Lockouts, holdouts, and all post-season craziness aside, the NFL 2011-2012 season is quickly approaching. So as always it is time for “The Shark” to separate the good from the bad, and the men from the boys (or even the Cowboys, if you will). It’s time once again for the Power Rankings, 32-1 on who has what coming in to the new season.
Yes it is a very early look and quite frankly it is opinion based on moves and shakes by all these teams. I mean how many of us had the Cowboys at 6-10 last year? How many thought that the Vikings would be nowhere around in 2010? Well, not many, so take this with some grains of salt, but also use it as a fair barometer as to where teams can end up.
Now that the time of year is upon us, “The Shark” will be real busy with fantasy football rankings, NFL rankings, predications and all that other great stuff that goes hand-in-hand with the NFL. We survived the scare of having no season, but now that the agreement has been made, and camps are in session, let’s all take advantage of it and enjoy a great season. Consider it that second chance with the love of your life! So here goes the rankings, enjoy, comment and let’s see what the rest of you think.
32. Carolina Panthers (2-14): It was so bad last year that it was scary. Number 1 overall pick, QB Cam Newton will learn quickly of the perils of the NFL. Not many big time free agent moves so it will be a growing process for the entire organization. Don’t expect much, and you won’t get let down.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12): Ochocinco is finally gone, but so are some other key pieces, including the possibility of QB Carson Palmer not playing this season. To think 2 years back this team was in the playoffs! Now it seems to finally be the end for Marvin Lewis, barring a miracle.
29. Buffalo Bills (4-12): When you finish 4-12 many expect you to make big moves to improve. Not the case for the Bills, who actually lost the few big time defensive players they had. They just don’t have the pieces to compete in a very tough division.
28. Cleveland Browns (5-11): I still find myself confused by the move at Head Coach? The Browns had some good moments last year, but will Peyton Hillis be able to handle the load again this year? They did not bring in much this off-season, but they do tend to catch teams by surprise. Not enough to make a big splash this year.
27. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): The Kevin Kolb Era begins in Arizona, and while it is a possible upgrade, it comes with lots of questions. They added some veterans but lost some good core players. If Kolb can be the guy worthy of the deal they made, it will look good sooner instead of later, but that right now is a big if.
26. Washington Redskins (6-10): For the first time in a long time the Redskins did not go crazy with free agents. In my opinion it means they are about to start a rebuilding process instead of trying to make a lot of noise. It may be the better move in the long run.
25. San Francisco 49ers (6-10): New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh brings some serious enthusiasm to a team that seemed to play very flat last year. They have some decent pieces, but need to believe in themselves, and QB Alex Smith, who will get yet another chance to run the offense. Was this the marquee moment this year? Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers vs. his brother John Harbaugh and his Ravens could be it.
24. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Big time players holding out, and a QB change to the oft-injured Matt Hasselbeck are not the moves to push the Titans out of the division cellar. Chris Johnson is a super RB, but he is talking dollars and not making sense. It will be weird not seeing former coach Jeff Fisher on the sidelines as well.
23. Oakland Raiders (8-8): I was a very big backer of the Raiders last year. It looked as if they finally had pieces in working order and finished at .500. This off-season has the Raiders looking like they are about to fall back again, losing very big pieces of that puzzle, and staying fairly quiet as well. RB Darren McFadden showed he can be a clutch RB, but he needs help. These Raiders come in to the season as one big question mark.
22. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Brett Favre is gone, and so is his circus. However the Vikings turn to yet another long time vet in Donovan McNabb. The Vikes said good-bye to many of the big pieces that had the defense as one of the best, and WR super speed weapon Sidney Rice is gone too. It will take lots of Adrian Peterson and some luck on McNabb’s side to make this team viable.
21. Miami Dolphins (7-9): All the talk of a new QB seems to have passed and now it is all Chad Henne. At RB it’s a new look with Reggie Bush and with Ronnie Brown gone. The Dolphins have middle-of-the road talent, and that is where they are likely to end up again. Not enough off-season action to challenge the big 2 in the AFC East.
20. Detroit Lions (6-10): 4 straight wins to end 2010-2011 was nice, and now they made moves to improve a poor defense. They need to keep Matt Stafford healthy at QB, because they are developing good speed and talent around him. This could be a very nice sleeper team this season, but then again, it is the Lions.
19. St Louis Rams (7-9): What Ram team will we get this year? Do we see the team that folded miserably in the last game of the season to miss the playoffs, or the team of young up-and-comers that caught many off guard last season? Whatever it is it will be led by a good young QB in Sam Bradford, the always tough Stephen Jackson and a good looking young defensive line. The schedule will be tougher this year, so the Rams have to get tougher too.
18. Houston Texans (6-10): They have the offense, but still lack the defense. This is a team that is so confusing. They possess talent but never show up when it matters most. Andre Johnson is clearly All-World at WR, and last season’s super surprise stud Arian Foster is a great RB, but can this defense hold up long enough for them to finally make the playoffs? The magic 8 ball says, “not likely” .
17. Dallas Cowboys (6-10): Adding Rob Ryan as the Defensive Coordinator is a good start as he is already talking tough. The Cowboys were a huge let down last year, but still have the talent to compete. Gone are some of the guys who made problems in ball distribution like Roy Williams and Marion Barber. The new look Cowboys can now move forward with more speed and savvy then trying to be a power team, and there is little doubt they will fare much better.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): I may be over thinking this, but the Jags made some nice off-season moves, and now with a little competition at QB, veteran David Garrard must now play like every week is his last. Maurice Jones-Drew is still a highly touted RB, and last season they brought in some RBs to ease his load. The defense should be improved, and the Jags can compete for a playoff spot as long as they fire on all cylinders.
15. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): It looks very new with Tavaris Jackson at QB and Sidney Rice at WR, but it can only help a Seahawks team that managed to back into the playoffs, then stun the Saints in round 1. Pete Carroll is putting a lot of stock in Jackson, and many think he is ready to take charge. The defense lost some good players, so the offense will have to pick up the slack. Last year’s playoff shock can prove as a rally point for this season, but can also make them a target. Either way it stands to be interesting.
14. Chicago Bears (11-5): Lovie Smith is looking down the barrel of a trend that every time this team has a big year, they fall flat the next. Jay Cutler has to shake the talk of last year about being soft and take charge of this team. They sure have the speed to outrun anyone on offense, and still have some names on defense that can make plays. How it all fits together is always a crap shoot with the Bears.
13. New York Giants (10-6): They have had a rough off-season, but as always it should fade once they hit the field. They have depth at WR and a good looking back in Ahmad Bradshaw. They need to learn quick as they are bringing in lots of new faces on the offensive line, and are hurting on the d-line with some big losses and Osi’s possible walk-out. The Giants are still the Giants and do have the ability to play big-time ball, depending on which Giants team shows up.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6): Anyone that guessed this last year would have been committed to a ward. However, Josh Freeman quickly developed into a good NFL QB, the offensive line improved and they found a big bruising runner in LaGarrette Blount. It needs to find an identity on defense, but I feel good things are coming for the Bucs.
11. San Diego Chargers (9-7): After a very slow start last year, the Chargers stormed at the end, but fell just short of the division. This season everyone is in camp and ready to go. At WR they are huge with a pair of giants in Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, plus gutsy QB Phil Rivers and the All-Pro Antonio Gates. The key here: start fast and stay strong, not the usual early slumps.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Despite being humbled in the playoffs by the Ravens, this team has lots to be excited about. Jamaal Charles is gaining respect as one of the games most talented RBs and WR Dwayne Bowe had a great comeback last year. They made nice moves on defense as well, and QB Matt Cassell looks like he was worth the pick-up. The Chiefs will face a tough schedule this year, but is has the guns to compete.
9. New Orleans Saints (11-5): The champs of 2009-2010 still can strike fear into opponents, but it can no longer just show up. They settled some things at RB with draft pick Mark Ingram and the signing of the very versatile Darren Sproles. Yes, Reggie Bush is gone, but that just means less injury worries and more players can get involved. They need to bring it on defense, and will need Drew Brees to be Brees, plain and simple.
8. New York Jets (11-5): They kept Santonio Holmes and added big body WR Plaxico Burress to try and improve the pass attack. Young runner Shonn Greene needs to come up big and compliment L.T. instead of watching him from the sidelines. We all know the Jets can play defense, and did a good job to bring back CB Antonio Cromartie to stay with shut down specialist Darrelle Revis. Rex Ryan comes in lean and mean and ready to move this team to the next level, it can happen.
7. Indianapolis Colts (10-6): This could be strictly on reputation, but how do you go against Manning and company? They found some RBs to help last year and still have some good WRs and TE Dallas Clark. As always the concern is defense, but they added some guys and brought back some others. This may be the beginning of the end for the Colts, but we have said that before.
6. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): After the playoffs, many called them the worst 13-3 team ever. Those people need a clue. They have a great running game and added speedy WR Julius Jones to pair with the electric Roddy White. They also improved on the defensive line, and are well coached and humble enough to stay level. The Falcons need to play the NFL’s elite tougher to get to that next level, but now they have more experience to give it a go.
5. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): The Top 5 is for the big boys, and well the Ravens always have the makeup of that big kid at the playground. Go ahead and try and get cute with this bunch and they will lay you out. They kept all the key ingredients in place, and the run game is still very tough. It all depends on whether QB Joe Flacco is ready to seize the big time and get this team to the Super Bowl.
4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): Last year’s Super Bowl Champs come down a notch here, but remember they struck late lightning to get there. Aaron Rodgers may be the best QB in the game right now, but they need better RB play to stay up top. The WRs and TEs look real good as well, and they bring a full out attack. Defense lost some depth, but they proved last year they can plug in guys and make them better. Repeats are always tough, but this team has the moxy to give it a good try.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Dubbed “The Dream Team” this off-season, the Eagles made huge moves in free agency to try and finally get that trophy. Michael Vick revived his career and is now joined by another crafty running QB in Vince Young. On defense they bring in loads of All-Pro experience with Nnamdi Asougma, Cullen Jenkins, Domonique Rogers-Cromartie and Jason Babin to join the already good core led by Trent Cole and Asante Samuel. Where is the weakness? Linebacker as always and they need to find a way to stop the run consistently. Vick can be hurt, and can come up soft, but he has more gadgets than James Bond to work with. On paper it looks great.
1. New England Patriots (14-2): I had to go with the Pats here. They made risky free agent moves, but in this system everyone is a star. Ochocinco? No problem, remember Randy Moss? Albert Haynesworth? No problem, he has plenty of help. They found 2 great young TEs last year, a back that can carry the load, and oh yeah some guy named Brady. They also did well to keep the possible free agents they could have lost. The Pats are not everyone’s favorites, but it is because they are always so good. Belichick knows how to coach and how to win, and they may have got back some swagger. The class of the AFC is tough as there are some great teams here, but ignoring the Pats can be dangerous.
Here is the initial Power Rankings, and sure it will change by year’s end for sure. I will bring you my Power Rankings each week this season so keep an eye out, and read up. I always encourage and welcome comments, so follow along and share your thoughts. Happy Football Season!
If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at [email protected]