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NFL 2012-13 Pre-Training Camp Power Rankings

Tom Brady puntAlright, so we’re not even in training camp yet. So what? You’re like me: so happy to see something debatable and NFL-related, you’ll gobble it up like a street urchin on table scraps. Debate and speculation for a forthcoming NFL season are always fun, and consider this a handy primer on certain off-season moves that you may have missed. As always, this is one man’s opinion, and one man’s opinion alone.

1. New England Patriots (2011 record: 13-3)

Las Vegas projected wins: 12

Biggest free agent move: While Brandon Lloyd and Joseph Addai are attractive additions to a highly-efficient offense, the signing of defense end Jonathan Fanene from the Bengals may be even more potent. The Patriots let 33-year old Andre Carter walk, despite having ten sacks and a Pro Bowl selection. Fanene, through an injury-plagued career, gutted out 6.5 sacks for an improved Bengals squad in 2011, despite playing mostly as a back-up on nickel downs. He is expected to start for New England.

2012 outlook: Other than Carter, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Gary Guyton all exiting, it’s essentially the core group from a year ago that, had Rob Gronkowski had snared that Hail Mary pass, would be defending champions. With this nucleus in place, and barring a surprise team uprising in the AFC East, there’s no reason the Patriots won’t be back in the thick of things in 2012.

2. Green Bay Packers (2011 record: 15-1)

Las Vegas projected wins: 12

[adinserter block=”2″]Biggest free agent move: Despite having only one loss, Green Bay’s total defense was a wash. Dom Capers’ militia was nineteenth in total D, and worst in the league in pass defense. Near the bottom of the league in sacks, with 29 for the team, the Packers placed much of their off-season emphasis on adding linemen, and the most noteworthy is end Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove was part of a much-improved Seahawks defense in 2011, but may only get eight games to show his stuff in 2012, thanks to his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

2012 outlook: As Aaron Rodgers goes, the franchise goes. His record setting season in 2011, complete with a 122.5 passer rating, met a bittersweet end in the postseason at the hands of the New York Giants. But if the defense is shored up, Rodgers won’t need to assume the role of Superman in getting Green Bay back to the promised land. Balance on both sides of the ball will be the key.

3. New York Giants (2011 record: 9-7)

Las Vegas projected wins: 9.5

Biggest free agent move: After Jake Ballard went down with a torn ACL in the Super Bowl (which led to an unlikely squabble between the Giants and Patriots over him), the Giants made sure to re-sign Bear Pascoe in the offseason. Needing more than that, New York also added Martellus Bennett from Dallas; a big bodied tight end (6’7”, 248 lbs) that has had to play second fiddle to Jason Witten more often than not.

2012 outlook: It was an unlikely jaunt for that fourth Super Bowl title, and New York may not have made the postseason had they stumbled against the Jets on Christmas Eve. Even the oddsmakers aren’t giving them more than a puncher’s chance. But the Giants are a team that wins in tough situations, and Eli Manning, when he gets on a roll, is capable of making a run toward his third ring.

4. San Francisco 49ers (2011 record: 13-3)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: Missing out on the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes, and falling just short of a Super Bowl chance, Jim Harbaugh broke the DiBartolo bank this offseason in adding proven offensive stars. While the Randy Moss signing gets the attention, the focus should be on Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham. Moss will draw tight coverage, allowing Manningham to help out Alex Smith with great catches in the third banana role.

2012 outlook: Shawntae Spencer is the only notable defensive player that left the 49ers this offseason, and he did nothing last year as a benchwarmer. Beyond that, it’s the same run-stopping, claustrophobia-inducing defense that came oh-so-close to a trip to Indianapolis. Even as the offense finds its identity, marking the 49ers down as NFC West champions today isn’t unrealistic.

5. Baltimore Ravens (2011 record: 12-4)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: Baltimore focused more on re-signing its current players rather than shop for big-ticket talents from other teams, but one loss forced them to scour the NFL “personal ads” this spring. After losing Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs to New Orleans, the Ravens signed 35-year-old Bobbie Williams from the rival Bengals. In eight years in Cincinnati, Williams has played six entire seasons at starter for Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton.

