2012 NFL Preseason Power Rankings
Before I dive into this, let me start by saying that I realize a lot of people consider power rankings a waste of time. To me, however, it has always seemed like a good challenge to test your knowledge of every team in the league—a challenge that I have wanted to try for a while now.
I will mention that I am a Cleveland Browns fan, and yes that bias will influence my rankings. I will try to be as objective as I can, but I am not naive enough to believe I can completely throw out my passion for the Browns as I compile this list.
I look forward to every reader comment. I realize 31 fanbases will probably argue that their team is ranked to low. However, I want to learn as much as possible about every team, so if you believe your team is too low please point to the reasons why.
So here goes, my first ever attempt at NFL power rankings:
32. Indianapolis Colts
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Yes, the Colts have the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning himself, and yes, the future appears to be very bright. However, that is the future. These rankings concern only the 2012 season
This is the first full rebuild for Colts fans since Manning arrived in 1998 and if they can remember back that far, things did not exactly click immediately.The team went 3-13 in Manning's first season and tied for the worst record in the league.
Expect 2012 to be similar, as a young roster filled with potential learns to work together. This is a team to keep an eye on all season long, as the improvement you see from week to week on the field will tell you much more about them than the win-loss column.
31. Minnesota Vikings
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With Adrian Peterson trying to return from a serious injury that caused him to miss the last four games of 2011, the pressure is squarely on quarterback Christian Ponder as he enters his second season. From what I saw last year, I do not believe he is up to the challenge.
With two of the leagues best teams in the division in the Packers and Lions plus an always dangerous Bears team, it looks to be an uphill climb for the Vikings in 2012.
30. Miami Dolphins
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The Dolphins started 2011 looking destined to compete for the worst record in the league and gain the rights to, presumably, pick coveted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in the NFL draft. Instead, they charged out of nowhere to a 6-10 finish.
They decided Matt Moore and Chad Henne were not the answer at the quarterback position and instead drafted Texas A&M signal caller Ryan Tannehill. The team also brought in Chad Johnson at receiver, but cut him after an altercation with his girlfriend ended in his arrest.
With a rookie QB (and one I wasn’t particularly high on before the draft) finding his way, no big-play threats at receiver and an average-at-best defense, the Dolphins are destined for a top-5 pick in 2012.
29. Arizona Cardinals
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After trading for Kevin Kolb and giving him a huge contract, the Cardinals have decided to name John Skelton the starting quarterback just one year later. Neither was impressive in 2011, but Skelton was able to win games. It is doubtful he has that same success in 2012, and I look for the QB drama to take many twists and turns all season long. That is not how you win in the NFL.
Their defense and running games are average, and won’t be enough to overcome the issues in the passing game, even if Larry Fitzgerald is still one of the league’s best receivers.
28. St. Louis Rams
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From what I saw, Sam Bradford was awful in 2011. Sure, many blame the O-line for his poor play, but there were more than a few times I saw him have plenty of time in the pocket and simply miss an open receiver.
Running back Stephen Jackson is entering his ninth year, and you have to wonder how fast all the hits are adding up considering he has been the team’s primary source of offense the majority of his career. They hired defensive coordinator Greg Williams away from the Saints expecting to give their defense a lift, but he has been suspended for his role in the Saints' bounty program.
27. Seattle Seahawks
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Basically, I think the entire NFC West is a mess. I’ll put the Seahawks ahead of the Rams and Cardinals simply because I know that they have the defense to make some stops.
I’m not sure about the logic in signing Matt Flynn just to sit him behind third-round rookie Russell Wilson. To me that spells trouble.
On the receiving front, they are excited about the addition of Braylon Edwards, which I can tell you with 100 percent confidence is a mistake. Sidney Rice didn’t perform as expected last season, but with Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson throwing to him, he may not have had much of a chance.
He and 2011 UDFA Doug Baldwin give the team respectable receiving options, and Marshawn Lynch makes for a nice running game. If Wilson plays well, they may surprise people, but I don't have my hopes up.
