We’ve joined a tradition worth joining. For the first time in our young history, we’ve come up with our own power rankings. Before you sharpen your pitchforks, a short note on how we’ve come to rank the teams as we have: all NFLTR writers have compiled their own rankings, which we’ve compiled and averaged in the list below. These rankings reflect the strength of teams today, and take into account our evaluation of how teams have moved in the offseason, as well as how the teams are positioned in the upcoming draft. In cases where a team’s draft pick is all but confirmed (as with the Colts and Redskins), we’ve factored that into our evaluation. We will update soon after the upcoming draft, as well as at the conclusion of the preseason and then on a weekly basis throughout the regular season. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor, and feel free to agree, disagree, or roast us in the comments below.
#1) New England Patriots
It’s not so much a faith in quarterback Tom Brady that consistently lands the Patriots at the top of most power rankings, it’s that he’s matched with the consistency and brilliance of Coach Bill Belichick. Love him or hate him, Belichick wins with any hand he’s dealt. Add to this the plethora of draft picks and the signing of wide-receiver Brandon Lloyd and you’re looking at a seriously dangerous team in 2012.
#2) Green Bay Packers
Why do we rank them ahead of the Giants? #1) Aaron Rodgers. #2) What was easily the most potent offense of 2011 will be matched by an improving defensive unit. #3) Aaron Rodgers could continue to improve, a thought that won’t excite the rest of the NFC North, and it’s hard to see who in the conference will be able to match any score they’ll put up. #4) Aaron Rodgers, if i’m correct, still quarterbacks the Packers.
#3) New York Giants
They’ve lost a few key pieces since hoisting the Lombardi. While they may have outperformed their talent in last year’s offseason, they underperformed during the regular season. They’re both better than 2011’s 9-7 record, and worse than a #1 ranked team.
#4) San Francisco 49ers
#5) Houston Texans
Matt Schaub is recovering and should be back in time for the start of 2012. The defense will still be strong despite a number of key departures. This was a top team even when decimated by injuries and they’ll perform consistently again if they can stay healthy.
#6) Baltimore Ravens
They were a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl in 2011 and the offense will continue to improve. The question is whether or not age will ever catch up to the best defense of the past decade. Doubters may doubt, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have yet to show many signs of decline.
#7) New Orleans Saints
Well here’s a tough one to rank. The Saints will be the most scruitinized team in the league and will be without their head coach for the year, but at least they’ve signed franchise quaterback Drew Brees to a long-term contract…. right? Our ranking assumes that the Saints pull their heads from their bums and lock down Brees. If somehow he’s not starting come week 1, shuffle the Saints back into the mid-20’s.
#8) Detroit Lions
The Lions headed into the 2012 offseason needing to retain their young core and they did just that. A strong all-around team that has a developing quarterback who will continue to put it up there for Calvin Johnson.
#9) Pittsburgh Steelers
The cap casualties were numerous this offseason, but so too were the number of key pieces retained. The Steelers could be pulling off a transition from an old-to-young without dropping too many wins. Offense will produce, while the defense will suffice.
#10) Chicago Bears
There’s too many cooks in this NFC North kitchen. There’s a few other divisions where the Bears would be the clear divisional leader. They have the tools to lock up a wild-card spot or even challenge for the division. They, more than others, need to stay healthy to have a shot.
#11) Philadelphia Eagles
Adding DeMeco Ryans will help out the defense, and they’ve retained key pieces. They’re also in position to draft a first-year starter. This is a talented team that will have a hard time under-performing as much as they did in 2011.
#12) Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning provides a significant boost to the prospects of this team (read, the Broncos now have an offense, something they lacked last year). That said, how well will Manning absorb hits. This is a boom or bust situation, tipping slightly towards boom.
#13) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have to be targeting this as the year to surpass the Saints. The young offensive stars will continue to gel, but Michael Turner is more than a small question mark after a down season.
#14) Dallas Cowboys
Lost in the disappointment of 2011 is the fact that this team can beat anyone. Made clear by the disappointment of 2011 is that this team can lose to anyone. They’ve strengthened in free-agency, but still need to find some sacks.
#15) San Diego Chargers
See Cowboys. This group loves to beat themselves. The Chargers couldn’t capitalize when they enjoyed the league’s weakest division, maybe they can perform when they face a marginally improved one. The departure of Vincent Jackson will not be devastating, as the overall WR corps is still a strong one.
#16) Cincinnati Bengals
In recent years, the Bengals have alternated between a high-powered offense matched with a pourous defense or a stingy defense with a developing offense. 2011 had the feel of the latter, but Andy Dalton and A.J. Green performed like veterans. This team might be well balanced for the first time in years. The Bengals could get really good, really fast.
