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NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

09.08.11 at 7:38 am ET
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The start of the 2011 season begins Thursday night in Green Bay. A game hasn’t been played yet, but already history has been made. Peyton Manning‘s streak of 227 consecutive starts will come to an end. A shortened but chaotic offseason/preseason resulted in many familiar faces ending up in different uniforms.

Week 1 already promises to be unforgettable. The Packers, slotted No. 1 in the WEEI Power Rankings, will take on the fourth-ranked Saints in what very well could be a preview of the NFC championship game. The Ryan brothers, Rex and Rob, will start the season vying for victory against each other when the Jets host the Cowboys. And the Ravens (8) and Steelers (2) will face off in another AFC North battle.

Let the games begin. And be sure to check out the WEEI NFL Power Rankings every Tuesday.

1. (1) Packers (10-6) ‘€” The Packers enter the season as the favorites to win yet another Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack managed to raise the Vince Lombardi trophy last year despite putting 15 players on IR. This year, they get many of those players back. Jermichael Finley and the Packers offense will be a nightmare for teams to defend against.

2. (2) Steelers (12-4) ‘€” The Steelers have depth on both sides of the ball. They brought back the majority of starters that carried them to the Super Bowl last year. Everyone knows how good they are defensively. This year look for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense to play just as well.

3. (3) Patriots (14-2) ‘€” The Patriots defense must play better this season or it will be another disappointing year in New England. Tom Brady can’t be expected to do it all. The Pats D needs to improve in many key areas including rushing the passer, getting off the field on third-down and limiting the amount of yards given up through the air. Adding Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis could solve those problems and propel the Pats from a playoff team to a Super Bowl team.

4. (5) Saints (11-5) ‘€” The Saints enter the season in a great position to get back to the Super Bowl. The 09′ champs addressed their needs in the offseason by adding an array of talent on both offense and defense. Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles add depth and talent to a run game that hindered Drew Brees‘ performance last season. On defense, they added Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin to solidify the line.

5. (4) Eagles (10-6) ‘€” It’s all about keeping Michael Vick healthy. The Eagles have plenty of weapons offensively that should be used to keep Vick from taking a similar pounding in 2011 as he did last year. Andy Reid should give LeSean McCoy more touches and let him build off the tremendous season he had in 2010. Vick wore down last year; the Eagles need to keep him fresh if they want to accomplish what they think they’re capable of.

6. (6) Falcons (13-3) ‘€” All eyes will be on Julio Jones when the Falcons open up Sunday in Chicago. The talented-rookie WR should be able to make an impact right out of the gate.  Atlanta also made a big splash in free-agency by adding defensive end Ray Edwards to improve its pass rush. You can consider the “Dirty Birds” one of the elite in the NFC.

7. (8) Jets (11-5) ‘€” The Jets can only go as far as Mark Sanchez will take them. Defensively, Rex Ryan‘s squad is one of the most dominating in the league. The offense is a different story — the Jets have been extremely inconsistent on that side of the ball. They’ll need to improve in the red zone and have a strong run game if they want to host a playoff game come January.

8. (7) Ravens (12-4) ‘€” In order for the Ravens to take that next step, they need more production out of their passing game. Anquan Boldin and newcomer, Lee Evans, must step up. Ray Rice finished second in receptions last year by one catch; he grabbed 63. Boldin and Evans should make sure that doesn’t happen again.

9. (10) Chargers (9-7) ‘€” Every year the Chargers come out of the gate sputtering but turn it around the second half of the season. It’s extremely important this year they start strong. If they don’t, pressure will mount on the players and coaches. Expectations are high in San Diego. Norv Turner is in his fifth year with a 3-3 playoff record. A slow start could result in speculation that his job could be in jeopardy. Players will have to answer questions everyday and things could spiral downward in a hurry.

10. (9) Colts (10-6) ‘€” The uncertainty of Peyton Manning‘s injury puts the Colts hopes of making the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season in jeopardy. The inconsistent run game and a mediocre defense won’t help either.

11. (13) Bears (11-5) ‘€” It’s difficult to like the Bears chances going into the season. There is a lot of talk about the poor offensive line and that is a major factor. However, Jay Cutler needs his receivers to make big plays and it’s doubtful Johnny Knox, Roy Williams and Devin Hester are capable of accomplishing that on a consistent basis. The Bears will also start the season against the Falcons, Saints, and Packers. Can you say “no wins in September?”

12. (11) Giants (10-6) ‘€” It’s been a tumultuous start for the Giants since the lockout ended. Osi Umenyiora caused a ruckus, Steve Smith signed with the division-rival Eagles, Kevin Boss signed with the Raiders, and now starting linebacker Jonathan Goff torn his ACL and will miss the season.

13. (14) Cowboys (6-10) ‘€” After a poor start and the firing of Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett was able to inspire the Cowboys and close the season on a good note. With Tony Romo returning and Rob Ryan at defensive coordinator, the Cowboys should be able to compete in the NFC East once again.

14. (12) Chiefs (10-6) ‘€” The Chiefs have many weapons on offense and the potential to put up major numbers this season. Last year Dwyane Bowe‘s statistics sky rocketed and Jamaal Charles led the No. 1 rushing attack in the league. This year, the Chiefs added first-round wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and veteran Steve Breaston to help take some pressure off Bowe. The loss of Tony Moeaki to injury hurts and there are questions on how the loss of Charlie Weis will affect the offense.

