|WEEI NFL Power Rankings||05.23.10 at 8:34 pm ET|
With free agency and the draft behind us, now is a good time to take a look at all 32 NFL teams and see where they stack up at the midway mark of the offseason. No real surprises, as the top two teams — the Saints and Colts — earned their way to the No. 1 and 2 spots following dominating 2009 campaigns and solid offseasons. After a great draft and the addition of some key free agents, the Ravens shoot up to No. 3, while the Packers and Cowboys round out the top 5. As for the AFC East, the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” are two spots ahead of the Patriots after a great offseason in which they added more depth in the secondary and at the wide receiver position.
And now, I leave you with the first offseason edition of the 2010 rankings. Give it your best shot and tell me why I’m wrong. I’m waiting.
1. The defending Super Bowl champs are poised and ready to make another run at the title. The Saints will benefit from their soft regular-season schedule — based on opponents’ 2009 regular-season record, they have the sixth-easiest schedule in the NFL in 2010. They used their first-round pick to select cornerback Patrick Robinson from Florida State to shore up their pass defense, which was ranked 26th in the NFL last year.
2. The Colts have focused on their defense this offseason with the re-signing of linebacker Gary Brackett to a five-year deal and the drafting of Jerry Hughes, a defensive lineman/outside linebacker, with their first-round pick. Hughes is an extremely fast and dominant pass rusher and will fit in nicely with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Hughes can rush the passer from either side, and Mathis and Freeney will benefit greatly from having a younger defensive end to shoulder some of the load.
3. The Ravens have had an excellent offseason to this point. They certainly transformed the wide reciever position from a position of weakness into a position of strength with the addition of Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth. They added great depth to their front seven in the draft with linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Terrence Cody.
4. The Packers’ main concern this year will be protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked 57 times last season. Green Bay used its first-round pick on offensive tackle Brian Bulaga. If the Packers can figure out a way to keep Rodgers off the turf, they can get to the Super Bowl.
5. Dallas was in the top 5 in most major offensive categories last year, and now the Cowboys add Dez Bryant to the mix. Not bad. The Cowboys also have a great front seven, highlighted by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
6. The Chargers used the 12th overall pick in the draft to go with running back Ryan Matthews, a powerful, strong back who can run inside the tackles. The Chargers now have a dominant 1-2 punch at the running back position with Matthews and Darren Sproles that could match what they had a few years ago with LaDanian Tomlinson and Michael Turner. Philip Rivers continues to improve year after year. Could this be the season the Chargers finally make it to the Super Bowl?
7. The Giants will greatly miss the leadership of Antonio Pierce. They added some depth to the defense through the draft and added a very talented safety to the secondary in Antrel Rolle. The G-Men will once again battle it out to the end with the Cowboys for the top spot in the NFC East.
8. The Jets strengthened their already superb defense with the additions of Antonio Cromartie and first-round pick Kyle Wilson. With Darrelle Revis, Cromartie and Wilson, the Jets could very well have the best cornerback trio in the league. They bolstered their offense by adding Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson.
9. Brett Favre is playing his usual mind games. Although the QB hasn’t announced if he’s returning for his 20th season, many will be shocked if he is not out there competing in 2010. The only question is how much the ankle surgery will affect him and how well his offensive line can protect him.
10. The Patriots will start this season as underdogs to win the AFC East. New England’s pass rush was the main area of weakness last year and that position hasn’t really been improved over the offseason. I’m sure the leadership in 2010 will be improved now with a happy Vince Wilfork and the release of Adalius Thomas, but that can only do so much. The Pats still need more depth at the wide receiver position, a more reliable run game, and maybe some coordinators who aren’t afraid to challenge and disagree with Bill Belichick.
11. If Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams can both stay healthy, the Dolphins will be hard to beat with their dominant running game — and now a top-notch wide receiver to throw to in Brandon Marshall.
12. First-round selection Sean Weatherspoon should be able to make an immediate impact on the Falcons defense. Last year, the inability to rush the passer hurt the Falcons. Weatherspoon can solve some of those problems.
13. Was last year a fluke in Cincinnati? I don’t think so. The Bengals can compete for another division title if Carson Palmer stays healthy and the players rally around each other like they did in 2009.
14. Ben Roethlisberger’s misconduct could cost the Steelers their 2010 season. Six games with Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon or Byron Leftwich could leave the Steelers in a hole too deep for Roethlisberger to dig them out of by the time he comes back. The drafting of offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey will help the Steelers establish a running game again.
