2011 NFL Power Rankings: Lockout Edition
Around this time every year, we start to evaluate the 32 NFL teams, listing who we believe will be the best teams for the coming season. That is made a little difficult as we go into day 70 of the lockout, with free agency and trades not allowed to happen.
Thanks to the draft however, the teams have seen plenty of changes, and this power ranking is based on the way they stand with their current rosters. Right now we'll be able to see who is sitting pretty and who has the most to gain after the lockout.
Once the lockout ends and free agents start signing, the rankings will be updated accordingly.
32. Carolina Panthers
Some might want to ask, why is the team that had the top overall pick ranked at the bottom? Simply put, Cam Newton is not NFL-ready. The Heisman winner needs time to develop in a system under a veteran. He is not going to be afforded that opportunity in Carolina.
Despite the fact that he had a monstrous season at Auburn, his one year starting in a spread system did not prepare him for a pro-offense, especially not on a bad team.
There is also the uncertainty of the Steve Smith situation. The Panthers lose with him either way: if he stays, they will have a frustrated receiver with a raw rookie quarterback, and if he goes, they lose one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. A couple of years down the road the will be without that talent when Newton DOES blossom.
Having done nothing to address their sub-par offensive line, the Panthers can expect another disappointing year out of the talented but often-injured DeAngelo Williams and his running-mate Jonathan Stewart.
This Panther team is very young, and their time is coming. However, that time is not 2011.
31. Washington Redksins
The Redskins are a team in turmoil. The Haynesworth-less drama saga is ongoing, McNabb hates the organization, and Mike Shanahan clearly lost his marbles last season. This is all without pointing out that John Beck and Rex Grossman are the guys competing for the starting quarterback job.
They traded away the number ten pick, showing that they clearly were not interested in any of the quarterbacks in this draft. Ryan Kerrigan is talented, but I can't say that outside linebacker seemed to really be a glaring need for the Redskins.
The only thing keeping them from the rock bottom spot is their somewhat respectable defense.
Things do not look bright for the 'Skins in 2011. There are too many holes and just not enough ways to plug them up.
30. Arizona Cardinals
This low ranking is largely due to the Cardinals still-glaring need at the quarterback position. Clearly, Arizona did not see their franchise quarterback in this draft class, which is completely understandable. I for one still believe they are the premiere destination for Eagles' backup Kevin Kolb via trade.
Having said that, this trade has not yet been made, and for now, Arizona is in bad shape. Patrick Peterson was arguably the best talent in the draft, and their secondary is fearsome now with the tandem of Peterson, Rodgers-Cromartie and Adrian Wilson. Beyond that though, their woes are many.
Their running game is sub-par at best, which is never good when you have no quarterback to throw the ball. The backfield is going to be a lot more crowded with second rounder Ryan Williams there, which is only going to screw with Beanie Wells's confidence.
The rest of their defense is still in desperate need of an upgrade, which was supposed to be provided by Von Miller, had they been able to choose him.
This ranking is a product of the labor dispute. Expect it to change when the CBA is in place, and the Cardinals can get themselves a signal caller.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals made some seriously good moves this draft. If Carson Palmer doesn't retire, he'll be able to throw to A.J Green and Andy Dalton will have a terrific mentor. If he does retire, Dalton will have a daunting task, but he will be able to grow with A.J and give the Bengals hope for the future anyway.
Despite their good draft, the Bengals will not be okay while Marvin Lewis is the head coach.
Their best bet for future success is their probable high draft pick next year, firing Lewis, and shipping off Chad OchoJohnsonCinco for some extra picks.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Clearly the Jaguars were looking towards the future in this past draft. They made a fantastic move trading with the Redskins to get Blaine Gabbert, because he will now have time to learn the system under a veteran.
Having said that, the rest of their picks were not as impressive, and none of them really did much to improve the current roster.
The Jags will get better, just not now. Jack Del Rio will be up the Rio soon.
27. Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker is an enigmatic pick at number eight, to say the least. After his junior season he was projected as a future No. 1 overall pick, but due to the down year he experienced as a senior he fell to being a second round projection.
The Titans clearly decided he was their man and reached up to snatch him at eighth overall, though at what cost? Apart from Chris Johnson and maybe Kenny Britt, there are few bright spots on this Titan squad, especially given the abysmal offensive line that they failed to upgrade.
You won't want to remember the Titans of 2011.
26. Miami Dolphins
Miami sports fans had better enjoy this Heat playoff run, because there isn't going to be much excitement from their football team. Mike Pouncey is a great addition to an already formidable line, but with a suspect defense and a near-bust quarterback, don't expect much from Miami, especially not in their division.
