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NFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Packers on top, Patriots lead AFC

09.05.12 at 11:21 am ET
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The much-anticipated 2012 NFL season kicks off Wednesday night in New Jersey as the defending Super Bowl champion Giants begin defense of their crown against the Cowboys. However, the Giants won’t start the year at No. 1 in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Led by MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers find themselves in the familiar No. 1 spot. Eli Manning and the Giants start at No. 3.

Behind Tom Brady and a high-powered offense, the Patriots once again are poised to be one of the best teams in the league. The Patriots are the top-ranked AFC team and sit at No. 2 overall.

It’s finally time to get answers to the countless questions around the NFL. How will Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow co-exist with the Jets? Can Peyton Manning be the Peyton Manning of old? How big of an impact will the replacement officials have on the game? All of these questions and more will be answered.

Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss the WEEI NFL Power Rankings.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” Green Bay once again sets the standard in the NFL, seeking its second Super Bowl title in three years. Over the past two seasons, the Packers are 29-8 in the regular season and playoffs.

2. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” Brady and the Patriots offense will be as explosive as ever. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will be giving opposing teams nightmares all season long. It will be interesting to see how improved Bill Belichick‘s defense is. Rookie Chandler Jones has the potential to be an absolute force on the defensive line.

3. Giants (9-7) ‘€” Eli Manning is clutch, maybe even more so than Brady. SI’s Peter King brought up an amazing stat about the Giants QB: In his last three games against the Patriots, Manning has been behind at the two-minute warning and each time has led his team to a go-ahead touchdown.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” Jim Harbaugh‘s 49ers are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. The addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should be enough for Alex Smith and the offense to improve in the red zone.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Baltimore fell just one dropped pass short of the Super Bowl. People talk about the “aging” defense, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have yet to show any signs of slowing down. On top of that, Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive linemen in the game, and the addition of rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw gives the defense some youth.

6. Texans (10-6) ‘€” Like the Niners, the Texans are well-balanced. They have a solid quarterback, an excellent running game, great weapons at receiver, and a shut-down defense. Right now, they’re a popular pick by many to make a deep playoff run. They certainly have the talent to do that.

7. Steelers (12-4) ‘€” The offensive line was one of the main reasons the Steelers failed to make a deeper playoff run in 2011. So, they drafted two offensive linemen in the first two rounds of the draft. However, first-round pick David DeCastro is on IR after he went down with a brutal knee injury and second-round pick Mike Adams hasn’t proven enough in the preseason to win the starting job at left tackle.

8. Falcons (10-6) ‘€” Atlanta has a great opportunity this year to finally make a playoff push, especially considering the fact that the division-rival Saints have taken blow after blow. Matt Ryan has a 43-19 regular-season record but is 0-3 in the postseason. This team certainly is talented enough to go deep in the playoffs. The Falcons will rely on new coordinators on both sides of the ball to make a difference.

9. Saints (13-3) ‘€” The defense was bad last year and could be worse this year. The loss of Jonathan Vilma and the four-game suspension of Will Smith will make it difficult for New Orleans to overcome all the adversity that has plagued the organization since the start of the offseason.

10. Eagles (8-8) ‘€” The Eagles are an extremely talented team, but relying on Michael Vick to stay healthy all season is too risky. Vick has yet to prove to Andy Reid he is capable of playing in all 16 games.

11. Broncos (8-8) ‘€” Steelers linebacker James Harrison will be waiting for Peyton Manning to make his return in the NFL in Week 1. If Manning can survive a Harrison late hit, he should be able to settle in for the rest of the season. It will be fun to see what Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are fully capable of.

12. Bears (8-8) ‘€” If Jay Cutler is healthy, I’m picking the Bears to make the playoffs this year. They have a strong run game and finally have a downfield threat on offense. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice should help the Bears QB as well. It was no secret that Cutler and Mike Martz didn’t always see eye to eye.

13. Lions (10-6) ‘€” Detroit is looking to win its first playoff game since 1991. With the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection, a playoff win certainly is a possibility. There are a few areas of concern, however. This team has proven to be an undisciplined group. And the lack of a running game is an issue. Jahvid Best is still battling concussion symptoms and Mikel Leshoure is suspended for the first two games.

