The 2011 NFL season is finally underway! Last night's season opener between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers was a serious thriller, going right down to the wire with six total passing touchdowns and a pair of kick return touchdowns round out the circus of offense.
Both the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints showed why last night's game might have been a preview of the NFC Championship game. The defending champs proved they aren't complacent after winning their ring, and they wanted to make a statement right out of the gate.
The Packers won the game and cemented the notion that they are the team to beat in the NFL, but the Saints gave a good showing of themselves, and are definitely not far behind.
Lets have a look at how the NFL's teams stack up against one another now that the season opener has been played. Who will be coming out dominant in this opening weekend?
Few teams have worse prospects going into the 2011 season than the Cincinnati Bengals. Well actually no teams do.
Rookie Andy Dalton is under center, and he has looked terrible in the pre-season, though it is not really his fault that the Benglas have nobody else. Chad Ochocinco is gone, Johnathan Joseph is gone, Cedric Benson just spent a few days in jail, and worst of all, Marvin Lewis is still the head coach.
A.J Green has been a bright spot, but there is really nothing redeeming to say about the upcoming season for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Can you say No. 1 overall pick?
Previous Ranking: 29
After an epic and competitive training camp battle, Rex Grossman has won the starting quarterback job for the Washington Redskins.
When the above sentence is a headline for your team, it is time to start looking towards the future. Mike Shanahan tarnishes his legacy every single day he coaches the Washington Redskins. After an admittedly interesting preseason and camp battle, Rex Grossman stands as the number one QB on the Redskins depth chart.
Expect John Beck to have the job by Week 8. Then expect Grossman to win it back for a game or two. Then expect Shanahan to say something stupid.
Grossman didn't help the team by guaranteeing the NFC East title, which will only serve to bring them more trouble than good.
One last thing: Barry Cofield is not a 3-4 nose tackle.
Andrew Luck 2012 perhaps?
Previous Ranking: 32
The Jacksonville Jaguars front office must really be finished with Jack Del Rio. First they tell him he must make the playoffs to keep his job, and then they release David Garrard. Sabotage anyone?
The Jacksonville Jaguars don't have much to look forward to in 2011. No matter what happens with the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans or Tennessee Titans, they are poised to be the worst team in their division.
This could be the year the Jags get sold.
Previous Ranking: 29
Finally, a reason for the Carolina Panthers to celebrate: they aren't the bottom-ranked team.
Cam Newton remains shrouded in mystery as he tries to throw off the Scam Newton label, and the defense remains suspect as ever.
Having said that, the Carolina Panthers did manage to retain DeAngelo Williams, keeping their three-headed rushing monster alive.
Their most intriguing moves in the offseason were to acquire tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. Two of the NFL's better tight ends from a quarterback security perspective (checkdowns and blocking), Olsen and Shockey should provide Cam Newton with a decent security blanket for his rookie season.
Still, that won't help this team nearly enough.
Previous Ranking: 32
The Buffalo Bills have some work to do. Things were looking a little better prior to the end of the lockout, when they still had all of their players.
Stevie Johnson now finds himself without a coverage-demanding receiver opposite him, since the team allowed Lee Evans to walk off for the Baltimore Ravens. Big mistake on their part.
Even worse, they let Paul Posluszny go to the Jacksonville Jaguars, dealing a mortal blow to their run defense.
Though the Buffalo Bills have a couple of bright spots, and can look forward to a year where some of their offensive players are actually used in Fantasy Football, it still promises to be a miserable year.
Previous Ranking: 23
When the Miami Dolphins earned the No. 26 spot in these rankings last time, it was due to the assumption that either Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown would be leaving via free agency.
As it turns out, they both left. Whoops.
Despite their passable defense, the Miami Dolphins lack a reliable quarterback, and now have Reggie Bush (bust?) as their starting running back.
With Chad Henne at the helm, things could get ugly quick in 2011.
Previous Ranking: 26
The Tennesee Titans are not in for a fun 2011 season. Though Jake Locker is no longer being forced into a starting role thanks to the acquisition of Matt Hasselbeck via free agency, they still are not in any position to make big things happen.
The front office gave in to Chris Johnson's insane demands, and they should fully expect a drop in his production now that he got his money. He just comes off as the Albert Haynesworth-type of classless player.
The loss of Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin obviously does nothing to help their defensive situation either.
Previous Ranking: 27
The Seattle Seahawks have largely kept their prospects the same for the 2011 season, even with myriad changes to the roster.
The additions of Zach Miller and Sidney Rice should be a huge boost to their offense.....which was severely damaged by the departure of Matt Hasselbeck and his subsequent replacement by Tavaris Jackson.
Don't look for this team to have another 7-9 playoff appearance, that is for certain.
