The regular season is under way in just 48 hours when the Vikings take on the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints Thursday night.
The start of the season returns with our weekly helping of our 2010 NFL Power Rankings.
The 2010 season appears to be as wide open a season as we've seen in recent NFL history.
Can the Saints recapture their 2009 magic? Can Brett Favre keep playing like he's 27 again? Does anybody really want to win the NFC West? Do the Patriots have one more Super Bowl run in them?
Read on to find out:
1. New Orleans Saints (Last season: 13-3, 1st place, NFC South)
Week 1: vs. MIN
Until they're dethroned the Saints will remain at the top of the rankings.
New Orleans' high-flying offense caught lots of the headlines in '09. But it was their gritty, Gregg Williams-led defense that helped seal both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
Will they be as hungry in 2010?
2. Indianapolis Colts (14-2, 1st place, AFC South)
Week 1: at HOU
Hunger has never been a question for Peyton Manning.
He won his fourth NFL MVP Award in 2009. Until proven otherwise, he is still the best football player on the planet.
Will this team be able to get away with a sub-par running game yet again?
3. Baltimore Ravens (9-7, 2nd place, AFC North)
Week 1: at NYJ
The Ravens are a trendy Super Bowl pick entering the season. This is due in large part to their suddenly explosive offense.
Joe Flacco now has some big-time targets in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He is also helped by one of the league's best backs in Ray Rice. The Ravens can kill you in all sorts of ways.
Questions lie, however, with Baltimore's once-vaunted defense.
How well can the injury-ravaged and inexperienced defensive backfield hold up?
4. Dallas Cowboys (11-5, 1st place, NFC East)
Week 1: at WAS
The Cowboys were able to win their first playoff game since 1996 last season. They were certainly aided by an unusually-empty injury list for such a veteran team.
The defense was sturdy in '09. The key for Dallas will be scoring once they get into the red zone.
Despite ranking no. 2 in the league in total offense last season, the Cowboys ranked just 14th in points scored.
Will an aging offensive line (anchored by an inexperienced left tackle in Doug Free) be able to fight off Father Time for another year?
5. Minnesota Vikings (12-4, 1st place, NFC North)
Week 1: at NO
Speaking of Father Time, Brett Favre is back.
Without Sidney Rice for half the season and Percy Harvin's apparent migraine issue, Minnesota's receiving corps may be significantly depleted this season.
Will a sturdy defense and an elite running game be enough to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl?
6. Green Bay Packers (11-5, 2nd place, NFC North)
Week 1: at PHI
The Packers are another team headed into the season with Super Bowl aspirations.
Aaron Rodgers leads what may be the league's most high-powered offense. Tight end Jermichael Finley is expected to be a break-out star.
If the offensive line can protect him, Rodgers can put up record-breaking numbers.
The defense, however, isn't such a sure thing.
After giving up 51 points to Arizona in the playoffs last year, can the defense keep teams out of the end zone?
7. New York Jets (9-7, 2nd place, AFC East)
Week 1: vs. BAL
Lost in all the excitement around the 2010 Jets is the fact they just barely sneaked into the playoffs last season.
They've added several big names (LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie) but how much will they be able to contribute?
The running game will be the key on offense. Mark Sanchez has some decent weapons to play with in his second season including Santonio Holmes. Holmes will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension.
Can the Jets live up to the incredible expectations levied on them by fans, the media, and their own coaching staff as well?
8. New England Patriots (10-6, 1st place, AFC East)
Week 1: vs. CIN
The Patriots were a bit forgotten in 2009 despite winning another division title.
They say that it takes two years to fully recover from an ACL tear. Tom Brady is about two years removed from his.
In a "down year", he was still able to complete 66 percent of his passes for almost 4,400 yards and 28 touchdowns.
There doesn't appear to be much leadership on the defensive side of the ball. And none of their defensive backs are over 27 years old.
Can Bill Belichick and company get back to the top?
9. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 1st place, AFC North)
Week 1: at NE
Remember when the Bengals came out of nowhere to sweep their division?