The backfield is one bright spot, especially with Pouncey and Jake Long on the line. Expect to see either Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams departing and be succeeded by second round pick Daniel Thomas.
Miami has some space for improvement, but expect stormy seas for the 'Fins in 2011.
25. Seattle Seahawks
The 'Hawks enjoyed some moderate "success" in 2010, being the first ever losing team to win its division. This probably hurt them more than it helped them though, as now they were forced to contend with having a playoff-team draft pick.
Though they upgraded their offensive line to help The Beast, their quarterback and receiver situations are sketchy at best and the defense remains suspect.
Look for Leon Washington to be a bright spot in the return game, but don't expect another playoff run unless Marshawn Lynch manages to pull off the above play at least twice a game.
24. Denver Broncos
This team is shrouded in mystery. Who will be the starting quarterback, fan favorite Tebow or wily veteran Orton?
Why did they draft the best pass-rushing linebacker if they are switching to the 4-3?
Will Brandon Lloyd repeat his fantastic 2010 campaign?
Is Champ too old?
These are the questions that the Mile-High crowd's 2011 hopes are riding on. At the very least, it should be pretty interesting to see how the defense fares with both Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rushing the passer, especially with John Fox as the new coach.
The Broncos aren't back yet, but if Tebow is the starter, expect them to accidentally win a few extra games on his back. It won't be pretty, but it will happen.
23. Buffalo Bills
The Bills believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The front office in Buffalo showed tremendous faith in the Harvard grad, opting not to draft one of the myriad quarterbacks that were available in the draft.
The Bills tend to fly under the radar due to their history of mediocrity, but the current roster in Buffalo is surprisingly good. Steve Johnson is a solid young receiver, and Lee Evans has been a staple in their offense for some time now.
Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller are a good backfield tandem, and though Fitzpatrick is no champion signal caller, he is a good holdover until the Bills do find the quarterback they truly want.
Marcel Dareus will be a huge shot in the arm for the Bills front line on defense, and I expect to see more close games like the Bills had in 2010, although they might actually win a few this time.
22. Cleveland Browns
This has got to be the highest power rank the Browns have gotten since their memorable 2007 season, where Derek Anderson's one-hit-wonder almost got them a Wild Card.
Colt McCoy looked more solid in his playing time last season than even the wildest optimism could have asked for. Peyton Hillis rose up to become a new Cleveland sports hero, and the defense looked the best it has in years.
Having said that, the Browns intelligently prepared for the future in this draft, trading down out of the number 6 spot to get more picks. They addressed needs on the D-Line early and drafted offensive help in mid rounds.
Again, this is not a team that will be making a splash in 2011, but they are well on their way and should enjoy a better record this year, provided the Madden Curse doesn't hit Peyton Hillis like Ray Lewis on a slot receiver.
21. San Fransisco 49ers
Talk about coming off a disappointing season. Going into 2010, many writers, analysts and fans, (including myself) were basically handing the NFC West to this team on a silver platter. Well I guess we all just underestimated how much Alex Smith's bust factor affects this team.
With a new regime under Jim Harbaugh, and rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick ready to sit and learn the system, they are ready for the future after one last year of Smith.
Still, the drafting of Aldon Smith makes for an interesting addition to an already formidable defense headlined by Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, and Frank Gore should be his usual bulldozer self yet again.
No playoffs in San Fran yet, but an improved record certainly seems inevitable.
20. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders showed up in 2010 with a new game plan: try to win more than 5 games. They succeeded, and had their best season in 7 years on the back of Darren McFadden's breakout campaign.
With that in mind, they are still uncertain at quarterback, though they have two serviceable options for the time being in Gradkowski and Campbell. A healthy Michael Bush should help keep the league's number 2 rushing attack on track, though the offensive line remains suspect.
The addition of DeMarcus Van Dyke should soften the blow of Nnamdi Asomugha's probable departure, though the defense will not be better than it was in 2010 even if Asomugha stays.
Look for another 8-8 season from Oakland.
19. Minnesota Vikings
Based on their quarterback situation, the Vikings should be much lower. However, Christian Ponder is stepping into the absolute best situation a rookie starter could ask for: the Vikings have Adrian Peterson in the backfield, 2 stud receivers in Rice and Harvin, and a top-notch defense.
The Vikings are built to win right now. Christian Ponder is going to hamper that goal, simply because he is a rookie, and a second round talent that was a huge reach.
This team can't be counted out because of their roster, and they may still sign a veteran in free agency. Look for a big move from the Vikings to help their "win now" chances. If they don't, they will experience Ponder's growing pains the hard way
18. St Louis Rams
The Rams improved immensely between 2009 and 2010, and barely missed the playoffs after losing the regular season closer to the division rival Seahawks. Sam Bradford had a sensational rookie season, and already looks somewhat like a young Peyton Manning out on the field.
