This preseason has been one of the most active and hectic in the history of the NFL. There were players looking for a fresh start and rebirth in their career, while others are trying to join a contender and put them over the hump for the 2011 season.
There were many teams who were just out of contention last year, and used this shortened offseason to target players and turn their squad into a contender. This list will focus on players who were added to teams and instantly turned them into contenders for the coming season.
The Falcons had an early exit from last year's playoffs, and they made some offseason moves to help they make a further run this season.
Their first move was a big one, moving up in the draft to get Julio Jones, a player who almost everyone regarded as either the top or No. 2 wide receiver in the class. They know that they have a solid core with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner, so they wanted another receiver to compliment White and round out the offensive skill positions. He will most likely be the week one starter, and can help free up some coverage and leave Roddy White in one-on-one situations.
The other area where the Falcons wanted to improve was with their pass rush, and they did this in a big way with the top free agent defensive end. Ray Edwards will be a potent player and cause havoc for opposing offenses.
The Falcons addressed two or their biggest holes on an already solid team, and I expect them to edge the Buccaneers and win the NFC South.
The Donovan McNabb experiment was doomed from day one in Washington, and I think that Donovan McNabb is out to prove he still has something left in the tank. While he is definitely not the quarterback he once was, McNabb's career is still far from over.
Mike Shanahan made a point of making an example out of Donovan, and it made it a nearly impossible task for him to succeed. He now has a lot of people saying that he is "washed up" or "overrated", and all these people are doing is adding more fuel to his fire.
After the Brett Favre Fiasco (and lets all pray he is not coming back again) and Tavaris Jackson's exit, the Vikings were left with a big hole that Donovan fills nicely. He is still a quarterback who can manage a team and be an emotional spark plug in Minnesota.
One of the biggest challenges the Vikings will face is the fact that they are in the hardest division in the NFL this season. While it will be tough playing Detroit, Chicago, and Green Bay all twice, with a little bit of luck the Vikings could surprise a lot of people in 2011.
Mike Sims-Walker has been an underachieving big name wide receiver for the last few seasons. He is well known to fans, but has never really been able to live up to the hype and name recognition he has.
With this being said, I think a change of scenery will do great things for Sims-Walker. The move to St. Louis means he now has an effective pocket passer in Sam Bradford and can be targeted more often as we will probably act as the teams No. 1 receiver most of the season.
This season will be a great chance for Sims-Walker to show his ability, and his transition will be made a lot easier with new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Former Broncos head coach and Patriots whiz kid, McDaniels will have a pronounced effect on the Rams offense, and should be able to do much more with the superior Sam Bradford than he was with Tim Tebow in Denver.
The Rams biggest hole last season was at the wide receiver position. Look for Sims-Walker to help fill that hole and lead the Rams to a division win in the NFC West.
Even though this is resigning a player, the Steelers would have taken a big step backwards if they were not able to agree to a deal with Woodley.
With James Harrison not getting any younger and coming off of back surgery, they need a solid anchor in their defense. Woodley will again help the Pittsburgh defense to stifle any offense that comes their way, and the fans of Steelers nation can rest easy knowing that Woodley is still playing for their defense.
The Steelers will have a strong team, as they seemingly always do. With the help of Woodley and the rest of the defense, Pittsburgh will once again end up on top of the AFC North.
Words cannot describe how porous the Texans defense was last year. They needed a complete makeover, and they took time during this offseason to tackle their problem.
They started with a new coordinator in Wade Phillips, who may not be much of a head coach, but no one has ever complained about his skill as a defensive coordinator. He will have new veterans in CB Jonathon Joseph and SS Danieal Manning at his disposal, and will be able to use their experience and work ethic to help mold the rest of the defense.
The Texans also got a lot younger by addressing their defense with every pick they had in this year's draft. I look for Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt to add an incredible amount of pressure the first game of the season, and really help free the Houston's defense as a whole.
