NFL Power Rankings: 8 Favorites to Win Super Bowl XLVI

Andrew McCluskeyCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2011

NFL Power Rankings: 8 Favorites to Win Super Bowl XLVI

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    It is usually about this time of year that the experts and fans have had a chance to see their teams finish their offseason moves and play a preseason game or two.

    With that comes the influx of asking anyone and everyone who they think will win the Super Bowl that year. Of course you have the die-hard fans that will pick their team to win the big game regardless of how terrible they are. Then you have the experts that are picking the team they used to play or coach for even though they know better.

    The truth is, it is incredibly difficult to pick the Super Bowl winner at this point of the year.

    There will be injuries, breakout players, players that underperform and a whole slew of unpredictable variables that will change the course of the NFL season.

    That is why I'm going to make my job a little easier and list eight teams for you that have an excellent chance of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy this year.

Green Bay Packers

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    Who better to start off this list than the defending Super Bowl champions?

    The Green Bay Packers were a top team in 2010 from wire to wire. Even after losing their starting running back, Ryan Grant, early in the year, the Packers were able to make up for it through a fantastic passing game led by Aaron Rodgers.

    They come into 2011 healthy and ready to compete.

    Grant will be back as the starting running back, but they now know that they have James Starks as a solid backup. Jermichael Finley will take his role back over as the starting tight end, giving Rodgers another target.

    The Packers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and we can only expect these young players who now have a championship under their belts to be more prepared for the season ahead of them.

    Of course, history is against Green Bay.

    Only seven teams in the history of the NFL have won back-to-back championships, most recently being the Patriots winning Super Bowls 38 and 39.

    While it will be tough, there is no doubt that Green Bay is talented enough to get there. You would assume that the offense will only get better having all their weapons back and that the young defense is going to continue to develop.

    I would not be shocked to see the quarterback once labeled as "Favre's replacement" lead his team to a second-consecutive Super Bowl in 2011.

New England Patriots

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    Another shocker, I know.

    One of the most successful teams of the last decade is once again armed and loaded to make a run at the Super Bowl.

    The Patriots finished last season with a 14-2 record, winning the AFC East. However, they came up short in the playoffs, losing to the division rival New York Jets.

    New England didn't hesitate to make a splash this offseason by making two controversial acquisitions in Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. While those two ate up the headlines, the Patriots had a solid draft, adding depth across the board; re-signed Logan Mankins; and brought in several veteran defensive players in hopes of bolstering their front seven.

    The young New England defense was solid last year, but certainly had room for improvement up front. The additions of Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and company should help. The expected development of young talent like McCourty, Mayo and Spikes should lead to a more than respectable defense.

    Like with any team, there are still several unanswered questions.

    Can Ochocinco and Haynesworth fit in with the Patriots? Will the defense be good enough to beat the top teams? What is the situation at running back?

    We will find out the answers to these questions early in the year. However, if there was ever a duo to give the benefit of the doubt to, it would be Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

    As long as they are there, don't count out the Pats.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Eagles had no problem dominating the post-lockout headlines with all of their big offseason pickups.

    Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, among others, have some talking about the Eagles as football's Miami Heat. The term "super team" has been thrown around as well.

    There is no doubt that Philadelphia is going to be one of the most explosive teams in the NFL this year.

    Michael Vick, who is dynamic enough on his own, is surrounded by offensive weapons—more weapons than he has ever had in his career.

    With the secondary depth the Eagles are bringing to the table, it will be tough for any offense to move the ball.

    The biggest wild-card factor of them all for the Eagles will be Michael Vick's health. What makes him such an amazing and effective player is his ability to run. Unfortunately, this is what also makes him much more likely to deal with injuries during the season.

    Vick has been known to put together some breathtaking scrambles, but Eagles fans are going to be left holding their breath every time he gets hit. They will be wondering if this will be the one to cause their star quarterback to miss time.

    While the Eagles talent is deep, I have a gut feeling that their chances at winning the Super Bowl will decrease a bit with Vince Young at quarterback.

    If Vick can stay healthy and the talent comes together, the early popular pick for Super Bowl XLVI just may meet expectations.

New York Jets

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    Well, Rex Ryan predicted it again, so why not put them on here?

    Love him or hate him, Rex Ryan has turned the New York Jets into a winning football organization.

    The Jets defense has become one of the most dominant in the NFL, finishing third in total defense last year, and their young offense continues to develop as well.

    While they missed out on the Nnamdi sweepstakes, the Jets still brought back the main core of their team that helped them get to the AFC Championship Game last year. With another year under the belt of Mark Sanchez, the offense is expected to see improvements.