#17) New York Jets
Who’s calling the shots around here? Having watched easily the worst collective quarterback performance in a game when the Broncos beat the Jets in 2011, the Jets decided to wish for the stars and sign them both. In case Mark Sanchez‘ new contract didn’t make the weight of expectation too burdensome, they brought in the world’s most popular backup. Ask Kyle Orton how much fun it to play in front of Tebow.
#18) Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton surprised everyone, bringing respectability to a struggling franchise and striking fear into even the greatest defenses… and they still went 6-10. Coach Ron Rivera is making serious strides, but this team is likely still a few years away from pushing for a playoff spot.
#19) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are riding the excitement provided by Romeo Crennel towards the end of the 2011 season. Nevertheless, they’re a mediocre team without a trusted quarterback. Perhaps the fact that seemingly every starter is in a contract year will cause the Chiefs to surprise, but they’re most likely on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
#20) Tennessee Titans
This year looks a lot like last and they’ll take advantage of a weak division for a record that will likely end up around .500. The problem: they’re likely looking at an 0-4 start. The nature of the schedule could cause trouble for whatever starting quarterback wins the position out of training camp. Titans fans might almost be hoping to sacrifice Matt Hasselbeck to the wolves for the first four games of the season and then letting Jake Locker feed on the lambs that follow.
#21) Buffalo Bills
How they convinced Mario Williams to make the move to Buffalo is a bit perplexing, but he seriously improves the defense. The issue now is whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick can perform as he did before signing his long-term deal.
#22) Washington Redskins
This really isn’t a bad team, but they’re dying for consistency. While this version of power rankings is pre-draft, it’s all but settled that Robert Griffin, III is headed to town. This year could be sacrificed to his learning curve, but 2011 shows us that it’s not unthinkable for rookie quarterbacks to step right in and perform. Nevertheless, winnable divisional games are limited.
#23) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Big movers, both in free-agency and in the power rankings. Grandfather Barber is returning, so it’s not as if the Bucs have to pick Morris Claiborne, but they certainly should. Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks aside, there’s still plenty of holes to fill.
#24) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have invested in their third untried quarterback in as many years. The good news is that it seems they can piece together a few wins without a strong quarterback. The bad news, if Matt Flynn and/or Tavaris Jackson have down years, they could be in the running for Matt Barkley. Why not aim at four for four?
#25) Arizona Cardinals
Unfortunately for the Cardinals the wrong quarterback performed strongly in 2011. Now they face competition at the spot where they didn’t want it. Like the Seahawks, they can dream of a wildcard spot from a weak division, but they need to seriously improve at the tackle position before they can protect whatever passer finds the field.
#26) Oakland Raiders
For about 10 minutes of 2011, the Raiders looked genius. Pundits spoke of NFC championships and comeback-players-of-the-year… then the Raiders were the Raiders. Yes, running back Darren McFadden can be a superstar, but he’s always injured. Yes, Reggie McKenzie may signal an end to the madness, but there’s no much he can do without a draft. Oakland, you’ve got a long-term fix coming.
#27) St. Louis Rams
If they can build a line around Sam Bradford, he may get a chance to play well. Signing center Scott Wells was a step in the right direction, but they still need a tackle or two. Jeff Fisher will be hoping for a few more strong years from Stephen Jackson to provide a threat, but he’s the most used RB from the last few years, and a prime candidate for burning out.
#28) Cleveland Browns
They’re a mess, but they’re only a player or two away from a strong defense. Having seemingly missed out on the top two options in the draft, the Browns won’t be a serious threat until they can find an their answer at quarterback.
#29) Miami Dolphins
Like the Cardinals, a backup quarterback performed admirably in 2011. Like the Cardinals, it’s not really what people wanted to see. The Dolphins have lost pieces, and haven’t added much. David Garrard doesn’t really improve the prospects for 2012 and the front office needs to show some consistent direction.
#30) Indianapolis Colts
We’ve seen Peyton Manning singlehandedly make this team win. Now it seems Andrew Luck will be the savior-of-the-month. Like Manning, he’s got the tools to make this team succeed, but he’ll also suffer through at least a year of losing. The Colts will have their quarterback, but they need something to surround him with.
#31) Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is the team and the team can’t stay on the field. Sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder will feel the pain as the squad embraces the rebuilding process, but it’s a process that will pay out in the long run.
#32) Jacksonville Jaguars
The defense is good, but the offense is just that bad. There’s only so many games they can win with baseball scores. Additionally, Maurice Jones-Drew could hold out, which bodes well for the Jags shot at Matt Barkley, if not for their record.