The NFL is amazing.
There are hundreds of reasons why I love the NFL, but one of them is the way teams can surprise us.
Of the top four teams in this week’s rankings, only the Vikings started the season ranked in the Top 10—No. 10 to be exact.
Anyway, congratulations to the New Orleans Saints on their first Super Bowl Championship. They were undoubtedly one of the best teams all season long.
In fact from week two through the end of the season, they were never lower than No. 3 in the rankings and were either first or second for 14 consecutive weeks.
Congratulations as well to the Indianapolis Colts and first-year head coach Jim Caldwell. Starting in week five, they were in the Top 3 of the rankings every week to close out the season, including being first or second 11 straight weeks to end the season.
It was yet another great season of NFL football. As usual there were surprising teams and disappointing teams, but in the end, it was clearly the best against the best in Super Bowl XLIV.
The 2010 season should be just as interesting, or even more so, with the possibility of an uncapped season and the potential for a lockout the following year. With free agents all over the place, the draft in April, and six more months of Brett Favre stealing headlines of whether or not he’s coming back (at last check, he wasn’t. Wait, now he is! Hold on, now he’s uncertain), it should be another whirlwind offseason.
Here are the final power rankings of the 2009 NFL Season. Teams preseason ranking in parentheses.
1. New Orleans Saints (13)
The Saints finish the season ranked No. 1, a spot they held nine times during the season. It was a great run, with a great ending, for a great city. Questions remain for next year though as they have 29 (more than half their team) players that are restricted or unrestricted free agents. They may have a new look next year, but expect them to be right there at the end—barring injury.
2. Indianapolis Colts (12)
The Colts came up just short of their goal, but reaching the Super Bowl in their head coach’s first season is nothing to frown at. They have uncovered two very young and very solid wide receivers in Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. QB Peyton Manning has had a special career, but all people seem to be talking about is his struggles in big games. The Colts have no major glaring issues, and are currently the early favorite to take home the crown next season.
3. Minnesota Vikings (10)
The Vikings finish the season in a familiar No. 3 spot—a spot they sat at for seven straight weeks during the season. Favre and the Vikings impressed me quite a bit throughout the season, but they still showed at times that they can still be an average football team. There is no doubt the addition of Favre made everyone play better and if he finally decides to hang ‘em up, don’t expect this team to be a contender next season unless they find a solid quarterback.
4. New York Jets (21)
The Jets finish the season ranked higher than they were at any point during the regular season but hey, reaching the AFC Championship game with a rookie quarterback will do that for you. QB Mark Sanchez had his ups and downs through the season, but there is little doubt the Jets have found their man for the future. If they can surround him with a little bit more on the offensive side of the ball, they can be a legitimate Super Bowl contender for the next five years, easy.
5. San Diego Chargers (3)
Once again, the season did not end how the Chargers would have liked; however, there is no doubting the talent of this team. Winning 11 straight games at any point is the mark of a dominant team and I would expect the Bolts to be back competing for a championship next season. Even if RB LaDainian Tomlinson does depart as many think, I don’t believe that will have a huge effect.
QB Philip Rivers is proven to be a top passer in this league and RB Darren Sproles appears very capable to handle more of a role in the offense.
6. Dallas Cowboys (16)
Well, the ‘Boys finally got a playoff win, and it was enough to keep head coach Wade Phillips and even grant him an extension. There is no doubt Dallas moved in the right direction this year, especially after the loss of top their top wideout, Terrell Owens. They have one of the best rushing attacks in all of football, and an emerging wide receiver, Miles Austin.
This team appears to just be a piece or two away from being a serious Super Bowl contender in 2010.
7. Baltimore Ravens (6)
There is no doubt that the Ravens were a better team than the final standings showed this year. A lot of close losses and questionable calls during the regular season but too many penalties on both sides of the ball will most certainly be a primary focus heading into next season. The Ravens could really use a playmaker on offense not named Ray Rice, and their defense continues to get older. I still believe they can be an elite team, but the window appears to be closing quickly.
8. Arizona Cardinals (9)
Well, QB Kurt Warner certainly did not end his career the way he would have liked, but nobody will remember his game against the Saints.
What they will remember is his performances in the Super Bowl, as well as his incredible performance in his last full playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. He is hands down a Hall of Famer and possibly one of the greatest human beings the NFL has ever seen.
As for the Cardinals next season, I don’t see another division championship unless they go out and find a quarterback. I just don’t believe Matt Lienart is good enough to lead that team 10 wins, which is what I believe it will take to win the division next year.
9. New England Patriots (2)
The late season injury to WR Wes Welker was huge, but the Patriots in 2009 just never quite seemed to hit their full potential.