2012 outlook: A botched field goal attempt by Billy Cundiff kept Baltimore from forcing overtime in the AFC Championship Game. Since then, the Ravens have had setbacks with the Grubbs loss, as well as Terrell Suggs’ off-field injury, which is jeopardizing his season. If rookie Courtney Upshaw does a decent Suggs impression, then Baltimore should remain in the championship hunt.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (2011 record: 12-4)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: The Steelers’ biggest addition this offseason may have been to the sidelines, as opposed to on the field. After winding up twenty-second in the NFL in total offense, the Steelers chose not to re-sign five-year offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and instead acquired the services of former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, who is known for his combativeness and risk-taking. 2011’s eleventh worst team in scoring could use the jump-start.

2012 outlook: The Steelers are a curious study: their defense never seems to slow down, even as many of their veterans push or exceed the NFL life expectancy. Tim Tebow’s unusual playing style, and ability to connect on long passes, was probably an aberration in that Wild Card game. Until Pittsburgh puts forth more weak performances like that this year, no need to hit the panic button.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: This was actually a trade, and it ranks as a steal for Philadelphia. In March, the birds picked up linebacker DeMeco Ryans, after not having a quality LB since Jeremiah Trotter’s second run through the city. Since Brian Dawkins left town, the defense has lacked a vocal, do-as-I-do leader, and Ryans’ aggressive attack and confident swagger can rub off on linebackers and safeties that functioned without a rudder a year ago.

2012 outlook: Sloppy losses early in the year doomed the “Dream Team”, and many of the new puzzle pieces (Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith) were all jettisoned accordingly. For the Eagles to get back to form, Michael Vick has to be on point after being erratic last season. Better play from the linebackers and safeties (including recent signing OJ Atogwe) may steer the Eagles right.

8. Houston Texans (2011 record: 10-6)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: Losing Mario Williams to Buffalo, and voluntarily trading DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, indicates confidence in what Wade Phillips has otherwise in his revamped 3-4 scheme. Even then, Phillips I’m sure was the driving force in bringing in one of his heavies from Dallas, linebacker Bradie James. Coming off a lousy 2011, in which he posted but 29 tackles and a fumble recovery, James reunites with the coach with whom he had his most successful years in Big D.

2012 outlook: Houston has itself a ‘grace period’ after their maiden playoff run, and that’ll be fortified with another division title, since the AFC South is still relatively weak. The long-term health of Andre Johnson, with his many foot and ankle injuries, will be a concern, but there are many positives otherwise. A healthy Matt Schaub and a crushing defense will tell the story in 2012.

9. Detroit Lions (2011 record: 10-6)

Las Vegas projected wins: 9.5

Biggest free agent move: Curiously, defensive-minded Jim Schwartz waited until the later rounds of the draft to add linebacking and secondary help for his disappointing D. In free agency, however, Schwartz picked up the young and capable Jacob Lacey from Indianapolis. The Colts didn’t have much to celebrate last year, but Lacey managed to shine with a pick six and his expected handful of pass deflections in his eleven starts. Lacey will try to replace Eric Wright, who signed with Tampa Bay.

2012 outlook: Plain and simple, that playoff berth would not have happened if Matthew Stafford had gone down with injury for the third straight season. The Lions had zero running game (due to injuries), and a defense that regressed heavily from 2010. Given the benefit of the doubt, and with Jahvid Best healthy, the Lions have as good a chance as any of polishing those shortcomings to a shine.

10. New Orleans Saints (2011 record: 13-3)

Las Vegas projected wins: 10

Biggest free agent move: Losing Carl Nicks to division rival Tampa Bay certainly stings a team left reeling from a tumultuous offseason. Of course, if you read the Ravens entry already, you know that New Orleans’ counterpunch was to bring on Ben Grubbs to fill his spot at guard. There aren’t many guards in the NFL that you could call “interchangeable” with Nicks, but Grubbs, a Pro Bowler in 2011 just as Nicks was, was a Godsend in the free agency pool.

2012 outlook: The bounty scandal casts a dark shadow over the organization, with Jonathan Vilma likely done for the season, and defensive end Will Smith guaranteed to miss time. Drew Brees’ contract situation is just as sticky, but the franchise’s leader has indicated that he’ll play in 2012, grievances or not. With distractions all around, the Saints may be ripe for the picking.

11. Denver Broncos (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 9.5

Biggest free agent move: Here I was going to wax poetic on Tracy Porter or Andre Caldwell, but somebody just told me that Denver went out and got future first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to be their franchise quarterback. If this is true, then that would certainly explain the trade of miracle man Tim Tebow to New York, wouldn’t it? Denver’s putting a lot of faith in Manning’s surgically-repaired neck, as well as his age (36), in their attempt at reclaiming championship glory.