14. Cowboys (8-8) ‘€” The focus for the Cowboys should be improving their offensive line and defense. Tony Romo will need better protection if Dallas is going to make the playoffs. On defense, rookie Morris Claiborne will be relied upon to make a big impact in his first year.

15. Chargers (8-8) ‘€” Talent doesn’t guarantee a playoff appearance — just ask the Eagles and Chargers. San Diego has missed the playoffs two straight years. Philip Rivers must have a solid start if he wants to return to the postseason.

16. Bengals (9-7) ‘€” With a year under their belt, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green should only get better. The Bengals defensive line quietly is one of the best in the game, ranking fifth in the league in sacks last season.

17. Bills (6-10) ‘€” Yes, the defense is much improved, but which Ryan Fitzpatrick will we see in 2012? Fitzpatrick will have to live up to his big contract if the Bills want a chance at making the playoffs.

18. Jets (8-8) ‘€” Coming off a shaky preseason, the Jets aren’t inspiring confidence. In four games, the offense scored just one touchdown. The offensive line is a concern. It will be interesting to see what Rex Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano have in store with Tebow. They’ve been extremely secretive about their wildcat packages.

19. Chiefs (7-9) ‘€” If the Chiefs stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe they can’t win the AFC West. The offense is stacked with talent. Matt Cassel has plenty of weapons in the run and pass game. Romeo Crennel is respected and liked by his players, evidenced by how the team rallied around him at the end of last season when he was promoted to interim head coach.

20. Panthers (6-10) ‘€” There’s no reason to believe the Panthers can’t make the playoffs. Their biggest weakness last year was their defense. Ron Edwards and Jon Beason are returning from injuries, and rookie Luke Kuechly will be a great addition. Cam Newton should only get better in his sophomore season.

21. Titans (9-7) ‘€” The Jake Locker era begins in Tennessee. The former first-round pick will benefit from a strong offensive line, great running game and some talented receivers.

22. Redskins (5-11) ‘€”Mike Shanahan and the Redskins are hoping this year’s offense looks nothing like 2011’s. The addition of Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson should at least make this offensive unit fun to watch. .

23. Seahawks (7-9) ‘€” Seattle gave up 50 sacks in 2011. The offensive line definitely is a liability, especially since highly regarded tackle Russell Okung hasn’t been able to play a full season since being drafted in 2010.

24. Raiders (8-8) ‘€” Darren McFadden will need to stay healthy for the Raiders to win. They’ll also need to avoid being the most-penalized team in the league again.

25. Buccaneers (4-12) ‘€” The Bucs signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin. Now Josh Freeman has a couple of extra weapons on offense to ensure that he has a bounce-back year.

26. Dolphins (6-10) ‘€” This team is in the midst of a rebuilding stage and obviously won’t contend for a playoff spot in 2012. Ryan Tannehill is the future, and Miami has to make sure the young QB grasps what it takes to play in the NFL as quickly as possible. Not having any serious threats at wide receiver might slow the rookie’s development.

27. Cardinals (8-8) ‘€” John Skelton won the job … for now. With the money invested in Kevin Kolb, it’s tough not to foresee a quarterback controversy all season. That’s never a good sign.

28. Jaguars (5-11) ‘€” Now that Maurice Jones-Drew is back, the Jaguars can concentrate on continuing to develop their young second-year quarterback. Unlike last year, Blaine Gabbert actually has some weapons to pass to. Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon will be great additions to that offense.

29. Rams (2-14) ‘€” St. Louis can only improve after a disastrous and disappointing 2011 season. New coach Jeff Fisher is the right man to get this team headed in the right direction. After a difficult year, the Rams need to do whatever they can to make sure Sam Bradford gains his confidence back. A healthy dose of Steven Jackson should help.

30. Browns (4-12) ‘€” The Browns have a far more talented team this year than last, but they still will finish in last place in the AFC North. This is an extremely young team that needs more time before it can be successful.

31. Colts (2-14) ‘€” Bad offensive lines don’t mix well with young quarterbacks, just ask Sam Bradford. Andrew Luck will have his work cut out for him in his rookie season.

32. Vikings (3-13) ‘€” Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’re in a division where they have very little chance of finishing anything but last. Concentrating on the development of Christian Ponder will be their No. 1 priority. He has the potential to be a solid starting QB in the NFL.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to powerrankings@weei.com. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
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