Previous Ranking: 25
The Denver Broncos made the right decision by keeping Kyle Orton as the starter, at least from a quarterbacking skill standpoint. However, that really just serves to keep them stagnant, as their record was pretty poor last season.
The one thing that helps this team is the addition of Willis McGahee, who should provide a good complement to Knowshon Moreno, and maybe even surpass him.
Still, this team faces a daunting task within its own division, and not much is to be expected of them in the 2011 season, especially with an almost inevitable quarterback controversy waiting to distract them.
Previous Ranking: 24
The Cleveland Browns have not done too much to make their prospects any better. Colt McCoy has been a bright spot, showing the poise of a veteran and giving hope for the future.
Their offensive line remains one of the NFL's best, which should help them on their way to a few victories in the 2011 season, and Peyton Hillis should come out of the gate strong at the very least before he gets worn down.
At least they know they have two guaranteed wins from playing the Cincinnati Bengals.
Previous Ranking: 24
Whoa whoa. The Indianapolis Colts at 22? They haven't been outside the top ten in...a long time. However, it is pretty safe to say that without Peyton Manning, this team is pretty bad.
Jim Irsay announced today that Manning will be out for "a while", which basically means he isn't playing the opener and the Colts have no timetable for his return. Even if he does come back, he could be hampered by his neck.
Until the Indianapolis Colts DO know when their hall of fame quarterback will return, they are stuck with 39-year old retiree Kerry Collins, with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark being the only serviceable players on the offensive side of the ball.
Without Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts are in for a very dark season in 2011. If he does come back, their season might yet be saved, but only if he returns quickly.
Previous ranking: 7
As everyone already knew, the San Fransisco 49ers are settling in for one last year of Alex Smith at the helm. How exciting.
Still, the addition of Braylon Edwards alongside Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis should add some potency to their lackluster offense.
The loss of Nate Clements in the pursuit of Nnamdi Asomugha on the other hand, was terrible. The same goes for allowing David Baas to leave for the New York Giants.
Expect the San Fransisco 49ers to have another down year. No playoffs yet, even under Jim Harbaugh.
Previous Ranking: 21
The Oakland Raiders have actually told supplemental draft pick Terrell Pryor that he cannot wear the jersey with No. 2 on it. If they see THAT much resemblance to Jamarcus Russell, why did they even take him to begin with??
Anyway, the Oakland Raiders actually have something to look forward to this season. Coming off their best record in seven years (8-8), and with the league's second best ground game fully intact, they might actually make a splash in their weak division.(Not win it, just surprise)
With Jason Campbell and their young speedy receiving corps heading into their second year together, the Raiders might actually be thinking playoffs, misguided as that may be.
The departure of Zach Miller was all but negated by the arrival of Kevin Boss, although there is simply no way to recover from the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha. Look for another 8-8 season in Oakland.
Previous Ranking: 20
The Arizona Cardinals have possibly made the biggest jump in these rankings since the end of the lockout. Their quarterback situation went from being a Max Hall vs John Skelton camp battle, to having Kevin Kolb as the unquestioned starter. Talk about improvement.
Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald have already developed a solid rapport, and though they have lost Steve Breaston, the Cardinals acquired Todd Heap after the Baltimore Ravens cut him lose. Heap will provide an excellent checkdown option of Kolb, as well as some nice extra blocking for Beanie Wells.
The Arizona Cardinals have cemented themselves as the second best team in their division. Expect them to battle it out with the St. Louis Rams for the NFC West late in the 2011 season.
Previous Ranking: 30
Back in June, I said the Minnesota Vikings would drastically improve their ranking with a big veteran QB signing. They signed just such a quarterback in Donovan McNabb, but then lost several key pieces of their roster, holding them in place.
Sidney Rice departed for the Seattle Seahawks, one half of the Williams Wall is gone without Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards went to the Atlanta Falcons. Ouch.
Fans can still expect an O.K year from the Minnesota Vikings, but it is very conceivable that they will be in last place in the NFC North.
Previous Ranking: 19
The St. Louis Rams and Sam Bradford made great strides in 2010, narrowly missing the playoffs while Bradford set rookie records for passing.
In 2011, they emerge as the favorite to win the NFC West, just edging out the Cardinals for various reasons. Chief among these reasons is that with 16 starts under his belt, Bradford has more than double Kevin Kolb's career starts, despite being a few years younger, and is seen as a better talent.
With Mike Sims-Walker and Lance Kendricks augmenting Danny Amendola and Danario Alexander, and Josh McDaniels serving as the offensive coordinator, the Rams are poised to be an offensive powerhouse this season.
It should be really interesting to watch the St Louis Rams in 2011.
