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NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank After Preseason Week 2?

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 21, 2012

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank After Preseason Week 2?

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    Much can be learned from preseason play, especially if you're looking for the cause of evaluating players and not looking at the stats or scores from each game. With two weeks in the bag and the preseason at the halfway mark, which teams are rising to the top?

    Whether by exceptional play or injury, there is no doubting that the NFL landscape looks different today than it did two weeks ago. Here's an updated look at which teams are the best heading into the 2012 season, from bottom to top.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    The Good

    The Cleveland Browns offensive line looks solid heading into the 2012 season. From left to right, this is the best offensive line the team has had since their rebirth in 1999.

    On defense, there is enough talent to win ballgames. Jabaal Sheard, D'Qwell Jackson and Joe Haden are all very talented at their respective positions.

     

    The Bad

    Where to begin? The team is likely to lose Haden for four games due to a banned substance. First-round pick Trent Richardson had his knee scoped recently. The team is going through an ownership change.

    Oh, and on top of all that, the talent level here just isn't that great.

31. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Good

    The Arizona Cardinals feature some of the best players in the game. You can't help but fall in love with Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson's punt return skills and the solid defense brought by Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett.

    There's good young talent here, too. Michael Floyd at receiver, Ryan Williams at running back and linebacker Sam Acho are all very impressive young talents the team can build around.

     

    The Bad

    The quarterback position remains unsettled, with neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb pulling ahead during an ugly start to the preseason.

    An offensive line that failed to slow down anyone last year loses left tackle Levi Brown, maybe for the entire year, and the team still needs a true No. 1 cornerback on defense.

30. St. Louis Rams

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    The Good

    Steven Jackson is still one of the hardest-working, most respected running backs in the NFL. Add him into an offense that gets new life under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and things are looking up.

    The team is anchored by a strong defense—namely Robert Quinn, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan—and they have one of the best coaches in the NFL in Jeff Fisher.

     

    The Bad

    Too many draft choices have bombed here. Sam Bradford isn't a bust, by any means, but he hasn't played up to his draft position. Same for Jason Smith at offensive tackle—he's one more bad season away from officially being a bust after the team drafted him No. 2 overall.

    The cupboard isn't bare in St. Louis, but Fisher doesn't have much to work with at safety, tackle or wide receiver.

29. Miami Dolphins

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    The Good

    The Joe Philbin era should be an improvement over the Tony Sparano days. Philbin will roll with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and his upside plus athleticism makes for an interesting dynamic on offense.

    The team also has one of the NFL's best tackles in Jake Long, and a damn good defensive end in Cameron Wake. The edges are taken care of in Miami.

     

    The Bad

    For all the talent here, there are gaping holes as well. The wide receiver position is bone dry. There are question marks about the safeties. Whether or not the linebackers can make the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense remains to be seen.

    Philbin is a great coach, but he has his work cut out for him here. Tannehill may be the next great NFL quarterback, but he's still a rookie who started fewer than 20 games at quarterback in college. Growing pains—big ones—are to be expected.

28. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Good

    First overall pick Andrew Luck has looked as good as advertised, if not better. The team is firmly in his hands, and judging from early reviews, he's very capable. There's talent here, and the defense will be led by the outside pass rush of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

    There's a new level of excitement and athleticism under the watch of Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. The Colts won't be playoff contenders, but they'll be fighters.

     

    The Bad

    Luck may be the best young quarterback any of us have seen, but without protection from his offensive line, it won't matter. The front five on offense is a gigantic question mark, as is who will emerge as go-to weapons on offense outside of Reggie Wayne.

    On defense, the team is filling gaps with players who would be best served in depth or role positions, and that could lead to Indianapolis playing from behind early and often.

27. New York Jets

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    The Good

    Darrelle Revis is still here, as are Nick Mangold and David Harris. Like him or not, Rex Ryan does a good job motivating his team, and his defensive squads are always among the best in yards allowed per game.

    The makeup of this squad is such that they can win some close games, and there will be no questioning their strength or toughness.

