Finally. The NFL season- 17+ exciting weeks of passing, tackling, scheming, smack-talking, and Tebowing- is nearing us at last. I was so ready for the season to start, I went to some seedy streaming website just to watch the Hall of Fame Game. Just to watch some snaps, some throws, some interceptions. With a week of the preseason complete, we've now gotten a chance to see what the offenses and defenses (albeit, vanilla) are able to do against a team other than their own. On top of that, we've had the draft, trades, and free agency to see the makings of the final roster. Can these alone predict the outcome of the entire football season? No. But dammit, we'll try.
Power Rankings are for the weak. This year I'll do an expanded version of what I tried last year- picking the divisions from top to bottom and the playoff setup. I'll also give my thoughts on the awards handed out at the end of the year. LET'S DO THIS.
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Miami Dolphins
4. New York Football Jets
This draft, Bill Belichick seemed like he wanted to get the Pats back to the defensive powerhouse they were during the dynasty years. Couple that with the fact that Tom Brady makes an offensive 200 times better just by being on the field? Scary thought. I think the Pats are gonna be same old same old. 12+ wins, number one seed probably, and a strong Super Bowl contender.
The Bills will be better. The defensive pressure should be great with the addition of Mario Williams and the return of Kyle Williams. It all hinges on Ryan Fitzpatrick- can he stop being such a streaky player?
The Dolphins ruin my preseason expectations at a rate matched only by the Texans and Chargers (yes, I stole your joke, Matt). Depending on who the QB is (for now it should be Matt Moore), the Dolphins will hang around .500 or dwell in the cellar again.
I can't see the Jets having a good season. At all. The offense is depleted beyond Santonio Holmes, the chemistry is volatile (lol, science joke), and the QB situation is laughable.
1. Houston Texans
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston is in for a very nice season. Even though Demeco Ryans and Mario Williams are gone (Texans still succeeded without Williams), the defense led by Wade Phillips should continue to flourish. Jonathan Joseph, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, and Brooks Reed is a lineup that makes me shake just typing about it. With Matt Schaub healthy again, the offense will be more smooth than when big T.J. Yates was running it. The Texans are also in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.
Tennessee is a team I can see going 10-6, but I could also see them going 5-11. When is Locker going to start? How will the Kenny Britt situation play out? Will Chris Johnson return to CJ2K form? Can the defense improve from a mediocre season?
The Colts are in rebuilding mode. Andrew Luck (more on him later) is the real deal, and he should expedite the rebuilding process. The Colts went HAM on offense in the draft, surrounding their new franchise QB with weapons. The offense will be solid, but with so many holes on the defensive side and Pat Angerer injured.......
The Jags are in a rough spot. Their best player has no interest in playing at the moment, and it's difficult to judge Blaine Gabbert's progress. It's a shame, because their defense with Paul Posluszny, Terrance Knighton, and Tyson Alualu could be otherworldly.
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns
I don't think much will change up North to be honest. The Ravens should follow up their successful 2011 season with another division title. I can see the Steelers regressing a tad, simply because the age is a factor and Mike Wallace's situation is less than desirable. Will Big Ben's shoulder be OK also?
Cincy is an interesting team. I doubt anyone expected Andy Dalton to have such a strong rookie season with the uncertainty surrounding the lockout. That said, I think they will have a roughly similar situation to last year- good but not good enough to crack the top two of the division. By the end of the year, I think AJ Green will be a top-3 wide receiver.
Then there's the Browns. They drafted well- Trent Richardson is a bulldozer, but his knee surgery raises questions about his ability to start strong. Brandon Weeden was a nice choice for QB and can hopefully provide some stability at a position that has needed it over the years.
1. Denver Broncos
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders
Hell, if Tim Tebow can get this team to 8 wins, surely Peyton Manning can squeeze out a few more? In all seriousness, the addition of Manning makes the Denver offense much more lethal than a year ago. Manning can utilize Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker just as he did with his cast in Indy. The main concern for the offense is the O-Line. Gave up waaaaaaaay too many sacks, and with Manning's neck history......