Yes, I know they put up nearly 60 on the Titans, including a five touchdown quarter, but overall they were inconsistent, and were just plain bad in road games. I believe QB Tom Brady was never 100 percent healthy and that next season we see a much better Patriots team, winning about 13 games and competing for yet another Super Bowl ring.
10. Green Bay Packers (5)
As a diehard fan, I am still bitter at how their season ended; however, I am very optimistic for their future.
This team has just a few minor holes they need to fill and they can very easily become a Super Bowl team. QB Aaron Rodgers is already one of the best in the league and has great weapons around him. If his offensive line can stay healthy and play as they did during the second half of the 2009 season, he might be able to put up close to 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The biggest question is can the defense stay healthy and continue to force as many turnovers as they did this season.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (7)
Philly fans sure can’t be happy with three losses to the Cowboys, and I expect a far different outcome next season.
The biggest question appears to be whether or not QB Donovan McNabb will return. I believe he will and I believe if they can get a consistent ground attack, that they will win the NFC East and be primed for a Super Bowl run.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (20)
Cincy was one of the surprise teams this year, and going 6-0 in the division was especially impressive.
They are another team that is just a couple pieces away from being a serious contender. Rumor has it that T.O. might be headed there to team up with Chad Ochocinco. Undoubtedly, Owens would have a far greater impact on the Bengals than he did with the Bills.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (1)
Who saw the defending champions missing the playoffs? I sure didn’t. And I don’t expect it to happen next year either.
Their defense is still extremely good and they will have a healthy Troy Polamalu. The offense behind QB Ben Roethlisberger was outstanding this season and should continue to get even better. A consistent rushing game would make this team very scary.
14. Houston Texans (11)
Congratulations to the Texans on achieving their first winning season.
I thought they would overtake the Colts this year for the division, but clearly I missed on that one. If the Texans defense can just play more consistently, there is no doubt they will be a playoff team soon.
QB Matt Schaub is one of the best quarterbacks in the league that nobody talks about. Not to mention he has arguably the best wide out in the game, Andre Johnson.
I say they reach 10 wins next year and nail their first playoff berth.
15. Denver Broncos (30)
Well, the Broncos began the year as the third worst team in the league.
Then, after just six weeks, they bolted all the way to the No. 2 spot.
Then after five more weeks, had dropped all the way down to No. 15.
Despite the poor finish to the season, it seems clear that rookie head coach Josh McDaniels is on the right track.
To win six in a row with QB Kyle Orton and an unhappy Brandon Marshall, with a very suspect defense (despite dominating for six games) is quite impressive. I don’t think Denver is a playoff team next year, but then again I didn’t think they would win six games this whole season.
16. Tennessee Titans (14)
The Titans were identical to the Broncos this year, except in reverse.
The Titans started off with six straight losses, only to finish the season with eight wins in their final 10 games.
Once QB Vince Young was inserted in the lineup, the Titans became a very good team. Any questions about whether or not he can be a quarterback in this league were answered. All he does is win, and that’s all that matters.
I believe the Titans will be a serious contender to make the playoffs next year, but are a few pieces away on offense from doing much damage in January.
17. Carolina Panthers (17)
It was an up and down year for Carolina.
Injuries hammered them and Julius Peppers, despite yet another Pro Bowl season, didn’t want to be there. Towards the end of the season, however, they showed some very good ability and would not surprise me at all if they were in the hunt next year in the NFC.
18. New York Giants (8)
I wasn’t sold on the Giants this season, but I certainly never imagined them finishing in the bottom half.
In fact, early in the season they were ranked No. 1 for four straight weeks after getting off to a 5-0 start. After that, they seemed to self destruct and nobody is real sure why.
I believe they need a more consistent runner because Brandon Jacobs always has a nagging injury, and I believe the defense was average at best. They found not one, but two, very reliable options at wide receiver in Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. They could be one of the best duos in the league in just a few years.
19. Atlanta Falcons (4)
Atlanta was another team riddled with injury in 2009, mainly, QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner. Once those two were hurt, it was all over.
A healthy Falcon team in 2010 might even be able to compete with the Saints in the division, but will have to improve on defense if they want to actually overtake them.
20. Miami Dolphins (24)
The Dolphins are an interesting team.
They have one of the best rushing attacks with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, but one of the least threatening passing attacks. Their defense is solid, but fairly inconsistent and the Wildcat offense gave many teams a rough time. I didn’t think this team was very good, but they came very close to beating a few dominant teams, including the Saints.
I think a true No. 1 wide receiver is what this team desperately needs to try and reach the postseason.
