NFL Power Rankings: Teams That Will Play Better Than Expected This Season

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2012

The Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers surprised everyone by earning spots in the 2011 NFL playoffs, and you can bet at least one team will do the same this season.

It's just the way things go. Teams step up every year, while others take a few strides in the wrong direction.

Maybe their division got weaker. Maybe they added that one key piece, or got a key contributor back from injury. No matter what the reason is, you should expect a few teams to raise some eyebrows this season.

They may not be high in my power rankings now, but you can expect these three squads to outperform expectations this season.


Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are so close to taking the next step, but they won't make that humongous jump this season. However, I expect them to win 10 games in 2012.

Last year, they went 7-9 and finished last in a excruciatingly close AFC West. That was without Jamaal Charles in the backfield, Tony Moeaki at tight end and, most importantly, Eric Berry at safety.

All three are back this year, and former Browns back Peyton Hillis will accompany Charles in the run game.

Kansas City will rely on their defense to win games. Romeo Crennel understands how to get the most out of his guys, and they had the No. 6 pass defense in the league last season. That was without their best player in Berry, and they should be better this season.

Offensively, Matt Cassel doesn't jump out at you. But he does have weapons.

A lot rides on Charles' knee, but Hillis' presence will make things easier. He shouldn't carry the ball in the red zone, and he will be used more carefully.

Cassel has targets to throw to, and their division still isn't anything to write home about. Peyton Manning will make Denver better, but San Diego is always a threat to disappear and Oakland is still Oakland.

Look for the Chiefs to surprise some people this year. They have several interesting pieces on both sides of the ball, and their returning players will make the difference.


Indianapolis Colts

This depends on your expectations here, but how high could they be? This squad won two games last year, and Andrew Luck, as good as he is, won't put them in the playoffs this year.

However, you should expect a marked improvement. I'm thinking somewhere along the lines of four or five games in the right direction, putting them at 6-8 or 7-9 overall.

Go ahead and call me crazy, but Luck will transform a Colts offense that struggled to move the ball last season. He has weapons around him. Indy will move the ball.

The defense is still troubling, but they will benefit from an offense that doesn't put their backs against the wall on a consistent basis. Professional athletes have a sense of pride, and the Colts won't sit back and let 2011 happen all over again.

An exciting rookie adds energy to his team, and Luck is the most exciting rookie entering this season. Guys like Reggie Wayne and Donald Brown make the cupboard a bit less empty, and his rookie tight ends will help as well.

The AFC South is suspect beyond Houston at the top, and the Colts could be just as good as Jacksonville this year. If Jake Locker takes a step in the wrong direction, there's no telling where Tennessee ends up either.

I'm not saying the Colts will make the playoffs, or anything crazy like that, but this will not be the same team from last season.


St. Louis Rams

I was tempted to go with Carolina here, but I'll take the Rams instead. You'll notice I have them at No. 31 in my power rankings below, but they won't finish the season there.

Arizona will switch them spots. Maybe not exactly, but the Cardinals will take their spot in the cellar of the NFC West.

The Rams suffered miserably with Sam Bradford jumping in and out of the lineup last season. They only scored 20 or more points on three occasions. Assuming Bradford is healthy for good, that will change this year.

New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is a perfect match for Bradford's style. He excels on intermediate to short routes, and that's how Schottenheimer runs his offensive scheme.

Danny Amendola is back in the Rams' receiving corps, and he will also fit perfectly in the new offense. Watch out for rookie Brian Quick as a vertical threat as well.

Steve Fisher has a lot of energy as a head coach, and he takes a no-nonsense approach. His mentality alone will help the Rams improve on the second-worst run defense from last season, and they already have the No. 7 pass defense.

Honestly, they really have nowhere to go but up. This isn't a playoff team, but they won't finish last in their division.

The defense is better, the offense is healthier and Fisher will push this team to exceed expectations.



NFL Power Rankings

1. San Francisco 49ers

2. Houston Texans

3. New England Patriots

4. New York Giants

5. Green Bay Packers

6. Baltimore Ravens

7. Atlanta Falcons

8. Philadelphia Eagles

9. San Diego Chargers

10. Detroit Lions

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

12. Cincinnati Bengals

13. Dallas Cowboys

14. New Orleans Saints

15. Chicago Bears

16. Tennessee Titans

17. Seattle Seahawks

18. Kansas City Chiefs

19. Buffalo Bills

20. New York Jets

21. Denver Broncos

22. Washington Redskins

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

24. Arizona Cardinals

25. Carolina Panthers

26. Oakland Raiders

27. Indianapolis Colts

28. Cleveland Browns

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

30. Minnesota Vikings

31. St. Louis Rams

32. Miami Dolphins


    Source: NFL Is 'F--king Terrified' of Trump

    NFL logo

    Source: NFL Is 'F--king Terrified' of Trump

    Mike Freeman
    via Bleacher Report

    NFL Decides on Anthem Rules

    NFL logo

    NFL Decides on Anthem Rules

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report

    49ers LB Foster DV Charges Dropped, Cleared to Return

    NFL logo

    49ers LB Foster DV Charges Dropped, Cleared to Return

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Long Rips New Anthem Rules: 'This Is Not Patriotism'

    NFL logo

    Long Rips New Anthem Rules: 'This Is Not Patriotism'

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report