The Chiefs are looking solid. Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis can be an effective ground and pound duo, and the defense will be solid with ballhawks Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, and Stanford Routt, and the relentless pass rush of Tamba Hali. It's very possible they can snatch the division title.
Then there's San Diego and Oakland. The potential for these two teams is through the roof offensively. Phillip Rivers is still an elite-caliber QB who can sling for thousands of yards without breaking a sweat. The Raiders have a torrid ground game with Darren McFadden, and tons of speed in the receiving corps. So why do they constantly underperform? Health, penalties, special teams, discipline- the little things. I doubt that changes much.
1. New England Patriots
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Denver Broncos
4. Houston Texans
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Kansas City Chiefs
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New York Football Giants
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins
Fun fact: The sound you hear in a movie is actually a red-tailed hawk. Anyway, the Eagles are looking to jump-start into the Michael Vick-proclaimed dynasty. I don't think we should read that far into it, but I do think the Eagles will be good. Very good. Defense led by Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha, and a dynamic offense with the aforementioned Vick, LeSean McCoy (more on him later), Jeremy Maclin, and Desean "I'm so good, I'm gonna purposely get a penalty so we can do that 3rd down play again" Jackson.
The New York Football Giants just won the Super Bowl, so why am I not furiously anticipating a repeat? Well, it's not that they don't look like a strong team, because they clearly are, it's just the division is THAT much better. Eli, Cruz Control, Nicks, and Bradshaw is a dynamite offensive lineup, and on the other side, Jason Pierre-Paul can be a strong defensive player of the year candidate.
Dem Cowboys are an enigma. Top-tier talent. Tony Romo is a solid QB, DeMarcus Ware is the best pass-rusher in the league, and now rookie Morris Claiborne can really solidify the secondary. Yet they, too, continue to undermine my expectations year after year. Penalties and carelessness at inopportune times plagues them last season- will that be fixed?
So the Skins drafted some guy out of Baylor. Apparently he's pretty good. They also got some French Waiter to be a wide receiver. Whatever Shanahanigans are played this season for the Skins, I doubt they make much of a dent in this loaded division.
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Carolina Panthers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here we go:
I liken this division to what happened last year in the AFC West- the division winner and worst team are separated by 1 win, and there's a bowl-of-spaghetti of division record, common opponents, etc. at the top trying to figure out who the hell wins this thing. Why the Dirty Birds?
Stability, mainly. They're a boring team, sure, but they do boring really well. Matty Ice and his weapons on the wings (wings, hahahaha) should be as efficient and smooth as always. Consistency is the key.
But WAIT! The Carolina Newtons will be knocking on the door for that division title. Big Cam can have another monster year with Steve Smith (A), and their overpaid duo of running backs are solid. On the other side? You have a good-looking defense led by Charles Johnson and rookie Luke Kuechly (more on him later).
New Orleans is a good team, I know. But this BountyGate scandal will be too much. Sean Payton - arguably the best signal-calling coach in the game - is gone. Jonathan Vilma, the captain of the defense is gone. The leadership and direction of the team is absent, and I can't see that as a positive.
Then there's the Bucs. There's no sugarcoating it- they were God-awful last year. BUT! Josh Freeman is as cool as collared greens, and should have a solid bounce-back season. Doug Martin was a great draft pick, and can potentially be the best rookie rusher.
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings
Reigning NFL MVP, crazy-loaded receiving corps, upgraded O-Line, and a defensive fire sale in the draft. Yeah, the Packers are pretty good. And they ain't stopping. (Aside: When I typed "ain't" just then, there was no red squiggly line. Is ain't a word now? Just like how there are 5 oceans now?)
Let's not forget something, folks: The Bears were 7-3 and playing solid football last year, and then Jay "Catalina Wine Mixer" Cutler injured his hand. Caleb Hanie wasn't that good in replacement. But now? Cutler is healthy, and now he is reunited with Brandon Marshall. Matt Forte is signed and happy. If the O-line improves, that offense will be SCARY.