Previous Ranking: 18
The Chicago Bears are coming off of an NFC championship appearance, but have done little to improve themselves since then,
In a Mike Martz offense, sacks are always an issue, and the departure of veteran center Olin Kruetz is going to hurt them more than help them. The passing game has gotten a downgrade, what with losing Greg Olsen and the useless addition of Roy Williams.
Brandon Merriweather should help shore up the Chicago defense, but don't look for them to repeat last year's success.
Previous Ranking: 16
The Detroit Lions are finally on their way. They are heading towards a great run in the next few years, provided Matt Stafford can stay on the field. He has the ability to be an elite quarterback when not injured,
Calvin Johnson is a bona fide superstar, and their additions through this year's draft have really improved their roster. Their crown jewel from the 2011 free agent class is middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who promises to have a monster season backing up Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The Lions are on the cusp, and a 16 game campaign by Matt Stafford could find Detroit with a winning record and possibly even a playoff berth (though that chance is slim).
Previous Ranking: 17
Tony Romo's broken clavicle and Wade Philips' inept coaching completely derailed the Dallas Cowboys 2010 season.
The Cowboys have a playoff caliber roster. They just need to have the luck of the draw to not be destroyed by injuries. Under Jason Garrett's leadership, the Cowboys are heading for a rebound season in 2011.
Previous Ranking: 14
The New York Giants have been piling up one devastating injury after another. First Prince Amukamara, then Terrell Thomas, Marvin Austin, John Goff, are all casualties of the New York Giants' injury bug.
Despite this, they still posses a highly talented roster. The offense has not suffered at all beyond the loss of Kevin Boss, and is poised for a huge season. If Eli Manning can keep his turnovers down, the shuffled up defense will be able to hold it's own.
The New York Giants will also be playing with desperation this year, because if they miss the playoffs again, you can bet that coaches and players alike will find themselves unemployed.
Previous Ranking: 10
The Kansas City Chiefs are much maligned for their success last season, being called a fluke by many fans after their embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round.
The Chiefs have a roster that clearly shows why they won their division in 2010. They only got better going into 2011, adding defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, wide receiver Steve Breaston, and fullback Le'Ron McClain.
Expect the Kansas City Chiefs to at least come very close to duplicating their 2010 success, despite their difficult schedule.
Previous Ranking: 12
The San Diego Chargers always manage to win a lot of games.They just don't win a lot of PLAYOFF games.
They were 5th in offense and defense statistically, and are getting a healthy Ryan Matthews back to split carries with the bowling ball Mike Tolbert. They also will enjoy the return of Vincent Jackson, and should benefit from the continued development of safety Eric Weddle on defense.
The Chargers will challenge the Chiefs for supremacy in the AFC West, and the battle is going to be close.
Previous Ranking: 15
Josh Freeman is the guy who will eventually lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. Going into just his third season, Freeman is already considered a king of the 4th quarter in the clutch, and has a growing nucleus of young pieces around him like LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams.
With Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers manning the ends, the defense should see significant improvement, and the pass rush will make things easier on Aquib Talib and Ronde Barber.
The Buccaneers are a young team overflowing with promise, and they will look to turn heads this season as they try to supplant the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Previous Rank: 9
The Houston Texans have seen massive improvements this offseason. We already know they had a massive upgrade through the draft with Brooks Reed and J.J Watt, but now they have added safety Daniel Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph via free agency.
Their once poor secondary is suddenly looking fearsome, and their already potent offense looks to stay potent.
With the loss of Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts will fall, clearing the way for the Houston Texans first playoff berth.
The Atlanta Falcons were coming into the 2011 season with a potent offense and improved defense after the draft.
Adding Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards completes the defensive line, creating a potent pass rush to complement the otherwise stout defense.
The Atlanta Falcons will be a force in the 2011 season, closely racing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. They get the edge here for being the defending NFC South champs.
Previous Ranking: 11
Rex Ryan has guaranteed yet again that the New York Jets will win the Super Bowl....surprise!
Despite Ryan's incessant babble, the New York Jets are looking good yet again this year. First round pick Muhammed Wilkerson should soften the blow of the departure of Shaun Ellis, keeping the defense where it was in 2010.
The receiving corps has been overhauled, replacing Braylon Edwards with Plaxico Burress, and Jerricho Cotchery with Derrick Mason. Whether these changes will be for better or worse remains to be seen, but either way 2011 promises to be a big year for Mark Sanchez.
With Sanchez going into his third year, and the running game not what it could be, look for the New York Jets to take to the air more often, and try to allow Sanchez to win games with his arm. The training wheels should be coming off.
The big question remains: do they have what it takes to unseat the New England Patriots?
