Finally….the eve of the 2011 NFL season. I can’t believe it’s finally here, and I must admit that all the way through the lockout, I knew a deal would get done. There was just too much money riding on it for everyone involved to not get something figured out. An added bonus of the deal is the length they agreed to, 10 years. Thankfully, we won’t have to go through another offseason like this for a little while at least!
There is no doubt in my mind this lockout is going to effect some teams heading into the beginning of the season. A shortened free agency period, combined with no offseason workouts, new coaches not being able to communicate with their teams, coordinators not being able to implement an offense or defense, rookies not being able to get acclimated to the NFL way of doing things…..the list goes on and on. Some teams are going to suffer because of it, veteran teams who kept their coaching staffs in place will benefit from it. This definitely has had an effect on my pre preseason rankings thus far, and you will notice by numbers 15-1 that I feel familiarity with players and a system are pretty important.
I tackled numbers 32-16 last week, here is a recap:
32 Cincinnati Bengals
31 Seattle Seahawks
30 San Francisco 49ers
29 Washington Redskins
28 Cleveland Browns
27 Carolina Panthers
26 Denver Broncos
25 Jacksonville Jaguars
24 Oakland Raiders
23 Tennessee Titans
22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
21 Kansas City Chiefs
20 Buffalo Bills
19 Minnesota Vikings
18 Chicago Bears
17 Arizona Cardinals
16 St. Louis Rams
Now to tackle the top 15 in my pre preseason rankings.
No. 15 – Detroit Lions. I actually had them rated a little higher, but with the recent injuries to Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure, the hype has been cut down a little. I’m sure Detroit can find a back to help the loss of Leshoure, but the time without Fairley takes an element away from Detroit they were counting on. If Stafford can stay healthy, this team is going to be exciting come week 8, hopefully they can get off to a good start before they get things together.
No. 14 – New York Giants. Exactly who is this team? They didn’t do themselves any favors with free agency, and their first round is injured. With the Osi saga a potential threat to destroy the locker room, this season could go really bad for the Giants if they are not careful.
No. 13 – New York Jets. I realize they have gone to the AFC Championship game two years in a row. I realize they have one of the best defenses in the NFL. I also realize they are loaded with a pro bowl roster. They enter this year with tremendous expectations, but I think they are going to fall a little short of those expectations. They failed to really improve their pass rush, so they are clearly banking on their secondary once again. No doubt they are good, but good teams adapt and learn to exploit holes in a good defense, and the Jets will face plenty of those good teams this season. Another year on this linebacking crew may also rear it’s ugly head. Most importantly, I feel the Jets have lost a step or two on offense. Losing Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith will hurt more than they think. Adding Plaxico Burress after a near two year stay is a shot in the dark. The Jets are also banking on another decent year from LeDainian Tomlinson, another year older. I see the Jets age start to show this year, and I’m not sure Mark Sanchez is good enough to carry this team on his back.
No. 12 – Dallas Cowboys. Entering his first year as a head coach, Jason Garrett will have the Cowboys playing better than they did last year. Tony Romo is healthy, and he still has his favorite targets Jason Whitten and Miles Austin to throw to. If Dez Bryant can get focused, the Dallas offense should score plenty of points. The additions and subtractions to the offensive line could make or break Dallas this season. Their defense is the big question. They have plenty of talent, but it doesn’t perform in person like it does on paper. Rob Ryan has a point to prove, and if he does, Dallas will be in the hunt come December.