26. Tampa Bay Bucaneers
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Josh Freeman, Josh Freeman and Josh Freeman. That is THE key to the Buccaneers' 2012 season.
Over the first two years of his career, Freeman appeared to be heading in the right direction, ready to lead the Buccaneers for the foreseeable future. He hit a huge bump in 2011, however, throwing 22 interceptions in 15 games. There were signs that he was still improving in other areas, however, as his completion percentage and passing yards were career highs.
If the high number of interceptions was a fluke, this team may be ranked a bit too low. Their defense was near the bottom of the league in 2011, allowing nearly 400 yards/game, and their running back position is in flux, so even if Freeman improves, it could be an uphill battle for a playoff spot.
25. Cleveland Browns
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When you are starting rookies at both running back and quarterback (regardless of age), there is only so much you can expect.
The biggest optimist has them repeating the success of the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals, while the biggest pessimists have them picking No. 1 overall in 2013. I think they will fall somewhere in between.
Brandon Weeden will struggle early and Trent Richardson’s health will be a concern, but both will improve drastically as the season wears on. With an improved receiver position and a defense that surprisingly finished top 10 in yards allowed last season, they will be far from the worst team in the league.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
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A lot of people have the Jaguars ranked as either the worst or second-worst team in the league. Not me.
I see a major improvement coming from QB Blaine Gabbert in his second year with rookie receiver Justin Blackmon giving him the receiving threat he was missing in 2011. That will help an already solid defense conserve energy, enabling them to force opponents into mistakes. Maurice Jones-Drew is a talented back who makes the run game dangerous, though it has yet to be seen if his prolonged holdout will have any adverse effects.
23. Washington Redskins
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Robert Griffin III has brought plenty of hope, but after what they gave up for him, if he fails, this team is in deep trouble for a long time. A Cam Newton-like rookie season has been mentioned, but that is unrealistic and unfair to expect.
The running back situation doesn’t look to be a bright spot, and the defense is average. A lot will be expected of RG3 in his rookie year, and he will likely make plenty of rookie mistakes. The key for the Redskins is to stay patient and build around him for the future.
22. Kansas City Chiefs
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Matt Cassell took a huge step backwards last year, and it has some thinking that this may be his last year starting. My best guess is that it will be as he is a serviceable QB, but not one that will lead anyone to the top.
The addition of Peyton Hillis may or may not improve the running game, but he adds a receiving option out of the backfield, whether he is lined up at fullback or halfback.
On defense, they are solid against the pass, with cornerback Brandon Flowers being perhaps one of the league’s most underrated players. They need to improve against the run, as they were near the bottom of the league in that category in 2011.
21. Oakland Raiders
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Carson Palmer has been one of the league’s top QBs in the past, but those days appear to be behind him. After losing starter Jason Campbell to injury in 2011, they made the trade for the disgruntled former Bengals star. He underwhelmed as the Raiders starter, but being thrown into a new situation and being expected to play immediately would be tough on anyone. They also lost running back Darren McFadden to injury, and had to turn to Michael Bush to carry the load for much of the season. If McFadden and Palmer both stay healthy and live up to their talent, this team could definitely be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot and may even win the division if I am wrong about Peyton Manning’s comeback. Defense is a huge concern here, for a team that allowed over 380 yards a game. They are hoping a new-look secondary drastically improves that number.
20. Cincinnati Bengals
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The surprise team of 2011, rookies AJ Green and Andy Dalton led the Bengals to an unexpected playoff appearance. Many have the Bengals primes to take that next step up, but I don’t see it. While Dalton had a decent rookie season, he was given much more credit than he probably deserved. In the running game they replaced Cedric Benson with Benjarvus Green-Ellis who had previously split carries in New England. I don’t see that as much of an upgrade. In fact, Benson gained more yards per carry than Green-Eillis in 2011. Their defense is strong enough to keep them in games and AJ Green is a star in the making; I just don’t trust the rest of the offense to do enough.