Drafting Robert Quinn gives the Rams an excellent complement to Chris Long, and they gave Bradford some new weapons in Lance Kendricks and Austin Pettis. They are not the cream of the crop yet, but are well on their way, and the weak NFC West should not give them much trouble this season.
17. Detroit Lions
Detroit residents can finally almost be happy about something related to football. Obviously this was another miserable season with Stafford being hurt and the hated Packers winning it all.
The draft however, was a nice consolation for the fans. Thanks to Nick Fairley, the Lions will potentially have one of the best D-Lines in the NFL, adding him to Ndamakong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Titus Young was a fantastic pick, and is sure to help draw attention away from Calvin Johnson, and Mikel Leshoure will be a nice complement to Jahvid Best.
The Lions did not address their secondary or offensive line issues, and that will probably cost them a little, but not horribly.
If Matt Stafford can stay healthy, these Lions might be a sleeper wild card contender in 2011.
16. Chicago Bears
Why is the NFC runner-up ranked at 16? Simply because they shouldn't have been in the NFC title game to begin with. This team fluked it's way to paydirt in 2010, and it is kind of difficult to pinpoint how.
They addressed a glaring need by drafting a tackle in the first round to protect Jay Cutler, but he still has to throw the ball to Johnny Knox. The Bears did nothing to address their suspect offense. Yes, the Bears are traditionally defensive, but Jay Cutler needs weapons. He isn't going to turn subpar receivers into studs by himself.
I like the Bears, and just like every other team, this ranking can change when the lockout ends. As it stands though, I'm not loving the Bears chances.
15. San Diego Chargers
Before everyone starts screaming about the Chargers being #1 statistically in offense and defense during the 2010 season, keep in mind that they still only won 9 games. The numbers were gaudy.
San Diego did very little to address their team needs in the draft, and I still question Ryan Mathews' ability to carry the load. Look for him to split most of his carries with Mike Tolbert.
The Chargers have the talent, nobody can dispute that. However, until the team finds its identity and a true leader, they aren't going anywhere. Getting rid of Norv Turner would be a wise first step for them.
The Chargers will likely battle for a Wild Card spot this season rather than the division.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Many have forgotten the Dallas Cowboys due to their abysmal 2010 season. One important fact to realize however, is that once Jason Garrett took over as head coach after Week 8, the Cowboys finished the season 5-3. Garrett can control that team.
They addressed a major need by drafting Tackle Tyron Smith in the first round to protect Tony Romo, and beefed up their defense with the addition of Bruce Carter.
This team is too talented across the board to fly under the radar. Expect them to be right there in the 3-way battle for the NFC East crown.
13. Houston Texans
This could very well be the Texans' year to finally make the playoffs. They made a major acquisition at defensive coordinator in Wade Philips, and drafted precisely the right way to improve the defense as a whole.
J.J Watt and Brooks Reed will join Mario Williams and Brian Cushing to create one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the league. Expect opposing quarterbacks to get abused game in and game out.
Not much change on the offensive end, but then again it isn't like they needed anything there.
They added much needed depth to their laughable secondary in Brandon Harris out of Miami, and as long as Arian Foster can even be a shadow of what he was last season, I fully expect the Texans' high powered offense and revamped defense to challenge the Colts for the AFC South.
More likely they will end up with a Wild Card, but they are the only team in the AFC South that has a chance to topple Peyton and friends.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Here is a team nobody was talking about going into last season. Since they surprised everyone by winning the AFC West, you can bet people are talking about them now.
This team improved greatly during the draft; picking up wideout Jonathan Baldwin helps Dwayne Bowe and gives Matt Cassel an extra weapon to throw to, as well as drafting Justin Houston to boost the pass rush.
This is all without mentioning Jamaal Charles, a possible sleeper candidate for MVP this season should the Chiefs repeat their success from 2010.
With the league's top running game, a touchdown machine in Cassel to Bowe, an explosive return game with Dexter McCluster, and a solid defense, Kansas City will be a force to be reckoned with.
The loss of Charlie Weis is going to hurt them a little bit, but overall the Chiefs are still the team to beat in the AFC West.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The team with the NFC's best record might have had one of the NFC's worst drafts. They traded away their second and fourth this year, as well as a first rounder next year, all just to get the second best receiver in the draft class. Not a position of need for them either.
Having said that, they are still a formidable squad, and now more than ever teams have to watch out for their passing attack, since Julio Jones will be complementing Roddy White. Michael Turner and Matt Ryan remain dangerous as ever, though the Falcons' defense will not be quite on the same level it was last year.
