These power rankings are based on my opinion of the best "all-around teams" entering the 2009 preseason...respectively. Honestly, there are about 19 to 20 teams that are playoff contenders. This should make for a great season!
1) New England Patriots
Tom Brady is the obvious difference maker. Last year, Matt Cassel had to fill in for the injured Brady after just week one. Give credit to the coaching staff for developing Cassel with very little time to do so.
New England's defense was still one of the best, and with a quarterback who was thrown into the spotlight with little knowledge of NFL competition, the Patriots still had an impressive 11-5 record.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
The champions will look to defend their title and could possibly do so. Ben Roethlisberger had a terrible year throwing the football but still managed to win close games and a second Lombardi trophy.
Drafting Evander Hood only enhances the best defense in the league, but they are still missing an offensive line. Big Ben was under pressure more than any other quarterback last year, and Pittsburgh didn't do anything to enhance that offensive line.
Teams like New England and San Diego are getting their superstars (Brady and Shawne Merriman) back this year, so the competition in the playoffs should be tougher than last year.
Pittsburgh has one of the easiest schedules, however, so a playoff berth shouldn't be the question. Rather, will they be able to defeat tougher opponents than they faced in last year's playoffs?
3) Atlanta Falcons
If you read my Arthur Blank article, then you understand why I like Atlanta as a championship contender. Matt Ryan was a rare gem that the Falcons were able to expose.
The offensive line is one of the best, and any running back (let alone Michael Turner) can run behind big Ovie Mughelli.
Mike Peterson was signed to Atlanta, which should solidify their linebacking corps. Remember, Peterson's best year was in Jacksonville when Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator.
Secondary seems to be a problem, but the defensive line is so good that the secondary should fall into place nicely.
Tony Gonzalez's entry only adds another blocker and receiver to a fundamental offense, and Harry Douglas will be a dark horse in that offense.
Atlanta's biggest weakness (in my mind) is their punter. Michael Koenen has the boot but no touch. Coffin corner punts are the most overlooked part of the game, which becomes bigger as the season drags on longer.
I wouldn't be surprised if Atlanta made a Super Bowl appearance.
4) New York Giants
People like to write off the New York Giants every year. They are not going anywhere. Eli Manning has proven himself already in this league, and that defensive line is still the best in the league today.
The offensive line is still productive, but they are injury prone (which could be a setback). They are in the toughest division in the NFL, so saying they will win the division is risky, but they will probably go further into the playoffs than any other NFC East team.
The receivers are young, and losing Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer is huge, but the two rookies they drafted at receiver can fill in well with that offense. As long as Eli is playing behind that offensive line, and their defensive line rotation continues to produce, New York should be a safe bet for a playoff berth.
5) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are projected to be Super Bowl contenders every year, and every year, they disappoint. Why should this year be different?
Well, for one they got Jason Peters on the offensive line to protect Donovan McNabb from a crazy NFC East pass rush (they are still missing a tight end). Brian Westbrook has not played a full season, but LeSean McCoy is a solid rusher.
Jeremy Maclin seemed to be the big move everybody loved, but asking him to take over the receiving corps as a rookie is very difficult to do. Maclin and DeSean Jackson should cause problems for teams with a struggling secondary, plus Reggie Brown has proven himself as a reliable target for McNabb (reminds me of an Amani Toomer).
Philadelphia is not a bad NFC East pick, but a Super Bowl appearance is still in question.
6) Baltimore Ravens
This team scares me! Everyone seems to overlook the Ravens when people are determining their AFC Super Bowl representative.
This defense will always be dominant as long as Ray Lewis is there. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are nightmares for other teams to defend. Ed Reed (who I think should've won league MVP last year) is still patrolling that secondary, and their offense only got better.
They have a dynamic duo with Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain running, and the addition of Michael Oher only solidifies that offensive line. Joe Flacco is still learning but has proven he does what it takes to win.
Derrick Mason is the most reliable receiver on that lineup, and I expect a breakout year from Mark Clayton.
Expect Baltimore to be a team to reckon with this year. The Ravens could be the "under the radar" team of the 2009 season.
7) Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis is a risky team this year, mainly because the AFC South is such a tough division. Remember, Indy made the playoffs as a wild card, so it is possible for other teams besides Indy to win that division.
As long as Peyton Manning is under center, Indy should see the postseason. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne aren't going anywhere, and Donald Brown is probably the most overlooked rookie in the draft.
Indy still has two dominant ends (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) and Bob Sanders returning on defense. Clint Session made a name for himself last year and should be a big piece of Indy's defense.
It will be a tough, hard-fought year for the Colts, but expect a playoff appearance.
8) Tennessee Titans
Loosing Albert Haynesworth is huge, but he wasn't the only piece of their great defense. They still have Keith Bulluck, Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Jevon Kearse.