No. 11 – Miami Dolphins. I’m not a homer because I have them ranked 11th following a second consecutive 7-9 season, look at the facts. This defense should be ranked in the top 5 of the NFL. Several players are now entering their prime, like Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Cameron Wake, and Paul Soliai. To go along with players already in their prime in Karlos Dansby, Randy Starks, and Kevin Burnett. Throw in a couple younger players in Jared Odrick, Reshad Jones, and Nolan Carroll, paired with another year under DC Mike Nolan, and this defense is going to be nasty. Ever think about how much last year would have been different if a fumble at the goal line against the Pittsburgh Steelers would have gone the other way. You think the same amount of interceptions will be dropped this year? I don’t. This defense will product turnovers this year! That in itself will win them 2 more games this year. The main thing that has to happen for Miami to be in the playoff hunt this year is going to be the play of Chad Henne. I was totally anti-Henne last year, but I’m starting to have a different feeling. Take a look at this front office. They are obviously under pressure to win this year, I doubt this is the first time they have been under the gun, especially after coming from the Parcells tree, that guy drove home perfection. I think they did a good job of handling it. When I look at Miami’s roster, I see plenty of players that have tons of talent. Much like the roster that was built in Dallas. Tony Romo‘s success was helped because he had playmakers in place, and a good running game. Chad Henne is now in that position. Tony Romo‘s success was also helped because he took chances and had the ability to change plays, now Chad Henne will have that chance. His leash has been thrown away, and playmakers are abundant. Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, Davone Bess, I’ll even through rookie Clyde Gates on this list because I have a hunch he is going to be big for Miami this year. All Henne had to do this year is score about 17 points a game, but the potential for 24 is there. If Henne finally blossoms into the QB this front office envisioned, Miami could battle New England for tops in the AFC East.
No. 10 – Indianapolis Colts. The only reason they are ranked this high in my book is Peyton Manning. He will play at some point this season, and this team has the potential to beat anyone when he plays. People will have to step up this year to win their division, but like always they will at least be in the wildcard hunt.
No. 9 – Baltimore Ravens. Don’t you just feel like this team has been good for too long now? This defense has been around for a long time, and any day now they should show their age. Flacco will be good, and the offense will have the potential to put up points, but an injury here or there will surely put a damper on their season.
No. 8 – Pittsburgh Steelers. Another AFC North team that seems to be pretty old. Another defense that has some age to it, but at the same time seems to be set up for another 4-5 years. With a pretty young offense in place, if Big Ben can stay upright they should be in the hunt for another division title.
No. 7 – New Orleans Saints. That playoff loss to Seattle had to sting. I look for Drew Brees and company to be driven to avenge themselves this year. They got younger in some places, but whether those players are capable of stepping it up are still to be seen. They will score, but will they be able to defend?
No. 6 – Houston Texans. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Their achilles heel has been the defense. Enter Wade Phillips. He is a great DC, and I look for the additions of Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning to really do wonders for this team. Wade will free up the DL and LB’s and get to the QB’s, as long as they stay healthy, Houston could be battling for homefield in December.
No. 5 – Atlanta Falcons. The team with the best record in the NFC last season is poised to make another run to the Super Bowl. Giving up the farm for Julio Jones seems to be paying off according to reports out of their training camp. A couple of key additions to the defense paying off will surely be the measurement of success for this team.
No. 4 – New England Patriots. This offense will score points as long as Tom Brady is at the helm. Though the line seems to be getting a step or two slower, they will still be good enough to win games. Their defense is a mystery because of who they picked up, the additions seemed more suited for a 4-3 than a defensive genius like Bill Belichick. They will surely change the way they play a little, but they have done that a couple times over the past 10 years and still won. They will be in the hunt for the number 1 seed in the AFC.
No. 3 - Philadelphia Eagles. No team has made more noise this offseason. They are loaded, and all they need to do to win it all is gel and stay healthy. That last part is the only thing that will keep them from winning the Super Bowl this year. Most free agents are free because they have played through a contract, which usually means they have some age to them. If Philly stays healthy, they should be the premier team in the NFL.
No. 2 – San Diego Chargers. Despite their record last year, the Chargers ranked near the top in both offense and defense for most of last season. They have most of their players back, and with Vincent Jackson and a healthy Antonio Gates, Rivers will have even more weapons to play with. Ryan Matthews will benefit from having a full year in the NFL, and Tolbert should continue to play well. Most of the defense remains intact as well. I think this is the year for Phillip Rivers, San Diego should be the class of the AFC.
No. 1 – Green Bay Packers. Until they are tossed from the Throne, Green Bay is the team to beat in the NFL. Aaron Rogers now has the confidence of being a Super Bowl winning QB, and this team returns most of it’s parts. Even with all of the injuries they suffered last year they still won. Nothing should stop them from having a chance to defend their title!
There you have it, the pre preseason rankings. Things will obviously change as time goes on, I will try to update things every week once the season begins. Until then, enjoy the preseason, and hope the Phins have a few players step up and make a difference, especially Chad Henne.
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