First I want to apologize for the delay in these … my first official
NFL Power Rankings for the 2011 season, which begins tonight in Green
I’ve included expanded commentary for my Top 15 teams, then went into a
hurry-up for the rest. Anyway, here they … please feel free to contact
with to discuss/debate/argue, whatever.
1. Green Bay Packers: You’re the King until someone dethrones
you. They bring back the NFL’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and top
defensive star, Clay Matthews — and get freak tight end Jermichael
Finley back. It’s tough to repeat in this league, but the Packers’
stability will carry them far in this shortened season.
England Patriots: Tom Brady and Co. will score a ton of points.
That’s the easy part. If Bill Belichick can unlock Albert Haynesworth’s
enormous potential, the Pats could be hoisting their first Lombardi
3. Atlanta Falcons: The most talented team ON PAPER.
Atlanta upgraded its pass-rush, offensive line and drafted a shiny new
toy (Julio Jones) for Matt Ryan to play with. Now, Ryan must prove he
can win a playoff game.
4. San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
looked like a MVP candidate in the preseason, with the attitude to
match. With better special teams play, the Bolts — ranked No. 1 in
overall offense and defense in 2010 — are legit.
Steelers: They did little to address a secondary that got torched in
the Super Bowl. Still, they return 20 of 22 starters from a team that
came up one drive short of another title.
6. N.Y. Jets: Rex
Ryan guaranteed a Super Bowl victory at the NFL combine. Love or hate
Ryan’s bravado, guys like playing for him and his teams always contend.
This year will be no different. It’s on Mark Sanchez to take the next
7. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Vick and the Dream Team.
That spells championship, right? Maybe. But the Eagles have six new starters on defense, a new coaching staff, and an untested
O-line. They’ll be good, but it’s going to take time to gel.
8. New Orleans Saints: Even with Drew Brees chucking a career-worst 22
interceptions, Who Dat Nation was still dangerous last season. With the
addition of thunder-and-lightning duo Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram,
9. Houston Texans: We’re buying the hype and
picking the Texans to make the postseason for the first time in
franchise history. Their offense is straight out of Tecmo Bowl. Buy in
10. Baltimore Ravens: With Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and
Terrell Suggs leading the defensive huddle, expect 10 wins. The
challenge will be on the other side, where Joe Flacco and an
inconsistent line need to grow up in a hurry.
Lions: Matthew Stafford sure looks sexy with his shirt off, doesn’t he?
If the Lions oft-injured QB can keep his shirt on for a full 16-game
slate, Detroit will be the feel-good story of the year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs’ young triplets — Josh Freeman,
LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams — are stars in the making. We’re just
confused why a team with a reported $29 million in cap space didn’t
upgrade on defense.
13. Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones cut the
fat and now gives offensive-minded coach Jason Garrett a full season to
work his magic. And he’s got plenty of magic wands, from Felix Jones to
14. New York Giants: Eli Manning thinks he’s a Top
5 quarterback. Time to prove it. Manning and the G-Men will find out a
lot about themselves early, with three road games in the first four
15. Indianapolis Colts: As Peyton Manning goes, so do
the Colts — and right now Manning is the biggest question mark in the
NFL. Even if the all-world quarterback is healthy enough to play close
to a full slate, we think the window is closed.
16. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Cassel is what we thought he was: an average quarterback with some nice weapons. The Chiefs take a step back.
17. Chicago Bears: Before an bum knee forced Jay Cutler to remove himself from the team’s playoff loss, the QB was sacked a league-worst 52 times — and his line might be worse this season.
18. Cleveland Browns: They have a smart coach (Pat Shurmur) who loves grooming young quarterbacks (Colt McCoy). And Peyton Hillis makes some mean cookies.
19. St. Louis Rams: They slightly improved Sam Bradford’s supporting cast by adding speedy receiver Mike Sims-Walker. That should be enough to win the NFC West.
20. Washington Redskins: Ranking a team with Rex Grossman this high is criminal, right? But the Skins boast an improved offensive line, and will pound the ball in Year 2 of Mike Shanahan’s regime.
21. Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson is happy and on the books through 2016. While Matt Hasselbeck provides leadership under center, we just don’t trust this team without Jeff Fisher on the sidelines.
22. Miami Dolphins: Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall appear to be on same page — and that could lead to some fireworks in South Beach.
23. Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll’s winning attitude is infectious. If he can turn Tavaris Jackson into a legitimate NFL QB, then find him a running mate for 2016.
24. Arizona Cardinals: You’re going to hear one of two things this season: Either Kevin Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald for the touchdown, or Kolb’s pass picked off, intended for Fitzgerald.
25. Oakland Raiders: After losing their best player (Nnamdi Asomugha), the Raiders revert to their old ways. The Terrelle Pryor era could start by Week 12.
26. Denver Broncos: The Broncos will have an improved defense under new coach John Fox, but the offense will struggle with Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow — maybe even with Jesus Christ himself.
27. Minnesota Vikings: Too many question marks to even mention. Even their new stadium isn’t a done deal, despite the cry from their new signal-caller to name it, “The House That Donovan Built.”
28. San Francisco 49ers: The Niners should just tank the entire season and earn the No. 1 pick, so they can re-unite new coach Jim Harbaugh with Andrew Luck.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton and AJ Green could prove a dangerous tandem — for another head coach. Marvin Lewis can’t possibly last the whole season, can he?
30. Jacksonville Jaguars: Two days ago, I had the Jags ranked seven spots higher and possibly competing (kind of) in a weak AFC South. Two days ago, they still had David Garrard.
31. Buffalo Bills: