After what seemed like forever—just over a month ago—the NFL lockout finally came to a close, and training camp began.
Now, with Week 1 of the 2011 season in the books and the craziest offseason period in NFL history behind us, it's time to assess who's a contender and who's a pretender this year.
We've reviewed the game tape, scribbled some notes down on our trusted Excel spreadsheets and made the necessary adjustments on the dry-erase board in our office.
Each team has been given a ranking along with a short analysis blurb, highlighting strengths, vulnerabilities and how they pale in comparison to the rest of the league.
Some of the results may shock you.
Let's just put it this way: If you still have the Colts, Chiefs or Giants anywhere near your top 12 teams, take them out—now. These teams will most likely miss the postseason this year and could even finish dead last in their respective divisions.
While the bottom feeders in the league may have a plethora of issues, there is some consistency among the upper-echelon teams.
The NFL is a passing league, and here's a spoiler alert for the final five slides: Four of the five teams have elite quarterbacks and an arsenal of offensive weapons to work with.
Here are the top 32 teams: From one end of the spectrum (Tarvaris Jackson's team) to the other (the real Dream Team).
The NFL is a passing league, and that's unfortunate for the Seahawks, who start QB Tarvaris Jackson under center.
Even against a new-look San Francisco 49ers secondary on Sunday, Jackson was ineffective and could not lead his team to victory.
Jackson has struggled with accuracy throughout his career and has not shown any signs of leadership either. It doesn't help that he has former Bills castoff RB Marshawn Lynch to hand the ball off to. Lynch has historically struggled with focus and motivation issues.
To top it off, the Seahawks are shifting players around on their offensive line, and they lack solid receivers to target in the passing game.
In summation, this offensive unit is terrible and is arguably the worst in the league.
The Seahawks were one of the bottom-ranked teams in defending the pass last season, and don't look for that to improve with a unit comprised of subpar defensive backs, even with the lackluster quarterbacks they'll be facing in the division.
Don't expect the defending NFC West champions to repeat this year. This team will struggle to score points and move the football consistently all season.
After firing head coach Jeff Fisher, the Titans released QB Vince Young in the offseason and officially began their rebuilding process.
They've since hired a new head coach and two coordinators that are committed to a new system and identity for the Titans. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of kinks to work out along the way.
Tennessee brought in Seahawks castoff QB Matt Hasselbeck as a short-term solution to mentor QB Jake Locker, who will likely be his successor.
Even with Chris Johnson in the backfield (although he looked sluggish in Week 1), this team's defensive unit has issues at all levels of the defense, and it will be a long, painful season for Titans fans.
If losing to QB Luke McCown in Week 1 and CJ2K rushing for less than 30 yards in the same game doesn't spell disaster for your season, I'm not sure what does.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made news that shocked the league last week. Unfortunately for them, it would have a negative impact on their 2011 season.
In a move that showed their commitment to rebuilding, the Jaguars released QB David Garrard and announced QB Luke McCown would be named the starter in the coming weeks. Throwing to one of the worst receiving corps in the league certainly won't help matters.
And what if Maurice Jones-Drew can't stay healthy? RB Rashad Jennings is already on IR and out for the entire season.
Their pass defense was abysmal last year, and don't expect that to change anytime soon. The defensive front is improving, but with some new faces there could be some growing pains early in the season.
For some odd reason, head coach Jack Del Rio was not fired in the offseason. But he likely will be after this lackluster year.
The Jaguars will be battling, all right—but it will be with the Titans for third place in the AFC South.
If the Bengals didn't have a stout defense, they would definitely be dead last in the power rankings.
Led by lame-duck head coach Marvin Lewis—who should have been fired years ago by clueless owner/GM/czar Mike Brown—the team brought in Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator and drafted QB Andy Dalton in an effort to rebuild the offensive unit.
This move caused former QB Carson Palmer to retire, for now at least.
The Bengals field an athletic receiving corps that possesses a lot of talent, but it's a young group, and we can expect growing pains throughout the season.
Cincinnati did manage to hold RB Peyton Hillis to just 57 yards on 17 carries, which set the table for its Week 1 victory. However, the Bengals should enjoy it, because they won't win many more games this season and will likely finish in last place in the AFC North.
Todd Haley should not be a head coach for any team in the NFL. The Chiefs are a prime candidate for regression this season, and it's clear why.
