|WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Preseason Edition||08.11.11 at 1:05 am ET|
Finally, football is here. The preseason kicks off Thursday, and what better way to roll in the 2011 season then with the first edition of WEEI’s NFL Power Rankings?
The lockout ended, the offseason began and chaos ensued. Many Pro Bowlers have changed teams. Guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, Todd Heap and Olin Kreutz will spawn plenty of new jersey sales in their new locales. (Half of those guys signed with the Eagles alone.) A few more players are still looking for jobs, but most rosters have taken their primary shape. Some teams have improved, others … not so much.
Much can change over the next four weeks (injuries, cuts, trades, signings), but until then, check out where your team ranks.
1. Packers (10-6) — The Packers won the Super Bowl last year, right? We haven’t heard a lot about the defending champs, and many believe they’re not even the best team in the NFC. However, the Packers have players like Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley returning to their championship roster and are clearly the favorites to start the season.
2. Steelers (12-4) — The defending AFC champions are returning many of their starters on both sides of the ball. Once again, they will have one of the best defenses in the league, as well as an offense filled with weapons.
3. Patriots (14-2) — It’s tough not to love what the Patriots have done during the offseason. Bill Belichick‘s defense struggled at rushing the passer, was last in the league in getting off the field on third down and had plenty of trouble stopping teams in the red zone. Despite all of that, the Pats still posted a 14-2 record. The additions of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter could turn the Pats D from one of the worst to one of the best in the league.
4. Eagles (10-6) — I’m still not sold on the “All-Hype Team,” as Rob Ryan likes to call the Eagles. The additions of defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha are huge, but the Eagles’ chances at a Super Bowl rely on the health and performance of Michael Vick. Toward the end of the season in 2010, Vick was obviously wearing down from the number of hits he had taken because of his style of play. The Eagles need to utilize the playmaking abilities of LeSean McCoy more this year to ensure a healthy Vick come playoff time.
5. Saints (11-5) — No doubt the Saints are motivated to get back to the Super Bowl. Led by Drew Brees, many Saints players participated in a six-week offseason program. The team also upgraded its run game with Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram.
6. Falcons (13-3) — The signing of Ray Edwards will help the pass rush, which struggled last year. With Edwards and John Abraham on the ends, the Falcons should be able to get much more pressure on the quarterback in 2011.
7. Ravens (12-4) — Joe Flacco had a career year for the Ravens last year but could take a step back in 2011 after losing a couple of weapons. The loss of tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason leaves Anquan Boldin as the only real reliable target in Baltimore. Look for the Ravens to add another wide receiver before Week 1.
8. Jets (11-5) — The Jets will have a top-tier defense once again in 2011, but the offense should be a concern for fans. Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense were miserable in the red zone last year. The hope in New York is that Plaxico Burress will help in that area. However, the Jets are taking a huge risk on a player who hasn’t been on the field in almost three years. Time will tell if he will be able to stay healthy and contribute.
9. Colts (10-6) — Bill Polian knows the Colts’ success relies upon the health of Peyton Manning. That’s why Indy added two offensive linemen with its first two draft picks. However, Manning will need more than just protection if he wants to lead his team to its 10th straight season with double-digit wins. The run game has been extremely inconsistent, and the Colts will need Joseph Addai to stay healthy and produce.
10. Chargers (9-7) — The Chargers turned the ball over 29 times in 2010 and were atrocious on special teams. This is a very talented squad that can make a run at the Super Bowl if it is able to fix its mistakes. Philip Rivers tore apart opposing defenses last year and should be able to do it again with a full season of Vincent Jackson at receiver.
11. Giants (10-6) — The Giants can’t be happy with the way things have started for them this offseason. Osi Umenyiora is clearly a distraction and the Eagles have added some Pro Bowl free agents. To add insult to injury, one of those Pro Bowlers is former Giant Steve Smith. Smith missed a good portion of 2010 due to injury but was a reliable and frequent target of Eli Manning when on the field. Last year, Manning led the league with 25 interceptions (11 more than 2009). The Loss of Smith and Kevin Boss could impact Manning and the Giants offense more than some think.
12. Chiefs (10-6) — The Chiefs were at the bottom of the league in pass offense, so they drafted 6-foot-4 wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and signed free agent Steve Breaston. Baldwin, a first-round pick, has the potential to be a big-time playmaker. Along with Dwayne Bowe and Breaston, he will help Matt Cassel improve the team’s pass game.
13. Bears (11-5) — Offensive line coach Mike Tice has already announced his starting offensive line. Three of those players, left tackle J’Marcus Webb, left guard Chris Williams and center Roberto Garza, were part of the starting line last year that contributed to the quarterback being sacked 56 times. One of the Bears’ most reliable offensive lineman, Olin Kreutz, signed with the Saints. The Bears need to see a drastic improvement from their line if they expect to be a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy.