    Ryan and his Jets have no problem letting you know that they think they are good. So far they have been able to back it up, getting to the AFC Championship Game two years in the row.

    However, there are questions that need to be asked about whether or not Mark Sanchez can get the Jets to the Super Bowl.

    As good as the defense is, they still need to put up points. Their young talent in Sanchez and Shonn Greene at running back have been good, but nowhere near champion status.

    If the Jets can't get consistent production out of that offense, they'll never be able to reach that championship they have so often claimed to deserve.

    Sanchez has been put in the spotlight of a star quarterback—it is time for him to perform like one.

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Falcons are the best team that no one ever talks about.

    They have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan who is still getting better, a premiere running back in Michael Turner and an elite wide receiver in Roddy White.

    Their defense was average in terms of total defense, but is still getting better.

    Atlanta is equipped to make another run deep into the NFL playoffs, even though they will have to go through one of the tougher divisions in the league.

    A lot will ride on Matt Ryan's development as a quarterback.

    He is a great player already. He puts the Falcons in position to win football games and that is what you should hope for out of your field general. However, it is time for him to take the step towards starting to win games for the Falcons rather than just giving them the chance.

    We saw flashes of Matty Ice's potential to do so last year, but the Falcons should expect more of it this year.

    The defense will need to play at a higher level if they want to stop offenses like Green Bay and Philadelphia, but if they can the Falcons have just as good of a chance as anyone.

    The team that a few years ago was in shambles, thanks to Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, is now on the doorstep of greatness.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    I've heard all the stories of the "Super Bowl hangover" that comes with losing the previous year's big game.

    My gut is telling me that Mike Tomlin isn't the type of coach to let that happen to his team.

    The Steelers are once again entering the season with the expectations of winning the AFC North and making a deep run into the playoffs. They came up short against Green Bay in the Super Bowl, but there was no doubt that they deserved to be there after beating the Jets and Ravens in the AFC championship and divisional rounds respectively.

    Even with his off-the-field issues, Big Ben has proven that he can take his team to and win the big game already. He has a solid group of offensive talent around him, including young break outs Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.

    That Pittsburgh defense will always be tough, even as they get another year older.

    Still the "hangover" looms over Steel City. The Steelers will have to prove early that they aren't still recovering from the tough loss and not ready to hand the AFC North over to the Ravens.

    If they can avoid falling into that trap, I would expect to see the Steelers in contention for their seventh Super Bowl championship as an organization.

New Orleans Saints

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    Now that Drew Brees doesn't have to worry about tweeting negative things about NFL owners and the lockout, he can focus on getting his Saints back to the Super Bowl.

    New Orleans is only one season removed from their magical run to the Super Bowl championship.

    Brees and coach Sean Payton still lead a very dynamic offense that added Alabama running back Mark Ingram in this year's draft. Their receivers are still just as talented along with the development of young tight end Jimmy Graham, who proved to be a valuable red zone target.

    The Saints finished fourth in total defense in 2010, but their pass defense was much better than the run. They will need to see some balance if they are going to stop some of the tough running games that the NFC has to offer.

    Saints fans are hoping that Ingram can bring some stability to the running game. Reggie Bush was clearly not the answer and Pierre Thomas, while successful, was often injured.

    They also added Darren Sproles in the offseason, who should bring the versatility that Bush provided, but in a more proven capacity.

    A lot will depend on how effective that Saints defense can be. During their championship run the defense wasn't necessarily shut down, but they were able to force enough turnovers to make up for it.

    With a lot of those defensive playmakers changed, the Saints will need to figure out how to slow powerhouse offenses like the Packers and Eagles.

    If they can, then there is no question that Drew Brees can lead this Saints team to another Super Bowl championship.

San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers have officially become the NFL's tease team.

    When you look over their roster it is hard to see how this team hasn't at least made a Super Bowl yet. It could have something to do with a few teams named the Patriots, Steelers and Colts. Still, the Chargers have been built for a championship.

    Philip Rivers has proven that he can be a big-time quarterback when called upon. He has the offensive talent around him, even if young running back Ryan Mathews doesn't pan out.

    The Chargers statistically had the best defense in the NFL last year.

    So, what is missing?

    The Chargers have been known for being slow starters over the past few years. Normally they have been able to rally late in the year to win a weak AFC West and sneak into the playoffs.

    With the emergence of the Chiefs as a legitimate threat, that is no longer going to fly for San Diego.

    They are going to have to become a more consistent team from start to finish if they want to make sure they at least have the chance to make the playoffs.

    The Chargers enter 2011 with Vincent Jackson and Ryan Mathews added to their offense. Their defense is still intact for the most part.

    If the Bolts can show some consistency, they may just get their opportunity to play for the Lombardi.