In Week 1's embarrassing loss at home against the Bills, Haley's team looked completely unprepared and disorganized. With the long offseason, he had more than enough time to have his team prepared.
Unfortunately, QB Matt Cassel just isn't good enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. One good year in New England padded his statistics and made him appear more talented than he actually is.
The Chiefs received more bad news today, as safety Eric Berry was declared out for season after he was diagnosed with a ACL tear in his left knee. His replacement, safety Sabby Piscitelli, is abysmal in coverage and a severe downgrade in the backfield. He has the propensity to get beat big for large gains.
The loss of Charlie Weis cannot be downplayed either. Weis was there for only one season, and he left for a reason. It's clear what that reason was now: The Chiefs aren't a good football team.
Don't expect the Chiefs to repeat as AFC West champions this year. In fact, don't even expect them to win more than six games.
Is it too early to cue the Andrew Luck to Kansas City rumor mill?
When the Colts announced that QB Peyton Manning would be having his third neck procedure in just 19 months—which could result in him missing the entire 2011-12 season—they instantaneously dropped roughly 20 spots in the power rankings.
There are no words to describe the drop-off in production from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game to his replacement, 38-year-old journeyman QB Kerry Collins.
Without Manning, just how good are players such as RB Joseph Addai, WR Pierre Garcon and WR Austin Collie? These players were benefactors of one of the most prolific offensive systems in the NFL over the last decade—with the (Manning) maestro running the show.
The Colts were lucky to even find the end zone when the Texans handed them a 34-7 beating in Week 1. It's not going to get any easier for them either.
The defensive unit is in shambles.
Indianapolis' undersized defensive front has always struggled against the run, and this year will be no different. Unfortunately, its secondary has a lot of issues in coverage as well.
We are currently witnessing the rise and fall of what used to be one of the NFL's most elite teams in the last decade.
How much longer until Colts owner Jim Irsay takes a trip to Hattiesburg?
Did the Dolphins really offer lame-duck head coach Tony Sparano a contract extension last season? And did they really bring in injury-prone RB Reggie Bush and expect him to be a feature back, receiving 20 to 25 touches per game?
And did they really give up a team-record 517 passing yards to QB Tom Brady on Monday Night Football just 12 hours ago?
Yes, they really did all three of those things.
The Dolphins are a mess, and it starts with the sell-tickets-first ownership and trickles down to the quarterback position. QB Chad Henne struggles immensely with accuracy and has still never shown he possesses the leadership qualities to step up and lead a team throughout the season. He is spurious and tends to be a lot more cold than hot—especially late in games (a la Tony Romo).
He also throws to a WR corps that features the mighty Brian Hartline in three-receiver sets. That is a scary thought.
Miami's secondary is subpar, and it can't win games at home, where it was somehow a whopping 1-7 last season. After New England took it to the woodshed last night, it is clear that trend's not changing anytime soon.
Good news, Bills fans: You're off the hook. The Dolphins are serious contenders to finish last in the AFC East.
The Panthers hired Ron Rivera as head coach as well as two new coordinators. It's clear they are rebuilding.
Carolina used the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft to select QB Cam Newton, and the move has paid dividends already. He passed for 422 yards in Week 1 against the Cardinals, but the Panthers did end up losing that game.
They do field one of the best offensive lines in football and a solid defensive front too. However, their receiving corps is weak outside of WR Steve Smith, and Newton must show he possesses the ability to be consistent.
The Panthers will be better than expected this year but are still one or two years away from competing for the NFC South title.
The Broncos are another team that is rebuilding, as they hired head coach John Fox as well as a new defensive coordinator to establish a new identity.
But who is the right solution at quarterback?
QB Kyle Orton overachieved last season and was a turnover machine in yesterday's game. Broncos fans were chanting Tim Tebow's name in the fourth quarter. The weak receiving corps they field won't help either quarterback.
While Denver has the benefit of one of the toughest environments in football at Mile High, even the home field advantage will not be enough to counteract how bad its defensive front is at defending the run.
This team lacks playmakers on both sides of the ball, and that will be the reason it has a lackluster season.
The Browns are a team that many analysts pegged as a sleeper this season. Unfortunately, inconsistent play on offense and blown coverage in the secondary are reasons they will struggle all year.
RB Peyton Hillis is a force to be reckoned with, but teams will stack the box and force Colt McCoy to throw, just as the Bengals did in Week 1.