19. San Francisco 49ers
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Yes, they made it to the NFC Championship game in 2011. Yes, they may have won the super Bowl if it wasn’t for two costly fumbles. The problem is, and continues to be, Alex Smith. In the NFC championship game the team did not convert a single meaningful 3rd down, in large part due to Smith’s performance. He may have showed flashes of talent over the course of the season, but he has proven he is not a QB that will win games for his team. Smith did a nice job of not losing games, but it will be tough for him to repeat only five interceptions again in 2012. After not being able to sign Peyton Manning in the off-season, the team instead tried to compensate by adding as much talent as they could. However even with one of the best defenses (if not THE best) in the NFL, along with Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, I still don’t see Smith doing enough to repeat the success of 2011.
18. Carolina Panthers
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Will Cam Newton improve on an impressive rookie campaign, or fall victim to a sophomore slump? Either way, this team is on the rise. Newton is difficult to stop, and when you add his ability to run the football to talented backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the offense is sure to give teams the fits. But as Newton proved early last year, he can also rack up plenty of yards through the air. Their defense is a different story, allowing the 5th most yards in the NFL. That number will need to improve if this team expects to make the playoffs.
17. Buffalo Bills.
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After a fast start in 2011, they gave a big extension to average quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and then faltered down the stretch. That has been typical Bills fashion in recent years, and I see no reason to believe they will be all that much better in 2012. Fred Jackson had a fine year up until he got injured. Mario Williams was a nice addition to a defense that struggles to get to the QB. In pass defense they will need to be able to stop Tom Brady and potentially Mark Sanchez if the Jets are clicking, and will be highly dependent on rookie corner Stephon Gilmore.
16. Tenessee Titans
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How will Jake Locker perform now that the team has handed him the reigns, and can Chris Johnson bounce back from a down year? Those are the questions everyone has regarding the Titans, and they will be keys to how 2012 turns out. I see Locker's threat of scrambling opening up more lanes for Johnson, so their passing game will be the biggest issue. They also need to tighten up their run defense if they expect to stop division opponents Arian foster and Maurice Jones-Drew. They finished 24th in the league in 2011.
15. New York Jets
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Talk about a team no one knows what to expect from. The Jets have the talent to make a run for it all, but also the egos to implode and finish under .500. Mark Sanchez at times looks like a leader, and at others looks clueless on the field. While recently acquired back-up Tim Tebow is probably not a threat to take over (regardless of what the media says), it has seems to add even more tension to an already tense situation. They have a good defense, led by star cornerback Darelle Revis, and are adequate at stopping the run. This year the pressure is placed squarely on Mark Sanchez to get something done. If not he and head coach Rex Ryan may be done in New York.
14. San Diego Chargers
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This team is always difficult to place. In past years they started out slow, and then got hot just in time to take the division title by the end. Last year something just seems off, with the team, and with Phillip Rivers specifically. His stats took a noticeable dip, as a 62.9% completion rate and 88.7 QB rating were both his lowest since 2007. Sure they had problems with injuries, particularly at receiver, but that doesn’t explain his 20 interceptions, the highest of his career by far. If Rivers can get back to his old form, this is a good team. If not, they may finish last in the division. How he performs the first few weeks should tell us a lot about what’s in store for the season. Whether or not running back Ryan Matthews remains healthy, and the chemistry between River and new receiver Robert Meachem will also affect the offense's efficacy.
