By Derek Lofland & Antonino Buccellato, founder of Fantasy Football Maniaxs
These are my power rankings to open the 2008 season. I want to be clear about one particular point. These rankings do not mirror my 2008 NFL predictions. This is where I would rank the teams to start the season. My predictions take into account how I believe those teams will progress during the season
This team has a tradition of recycling players and incorporating new ones without missing a beat. The one thing to watch with this team is whether they have been able to rebuild a defense that lost a number of starters in the secondary.
It hasn’t looked very good in the preseason, although veteran teams tend to look worse in preseason than young teams. At 16-0 last year, and four Super Bowl appearances in seven years, they are light-years ahead of the closest competitors, and thanks also to a docile strength of schedule in 2008, are deserving of opening the season in the top spot.
This is a team that returns most players from last season, minus WR Terry Glenn, who wasn’t a factor in 2007 due to injury. Gone is also their backup RB Julius Jones, to Seattle, replacing him with another Jones, rookie Felix, who will be Marion Barber’s main backup.
Their schedule doesn’t look too favorable, but a great team will overcome that rather easily. Chemistry is this team’s biggest question mark.
The loss of Michael Strahan to retirement will affect this team negatively on the field; he was the vocal leader of this team. That, combined with Saturday’s season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora, furthers those doubts.
There are also questions abound about which Manning is going to show up for the Giants this season. The Giants ranked fourth last year in rushing and again will capitalize on the running game this year. They are planning to use a three-headed running monster consisting of a capable trio of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Talent-wise I couldn’t put them in the top two spots, but as defending Super Bowl Champions, they are deserving of a high ranking to start the season.
The Jaguars are one of the few teams that used the draft and free agency to patch their 2007 holes efficiently this offseason. The addition of Jerry Porter, a bona fide No. 1 receiver, which the team has lacked in years past, solidifies their offense and catapults them into an instant contender not only for the division, but for the Super Bowl as well.
Of the four power teams in the AFC last season, they enter the 2008 season with the fewest injury concerns. Brady’s foot, Manning’s knee, and Merriman’s knee are all major question marks for the other big three AFC teams, much bigger than the dinged up receivers of the Jaguars.
Many experts have crowned this team the deepest team in the NFL. They are going to need that depth more than ever. Merriman’s knee is in severe question, and Tomlinson, Rivers, and Gates are coming back from major injuries.
Even with all the alarming concerns, San Diego is capable of winning the division by riding their tough defense until those concerns vanish. They are a solid and established team, unlike most of the rest of their division rivals that are in the midst an ongoing rebuilding process.
Marvin Harrison is looking good for a return, but Peyton Manning has the NFL world concerned with his knee. I’d have this team ranked No. 3 if I was certain he was going to be at full strength to open the season.
I don’t doubt he will be in the lineup Week One, but at what percent of his healthy self? A solid team at every position should be good enough to contend for the division an ulterior time. The Jaguars will pose a realistic threat for the South’s crown. How far they go rests on Manning’s knee, no question about it.
Although the Steelers have one of the hardest schedules this season, as good of a team that they are, their talented personnel should be able to overcome the perils that it presents.
While the Steelers aren’t excited about the teams on their schedule, their opponents will not be excited to face them either. The Cleveland Browns should challenge them again for the title, but the Steelers’ experience and depth warrants them to stay competitive in the AFC until the end.
Copying a page off the Jets’ book, the Vikings took a free-agents-happy approach in trying to reload the team, landing the best DE in the game, Jared Allen from the Chiefs. Adding WR Bernard Berrian from Chicago should help Tarvaris Jackson and Sydney Rice’s development.
This team will benefit from Brett Favre's move to Broadway and should be the favorite in the NFC North if Jackson can stay healthy and play effective.
Given their dominance in this division over the last four years, they have to start the season in the top 10. The acquisition of Julius Jones from the Cowboys brings a little relief in the hope of rejuvenating a running game that went awry in 2007.
Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed a great statistical season last year but is losing many of his reliable targets to injury. Their tough defense may still be enough to lead them to yet another division title, but Arizona looks to be a capable obstacle.
What happens when you add a Jeremy Shockey (who will stretch defenses even further) to an already potent offense that features studs like Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, David Patten, and capable backups like Deverey Henderson, Robert Meachem, Aaron Stecker, Deuce McAllister, and Pierre Thomas?
They become an even more poisonous and fatal team in a weak division that the NFC South represents. They improved their Achilles’ heel, defense, with notable acquisitions in the offseason. This team should be more consistent in 2008.