This strategy will be successful, as Cleveland's receiving corps is one of the worst in the NFL and McCoy does not have many weapons to work with.
The secondary has glaring issues in coverage outside of CB Joe Haden, and the defensive front struggles to stop the run.
This team just doesn't have the weapons to score points, and the defense isn't good enough to keep games low-scoring.
The Giants have been hit by the injury bug, badly.
Their secondary was average to begin with before the season, and injuries to cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (season-ending) and Prince Amukamara (expected back in four weeks) have downgraded this unit to one of the bottom five in the league right now.
They let QB Rex Grossman throw for 305 passing yards in Week 1.
To counteract this, their defensive front must generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This will be a problem early in the season, though, with defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck battling injuries.
QB Eli Manning looked awful in both the preseason and Sunday's game against the Redskins, and the lack of depth at wide receiver and tight end will magnify this issue.
The run game just isn't what it used to be either.
This could be Tom Coughlin's last season as Big Blue's head coach.
Donovan McNabb wasn't bad in Week 1's game in San Diego—he was terrible.
The veteran QB showed he still has the ability to throw the ball directly into the ground, as he completed just seven of 15 passes for 39 yards.
This is one of the oldest teams in football in terms of age, and athletic teams are going to run them to death with an uptempo game plan.
Having a secondary that lacks depth, is suspect in coverage and struggles to defend against the big play won't help matters.
If this team did not have RB Adrian Peterson in the backfield, it would be one of the bottom three teams in the NFL.
Still, expect the Vikings to finish last in the extremely competitive NFC North.
There is one team that has been affected by injuries more than the Giants—the Rams.
Sunday's loss to the Eagles proved to be costly, as key pieces in their offense, QB Sam Bradford and RB Steven Jackson, both sustained injuries. Bradford is probable for Week 2, but Jackson is currently listed as doubtful.
However, they did suffer some long-term issues too, as WR Danny Amendola (Bradford's favorite target) and CB Ronald Bartell both sustained injuries that have them listed out indefinitely. Amendola could even miss the rest of the season.
The Rams defense was mediocre before suffering injuries to three defensive backs in recent weeks, which made it even worse.
The receiving corps looked to be much improved this season as the young players gained experience, but the injuries to receivers will curtail their production, and this team will once again be overly dependent on running the football.
This looked to be the Rams' year to win the lackluster NFC West, but injuries may hinder the opportunity that was presented to them.
On offense, the turnovers, penalties and dropped passes are still an issue. The Rams still look like the same young, inexperienced team at times that lost in Seattle in Week 17 last season.
Many analysts still have the Bills as one of the bottom-tier teams in the NFL, but I don't see it that way.
This team may field household names on offense you may not be familiar with, but they have a couple of explosive weapons—and if you don't know about them now, you will soon.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Steve Johnson collectively make up one of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL, and RB Fred Jackson is a good runner in between the tackles with RB C.J. Spiller as a change-of-pace back.
Buffalo's defensive front suffered injuries last season and is much improved in 2011. The Bills will not struggle defending the run as much as last year, when it was the Achilles heel of the defense.
They may not be a .500 team this season, but don't be surprised if the Bills win six games, if not seven.
Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs, who may have taken the underrated Bills lightly; after the first quarter Buffalo was mopping the floor with them on their home turf.
The Raiders are strong in two areas that usually dictate success in the NFL: They have a strong rushing attack and an excellent defensive front. They are very tough to run on and do a great job generating pressure on quarterbacks.
Another team that is installing a new system, Oakland brought in two new coordinators and promoted Hue Jackson to head coach.
Its run game is very good, led by stud RB Darren McFadden and RB Michael Bush. This team will be able to run the football all season.
However, until QB Jason Campbell shows the ability to consistently win football games—even with his reuniting with offensive coordinator Al Saunders—let's hold off on crowning the Raiders as division champs for now.
As an aside, their special teams unit is one of the top in the NFL. Their only weakness there lies in kick coverage, as Broncos WR Eric Decker returned a punt for a touchdown in Monday's game.
Al Davis took a chance promoting Hue Jackson, who will be assuming a head coaching role for the first time in his career. The young receiving corps and Nnamdi Asomugha-less secondary will make it tough on him to improve upon the .500 mark of last season.
The Redskins found themselves in many close games in 2011. Unfortunately for them, they didn't win many of them.
