NFL Power Ranking: Team-by-Team Preseason Breakdown
Week 1 of the NFL preseason is almost in the books (Dallas vs. Oakland is tonight) and injuries have already reared their ugly head. Across the NFL, teams are missing vital players at key positions. This makes evaluating talent difficult and getting any rhythm on offense or defense consistently hard.
While some teams choose to get their starts a series or two, teams like the Chicago Bears made some of their first team play into the fourth quarter. Rookies like Andrew Luck, Quinton Couples and Ryan Tannehill had success; others struggled in their first live action.
Even teams that lost in Week 1, like the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions, showed flashes of brilliance, while some teams that won may not be all they are cracked up to be. Here is a list of how teams stack up after Week 1 of the 2012 NFL preseason.
No. 32: Arizona Cardinals
Until they can figure out the quarterback position, the Cardinals will rank near the bottom of ranking lists all year. In a quarterback-driven league, neither Kevin Kolb nor John Skelton has stepped up and claimed the starting gig.
Recently taken off the physically unable to perform list, running back Beanie Wells should help the running game, but the best weapon on offense, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, is more or less useless if no one can get the ball to him.
The defense, led by safety Adrian Wilson and defensive end Calais Campbell, has been consistently solid this preseason. The defense will have to carry this team if the offense continues to struggle.
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
Poor Steven Jackson. The man is a beast and ran hard versus the Colts. But behind a beat-up offense line, Jackson continues to get hit far too often in the backfield.
Quarterback Sam Bradford still looks uneasy in the pocket and without a true number one receiver, the Rams offense continues to struggle.
The defensive line played well versus the Colts and the addition of first-round pick Michael Brockers looks like a coup for head coach Jeff Fisher. The play of rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins has be outstanding all of training camp. The addition of cornerback Cortland Finnegan has added more toughness to the defense, too.
No. 30: Buffalo Bills
The Bills made a power move in the offseason to sign defensive end Mario Williams. It's too early to judge as the defense will need the rest of the preseason to gel. The unit allowed huge gains by the Redskins and the front seven never seemed to be on the same page with the defensive backs.
Running back Fred Jackson needs to gets some live action carries on legs that cost him a majority of last season. The Bills had the ball on the Redskins 1-yard line early in the game and came away with only a field goal.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick look solid in his 2012 debut, but major questions remain about who will be his backup. Vince Young looked shaky in the pocket.
No. 29: Minnesota Vikings
Quarterback Christian Ponder should give Vikings fans hope. The second-year player looked impressive in the 2012 debut. But the Vikings are going to need a healthy Percy Harvin to help out the young quarterback.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has tons of talent, but without a legitimate number two receiver, the former Notre Dame product will be forced to play versus double coverage quite a bit.
The fact that running back Adrian Peterson was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Sunday bodes well for Minnesota because backup Toby Gerhart does not look to be a starting-caliber back.
The defense has issues with the secondary that need to be addressed the rest of the preseason; having the starting defensive line play more should help.
No. 28: Miami Dolphins
Wide receiver Chad Johnson was having a solid training camp, but with his recent arrest he is no longer on the team (h/t ESPN). This leaves the receiver position wide open. The loss of starting quarterback David Garrard allowed Miami a chance to showcase rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and he did not disappoint.
The former Texas A&M product should get the start in Week 2 of the preseason and if he plays well, he should be the regular season starter. Second-year tight end Charles Clay had a fine game and seems to have a good connection with Tannehill.
The defense struggled to defend the pass versus the Buccaneers and what has been a consistent issue in zone coverage responsibilities in training camp showed up in the game. Injuries to linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby did not help.
The team’s transition to the 4-3 defense is still a work in progress. If the defense can improve quickly, the Dolphins could be a team that moves up this list.
No. 27: Jacksonville Jaguars
Though the Jaguars won their first preseason game, the team still cannot be considered in the top 25 teams in the NFL without running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert did show marked improvement from his rookie campaign but still has a long way to go.