2012 outlook: This one’s a coin flip. If Peyton is the Peyton that wrecked defenses with his dial-an-audible play calling, and he’s able to gel with a new cast (which includes familiar target, Jacob Tamme, at tight end), then Denver should take the West. Any setbacks due to his injuries, or from Denver having a tough schedule (as last year’s division champ) and the hype could be for naught.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (2011 record: 9-7)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7.5

Biggest free agent move: Andy Dalton and AJ Green’s dual rookie season provided a surprise spark to a Bengals team that bid farewell to vets Carson Palmer, Terrell Owens, and Chad Ocho Cinco. With Cincinnati’s running game a colossal failure in 2011, the team is also breaking up with Cedric Benson, who hasn’t regained his 2009 form. The solution looks to be BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who was camouflaged in New England, but brings less baggage to Cincinnati.

2012 outlook: The knock on Cincinnati in 2011, despite sneaking into the postseason, was that they had an easy schedule, and didn’t beat anyone good. Pittsburgh and Baltimore each swept them, and Houston chopped them up in round one. The schedule is more imposing for the forthcoming season, so the Bengals had better hold their own against the Steelers and Ravens for starters.

13. Tennessee Titans (2011 record: 9-7)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7

Biggest free agent move: Tennessee just missed the postseason in 2011, and their calling card was a defense that did a solid job keeping opponents out of the end zone. To make their reserve even stronger, the Titans have enlisted Kamerion Wimbley from Oakland. A hybrid defensive end/linebacker, the 28-year-old has racked up sixteen sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble over the last two seasons, playing for non-contenders.

2012 outlook: Jacksonville and Indianapolis are still cobbling together their identities, leaving Tennessee as the only real threat to shove Houston off their perch. Chris Johnson’s disappointing season has been highlighted as part of their downfall a year ago, same with Kenny Britt’s injury. But it’s a new year, and Tennessee might stun those that think Houston has a cakewalk into the postseason.

14. Chicago Bears (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 8.5

Biggest free agent move: Brandon Marshall was a trade, and I’d still be inclined to put him here, but let’s shine a light on a player you never hear about. With Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, you wouldn’t think signing a linebacker would be important. But as the Bears total defense slipped in 2011, Chicago went out and signed Tampa Bay’s Geno Hayes, who is seven years younger than Briggs. Hayes is a reliable tackler who can play the run, as well as rush the quarterback efficiently.

2012 outlook: Jay Cutler’s broken thumb doomed the club last season, and Mike Martz’s playcalling didn’t jive with what the rest of the team wanted. Now Martz is retired, Cutler’s healthy, and he’s reunited with Denver teammate Brandon Marshall. But Matt Forte’s holding out for a new deal, and a team that is seemingly never all on the same page still has issues to iron out.

15. Carolina Panthers (2011 record: 6-10)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7.5

Biggest free agent move: If you’re facing Carolina, the last thing you want Cam Newton to have is effective weapons at his disposal. He’s already got a potent running attack, Steve Smith, and his own freakish abilities. Now he’s got fullback Mike Tolbert from San Diego, who is a nightmare out in the flat for short passes and dump offs. Plus with his pass-blocking capabilities, he gives Newton more time to make reads, and can spring him on design sneaks. Yikes.

2012 outlook: Is this the new “Greatest Show on Turf”? Carolina’s ten losses a year ago featured five by a touchdown or less, and you can tie that to Newton’s growing pains, in spite of his flashes of brilliance. But it’s the defense that needs the kickstart, and Carolina’s hoping some of their younger players on that side of the ball (especially rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly) light that fuse.

16. Atlanta Falcons (2011 record: 10-6)

Las Vegas projected wins: 9

Biggest free agent move: After their pass defense proved below-average a year ago, they let their run defense erode. Curtis Lofton flew the coop to New Orleans, after being the team’s leading tackler, and the best they could replace him with is Lofa Tatupu, an aging ex-Pro Bowler who didn’t even play in 2011. Tatupu and youngster Akeem Dent will compete for the job. If you’re talking good moves, the three year deal that kept John Abraham as starting defensive end is as good as it gets.

2012 outlook: Atlanta was unable to draft high after trading picks in 2011, and their run in free agency wasn’t exactly stellar. The 2-point playoff loss to the Giants could be the harbinger of a tough run, especially as Carolina and Tampa Bay went to greater lengths to improve themselves this offseason. Something tells me the Falcons could be in for a down year.