Previous Ranking: 6
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennially solid team with few weaknesses to speak of.
They come into 2011 off a Super Bowl loss, having been to the big game three times in six years. This team is always dangerous and should never be counted out.
They will win some major games and find their way back to the playoffs in a crowded AFC, on the back of Ben Roethlisberger's best statistical season of his career.
Previous Ranking: 4
The Philadelphia Eagles went out this offseason and put together one of the most absurd free agent shopping sprees in recent memory.
With their signings headlined by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles also signed former pro-bowl defensive end Jason Babin, Super Bowl champion defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, quarterback Vince Young, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Ronnie Brown.
Their trade of Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals brought them Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, giving the Eagles the most fearsome trio of cornerbacks in the NFL. Though it was widely speculated that they would trade Asante Samuel following the acquisition of Cromartie, they did not. As a result, in 2011 it should be all but impossible to throw against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Much of their success this season will depend on Michael Vick's ability to repeat his career year in 2010. Though they have an insane amount of talent, their collection of big names could be hindered by the lack of an offseason. Time will tell.
Either way, they're thinking Super Bowl or bust in Philadelphia this year.
Previous Ranking: 5
The Super Bowl Champions of 2009, the New Orleans Saints come in to 2011 with much of their roster intact.
The Saints looked as flawless as ever through the air last night, and Darren Sproles (Reggie Who?) provided a spark in the return game with a monster night that included a touchdown. Drew Brees (32-49, 419 yds 3 TDs) clearly hasn't lost a step, leading the Saints right down to the final play of the game. The run game was passable under the umbrella of Brees, clearly lacking a short yardage punch, which could have won them the game.
The defense on the other hand, was picked apart by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for a whopping 35 points, while rookie Randall Cobb added a kickoff return touchdown.
The saving grace for New Orleans is the fact that Green Bay's high powered offense is a likely candidate to top the league.
Brees and the Saints looked great last night, but they've got some improving to do if they are thinking Super Bowl.
Previous Ranking: 8
The Baltimore Ravens locked up Haloti Ngata the second free agency opened, which was the smartest thing they could have done. They didn't stop there though, signing pro-bowl fullback Vonta Leach from the Houston Texans, the man partly responsible for Arian Foster's ridiculous year in 2010.
The Ravens also acquired Lee Evans from the Buffalo Bills to replace Derrick Mason, a formidable deep threat who should help really spread the defense for Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Since they let Willis McGahee go, the Ravens took on Ricky Williams, who still has enough gas left to be a solid backup rusher.
This Baltimore Ravens team has lived off of its stellar defense for the better part of a decade. They have maybe one or two seasons before those players are over the hill, so you can bet Ray Lewis and company will be playing serious smash-mouth football in 2011.
The Ravens will wrest the AFC North from the Pittsburgh Steelers
Previous Ranking: 2
Nobody ever drafts like the New England Patriots.This team stays strong year in and year out thanks to stellar drafting and smart player management. In addition to their draft, the Patriots took a nice haul in 2011 free agency.
They come into 2011 replacing Tully Banta-Cain with New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, and they have brought in wide receiver Chad Ochocinco from the Cincinnati Bengals via a low-risk trade.
There is no better team out there for the productive-but-loud receiver. In New England he will be forced to produce, and he will since he won't have to whine about losing games anymore. The Patriots have also signed Redskins castoff Albert Haynesworth, who would seem to be done playing football, if the last two years are an indication.
If anyone can straighten him out, it would be Bill Belichick. The New England defense will be a monster in 2011 if Haynesworth plays even close to his old form alongside Vince Wilfork.
The team with the best record of 2010 is in a prime position for a similar performance in 2011.
Previous Ranking: 3
After last night, is there any way that the Packers couldn't be considered the best team in football? Drew Brees did torch their secondary for 416 yards and three touchdowns, but the New Orleans Saints have long been one of the league's best offenses.
If the Saints could only put up three passing TDs and a punt return, what will happen when the Packers face a lesser offense?
Their offense was completely flawless, with Aaron Rodgers going 27 of 35 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 132.1 (It should be noted that all three of Rodgers' touchdowns were in the first quarter of the game). John Kuhn and James Starks added two more touchdowns on the ground, while rookie Randall Cobb tied an NFL record by taking a kickoff 108 yards for another score.
The defense piled up three sacks and forced a turnover as well, holding the prolific Saints to 27 offensive points.
This Packers squad is as complete as any team in living memory. They won the Super Bowl with multiple bench players on the current roster, and with those starters back, they will be a difficult team to stop.
They play right down to the final seconds, as we saw last night with an epic goal line stand that stopped the Saints from taking the game to a possible overtime.
The defending champs look like they are still the team to beat.
Previous Ranking: 1