I don't want to hear anything about age because players like Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan won a Super Bowl ring in the final stages of their careers. You can say they were surrounded by young talent, but Tennessee has that too.
Chris Johnson is an unstoppable speedster, not to mention LenDale White's smashmouth attack. Justin Gage is an underrated receiver who has great route-running skills and at 6'4" has a height advantage over most cornerbacks.
Tennessee's two tight end system with Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler only adds to both the running and aerial attack.
A well-rounded team stocked with hungry veterans, talented youths, and a great head coach should give Tennessee an advantage heading into both the regular season and postseason.
9) Arizona Cardinals
Don't forget about these birds. Arizona found their defense right around the same time New York did before they won a Super Bowl. This is probably one of the most athletic defenses in the NFL and should perform more consistently compared to last year.
Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald aren't going anywhere, and if they were to lose Anquan Boldin, it's not like Steve Breaston hasn't proven himself already.
Picking up Beanie Wells was a smart decision to complement Tim Hightower (who I don't think can carry a load by himself). Both Hightower and Beanie are threats in the red zone, so I expect high red zone numbers from Arizona this year.
They have a very easy schedule and could run away with that division.
10) Washington Redskins
Can Jason Campbell carry that offense when they need him to? I'm not so sure, but Clinton Portis can! Which is why I was confused when Jim Zorn stopped giving him the ball last year.
Washington has short receivers (Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, and Chris Cooley), which hurts their passing game in some aspects, but they make up for it with their speed.
Their defense should be one of the best this year, but how consistent they can be will be a huge question.
Washington could be a sleeper for the division title, but due to the consistency New York and Philly has proven, I don't like them to win it. A playoff berth is more reasonable.
Expect a winning record, but don't be surprised if they make or don't make the playoffs. This is a team on the fence with something to prove.
11) San Diego Chargers
They should have no problem locking up the AFC West. This is a very talented team with Shawne Merriman returning on defense.
Larry English is another overlooked draft pick that could make an immediate impact. Paul Oliver is a name to watch on defense.
LaDainian Tomlinson should have a better than expected year with something to prove (even though I believe he's proven himself already).
The only other team I could see "maybe" challenging San Diego in the AFC West is Oakland, but San Diego is way too experienced and talented.
12) Miami Dolphins
Another team people want to write off, but again, they're not going anywhere. I'm not saying Miami is going to grab a playoff berth, though, mainly because there are so many good wild card teams and the AFC East is the second toughest division in football.
Chad Pennington never gets any respect but has proven he can take a team to the playoffs (did so with two teams). Any player that has won more than one Comeback Player of the Year award doesn't get enough respect.
Miami's defense will be better than last year, which is scary, now that Jason Taylor is back in the mix. Plus Joey Porter and Channing Crowder patrol the linebacking corps. Having Porter and Taylor blitz is going to be difficult for opposing teams to stop.
Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano have really turned things around, so I expect a winning record—just not necessarily a playoff berth.
13) Carolina Panthers
I'm not so sure Jake Delhomme will get so lucky this year. Don't get me wrong, he is a great quarterback, but he overthrew a lot of receivers coming off that surgery.
Steve Smith is the MVP of that team, no doubt, but DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are becoming the best backfield I've seen in a while.
Julius Peppers is just annoying at this point. He is a great player that would be a superstar anywhere, but his off-the-field issues with the organization might prevent him from playing a full year with that club.
Carolina's defense will struggle somewhat this year, which is how I see Atlanta surpassing them for the division title.
Atlanta almost won the division last year; they were only 38 seconds away until Carolina defeated New Orleans.
I don't see Carolina in only because I believe two NFC East teams will grab both wild cards.
14) Chicago Bears
I am picking Chicago to win the division. This shouldn't take anything away from Minnesota's talent, however.
Listen, the Bears went to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, so don't tell me they can't do it with Jay Cutler.
Devin Hester has had plenty of time by now to be a go-to receiver and possible playmaker through the air. Chicago has one of the best two tight end sets (Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen). They can both block, catch, and run (did you see Olsen's combine?).
People question Chicago's defense, but they were the reason Chicago made the Super Bowl. Lovie Smith was a defensive coordinator before taking Chicago's offer, so he will have that defense ready to go.
If they look sloppy to start the year, then I bet he will fix it in time. Lance Briggs never left and is a huge piece of their defense.
Rashied Davis has the potential to have a breakout year. He was a good deep threat for Kyle Orton and Grossman.
The only thing I didn't like about Chicago last year was their quarterback (plus hurt cornerbacks), but they got one of the best in Cutler.
Honestly, what's not to like about them?
15) Dallas Cowboys
Either Dallas or Washington should be the odd man out in the NFC East. I still think all four teams will win at least nine games in the season. Dallas, outside their division, have a pretty easy schedule.