With a lot of question marks in the AFC South, I see this new-look defense and a high-powered offense allowing the Texans to win their division, and finally be able to break out and overtake the Colts in 2011.
The Bears were another team with Super Bowl aspirations last season, but they fell to the Packers on their way to the league title.
One of the biggest concerns for the Bears was their offense line, and they turned to the draft to try to plug that hole with Gabe Carimi. The former Wisconsin Badger will be a week one starter, and hopefully can help keep Jay Cutler upright and throwing a lot of touchdowns this season.
If Carimi can keep Cutler off the turf, he will be happy to find his new target Roy Williams. The big receiver will be getting a lot of balls thrown his way, and he will look to help the Bears challenge the Packers for the NFC North crown.
Although he is out three to four weeks with foot surgery, he will be a huge addition to the Lions' defense.
When you have a defensive line with Nick Fairley AND Ndamakong Suh, every quarterback playing the Lions should be worried. I think that they will be a dominant combo, and make it very hard for teams to run, pass or try to breathe against the Lions. Suh is disruptive enough by himself, but when you add Fairley it should be illegal.
The Lions also play in the talented NFC North, but I can see them making a run at the division title this season. A lot of their success will depend on the health of Fairley and often injured quarterback Matthew Stafford.
With the Jets once again falling in the AFC Title game, the team looked to make moves to bolster its roster and make a strong run in 2011.
One of their Main offseason targets was Santonio Holmes, who resigned and will continue his role as the No. 1 receiver for Mark Sanchez. He is a consistent receiver who did nothing but good for the Jets since his first game, and is primed fr another big year.
A lot of the Jets problems came on third down and in the red zone, and the front offense found two players to help Sanchez fix those problem areas. Plaxico Burress is exactly what you want in a red zone threat. He is a big receiver who will go up and get any ball thrown in his vicinity. Mark Sanchez is still not the most accurate passer, so having a receiver like Burress in and out of the red zone will help to improve the team's offensive numbers.
Derrick Mason is another receiver who will help the offense on third down. Every time that Joe Flacco seemed to get into trouble, he would always look to Mason as his relief valve, and more often than not he was successful. This will be a great weapon to add to the Jets arsenal, and will hopefully allow the Jets to finally get over their AFC championship game blockade.
I look for the Jets to be very successful once again this year, and battle week in and week out with the New England Patriots for the AFC East title.
One of the weak spots of the Bucs 2010 campaign was their lack of pressure from the defensive line. Instead of going out and getting veteran lineman, Tampa Bay conserved funds and went after two young studs in the draft.
Adrian Clayborn is a former standout at Iowa, and although raw, should be an instant upgrade from the Buccaneers starting defense. He is a big body who still has a lot of quickness, and will be able to generate a lot of the pressure that was lacking from the defense last season.
Their second round pick was Da'Quan Bowers, a top ten talent who fell because of concerns over his knees. While I am a little concerned about his health in the long run, Bowers is a presence up front, and will cause a lot of trouble for anyone or anything that gets in his way.
The Bucs are in a tough division, and even though both their draft picks will still be raw players, they can help Tampa Bay to contend for a NFC South Title
The Packers won the Super Bowl last year and did exactly what they should have done this offseason: nothing. They were champions in 2010 and the best part in Green Bay is that they did it with an injury depleted lineup.
This season, the Pack is getting back most of their injured players from last season, so it is almost like they picked all these players up in free agency. Their "in house" free agents include Nick Barnett, Jermichael Finley, Mark Tauscher and Ryan Grant, just to name a few.
When a team that just won the Super Bowl and has players of this caliber returning for 2011, they have to be given pretty good odds to have a repeat performance. By holding on to what they have and just waiting out some of their injury problems, it looks like Green Bay is ready for another big season.
The Packers will be more challenged within their division now that the Lions and Vikings are improved, but it is very hard to pick against them winning the division.