Power Ranking Every NFL Offense Heading into the 2012 Season
Previewing the upcoming NFL season, we take an in-depth look at every offense in the league and rank, 32 to 1, who will have the best overall squad in 2012.
Remember, this isn't about who has the best passing game or the best running back, it's about overall cohesion and production on offense. Having the best quarterback in the NFL will help, but if his offensive line can't block or there are no quality receivers, the total offensive unit won't rank very high.
Which NFL offenses look best heading into the 2012-13 season? Find out inside.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The story in Jacksonville is more about who isn't on the roster than how camp is currently going for the Jags.
Star running back and 2011 league-leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew is holding out in a contract dispute, and rookie first-rounder Justin Blackmon hasn't signed his rookie deal yet. With a new head coach and new offensive system in place, MJD and Blackmon fall further behind with each passing day.
This may not affect the veteran MJD once he shows up, but we've seen in the past how a rookie wide receiver can be affected. Just ask Michael Crabtree.
There have been conflicting training-camp reports surrounding the improvement of Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, but one thing is certain: without MJD, this offense will go nowhere. Gabbert isn't yet good enough to overcome defenses that aren't afraid of a run-threat in the backfield.
Even with MJD and Blackmon in camp, assuming that happens at some point, Gabbert has to make big strides from his "running from my own shadow" play in 2011. Until Gabbert can stand in the pocket like a big-boy quarterback, it really doesn't matter who he has around him.
31. Indianapolis Colts
There is a good, young nucleus in place for the Indianapolis Colts, but as such, the inevitable growing pains can be expected in 2012.
The Colts will start a rookie or second-year player at quarterback, both tight end spots, left tackle and maybe left guard, depending on Ben Ijalana's status. That's a huge portion of the offense that's barely old enough to have a legal beer after work.
The good news is that no rookie signal-caller has been better prepared for the NFL than Andrew Luck. His time at Stanford, plus his own mental makeup, has him ready to step into this situation and lead the Colts. The results may not be outstanding, and they will struggle at times, but the future is very bright in Indy.
30. New York Jets
Which players on the New York Jets offense scare you as an opposing fan?
I came up with the same players you did—no one.
There are question marks at virtually every position. Starting with quarterback, Mark Sanchez can be good or maddeningly bad. Tim Tebow could eventually steal snaps and/or starts if Sanchez struggles, and while Tebow "just wins," the performance is downright ugly.
Moving on to running back, which should be a staple of the offense under Tony Sparano. But who here can take over a game? Not Shonn Greene. Joe McKnight has some shake to his game, but he's not feature-back quality.
At wide receiver, Santonio Holmes is good, when not running his mouth, but he'll see double coverage unless Stephen Hill, Chaz Schilens or Dustin Keller improve very soon.
The offensive line is good in spots, like left tackle and center, but the other three starting spots are a rotating door of average talent.
Bottom line: The Jets offense won't scare anyone in 2012, except maybe Jets fans.
29. Cleveland Browns
We talked about the youth of the Indianapolis Colts, but the Cleveland Browns may do them one better.
At quarterback, running back, both receivers and right tackle the Browns will feature a first- or second-year player. That includes four rookies—Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon and Mitchell Schwartz.
It doesn't help matters that the Browns play in the NFL's toughest division. Relying on as much youth as they are, there will be ups and downs in 2012 as Weeden builds chemistry with Greg Little and Gordon at receiver.
One area where the Browns should be set is in the run game. Getting Richardson going behind a line that features Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Schwartz will be enough for serious Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration.
28. St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams look to bounce back from a rough 2011 with a healthy Sam Bradford at quarterback. The real questions are, who will he throw to and who will block for him?
The Rams have one of the game's best running backs in Steven Jackson, and the addition of speedster Isaiah Pead should have an impact as well. But the problem they will face is that defenses can load the box against the run, as the Rams lack any real threats at wideout.
Danny Amendola is a good intermediate receiver, but he won't stretch defenses out of the box. Brandon Gibson has some upside, but he's very raw. Same for rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick, two very good athletes drafted with little route-running experience.
When Bradford does find an open target, it will be a matter of how long he has to throw the ball. Tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold both had down years last season, and may be on their last legs (at least Smith) as an NFL starter before the Rams look elsewhere.
Bradford is talented, but he needs receivers who can get open on their own and a line he can trust.
27. Miami Dolphins
There is buzz around the Miami Dolphins this year, but honestly it all depends on who starts under center and if someone can emerge as a No. 1 target.
The three-headed quarterback battle between David Garrard, Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill is officially underway with Tannehill in camp after a two-day holdout. No one player has emerged as the favorite, but Moore was the starter last year and has played well with opportunity.
Whether it's Moore, Garrard or Tannehill, they will struggle to find a consistent weapon at wideout. The team signed Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco), who will team him up with Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, and even worked out Braylon Edwards (now with Seattle).
What's encouraging is the offensive line should be better with Jonathan Martin at right tackle opposite a now healthy Jake Long. With Mike Pouncey having a full offseason to learn, the interior will be in better shape as well. The three will open up holes for Reggie Bush, who is coming off a very good campaign. Rookie Lamar Miller has the speed to make a difference if he can find creases.
If one of the quarterbacks can find a hot streak and consistency early on, Miami could surprise. But without a wide receiver to open up the field it's unlikely the Dolphins do much damage offensively.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Here is a clear-cut instance where I hope to be wrong.
The Seattle Seahawks made a great signing this offseason when they brought in quarterback Matt Flynn from Green Bay as a free agent. The trouble is they have yet to give Flynn the starting job.
As long as Flynn has to compete with Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson for reps, the longer he is waiting to develop chemistry with his weapons on offense. And that goes for whoever starts at quarterback. Delay keep the QB1 from getting much-needed experience with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Braylon Edwards, Golden Tate and others at wideout.
The running game will take a potential hit, depending on Marshawn Lynch's availability after a DUI arrest in Oakland this offseason. Lynch is a repeat-offender, which means the NFL may come down hard on him to set an example in the wake of numerous DUI arrests by players this summer. If Lynch misses considerable time, the offense will be hurting with rookie Robert Turbin asked to take on a big load early.
The offensive line can be good, if healthy. Russell Okung has struggled with injury, but he has top 10 left tackle potential. The middle of the line has a very good anchor in Max Unger, and the guards around him can get the job done in the run game without issue. Right tackle is a question mark due to the injury of James Carpenter, but he's been injured so often the team should readily replace him.
Seattle starts the season low, but if Flynn has time to get on the same page as his receivers, this offense could take off.
25. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings may pick up right where they left off in 2011—without star running back Adrian Peterson.
On top of his legal issues and headache, Peterson is still recovering from a torn left ACL suffered December 24. The rehabilitation time can vary, and while Peterson has shown remarkable bounce back from injury in his career, the team should tread lightly with his return.
In Peterson's absence the team was able to rely on Toby Gerhart, who played well considering the circumstances. With a rookie quarterback, a below-average offensive line, and no real passing threat to speak of, Gerhart ran tough and provided a spark for the Minnesota offense. He'll be asked to do that again early this season, but this time with more help.
The offensive line made two big moves by drafting tackle Matt Kalil in the first round and signing free agent Geoff Schwartz. The two will play key roles in an improved Vikings offensive line that already featured a promising right tackle in Phil Loadholt.
The wide receiving corps are still thin outside of Percy Harvin, but there is good talent at tight end with Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson set up to run a two-tight-end offense. If rookie Greg Childs can catch on early, he could play a big role in the passing game.
The season will hinge on Christian Ponder's improvement from his rookie season. Ponder will have a full offseason and camp to learn the offense, a better line protecting him, and more established weapons at WR and TE. Taking the next step shouldn't be an issue for the second-year quarterback out of Florida State.
24. Arizona Cardinals
As with a number of other teams, the Arizona Cardinals' first order of business is deciding on their starting quarterback. Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, that's the question right now. Each one offers something different to the offense. Skelton has a bigger arm, but Kolb is more mobile and more accurate. Whichever player the Cardinals coaches roll with, there is improved talent on offense to work with.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the game's best at WR, hands down. He'll be joined by rookie Michael Floyd, who will have the job of attacking defenses so safeties can't roll over to cover Fitzgerald. The two should provide more of a spark than the Fitzgerald-Early Doucet combo last year. Doucet is likely to move inside to the slot.