13. Atlanta Falcons
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The Atlanta Falcons are one of those teams you just expect to start competing really soon. In fact, during the 2010 season they were my pick to win the Super Bowl in 2011. That didn’t happen, as they looked awful in their lone playoff game against the eventual champion Green Bay Packers. An offense that seems capable couldn’t move the ball at all, and they ended the day with just two points (scored, of course, by the defense). That game made them look a lot farther away from competing than many had previously thought, including myself. As receiver Julio Jones improves, and second year running back Jaquiz Rodgers finds his role sharing touches with Michael turner, maybe they will be able to erase the memory of the ’11 playoffs.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
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As a Browns fan, I could have easily justified to myself putting this team two to three spots lower, however I will try to remain somewhat objective. Defensively they are always tough to move the ball on. If James Harrison can resist taking cheap shots and giving away free penalty yards, they should be just as tough in 2012. The offense is the worry in Pittsburgh. With Rashard Mendenhall coming off of a serious injury once he returns, will the Steelers be able to run the ball effectively? And with the loss of first round pick David DeCastro (knee) and receiver Mike Wallace’s lengthy hold-out, will the passing game have the same impact? It has yet to be seen, but if it all comes together this team is still dangerous.
11. Dallas Cowboys
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This is where Power Rankings get difficult. While I have the Lions ranked higher, I think the Cowboys have a much better chance at winning the Super Bowl this season. Here is the logic: I think that the Lions have more talent and will finish with a better record, but I think the Cowboys have the maturity to win in the playoffs. I don’t see them winning the division, but if they grab a wild-card spot, they are capable of making a Giants-esque run through the post-season. Tony Romo may catch a lot of heat from fans and media, but he is one of the league’s top-tier quarterbacks. As Dez Bryant continues to mature, that pass offense is only going to improve, and on defense they have no problem getting to the quarterback. This is a team that is quietly lurking behind the leaders, ready to take them by surprise.
10. Chicago Bears
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My biggest issue with the Bears in Jay Cutler’s tenure as QB is his inconsistency. It seems like one game he is one of the league’s best, and the next he can’t move the ball at all. They went out and got him two new targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, which should help. With legitimate receivers and a solid running game with Matt Forte (and Michael Bush), it should open up Devin Hester for the occasional big play. Their defense finished fifth in the league in stopping the run in 2011, and first round pick Shea McClellin should only make them tougher. The biggest concern Bears fans have is with the offensive line, which has had problems keeping Cutler healthy in the past. If that unit can improve, the Bears have a team built to win now. If they put it all together, they have the talent to finish second in the NFC North and may make a run at it all in 2012.
9. Denver Broncos
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No one knows what to make of this team. However I know one thing: if Peyton Manning plays like Peyton Manning, they will likely run away with the division, and go deep into the playoffs. They may not have any household names at receiver, but with Manning throwing the ball, look for Demaryius Thomas and Erick Decker to have career years. The defense should benefit simply by having longer periods of rest while Manning drives the offense. The main concern here is the quarterback's health. It was never an issue before 2011 as he had never missed a start in his career, so if he is back to his regular self it may not be much of a concern. They were able to win a playoff game with Tim Tebow, so how much further could a legend like Manning take them?
8. New Orleans Saints
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The off-season did not go smoothly at all for the New Orleans Saints. As the NFL investigated allegations that they put bounties out paying players to injure opponents, multiple players were handed suspensions. Coach Sean Payton was also suspended for the entire year. While the saga of “bountygate” continues to unfold, even if the NFL’s punishments are rescinded many key pieces of the team have missed valuable time together. The team also lost a few key pieces on offense, specifically receiver Robert Meachem and guard Carl Nicks. The good news is that the team was able to agree with QB Drew Brees on a new contract, likely making the offense as deadly as ever. If the team can adjust and put the off-season behind them, they are still a big threat in the NFC.
7. Detroit Lions
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The Lions emerged last season as a force to be reckoned with. With a healthy Matt Stafford for virtually the first time since they selected him number one overall in 2009, the offense showed they could put up points with some of the best. Stafford to “Megatron” Calvin Johnson was almost unstoppable as the pair connected for nearly 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns. Their defense however, left a lot to be desired. Finishing in the bottom half of the league in rush defense, pass defense and points against, the low point of the season came in week 17, when Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn put up 480 yards and six touchdowns. I don’t expect the defense to make the jump necessary to compete for it all this year, but they have a bright future ahead of them.