     

    The Bad

    Through two preseason games, the Jets still haven't scored an offensive touchdown. That starts with quarterback Mark Sanchez and quarterback/fullback/special teams ace Tim Tebow. The media circus surrounding the two passers takes the focus off the fact that these Jets are missing playmakers in a big way.

    Who is the No. 2 receiver? Who will rush the passer off the edge? Who will run the ball? The Jets are counting on many players to have career years, merely in order to get back to the playoffs.

26. Oakland Raiders

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    The Good

    It all starts on defense for the Oakland Raiders this year. The team has a defensive line that can really get after the quarterback, and behind the front four is an athletic set of linebackers who can move around and make plays.

    The offense remains a work in progress, but if running back Darren McFadden can stay healthy, they have a chance to be a big-play group.

     

    The Bad

    The Raiders' cornerbacks are, without a doubt, the worst starting duo in the NFL today. That's one huge obstacle to overcome, but outside of this the team is weak at key spots.

    The talent at receiver is promising, but no one has stepped up to the point where there is a true threat at the position. McFadden has never stayed healthy for an entire year, and the offense is waiting to see which version of Carson Palmer they'll get this year.

25. Washington Redskins

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    The Good

    The crazy ability of Robert Griffin III will keep the Washington Redskins in a lot of games this year, and that's a given. Griffin has a rare ability to make plays in and out of the pocket, and that dynamic ability will be displayed weekly in the Redskins offense.

    If healthy, the outside linebackers are good enough to really create havoc off the edge and can be pace-setters for a tough-nosed defense. Two players to watch: Fred Davis (tight end) and Trent Williams (left tackle); both could be in for Pro Bowl seasons.

     

    The Bad

    A lot hinges on how quickly RG3 acclimates to the NFL. If he struggles, this team will too. For all his supposed genius in the run game, Mike Shanahan hasn't unearthed a stud running back in Washington yet, and that lack of a run threat will allow defenses to creep up and spy the run when RG3 drops back to pass.

    The talent is here to upset a lot of people in the NFC East, but banking on superstar play from a rookie quarterback is risky.

24. Minnesota Vikings

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    The Good

    If Adrian Peterson is back healthy, the Minnesota Vikings could surprise some people. The team is much more balanced from top to bottom, and that starts with second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder has looked sharp in the preseason, and his job only gets easier with Peterson in the backfield.

    On defense, this is an underrated group in the front seven. We all know that Jared Allen is going to get his sacks, and opposing offenses know it, too.

     

    The Bad

    Outside of Percy Harvin, who will Ponder be throwing to that can be a consistent weapon? There is some potential here, especially at tight end, but no one has stepped up this preseason.

    Defensively, the secondary is a mess. They'll have to generate a crazy amount of pressure on the quarterback to cover up their sparse secondary play.

23. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Good

    You cannot talk about the Seattle Seahawks and not start with their secondary. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner form one of the best secondaries in the game. Hands down.

    The defense has a glut of talent in the front four, too. Red Bryant is a stud at tackle, and even newcomer Jason Jones looks like a perfect fit in the Seattle defense.

     

    The Bad

    Notice there were no offensive players mentioned there? The team is waiting to see who the quarterback will be in a three-way fight between Russell Wilson, Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. There's a chance Jackson gets traded or cut soon, making this a two-way fight...but still, there's no quarterback here yet.

    The best player on offense, Marshawn Lynch, was popped for a DUI in Oakland this offseason after having a problem with those in Buffalo. Oh, and the offensive line is a white-hot mess due to injuries and failed expectations. 

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Good

    There really is a lot to like here. If any team is going to make a big jump from the bottom of the league into the playoffs, Tampa is my bet to do just that.

    Josh Freeman is still a very promising young quarterback, and he has ice in his veins in the fourth quarter. The offensive line got a big boost from Carl Nicks at guard, and he'll help pave the way for Doug Martin at running back.

    On defense, Mark Barron and Lavonte David will bring youth and speed to the team in a big way.

     

    The Bad

    The defense is waiting on a lot of question marks. Gerald McCoy is in a make-or-break year at tackle. The team's best pass rusher is Michael Bennett, which in itself says a lot, and they need big seasons from Aqib Talib (off-field issues) and Ronde Barber (age/new position) despite distractions.