The run game has a lot to work with. Beanie Wells had a very good 2011 and once rookie Ryan Williams gets back on the field, he has the speed to make a major difference in opposing defenses' game-calling.
The offensive line is still an issue, though. Levi Brown is back at left tackle, and while he showed improvement late last season, he's still too often a liability in pass protection. Adding Adam Snyder shouldn't be viewed as much of an improvement after the way he played in San Francisco, but the fact is this team needed warm bodies up front.
Arizona has the skill players to be a surprise break-out in 2012, but they'll need a miracle from a patchwork offensive line to do so.
23. Oakland Raiders
The fan hope in Oakland is that the Raiders will be in better hands with Carson Palmer at quarterback after a full offseason and continued time to gel with his offensive skill players. That may be a tad optimistic.
There is no doubting that the Raiders have talent. Palmer can be a very good passer, there is speed and talent at wide receiver, and the offensive line is talented, if underrated. Where then, is the question mark? Darren McFadden.
The super-talented back has yet to play a full season in the NFL without getting hurt, missing over half the season last year with a major foot injury. Finally looking good and healthy, for the Raiders offense to thrive, McFadden has to be a factor for all 16 games. If not, Palmer will face loaded secondaries dropping back to bracket cover his speedy targets.
22. Washington Redskins
Have you heard the Washington Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III?
The excitement in Washington is palpable, and for good reason, as they finally have a legitimate franchise quarterback prospect in RGIII. Not only did Daniel Snyder give up the farm to draft Griffin at No. 2 overall, they went out and added weapons for him at wide receiver.
The skill players will look different with Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan joining Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson at receiver. Tight end Fred Davis has unbelievable talent, and the always reliable Chris Cooley can still be effective in spots.
The offensive line concerns some. Trent Williams has elite talent, but he has to play more consistent from start to finish. The remaining starters on the line are give-or-take type players who can be helped by the scheme Mike Shanahan installs, but none are high-level players and already bit by the injury bug.
The offense will go as far as RGIII can take them. Based on his athletic ability and vision downfield, that could be further than anyone expects.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Forget most of what you saw in Tampa Bay last season. Those Buccaneers are long gone, and in is a new regime with disciplinarian Greg Schiano at the helm. The turnaround may not be immediate, but this is a team on the rise.
Josh Freeman is back at quarterback, and he'll be much better off with a healthy roster around him and an incredibly-improved offensive line. When Tampa signed one of the NFL's best guards, Carl Nicks, Freeman's stock took an immediate jump, as he'll now have time to diagnose defenses on his throws.
The skill positions got an upgrade with running back Doug Martin in Round 1 of the 2012 draft and the signing of wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Martin and Jackson alone should make Freeman's job easier, as the team now has a legitimate No. 1 possession receiver and a back who can stay on the field no matter the down and distance.
Tampa has a shot to quickly shoot up the rankings, and by midseason we could be looking at a top 10 offense.
20. Tennessee Titans
So much of where Tennessee is ranked depends on who their No. 1 passer is—the veteran Matt Hasselbeck, or the second-year sparkplug Jake Locker.
Hasselbeck brings the obvious advantage of experience, while Locker's athleticism gave the offense a jump-start late last season. Both are talented, and both can win, they're just different players who can do different things in this offense.
The talent around them is good, but not great. What could have been a strength at wide receiver is now questionable. Already placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list at the start of camp with bad knees, Kenny Britt's recent arrest doesn't help matters. As a repeat offender he could be looking at a major suspension from the league office in his return.
Kendall Wright was stellar in rookie camp, but he'll be asked to play a huge role in this offense early on. There's a sleeper at tight end in Jared Cook. Keep an eye on his play this year.
The running game has Chris Johnson, who could be an elite running back again if he's dedicated to running hard on every down, and the underrated Javon Ringer as a change-of-pace back. It will help that the team brought in reinforcements on the offensive line, as last year's interior players failed to open many holes.
Whether it's Locker or Hasselbeck, the Titans offense could be dangerous this year if youngsters at wide receiver can step up and if Johnson—who is at least saying the right things with the goal of a 2,000-yard season—finds his old running style.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Before Cowboys fans start making the trip up I-35 to burn my house down, please read the following paragraphs.