17. New York Jets (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 8.5

Biggest free agent move: Rex Ryan knows his defense, and he’s ready and willing to compensate for weakness at a moment’s notice. Strong safety Brodney Pool jumped to Dallas, and perennial starter Jim Leonhard remains a free agent. Remedy: first sign LaRon Landry, who is still not 100% from an Achillies injury, then sign reliable veteran Yeremiah Bell from the Dolphins. Like a true Ryan with any kind of vested authority, Rex won’t let his defense slip even half a step.

2012 outlook: The image of the Jets locker room during 2011’s waning stages was that of lawless chaos, and zero accountability. LaDainian Tomlinson will one day pen an autobiography, and I’m sure that chapter will be quite juicy. Now with Tim Tebow standing just beyond Mark Sanchez’ shadow, maintaining focus and poise in 2012 is a daunting task for the Jets.

18. Kansas City Chiefs (2011 record: 7-9)

Las Vegas projected wins: 8

Biggest free agent move: One team’s salary cap casualty is another team’s treasure. On the eve of free agency, Houston axed offensive tackle Eric Winston, rather than working with him to restructure his deal. Winston, who’s started every game for the Texans in five straight seasons, landed with the Chiefs days later. The Chiefs gave up 34 total sacks last season, and Winston will certainly help Matt Cassel, who injured his hand last year, stay upright.

2012 outlook: Lemony Snicket didn’t have as many unfortunate events as Kansas City did in 2011. The season-ending injuries to Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki, plus the ousting of coach Todd Haley, put an ax through the Chiefs’ Western title defense. Romeo Crennel, as head coach, has the defensive personnel to turn it around, and Kansas City may be this season’s comeback team.

19. Dallas Cowboys (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 8.5

Biggest free agent move: The once-great Terrence Newman had become a liability at cornerback; so much so that Dallas didn’t hesitate to release him before free agency started. His heir could come in the form of speedy Brandon Carr, who signed with the Cowboys for $50 million over five years. Dallas plummeted in pass defense, allowing a shade under 4000 yards over the course of the season (about 244 per game). Out with the old, in with the new.

2012 outlook: Dallas may be hobbled by some interesting losses, including starting offensive linemen Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland. Laurent Robinson was the surprise star of the receiving corps, but he wound up signing in Jacksonville. Dallas is a team that tends to “yo-yo” from year to year, and if Tony Romo doesn’t match his great 2011 numbers, things may go south in 2012.

20. Oakland Raiders (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7

Biggest free agent move: Oakland’s defense sank like the Lusitania a year ago, and the response was to pore through the free agent landscape in search of the equivalent of leak putty. The most intriguing signing is Rams cornerback Ron Bartell, who sustained a neck injury in week one against Philadelphia, and missed the rest of the year. Prior to that, Bartell was a consistent tackler and swift in coverage, particularly in pass deflection. He’s not Nnamdi Asomugha, but he’s something.

2012 outlook: It’s the first full season without the curmudgeon and short-sightedness of Al Davis, but it feels like his ghost lingers. Despite a .500 season, Oakland still dropped head coach Hue Jackson in favor of defensive whiz kid Dennis Allen. Allen may promote a turnover-heavy defense, but Oakland needs continuity and identity before all else, and it just feels like square one again.

21. San Diego Chargers (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 9

Biggest free agent move: After losing Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay, the Chargers have spared no expense in bringing in potential replacements at the wide receiver position. While Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish, and Michael Spurlock are solid situational pick-ups, the crown jewel is clearly Robert Meachem, a deep-ball threat who stood out at times in Drew Brees’ “everyone gets involved” offense, but will now be tasked as the ace of Philip Rivers’ downfield army.

2012 outlook: Hate to say it, but as long as Norv Turner is still the head coach, he tends to stunt the growth of a team that often shows promise. During the team’s six game losing streak in October and November last year, opponents never scored less than 16 points on them. Playing the AFC North and NFC South, the Chargers may yet struggle again this year.

22. Arizona Cardinals (2011 record: 8-8)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7

Biggest free agent move: Keeping Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton upright has been a tall order, as has been the need to pick up rushing yards. In fact, the Cardinals only went over 100 yards as a team five times in 2011. Playing San Francisco twice a year made Arizona familiar with veteran guard Adam Snyder, who was the 49ers primary starting right guard last season. It’s not a signing meant to dazzle, but offensive line continuity makes all the difference.

