1. Pittsburgh Steelers – The world champions should always get the initial top spot in power rankings. Isn’t that why they play the games in the first place?
2. New England Patriots – These guys have lost a lot of veteran leadership on defense (Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel), but their offense appears to be as dominant as the 2007 version which went undefeated throughout the season.
3. Tennessee Titans – The team with the best record in the league last year has a great running game, a great defense, and a great head coach.
4. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers can do it all on offense. If their defense can play average ball, this team can reach the big dance (sound familiar?).
5. Baltimore Ravens – There’s a mystique to this team (and an undeniable toughness). They’ve competed for years with a great defense and no QB. Now they have a QB… and they also have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
6. Philadelphia Eagles – The first NFC team on the list, and this ranking has nothing to do with Michael Vick. Donovan McNabb, some new offensive toys, Brian Westbrook, and their talented defense will compete every week for a chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
7. Indianapolis Colts – Quite a fall from grace at #7, but there have been too many coaching changes (plus the loss of Marvin Harrison) to immedeately place them on top of my power ranking. Still, Peyton Manning can get it done on offense.
8. New Orleans Saints – Not as lofty a ranking as the Times-Picayune, but this team is easily one of the best in the NFC. A few turnovers caused here and a few third-and-short runs converted there, and this team is Super Bowl bound. Undoubtedly, the best offense in the NFC.
9. New York Giants – Their defense has been good for a while, but the new additions have had a hard time remaining on the field. Once they’re all together, they should produce. Offensively, the loss of Plaxico Burress may hurt this team big time.
10. Green Bay Packers – This team is primed on offense (as we found out last year), and their defense seems as improved as the Saints’ new squad. I have a ton of faith in Dom Capers, and I see this team reaching the playoffs with ease.
11. Arizona Cardinals – Although they finished last year on top of the NFC, the Cardinals did it the very hard way. That 9-7 record is hard to ignore, and their defense has to perform the way they did in the playoffs all season long to improve on this ranking. Offensively, they’re one of the best.
12. Atlanta Falcons – Another very good offense, they got a bit better with the addition of Tony Gonzalez. However, their defense lost a lot of experience, though it did gain youth and speed. I think the Falcons will make it tough on other teams in the conference… just not the Saints.
13. Miami Dolphins – Say what you want about the ‘wildcat’, but the Dolphins have a great defense and a very talented backfield. If you can run the ball and play defense, you’ll be in every game.
14. Minnesota Vikings – Their defense has gotten better, and they were pretty good last year. Antoine Winfield might be the best defensive player in football (he gets my vote after what he did to us last year). Offensively, they have Adrian Petterson and a great OL… no matter who the QB.
15. Chicago Bears – The defense hopes to return to its past glory while the offense has gotten much better with Matt Forte at RB last year and now Jay Cutler at QB. They will compete with Green Bay and Minnesota for the NFC North, but I think those three teams will beat each other up to mediocre records.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Ah, the best looking team in the NFL… on paper. Now that T.O. is gone, that running game better get it going. Bum’s son got a very talented team, but he has brought them down more and more in each year he’s been there. Tough division and tough schedule. Just beat Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Carolina, ok?
17. Carolina Panthers – They have the running game and the head coach to get very far this year, but their defense and their QB will have to play above its abilities. Injuries are a part of the game, but this team isn’t equipped to deal with too many.
18. Seattle Seahawks – They may have the greatest turnaround from 2008-2009, and it all starts with the QB. They have great LBs, a solid OL (when healthy), and Edgerrin James to help the running game along. Can Jim Mora coach above his abilities?
19. Washington Redskins – Daniel Snyder always gets the Redskins new and expensive toys every year, and while they are a tough team to beat (we know all too well over the last three years), they always seem to come up just short of the playoffs in that tough division.
20. San Francisco 49ers – I believe in running the football and playing good defense, and that’s what Mike Singletary believes in, too. He just doesn’t have the QB or all of the pieces together just yet. Crabtree went from a great value to a great headache.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars – They could improve on last year’s record with a healthy OL and that great RB named Jones-Drew. Although they lost DC Williams, I think it’ll help the unit under defensive-minded head coach Del Rio. This team could start to climb the rankings quickly.
22. New York Jets – The rookie QB will suffer some growing pains, but I think their defense will help him notch more than a few wins. However, they are in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and it’ll be a year or two before they start talking playoffs.
23. Cincinnati Bengals – Sure, Chris Henry led the NFL’s WRs in TDs this preseason… he practically played every down. Still, their offense is much better when Carson Palmer’s in there. Their defense always has a chance with Marvin Lewis as a head coach.
24. Houston Texans – The league’s third-ranked offense of a year ago needs some help from their defense. If they can put it all together, they’ll rise on this chart, but for now, they’ll have to settle for 4th-best in their division.
25. Denver Broncos – I’m asking too much from this Broncos team… I predicted them to win the weak AFC West earlier this year. After seeing them in preseason, I can admit I was wrong. However, Knowshon was not available and now he is. Let’s see if these guys can play a little football.
26. Kansas City Chiefs – They’ve had some high draft picks in the last few years, and although they are starting from scratch this year, I expect Cassel will come along, Larry Johnson will be solid, and the former LSU Tigers (Dwayne Bowe, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson) will get the Chiefs more competitive than most are thinking.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I seriously thought of putting this team dead last on my list. They are crawling out of the mud hoping to one day stand erect and walk like a man. Too many missing pieces, and good ones, too (Jon Gruden, Joey Galloway, and Derrick Brooks comes to mind).
28. Buffalo Bills – A franchise that fires its OC and releases its starting LT right before the season starts can’t be doing all that good. Their defense might play some solid ball, and T.O. will help, but they are in the wrong division to warrant consideration.
29. Detroit Lions – From worst to first? Not quite. But they won’t be worst anymore. Their offense and their defense will make great strides in 2009. In other words… they won’t go winless. I expect Stafford to get better and better every week.
30. St. Louis Rams – What’s wrong with this franchise? They can’t seem to get it together. Maybe Steve Spagnuolo will be the spark that ignites them back to winning football. That offense used to be so great. Oh, yeah… Warner, Faulk, Bruce, and Holt don’t play there anymore.
31. Cleveland Browns – If you can’t decide on a starting QB one week before the regular season starts, you probably don’t have a good decision in your back pocket to be made. It all spells NO DIRECTION.
32. Oakland Raiders – There’s talent there, but it’s the same old stuff with Al Davis’ crew. How do you trade a great young DE like Derrick Burgess to the Patriots for a mid-round pick and then one week later trade a 1st-round pick to the Patriots for an older DE? Under Al Davis… that’s how.