    All in all, there's a lot of good here, but a new coach and a team coming off a 10-game losing streak can't be counted on just yet.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Good

    The 2012 season all hinges on Blaine Gabbert. The second-year quarterback has looked markedly better this preseason, but how he looks when the games actually matter is another story.

    Gabbert has a better team around him this year, and if healthy, he has a defense that can shut down elite offenses.

     

    The Bad

    It may become an issue, and it may not, but the fact remains that Maurice Jones-Drew isn't in camp. Maybe they can replace him with Rashad Jennings, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Jennings isn't MJD.

    Outside of the backfield, there are some worries with the many young players on this team. If guys like Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Eugene Monroe and others all take a step forward, Jacksonville is in a good position to prove a lot of doubters wrong.

20. Carolina Panthers

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    The Good

    Anytime Cam Newton is on the field, good things are going to happen. Newton is one of the game's most exciting players, and if he can take the next step in his development, things will be very good for the Panthers.

    Outside of Newton, there are a ton of young studs ready to take over. Ryan Kalil at center, the three-headed running back approach of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Greg Olsen at tight end.

    The list goes on and on for Carolina.

     

    The Bad

    You can definitely worry about the right tackle position. The team tried to trade Jeff Otah this summer, but he failed a physical and was waived. Now they'll bank on Byron Bell, a street free agent from the 2011 draft and 2012 rookie Amini Silatolu at guard.

    The worst-case scenario is that Newton doesn't develop, that Jon Beason doesn't return 100 percent and that the secondary is exposed in a quarterback-heavy NFC South.

19. San Diego Chargers

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    The Good

    On paper, the San Diego Chargers have a ton of talent. Enough to win the AFC West, even. Philip Rivers has the qualities of an elite NFL quarterback, and he's good enough to take this team deep into the playoffs if he's on his A-game.

    Antonio Gates is back healthy and can be one of the best tight ends in football. The defense has studs in Shaun Phillips and Melvin Ingram, plus Eric Weddle at free safety.

    All in all, this is one of the better-stacked rosters in the game.

     

    The Bad

    Norv Turner is still the head coach, which means we can expect the Chargers to underperform. Rivers didn't play well in 2011, and while some of that goes on the offensive line, he has to step up this season.

    That same offensive line largely returns this season, and the team is putting their money on Jared Gaither staying healthy at left tackle to protect Rivers. 

18. Tennessee Titans

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    The Good

    The Jake Locker era begins in Tennessee this season after he beat out incumbent Matt Hasselbeck in training camp. Locker is a much more athletic option at the position, and with the overall team speed on the Titans offense, he's a great fit for the system.

    On defense there are loads of young playmakers. Colin McCarthy and Jurrell Casey are two of the most promising young defenders in the AFC, and they'll anchor a defense that received a big boost from defensive end Kamerion Wimbley's signing.

     

    The Bad

    Locker is the man in Tennessee now, and that could be good or bad. Locker's inexperience may haunt a team that's already likely to miss wide receiver Kenny Britt for at least some of the season due to his eighth arrest since 2009.

    The offense is also waiting to see which Chris Johnson shows up after a down year from their workhorse back in 2010. The secondary has to replace Cortland Finnegan's presence, something that may seem easier on paper than in real life.

17. Denver Broncos

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    The Good

    Did you hear that Peyton Manning is in Denver now? The future Hall of Famer will be tasked with revitalizing an offense that went back to a high school playbook under Tim Tebow last fall. The play of Manning will instantly bring credibility to the Broncos offense.

    On defense, there are two players who should scare opponents—Von Miller and Champ Bailey. Offensive coordinators will live and die by how well they scheme around the two dynamic defenders in Denver.

     

    The Bad

    Manning is playing with perhaps the least talented supporting cast since his rookie season in 1997. There is no proven No. 1 wide receiver here. There is no Edgerrin James or Marshall Faulk in the backfield. The offensive line has some talent, but they aren't elite by any means.

    There is also a lingering question of just how good will Manning be over the course of a full season after taking the 2011 campaign off.

16. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Good

    Where to begin? DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dangerous football players on the planet. Tony Romo is an underrated quarterback who gets killed in the media largely because of where he plays. Tyron Smith had an outstanding rookie season at tackle.