However, that is a sign of good things to come this year. They were a couple of bad breaks away from being a .500 team in 2010, and in 2011 we will see this team competing for a playoff berth.
Mike Shanahan employs a run-heavy game plan on offense, which is why the addition of RB Tim Hightower will be tremendous for Washington. The Cardinals will miss him this season, but their loss is the Redskins' gain.
Journeyman John Beck has not shown the ability to consistently win games in the NFL, and Shanahan's decision to start Rex Grossman at quarterback will prove to be the correct one. While he does struggle with mobility and turnovers, Grossman gives them a vertical passing game option that Beck doesn't.
This could be very important, because if the Redskins can consistently run the football in between the tackles, it will set up perfectly for a play-action vertical pass for a big play.
This Redskins defense is one of the top eight units in the NFL and should continue to improve as the season progresses and safety LaRon Landry returns from injury.
Watch out, Dream Team—a strong running game and stout defense is your kryptonite, and the Redskins possess both of those traits.
Do the Niners still have QB Alex Smith under center?
Oh, they do.
Well then, there will be a lot of incomplete passes and bad decisions made this season.
I'm not sold on this team yet just because they recently beat the worst team in the NFL and needed two returns for touchdowns to do so. Their first "real" game will be this weekend vs. Dallas.
While San Francisco does field a stout defensive front, it has a new-look secondary that will struggle with miscommunication throughout the season, which will hinder its success, even in the NFC West.
On offense, the receiving corps has improved with the addition of WR Braylon Edwards, but with Smith throwing to them, expect inconsistent play from the unit all season. RB Frank Gore has struggled battling injuries from being a workhorse in recent years for a run-heavy offense and looked very slow in Week 1 against the Seahawks.
Hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach was a huge move in the right direction for this organization, and it will compete for the NFC West title this season because it's the worst division in football. Outside of that, it will be lucky to win a game in the postseason—if it should get there.
Get Andrew Luck on line 1!
I wanted to make a case for the Bucs to compete for the NFC South title this year, but their management prevented me from doing so by having an awfully quiet free-agency period. That's a bad thing.
The Bucs are bragging about being $28 million under salary cap—which ranks them atop the league—but I'm not sure that's something a team should boast about.
It's always been the Bucs' business model to save money by drafting players into their system and plugging them into their 53-man roster when ready. They rarely go out and acquire big-name free agents, and with the lockout and long offseason, this will be a huge detriment to their team.
The Bucs do have some quality young players at various positions. The Josh Freeman to Mike Williams hookup will draw attention from opposing defenses, but outside of that and TE Kellen Winslow, they lack weapons. The RB duo of Earnest Graham and LeGarrette Blount is average at best.
Tampa Bay's run defense will improve from last season, just because it was so bad in that area in 2010 and has nowhere to go but up. But the defensive front just isn't that talented overall, and the lack of pass-rush will be a problem this season.
Bucs fans will have to wait until 2012 for this team to compete with the Falcons and Saints.
The Cardinals had one major glaring weakness in the offseason. Unlike the Bucs, they rectified the issue early in the free agency period by trading for QB Kevin Kolb.
Bold prediction: The Cardinals passing attack will be one of the top five in the league by the end of the season. The uptempo system is one in which Kolb can excel, and this high-octane offense will give opposing secondaries fits this year.
If Arizona hadn't traded RB Tim Hightower, this offense would be tough to stop with plenty of balance. The Cardinals thought they'd be fine by drafting RB Ryan Williams, but his season-ending injury two weeks ago set them back. RB Beanie Wells looked sharp against the Panthers in Week 1, though, with 18 carries for 90 yards (one TD), and will need to continue to be throughout the season.
This team could surprise the public this season. The defensive front is great at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and is stout against the run too, as it held RB DeAngelo Williams to just 30 yards on 12 carries in Week 1.
The glaring weakness on defense lies in the team's secondary. CB Patrick Peterson has already been a bright spot in coverage and in the return game with the game-winning 89-yard punt return on Sunday. Outside of Peterson, though, they lack depth.
Watch out for the Cardinals this season. This team will ruffle more feathers than analysts previously predicted.
The Lions are going to "restore the roar" in 2011—and they let the world see the beginning of it with a big Week 1 road victory in Tampa Bay.
This team has been rebuilding from the damage that Matt Millen caused for a long time and fields one of the best defensive fronts, as well as one of the top passing attacks, in the league.
