I know it is still baseball season, and I know that the NBA Finals are upon us, but all this football talk lately has made me wonder, "Who are going to be the dominant teams in this upcoming season?"
Last season was one of the most interesting the NFL has ever seen. We saw upsets, disappointments, and surprises. With all the players changing teams, trade rumors, and players being released, next season has the chance to top last year.
So, here is how the NFL's top 10 teams stack up:
1. New England Patriots (16-0, Lost in Super Bowl)
After the greatest regular season in NFL history, the Pats were stunned in the Super Bowl. They were one win away from a perfect 19-0 record, but fell just short, as the Giants pulled off the upset.
They did lose several players on defense, but Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind and should be able to bring in some replacements. They drafted Jerod Mayo, who should see more playing time as the season progresses.
The Pats still have defensive stars such as Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel. Expect the Pats to be the best team in the NFL once again.
2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3, Lost in Divisional Round)
After a great start, the Cowboys seemed to get a little flat as the season progressed. Tony Romo started to look human, as he threw 10 of his 19 interceptions after the bye week (9 games). He still finished third in the NFL in passing yards and second in touchdowns.
T.O. finished with his most receiving yards since 2001. He also finished with 15 touchdowns, second only to Randy Moss. They cut ties with Julius Jones, but they drafted Felix Jones, the back-up to Darren McFadden.
With the offseason acquisition and reinstatement of Pacman Jones, the Cowboys look to bolster an already potent defense. The Cowboys could be one of the best teams in the league, as long as their egos don't get in the way.
3. Indianapolis Colts (13-3, Lost in Divisional Round)
The Colts' defense was probably the biggest surprise of last season. They were first in points per game and third in yards allowed. After going into last season losing several defensive stars, many wrote the Colts off right away because of a shaky defense. That was not that case at all.
Of course, the Colts will have their high-powered offense of Manning, Harrison, Wayne, and Addai returning. The biggest question mark is Harrison, who missed the final 10 games of the season and had to leave their lone playoff game early because a knee injury. Expect the Colts to be one of the best teams in the NFL yet again.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6, Lost in Wild Card Round)
Big Ben led the Steelers to the playoffs again, as he had the best season of his career. He finished with career highs in touchdowns, rating, games played, and rushing yards.
Willie Parker was on pace to set a new career high in rushing yards until a broken fibula cut his season short. If the Steelers are going to be dominant Parker, will have to find the end zone more often. He scored only two rushing touchdowns last year.
Santonio Holmes emerged as a deep threat last year as he became the unofficial No. 1 receiver on the team. As always, the Steelers had a great defense and should continue to shut down most offenses.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5, Lost in Divisional Divisional Round)
Talk about your "Thunder and Lightning." The Jags have the best running game in the NFL with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Jones-Drew is one of the fastest players in the league, and Taylor still has the ability to run through the defenders.
David Garrard was very consistent, as he threw 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He set career highs in these categories and finally gave the Jags a quarterback that can stay healthy and win some games.
The Jags finished in the top 15 in the major defensive categories. Reggie Williams finally came into his own, as he set new career highs in all categories.
The Jags looked to add to their offense as they made a trade for wide receiver Troy Williamson. They did make a surprising move as they traded Pro Bowler Marcus Stroud. Look for them to be even more dominant than last year.
6. New York Giants (10-6, Won Super Bowl)
The Giants pulled off the biggest upset in NFL history as they defeated the Pats in the Super Bowl. Now, you are probably wondering why the Giants are not higher on the list?
Here's why. Eli Manning looked like Tom Brady in the last five weeks of the season as he threw 10 touchdowns and only two picks, but until he does this for an entire season, he is not reliable.
Brandon Jacobs finally became the starter and performed well, but he missed five games. The Giants found their "Lightning in a Bottle" when Ahmad Bradshaw came on at the end of the year to give them a great 1-2 punch, but will he be able to do it for a whole year?
Plaxico Burress was as good as ever, as he again led the team in yards and touchdowns. The biggest question mark for the Giants will be a secondary that was banged up all year. Michael Strahan has once again has left the Giants hanging, as he has yet to decide his future with the team.