    Oh, and the 2012 draft class was a slam dunk.

     

    The Bad

    The expectations in Dallas seem larger than life, and that ultimately gets to the team. There are holes, despite a top-heavy roster. At receiver, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have both been banged up this preseason.

    The safety play will be a huge question mark, as will the defensive line. The Cowboys could easily win the NFC East—just as easily as they could finish fourth. It's going to be that type of season.

15. Buffalo Bills

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    The Good

    The signing of Mario Williams instantly gives the Buffalo Bills one of the best defensive lines in the game. If that isn't good news, what is?

    Williams joins Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson to provide one hell of a pass rush. They'll anchor an impressive defense that's a breakout season from a linebacker or two from being a top-five unit.

    On offense, there's good, and there's potential for good. Fred Jackson is back healthy, and that's good. Stevie Johnson re-signed, and that's good. Ryan Fitzpatrick has potential to be good at quarterback, but it's a wait-and-see game right now.

     

    The Bad

    Fitzpatrick could really mess up high expectations from a talented team. If he plays like he did to end the 2011 season, the Bills are in trouble. The left tackle position is a question mark unless rookie Cordy Glenn steps up big, and in the AFC East they desperately need him to.

    You could nit-pick and say the linebacker depth isn't good, but there are a lot of young players ready to step up there.

14. Detroit Lions

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    The Good

    Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson is one of the most unstoppable forces in the universe. The two teamed up for a huge season in 2011, and as Stafford develops, more is expected.

    The defense is nasty, and there is an ability to crash the backfield from inside or outside the tackles. The team has playoff experience, and that can give them the confidence they need in a very deep division.

     

    The Bad

    The on- and off-field distractions really added up this offseason, and that's something the team has to prove it can get past. Evaluating their play, there's room for concern at cornerback and along the offensive line.

    Jeff Backus has been a solid left tackle for a long time, and Riley Reiff is clearly the future, but in the meantime they may be in trouble. Unless one of the running backs steps up, the passing game may have to do all the work again in 2012.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Good

    The core group of Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey, LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor and Lawrence Timmons is good enough to win a lot of football games.

    If young players like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Carter and Keenan Lewis can develop as expected, Pittsburgh will continue their run of excellence well into the next several seasons.

    It helps that the coaching staff is one of the game's best, too.

     

    The Bad

    Keeping up with players who leave is tough for every team, but the Steelers are in a make-or-break season.

    Ziggy Hood has to step up and become a factor at defensive end. Carter has to try and ease the potential loss of James Harrison to injury, and rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams will be counted on to anchor the offensive line in year one.

    Expectations are sky-high, but the reality is the Steelers are counting on a number of young players to fill major roles.

12. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Good

    There is a load of talented players here who have yet to even fully realize their potential. Whether that's Geno Atkins at defensive tackle or Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on offense, the Bengals are straight-up stacked.

    If the already established young players take another step up, this is a division championship team. Andrew Whitworth at tackle, Kevin Zeitler at guard and Jermaine Gresham at tight end are all players to watch this fall.

     

    The Bad

    There's not much bad here. The Bengals are light at cornerback, especially if Dre Kirkpatrick isn't ready to go early on and Leon Hall isn't back to his full health. The run game will be changed with BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming to town—and whether he's an upgrade on the field and not just on paper remains to be seen.

    The biggest negative in Cincinnati, though, is that this team is no longer an underdog. They have a big target on their backs, something that wasn't there during their playoff run in 2011.

11. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Good

    Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb and Marshal Yanda are flat-out elite. There is no arguing that the key players in Baltimore are among the best in the NFL at what they do.

    And with the second-tier guys like Michael Oher, Anquan Boldin and Joe Flacco, this is a franchise with Super Bowl expectations. The talent level in Baltimore is as good as any you'll find in the NFL.

     

    The Bad

    Flacco will have a spotlight on his play this year, more than in any other season. There has been considerable talk this summer about his status as an elite quarterback, and now he has to prove his value.

    Losing Terrell Suggs to injury definitely hurts the team's chances, but other than that, the Ravens are suffering from general aging. Lewis, Reed, Matt Birk and Bobbie Williams are all getting to the end of their careers.