2012 outlook: There’s cause for excitement among Cardinals fans on the offensive side of the ball. Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts are already a force of nature at wide receiver, but rookie Michael Floyd adds an exciting checkdown option. Coupled with running back Ryan Williams being healthy after missing all of last season, and Arizona could be onto something.

23. Seattle Seahawks (2011 record: 7-9)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7

Biggest free agent move: Seattle was unable to retain the services of their reliable linebacker David Hawthorne, who went to the Saints to try and fit into Jonathan Vilma’s vacated cleats. Since the signing was in April, this left Seattle few options to replace him with. In an attempt to fill that void, the Seahawks added the once highly-regarded Barrett Ruud. Ruud was a sure tackler in Tampa Bay before injuries limited him to nine games for Tennessee a season ago.

2012 outlook: Seattle may as well air a local game show entitled “Quarterback Idol” with Pete Carroll in his gaudiest Steven Tyler duds. Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn, and rookie Russell Wilson all seem to have an opportunity to earn the starter’s role. Generally speaking, open competition for the starting job doesn’t indicate a contender, but Carroll’s surprised us before.

24. Miami Dolphins (2011 record: 6-10)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7.5

Biggest free agent move: This is the part where I’m supposed to pay lip service to Chad Ocho Cinco and his borderline disturbing acts of attention whoring, but I’ll focus more on David Garrard. After sitting out 2011 to repair a herniated disc, the 34-year-old former Jaguar brings a consistent and solid resume to the Dolphins. Joe Philbin has been working Garrard out with the starting unit, which is surprising considering how well Matt Moore played last season.

2012 outlook: From 2004 onward, the Dolphins have managed only two winning seasons; one of which came in 2008 when the AFC East was in disarray. The need to bring in proven offensive studs comes as Reggie Bush solidifies himself as an every down back, so Philbin’s looking to put it together early. In a hard-to-navigate AFC East, I’m just not sure it’s possible.

25. Buffalo Bills (2011 record: 6-10)

Las Vegas projected wins: 7

Biggest free agent move: Having the third worst total defense in the league, attributed mostly to an awful run defense, necessitated a swift remedy. To that end, Buffalo threw $100 million over six years to Houston’s Mario Williams, with $50 million guaranteed (the most lucrative contract ever for a defensive player). Williams played only five games in 2011 due to a torn pectoral, yet still managed to earn five sacks. Buffalo’s gambling on him to stay healthy and be the difference maker.

2012 outlook: Here’s 2011 in a nutshell for Buffalo: go 4-2, give Ryan Fitzpatrick a six year, $59 million deal, and then go 2-8 the rest of the way. Granted, the defense was a huge part of those losses, giving up no less than 23 points in all eight defeats. But by adding Williams and rookie corner Stephon Gilmore, the Bills are at least making solid moves to fix glaring holes.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2011 record: 4-12)

Las Vegas projected wins: 6

Biggest free agent move: In most other years, the addition of tight end Dallas Clark would be heralded as a game-changer for any franchise. But Tampa Bay did better for themselves, not only landing Carl Nicks to improve the offensive line, but Vincent Jackson as lead receiver. Indeed, the team with the sixth worst offense in 2011 underwent an extreme makeover, stockpiling blockers and playmakers to make up for Josh Freeman’s regressive season, and to give him more advantages.

2012 outlook: If ever a team in the bottom quarter of this list had room for, as Heath Ledger would say, ‘aggressive expansion’, it’s Tampa Bay. Good choices in the draft on the defensive side (Mark Barron, Lavonte David) will help fix the league’s worst run defense of a year ago. If the new-look offense clicks, the Buccaneers have a chance to stun some doubters.

27. Washington Redskins (2011 record: 5-11)

Las Vegas projected wins: 6.5

Biggest free agent move: You won’t believe this, but Washington opened up their checkbook this offseason and signed many a player. Wide receivers Jabar Gaffney and Santana Moss are getting older (Moss was limited to 584 yards in 2011), so a youth infusion became necessary. Enter Pierre Garcon from Indianapolis, who managed 947 yards and six touchdowns for an anemic, Peyton-less Colts team last year. With $20.5 million guaranteed, Garcon is surely the ace at wideout.

2012 outlook: Is Robert Griffin III this year’s Cam Newton? The hype machine and Redskin fan expectations are spinning on the gusts of that notion, surely. From year to year, particularly in the Daniel Snyder era, the Redskins have had trouble maintaining continuity, and building on small successes. If the Skins are going to make it, Griffin had better be that savior.

28. Minnesota Vikings (2011 record: 3-13)

Las Vegas projected wins: 6

Biggest free agent move: Minnesota wasn’t particularly aggressive this offseason in trying to rebuild their rock bottom defense, save for signing veteran corner Chris Carr. On offense, with the need to give Christian Ponder more reliable targets (especially with Percy Harvin’s disgruntled mindset), the Vikings added athletic Jerome Simpson from Cincinnati. Before Simpson can bring his gymnastics to the Vikings, he has to serve a three game suspension for drug-related offenses.

2012 outlook: It’s a long way to the top in the NFC North. Green Bay remains a challenge to unseat, while Detroit and Chicago are at least in position to try and do something about it. Minnesota needs more than Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson to get back to form, and this is a case where Rome isn’t going to be built in a day, let alone a season.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2011 record: 5-11)

Las Vegas projected wins: 5.5

Biggest free agent move: Marcedes Lewis led the team in receiving yards with 460 last season, and that won’t get it done. Complimented by the drafting of Justin Blackmon, wide receiver Laurent Robinson comes off a career year in Dallas, where he had 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, outclassing Miles Austin, and topping Dez Bryant in touchdowns. Dangerous off the bench, Robinson will now lead a corps of Blackmon, Mike Thomas, and veteran Lee Evans for the Jags.

2012 outlook: Maurice Jones-Drew had years taken off his career carrying Jacksonville on his back, all while running to daylight for the rushing title. The additions at wide receiver, and competition between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne for the quarterback spot, are steps in the right direction. The defense did their part in 2011; now the offense has to put it together.

30. Cleveland Browns (2011 record: 4-12)

Las Vegas projected wins: 5.5

Biggest free agent move: Much of Cleveland’s offseason focus centered on the draft, where the Browns picked up the seeds and sod that will, presumably, grow their offense into a bountiful harvest. On the free agency front, Cleveland acquired veteran defensive end Juqua Parker, who despite seeing less playing time in Philadelphia in 2011, still scored two defensive touchdowns last season. The Browns’ defense held up well last year, but had only 32 sacks, which Parker can aid with.

2012 outlook: Drafting a running back and quarterback in the first round of any draft is akin to hanging an “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” sign on your operation. Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are likely to start opening day, so it’s forgivable if there are bumps in the road for Cleveland. Mike Holmgren’s not rushing into anything, so Browns fans, as usual, just be patient.

31. St. Louis Rams (2011 record: 2-14)

Las Vegas projected wins: 6

Biggest free agent move: Jeff Fisher wasted no time in giving his new team the brashness and shameless grit that his old Titans had. By transplanting the obnoxious Cortland Finnegan into his secondary, on $27 million guaranteed, Fisher hopes to seal off the 25.4 points per game that the Rams gave up a year ago. In addition, the Rams only had 12 interceptions as a team, 9 among the secondary, and Finnegan’s aggressive coverage can open opportunities for his teammates to feed on.

2012 outlook: Fisher’s defenses have been traditionally hard to navigate, and he used the draft to add Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins within the first two rounds. The real challenge is going to be getting Sam Bradford right again. Coming off a limited season where he personally went 1-9, Bradford gains rookie Brian Quick, but has lost Brandon Lloyd. And so it continues.

[adinserter block=”1″]32. Indianapolis Colts (2011 record: 2-14)

Las Vegas projected wins: 5.5

Biggest free agent move: With Andrew Luck as the opening day starter, it’s imperative to protect the investment with as much of a buffer as possible. This is where Samson Satele comes in. A proven starter at center for the Dolphins and Raiders, Satele replaces the aging Jeff Saturday, who departed for Green Bay. Luck may not have a whole lot around him to begin his career, but a center that’s started 74 games since 2007 will provide structure and reliability for him early on.

2012 outlook: The Colts ended up at the butt-end of the league a year ago, and this is where they begin the 2012 campaign. Reggie Wayne is one of the lone star holdovers from the Colts’ glory runs of the last few years, and coach Chuck Pagano has to rebuild the empire with a highly-touted would-be franchise quarterback. Unless Luck is a beast out of the chute, it’s going to be baby steps.

Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for, as well as several wrestling columns a week for and Justin can be found here on Facebook – and Twitter-

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