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After a month of meaningless preseason games, the NFL regular season is finally upon us.
In case you forgot, the New York Giants are once again the defending Super Bowl champions, though you wouldn’t know that if you have been watching ESPN all preseason. Still, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Giants. In fact, there are plenty of questions for every single so-called contender in the NFL.
The league has not been this wide open at the start of the season for quite some time, which should make for a really fun season.
Locally, the Arizona Cardinals made another mistake at the quarterback position, but the Redbirds are not the only team struggling in that area. The Cleveland Browns had a not-so-thrilling battle between Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy while the Seattle Seahawks gave the starting job to rookie Russell Wilson, despite giving loads of cash to Matt Flynn in the offseason.
The Fan AM 1060 NFL Power Rankings will be posted every single Tuesday on thefan1060.com with Bob Kemp rebutting on Wednesday in the SportsZone. I ranked the preseason from my Super Bowl Champion to the team selecting first in the 2013 NFL Draft.
1) San Francisco 49ers (12-4) Super Bowl XLVII Champions
That’s right. I’m picking the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Har-Bowl. Why? The Niners have the best offensive line in the NFL, they have great quartet of running back in Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter and that defensive front seven lead by Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith can shut down any offense in the NFL. Getting ready for it folks, Alex Smith will win a Super Bowl in 2013.
2) Baltimore Ravens (12-4) AFC Champions
Despite all that the Ravens lost in the offseason (Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding to free agency, Terrell Suggs to injury), I still like this team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco will never be an elite quarterback, but he doesn’t have to be with Ray Rice behind him and the Ravens stingy defense. And with Suggs returning late in the season, Baltimore will be the team to beat in the AFC.
3) Green Bay Packers (11-5) NFC North Champions
As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center in Green Bay, the Packers will always be a threat to win the Super Bowl. But the key to winning another title is not in Rodgers’ hands, that rests squarely on the defense. Green Bay’s defense gave up 400-plus yards in 11 games and only recorded 29 sacks all season. That has to improve, otherwise the Packers will come up short again in 2012.
4) New England Patriots (12-4) AFC East Champions
Tom Brady’s window in closing and the Patriots know it. New England extended contracts of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, while bringing in Brandon Lloyd, who could have a breakout season. Still, the defense scares me and is the reason why I cannot put the Patriots back in the Super Bowl. Drafting Chandler Jones and Don’t’a Hightower will help, but it won’t be enough to get Brady his fourth ring.
5) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) Wild Card
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of maybe three Super Bowl contenders in the AFC right now. Unfortunately for them, another one is in their division. The Rashard Mendenhall-Isaac Redman combination should finally give the Steelers a formidable running attack, but will the defense, the team’s biggest strength slow down the other high powered offenses in the AFC. I doubt it.
6) Atlanta Falcons (12-4) NFC South Champions
Will this be the finally be the year the Atlanta Falcons win a playoff game? I think it is. Mike Smith brought in Dirk Koetter to lead this explosive offense. Jaquizz Rodgers is the perfect mold of running back for Koetter’s screen-pass. ASU fans, just think Rudy Burgess 2004. I like Mike Nolan leading the defense and the additions of Asante Samuel and Lofa Tatupu. Atlanta will shock some people and win the NFC South.
7) Houston Texans (13-3) AFC South Champions
The Houston Texans are the sexy pick in the NFL right now. Many feel this team can be the best team in the AFC and win the Super Bowl. I think the below average competition in their division will inflate their record and Houston will become the latest #1 seed to be upset in the Divisional Round.
8) Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) NFC East Champions
The success of the Eagles once again relies on whether Michael Vick can make through an entire season. Vick already gave Philadelphia a scare when he bruised his rib in a preseason game against the New England Patroits. DeSean Jackson must return to form if the Eagles are going to win the NFC East. I say he does.