15. (17) Texans (6-10) ‘€” In a matter of days the Texans learned two starting QB’s in their division won’t be behind center come Week 1. Peyton Manning‘s consecutive game streak being snapped was the best news Houston fans have heard in a while. The Texans new-look defense will face Kerry Collins in Week 1 and the pressure is on to take advantage of the Manning-less Colts.

16. (19) Lions (6-10) ‘€” A playoff contender … It sounds strange but it’s true. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy the Lions will have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Detroit’s front seven is extremely talented with Ndamukong Suh leading the pack.

17. (16) Rams (7-9) ‘€” The Rams will be the team to beat in the lowly NFC West. Sam Bradford should improve in his sophomore season with the help of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and veteran wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker.

18. (15) Buccaneers (10-6) ‘€” Don’t let the 10 wins fool you. Nine of those victories came against below .500% teams. The Bucs are a rising, talented, young team but are still a couple years away from being able to compete with the elite in the NFC.

19. (18) Titans (6-10) ‘€” There will be many interesting storylines coming out of Tennessee this season. Mike Munchak taking over for the legend Jeff Fisher, how will Chris Johnson’s holdout affect his play, and will Matt Hasselbeck be able to revive his career. Learning a new offense will be difficult for the 10 year veteran but surely he’s ecstatic to finally be able to play behind a great offensive line.

20. (21) Vikings (6-10) ‘€” Donovan McNabb and the Vikings could turn some heads in 2011. So much chaos and pandemonium came out of Minnesota last year. There was the Brett Favre saga, Brad Childress not having control of his team, and Randy Moss yelling at caterers. This year the “Vikes” have a coach they respect and a QB hell-bent on salvaging his career. In 2011, the focus will be on winning football games and that should make a dramatic difference.

21. (23) Raiders (8-8) ‘€” Hue Jackson enters 2011 as the Raiders seventh head coach in ten years. Hopefully Al Davis expectations aren’t too high or else we’ll see head coach number eight in 2012. Jackson will have to find a way to replace All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller while competing for a playoff spot.

22. (22) Dolphins (7-9) ‘€” Chad Henne at QB, Reggie Bush as the every down running back, and a mediocre offensive line is a disaster waiting to happen in Miami. Why the Dolphins believe Reggie Bush can stay healthy for a full season as the primary rusher is a head scratcher.

23. (25) Cardinals (5-11) ‘€” Kevin Kolb makes the Cardinals much better this year. However, the lack of a running game will be another reason why Arizona will struggle this season. Beanie Wells has proven to be a sub-par rusher at best.

24 (20) Jaguars (8-8) ‘€” The Jaguars decision to release David Garrard sent a clear message to their players, fans, and the league that they are not dedicated to winning in 2011. It’s hard to imagine what the players are thinking in that locker room. The timing and handling of the release is not something you see from a stable franchise. Luke McCown will get the start Sunday against Tennessee. Hopefully he took full advantage of those 18 passes in two games during the preseason.

25. (24) Seahawks (7-9) ‘€” Tavaris Jackson has looked awful this preseason. The additions of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller are major upgrades but Jackson will struggle getting both of them the ball. The Seahawks won the division last year, but there’s no way they’ll be back in the playoffs in 2011 with Jackson behind center.

26. (26) Broncos (4-12) ‘€” John Fox has his work cut out for him in Denver. The Broncos defense was dreadful last year. Denver ranked in the bottom of the league in many defensive categories including run defense, pass defense and sacks.

27. (27) 49ers (6-10) ‘€” This is the last chance for Alex Smith in San Francisco. If the seventh-year QB doesn’t step up, he may not have another opportunity to start in the NFL. The 49ers have gone eight straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

28. (28) Redskins (6-10) ‘€” Expectations can’t be too high in Washington when the battle for the starting QB job involves Rex Grossman and John Beck. The Redskins have made some improvements but won’t be good enough to get out of the basement in a talented NFC East.

29. (29) Browns (5-11) ‘€” Although Cleveland will be a below average team at best this year, the Browns future finally looks promising. Colt McCoy impressed many in 2010 and should continue to improve under new head coach Pat Shurmur.

30. (30)  Bills (4-12) ‘€” The Bills allowed 30 or more points in nine games last year and had the worst run defense in the league. To help solve some of their problems on defense the Bills drafted DT Marcell Dareus in the first round and signed linebacker Nick Barnett. The additions will be enough to show some improvement this coming season but you can be certain they will be drafting high once again in April.

31. (31) Panthers (2-14) ‘€” We’ll see a new chapter in Carolina with a change at the starting quarterback position and at head coach. Although they were the worst team in the NFL last season, Panthers fans can put stock in the fact that the franchise spent money this off-season when they resigned their key free-agents.

32. (32) Bengals (4-12) ‘€” Sad to say, but the Bengals have become one of the joke franchises in the NFL. It’s tough to get much worse than 4-12 but with a rookie QB starting and no Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals will struggle to get two wins in 2011.

Leave your opinions or comments below. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning, Rex Ryan, Tom Brady
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