This has nothing to do with fantasy football, just straight up rankings of the 32 NFL teams and what I expect out of them for the season.
1) Indiannapolis Colts- Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon. These guys are the AFC version of the Saints’ offense. Oh yeah, they still have 4-time MVP Petyon Manning and that is good enough for me.
2) Dallas Cowboys- One of these years these guys are going to put it together. A loaded offense with Tony Romo, emerging superstar Miles Austin, rookie phenom Dez Bryan, Jason Witten and the three headed rushing attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. On defense, NT Jay Ratliff, LB Demarcus Ware and defensive leader Keith Brooking return to stuff the run and pressure the quarterback. Terrence Newman and Gerald Sensebaugh still patrol the secondary and rookie LB Sean Lee could be an immediate impact player. This is a scary team, I should know, I’m a Giants fan.
3) Baltimore Ravens- The ever-dominating defense returns with Ray Lewis still roaming the middle of the field ready to destroy anyone who crosses his path. If the secondary can stay healthy long enough to get to the regular season, the defense should be scary again. A more experienced Joe Flacco has a new toy in Anquan Boldin. Let’s not forget about Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Dante Stallworth and emerging star Ray Rice. Imagine how nasty the Ravens could be if the offense finally performs, this could be the year.
4) Green Bay Packers- Aaron Rodgers was an MVP type quarterback while running for his life. Improved O-line should reintroduce deep threat Greg Jennings. The Packers have a defense that is determined to stuff the run and create turnovers. They could get lit up some games but they have the offense to match anyone point for point. Get ready to hear “Rodgers fires deep to Jennings for the touchdown” a lot this year.
5) New Orleans Saints-Offense is still the same (minus Mike Bell). The saints are nearly unstoppable through the air and the rushing combination of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas is pretty lethal in itself. The Saints can score, the only question is can the defense continue to pressure the quarterback as effectively as they did during their magical superbowl run. If they can, the Saints could soon find themselves back in the big game, if not, the opposing offense could start exposing the flaws in the Saints’ secondary.
6) Minnesota Vikings- Brett Favre is back but his ankle is still a big question mark. Favre got banged a lot in the NFC championship game and the Saints showed the NFL how to beat Favre and the Vikings. Sidney Rice is facing possible hip surgery and Percy Harvin cannot escape the migraines that have plagued him for years. Suddenly the aerial attack isn’t as scary as it was and I can’t believe that Favre will repeat his 33 td, 7 interception performance of last year. Those picks are bound to go up. Adrian Peterson is back but unless he cures his fumblitis, he will always have a downside to his ridiculous play-making ability. It should be fun to see how human wrecking-ball Toby Gearhart replaces Chester Taylor and the defense is as stifling as ever. The question marks are all on Favre and the offense.
7) New York Jets- If Darelle Revis comes back to team up with Antonio Cromartie in the secondary then the Jets will be even more dominant against the pass than they were last year. Even if Revis holds out, the secondary is still above average. Rex Ryan will still blitz and the Jets defense will still be awesome. The question is whether or not the Jets can score. Losing Thomas Jones and his back-back 1300+ yard seasons hurts and there is no way that LT can be the same back that TJ was. Center Nick Mangold, arguably the best center in the NFL, won’t hold out and that is a key for the Jets. Shonne Greene could turn into a superstar but his pass catching ability leaves something to be desired. If Sanchez matures into a game manager who doesn’t make dumb decisions then the Jets could score more than enough points for their overpowering defense. Santonion Holmes was a steal and maybe Braylon Edwards will finally learn to use his hands to catch instead of his facemask.
8 ) San Diego Chargers- I’m a little higher on the Chargers than anyone else. I really like rookie Ryan Mathews to put up a monster season. Using Sproles as a change-of-pace back with Mathews could turn into a lethal one-two punch. The Chargers’ fate really rests in two holdouts, LT Marcus McNeill and WR Vincent Jackson. I belive McNeill to be the more important piece. I think that the Philip Rivers can turn Malcolm Floyd into an adequate Vincent Jackson replacement. Rivers can still have a great year using the likes of Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Antonio Gates. Even with the questions, the Chargers are in the AFC and can at least whip up on that division enough to make the playoffs.
9) Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons have an defense that is on the rise. Michael Turner is back and healthy which is trouble for the rest of the league as he is a touchdown machine when given enough carries. Matt Ryan has the weapons in Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White. If Ryan can stay healthy and repeat (or even surpass) his rookie performance then the Falcons could be a legitimate NFC contender.
10) New England Patriots- Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Those guys are perhaps the most dangerous offensive trio in the NFL. A healthy Fred Taylor-Sammy Morris combination should keep opposing defenses from focusing solely on the pass and a more balanced Patriots’ offense could be lethal. There are some question marks on defense but the Patriots may be able to score enough points to win the games necessary to sneak into the playoffs.
11) Cincinnati Bengals- Carson Palmer has a new weapon in TO. TO, coupled with Ochocinco are a formidable pair. If Cedric Benson is anything like the Benson of last year, the Bengals could have a solid offense to go along with a very good defense.
12) Houston Texans- They had a winning season last year and are poised to repeat that. DE Mario Williams is a beast and the rest of the defense is starting to shape up as well. If Matt Schaub can stay healthy, the Texans’ offense armed with Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Jacoby Jones and Arian Foster should be amongst the best in the league.
13) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins are going to make a run for AFC East supremacy. If Chad Henne continues to mature, Marshall, Henne, Brown, Williams, Bess and Fasano could make a dangerous offense. The Dolphin’s defense isn’t bad either. Watch out Jets and Pats, the Dolphins could win the division.
14) Philadelphia Eagles- I am not ready to buy into Kevin Kolb yet since his monster stats last year came against a bad defense and in garabage time against a questionable defense. However, the Eagles still have some electric wide receivers, an emerging tight end and a blitz-happy defense. I don’t think they can match Dallas but a wild card spot is a definite possibility.