I can't quite see something like that happening this year. But the team may have actually improved.
Their passing attack has more weapons, and the defense has tons of young talent.
They play in one of the league's toughest divisions, but they're well-rounded enough to make a run back to the playoffs.
Will they have enough to fight off the Steelers and Ravens once again?
10. San Diego Chargers (13-3, 1st place, AFC West)
Week 1: at KC
The Chargers won their final 11 regular season games in 2009. But this is hardly the same team.
Much of the weight will be on the shoulders of rookie running back Ryan Mathews. He will try to resurrect a running game that ranked 31st in the league last season.
Despite uncertainty surrounding a few star players, it's difficult to envision this team not winning the division.
Can they finally make it to the Super Bowl, though?
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7, 3rd place, AFC North)
Week 1: vs. ATL
The four-game suspension to Ben Roethlisberger certainly damages their playoff hopes, but all is not lost.
Their first four games (Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore) are tough, but not impossible.
The defense is still sturdy. They ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed in 2009. With Roethlisberger gone, they'll have pressure on them to begin the season.
If this team can keep its head above water until Big Ben returns, they're capable of another Super Bowl run.
However, can Dennis Dixon fill in capably?
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9, 3rd place, AFC West)
Week 1: at BUF
My main concern with Miami isn't with their own talent. It's about the talent they have to face to start the season.
After their (presumed) easy game against Buffalo, they face Minnesota, the Jets, New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore.
All but one of those teams (Pittsburgh) made the playoffs last season and is primed to be back there again.
Miami has lots of potential on both sides of the ball. But can they stay alive with such a rough schedule to start?
13. Atlanta Falcons (9-7, 2nd place, NFC South)
Week 1: at PIT
Michael Turner missed five games last season and may have cost Atlanta missing out on a second-consecutive playoff berth.
A quarterback tends to make his biggest leap during his third season. Matt Ryan, after a semi-disappointing '09, appears poised to make "the leap" this season.
If the defense can generate a pass rush, they can be one of the most dangerous units in the league.
Can they challenge the Saints in the NFC South?
14. Houston Texans (9-7, 2nd place, AFC South)
Week 1: vs. IND
The Texans finished above-.500 for the first time in franchise history in 2009. Anything other than a playoff berth this season would be considered a disappointment.
Matt Schaub was the NFL's leading passer last season, throwing for 4,770 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The key is his health. When he missed significant time in 2008, the team was not the same.
If Matt Leinart has to set foot on the field for this team, they're in trouble.
Can Arian Foster help bolster what was one of the NFL's worst rushing attacks last season?
15. New York Giants (8-8, 3rd place, NFC East)
Week 1: vs. Carolina
The Giants got off to a very hot 5-0 start last season. Then they randomly faded into nothing down the stretch, finishing just 8-8.
The defense was awful last season. They brought in former Bills' coach Perry Fewell as the defensive coordinator to fix it.
The pass rush is the key as the Giants' defensive end-heavy line can't make much of an impact without getting to the quarterback.
With some good offensive parts in place, can the defense be amongst the league's best once again?
16. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5, 2nd place, NFC East)
Week 1: vs. GB
The Eagles are hoping Kevin Kolb enjoys a quick, Aaron Rodgers-style ascent with the off season departure of longtime quarterback incumbent Donovan McNabb.
Kolb was able to put up huge passing numbers while McNabb missed time with injury last season. Many feel with targets lDaSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Brent Celek in his arsenal, the transition could be a smooth one.
If it doesn't work out, well...there's always Michael Vick.
Can Kolb pick up where McNabb left off?
17. San Francisco 49ers (8-8, 2nd place, NFC West)
Week 1: at SEA
The 49ers come into the season as everybody's pick to reclaim the NFC West. And with good reason.
The defense was one of the most productive in the league this season. They are led by the NFL's leading tackler from '09, Patrick Willis.
Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree join a receiving unit with tons of potential. But all hinges on the play of the unpredictable Alex Smith.
Can Smith improve upon his best season to date in 2010?
18. Carolina Panthers (8-8, 3rd place, NFC South)
Week 1: at NYG
Carolina boasts the most dynamic backfield duo in the league with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both ran for over 1,100 yards in 2009.
With the unproven Matt Moore as the starting quarterback, even more responsibility is thrown on these two backs.
The defense is missing departed Julius Peppers and injured Thomas Davis and has more than its share of question marks.
Will Moore implant himself as the no. 1 quarterback or will we see Jimmy Clausen earlier than expected?
19. Chicago Bears (7-9, 3rd place, NFC North)
Week 1: vs. DET
This team could either be very good or very, very bad.
Jay Cutler didn't exactly light the world on fire in his first season in the Windy City. With Mike Martz now the offensive coordinator, all eyes are on how well he responds.
Cutler's numbers certainly weren't aided by the Bears' weak ground game in '09. Matt Forte failed to live up to expectations brought on by a stellar rookie season.
Chester Taylor was brought in to help with the backfield attack. Brian Urlacher returns from injury to help a defense that ranked 17th in the league last season.
The defense was also bolstered by the signing of defensive end Julius Peppers to a massive six-year contract worth up to about $91 million.
Can Cutler protect the ball better than he did in 2009?
20. Tennessee Titans (8-8, 3rd place, AFC South)
Week 1: vs. OAK
After starting 0-6 with Kerry Collins running the show, Vince Young was inserted as the starter after the bye week. The Titans surged to an 8-2 finish.
If Young continues to play within himself and Chris Johnson carries the bulk of the offensive load, the Titans can be a dangerous team in the AFC South.
Tennessee's pass defense was poor last season. They need to gain some semblance of a pass rush if the defense plans on getting near where it was in '08.
Will the Titans build on last season's late success?
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9, 4th place, AFC South)
Week 1: vs. DEN
The Jags were a bit of a surprise team last year. They got getting off to a 6-4 start before finishing on a 1-5 slide.
Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the most explosive backs in the league. He's apparently fully healthy and ready to go for opening day.
There isn't much else that strikes fear into opponents on this team. So they'll have to get it done with a pounding run game and a stingy defense.
Can Jack Del Rio keep his job beyond this season?
22. Washington Redskins (4-12, 4th place, NFC East)
Week 1: vs. DAL
This team has undergone some significant changes at the top with Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb now on board.
If Shanahan can gain control of the team, there's a decent amount of talent on the roster.
The defense will be the key. They are led by a talented linebacking group featuring London Fletcher, Chris Draft, and Brian Orakpo.
If Haynesworth can keep his head together (if he's still on the team), that's a fairly menacing defensive unit.
Can the Redskins be challengers in the NFC East?
23. Denver Broncos (8-8, 2nd place, AFC West)
Week 1: at JAX
Remember when Kyle Orton, Josh McDaniels, and the Broncos started 6-0 last season?
This was the second-consecutive season Denver collapsed down the stretch and missed out on the playoffs completely.
With Elvis Dumervil already out for the season, there doesn't appear to be a tremendous amount of hope in the Mile High City at the moment.
But hey, maybe Tim Tebow will get some snaps.
Will the Broncos fool us all again?
24. Arizona Cardinals (10-6, 1st place, NFC West)
Week 1: at STL
The Cardinals' quarterback situation has been a mess throughout the preseason. Derek Anderson is your starter for week one.
Larry Fitzgerald is still there. Hiis partner in crime, Anquan Boldin, now resides in Baltimore.
Lots of pressure will be on the running backs, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, to produce.
The defense, which gave up an NFL record 90 points in two playoff games last year, lost key parts in Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle.
This team could be decent but don't appear to be a playoff team.
Can Anderson hold off rookie Max Hall as the Cardinals' starting quarterback?
25. Seattle Seahawks (5-11, 3rd place, NFC West)
Week 1: vs. SF
Former USC coach Pete Carroll is now running the show in Seattle. He's already brought on a slew of changes to a team that struggled tremendously last year.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Seneca Wallace are gone. In are Mike Williams and Charlie Whitehurst.
Offensive tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas were drafted in the first round. Wide receiver Golden Tate was snagged in the second.