    While there are young stars here, there are none waiting in the wings at these positions. If any of the players here should regress quickly, the Ravens are in trouble.

10. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Good

    The return of many key stars who were injured during the 2011 season has fans of the Kansas City Chiefs optimistic—and for good reason.

    With Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry all back healthy, the core group of talent is intact. They'll join Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin, Eric Winston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers as the nucleus for the AFC West's most talented roster.

     

    The Bad

    Cassel needs to prove that last season's poor play was a result of injury to his supporting cast and the lockout and not his own talent level.

    The team is also pinning their hopes on three early draft picks along the defensive line. Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey were all top-10 picks at one time, but to date they aren't living up to their paychecks.

9. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Good

    A roster with this much talent should win a lot of games, even in the tough NFC East. With Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha and DeMeco Ryans (among others) all lined up for the 2012 season, the expectations for the Eagles may be higher than they were before the hyped 2011 campaign.

    If Super Bowls were won on paper, Philadelphia's roster would put them in contention for a Lombardi Trophy.

     

    The Bad

    Unfortunately, games are won and lost on the field, and during the 2011 season the Eagles got off to a terrible start and couldn't gain enough traction by the end of the season to save their year.

    To win this year, the Eagles need a healthy Michael Vick, something no one has seen for a full season since he came back to the NFL after a stint in prison. With Jason Peters out for the year at left tackle, Vick's health will be a focal point all season. 

8. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Good

    This is easily the most talented team Matt Ryan has played on with the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan leads an offense that's loaded at skill positions—running back Michael Turner, receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White with tight end Tony Gonzalez.

    The defense got a nice boost with Asante Samuel coming over, which should immediately make them contenders in a division that features three very talented quarterbacks lining up across from the Falcons defense.

     

    The Bad

    The offensive line and linebackers are a major concern. Protection was an issue in 2011, and the team hopes Dirk Koetter can fix that without an infusion of talent. The team lost Will Svitek at left tackle for the year, which means they'll rely on Sam Baker to keep Ryan upright.

    At linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon is it. Akeem Dent is unproven, Mike Peterson is past his prime, and Stephen Nicholas is just average. Weatherspoon is great, but he can't do it all on his own.

7. Houston Texans

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    The Good

    With one of the best defenses in the NFL and arguably the best running back, the Houston Texans have serious Super Bowl expectations.

    The team came close in 2011, and that was with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson injured. They're back to anchor a team that many expect to be playing in the Superdome to end the season.

     

    The Bad

    How well the Texans replace their departed starters will tell the story of their season. Eric Winston, Mike Brisiel and Mario Williams all depart from the starting lineup and must be replaced.

    Add in Jacoby Jones at receiver, and the team is replacing four key contributors to their past success. The talent is here to win a Super Bowl, but for that to happen the new starters must step up big. Someone must emerge as a solid No. 2 wide receiver opposite the suddenly injury-prone Andre Johnson.

6. New Orleans Saints

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    The Good

    Drew Brees is still here. As are Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Jahri Evans. The team was able to weather a tough offseason and actually manage to improve the roster through the free-agent signings of Curtis Lofton and Brodrick Bunkley.

    The Saints have their sights set on proving the NFL and many fans wrong this season, and that alone could be the motivation they need to excel.

     

    The Bad

    The many losses to the organization over "Bountygate" will be felt. Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma are gone for the entire season. Joe Vitt will eventually become the interim head coach, but not until he serves a six-game suspension himself.

    Drew Brees can rally the troops all he wants, but the simple fact is that Payton's loss will be felt. It may not happen early, and it may not happen in the regular season, but you cannot replace a Sean Payton as easily as many Saints fans want us to believe.

5. New York Giants

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    The Good

    The reigning Super Bowl champions were able to get through the offseason with very little turnover. Only Aaron Ross, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs parlayed their championship seasons into paydays elsewhere, and in some cases the Giants may not have minded.

    Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Chris Snee are still around as the backbone of the offense, and that's all they need. The defense will carry this team, and more specifically the front four will. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Co. will be the reason the Giants enter the season as a legitimate contender to repeat as champs.