While losing Brett Favre seems devastating to everyone except for the Packers’ management, the team’s defensive corps remains untouched. Their offensive line stayed unaltered, and so did the receiving and running departments.
They will need all those units to step up for Green Bay to contend for the division while bringing Aaron Rodgers along the NFL learning curve.
L.J. Smith and Donovan McNabb look healthy, but the team’s offense received a blow by the injury to their main receiver, Kevin Curtis, who will miss the first four weeks of the season at best. Brian Westbrook is going to have to have another big year, and the defense will have to continue to carry this team to tough victories.
The Titans keep drafting running backs with their high draft picks and refuse to hand Vince Young any feasible targets. They elected to let the few WRs available in free agency slip to other teams.
While it is widely known that defense and a solid running game wins championships, Tennessee doesn’t stand a fair chance against offensive powerhouses like Indianapolis, Dallas, and Patriots among others.
They start this high in my rankings because of their tremendous defense, which is the reason they made the playoffs last year when few people gave them a chance.
Cleveland will wrestle Pittsburgh for supremacy in the North, but early injuries (although not too serious) to Edwards, Anderson, and Winslow give the team an untimely disadvantage out the gate. This team has looked awful in preseason and has a tough start to the schedule. They cannot afford to get out of the gate that slow.
An otherwise solid team anchored by its defense that doesn’t possess enough offensive weapons to compete with the Saints. They won the division last year in part because they exceeded expectations, and in part because the Saints started 0-4.
If the Saints play the way they are capable of, the Buccaneers will not be able to become the first team to repeat as NFC South Champions.
The Jets loaded their team with a considerable number of high-priced free agents this offseason, most notably QB Brett Favre and G Alan Faneca. Their schedule is favorable for improvement over last year’s dismal 4-12 record.
If Favre, the line, and the receivers can get on the same page early in the season, this team should compete for the wild-card spot.
In spite of futility, or the longevity of it, Arizona seems to have everything in place to take the next step in turning the corner toward respectability this season. They are buying into the new coaching regime’s attention to details and playing hard on defense.
Their offensive line, a plague in the past, is increasingly becoming the staple of the team. Warner has been tabbed the starter. If he can stay healthy, the passing game is still their forte, but the drafting of Tim Hightower will see a change of the guard in an oft-ill running game.
Counting on a relatively easy schedule, and on a Seattle team that seemingly gets depleted by the day, this could be the year for the Cardinals.
The addition of Jason Taylor at DE will help their defense tremendously, but the receiving portion of their offense need to better their awful performance of 2007, when they didn’t score a TD until Week 10.
New coach Jim Zorn will be implementing the West Coast offense in the Capitol, and its success will depend on how fast third-year QB Jason Campbell will assimilate its intricacies.
Washington’s embarrassing 47-3 loss to Carolina was not a good dress rehearsal for the regular season. Washington is a solid team stuck in a brutal NFC East.
A team in a similar dilemma to Washington. Playoff capable team stuck in a brutal division. The Texans are a progressing team that could start the season in a gigantic hole thanks to an early brutal schedule that has them facing Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee away from home, followed by a Week Five matchup against the Colts.
Their young defense is starting to scare some teams, but their often injured offensive skill players need to stay healthy to have a legitimate chance to compete in 2008.
Receiver Brandon Marshall’s two to three-game suspension will hurt Jay Cutler and the Broncos’ production as a whole in the early stages of the season. However, the team seems to be going into the right direction with their youth movement.
Selvin Young, who replaces an often-troubled Travis Henry at RB, should enjoy the benefits of having a relatively easy schedule against weak run-stoppers to begin the 2008 campaign.
This is a big year for Mike Shanahan. His team needs to play better than last year or rumors of his job security will continue to surface.
Jake Delhomme’s good news of a nice recovery was ruined by the two-game suspension to his best receiving target, Steve Smith. That alone could put them in an insurmountable hole.
Gone is the experience of DeShaun Foster and welcomed are the fresh legs of rookie Jonathan Stewart, who will complement up-and-coming runner DeAngelo Williams in Carolina's backfield.
They don’t play in the most brutal of divisions. If Julius Peppers can bounce back from a 2.5-sack season, and Delhomme can stay healthy, this team could compete for a playoff spot.
Adding rookie receiver James Hardy will provide some protection for Lee Evans. Their defense is getting healthier. Unfortunately, they play in the Patriots’ division, where the Jets have also mightily improved. How Edwards progresses in year two will go a long way to determine their fate.