The first team defense—the bright spot for the Jaguars in 2011—had a hard time getting off the field versus the Giants and needs the rest of the preseason to get back into dominant form.
Jacksonville is not a very deep team and will need to stay away from any injuries to have a chance to compete in the AFC South. Getting Jones-Drew back on the field is the first step though.
No. 26: Cleveland Browns
The loss of rookie running back Trent Richardson is a bigger loss than the team is letting on. Backup Montario Hardesty does not strike a lot of fear into many defensive coordinators hearts.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had his moments in Week 1, but the lack of wide receiver depth will be an issue for the Browns all season, especially if the concussion to Mohamed Massaquoi lingers.
The Browns have serious issues with pass protection on the right side of the offensive line which needs to be addressed before the regular season starts.
The Browns defense played solid in the first preseason game, but the lack of veteran depth in the linebacking corps could be an issue in the regular season.
No. 25: Tennessee Titans
Another quarterback battle that continues to intrigue is in Tennessee, where veteran Matthew Hasselbeck is trying to fend off Jake Locker. Locker played better in the preseason opener but Hasselbeck has control of the huddle and locker room.
No matter whom the starting quarterback is, the bigger issue for Titan fans is which Chris Johnson will they see this year? The one who tore up NFL record books in 2010 or the one who split carries last season with Javon Ringer?
The defense is still a work in progress. At times versus the Seahawks, they looked as if they did not know how to tackle. The starting defense is one of the youngest in the NFL and will have a lot of growing pains in 2012.
No. 24: Chicago Bears
Quarterback Jay Cutler did not play in Week 1 of the preseason but this should not be alarming. However, the poor play of the offensive line should be and is one of the reasons offensive coordinator Mike Tice left some of the starters in until the fourth quarter.
The addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall looks good so far, but the flashy wideout needs continued looks to pacify him and keep his attitude positive.
The fact middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is still out of action should concern Bear fans. The defense did not hold up very well versus the Broncos and the depth at linebacker is below average. This hurts the special team coverage units as well.
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have yet to play in the preseason but head coach Dennis Allen seems to have this team buying into his system. The play of quarterback Carson Palmer and the health of running back Darren McFadden will make or break the Raiders’ season.
Palmer needs to get on the same page with his very young receiving corps. Drafted in 2009, Darrius Heyward-Bey has played the most NFL seasons of the group.
With the youth at receiver, the onus falls on McFadden to carry the load. McFadden needs to show he can play in all 16 games this season, something he has yet to accomplish in his four-year NFL career.
The defensive front is consistently good and defensive backs continue to improve. The linebackers are the weak link in the group, but rookie Mile Burris looks like he will improve the unit.
No. 22: Carolina Panthers
Quarterback Cam Newton is still a work in progress. Though one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, he must continue to get better at working through his pass progression and finding secondary targets.
The Panthers have two of the highest paid running backs in the NFL, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but the offensive line struggled in Week 1 and needs vast improvement the rest of the preseason.
The addition of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly will only help a young defense get better. The play of defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Ron Edwards will set the tone for the Panthers in the regular season. If they can allow Kuechly, Jon Beason and James Anderson to shoot gaps and make clean tackles, the Panthers defense will greatly improve.
No. 21: Indianapolis Colts
The simple fact Andrew luck is behind center gives Colts nation something to be excited about. The Stanford graduate made the Rams’ starting defense look like a college team. The offensive line is a major work in progress, but if Luck can continue to get the ball out of his hand quickly, the Colts should improve on last season’s record.
The defense is making the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and though it's strange to see Dwight Freeney dropping into coverage, the scheme held up and was effective versus the Rams.
The Colts will continue to add pieces to this young team during the preseason and roster cuts. After some early struggles due to youth and new schemes on both sides of the ball, look for the Colts to win some games they are not favored in.
No. 20: Washington Redskins
The addition of receiver Pierre Garcon fits perfectly into the Redskins offensive scheme. Garcon is a veteran presence that understands how to get open and will help rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III settle into being a professional.