     

    The Bad

    It should be remembered that the Giants barely made the playoffs last year. In a very tough NFC East, they can't afford to lose any steam. The offensive line isn't great, and that could be the major hurdle in the team's chances to repeat.

    On defense, the team was using Antrel Rolle in the slot by season's end, somewhere he should never play, and it affected the entire defense.

    Based on preseason reviews, only injury or serious regression could keep the Giants out of the playoffs.

4. Chicago Bears

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    The Good

    The offseason additions were spectacular, and when added to the returning stars, the Chicago Bears are set up to make a run through the playoffs in 2012.

    Jay Cutler's status as an elite quarterback should be cemented this year now that he has talent around him at receiver. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will make Cutler's life much easier, as will the return of right tackle Gabe Carimi after he missed the 2011 season to injury.

    The defense has the pass rush and coverage to control top offenses, especially once the weather gets cold in the Windy City.

     

    The Bad

    Brian Urlacher has long been the heart of the defense, if not the entire team, but he's battling injury and may be slowed down this year. The defense can survive without Urlacher, but this isn't a playoff team without him in the middle.

    The offensive line is one big question mark. No one should feel good about J'Marcus Webb at left tackle—at least not based on what we've seen in the past. If the Bears are to challenge the Green Bay Packers, Webb and his four friends on the starting line must step up.

3. New England Patriots

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    The Good

    Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still around, and that's about all you need to be a Super Bowl contender in today's NFL. 

    Brady has a much more talented roster helping him this season thanks to a strong offseason and free-agency period. Brandon Lloyd joins Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to give the passing game a Pro Bowl roster's worth of talent.

    The defense should be rejuvenated thanks to a scheme change and the additions of Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower through the draft. Adding them to a defense that was good enough to make the Super Bowl last year should only help.

     

    The Bad

    The injuries on the offensive line are a concern, and the depth is starting to take a hit. There are really very few weaknesses here, but if Brady isn't protected, the season goes from near certainty to a question mark.

    The secondary has been beaten up on over the last few seasons, but they've come up big in tight spots. It wouldn't be fair to not mention the pass coverage as a potential issue, though.

2. Green Bay Packers

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    The Good

    The NFL's most talented passing game gives the Green Bay Packers the talent—and points—needed to make another Super Bowl run in 2012.

    Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL right now, and it helps that he has six excellent targets at his disposal in the passing game. Rodgers has his pick of talented pass-catchers every time he drops back, and defenses can rarely cover them all.

    The team upgraded on defense by adding Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward in the draft. All three have a chance to see major playing time early in the year. Perry, in particular, is being counted on to help provide a spark on defense to get the Packers back into the Super Bowl.

     

    The Bad

    The offensive line should be improved this year after showing weaknesses in the playoffs to end the 2011 season, but this is still an issue for the team. The left side of the line is well behind the right in terms of overall talent at this stage.

    The defensive line is the only other area where we're waiting to see what happens. B.J. Raji hasn't developed as expected, but the team needs him to be a factor in the middle. Rookie Jerel Worthy could have a nice season, as he's a great fit in a penetrating 3-4 defense.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    The Good

    A team that was one botched punt away from the Super Bowl returns 11 starters on defense and managed to bring back every starter they wanted to keep on offense while adding new blood at key positions.

    The San Francisco 49ers are absolutely loaded. Whether it's coaching or players, it's hard to not like what's on the table here. Alex Smith leads an offense that can bang between the tackles with Frank Gore or spread you out and pick apart a defense with a timing-based passing game. Adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will only make Smith more dangerous.

    The truth is, the offense doesn't have to do much here on a weekly basis thanks to the game's best defense. The 49ers defense looked like an NFC Pro Bowl roster last year, and it should only be better with Patrick Willis fully healthy and Aldon Smith a year more developed.

     

    The Bad

    Alex Smith will always be the wild card here, at least until he can consistently play at a high level. Smith was good in 2011, but the scheme was conservative and at times the team won in spite of the passing game. Smith has the playmakers around him, now he needs to elevate his game.

    The 49ers' season rests on whether Smith can become a true franchise quarterback or not.

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