9) Denver Broncos (10-6) AFC West Champions
Gone is Tim Tebow, entering is some guy named Peyton Manning. His presence alone is the reason why some have picked the Broncos to win the Super Bowl. The four-time MVP will only make guess like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, even if Manning is only at 80 percent. The key will be John Fox getting the defense to take a step forward.
10) New York Giants (10-6) Wild Card
The hardest thing to do in sports is repeat. The New York Giants know that first-hand. New York improved their record by two wins but were eliminated in the playoffs by the upstart Eagles. The Giants will be in the playoffs again and would be a tough opponent for any team, but the defending champs will not capture the same magic from 2011.
11) Chicago Bears (10-6) Wild Card
The Chicago Bears might be the darkhorse in the NFC. I can easily see this team make a late season run like the Giants last year and the Packers in 2011 and win the Super Bowl, but I just can’t pick them. With Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, the defense is actually the weakness of this team now. Still, I would hate to open against the Bears in the playoffs.
12) Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) Wild Card
Several so-called experts believe this is the year the Bengals can finally take over the AFC North. While I won’t go that far, I do believe Cincinnati can return to the playoffs. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are reasons for optimism. The running game is a big concern, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis takes over for Cedric Benson. If the Bengals return to the postseason, they will need big improvements from him.
13) New Orleans Saints (9-7)
Many feel the Saints will go out and try to beat the world. And sure, having Drew Brees under center will help New Orleans deal with the Bountygate suspensions. However, these are not the 2007 New England Patriots. I would be surpsised if the Saints did not drop off some this year, but not because of the suspensions. It will be very difficult to put the same offensive numbers in 2012.
14) San Diego Chargers (9-7)
San Diego surprised all of football by bringing back Norv Turner following yet another disappointing season. The Chargers need to do a better job of protecting their quarterback if that is going to change. Philip Rivers has been sacked a ridiculous 68 times over the past two season. (Credit Rivers for not missing a single start). Expect a typical hot start, followed by a late season collapse.
15) Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
The Dallas Cowboys are an interesting team to try and predict. Tony Romo is a good quarterback, despite what many fans want to believe. DeMarco Murrary and Felix Jones gives the Cowboys a great one-two punch. Even with Dez Bryant’s issues and Jason Whitten’s spleen, Romo has targets to throw too. Finally, the Cowboys have a solid defense, led by DeMarcus Ware. But this team constantly underachieves. And once Dallas will come up just short, much to Jerry Jones’ chagrin.
16) Buffalo Bills (8-8)
The Buffalo Bills have a great chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Mario Williams give Dave Wannstedt a much needed pass rusher to his opportunistic, and underrated, defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick has become a reliable option; the problem is he doesn’t have any targets. Outside of Stevie Johnson, there is no real threat to catch the ball. For me, that’s will burst the Bills playoff bubble.
17) Carolina Panthers (8-8)
Cam Newton took the league by storm in his rookie season. Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and had a combined 35 touchdowns on the ground and through the air. Carolina’s weakness, however, is its defense. Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott are doing a great job to improve that, but being in the same division as Drew Brees and Matt Ryan keeps the Panthers just outside of a postseason berth.
18) Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
Kansas City finished 2011 strong after Romeo Crennel took over for Todd Haley. Injuries buried the Chiefs last season and general manager Scott Pioli add some depth, signing Peyton Hillis, Eric Watson and Kevin Boss to name a few. The offensive line much be able to keep Matt Cassel upright to have success in 2012. If that happens, KC could sneak their way into the playoffs.
19) Detroit Lions (7-9)
There is a ton of hype surrounding the Detroit Lions this year, some warranted, some not. With Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson, Detroit certainly has the talent. But I believe all of the off-field and discipline issues with ultimately doom this team. Any mistake can be the difference between making the playoff or not. And the Lions will make plenty.
20) Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Tennessee surprisingly went with Jake Locker over Matt Hasselbeck as their starting quarterback, which makes since considering in the influx on young talent the Titans have acquired. Expect Chris Johnson to once again become the home-run threat we’ve been accustom to seeing. Still, don’t think the Titans are quite good enough to make the playoffs.