Terrell Owens leaving hurts them, but not terribly. Roy Williams is a solid No. 1, even though we all know Jason Witten is the true No. 1. Marion Barber and Felix Jones will both be healthy and flying around!
There is one problem with Dallas though: Wade Phillips. Nothing against Wade, but he is just not fit to be a head coach (especially with Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer floating around).
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Wade Phillips responsible for defensive coordinator duties when Dallas gave up 44 points in a must win game? Their defense is always solid, but inconsistent, which is the main reason they didn't make the playoffs.
This is an offensive team with a defense that comes and goes.
The fact that I am still wondering who the true leader of that offense is makes me wonder about this team.
16) New York Jets
Rex Ryan is mainly the reason I am ranking New York high. He has already built one of the best defenses on the field without playing a game.
Kris Jenkins moves people wherever he wants. Calvin Pace and Vernon Gholston are just too scary to think about, plus Bart Scott will lead the inside backers. Kerry Rhodes is a consistent defender, and Lito Sheppard was a good pickup.
I'm not sold on their offense really, especially after losing Laveranues Coles. I don't know how Jerricho Cotchery will do as a No. 1, also in large part because they don't have a definite No. 2.
Leon Washington is arguably one of the best playmakers in the game, and Thomas Jones is a solid rusher. Kellen Clemens is not the answer, but they should start him all year (the "Carson Palmer" treatment for Mark Sanchez).
This is very similar to the old Baltimore team when they couldn't decide between Kyle Boller and Chris Redman.
17) Minnesota Vikings
Just because they are ranked 17th doesn't mean this team is going to have a bad year. They will be in a tight race with Chicago for the division.
Tarvaris Jackson started off slow last year, but after being benched, he played unbelievable towards the end of the year. Percy Harvin was a great addition; along with having Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor run the ball, it's going to be exciting to watch.
The defensive line is the second best in the league, and I don't want to mess with anyone in that secondary.
However, the difference between Chicago and Minnesota (essentially the NFC North) is their quarterbacks.
I trust Cutler over Jackson for a full NFL season, which is why I still pick Chicago, even though Minnesota is a very talented team.
18) Houston Texans
Houston's defense should be ridunkulous this year. They are so explosive and aggressive, they can contend with any offense in the league (especially at home).
Houston has one and only one problem: Neither Matt Schaub nor Andre Johnson can stay consistently healthy for Houston to seriously contend for a playoff berth. However, when Schaub and Johnson play together, it is arguably one of the best hookups in the NFL.
Steve Slaton played like a Pro Bowler last season, but I believe he can do it again.
Houston might hold a division lead at some point this year, but I believe they are still an offensive line away from a playoff contention.
19) Buffalo Bills
Terrell Owens will make Lee Evans better. I am still unclear about Marshawn Lynch's suspension, but he might be a concern with playing time.
Trent Edwards needs to step it up this year. He has two great receivers and a defense that will spot him.
I don't like their decision to get rid of Jason Peters, mainly because the defenses are so good in the AFC East. I believe their offensive line needed improvement anyways. They did draft Eric Wood, but how will he do?
If Peters was there, I would be more confident in Buffalo, but Edwards will ultimately determine that team's fate.
20) San Francisco 49ers
The defense will play better than last year, but I'm not sure if it will be one of the best. I like Shaun Hill at quarterback, but not long term. I've said it from day one, and I'll say it again: Alex Smith is not a good NFL starting quarterback.
Isaac Bruce is getting older but is still producing. This is a very underrated offense that found its jingle when Singletary took over.
I think Arizona is just all-around better, but don't be surprised if San Francisco makes a splash this year.
21) New Orleans Saints
The Saints have a difficult schedule this year. Atlanta and Carolina are also far more well-rounded than New Orleans.
Reggie Bush is a playmaker, but not a consistent one. Pierre Thomas is one of the most overlooked running backs in the NFL and should carry the running game.
Drew Brees always puts up the numbers, but Jeremy Shockey hasn't played a full season in two years, and Marques Colston wasn't the same after that thumb injury. Colston should be a little more productive, however, as should the offense as a whole.
Defense was a problem for New Orleans last year, but Malcolm Jenkins won't solve everything. Jonathan Vilma fills the middle well, and they have a decent D-line.
They are rising but still developing, and I trust Sean Payton's decision making.
22) Cincinnati Bengals
They are starting to turn things around. Cedric Benson looked better, and Laveranues Coles will help the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Chad Ochocinco wants to go, but Cincinnati realizes they need great players to win. I expect a high-powered offense with an improving defense.
Their defense was extremely terrible last year, but I believe Rey Maualuga will be a leader to come. Dhani Jones is a solid veteran, and Keith Rivers will be returning.
Their secondary is always a question, and their defensive line still needs work.