21. San Francisco 49ers (31)
I had this team ranked 31st to start the season and they got as high as No. 12 at one point!
In my defense, I didn’t think they had a quarterback (they didn’t, they made a change during the season) and I don’t think I am alone when I say I didn’t see TE Vernon Davis busting out like he did. That coupled with the fact that rookie WR Michael Crabtree was holding out, and I didn’t like the 49ers chances.
However, after watching them throughout the season, I believe they will win their division next year; I thought that even before Kurt Warner retired. I think this team will surprise a lot of people next year and win at least 10 games.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (26)
I said all year I didn’t think RB Maurice Jones-Drew could handle the load by himself after always splitting time. I was wrong, he was more than capable but he still needs help.
Overall their offense is very average at best. WR Mike Sims-Walker appeared like he was going to be a top wideout, but ended up being inconsistent overall.
I think this team has potential, but I don’t see them reaching it.
23. Chicago Bears (15)
I don’t know if Jay Cutler was the answer or the problem.
He played great in their wins, and absolutely awful in their losses. I still believe he needs help.
The Bears have absolutely nothing at wide receiver, and RB Matt Forte took a serious step back in his sophomore season.
Losing Brian Urlacher in their first game didn’t help.
I think this team will be much improved next year, but I don’t believe they can hang with the Vikings or Packers.
24. Oakland Raiders (27)
The Raiders might have posted four of the most impressive wins of any team this season. Unfortunately for them, they only posted one win in their other 12 games.
QB Jamarcus Russell had moments where we all thought maybe he would finally pan out, and then had plenty of moments where we all thought he might be a bigger bust then Ryan Leaf.
In fact, I read an article comparing all 32 NFL quarterbacks to their equivalent pitcher in Major League Baseball. Who was Russell compared to? Rick Ankiel. Loads of potential, a great arm, but has no idea where the ball is going when he releases it. I couldn’t help but laugh at how funny, and accurate, the comparison was.
Despite five wins, I think the Raiders might finally be headed in the right direction, but it will still be quite some time before they are ready to make a post season appearance.
25. Buffalo Bills (19)
Needless to say, the T.O. experiment bombed. He looked old, slow, and overall, not very good. I believe if he gets in the right system, he can still be a 1,200 yard and eight to 10 touchdown guy, but the question is, will any team take a chance on him?
The only way he returns to Buffalo next season is if all 31 teams have no interest in him. As for the Bills, they clearly are not a contender at this time and should likely start from the ground up.
26. Cleveland Browns (29)
Four straight wins to end the season was impressive, but nobody was happier than head coach Eric Mangini, who somehow will remain as coach next season.
The Browns have almost nothing on offense, and very little on defense. But there is light at the end of the tunnel with Mike Holmgren in their front office.
27. Washington Redskins (23)
What a disastrous season for the Redskins.
Injuries absolutely destroyed them and playing in that division certainly didn’t help things. Perhaps a new coach will get things turned around, but even with free spending owner Daniel Snyder, I wouldn’t expect too much from the ‘Skins for the next couple of seasons.
28. Seattle Seahawks (18)
Seattle was a huge disappointment in my opinion.
They finally had healthy wide receivers and added Pro Bowler T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but the defense is bad and the running game is pretty non-existent.
Their division is still fairly weak overall, but I don’t see them competing next season.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (28)
The Chiefs have one of the best young running backs in Jamaal Charles, but beyond that, have almost nothing.
This team is a work in progress and probably won’t be back to winning games anytime soon.
They need to improve the defense and need some talent at the wide receiver and tight end position to help out QB Matt Cassel.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (22)
Well they didn’t go winless like I thought they might, and even won games against the Packers and Super Bowl Champion Saints. With that said, this team still has a lot of work ahead of them and probably won’t be relevant for at least a few seasons.
All three teams ahead of them in the division have far more talent.
31. Detroit Lions (32)
Another terrible year for the Lions, but the potential is there.
QB Matthew Stafford is clearly a gamer and going to be good for that team for many years. If they can get him some help on offense in addition to beastly wide out Calvin Johnson, the Lions will actually be competitive.
The defense is still getting torched by pretty much everyone and will have to be the main focus this off season.
32. St. Louis Rams (25)
I made quite a few preseason predictions. The only one I nailed was that the Rams would win fewer games this year than last year (so why I had them 25 in the preseason is beyond me) which, considering they were 2-14 in 2008, was a fairly bold prediction.
The Rams just have no talent on defense, and outside of RB Steven Jackson, have nothing on offense. Even in a weak division, the Rams are going to struggle.
However they will get the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and that will hopefully get them moving in the right direction.