It's hard to watch all of the aggressive talent in the front seven and not make comparisons to that of the Raiders in the '80s. They are a quarterback's worst nightmare and are fueled by a tenacity that makes me quiver in my boots just watching them.
If QB Matt Stafford can stay healthy throughout the season, the Lions passing game will be prolific. They have a lot of weapons and the ability to spread opposing defenses out. WR Calvin Johnson catches anything within 70 feet of him.
The Lions' glaring weakness lies in their secondary, and coverage issues will haunt this team all season. The defensive unit is an aggressive, opportunistic one and will likely create a lot of turnovers. But will that open up the door for opposing quarterbacks to beat them with a big play as a result?
It will be tough for the Lions to compete in possibly the best division in football, but they will be in the postseason hunt all season.
On Sunday Night Football, the final minutes showcased how Tony Romo still has the ability to lose games in clutch moments, no matter the circumstance.
The Cowboys were a mortal lock to win the game up 14 points in the fourth quarter—a position they were previously 241-0-1 in—when Romo did what he does best, choking the game away.
Still, the Cowboys came out strong against the Jets and controlled the game for three-and-a-half quarters.
Unfortunately for them, football games are 60 minutes long, and Romo continues to struggle with LeBron James syndrome. He has been a detriment to his team late in games when they matter throughout his career.
However, the Cowboys showed that they will compete in the NFC East and have talent at every position on both sides of the ball. The combination of WR Miles Austin and WR Dez Bryant will give any secondary trouble, and RB Felix Jones can run both inside and outside of the tackles.
The offense is explosive, and the pass-rush will give any quarterback fits. Weaknesses are on the offensive line and in the secondary, which features a pair of injured cornerbacks in Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins.
Regardless, the Cowboys will make noise all season if they stay healthy. This team is for real, and they showed that on Sunday night.
Can the Steelers repeat as AFC champions?
It's going to be hard with an aging defense and an offensive line that was thin as is and now will likely lose its best player in OT Willie Colon for the season (triceps injury).
The Steelers are so desperate for offensive linemen that they are looking into bringing OT Flozell Adams back. Yes, that's the big guy with the patented leg kick maneuver.
QB Ben Roethlisberger had an abysmal Week 1 in Baltimore, and the spotlight will be on him in the coming weeks to get this team going back in the right direction.
Facing QB Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks at home on Sunday will certainly help.
Still, the best defensive front in the NFL last year—which led the league by giving up less than 70 yards per game against the run—was pounded by the Ravens to the tune of 170 rushing yards. As well, the secondary is still average outside of cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu.
Their receiving corps possesses a lot of vertical speed and big-play ability, and RB Rashard Mendenhall can trample defenders but looked awful against the Ravens.
The Steelers are a good team, but it will be tough to repeat as AFC champions in 2011 due to glaring issues on both sides of the ball.
Analysts believed the Bears were a prime candidate for regression in the 2011 season. No one thought this team would make it back to the NFC Championship Game, and maybe it won't.
But the facts remain: They have a tenacious defense that clamps down in the red zone and a balanced offense that keeps opposing defenses guessing. They showed that in Week 1, taking the Falcons—who I picked to win the NFC this season—to the woodshed.
The Bears make teams work for yards with their Cover 2 defense, and they are very tough to beat over the top for a big play. Coupled with a defensive front that bottles up the run and gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks from all gaps, they are stout.
They do field a receiving corps with a lot of speed, but inconsistency has been an issue in the past. QB Jay Cutler has always been hot and cold, and most of his receivers are not great route-runners. A strong running game may help mitigate the issue, though.
Chicago's main issue lies in the offensive line, but the unit did look much better in Week 1. Can this team challenge the Packers and repeat as NFC North champions? It looked doubtful in the offseason but appears to be a possibility now.
Head coach Gary Kubiak is on the hot seat this season, and the Texans responded in a big way in Week 1 by blowing out the Colts, 34-7.
This offensive unit is one of the most balanced and explosive in the NFL, and when RB Arian Foster returns from injury, don't be surprised to see this team put up 30 points every game. There are many big-play weapons in this offense.
In the past, the Texans' Achilles heel was their defensive unit. Thus, they hired defensive specialist Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, and the results are already showing. They also acquired safety Danieal Manning and CB Johnathan Joseph to rectify the pass defense woes.