15) New York Giants- The Giants have plenty of weapons on either side of the ball. The defense is loaded with stars including DEs Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, LB Keith Bulluck, CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster and star safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips. The offense has Eli Manning, Steve Smith, emerging phenom Hakeem Nicks and the RB tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. If this team lives up to their potential the could be very dangerous but that is one big IF.
16) Tennessee Titans- Vince Young seems to be developing nicely as a QB and lets not forget about that Chris Johnson guy, the one who said he would rush for 2,500 yards. While I don’t think that will happen, he is still a great player and can single-handedly change a game. There are some question marks on the defense but if the run at the end of last season is any indication, the Titans can get hot in a hurry and maybe thats all it takes to get to the playoffs.
17) San Francisco 49ers- The fate of the niners rests in Alex Smith. He was developing quite the rapport with Vernon Davis but the receiving corps is sadly lacking. Frank Gore is still a machine and is capable of being a rushing and receiving threat. The defense is solid but I’m still not sold on either side of the ball, at least not as sold as most of the experts.
18) Carolina Panthers- Yeah they are the youngest team in the league but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Deangelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart are basically an offense on their own. Matt Moore has developed a connection with Steve Smith that brings back memories of the Delhomme (in his prime) Steve Smith connection. The defense is solid and the Panthers could be poised for a surprising season.
19) Chicago Bears- Jay Cutler has an arm and plenty of speed to get on the other end of his passes. Only problem is that Cutler tends to throw a lot of picks at bad times and can cost his team the game. Providing Cutler doesn’t toss too many games away, the defense and offense are both good enough to win some games.
20) Pittsburgh Steelers- The defense is good. As long as the Steelers can go about .500 in Big Ben’s absence (I believe Dennis Dixon but not Byron Leftwich to have this ability) then they have a chance to make a postseason run when he returns.
21) Washington Redskins- If Haynesworth actually plays and plays to his ability, the Skins have a formidable defense. Donovan McNabb instantly improves the offense but unfortunately the Skins still don’t have the firepower to compete in the loaded NFC East.
22) Arizona Cardinals- Beanie Wells is untested and is basically the only offensive hope. Leinart just can’t get the ball deep enough with enough accuracy to make Larry Fitzgerald a legitimate weapon. Its unfortunate that arguably the game’s best receiver has been rendered nearly irrelevant but that is exactly what has happened with Fitz in Arizona. Cardinals fans should be very afraid that Derek Anderson might be the big hope for this team.
23) Denver Broncos- I liked the defense a whole lot more before Elvis Dumervil went down for the season. The Broncos can’t get enough pressure on the QB anymore and that exposes the secondary and yes Champ Bailey is nasty, but he’s only one guy and he’s aging. Orton has looked very crisp in preseason but it remains to be seen if Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and rookie Demaryius Thomas can fill the void left by Brandon Marshall’s departure.
24) Kansas City Chiefs- Jamaal Charles is an animal, he could very well be the next Chris Johnson. Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis should help Matt Cassel and the passing attack and maybe Dwayne Bowe can come back to life this year. The defense is improving and safety Eric Berry only adds to that. The AFC West is very weak so I wouldn’t be surprised about anything….
25) Seattle Seahawks- Hasselbeck looks better than he has in years. The Hawks have Housh and Deon Branch at WR and I hear rumors of a possible Vincent Jackson trade and if that happens watch out. The running game is iffy and Russel Okung could help, when he is healthy and starting. The defense is still sketchy. Pete Carroll has some work to do to get the Seahawks into contention.
26) Detroit Lions- I like Stafford in his second season. Jahvid Best immediately helps the offense and takes some heat off of Stafford. Expect Stafford and Megatron to have a big year and the entire Lions’ offense to have, at the worst, a solid year. The big question is the defense. Suh is an instant upgrade but the secondary (minus Delmas and Bly) is just not very good. Losing Ernie Simms didn’t help either. The Lions should continue to get better but still no playoffs…yet.
27) Oakland Raiders-The Raiders have built a decent defense. The running game has potential, but both Michael Bush and Darren McFadden never seem to run with the opportunities they are given. Fargas is gone so someone needs to step up. Jason Campbell is an instant upgrade but the receiving weapons just aren’t there.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jaguars aren’t awful but they really aren’t good. They seem to go nowhere. The days of Garrard have to end at some point. MJD is nasty but he’s alone, oh so alone in a sea of bad.
29) Cleveland Browns- The Browns defense isn’t too bad. I actually have them as a sleeper defense but the offense is a whole different story. Jake Delhomme is an upgrade (believe it or not) but mohamed massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are the top receivers. Jerome Harrison has shown skills in a limited sample size and rookie Montario Hardesty has potential but the time of the Cleveland Browns is not yet upon us.
30) Buffalo Bills- C.J. Spiller is the only reason the Bills are even this high. The guy is electric and he has the potential to support the Bills offense. Besides that, the quarterback options are awful and Lee Evans is the sole receiving threat. The defense wasn’t good last year and sack leader Schobel is gone now…ouch.
31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers-The Freeman era begins. He has shown flashes of talent but made some awful mistakes. If Freeman continues to progress then the Bucs may be a contender in a couple of years but not now. The rushing game isn’t helping either. Derrick Ward has been a total bust and the primary back duties rest on Cadillac’s shoulders…not good.
32) St. Louis Rams- The defense sucks and well so does the offense. Steven Jackson is good but he’s incredibly injury prone and he can’t carry an offense on his own. The Sam Bradford era will being soon but there is still going to be lots of growing pains before the Rams find any offensive success. We’ll revisit this team next year….at the earliest.