14. Cowboys (6-10) — One difference we’ll notice with the 2011 Cowboys as compared to the 2010 team is that they will play more disciplined football under coach Jason Garrett. Penalties and turnovers killed the Cowboys at the beginning of last season, resulting in a poor start. This year, with a healthy Tony Romo and new faces on the coaching staff, the Cowboys should compete in a tough NFC East.
15. Buccaneers (10-6) — The Bucs are the proud owner of one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, Josh Freeman. However, it will be difficult for them to reach the 10-win mark in a division where the Saints and Falcons both improved.
16. Rams (7-9) — The Rams’ main priority was to help Sam Bradford with some weapons on offense. They added Mike Sims-Walker and a few rookie receivers to go along with Danny Amendola and Donnie Avery. No big names like Rams fans were hoping for, but still an upgrade.
17. Texans (6-10) — Give credit to the Texans for addressing their needs on defense this offseason. They were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year, allowing an average of 267 passing yards and 26 points per game. Houston added the second best free agent cornerback available in Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning at safety to upgrade the pass defense. The Texans also used their first five draft picks on defensive players.
18. Titans (6-10) — For the first time in 14 seasons, there will be a new head coach in Tennessee, but so far, it hasn’t been the start Mike Munchak was hoping for. Chris Johnson is a holdout, Cortland Finnegan left a practice unexcused and Kenny Britt seems to find trouble no matter where he goes.
19. Lions (6-10) — This franchise has finally shown some progress over the past couple of years. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, the Lions are certainly capable of becoming an eight-win team. That’s a big “IF” on Stafford. The young quarterback has played in just 13 of 32 games in two seasons.
20. Jaguars (8-8) — All eyes will be on Blaine Gabbert Thursday as he gets the start in the team’s first preseason game. On defense, Jacksonville made some much needed improvements by adding Paul Posluszny, Drew Coleman and Dawan Landry.
21. Vikings (6-10) — The Vikings needed to address their passing game, so they added Donovan McNabb. However, the loss of Sidney Rice will only make McNabb’s job tougher with a lack of depth at the receiver position.
22. Dolphins (7-9) — It’s tough to understand the reluctance of Miami to find a quarterback to go along with Brandon Marshall. There were many options available that would have represented an upgrade to what the Dolphins have now. Plus, the fact that Tony Sparano is not ruling out the possibility of Brett Favre joining the team automatically moves the Fins down a few spots.
23. Raiders (8-8) — The most penalized team in 2010 didn’t have a pick in the first round and lost Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller to free agency. Good luck and God bless Hue Jackson, who will be the Raiders’ seventh head coach since 2001.
24. Seahawks (7-9) — The Seahawks upgraded at offensive line and wide receiver but downgraded at the most important position in football. Tarvaris Jackson has proven to be very inconsistent, and even in a “stable situation,” as Pete Carroll put it, he will hurt his team more than help.
25. Cardinals (5-11) — The Cardinals needed a quarterback this offseason more than Tom Brady needs a haircut, and they believe they have their guy in Kevin Kolb. Arizona was one of the worst offensive teams in the league last year, so the additions of Kolb, Todd Heap and rookie running back Ryan Williams should help the team compete in what will be another weak NFC West division.
26. Broncos (4-12) — The BIG news this week in Denver was the fact that Tim Tebow is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Kyle Orton. Why does everyone in Denver want Tebow to start so badly? Orton gives the Broncos the best chance to win, hands down. Orton passed for over 3,600 yards last year and threw just nine interceptions. That was fewer than guys named Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
27. 49ers (6-10) — The 49ers didn’t do much to improve their offense, which was one of the worst in the NFL last year. The Braylon Edwards addition is a slight improvement, but they still have Alex Smith under center. Smith will be entering his sixth year and has been a below-average quarterback at best.
28. Redskins (6-10) — Can’t blame Rex Grossman for being confident in his team, however, that doesn’t change the fact that the Redskins have no chance at winning the NFC East. The only thing the Redskins might win in 2011 is the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
29. Browns (5-11) — The Browns offseason was as eventful as Bill Belichick‘s last press conference. Then again, which free agents would have wanted to go to Cleveland if Mike Holmgren had pursued? This team is clearly thinking about building for the future rather than the 2011 season.
30. Bills (4-11) — Rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is a huge addition to a defense that was the worst in the league against the run. The Bills have improved slightly but once again will be selecting high in the NFL draft.
31. Panthers (2-13) — Solid offseason for the worst team in the NFL in 2010. Besides drafting Cam Newton, the Panthers were able to hold on to their key free agents, Charles Johnson, John Beason and DeAngelo Williams. They also added Greg Olsen. The Panthers won’t be great but seem to be headed in the right direction.
32. Bengals (4-12) — The Bengals need help in many different areas, so it would make sense for the organization to trade Carson Palmer for something in return. But, of course, the Bengals haven’t appeared to be guided by what makes sense for some time. This franchise needs a total makeover starting in the front office all the way down to the coach. Good luck to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who has to play the Steelers and Ravens two times each this year.
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