This team has always been able to score points. Now, with the new look on defense, they are the favorite to win the AFC South and could be a sleeper to win the conference if Kubiak can improve on his in-game adjustments.
For now, I'll have to wait until they play a team that can actually challenge them, as the Colts were dreadful. But the fact remains: Watch out for the Texans this year—they're a sleeper.
If the Falcons can consistently move the football on offense and give their aggressive, pressure-heavy defense some rest, they could find themselves in the Super Bowl.
However, they have a long way to go, which was evident in their Week 1 loss in Chicago, when they were outplayed in every aspect of the game.
The Falcons offense is predicated on the big play and struggles to move the chains consistently. The unit is loaded with weapons at every position but rarely gets in "3rd-and-manageable" downs. This is not a formula for long-term success.
They also struggle to win on the road.
On defense, they generate a good pass-rush and field a solid defensive front. But their secondary is an issue—especially at safety and nickelback.
The sky is the limit for this team, but it is inconsistent on both sides of the ball, and that could be what prevents it from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl this year.
The Giants were historically the elite team in New York, but that's no longer the case. Head coach Rex Ryan has instilled a winning mentality into this team, and the city now buzzes about Gang Green instead. The Jets have been to back-to-back AFC Championship Games and are looking to take it one step further.
So can they finally get to the big game?
This remains the question, as New York is looking to open up for the playbook for QB Mark Sanchez in his third season. But how will this affect its previous "ground and pound" mantra?
The Jets offensive line took a big hit in losing G Damien Woody, and this team will have a new identity this season. We saw it on Sunday Night Football against the Cowboys, as QB Mark Sanchez threw 44 times, but the "Cardiac Jets" managed to steal another victory late due to two key miscues from Tony Romo.
The running game, however, was not nearly as effective as in years past. RB LaDainian Tomlinson no longer possesses the power and durability to run in between the tackles, and the offensive line did not open up running lanes for RB Shonn Greene.
On defense, the Jets are solid, but depth in their secondary, outside of CB Darrelle Revis, will be an issue this season. Gang Green has struggled defending tight ends and running backs in the passing game in recent years.
The pressure will be on Sanchez, Greene and the Jets secondary this year. How will they respond?
With QB Drew Brees taking snaps under center, the Saints are always a force to be reckoned with. It certainly helps to be surrounded by weapons at every position on offense (with a couple of red flags on the offensive line, though).
The Saints field a group of athletic targets on offense that can run vertical routes and accumulate yards after the catch at any given point in time. They are explosive and can score at will on any given play.
Offensive guru Sean Payton even managed to make an upgrade at the running back position, trading Reggie Bush to Miami and acquiring Darren Sproles in the offseason. Sproles made an immediate impact running for yards after the catch in the open field and gave the Packers fits on Thursday night.
It makes you wonder what Norv Turner was doing with him, doesn't it?
The Saints have a few issues that were exposed by Green Bay: offensive line, pass-rushing and coverage in their secondary. Teams will look to exploit them with a strong passing game. New Orleans brought in DT Shaun Rogers to attempt to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he was a non-factor against the Packers.
New Orleans has the ability to put up 30 or more points on any given night, but can it get the stops on defense and convert in short-yardage situations when it's needed most (unlike in Thursday's game) to make a run to the Super Bowl?
The Chargers are the most talented team with a coach that is on the hot seat in 2011. If Norv Turner does not reach the AFC Championship Game, it will likely be his last season calling the shots in San Diego.
This team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and was actually No. 1 in total offense and total defense in 2010. Yet it missed the postseason due to turnovers and poor special teams play.
San Diego struggled in Week 1 with a lackluster Vikings team, as it trailed going into the half, but it clamped down, and the combination of QB Philip Rivers and RB Mike Tolbert led the Chargers to victory.
This team will face the same issues it did last season. On offense, it must hold on to the football and limit turnovers. On defense, the defensive front needs to be better against the run to give Rivers—an early candidate for 2011 MVP—a chance to attack opposing secondaries.
And for God's sake, can Norv Turner at least be a little bit better at in-game adjustments? Or will he continue to be awful?
The AFC West title is the Chargers' to lose with the Chiefs likely regressing and the Broncos rebuilding. The road to the AFC Championship Game should be an easy one for them, but will they finally play up to standards and make it there?
Had it not been for Troy Polamalu's strip sack of QB Joe Flacco late in the 2010 regular season, the Ravens likely would have won the AFC North and gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
So does that mean they could have been playing in the Super Bowl vs. the Packers?
