If there is one thing that gets fans attention and gets them in an uproar more than anything, it’s rankings. Don’t believe me – check out our recent rankings of the “NFL’s Worst Five Defenses Entering Training Camp,” and read some of the comments from Chiefs fans, who seem to feel their 4-12 defense from a year ago is suddenly going to become the next Steel Curtain. While it’s all in good fun, it is good to break down the 32 teams in the league and see where they stand as we head down the home stretch towards training camp.
1. New England – The Pats were just a play or two away from perfection, and this season that will once again be their goal.
2. Indianapolis – Tony Dungy has a great shot to go out on top in his last season with a team still primed for a Super Bowl run.
3. Dallas – Sorry Giants fans, this is the best team in the NFC, and adding Pacman Jones and Felix Jones will only make this team even more ready to represent the NFC in the big game.
4. San Diego – The Chargers have as much talent as any team in the league if they stay healthy, and if the Colts and Pats have a setback, this group is as ready as any to win the AFC.
5. New York Giants – The Super Bowl champs still are a very solid group, and it will be interesting to see if they can control the usual post Super Bowl hangover teams seem to have these days.
6. Jacksonville – David Garrard will try and take another step to being an elite QB, and the defense will look to be even better this year in challenging the Colts in the AFC South.
7. Pittsburgh – The line has to do a better job for Big Ben, and their response to the Browns offseason moves was to add offense in the draft with RB Mendenhall and WR Sweed. Still a talented bunch.
8. Seattle – Mike Holmgren’s last season with the Hawks, they need to get back to running the ball better, and trying to get more than one home game in the playoffs.
9. New Orleans – This is the sleeper team in the NFC, a group that’s out to prove that last season was a fluke and they are more like the team that made the NFC Title game two years ago.
10. Tampa Bay – Jon Gruden’s group took home the NFC South a year ago, but will be hard pressed to sneak up again. They need more offense, and a repeat season from Jeff Garcia to make an impact in the NFC.
11. Cleveland – While this team appears loaded on offense, there are still question marks on defense, as well as a tough schedule that includes five prime-time games.
12. Green Bay – Who knows if this is even close, as if #4 is back, they could be the favorites to win the NFC. If not, expect them to eek out the NFC North, but have some growing pains with Aaron Rodgers under center.
13. Philadelphia – The Eagles look like a team that is ready to rebound from what they consider to be a down 2007, and one thing you can’t do is count an Andy Reid team out.
14. Tennessee – The Titans lost some pieces on defense, but are expecting more from their offense. It’s a big season for Vince Young, who needs to take another step in being a quality NFL QB.
15. Minnesota – A lot is expected of this group, as they have a great defense, with the addition of Jared Allen. Questions remain at the QB spot, but it helps to have a great RB like Adrian Peterson to help out.
16. Washington – New coach Jim Zorn wants to open up the offense, and Jason Campbell is going to have some growing pains in a new system. Look for the Skins to be better in the 2nd half of the year.
17. Buffalo – Trent Edwards and the Bills are a team that is looking to take that next step. They added secondary help in the draft, and think that they have enough to make a push for a wild card. We’ll see.
18. Denver – There are rumblings about the future of Mike Shanahan, as well as how this team is going to find points. They have to get back to running the football, which is a major reason they have missed the playoffs the last two years.
19. Carolina – While the teams hopes rest on the repaired arm of Jake Delhomme, the team has to play better on both sides of the ball, or John Fox may very well be looking for work elsewhere in 2009.
20. Arizona – It looks as if the Cards are poised to finally take a step towards being a contender in the NFC, but the QB situation still bears watching, and the running game ran out of gas late in the season and will need to do better in 08.
21. Cincinnati – Mike Zimmer has the task of getting the defense to play better in 2008. Good luck. As for the offense, they appear to be still very good, but had some serious lapses last season that cost them some games.
22. Houston – Mario Williams is stud for that defense, but they still lack a good enough secondary to win more than 8 games, and are in a division that does them no help with three other very good teams.
23. St.Louis – Last season this team was hit early and often with injuries, and while they should be a better team this season just being healthy, they still are no better than a 6-8 win team.
24. Chicago – How far has this team fallen since being in the big game two years ago? The offense is awful, and while the defense should get healthy and rebound, it won’t be enough to turnaround their lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
25. Oakland – They have the makings of a team that could be fun to watch in a year or two, but this year will still have struggles. They have an intriguing running game shaping up with rookie Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. It also will be interesting to watch JaMarcus Russell’s first full year under center.
26. San Francisco – The QB battle in camp could shape the long-term future of this franchise. Alex Smith is on the hot seat at QB, as is Mike Nolan if the team doesn’t get better. Mike Martz was hired to turn the offense around, we’ll see if he has it to do what he couldn’t do in Detroit.
27. NY Jets – A team full of moves throughout the offseason is going to be hamstrung by two very average QB’s that both have flaws. As for the pickups, in the end some of that money is going to be totally wasted on guys that don’t pan out.
28. Baltimore – This team should commit to rookie QB Joe Flacco from day one and take their chances. He’s the guy they want to go with, so just give him the job and let him run with it. The defense is aging, but should have enough to hang around against some of the lesser teams.
29. Detroit – Poor Motown fans. They hate Matt Millen, and he won’t go away. Look for Drew Stanton to get a shot at some point this year, and while Jon Kitna is talking again about 10 wins, they just don’t have the makeup of a team that is going to be very good.
30. Miami – The youth movement is on down south, and the Fins hit rock bottom last season and should only be better from here. The QB spot should be interesting to see, as well as if Ronnie Brown is ready to regain form from before he was hurt. Look out in 2-3 years here.
31. Kansas City – The Chiefs have admitted they are in the rebuild mode, and it was the right move to make. Brodie Croyle has to take advantage of getting the starting job, and while Larry Johnson should have a better 2008 with a better O-line, the defense (as well documented with all the hate mail I’ve gotten from Chiefs fans from previous columns), does not impress.
32. Atlanta – All we can say here is good luck to Mike Smith, new head man in the ATL. Matt Ryan is going to get the ball maybe in week one, and he’d better not be a bust or this team is going to be another 3-4 years even more behind the 8-ball.