21) Oakland Raiders (6-10)
The Raaaaiders lost the AFC West due to tiebreakers with the Broncos. Hue Jackson was fired, largely because of the failed trade for Carson Palmer (Oakland went 4-6 under Palmer). The Raiders need Palmer to resemble his old self and for Darren McFadden. Doubt those two things happen, which means a step back for Oakland.
22) Washington Redskins (6-10)
The Redskins gave up the farm to move into position and draft Robert Griffin III. You can’t really blame them, just look at their quarterbacks over the past several years. Still, the expectations in D.C. are now much higher than they should be. Fans expect results now and anything short of the playoffs could cost Mike Shanahan his job.
23) Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
Pete Carroll is taking a chance on rookie Russell Wilson and I believe it will blow up in his face. Wilson does have the capabilities to be a NFL quarterback, just not now. Opponents will game plan to stop Marshawn Lynch and dare Wilson to beat them. I bet he doesn’t and Flynn takes over the job before the end of the year.
24) New York Jets (5-11)
The New York Jets accomplished an amazing feat in the offseason. The Tim Tebow circus took the spotlight away from the defending Super Bowl champions and to place it on themselves. Rex Ryan & Co. will regret that. The offense is terrible, with or without Tebow, and the once stellar defense is starting to age. But don’t worry, Skip Bayless and ESPN will continue to give you countless hours of Jets coverage.
25) Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
The battle between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb was lackluster and the Cardinals once again gave the job to the wrong guy. But it likely won’t matter who the starter is because of the shaky offensive line. The defense and special teams will keep Arizona in several games, but until that line improves, the Cardinals will struggle.
26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Tampa Bay followed up their surprising 10-win 2010 season with a dud and it ultimately cost Raheem Morris his job. The Bucs went to the college ranks, hiring defensive-minded coach Greg Schiano, and for good reason. Tampa allowed an average of 36.1 points in the final nine games. Until that improves, the Bucs will remain in the basement of the NFC South.
27) Indianapolis Colts (5-11)
The beginning of the Andrew Luck Era will be rocky at first. Luck is more than capable of leading the Colts to win a few games they shouldn’t, but the complete overhaul in Indianapolis won’t happen overnight (like their move from Baltimore). The Colts have 30 new players on their 53 man roster. Expect a lot of struggles has they switch to Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense.
28) Minnesota Vikings (4-12)
The NFC North might be the toughest division in the NFL. That’s not good for the Vikings. Sure, Adrian Peterson is ahead of schedule and should be his old self within a few weeks, Christian Ponder will have a tough time trying to beat Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler. Minnesota might have a better record if they were in a different division.
29) St. Louis Rams (4-12)
There is some hope in St. Louis with the arrival of Jeff Fisher, but the Rams still have plenty of issues that need to be resolved. The offensive line must protect Sam Bradford, but what happens if Bradford struggles when they do? Hope is on the horizon, thanks to the boatload of draft picks the Rams got from Washington.
30) Miami Dolphins (3-13)
The highlight of the Miami Dolphins season was being on Hard Knocks because it’s all downhill from here. Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman are installing a West Coast system, but don’t the weapons to make it work right now. The good news? Miami will likely have three picks in the top 45 after trading Vonte Davis to the Colts.
31) Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Maurice Jones-Drew ended his holdout, but he and the Jags both lost. MJD was 47% of Jacksonville’s offense in 2011. Since he missed all of training camp, Jones-Drew will not be in game shape to start the season. That’s not good news for Blaine Gabbert.
32) Cleveland Browns (2-14)
The Browns are a mess. Brandon Weeden won the starting quarterback job because he wasn’t worse than Colt McCoy, which isn’t hard to do. Six rookies will likely start, and that doesn’t include Trent Richardson, who’s health is a big concern. Do not surprised if Cleveland ends up with the top pick in next year’s draft.