Borrowing from ESPN's Bill Simmons and Nino Colla's MLB Power Groupings, I'm making my first attempt at some preseason NFL rankings that probably don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I have to admit, though: it's fun to debate them.
Group I: Continued Struggles
St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns
I put these two clubs at the bottom of the barrel because of their offensive deficiencies last season and because neither squad seemed to have done anything to improve them.
The Rams have a promising back in Steven Jackson and a quarterback who I thought was pretty good, but they have to play up to their potential for St. Louis to be successful.
Cleveland's got two starting quarterbacks, which, according to the old adage, means they don't have a starting quarterback. They're also trying to move their best wide receiver who suffered from a severe case of the dropsies, and they already moved a good tight end in Kellen Winslow.
Group II: Nowhere to Go but Up
Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs
I think I'm in the minority, but I really like what the Lions did in the NFL Draft with their first pick. I have a feeling that Matthew Stafford will be better than Mark Sanchez, and will eventually take over the starting job from Daunte Culpepper this season.
Cincinnati struggled mightily offensively, but a lot of that can be attributed to the loss of Carson Palmer to injury. Whenever a guy from Harvard's running your NFL offense, you've got trouble. Palmer will be back and Cincinnati will be better off that way.
Kansas City added Matt Cassell to throw to Dwayne Bowe and brought in some veteran linebackers in Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas to help mentor some of the young players they have on the defensive line, such as Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson.
Group III: Trapped in Purgatory
Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars
All four of these teams have a different kind of purgatory that they're stuck with coming into this season, listed below
Oakland: They're stuck with an owner who has a "my way or the highway" attitude. The problem is that his way is like the freeway in Speed that isn't finished yet.
Tampa Bay: They got rid of the quarterback schizophrenic, Jon Gruden. Problem is, they still don't have a quarterback. Why they aren't racing to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to talk to some one near there is a mystery to me.
Denver: Josh McDaniels just seems like he's not quite sure what he's doing yet. Obviously he has a great football mind, but he hasn't gotten the handle on the management aspect of the head coaching job.
He really botched the Jay Cutler situation. It's like he switched schools, told the hot girl at his new school how much better his girlfriend at his old school was than her, and then ended up with that one girl who looks alright, but has kind of a big nose and one of those smiles with a bad gum-to-tooth ratio.
Jacksonville: The problem with the Jaguars is that they have a bunch of guys that are dependable, but nobody at any position who's spectacular. With great receivers, David Garrard would be a good guy to have.
Problem is, their best receivers are an old Torry Holt and Cleveland outcast Dennis Northcutt.
Group IV: Day-time TV
Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins
What do you think of when you think "soap operas?" Because I think of ridiculous drama and not-very-good-acting.
Buffalo will see more newspaper reporters than ever before with the addition of Terrell Owens.
T.O.'s most recent old team, Dallas, is still run by Jerry Jones, and having him in the locker room or on the sideline always makes for interesting situations, especially with a spineless head coach like Wade Phillips.
With the Redskins, the peak of the drama might have passed during free agency, but with a continued desire to replace Jason Campbell, I can see it continuing through the season.
And while these teams will be fun to watch off the field, I don't think they'll be nearly as interesting on it.
Group V: Questions to Answer
Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers
The largest group of my rankings, we won't know much about these teams until the season is five or six games old. Here are the biggest questions for each team:
Green Bay: Will the first-round draft picks help make the defensive transition smoother?
Chicago: Is Jay Cutler the savior Bears fans are expecting him to be?
New York: Can Mark Sanchez live up to the cheering from Radio City Music Hall on draft day?
Seattle: Will a Hasselbeck-Houshmandzadeh connection bring the Seahawks back to prominence?
New Orleans: Can that defense stop enough opponents to allow the prolific offense to win games?
Houston: Will they find any consistency on offense and defense, and will the AFC South remain one of the more brutal divisions in the league?
San Diego: Is LDT still good? Can Norv Turner coach? Will the AFC West remain one of the more pitiful divisions in the league?
Group VI: Back to Earth
Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins
All these teams had good, surprising runs last season, but I'm not sure if it will carry over to 2009. Tennessee still has Kerry Collins at quarterback and no spectacular wide receivers. They also lost Albert Haynesworth in free agency, who was in some early MVP discussion as a defensive tackle, which is means he was playing REALLY well.
Arizona's defense played way better in the playoffs than they had in the regular season and I don't know whether or not they can have that same intensity throughout the 2009 regular season.
Baltimore's rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was good, but he got a lot of help from a defense that's another year older and without superstar defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Miami used the so-called wildcat formation very effectively, but the defenses will probably catch up this season. The problem will come when Chad Pennington is asked to play the traditional quarterback role and throw the ball farther than 20 yards downfield to Davon Bess or Ted Ginn, Jr, which is problematic in itself.
Group VII: Old Reliables
New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts
Both had solid seasons last year, with the Colts running off nine straight wins to close out the regular season. The Patriots quirkily missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record with their backup quarterback.
This year, the Colts lost their head coach and a wide receiver whose name is synonymous with "Indianapolis Colts," and even though the nine-win streak was impressive, what came before that had to cause some concern.
The Patriots will have Tom Brady back after a torn ACL, but you have to wonder if he'll play up to the high standards he set for himself in recent years.
Bottom line, though: Whenever the Colts and Patriots have Manning and Brady, they are always contenders.
Group VIII: Something Missing
Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants
If either team gets what they need, they would immediately jump into the next group...
Group IX: The Favorites
Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers
These teams have all the components you want in NFL favorites. Good quarterbacks, strong running games, and impenetrable defenses are all trademarks of these four squads, although some teams are better off than others—Jake Delhomme? Willie Parker?
Ultimately, Pittsburgh has the hardware that declares them the best at this moment, but that will most certainly change by October 1st.
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