1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are at the top of power rankings until they lose. It’s no slight though, because they may very well be Super Bowl contenders again this season, depending on whether or not they can keep a healthy group of running backs this season.
2. New York Giants
They are really working the depths of their receiving corps here, which won’t help Eli Manning. But their defense is going to be good, and the running backs shouldn’t suffer from the loss of Derrick Ward.
3. New England Patriots
Who knows how Tom Brady will be affected by his knee in actual games. The Pats’ offensive line is weak, and he’s going to take some hits to his knees. Also, the trade of Richard Seymour drastically reduces their run defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles should have a fantastic offense, for the first three weeks or so, before they all start getting injured and falling apart. They play in one of the most competitive divisions in football, but I think they should be able to compete.
5. Indianapolis Colts
The big loss is the offseason was, of course, Tony Dungy. But Dungy’s retirement shouldn’t effect the team too much. The defense is going to be mediocre, and the offense didn’t have Marvin Harrison really at all last year and were fine.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Brett Favre adds another dimension to the one area where you could say the Vikings were weak last season. The additions of rookie standout Jasper Brinkley and a healthy Heath Farwell will really bolster one of the NFL’s worst special teams units.
7. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were better than they should’ve been last year. That said, I think Matt Ryan will play just fine in his second year, and the addition of Tony Gonzalez might be just what they need to keep the offense moving the ball and their iffy defense off the field.
8. Baltimore Ravens
On the other hand, I think Joe Flacco is a prime target for regression this season. Flacco had his moments last year, but was mostly carried by a great defense into the playoffs. That said, I don’t see why they can’t win a Wild Card berth this year.
9. Arizona Cardinals
Until the Seahawks show some consistency, the Cardinals are the best of the worst in the NFC West. The Cardinals have the best receiving corps in the NFL, and a defense that really came on for the Playoffs last year.
10. Tennessee Titans
The Titans will suffer this season, but probably not enough to keep them out of the Playoffs. They were an unlikely 10-0 team to start off last year, but the wheels are going to come off Kerry Collins at some point this season, and they will struggle a bit without Albert Haynesworth.
11. Green Bay Packers
Predicting the Packers season is kind of a crapshoot. Yes they looked great in Preseason, but the fact of the matter is there are way too many question marks on this team. The offense should be fine, but the defense is going to have struggles adapting to the 3-4 scheme, especially with all the linebacker rotations.
12. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler does not a team make. While he’s an upgrade over Kyle Orton, the fact is that he will have the same struggles that Orton had last year. Their receiving corps is pretty much check down to Gregg Olsen, check down to Matt Forte, and throw to a cardboard cut out of Devin Hester. Add to that a defense that’s had its struggles the past two seasons, and it’s a recipe for a rough year in Chicago.
13. San Diego Chargers
Even before Shawne Merriman started choking reality TV “stars,” the Chargers trouble was brewing for the Chargers. They will probably win the AFC West, the worst division in football, but this is largely the same team that struggled badly last year, and seems to be content getting by on an easy schedule and a good reputation than anything else at this point.
14. Seattle Seahawks
The Hasselbeck to Houshmandzadeh connection is rightfully making some Seattle residents excited about the upcoming season, as is the Seahawks strong line backing corps. However, they’re going to struggle mightily running the ball or defending the pass, which is going to put them in a lot of holes this year.
15. Carolina Panthers
Between Julius Peppers essentially telling people that he’s going to sleepwalk through the year, Jonathan Stewart’s Achilles injury, and Jake Delhomme’s horrible play during the Playoffs there are too many questions about the Panthers this year to predict anything big. However, the NFC South is imminently winnable by even a questionable team.
16. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were the shocker of the league last year, going from 1-15 to winning the AFC East. But they did that largely on the back of Chad Pennington’s even performance, and the explosive potential of the Wildcat formation. How will Pennington hold up in Year 2? Especially when teams have had a chance to diagnose the Wildcat.
17. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are at a bit of a crossroads. Drew Brees is the third best QB in the league, but his window of opportunity is closing rapidly. The Saints defense is improving, but not quickly enough, and with the injury to Pierre Thomas, running back is back to being a huge question.
18. Dallas Cowboys
It’s hard to hate the Cowboys these days, because for a team that’s just brimming with potential, they’re not very threatening. Tony Romo is a good quarterback but we’ve never seen him keep it together for a whole season, Roy Williams is a good receiver, but he hasn’t inspired any confidence as a number one, and the running backs are solid, but there’s no reliable starter there. All that with a defense that seems to be regressing as we speak.
19. Buffalo Bills
The T.O. Show should bring a little entertainment to Dick Jauron’s last season helming the Bills. Sure they fired offensive Coordinator Turk Schonert, who compared Jauron’s vision to a Pop Warner playbook, but they have enough talent to go 8-8. Again.
20. Houston Texans
Every year is “The Year the Texans Break Out.” No matter how many times we’re wrong, everybody piles up before the season and says, “You know, the Texans have a lot of talent, I bet they do pretty good this year.” Well…not this year. At least not from me. Their offensive line is terrible, and Matt Schaub sprained his ankle on the sideline a couple weeks ago. And as much as I would love seeing Rex Grossman pitch one up to Andre Johnson in quintuple coverage….
21. New York Jets
This is clearly a transition year for the Jets, so I’m not expecting much out of Rex Ryan or Mark Sanchez. Especially Sanchez, whose minuscule starting experience is going to get him eaten alive by NFL defenses.
22. Washington Redskins
The Redskins did everything they could to get rid of Jason Campbell this year, but like the face hugger from Aliens, they just couldn’t shake him off. Now he’s leading a Redskins team that somehow looks primed to fall short of their already pretty low expectations. Somewhere, the ghost of Joe Gibbs is frowning.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
Hard Knocks gave us a great look inside a team full of likeable but clueless players, clueless coaching, and horrible, frustrating management this year. Not that it was all bad for Bengals fans. You can order your “Child Please” baby T-shirts right now!
24. San Fransisco 49ers
The Niners don’t have a real starting quarterback, but the real story is whether or not they’ll ever get to sign Michael Crabtree. The answer is “No, probably not.” Because Michael Crabtree has no interest in playing for the 49ers.
25. Denver Broncos
No team fell so far this offseason as the Broncos. Josh McDaniels’ feud with Jay Cutler has had a domino effect with the team, to the point where top receiver Brandon Marshall could be traded any day now too. And the defense? Well, that hasn’t really improved any.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Do you remember a couple years ago? When the Jaguars made the playoffs, played really well, and some people thought they might even beat the undefeated Patriots? Well…Now they’re pretty terrible.
27. Cleveland Browns
The Browns aren’t going to announce their starting quarterback for the game against the Vikings until game time on Sunday. Which should give the Vikings just enough time to prepare for whatever mess the Browns decide to roll out with.
28. Oakland Raiders
There might not be a team more frustrating than the Oakland Raiders. There isn’t a team that’s got better talent, but won’t finish anywhere near .500. It’s enough to make a coach want to hit somebody.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are another team that’s under serious transition, and it’s going to take them quite a while to get acclimated. Josh Freeman is a long way away from being a starting NFL quarterback, and it doesn’t help that he’s already on his second coordinator in his rookie year.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive Coordinator Fest 2009 continues! Why Todd Haley didn’t bring his own guy in to start with, I don’t know. He’s going to be running the offense himself anyway. There isn’t a single part of the Chiefs’ game I look at as a strength right now, especially with Matt Cassel’s injury.
31. Saint Louis Rams
A lot of the Rams season relies on whether or not they can get a full year out of Mark Bulger. It may mean the difference between 2-14 and 4-12. There are a lot of young guys on this team auditioning for starting roles on other teams.
32. Detroit Lions
Ah the Lions. I don’t know what lead to the decision to start Matthew Stafford, but I don’t like it at all. Throwing Stafford into the fire when you know they’re going to be terrible is going to turn this guy into the next Joey Harrington, not the next Matt Ryan.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers