1. New Englan­­­d Patriots – The Patriots spent their offseason fixing their biggest flaw for the past few seasons, the defense. First round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower have both had productive training camps and are poised to make impacts this year. The Patriots also helped their much-maligned secondary by adding veteran safety Stephen Gregory in free agency who will start alongside Patrick Chung. Bill Bellichick did not rest on his laurels when it came to the offense however, adding playmaking wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to go along with offensive weapons Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots are still the best team in the AFC, and with new additions on both offense and defense, they may just be the best in the NFL.
  2. Green Bay PackersAaron Rogers is pretty good. The Packer’s offense is pretty good. But like the Patriots, their biggest flaw last season was an extremely porous defense. Despite big playmakers like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson they still gave up more yards than any other team in the league.  So the Packers also spent their offseason revamping the defense. Defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry from USC is going to go very well opposite of Matthews rushing the passer and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy will be given every opportunity to make plays on the defensive line. The addition of Cedric Benson at running back will also help to stabilize an already potent offense. The Packers were a very good team last year, they were only one game away from going undefeated in the regular season, and they will still be the team to beat in the NFC. Much to the chagrin of a certain team from New York.
  3. San Francisco 49ers – I wasn’t the biggest Niners supporter even late in season last year. Obviously their defense is top-notch, but I just felt their offense (and specifically Alex Smith) wasn’t good enough to lead the team to the super bowl. The additions this offseason of former Giants Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham should help in that respect. And of course there is always the wild card in Randy Moss.  The real reason they are this high however is the defense. Perennial pro-bowler Patrick Willis’ squad is as stingy as they come, especially against the run. Rookie sensation Aldon Smith along with veteran Justin Smith can create havoc in an opponent’s backfield. A Niners-Packers matchup in the NFC championship seems likely at this point.
  4. Houston Texans – The unluckiest team in the NFL last season was certainly the Texans. After an amazing regular season in which the Texans had the AFC’s top defense, Houston lost both starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinhart to injuries. The Texans played the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional playoffs with rookie T.J. Yates under center. Even with that they still put up a fight against the Ravens and lost by only 7 points. Houston may just be the most well-rounded team in the league when healthy. With offensive weapons like Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the Texans can score with just about any team in the NFL when Schaub is healthy. And with a defense that got even better with pass-rushing expert Whitney Mercilus getting added in the draft, the Texans may be ready to show they have what it takes to win the AFC. Of course it helps that they don’t have to face Peyton Manning twice a year anymore too.
  5. Baltimore Ravens – I feel the same way about the Ravens as I do about San Francisco. A great defense but an offense that may not be good enough to take them all the way. Joe Flacco, in my view, is not good enough to win the Ravens a Lombardi Trophy. Unlike fellow Raven and super bowl champion Trent Dilfer, I don’t think Flacco is a good enough game manager to keep his team in control in the clutch. Luckily for Baltimore they still have a top-notch running back in Ray Rice. Also fortunate for the Ravens, their defense is still going to be one of the best in the league. Ray Lewis is getting up there in age but he his squad (even without Terrell Suggs for the foreseeable future) should be more than enough to win them enough games to make the playoffs and be a top team in the AFC.
  6. New Orleans Saints – Even with an interim interim coach for the first few weeks, the Saints are still the Saints. They still have Drew Brees, they still have Jimmy Graham, and they will still be a force in the NFC. Unfortunately for the Saints, because of bounty-gate and a trade last year with the Patriots, they were held to just 5 picks in the draft, the first of which wasn’t until the third round.  They were able to upgrade their LB core however with the signing of Curtis Lofton in free agency.
  7. Chicago Bears – The Bears might just be the most under-rated team in the NFL. To go along with that, Jay Cutler may be the most under-rated quarterback in football. The addition of Brandon Marshall as a weapon for Cutler could make the Bears the team to beat in the NFC. Of course the defense will also help them win some games, Brian Urlacher says his knee will “never be the same,” but it shouldn’t matter for Chicago, they have plenty of other defensive playmakers. Keep an eye out for rookie Shea McClellin from Boise State, I was very high on him in the draft, he was a big time playmaker for the Broncos.
  8. Philadelphia Eagles – It all comes down to Michael Vick. I know it’s easy to say that for any team it comes down to the QB, but it is even truer for Philly. If Vick can stay healthy for majority of the season and the playoffs (if they make it), the Eagles can be a deadly team. Without Michael Vick the Eagles plummet down this list.
  9. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers defense is getting older, and they didn’t do much in the offseason to add talented youth to it. A lot of people are down on Pittsburgh this year because of this fact. I am in a wait and see mode with them however. The way I see it, even if they have a “down year” they are still one of the best teams in the AFC. P.S. good job on finally getting to work Mike Wallace.
  10. Denver Broncos Peyton Manning………alright, really the Broncos are a decent team even without Peyton, he just puts them over the top. Denver has a solid defense that helped them win a lot of games last year that they would not have otherwise had a chance in. Add in Peyton, a solid running attack with Willis McGahee, and some familiar weapons for Peyton to throw to, and you have a team that not only should run away with the AFC West but should also be making it far into the playoffs.
  11. New York Giants – Here is my biggest prediction for the season (which I made right after the hail mary hit the turf in Indy) the New York Giants will not be making the playoffs this year. The way I see it, Eli Manning will more than likely not match his high production year last season. Not many remember just how good a year Eli had, maybe it’s because even though he did have a great year, they still only went 9-7. The Giants aren’t a very good team; they got hot at the right time and capitalized on a weak division. The G-men will not be winning the East this year, and will not be getting a wild card spot in a very competitive conference.
  12. Detroit Lions – The NFC North is stacked. They have three teams that all have an argument to being the best in the division. In all reality though, the Lions are probably third on that list this year. Matthew Stafford finally had a healthy season last year after two seasons shortened by shoulder injuries. If he can recreate his season from last year, they can be fighting for a wild card spot.
  13. Kansas City Chiefs – Bad luck hit the Chiefs last year. Injuries to Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel probably cost them a chance of winning the AFC West. This year they have to deal with Manning twice, but their defense should put up a good fight. The Chiefs have a shot at the west, but they should almost certainly get a wild card spot if they can stay healthy.
  14. Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo is a good quarterback despite what I say about him sometimes. The problem with him is and always has been his play in the clutch. With that said the Cowboys still have a shot of winning the NFC East, and if they want to make it to the playoffs, that will be the only way since they have almost no chance at a wild card.
  15. Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton was a pleasant surprise last year. I saw him as a reach in the second round but he proved me wrong. What wasn’t a surprise was AJ Green, and I see an even bigger year for him this season. An overlooked part of Cincy is their defense which was able to keep them in a lot of games last year. One of my favorite moves for them this offseason was signing undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State. Burfict was projected as a first round pick before the combine but dropped out of the draft completely after performing poorly in drills and interviews.
  16. Buffalo Bills – That’s right, the Bills are the second best team in the AFC East. Their offense, despite Ryan Fitzpatrick, can be dangerous. Fred Jackson is a very underrated running back, and Stevie Johnson can be dangerous on the outside as a receiver. Defensively, the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should create some good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They still have a ways to go to get past the Patriots in that division.
  17. San Diego ChargersPhillip Rivers had an awful year last year. I’ve never been a big fan of his but last season really shocked me how poorly he played. If he can rebound off of the terrible play, they may be fighting for a wild card spot or even a division crown. On a side note, Melvin Ingram has the potential to be a defensive player of the year type if Norv Turner can find the right spot for him (and that’s a big if).
  18. Seattle Seahawks – I was really hot and cold on the Seahawk’s offseason. I hated the Bruce Irvin pick in the first round of the draft, but loved the picks of Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner from Utah State. I also scratched my head at the Russell Wilson pick, although it has seemed to have worked thus far. Seattle won’t be fighting for a title this year, but they will be a very competitive team.
  19. Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan has not lived up to his nickname as of late. He has not been good in big games or in the clutch. But if they want to win the NFC South, this may be the year with the Saints losing so much due to bounty gate.
  20. Carolina Panthers – I wasn’t expecting Cam Newton to do what he did last season. If he can re-create that, they might be even higher on this list and might even fight for a wild card spot.
  21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Greg Schiano is the best addition they made this offseason, yes better than Vincent Jackson. Schiano is the kind of coach Tampa needs and he could lead them to a division title sometime in the future, just not this year.
  22. Tennessee Titans – I’m not a big believer of Jake Locker. Even if I was, he really doesn’t have many weapons other than Chris Johnson. Their defense also isn’t good enough to carry them in a division with Houston.
  23. Oakland Raiders – The problem with Oakland in my view has been the ownership for the past few years. Everyone always makes fun of the Raiders for committing so many penalties; the way I see it, people should be blaming the lack of consistency in the coaching department for those miscues.
  24. Cleveland Browns – I am a Brandon Weeden fan. I think he was the best quarterback past Luck and RG3 in the draft. Along with Trent Richardson, the Browns have created a pretty good offense that could lead them to the playoffs in the next few years.
  25. Washington Redskins – The Redskins weren’t a horrible team last year despite terrible quarterback play. They beat the super bowl champs twice last season. Robert Griffin III is a playmaker and should fit in perfectly with Mike Shannahan’s west coast offense. Also look out for outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan who quietly had a great rookie season last year.
  26. New York Jets – The Jets are a circus and you really shouldn’t blame Rex Ryan for it. You should blame the owner Woody Johnson. He is more interested in having his team talked about over and over on ESPN than creating a good football team. Prime example: Tim Tebow. Jets finish third in the division and Ryan gets put on the hot seat as the scapegoat.
  27. Indianapolis Colts – This Andrew Luck kid is pretty damn good. But they are still a few years away from getting back to being a team in the playoffs every year.
  28. St. Louis RamsSam Bradford has been a disappoint for me in his first two years. I really thought he would have what it took to lead a competitive team, and thus far he hasn’t lived up to that.
  29. Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jags are really the laughing-stock of the NFL. Nearly all of their games get blacked out and it is for good reason.
  30. Minnesota Vikings – I don’t have any faith in Christian Ponder as a starting quarterback. I also don’t have faith in their defense aside from Jared Allen. Minnesota will live and die by how Adrian Peterson performs.
  31. Miami Dolphins – When your starting a rookie at quarterback, your number one receiver is Davone Bess and your number one running back is Reggie Bush, it probably won’t end well.
  32. Arizona Cardinals – I really believed that Peyton Manning would go to Arizona, and if he did they would probably be in the top 10. But with no quarterback this year, Larry Fitzgerald will just have to hope he will be catching passes from Matt Barkley next year.
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