The glaring issue for the Redskins on offense is the patchwork offensive line they are playing with right now. Right tackle Jammal Brown is out and left tackle Trent Williams was hurt in the game. Not only does this hurt Griffin’s ability to stand in the pocket, but the running game loses consistency.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has many tools to tinker with on defense. Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan form one of the best duos in the NFL and should help keep Washington in games until the offense can get rolling.
No. 19: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are ranked this high simply because of quarterback Tony Romo. The offensive line is in shambles. The receiving corps is young and inexperienced, especially with Miles Austin out with an injury. The running backs are not a real intimidating group.
But Romo finds a way to make all the players around him better.
With the additions on defense, especially cornerback Brandon Carr, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can now be more creative with his blitz packages. Linebacker Sean Lee is one of the best young players in the NFL and will benefit from cornerbacks that can cover and tackle this season.
No. 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head coach Greg Schiano has instilled toughness in the Buccaneers and this stood out in Week 1 of the preseason. The duo of running backs LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin ran roughshod over the Dolphins defense. The offensive line played physical and moved the Dolphins defensive linemen off the ball.
Quarterback Josh Freeman looks comfortable in the offense. A safety net-like receiver, Vincent Jackson, gives Freeman his first true deep threat since he was drafted in Tampa.
Rookie linebacker Lavonte David was all over the field and looks to be a young Derrick Brooks. The defensive line still needs to generate more pass rush. This will help the solid defensive backfield get more opportunities for interceptions.
No. 17: New York Jets
The Jets are a team that is decimated by injuries right now, especially at the wide receiver position. The offensive line did a solid job in the loss to the Bengals, but the backups at the wideout position simply were not getting open consistently enough.
Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will always be under the microscope for their play in 2012. A bigger concern should be the play of running back Shonn Greene. This is a run-first offense and if the running game does not get established, it will not matter who is playing quarterback or receiver.
The defense will always be in the top 10 as long as Darrelle Revis is lining up at cornerback for the Jets. How safety LaRon Landry and linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris play will determine if the Jets are in the top five. All three must tackle consistently and show up in underneath coverage.
No. 16: Seattle Seahawks
The signing of quarterback Matt Flynn was an interesting play by the Seahawks in the offseason. Off of one big game, the Seahawks mortgaged their future. Flynn has not disappointed, but Seattle hedged their bet in April, drafting Russell Wilson and that looks to be paying off as well.
The running game will be strong with Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington. This will allow Flynn time to get more comfortable in his new surroundings. The health of receivers Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice will be key to helping Flynn establish himself as a quality NFL starter.
Seattle has an underrated defense with one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL. The key to a successful 2012 campaign will be the health and play of the linebacking corp.
Barrett Ruud has failed to have an impact and Leroy Kelly has an injury history. Rookie Bobby Wagner may have to play a vital role. The Seahawks better hope he is up to the challenge.
No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers
Until the Steelers can solidify the left tackle position, the offense will not be able to run at maximum efficiency. Granted Mike Adams is a rookie and ended up leaving the game versus the Eagles with an injury, but even when healthy, he struggled mightily. This has to be a concern for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers are already lacking offensive fire power with running back Rashard Mendenhall on the physically unable to perform list. The Steelers better hope receiver Mike Wallace reports soon.
The defense played solid versus the starters for Philadelphia. How they hold up over the course of the season will be interesting to watch. Dick Lebeau’s group may be playing a lot more snaps if the offense cannot find its rhythm.
No. 14: Detroit Lions
The Lions’ defense is the story for the 2012 season and in the first preseason game defensive end Willie Young was all over the field. This has to get defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham fired up because Young isn’t even listed as a starter.
General manager Martin Mayhew looks to have shored up the cornerback spot for the future in drafting Bill Bentley. The rookie had a solid debut and looks to be competing for a Week 1 starting job.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson will keep the offense moving. The ability of backup running back Joique Bell to seize his moment and rush for 89 yards in the opener gives the offense some hope of a running game.