15. Carolina will benefit from being able to go through a whole season without having to worry about its quarterback making poor decisions and throwing four interceptions a game. Matt Moore played well toward the end of last season and should be able to build off that success in 2010.
16. The 49ers will go as far as Alex Smith can take them. San Francisco has one of the toughest defenses in the league to score on (allowing just 17.6 points per game in 2009) but still has an unproven quarterback in Smith.
17. The Eagles have arguably made the most drastic changes this offseason with the trade of Donovan McNabb and the release of Brian Westbrook. They desperately needed to fix their pass defense and have added a lot of depth at key positions via the draft. In the second round they drafted safety Nate Allen, who can also play corner and has the skills to be a great coverage player. But QB Kevin Kolb has started just two games in his NFL career and is a downgrade from McNabb.
18. The Broncos won’t miss Brandon Marshall’s attitude, but they sure will miss his production. It will be interesting to see how much first-round pick Demaryius Thomas can contribute to the offense. Despite all the hype surrounding Tim Tebow, it’s hard to see him contributing anything positive to the Broncos this year.
19. After a strong finish to 2009, the Titans will be on the playoff bubble. With a more mature Vince Young to lead the offense, they also selected arguably the best defensive end in the draft, Derrick Morgan, who should help with their pass rush.
20. Pete Carroll will turn the Seahawks from a five-win team to a team that will contend for a division title. They added great depth at the running back position and added an offensive lineman that can protect Matt Hasselbeck. If the Seahawks can stay healthy, they could make the playoffs in 2010.
21. Just when things were starting to look up in Houston, Brian Cushing gets suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Meanwhile, All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson wants a new contract and is already sitting out on voluntary workouts. The fact that they play in the same division as the Colts and are facing the toughest strength of schedule in the league has the Texans’ chances of making the playoffs in 2010 slim.
22. Jacksonville’s opponents in 2010 combined for a .535 winning percentage in 2009, making the Jaguars’ schedule the fifth most difficult in the NFL. Not good news for a team that needs to win to survive. The Jags’ days in Jacksonville could be numbered.
23. It was a nice run, but now it’s the Matt Leinart era in Arizona … which means the Cardinals go back to being a below-average team. It’s what most NFL fans are accustomed to seeing.
24. Chicago has many areas in need of repairing, and not having a draft pick until the third round didn’t help. One major key to the Bears’ success in 2010 starts with the play of Jay Cutler. Cutler needs to improve dramatically, and it begins with him making smart decisions. Turning the ball over in the red zone and throwing 26 interceptions will put the Bears in the same exact position they were in last year, regardless of how well Julius Peppers plays.
25. The Redskins are moving in the right direction with Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Washington. Albert Haynesworth skipping voluntary OTAs is a disgrace, and the Redskins need to deal with that situation immediately.
26. The Chiefs desperately needed help on defense, and their first-round selection, Eric Berry, can help on both stopping the run and pass coverage. As expected, this team is slowly but surely crafting its franchise in the image of the Patriots — the Chiefs have drafted great young talent, added Charlie Weis and Romeo Crenel to the coaching staff, and signed good veteran talent like Thomas Jones.
27. The Lions have had one of the best offseasons in the league. After ranking 32nd in the NFL in most defensive categories last year, the Lions added Kyle Vanden Bosch and first-round draft selection Ndamukong Suh, which should ensure they move out of that spot.
29. The Raiders’ best improvement of the offseason was releasing JaMarcus Russell. Oakland will finish last in the AFC West and Patriots fans will be happy to get a top-five pick in next year’s draft.
30. The Bucs were last against the run last year, and that’s one of the reasons they drafted Gerald McCoy. McCoy will immediately make an impact on the team. However, regardless of how big an impact McCoy makes, the Bucs still won’t win more than six games. Tampa is a few years away from being a playoff team, as long as it continues to add good young talent.
31. Josh Cribbs can’t score all the points for the Browns. Cleveland’s league-worst offense won’t be improving in 2010, especially with the addition of Jake Delhomme. I’ll set the over/under until Mangini gets fired at 10 games.
32. The Rams had the first overall selection in the 2010 draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had it again in 2011. Sam Bradford will get plenty of time during his rookie season learning the west coast offense and gaining experience, but the rebuilding era continues in St. Louis.
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