Mike Martz and his pass-heavy offensive schemes have migrated to San Francisco, and that could be a blessing in disguise. Detroit is depositing the running game’s trust in rookie Kevin Smith.
The Lions have looked very good in preseason, and Kitna is probably the best quarterback in the division. It could be another long season if they aren’t able to consistently run the ball and play better defense.
The Bengals didn’t do much during the offseason to upgrade their defense while maintaining their powerful offense intact. Cincinnati, unable to cut ties with the past, even reacquired troubled WR Chris Henry (already suspended four games by the league) to cope with minor injuries to wideouts Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
If there was a statistic for heart, the Bengals would rank 32nd in the NFL. They will need to score points in bunches to compete with a brutal schedule.
If the Bears and Bengals could merge rosters, that would be quite a team. Switching starting QBs could be a salutary public relations’ move, but in honesty, Kyle Orton doesn’t seem to be the adequate answer for their offensive woes.
Devin Hester will once-again be in the spotlight due to his incredible returning skills. Rookie Matt Forte, who has demonstrated his ability to be effective in preseason games, should make fans forget about his predecessor’s (Cedric Benson) unpleasant tenure with the team.
Watch out for Kevin Jones. If he can stay healthy (he has looked good in preseason), he could bring some production to an offense in dire need of some.
Even their stout defense will be tested in 2008, with games against some of the best scoring defenses like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh (twice), Titans, Eagles, Giants, and Jaguars.
Trying to replace QB Steve McNair won’t prove to be an easy task with the likes of promising but unproven Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco, whom the franchise regards as their building block for the future.
RB Willis McGahee and kicker Matt Stover along with their tenacious defense will provide most of the scoring once again.
The Rams have incredible talent at the skill positions, with Jackson, Bulger, and Holt. The problem is that their offensive line was injured last season, and their defense was among the worst in the NFL.
The Rams gave up 40.7 points per game in their last three games of the 2007 season, which propelled them to the 31st-ranked scoring defense in the NFL.
Chris Long will help this defense improve, but it is still going to be a long year for the Rams.
Rebuilding year No. 2 saw Oakland draft promising rookie RB Darren McFadden, pairing him with another first rounder from a year ago, QB JaMarcus Russell. These two untested, but skilled, players are asked to be the face of this storied franchise for years to come.
Their return to glory may not be tasted this year, but they certainly are on the right path. Their defense and running game will allow them to remain in games. Their incapacity to come from behind due to the lack of proven receivers should be as worrisome as it was in 2007.
The Alex Smith era appears to be over in San Fran, as the 49ers named J.T. O'Sullivan the starter to open the season. Sullivan was a sixth-round pick of the Saints in the 2002 draft. He has spent time with Green Bay, Detroit, and now San Fran. The 49ers have impressed on offense in the preseason, and with Mike Martz, this team should score more points.
The 49ers were 32nd in points scored, yards gained, and first downs. This offense has Frank Gore and little else at the skill positions. The pressure is going to be on Patrick Willis and the defense to win games this year.
Being regarded by many as the best team in this year’s draft came with a hefty price tag: the loss of the best DE in the game Jared Allen to the Vikings.
However, for long-term purposes, Kansas City looks to be in great shape. Their offensive line keeps getting decimated each passing season, altering the team’s running and passing game’s productivity. Their unstable QB situation contributes to the team’s offensive ineptness.
A new era begins for a franchise that went a league-worst 1-15 a year ago. Numerous changes have been made, personnel wise, that has resembled a fire sale. Ronnie Brown, the team’s best player, is still ailing; therefore, their offense will trust 32-year old RB Ricky Williams to lead them to respectability.
One of their best players, DE Jason Taylor, was traded to the Washington Redskins. Miami will build their team on first-overall pick, tackle Jake Long.
There isn’t much separating them and the last team in my rankings. I like them a little better than the Falcons, mainly because of Pennington at QB. Winning with a rookie QB in the NFL is almost impossible. Even Peyton Manning went 3-13 his first year in the NFL.
This year it will be rebuilding year No. 2 in the post-Vick era. Rookie QB Matt Ryan is trusted to be the pillar of the franchise going forward. That is the right move. The team has no chance of winning this season, so they are best to get the growing pains of a young quarterback out of the way this season.
The addition of most-sought free agent Michael Turner in the running game brings hope for the future while they keep nurturing soon to be star Jerious Norwood.
This team still needs to upgrade in many areas. They will be competitive in a lot of games, but their inexperience will probably cost them more than a few wins.