While we can't predict what might have been, we can speculate, and the Ravens were loaded on both sides of the ball last season and possessed the talent to get to the big game.
They still do.
Having game-changing veterans LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed certainly helps.
The Ravens revamped their receiving corps and secondary in the offseason. Growing pains were a possibility early in the season, but the Ravens showed no signs of that in Week 1, blowing out the Steelers in a revenge game, 35-7.
Baltimore's running game was stout in 2010, but the addition of FB Vonta Leach will help matters even more.
The Ravens are the best team in the trenches on both sides of the ball in the NFL. Don't be surprised if they are representing the AFC in Lucas Oil Stadium in February.
The Eagles made more offseason acquisitions than any team and are, essentially, the Miami Heat of the NFL, so let's just crown them NFC champions, right?
This team still has issues on both ends of the ball, and just because the Rams couldn't exploit the self-anointed Dream Team's weaknesses in Week 1 doesn't mean that other teams won't.
While the Eagles are loaded with weapons on offense, Philadelphia's offensive line is a huge red flag and could result in QB Michael Vick taking a lot of hits from opposing defenses. Vick prefers to extend the play and scramble with the football, and operating behind a weak line could shorten his durability this season.
As well, the Philadelphia Eagles linebackers and safeties are subpar and can be run on, as they are actually starting rookie LB Casey Matthews in the interior of the defense.
The Eagles could be the most talented team in football with their receiving corps and prolific cornerbacks, but will they play together as a unit in sync?
The "Dream Team" still has head coach Andy Reid and his clipboard calling the shots and could come up short of winning a championship, just like the Miami Heat did.
If they don't win a title, expect Reid to be fired as head coach. The City of Brotherly Love just will not allow another season to be marred by disappointment. This is the same fanbase that booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus during a game years ago!
The Patriots made sure to let the world know they mean business this year, passing for 517 yards against the Dolphins and shattering Monday Night Football records.
Tom Brady said he'll "never get over that [postseason] loss" he suffered against the Jets last season, and he and the Patriots looked locked in as they thrashed their division rivals from South Beach.
The Patriots, throughout this decade, have been loaded with weapons on offense that can run for yards after the catch. They now operate behind arguably the best offensive line in football too. It's tough to find any kinks in the offensive unit, although they lack depth at wide receiver unless WR Chad Ochocinco can step up.
Opposing defenses will have to blitz and employ a lot of press coverage to attempt to disrupt the Patriots' timing routes, as the Jets did last season.
The New England defense is the only thing that could keep them from winning a Super Bowl in the 2011-12 season. The secondary is comprised of defensive backs that like to play off receivers and can be beaten with a consistent passing game. They are an opportunistic unit that will likely live off sacks and turnovers.
Still, the Patriots are the favorite to win the AFC, and justifiably so.
The Green Bay Packers are the best team in football right now, and they showed that on Thursday night in their thrilling victory over the New Orleans Saints, which ended in a goal-line stand.
It may sound cliché, but right now the Packers are the team to beat in the NFL, and teams must prove they can go into Lambeau Field and win. Green Bay showed it was the best team in football in 2010 and picked up where they left off in Week 1 with a victory against a top-tier NFC team.
The Packers don't have many vulnerabilities. QB Aaron Rodgers is the favorite to win 2011 MVP, and he should be. Green Bay's athletic receivers spread defenses out and present mismatches for any unit. You'd better not play off them either, as they are great at accumulating yards after the catch.
RB Ryan Grant can run in between the tackles, as well as RB James Starks, who can also catch passes out of the backfield. RB John Kuhn is a great short-yardage back; that's an asset the New Orleans Saints don't have, which is why the Packers won that matchup on Thursday.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers knows how to mix it up, dialing up blitzes from every level of the defense to keep opposing quarterbacks guessing. Capers makes it extremely tough for opposing offenses to move the football and limit turnovers.
Teams struggle to run on the Packers as well, and the best way to exploit the unit is by throwing to running backs and tight ends. The secondary plays together as a unit and will jump routes but will also play tight coverage.
The Packers are the defending world champions, and until another team proves it is better and knocks them off their throne, they are the team to beat.
Sorry, Vince Young, but until a team steps up and knocks the Packers off their pedestal, Green Bay is the real "Dream Team" right now.