No. 13: New York Giants
As long as the Giants have quarterback Eli Manning, they will be in any game. In limited action, Manning found his best target, receiver Victor Cruz, for a big gain. The offense should only get more potent once receiver Hakeem Nicks returns from injury.
Rookie running back David Wilson showed flashes of brilliance and should be a perfect complement to Ahmad Bradshaw.
The defense seemed to struggle versus the starters for Jacksonville, which has to be a concern for head coach Tom Coughlin. The secondary, riddled with injuries, gave up way too many big plays. The backups showed the ability to rush the quarterback, but the Giants’ starting defensive line will need more repetitions the rest of the preseason to get rolling.
No. 12: Cincinnati Bengals
Quarterback Andy Dalton marched the Bengals down the field versus one of the better defenses in the NFL, the Jets. If not for a drop by normally reliable receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals score easily.
The Bengals were the surprise team in 2011 and look to capitalize on that success in 2012. With the addition of steady running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis, who showed his versatility as a pass catcher versus the Jets, the Bengals offense is looking to explode.
The bigger concern out of Cincinnati is the injuries to the defense. One of the top defenses in 2011 had three starters injured versus the Jets, notably middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive end Carlos Dunlap. How those players recover and in what time frame will have a major impact on the start of the Bengals’ regular season.
No. 11: New Orleans Saints
Quarterback Drew Brees is still one of the top players in the NFL and going 1-for-4 in a preseason game won’t change that. But the Saints offense has not been hitting on all cylinders this preseason and needs the next three weeks to get up to speed.
The offensive line, especially Jermon Bushrod, struggled blocking the Patriots defensive pass rush. The offensive line is also not as strong at the point of attack in the run game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of cornerback Jabari Greer stands out. The Patriots receivers were consistently getting open versus the backup cornerbacks for the Saints.
The two bright spots on the Saints defense are defensive end Will Smith and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Both stood out versus the Patriots.
No. 10: Green Bay Packers
The signing of running back Cedric Benson may not help the Packers offense that much, but it does signal that head coach Mike McCarthy is concerned about the lack of a running attack in Green Bay.
The receiving corps, led by Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, could make a case as the strongest in the NFL and that only makes quarterback Aaron Rodgers look better. But to grind out games late in the year with a lead, the Packers know they must be able to have some semblance of a running game.
The defense played well early in the game, forcing an interception and putting pressure on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. But the safety play by the Packers is a work in progress and will need to be monitored the rest of the preseason.
No. 9: New England Patriots
Quarterback Tom Brady was under pressure most of the game. Offensive tackle Nate Solder did not play well and kept Brady from being able to step into his throws. Running back Shane Vereen had a very good game and gives the Patriots offense a different aspect out of the backfield.
The defense, especially rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, played very well. Jones was in the backfield much of the game and looks to be another solid draft pick for head coach Bill Belichick.
The play of safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory was very good as each recorded an interception. The Patriots are going to need consistent play like that to improve as a defense in 2012.
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones looked to be unstoppable at times versus the Ravens. Ryan made one bad throw, which resulted in an interception, but otherwise looked zoned in.
The Falcons had their offense moving on the ground and in the air. At times in the first half, the Falcons offense made the Ravens defense look slow.
Atlanta’s defense struggled as well and could not get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The play of cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson will be a huge factor in how the Falcons fare in 2012. They will need to produce turnovers and get the ball back for their potent offense.
No. 7: Denver Broncos
Quarterback Peyton Manning is back and, in his first action in over a year, looked surprisingly good. The offensive line for the Broncos, one of the best in the NFL, gave Manning plenty of time and kept the veteran upright in his time on the field.
Manning tends to make his receivers look good, but no one in Denver will benefit from the Manning signing more than Eric Decker. Manning continually looked his way.
