The prognosticators are at it again. The ESPN Preseason Power Rankings came out this morning. There really aren't many surprises in the rankings, but it does deserve a bit more analysis. The Colts stand at number eight, after ending last season ranked tenth. These rankings include a bit of commentary from ESPN bloggers.
Let's break it down.
The Teams Ranked Ahead of the Colts
1. Green Bay
The Packers will actually be getting back some key pieces that they lost for the season last year. As reigning champions, they deserve the respect that the No. 1 status confers.
2. New England
Bill Belichick rehabbed the careers of Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. He seems poised to do the same for Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. And with Tom Brady slinging the football, the offense will remain strong. This ranking may actually be high (I think the Eagles and the Steelers should be ahead of them), but I don't have many complaints with the Patriots in the top four.
The Eagles are the talk of everyone's town. Their bold moves in free agency set them up as the team to beat in the NFC. With Michael Vick's reemergence and the new additions on defense (in particular Nnamdi Asomugha) Philly might even be ranked a spot too low.
4. New Orleans
The Saints seem a bit high on this ranking to me. They didn't make many moves in free agency and their defense still isn't top tier. Drew Brees elevates the team, though, and they have lots of good offensive weapons. I can see why they are ranked higher than the Colts.
The AFC champs seem focused and determined headed into 2011. The Steelers are always strong defensively and they find ways to get the job done on offense. They are still the team to beat in the AFC North and four or five seems like a just ranking.
The Falcons are still waiting for a breakthrough in the playoffs, but they are a potent team who has only gotten better this offseason. Sixth in the ranking is perfect for this squad.
The team that bounced the Colts from the playoffs isn't appreciably worse this year. They're also not appreciably better. If I had a vote, I may have slotted the Colts just above Rex Ryan's entertaining team.
Rankings for the Teams in the Colts' Division
Houston Texans (17)
For the past couple years, a good number of pundits have predicted that the Colts would lose their hold on the division. The Texans have yet to overtake them, however, and Gary Kubiak's squad remains the most mediocre team in the NFL.
Their under-performing defense has kept their potent offense from realizing its potential. I think 17 is just right until they can show us otherwise. They have shrunk in games against division rivals, and until Schaub, Andre Johnson and Super Mario can show that they can win games that matter, they shouldn't be ranked higher than the middle of the pack.
Jacksonville Jaguars (22)
Although I'm no enthusiast of the nattily-attired Jack Del Rio and his spotted crew, the Jags got short shrift from the analysts here. Twenty-two is too low for a team that pushed the Colts for the division title and showed that they could win with a young defense and an uninspiring offense (MJD is the lone inspiring member of that group).
The Jaguars should be even better with a year of experience behind their youngsters on defense. They should be ranked 17 or 18. I don't understand how the Cardinals and Titans (for example) are ranked higher than them.
Tennessee Titans (20)
With a quarterback situation in flux and some liabilities on defense, the 20th rank is fairly accurate. It may even be high. They have Chris Johnson as an explosive play-maker running the football, but beyond him, they are woefully uninspiring on offense. I can't foresee how they'll eke out more than six or seven wins with this bunch.
Colts Outlook Versus the Best
The Colts took steps to solve their most glaring areas of need in the offseason. They added rookies Anthony Castanzo and Ben Ijalana to their offensive line mix, which should strengthen that group. The middle of their defensive line looks to be in better shape than it has in years, with ex-Bear Tommie Harris performing well so far in training camp and rookie Drake Nevis primed to make an impact.
The Colts offense is still a top five group. With Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark back to full strength, they should be well-prepared to torment opposing teams' secondaries. The return of Joseph Addai and the addition of fourth-round draft pick Delone Carter should enhance the running game.
At No. 8, the Colts start the season ranked correctly. They are a top tier team that should repeat as division champs and contend yet again for a Super Bowl.