The Cowboys have enough talent to be one of the top offenses in the NFL, but so much of that talent is wrapped up in potential waiting to be realized that they are a serious gamble to either break out or bust offensively.
Tony Romo is great, you'll hear no complaints from me on his play. In fact, there were many times Romo was the best QB in the NFC East last year. What Romo needs is consistent help around him. That's where the "potential" comes into play.
At running back, Dallas is relying on Felix Jones—who failed the team's conditioning test—and DeMarco Murray, who has struggled with injuries dating back to his days at Oklahoma. Murray can be good, but he's fragile, and that alone has to scare logical fans.
The skill players can be good, but Dez Bryant's head seems to be everywhere but on the game of football. Miles Austin can be a productive player, but he can't consistently beat double-teams, and that's what he'll see if Bryant isn't focused (or suspended).
Without a No. 3 option due to Laurent Robinson's departure to Jacksonville, the outside receivers will see more aggressive play and double-teams. Jason Witten isn't the answer he used to be at splitting the seam, either, so while he'll help in this regard, Witten is much more of an intermediate threat these days.
We haven't even talked about the offensive line, which has one quality starter (Tyron Smith) and four question marks. There are two new guards, neither of which was spectacular in 2011, and an aging right tackle who just changed positions.
Feeling good about your offense now? While there is reason for optimism, a more realistic viewpoint on the Cowboys offense is sobering.
18. Buffalo Bills
Why are the Buffalo Bills ranked so high? Because they are much better than anyone gives them credit for.
Fred Jackson will be back at RB after missing the second half of last year to injury, and that combined with one of the most talented interior offensive lines in football will power the Buffalo run game to big things each week. With Jackson handling the featured back role, speedy C.J. Spiller is able to get out in space and be the change-of-pace back with his touches
The receivers need to emerge behind Stevie Johnson, but Johnson is one of the better playmakers at the position right now. If you have trouble believing that, remember that Johnson is the only receiver to torch Darrelle Revis last year.
The line, as mentioned above, is solid on the inside, with Eric Wood, Andy Levitre and Kraig Urbik opening rushing lanes. The tackles are spotty, but Cordy Glenn could have a big impact in his first season at LT.
The ultimate ranking depends on Ryan Fitzpatrick. If he plays like he did through the first seven weeks of the 2011 season, Buffalo has a chance to be a top-10 offense. If we see the other Fitzpatrick, Buffalo will tumble down the rankings.
17. Denver Broncos
The Peyton Manning era in Denver has begun, with Tim Tebow officially out via trade and Manning in to run the offense. Adding Manning alone will help, but the skill players around Manning are just as important as the new quarterback under center.
Manning has a good, not great, O-line to work behind. Ryan Clady is solid at left tackle, but the rest of this line is still a giant question mark. They will be helped by Manning's quick-strike mentality and pocket presence, but in the run game they will be exposed unless Manning can pose a play-action threat.
The trouble with play action is that the RBs in Denver should scare no one. Knowshon Moreno is one more bad season away from being a certified draft bust. Willis McGahee was good when defenses were keying on Tim Tebow's running ability, but how well he can run in a conventional offense with his mileage remains to be seen. Rookie Ronnie Hillman might be the best all-around back on the roster.
There have been encouraging signs from receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas so far. If Manning gets comfortable with these two targets, both could have monster seasons. Thomas is a deep threat unlike any Manning has ever had, which could open up exciting possibilities in Denver.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
With or without Mike Wallace stretching defenses deep this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense will be potent. Of course, they would be much better off with him in the lineup.
Wallace is holding out for a long-term deal, but it's likely he'll play this year under his one-year restricted free-agent tender. If so, Pittsburgh will have their key targets back from the 2011 season that saw Ben Roethlisberger light up the AFC North.
Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders make up one of the best trios in the game, but the Steelers are known for their rushing attack. That may change more than it already has in 2012 if Rashard Mendenhall's injury keeps him out of the lineup, and if Isaac Redman can't duplicate his few late-season spurts over the course of a full season.
Redman can be good, but he's never had to be the feature back over a full season. He's promising, but skepticism abounds.
The line will be better if rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams can get into the starting five. DeCastro, especially, has the talent to be an All-Pro fixture at right guard. Maurkice Pouncey should find his job easier with the added talent around him.
15. Baltimore Ravens
As close as the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were in the standings last season, their offenses are polar opposites.
The Ravens' attack is based around the play of running back Ray Rice. He sets the tempo for the entire offense as a runner and receiver. While Pittsburgh will spread teams out more, Baltimore hopes to pound the rock with Rice and live off play-action passes.
What fans hope will happen in 2012 is that Cam Cameron will unleash the Joe Flacco and his deep ball—something Flacco has never been free to do on his own accord. There's considerable talent at the quarterback position, but from the outside looking in there seems to be little trust from the offensive coordinator in allowing Flacco to make plays.
The offensive line could see a major shift, all depending on veteran Bryant McKinnie. If McKinnie can get in shape, he'll start at left tackle. If not, Michael Oher will slide over and rookie Kelechi Osemele would be the favorite to start at right. This might be the Ravens' best bet moving forward.
Help at receiver came in the form of Jacoby Jones this offseason, adding to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, who are good complements to each other's game. The real test will be seeing if the playbook gets opened up for the talented passing-game components.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals may open training camp ranked No. 14 in the offensive power rankings, but by season's end this is a team with the ability to be ranked in the top five. No, really.
Quarterback Andy Dalton looks to build on his rookie success, and with an improved O-line, healthy receivers and a legitimate running game, he should have less pressure on his capable shoulders.
Dalton's game took off in his rookie season, and his connection with A.J. Green was one of the best in the league. If the two can build on that, they'll start to enter "unstoppable" territory. It will help that Dalton has had all summer to familiarize himself with tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley, but just as important was the drafting of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to add depth, size and talent to the corps.
The draft also brought in Kevin Zeitler to anchor the right guard position, a weakness on the roster last year. With Andrew Whitworth healthy at LT and Andre Smith getting better and better on the right side, Cincinnati's offensive line will be much improved this fall.
Playing behind that line, and offering an upgrade at the running back position, is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He's younger, faster and a better receiver than Cincy's last leading rusher, Cedric Benson. Green-Ellis may not be a 1,500-yard RB, but his all-around ability will be a welcome addition in Cincinnati.
13. New York Giants
Before Giants fans also freak out, consider that this ranking isn't a reflection of Eli Manning—who I happen to think is very good—but the unit as a whole. Manning aside, anyone looking at this team has to wonder where the production will come from.
Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are money, that much is a given, but the team is missing a No. 3 wide receiver after Mario Manningham left for San Francisco. Fans will say that Manningham wasn't that good, but New York wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without his huge sideline catch. Rueben Randle was drafted to replace Manningham, but he's currently No. 6 on the depth chart, according to Ourlads Scouting Services. Not a good sign, football fans.
The run game and offensive line are above-average in talent, but no one involved in the run game jumps out at you. Ahmad Bradshaw can be solid, but he won't take over games. David Wilson has speed, but the rookie has no concept of pass protection or route running. Chris Snee is the best of the offensive linemen, but he can't anchor the starting five alone. The team needs William Beatty to step up at left tackle while also finding improved play at left guard and center.
The New York Giants can be good, and at times they can win shootouts, but their No. 13 ranking is purely on the strength of Manning; a lesser quarterback and this team would be ranked in the 20s.
12. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers cannot be accused of sitting still. The team aggressively attacked the offseason to add talent around Alex Smith, but will it pay off in time for the regular season?
Smith had his best season in 2011, leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game on the back of an amazing performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round. The team hopes that with more talent around him, Smith can truly shine in 2012. The front office brought in Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins at wide receiver, as well as Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James at running back. Add the new talent to a roster already featuring Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, and Smith has a load of options no matter the play call.
The talent level is high—as high as it has been since Steve Young was running around in the backfield. But there are concerns about so many new pieces gelling in time for the season. Don't be surprised if Smith and his new teammates play extended preseason minutes.