7. San Diego Chargers (11-5, Lost in AFC Championship)
The Chargers got off to a terrible start at 1-4, but once they got hot, they never looked back, finishing 10-1. The reason they are this low is because of the serious injuries to their "Big Three."
Phillip Rivers suffered an ACL tear, L.T. had a bruised knee that forced him to take himself out of the game against the Colts and Pats, and Gates suffered a broken toe that obviously affected him throughout the playoffs.
The Chargers finally got a legitimate wide receiver when they acquired Chris Chambers. Eric Parker will be returning from an injury that kept him out all year. However, they did lose Michael Turner, who was an integral part of their offense.
The Chargers have had one of the best defenses in the league the past couple years and it seems like that will continue. They saw the emergence of Antonio Cromartie as a shut-down corner, and they expect Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo to dominate as usual. If the Chargers can get over the injury bug, you will see them in the top three.
8. Cleveland Browns (10-6, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Okay, raise your hand if you saw Derek Anderson being one of the top QB's in the NFL last year. Put your hand down, you liar.
Anderson finished ninth in passing yards, fifth in touchdowns, 12th in yards per game, and first in fewest sacks among QB's with at least 500 pass attempts.
The Browns finally had a solid running back in Jamal Lewis, as he finished fifth in the league in rushing yards. Braylon Edwards established himself as a Top Five wide receiver, while Kellen Winslow became one of the best tight ends in the league. They also signed free agent Donte Stallworth to add some more speed to their receiving corps.
The biggest obstacle for the Browns will be a terrible defense. They finished 21st or lower in all the major defensive categories. They traded for Corey Williams and signed Shaun Rogers to bolster their defensive line. They also signed Terry Cousin to add some depth to a weak secondary. If their defense can step it up, they could be a playoff contender.
9. Seattle Seahawks (10-6, Lost in Divisional Round)
Matt Hasselbeck finally established himself as a top quarterback in the NFL. For years, many people saw the Seahawks as a "run-only" offense, but last season Hasselbeck was forced to throw more, as Shaun Alexander was hurt.
Hasselbeck finished eighth in the NFL in passing yards, tied for sixth in touchdowns, eighth in quarterback rating, and he lowered his interceptions from the previous season.
Maurice Morris was a solid back-up running back, and they signed Julius Jones to become their starter. They cut ties with fan favorite Shaun Alexander after two straight unproductive seasons.
Bobby Engram set career highs in all categories and became a legitimate threat. They hope to have Deion Branch be more consistent, as teams will focus more on Engram.
Their defense wasn't great, but it was solid. Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant, Deon Grant, and Julian Peterson all had great years. They replaced kicker Josh Brown with more experienced Olindo Mare. This is somewhat of a downgrade, but it won't affect them too much. If the Seahawks' running game can become dominant again, they could become a contender.
10. Green Bay Packers (13-3, Lost in NFC Championship)
The next biggest question mark is Ryan Grant. He was an animal from Week 8 until the NFC Championship, but can he do it for a whole season? Donald Driver was solid but only caught two touchdowns, while Greg Jennings was one of the biggest surprises of the season. He finished 29th in receiving, but more impressively was tied for 4th in the NFL in touchdowns. He also finished 3rd in yards per catch for receivers with 50+ receptions.
Charles Woodson contributed nicely, as he finished with his highest tackle total since 2004. Nick Barnett led the team in tackles and was a great compliment to A.J. Hawk. Aaron Kampman led the team in sacks, and you can expect him to have a similar year. Until Aaron Rodgers proves himself as a legitimate quarterback, don't expect the Packers to be a serious contender.
So that rounds out the Top 10, folks. With minicamps starting up, the NFL season is getting closer. There are still many rumors circling about, whether it be Jason Taylor getting traded, Chad Johnson staying with the Bengals, or Michael Strahan contemplating his future.
As I said before, we could be in for one hell of a ride in this upcoming season. Feel free to comment on my selections and leave your selections.
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