Hell, I actually think Detroit's offense will be better than last year. But with all these arrests and distractions, I think of the Saints' situation again. It's a tough mound of junk to overcome, and nothing in the Lions' history really shows me they can handle it.
Minnesota is an intriguing team. I'm glad Christian Ponder is starting right away, because a full season will be great for his growth. Could be a darn good quarterback. Also, the Lief Ericsons have to be thrilled that All Day AP is progressing quickly with his ACL recovery. The dude can change a whole team with his presence, and the addition of Matt Kalil to the offensive line makes his job so much easier.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. St. Louis Rams
GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN I CAN SIMPLY TYPE "lol" IN THIS SPOT!!!
This could actually be a very good division. Let's break it down: We know about San Francisco. They did not get worse in any category. Holy cow they look GOOD. Now, can the defense replicate that unheard of turnover margin they produced last year? Doubtful. But every other aspect of this squad is stacked: Smiths Aldon and Justin relentlessly pressuring the passer. The best ILB duo in the league with NaVorro Bowman (more on him later) and Patrick Willis. The "if you throw the ball anywhere remotely close to where we are, we will intercept you" secondary featuring Dashon Goldson, C.J. Spillman, and Perrish Cox. Yikes.
The Seahawks are intriguing, but their QB battle is frustrating. Matt Flynn can be solid, but Russell Wilson has impressed early. The addition of T.O. will help, I'm convinced, and Marshawn Lynch continues to be the most violent runner in the NFL. Jason Jones and BRUUUUUUUUUUUCE!!!! Irvin will really improve the pass rush.
Man, I wish Kevin "Corn on the" Kolb (I DID IT AGAIN, MATT) could really produce up to the tune of his contract with the Cardinals. We've seen that even in poor QB situations, Larry Fitzgerald can put up Larry Fitzgerald numbers. Patrick Peterson has Revis-esque potential. So many nice pieces...why can't they mesh. Please?
Man, I feel so bad for Sam Bradford. He's got elite-level potential, but his team is SO BAD. Like, "Hot Problems"-level bad. Well, if the O-Line can produce AT ALL, then Bradford can utilize solid weapons like Austin Pettis, Steve Smith (B), and Lance Kendricks. Also, the additions of Chris Long and rookie Janoris Jenkins can shore up the defense.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Chicago Bears
6. Carolina Panthers
NFL MVP: LeSean McCoy
Am I confident about this pick? Nah. But I can follow numbers: 1624 total yards and 20 total touchdowns. Serious big-play potential in an offense that has so many dynamic options. But Michael Vick has injury problems, and DeSean Jackson seems questionable in consistency. Big Shady will become the most versatile player in the league- and eat up stretches of yardage play after play.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year: NaVorro Bowman
This is another shot-in-the-dark pick, but I feel good about it. If I could give the entire 49ers defense this award, I would because they're THAT good. Bowman doesn't rack up sacks like Aldon Smith. He doesn't swipe the ball out of the air like Dashon Goldson. But man, he is RELENTLESS on the inside. Bowman totaled 168 tackles last year. That's almost 9 per game. That doesn't lead the league, but it is a testament to his mindset: I'm going to run towards you, and I will hit, scrape, and tackle you until you can't get up. Every play. Relentless. He is an unsung leader, but this year he will be...umm...sung.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck
Now, it was the Rams, and it was the Rams in the preseason. But...Wow. That's all I could think while watching Luck burn St. Louis to the tune of 2 touchdowns, 188 yards, and 63% completion. He looks the part. He is strong, he can throw with zip, he locates the open man quickly, he can avoid a sack, and he makes the right decision. There will be rookie mistakes. But there will be a lot more veteran moves.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly
Consider this: Kuechly led the NCAA with 191 tackles in his final college season. That's roughly 16 per game. Wow. And those tackles COUNT, too, as his instincts when heading toward a runner are superb. His pass coverage is also fantastic- snagging 3 interceptions in each of his final two college season.
Man. Just about covered all the bases, didn't we? Hopefully this will springboard me into some more frequent posts, as I admittedly haven't written in a while.