The offensive line remains largely the same, anchored by Pro Bowler Joe Staley at left tackle and Pro Bowl snub Mike Iupati at left guard. The only turnover is at right guard, where Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal have been replaced by Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore.
The talent is here, and Smith is set up to succeed. If he can't get it done with a big performance this year, the team may hand the reins to Colin Kaepernick.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs welcome back a healthy roster after an injury-decimated 2011, but one player in particular missing from camp has a chance to derail the entire season.
Star wideout Dwayne Bowe is holding out after being tendered with the franchise tag in the offseason. Bowe wants a long-term deal, the Chiefs want him in camp. A stalemate is looming.
Outside of Bowe, the Chiefs look stacked on offense—even with some questioning Matt Cassel at quarterback. Let's remember, Cassel was under center when the Chiefs won the AFC West in 2010, with a much less talented roster around him.
Cassel welcomes back Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki from injury, after both missed huge chunks of time last year. The team also added the NFL's best right tackle, Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis and tight end Kevin Boss to an already solid lineup.
Without Bowe in camp, the second-year Jonathan Baldwin has exploded. He's seeing more targets, and without the lockout-shorted offseason, Baldwin and Cassel are finally looking comfortable with each other.
The talent is in place for KC to have one of the most explosive offenses in the league if Cassel can bounce back from a tough 2011 and if Bowe gets himself to camp.
10. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have the offensive firepower to outscore most teams, but to do that they need an offensive coordinator who won't hold them back and a Matt Ryan that won't hesitate to take chances downfield. Here's hoping 2012 brings both.
New coordinator Dirk Koetter was brought in to replace Mike Mularkey, and the hope is that he'll open up the offense for Ryan and his talented skill players. With targets like Roddy White and Julio Jones, Atlanta should be going for the throats of defenses early and often, not running quarterback sneaks and screen packages over and over.
White and Jones have the skill to be an elite duo, if they aren't already. Ryan certainly has options every time he drops back, including tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner. Turner may be spelled more this year by Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, but at the end of the day, he's the workhorse back in this stable.
The line play was a mediocre spot in the offense, but a new scheme is expected to help. Sam Baker has struggled at left tackle since coming into the league as a first-round pick in '08, but he's currently penciled in as the starter. It will be interesting to see if he can hold off Will Svitek there for long. The rest of the line looks solid, with Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo being two of the better players at their respective positions.
The Falcons have a chance to take the NFC South, but again, Ryan will need to be on top of his game and the freedom from his coaches to attack defenses.
9. Chicago Bears
New general manager Phil Emery has the Chicago Bears in great shape offensively, but the pressure and focus will fall on quarterback Jay Cutler. Can he deliver?
Cutler takes a ton of heat from the media, fans and opponents, but this is his season to shut up the critics and show he's the elite quarterback many have been waiting for him to become. The motto for the Bears' 2012 season should be "No Excuses," because this is a team good enough to make a strong playoff push.
With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Evan Rodriguez all coming in to give the passing attack a kick in the pants, Cutler should be much more like the gunslinger we saw in Denver but just at times with Chicago. Giving Cutler two big receivers who can get downfield was a significant move, and based on training camp results, is already paying off.
The Bear's run game will be even tougher in 2012, as Matt Forte is signed to a long-term deal and has a solid backup, Michael Bush. The two will be able to pound defenses once the weather in Chicago turns cold and windy, behind an offensive line that will see improvement thanks to the health of tackle Gabe Carimi.
The team's first-round pick in 2011, Carimi can be an anchor for this line in run and pass situations. It also helps that Mike Martz' offense is gone, as are the seven-step drops that go with it. In is Mike Tice, who knows line play and will energize the offense with his aggressive play-calling.
Expectations are high in Chicago, but the current team is talented enough to deliver on those hopes.
8. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Duane Brown and Chris Myers. The team and its fans are hoping that's enough on offense to get to the Super Bowl this season.
There has been criticism over the team's choice to cut RT Eric Winston in a salary-cap move, and it will be interesting to see how well Rashad Butler can fill in for a tackle who rated No. 1 overall in the B/R 1,000 NFL rankings.
Winston will be missed, but the rest of the team returns largely intact. Schaub and Johnson hope to stay healthy this season, something that ruined the team's chances of an AFC championship last season. But Johnson is already missing time with a groin injury that must be monitored.