6. New York Giants
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The Giants may be Super Bowl champions, but that doesn’t mean they are the best team in 2012. In fact, during the 2011 regular season they struggled heavily, and got their foot in the playoff door just before it slammed shut. There are still many things to like about this team though. Eli Manning has thrown his way into the conversation of the NFL's elite QBs with some masterful late game performances. Receivers Hakeem Nix, Victor Cruz, and rookie Reuben Randle provide him with targets and they addressed a flailing running game by drafting running back David Wilson in round one of the 2012 draft. Add one of 2011’s biggest breakout players, Jason Pierre Paul, to an always dangerous defensive front, and you see why they are champions. The concern remains in the secondary, which finished 29th in the league in passing yards/game. They overcame that in 2011; the question is, can they do it again?
5. Baltimore Ravens
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It is always tough to see a season end because your kicker couldn’t make what should have been a chip-shot field goal. The Ravens fell victim to that unfortunate fate in the 2011 AFC Championship game, losing out to the New England Patriots for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Ravens are one of the most balanced teams in the league, with both a solid passing (led by quarterback Joe Facco) and rushing attack (led by running back Ray Rice), as well as an always stout defense. The biggest concern for this team is will 2011 defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs be able to recover from an achilles injury in time to make an impact in the 2012 playoffs.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
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It may be a little bold to place the Eagles this high after the supposed “dream team” faltered to an 8-8 season after a 1-4 start in 2011. However, they showed their potential in winning 5 of their last seven games, including a win against the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. With an offense featuring Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson. they are capable of putting up points in bunches (they scored over 30 points five times in 2011). The reason they are ranked this highly is I expect the defense to take a big step forward with an added year of chemistry and a full offseason to learn their roles and how to work together. With talent like Nnamdi Assomougha, Domonique-Rodgers Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Trent Cole, there is no reason they can’t be one of the league’s best.
3. New England Patriots
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The emergence of Rob Gronkowski last year really showed how potent the Patriots offense can be when Tom Brady develops chemistry with a receiver. With fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, offseason addition Brandon Lloyd and underneath receiver Wes Welker, the passing game looks like it could be in for another big year. The big question is can their running game do enough to supplement the aerial attack? If nothing else, Danny Woodhead is a decent option as a receiver out of the backfield, so some short pass plays may make up for the lack of a running game. On defense they need cornerback Devin McCourty to bounce back from a bad year, but they made the Super Bowl even as he and the defensive unit struggled in 2012. This is a team that will be in the hunt for a championship until the very end.
2. Houston Texans
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Many won’t have Houston ranked this high to begin the season, but there is a whole lot to like about this team. Any time a team can march into the playoffs and make noise with a backup QB (and a rookie, nonetheless), you have to take notice. With a healthy Matt Schaub, one of the league’s top 5 receivers in Andre Johnson, and a top back in Arian Foster, the offense is always a threat. The loss of Mario Williams may be felt on defense, but with playmakers such as Brian Cushing and Jonathon Joseph, they can still hold their own against the league's better offenses. I get the feeling that their time is now.
1. Green Bay Packers
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Is there any argument as to who was the best team in the NFL last season? Sure the Giants won the Super Bowl, but the Packers dominated their competition 15 out of 17 weeks of their season, while Aaron Rodgers established himself as possibly the best QB in the game. They addressed their weaknesses by adding defenders with each of their first six picks of the draft, and added Cedric Benson to improve the running game. Expecting a repeat performance from Rodgers and the Packers in the regular season would be unfair, but this team’s true test lies in the playoffs.
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Thank you for reading, As always any comments are appreciated, positive or negative. I know many people will believe there team is placed to low, but please give reasons WHY.
Follow me or let me know your thoughts on Twitter @deg4. I am always looking forward to a good football conversation.