23) Jacksonville Jaguars
I honestly do not know what went wrong for this club. David Garrard just seemed to have a slumping season, but their offensive line was hurting.
Mike Peterson and Jack Del Rio had off-the-field problems, which could have caused issues.
Fred Taylor failed to contribute last year, and Maurice Jones-Drew needs to prove he can take over as a full-time back throughout the entire season.
Wide receiver issues might be solved thanks to Torry Holt.
They are a good team—just not good enough to hang with the other top teams.
24) Seattle Seahawks
Seattle might be pleasantly surprising this year. The addition of Houshmandzadeh is bigger than people notice.
Matt Hasselbeck is a proven leader and now has two great receivers to target. Plus Nate Burleson will be returning as the slot. They still have offensive line issues, not to mention running back issues as well.
Their defense was surprisingly bad last year, mainly due to injuries. Expect Lofa Tatupu to step it up, including Marcus Trufant and Patrick Kerney.
Aaron Curry might have saved this defense, but their offense will struggle if Hasselbeck has this much pressure on his shoulders.
25) Green Bay Packers
People keep saying Green Bay's defense is so good this year. Well, they were good last year! Green Bay's problem wasn't their defense—it was their offensive line.
Al Harris also got hurt, which may have caused secondary problems.
Aaron Rodgers had "maybe" four seconds before opposing defenders were in his face. Ryan Grant could not find the line of scrimmage the entire first half of the season.
Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are a dynamite duo, but if Aaron doesn't have time to throw it, how can they get the ball to make plays?
Switching to a 3-4 might be dangerous here (mainly because it's an AFC thing).
26) Oakland Raiders
I think Oakland can surprise a few people. I don't believe they are close to contending, but they are progressing.
I think Jeff Garcia should get a chance to start here. JaMarcus Russell still has some learning to do, so give him time and let Jeff guide this developing team.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is a good pickup for a deep passing game, not to mention an underrated running back duo (Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden).
This team has a lot of positives in the future, but right now, they still got some learning to do.
27) Cleveland Browns
I think Brady Quinn will ultimately start, and having Braylon Edwards and Donte' Stallworth to throw to, Quinn should settle in fine. He has a good, accurate, and quick release.
Jamal Lewis is aging and wasn't productive last year. Eric Mangini might get him going though.
I'm not sure what to make of the defense. The D-line is not too shabby, but they are very inconsistent and lack maturity.
Willie McGinest has not been the same linebacker as he was in New England, but Kamerion Wimbley is always solid.
The secondary is weak as well. I don't expect the "man-genius" to turn things around this year.
Not enough maturity on defense and too many questions as an organization in general.
28) St. Louis Rams
The defense will improve in a year or two. St. Louis hired the right man for the job, but improvements won't happen this year.
The offensive line is very good and should give Marc Bulger plenty of time to throw.
Steven Jackson will have a dominant year, but they do not have any receivers.
Donnie Avery is solid but not an immediate No. 1. They don't have a standout No. 2 or a tight end.
The defense should show signs of improvement, but don't expect too much from St. Louis this year.
29) Detroit Lions
Detroit can start Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford—they won't be any better.
Calvin Johnson is an unbelievable weapon, but as college and pros have proven, he can't lead an offense with no quarterback.
The offensive line never got any better, so even if Stafford was thrown under center, he would get destroyed by NFL pass rushers.
The linebacking corps improved, and Louis Delmas should be productive. The D-line and overall secondary still have some ways to go though.
30) Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Haley seemed like a good fit until Matt Cassel lost Tony Gonzalez. I'm not sure how well this offense can be.
Dwayne Bowe is a great receiver, but I wonder if that was because teams were so focused on Gonzo.
Larry Johnson seems to be on a road to redemption, but has his talent come back? Too many questions on offense for a brand new coach and GM.
The defense is still terrible, but perhaps a 3-4 switch might be an improvement.
Again, too many questions. This team needs to find its identity.
31) Denver Broncos
Obviously Denver feels that Josh McDaniels is better for that organization than Jay Cutler. If they really wanted Cutler they would've fired McDaniels.
Now they are stuck with two quarterbacks who were abandoned when they started to play well.
Knowshon Moreno probably won't survive a full NFL season but should put up nice stats.
The defense was a problem last year, and it seems to be a problem this year.
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They are starting over from scratch.
They got rid of every productive defensive player on their team and released a great veteran receiver in Joey Galloway.
Kellen Winslow was a solid pickup, as well as Derrick Ward, but they do not have a quarterback.
Josh Freeman is not an NFL-ready quarterback, and Luke McCown has proven he can't start.
Antonio Bryant had a nice close to the regular season, but he hasn't proven to be a consistent playmaker throughout his career.
Expect Tampa to have a terrible record and a top five draft pick in next year's draft.