Foster is absolutely great, arguably the best pure running back in the NFL, and the scheme up front helps him find creases and cracks to pick his way through for major yards. With Foster running a ground-and-pound offense, Schaub will be able to set up the play action to torch defenses deep.
The key here is staying healthy, which has been an issue for Schaub and Johnson of late. If the Texans can keep their starters on the field, they have the talent to be elite.
7. Carolina Panthers
Maybe this is a leap of faith, or just giving into hype, but the Carolina Panthers offense is primed to explode in 2012.
Quarterback Cam Newton is back fresh off his record-setting rookie season, and he'll have more help this time around thanks to the additions of Mike Tolbert, Louis Murphy and Joe Adams. Adding insult to injury for opponents is that Newton has a full offseason to prepare, which means more time to study defenses, improve his red-zone reads and become more familiar with his all his options in the passing game.
Newton alone is dangerous, but when he's connecting with Steve Smith, there are few defenses who can stop them. The hope is that the additions at wide receiver, and improved play from Brandon LaFell, will keep defenses from cheating over to double up on Smith. A strong run game is the best medicine against safeties who are bailing at the snap, and the Panthers may have the best in the NFL.
Newton is a big threat in his own right, but DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Tolbert make up the NFL's best stable of running backs. With the speed, strength and all-around skill of the trio, Carolina is in a great position to run the ball early and often.
The offensive line is better than many notice. Jordan Gross is rock solid at left tackle, and while there was turnover on the inside, the team has one of the best at center with Ryan Kalil.
There is no hiding from expectations in Carolina, but with Newton at quarterback anything is possible.
6. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions have Matthew Stafford, of the 5,000-yard club, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. That may be all they need.
Stafford and Johnson lit NFL defenses on fire last year, as Johnson was impossible to cover (with one, two and sometimes three defenders). Stafford knows where to go when he's in trouble, and Johnson delivered time and time again. In 2012, look for Stafford to build chemistry with other options to further burn up NFL defenses.
The running back position is a question mark, to be kind. Mikel Leshoure could be a talented back, but he missed his rookie year with injury, arrested in the offseason, and now he's injured again with a bothersome hamstring. Jahvid Best could be a great third-down back, but he's not yet been cleared after suffering a concussion last season. That leaves Kevin Smith, who is a great story, but an average running back.
The good news is that the passing game will be even better, thanks to the additions of Ryan Broyles to work the slot and offensive tackle Riley Reiff in the draft. The two rookies will be counted on early, but both come from high-profile college systems that ran NFL-style offenses.
Stafford and Johnson are the backbone here, and if last year is any indication, that's good enough to keep them highly-ranked all season.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Vick is obviously crucial, and his run-pass threat makes the Eagles offense so much more dynamic on every down. With Vick and McCoy in the backfield, Philadelphia has more speed than any defense in the league can deal with if the game turns to a foot race.
McCoy is also a talented receiver, which makes him even more difficult to defend against. Further complicating matters is the speed on the outside at receiver from Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. When Vick, McCoy, Maclin or Jackson get free, there are few who can catch them.
The offensive line took a hit when Jason Peters went down with injury, but Demetress Bell was a smart signing. He's athletic enough to slide into this scheme and perform at a high level, even if he won't be the All-Pro talent Peters was. The rest of the line looks solid from side-to-side in the Eagles' quick-strike attack.
Keeping Vick healthy will be imperative, as this offense is built to run at a high speed from start to finish. If Vick can finish the season without missing considerable time, Philly will be a top-five offense.
4. San Diego Chargers
Forget last season, when Philip Rivers was without his best target (Antonio Gates), the offensive line was in shambles thanks to injury, and the run game got derailed. That wasn't the real San Diego Chargers offense. We'll be seeing it this season, as the front office made some needed acquisitions and investments to better surround Rivers.
Rivers did struggle at times last year, but that will only serve as good motivation going forward. Helping him with that is the fact that the offense has a brand new look thanks to the signings of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal at receiver, plus keeping Jared Gaither locked up at left tackle.
