chris Conte to help the Bears keep pace with the high-powered NFL offenses.

No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Team Strength: Offensive line

    Team Weakness: Pass-rush

    I'm fully aboard the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bandwagon. This team has a ton of talent, and it finally has a coach capable of ensuring that that talent is properly utilized. Greg Schiano isn't going to tolerate mistakes or lack of focus, and this is exactly what this team needed.

    I'm convinced the Buccaneers will have an excellent season because of the roster balance. The offense has plenty of playmakers and a strong offensive line. Defensively, the draft brought Mark Barron and Lavonte David, who'll make a major impact this season.

    The ceiling for this team depends on the play of quarterback Josh Freeman, but I'm confident that this team could make the playoffs even if he has an average season. Their offensive line will allow Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount to establish a solid rushing attack.

    This running game will open things down the field for Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Opposing defenses will be on their heels.

No. 6 Baltimore Ravens

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    Team Strength: Overall team defense

    Team Weakness: Aging defensive stars

    Are the Baltimore Ravens poised for a disappointing season? There are several issues that could result in a drop in wins.

    The age factor continues to be a topic of discussion, as both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are beginning to slow down. That wouldn't be so significant if Terrell Suggs didn't injure his Achilles tendon, because without him, Lewis and Reed will feel the pressure to make sure everyone steps up their play.

    Suggs' injury also forces youngsters like Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger into the spotlight. Both are talented, but neither is on the same level as last year's Defensive Player of the Year.

    Ray Rice's could have a disastrous effect on the offense. We've seen the negative impact holdouts have had on players like Chris Johnson. A slow start like that for Rice would hurt the offensive production.

    Baltimore is also heading into the season without Joe Flacco locked up to a long-term deal. Flacco is facing a ton of pressure to earn that contract, but that doesn't always lead to a rise in production.

No. 5 Green Bay Packers

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    Team Strength: Passing game

    Team Weakness: Rushing attack

    The presence of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy means the Green Bay Packers will remain serious contenders. Rodgers has enough offensive weapons surrounding him to post another highly productive season.

    However, there has to be concern about the lack of a true rushing attack.

    James Starks, John Kuhn and Alex Green aren't going to force teams to bring defenders into the box. As a result, Rodgers will face a lot of packages with extra defensive backs dropping into coverage. They've survived this long with a lack of balance, but it could eventually catch up to them.

    The Packers added some defensive playmakers via the draft, but not enough to completely fix their problems. Nick Perry has potential as a pass-rusher, but I'm not sold on his talent level. The guy doesn't play as explosively as his workout numbers suggest; he might be a little too stiff to have a seamless conversion to linebacker.

No. 4 Houston Texans

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    Team Strength: Overall team talent and balance

    Team Weakness: Health/durability of Matt Schaub

    If Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson can remain healthy, the Houston Texans might prove to be the best team in all off football. This is a roster loaded with talent, and they have the coaching staff to properly utilize that talent.

    I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which the Texans fail to reach the playoffs, especially because of their presence in the AFC South.

    Everyone talks about Andre Johnson, but Arian Foster is the best player on offense. That he was able to remain productive with Johnson and Schaub out of the lineup is impressive. He's the engine of this offense and will only find more success if the other playmakers can remain healthy.

    The defense figures to be as strong as it was last season. Losing Mario Williams isn't a major blow, as Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus are more than capable of generating pressure on the quarterback. I'm interested to see how Houston replaces DeMeco Ryans and if production drops with their leader out of the lineup.

No. 3 New England Patriots

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    Team Strength: Offensive productivity

    Team Weakness: Secondary

    As long as Tom Brady is under center, the New England Patriots will reside near the top of the NFL power rankings. New England also returns two emerging stars in tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Opposing defenses have to figure out a way to neutralize both playmakers.

    The defense has issues, though. Bill Belichick is counting on rookie Chandler Jones to be a dominant pass-rusher, and if he struggles, the entire defense could falter. The issues in the secondary remain a major concern, too.

    New England will be a good football team, but how good depends on the defense's ability to rebound from last year's terrible season.

No. 2 San Francisco 49ers

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    Team Strength: Well-rounded team

    Team Weakness: Alex Smith's limitations

    The San Francisco 49ers have the talent on both sides of the ball to win a Super Bowl. Their offseason moves to upgrade the passing game could push them over the hump. Adding Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins gives Alex Smith real playmakers.

    However, Smith's development is the key to the 49ers reaching their goal. If he struggles, all those new weapons won't make any difference. Moss and Manningham need someone to throw them the football, and that someone has to be Smith.

    Defensively, this is going to be one of the best units in the league. The 49ers return everyone from last year's unit and figure to take a step forward because of the development of their younger stars.

    Jim Harbaugh did a great job getting Smith ready for last season, but he now needs to help him take another step forward.

No. 1 New York Giants

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    Team Strength: Offensive skill-position talent

    Team Weakness: Offensive line/linebacking corps

    I had to give the defending champs the benefit of the doubt. This team still has a ton of talent and will be bolstered by the return of several players who were injured last season. The return of cornerback Terrell Thomas might be the most significant, as he'll help solidify the back end of the defense.

    However, Eli Manning is still the team's most important player, as he showed last season that he's one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He helped players like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz develop into top-notch receivers.

    Because of the addition of David Wilson and the health of Ahmad Bradshaw, the running game should be improved.

    The offensive line is something to keep an eye on this season, as there's a lot of uncertainty within the group. Poor offensive line play could really limit an offense's production, and maybe even lead to injuries.