The Broncos defense played with speed and aggressiveness. The coverage was very good versus the Bears and the pass rush continually made the Bears' quarterbacks move out of the pocket.
No. 6: Baltimore Ravens
Quarterback Joe Flacco struggled early versus the Falcons, but got extended playing time to get on track with his targets on offense. Wide receivers Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith and tight end Ed Dickson all worked into the second quarter with Flacco to get on the same page.
Running back Ray Rice only had three carries, but the offensive line did not give him much room to run. With injuries along the front, the Ravens need the next three games to gel.
The defense struggled early versus the Falcons, but the depth of the teams showed up in the second half and was able to make plays versus Atlanta. The secondary of the Ravens needs to continually work on communication throughout the preseason to get back to the level they displayed at the end of 2011.
No. 5: Philadelphia Eagles
Eagle fans everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief when quarterback Michael Vick’s injured thumb turned out to just be a bruise. The Eagles, even with receiver DeSean Jackson not playing, seem to be loaded at every offensive position and look like they are poised to make another Super Bowl run.
The defense, a downtrodden unit last season, has gained confidence. The addition of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans seemed to have calmed the unit down and allowed them to play more relaxed.
Even with defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole sitting out versus the Steelers, the Eagles still showed the ability to rush the passer. Backup Phillip Hunt flashed pass-rush ability and looks like a viable option along the defensive line.
No. 4: Kansas City Chiefs
With running backs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis providing a solid one-two punch in the run game, quarterback Matt Cassell simply needs to be a game manager and play smart football.
Cassell played very efficiently versus the Cardinals and looked poised in the pocket. The offensive line gave the quarterback plenty of time. The offense will only get better once receiver Dwayne Bowe reports.
The defense played lights out versus the Cardinals and look to improve on an outstanding 2011 season. A healthy Eric Berry at safety gives the Chiefs a playmaker in the back half of the defense. Look for him to pair with cornerback Brandon Flowers as one of the top interception duos in the NFL.
No. 3: San Diego Chargers
Quarterback Philip Rivers does not get the respect he deserves, yet all he does is throw for huge yards and numerous touchdowns. Tight end Antonio Gates is as healthy as he has ever been entering a season and is expected to score many more touchdowns like he did versus the Packers.
The loss of running back Ryan Mathews makes Ronnie Brown the starter. That puts even more pressure on Rivers to excel.
The defense has solid pass-rushers from the outside linebacker position and solid safety play. The inside linebackers, Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler, need to continue to hold up versus the inside run.
Rookie Melvin Ingram looks like a great addition to an already strong defense. The key will be the play of cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. They must be able to shut down the physical receivers on the schedule for the Chargers defense to improve under new defensive coordinator John Pagano.
No. 2: San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers, on paper, are as solid at every position as any team in the NFL. Quarterback Alex Smith continues to play efficiently. Running back Frank Gore is one of the top runners in the league. The addition of Brandon Jacobs gives the 49ers another weapon on offense.
Tight end Vernon Davis is one of the best at his position. The offensive line is solid at all five positions and is equally strong at both run and pass blocking.
The defensive line is loaded, starting with defensive end Justin Smith. The inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, may be the best pair in the NFL. Look for teams to attack cornerback Tarell Brown. The former Texas Longhorn must prove he is not the weak link in a strong defense.
No. 1: Houston Texans
With a healthy Matt Schaub at quarterback, the Texans are the best team in the NFL after Week 1 of the preseason and heading into the regular season. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is still one of the best in the NFL and the Texans brass looks to have uncovered another gem in Keshawn Martin.
Arian Foster is a top running back in the NFL and, behind one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, should continue to put up huge numbers. Tight end Owen Daniels is healthy and ready for another big season.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips knows how to put his players in the best positions to succeed. J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed should only get better in 2012.
One of the best players on the Texans is defensive end Antonio Smith. He continues to play at a high level and is a leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are the keys to make Phillips’ defense go. If they are healthy all season, the Texans will be in the top three in the NFL.