The new additions will help, but perhaps most important is that Ryan Mathews is now healthy. The running back has stud potential, but like so many other RBs, he has to stay healthy first. If Mathews is on the field Rivers can work play action and also find Antonio Gates easier, as linebackers and safeties are more keyed on the run game when Mathews is in the game.
The line could be an issue if Gaither's back flares up, but he was lights out to end the 2011 season. Watching the Chargers offense from the last three weeks of the year, few NFL defenses would be able to stop them—and that was without the speed that Meachem and Royal have added.
3. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints will play with a huge chip on their shoulder this coming season thanks to the league's handling of "Bountygate." Every defense on their schedule can send their thank-you cards Roger Goodell's way. The Saints offense is always amazing, but when they're playing with a vengeance, it should be ridiculous.
Drew Brees now holds the NFL record for single-season passing yards after a jaw-dropping 2011. Brees will be without deep threat Robert Meachem, but the team believes Devery Henderson and Lance Moore can pick up the slack. As long as they have Brees and his ability to spread the ball around, New Orleans is in great shape.
The offensive line swapped Carl Nicks for Ben Grubbs in a free-agent move that is largely a push. The line will be good again, but this is as much a testament to how well Brees moves in the pocket and how quickly he makes plays; the line as a stand-alone is average.
The run game comes via a three-headed attack featuring power runners Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas, expertly complemented by speedster/receiver extraordinaire Darren Sproles. Sproles may be the team's third-best receiver, after Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.
Speaking of Graham, you can't mention the Saints offense without bringing up one of the NFL's best tight ends. Graham is a matchup nightmare who always seems to be open. With even more familiarity with the offense by Graham now, it should be fun trying to stop him.
The sky is the limit here as long as the Saints can roll without head coach Sean Payton, who called the plays for this team until midway through the 2011 season. Brees and Co. are smart enough and talented enough to man the ship alone, but they'll face an uphill climb back to the top of the NFL's offensive power rankings.
2. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have a chance to be even better on offense in 2012, a scary proposition considering how often they torched opponents last season.
Tom Brady is coming off a 5,000-yard season, and get this, there is even more talent for him to throw to. The front office signed Brandon Lloyd, reuniting the wide receiver with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in New England. Lloyd joins an already loaded depth chart featuring the league's leading receiver, Wes Welker, and two tight ends no one can cover when healthy—Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Brady will have his options, and it shouldn't be a surprise to see him best his 2011 yardage and touchdown totals. With Lloyd working the edge, Gronkowski and Welker will have more room to operate in the middle and Hernandez should find more space in zone routes from the slot or at tight end.
Defenses will have fun trying to stop the Patriots' passing attack, but the run game will be more of an afterthought this year. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden figure to share carries, at least early in the year, but none of the three look like the type of back that could convince Bill Belichick to abandon the pass for.
Any time you have Tom Brady as signal-caller, big things will happen on offense. The 2012 New England Patriots have a chance to break some of their own records.
1. Green Bay Packers
And No. 1 in our power rankings? The Green Bay Packers. The Pack are absolutely loaded on offense. It's almost unfair.
Aaron Rodgers is the best in the game, and his 2011 MVP season was just the beginning of what will be a brilliant career. When Rodgers drops back to pass, he has six options who can all break the game open and expose the defense. Yes, six.
Jordy Nelson is the best receiver in the NFL that no one talks about. His speed and strength make him impossible to bring down once he gets going, and his 15 touchdowns last season show his knack for finding the end zone. But Nelson isn't even the No. 1 receiver on the roster; that would be Greg Jennings, who slips more coverages than any receiver in the game.
When Nelston and Jennings are covered, Rodgers can go to Donald Driver, James Jones or Randall Cobb at receiver. If for some reason that doesn't work, tight end Jermichael Finley is running the seam route—and either he's open or he's drawn double coverage to open up the outside for the wideouts.
The line play is very good for a pass-first team, and should be better with a healthy roster heading into Week 1. That's not even to mention that Alex Green looks like a new weapon at running back (when the team decides they want to run the ball, that is).
Defending the Packers is a nightmare, and had the receivers held onto the football in Kansas City and against the Giants last season, no one would have shut this team down. A return to the Super Bowl is a realistic, and reasonable, expectation for the Packers this 2012-13 season.