They are still more than talented enough to make the playoffs, but they have fallen from being the best team in the NFC to the 3rd best team in their own division.
10. New York Giants
Here is an example of a team that managed to right the ship pretty fast. After their second consecutive extremely disappointing season, the Giants struck gold when Prince Amukamara fell to #19 in the first round of the draft.
Amukamara, along with Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Aaron Ross, Deon Grant, Kenny Philips and Antrel Rolle helps the Giants to have what is arguably the best secondary in the entire league. By picking up Amukamara, the Giants alleviated some of the pressure on the struggling linebackers. With such a formidable pass defense, defending the run will become much easier.
Nearly all of the Giants other six draft picks were also steals, particularly defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
The offense should remain potent with Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Steve Smith; the return of Domenik Hixon will be tremendous on special teams.
With coach Coughlin riding the hot seat yet again, look for the Giants to return to the playoffs once more in 2011.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Raheem Morris boldly declared early in the 2010 season that the Bucs were the best team in the NFC. While that wasn't true at the time, it would certainly be a lot more credible now.
The Bucs came away with Adrian Clayborn and managed to somehow steal Da'Quan Bowers after his freefall into the second round. Two first round caliber defensive ends to play alongside Gerald McCoy; if I was a quarterback I wouldn't want to face that.
Then there is the sensational LeGarrette Blount, who somehow eked out 1,000 yards with less than 10 starts, and Josh Freeman who becomes a god in the 4th quarter of games (he has the highest 4th quarter passer rating in the NFL).
The Bucs are about to make their grand entrance to the upper tier.
8. New Orleans Saints
The Saints made out like bandits at the end of round 1. Not only did they snag Cameron Jordan, but they worked out a nifty trade that netted them power back Mark Ingram. Can you say "goodbye Reggie Bust?"
The Saints right now are one of those teams that will be good every season for the time being. Drew Brees and the supporting cast are too talented and too well coached to be counted out of contention.
7. Indianapolis Colts
It doesn't really matter what the Colts did or didn't do in the offseason. If Peyton Manning is suiting up in the blue and white, the Colts are going to be a top contending team.
He proved that in 2010 throwing to guys like Jacob Tamme and making them look good.
6. New York Jets
Rex Ryan's third Super Bowl "guarantee" made me want to rank the Jets in the upper 20's, but obviously that wouldn't be fair.
How Ryan manages to inspire players after he embarrasses them week in and week out is beyond me, but whatever he does is clearly working. Back to back AFC Championships don't lie.
They've kept most of Mark Sanchez's supporting cast intact, so they should be at about the same level next year.
Look for the Jets to battle it out for the AFC East crown again
5. Philadelphia Eagles
I can feel my soul dying as I rank the Eagles this high, but there is no choice. An offense that explosive has to be ranked highly, especially since the Eagles' defense is nothing to sneeze at.
Vick is simply one of the most dynamic players to ever set foot on the field, the archetype for a scrambling quarterback. He can put the team on his back and literally carry them to wins.
Their additions via the draft were solid as well, bringing talent to an already talented team. These birds of prey are dangerous.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben and company fell short of winning yet another Super Bowl, but they clearly had a shot. The Steelers have arguably the best defense in the league, a proven winner under center, and possibly the second best coach.
The Steelers are just an all around great team, and they will be for quite a while. There's a reason they keep showing up at the Super Bowl after all.
Watch out for these guys.
3. New England Patriots
The Patriots surprised everyone last year, having the best record in the NFL with a mostly sub-par roster.
Belichick upgraded his secondary with Ras-I Dowling, and got Nate Solder to help protect Tom Brady. The Patriots will be ready to rumble in 2011.
2. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are a perennial contender, and yet they get no respect. Nobody ever has them to beat the Steelers or the Patriots, and yet they always seem to make noise in the postseason.
Joe Flacco is poised for a monster season now that he finally has a true deep threat in Torrey Smith, and Ed Reed is joined in the secondary by first round talent Jimmy Smith.
Ray Lewis as always is hungry for wins, and now apparently he's going to start killing people if the lockout sticks (Joking).
These Ravens are built to win now, and they dont really have any gaping holes. These guys could definitely find themselves in the 2011/2012 Super Bowl
1. Green Bay Packers
You had to know this was coming. There is virtually nothing wrong with the defending champs. They are a solid, dominant, explosive team, and as close to being built flawlessly as any team I have ever seen.
Aaron Rodgers is about to take that next step where he is talked about in the same breath as Brady and Peyton. Their defense is stifling, their offense is unstoppable. I could wax eloquent all day about the Packers, but there is no point....I should be preaching to the choir on this one.
If I had to predict a repeat...it would be by this team.