The Seahawks are clearly in rebuilding mode. They don't appear to have too much going for them on either side of the ball right now.
Can Seattle get production from young parts in several key areas?
26. Oakland Raiders (5-11, 3rd place, AFC West)
Week 1: at TEN
The Raiders were pesky last season and beat several teams with playoff hopes down the stretch.
Out is JaMarcus Russell and in comes Jason Campbell as the starting quarterback.
Campbell isn't flashy. But he's been able to succeed as a pro despite playing for poor teams in Washington.
The defense is the Raiders' calling card led by veterans Richard Seymour and Nnamdi Asomugha.
Rolando McClain, the team's first round pick out of Alabama, is expected to step in as the middle linebacker to and replace the departed Kirk Morrison.
With the weakness of the AFC West, is it possible for the Raiders to sneak into the playoffs?
27. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12, 4th place, AFC West)
Week 1: vs. SD
Last season was a major transitional year for the Chiefs franchise. It looks as though they're headed in the right direction.
Former Patriots coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis were brought in to aide head coach Todd Haley.
Young running back Jamaal Charles exploded onto the scene late last season. Veteran Thomas Jones has been brought in to play alongside Charles. This could result in a better running game than some suspect this season.
The defense is still full of question marks. They have potential, however, with young players like Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and rookie Eric Berry.
Can the Chiefs continue to make strides toward respectability in 2010?
28. Detroit Lions (2-14, 4th place, NFC North)
Week 1: at CHI
The Lions seemed to be much improved in '09 even though they won just twice more than they did in '08.
Matthew Stafford took his lumps along the way, but the team is high on his future.
The defense as a whole is still a mess. Drafting Ndamukong Suh along with the play of rookie star Louis Delmas gives them hope. Kyle Vanden Bosch and Dre Bly were brought in to help give the defense some veteran leadership.
Jim Schwartz still has plenty of work to do but this team is looking much-improved.
Can the Lions climb back towards the top of the NFC North?
29. Cleveland Browns (5-11, 4th place, AFC North)
Week 1: at TB
The Browns got off to a horrid 1-11 start last season. They somehow rallied to win their final four games and likely saved Eric Mangini's job in the process.
Mike Holmgren is now running things from up top. He placed Jake Delhomme as the new starting quarterback.
The loss of rookie Montario Hardesty to injury was certainly a blow. Jerome Harrison emerged late last season, however, and looked like he could be a star.
The team still doesn't have much of a passing game to speak of. Harrison should get plenty of chances to succeed.
There isn't a whole lot to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball either.
Can Jake Delhomme resurrect his career?
30. Buffalo Bills (6-10, 4th place, AFC East)
Week 1: vs. MIA
The Bills were in disarray last season after going into the season with decent expectations.
Trent Edwards lost his job as the starter, but regained it heading into this season.
Most of the excitement for Bills' fans will come with watching rookie running back C.J. Spiller. He looked electric in the preseason and was one of the most exciting players in the nation during his college career.
Did the Bills really hire Chan Gailey as the head coach?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13, 4th place, NFC South)
Week 1: vs. CLE
Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman showed flashes of brilliance at times last season including leading a shocking win over the Packers.
Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price were Tampa's first two draft picks last April. They're both likely to see significant time in the starting lineup.
This is certainly a team in transition and Freeman could struggle without many big-time targets on the outside.
Arrelious Benn, a rookie receiver from Illinois, could be a fantasy sleeper.
Can Raheem Morris balance head coaching and defensive coordinating duties?
32. St. Louis Rams (1-15, 4th place, NFC West)
Week 1: vs. ARZ
The Rams have won just six games total since the beginning of the 2007 season.
Sam Bradford gives the franchise hope as the QB of the future. It may take time, especially with Laurent Robinson appearing to be the team's no. 1 receiver.
Steven Jackson was second in the league in rushing last season. But he was able to find the end zone just four times. This was a result of St. Louis' lousy offense as a whole.
This team has pieces, but will go through plenty of growing pains along the way.
Can they win more than one game?
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