Sweet 16: Best Teams In America

Sean MeganCorrespondent IJune 18, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  (L-R) Derek Fisher #2, Lamar Odom #7, Pau Gasol #16, Trevor Ariza #3 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers begin celebrating after defeating the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Everyone loves power rankings of the teams in a particular sport. But why not see how the top teams stack up among the best of the big six team sports in North America? Which teams are flying highest right now, regardless of sport?

Sweet 16 is my attempt to rank the elite teams in the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, and college football and basketball as a whole every month. Only the very best teams land a spot in these rankings.

No. 16  New York Giants

Yes, Plaxico's skills will certainly be missed, but the Giants should be very good on defense and running the ball this season. Eli will have to find a new number one target to throw to, but shouldn't look as bad as he did in the final weeks of last season.

Right now the Giants have to be in any discussion of the top NFC teams.

No. 15  New York Yankees

So Boston might have the Yankees' number—they still have to feel good about sitting in second in the American league and only trailing the Red Sox by two games in the division.

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Losing nine straight to Boston probably stings a little, but on the bright side they won't have to see the Sox again until August.

No. 14  Oklahoma Sooners

The return of playmakers Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and Jermaine Gresham are reason enough for the excitement in Norman. And the letdown against Florida will only serve as more motivation for Bradford and the Sooners.

If Oklahoma can shore up its offensive line, they could have a very special season.

No. 13  Kansas Jayhawks

As if the return of Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins wasn't enough to get Jayhawk fans excited, add another top five recruiting class, including the 6'6" SG phenom Xavier Henry, and you're looking at a team with legitimate national championship aspirations.

No. 12  Philadelphia Phillies

The defending champs quietly have the third best record in baseball and own a very impressive 23—9 road record, good for best in the bigs.

Now if they could just bring a little of that road swagger back home.

No. 11  North Carolina Tar Heels

Since this is the first ranking, the Tar Heels deserve some love for their National Championship, and really make the list based on past merit.

The loss of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green will really hurt, but don't forget about the talent UNC has returning. Add the number two recruiting class in the nation and a pretty good coach in Roy Williams, and the Heels should still be a dangerous top 10 team this year.

No. 10  Texas Longhorns

While the Longhorns basketball team should be great next season too, it's Colt McCoy and the football team that grab the 10 spot.

Texas should have one of the best passing offenses again, but would probably like to do a little better on the ground this year. They'll also be playing with a pretty big chip on their shoulder. The Longhorns will be hoping to close the season in Pasadena.

No. 9  Orlando Magic

While the Magic came up short in the finals, how many people truly thought Orlando would beat the mighty Cavs who were steamrolling through the playoffs, let alone Boston?

Obviously the Magic wish the season had ended with a title, but should still take pride in the great season it was. The goal now has to be keeping Turkoglu in Orlando.

No. 8  Detroit Red Wings

Like the Magic, Detroit has to be bummed they didn't take home the Cup. However, the Red Wings weren't surprising many by making it to the finals, more like business as usual (see 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.)

Fans outside of Detroit and Pittsburgh won't be happy if 2010 turns this match up into a Stanley Cup best-of-three series.

No. 7  New England Patriots

How does a team that missed the playoffs the previous season (granted they were just the second 11—5 team in NFL history to do so) rank as the seventh best team right now in America? Two words: Tom Brady.

Actually, the return of what many New Englanders believe may be a superhero, isn't the only reason the Patriots make the list. Add a plethora of Belichick offseason moves, a draft most experts would rank in the top five, and a new sense of purpose, and you've got a team with some big goals.

No. 6  Los Angeles Dodgers

The National League leading Dodgers slide into sixth with the best record in all of baseball. With a run differential of plus 82 (also best in baseball), the Dodgers have to be one of the World Series favorites right now.

If they can keep it up, LA might be bragging about two titles by the end of the year.

No. 5  Boston Red Sox

If the Dodgers have the best record in baseball why aren't they ahead of the Sox?  Well, Boston leads the American league and is nipping on the Dodgers heels for the best record. The decision to put the Sox above LA is based mostly on the question: what have you done for me lately?

Boston is 11—3 in June while the Dodgers are 8—5.  With that said, they're both pretty good clubs and a Boston—LA World Series isn't crazy.

No. 4  Pittsburgh Steelers

While the Vegas odds makers think the Patriots are the best team, (and they may be right) it's the Steelers that rank as the highest NFL team here. The defending champs will look very familiar next season as they try and repeat.

It won't be easy, but the Steelers are for real and should be in any Super Bowl conversation for 2010.

No. 3  Florida Gators

You'd have to do some pretty thorough Google searching to find a college football poll ranking the Gators anywhere but number one. And why not, Florida returns almost every member of last year's dominating defense as well as that guy named Tim Tebow.

Besides a trip to Death Valley, not much stands in the Gators way of what could be an undefeated national championship run, though nobody will have a bigger target on the back than Florida.

No. 2  Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup champs grab the number two spot thanks to Max Talbot's two game seven goals. Oh, and the stellar play of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, in one of the best NHL playoffs in years.

Pittsburgh's young talent will ensure the Penguins are a force to be reckoned with for years to come. There's no reason to believe they couldn't be playing in their third straight Stanley Cup in 2010.

No. 1  Los Angeles Lakers

Say what you will about Kobe and the Lakers, you don't have to like them, but you should respect their game at least. The NBA champions claim the top spot not only because they're the most recent champion among the major North American team sports—they clinched the title in just five games, playing three of those five on the road.

The Lakers should contend for a several more years if they can keep the pieces together, but a newly playoff—hardened Orlando, a Cleveland team set on making a key addition, and the return of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics won't make it easy.  Never mind just getting past the talented and deep Western Conference.

Keep an Eye On:

Atlanta Falcons, Villanova Wildcats, Los Angeles Angels, Michigan State Spartans, Philadelphia Eagles