1. Green Bay Packers-
-The Packers were 15-1 last year despite a struggling running game, questions at LT and a defense that gave up a ton of yards. The Packers hope better health should improve their rushing attack and LT play. And as for their defense they spent their top 6 picks on that side of the ball, and three or four of whom should make some what of an impact as rookies. Despite having a 1st place schedule this year, their road this season could be easier, with facing the NFC West and AFC South divisions, which between them might give the Packers two challenging games.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers-
-The Steelers went 12-4 last year despite dealing with a number of key injuries at times throughout the season, and a resurgent Bengals team that made their own division tougher. Pittsburgh did enjoy a fairly easy schedule facing the NFC West and AFC South last season, so things will be a bit tougher this year, but Pittsburgh should be able to handle it. They still return a lot of talent, and with an offensive line that has the potential to be very good, could make the rest of their offense pretty special. Their defense was still among the league’s best despite missing Harrison and Woodley for a combined 11 games. I expect some young guys to really start stepping up in Pittsburgh which should keep this defense at the top of the league.
3. New England Patriots-
-The Patriots offense may have even gotten better with the addition of some receivers and some other young guys (particularly their RB’s) stepping up. They should boast one of the league’s best offenses, and that will be at least enough to send them back to the playoffs (especially with an easy schedule). The real question is the Patriots defense. New England invested heavily in the draft (though there were some questionable picks) on that side of the ball and they should have some players returning via injury. The question remains, will it be enough for NE.
4. New York Giants-
-The Giants suffered through a number of major injuries on defense last year, which was part of the reason why they limped into the playoffs, if they can remain healthy there is little reason why they shouldn’t be one of the favorites this year. New York will need better offensive line play this year, as their running game floundered and Manning faced considerable pressure.
5. New Orleans Saints-
-The Saints may be without their coach and a few defensive players for part of the season, but they still retain one of the best collection of talent in the league. Particularly, this talent is apparent on offense, where Drew Brees has a plethora of top weapons to choose from. The defense is still lagging behind somewhat, but has some quality pieces in their own right.
6. Houston Texans-
–the Texans finally found the elite defense they’ve been lacking, to go along with an impressive offensive unit. Houston has probably the best 1-2 punch rushing attack in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. If they get a lead they have the ability to just control the clock through the rest of the game.
7. Baltimore Ravens-
-The Ravens are one of the most talented teams in the league, but will need to show they can overcome the Steelers again if they want to move up this list. Ray Rice is an elite running back, and Baltimore’s receivers seem to be getting better, but Joe Flacco appears to be stuck on neutral after a poor year last season. The Ravens defense can pick up a lot of the slack, but will be without Terrell Suggs this season.
8. San Francisco 49ers-
-The 49ers were everyone’s surprise team last year, and should be in line for another good year. Their defense remains elite, and with some additions to their backfield and receiving corps, they have the weapons to sustain their success. Alex Smith did a great job of not making mistakes last year, but there is always a chance he regresses.
9. Philadelphia Eagles-
-The Eagles had a very disappointing year last season according to their record, but statistically they were among the elite teams. They have talent and depth throughout their roster, and if everything goes right they have the ability to rise to the top of this list. The health of Michael Vick will be a key barometer to their success.
10. Atlanta Falcons-
-The Falcons have a very talented all-around team, but could be undone by a questionable offensive line. The biggest key to the Falcons success may be whether or not Matt Ryan takes his game to the elite level, or remains just a very good quarterback.
11. San Diego Chargers-
-the Chargers need to have a bounce back year after a disappointing season in 2010. If the offensive line stays healthy, then San Diego’s fortunes look good. If they falter again it could be tough for Phillip Rivers and company to sustain drives.
12. Chicago Bears-
-The Bears need to hope the addition of Brandon Marshall, brings the best out of Jay Cutler. If so combining him with their strong rushing attack and defense could make Chicago a legitimate contender. A poor offensive line still remains a concern though.
13. Cincinnati Bengals-
-The Bengals figure to be once again fighting for a wild card spot. They have one of the most promising collections of young talent in the league, but still figure to be going through some growing pains.
14. Detroit Lions-
-The Lions had a big year last season, but need to show that they can sustain their success. Their passing attack and pass rush are no doubt impressive, their running game and secondary though leave a lot to be desired.
15. Dallas Cowboys-
–Tony Romo leads an impressive group of skill players for the Cowboys, that should have the ability to score with the best teams in the NFL. They have an improved secondary, and a strong defense overall, though holes remain at the safety position.
16. Kansas City Chiefs-
-The Chiefs have perhaps the best collection of talent at almost all of their starting positions and key contributing roles (3rd WR and CB, 2nd RB and TE). The one area where they are lacking is at quarterback, where Matt Cassel figures to get one more chance to prove he’s a starter in this league.
17. Buffalo Bills-
-The Bills are an improving young team, with a strong rushing attack and one of the brightest young receivers in the league in Stevie Johnson. The defense should be much improved with some of their offseason additions. Questions remain around QB Ryan Fitzpatrick though, as to whether or not he’s good enough to take them to the next level.
18. Denver Broncos-
-The Broncos are perhaps the biggest wildcard team in the league. If it is the Peyton Manning of old, than there is no reason as to why they don’t win double digit games. If he’s only 80%, than they can still compete, but likely won’t have the supporting cast to put them in the playoffs.
19. Seattle Seahawks-
-Their QB battle is one of the more interesting competitions this offseason, but overall it probably won’t matter much to their win total. Seattle has been getting better overall, but they still lack enough impact talent to really be a 10 win team.
20. Carolina Panthers-
-The Panthers hope to build on Cam Newton’s rookie success, but they should expect at least some growing pains still along the way still. The Panthers need another receiver to step up opposite Steve Smith to ensure that Newton has enough variety of targets. Questions remain on defense as both the secondary and defensive tackles appear pretty weak.
21. New York Jets-
-The Jets appear to be a team that could really fall this year. Their QB play remains one of the worst units in the league, their run game is just average and their offensive line has fallen off. Defensively they are still very strong, but overcoming the weaknesses and problems on the offense won’t be easy.
22. Tennessee Titans-
-The Titans have a good bit of potential on this team both offensively and defensively, but should expect to endure quite a few growing pains with Jake Locker at quarterback.
23. Arizona Cardinals-
-The Cards have one of the best receivers in the league, a quality defense, and some promising young offensive weapons. What they lack is a known quantity at quarterback and an offensive line to protect him.
24. Tampa bay Buccaneers-
-The Buccaneers have some promising young players and added a pair of big time players in WR Vincent Jackson and OG Carl Nicks. Though they are heading in the right direction, the Bucs probably need another year to develop everyone fully.
25. Washington Redskins-
-The Redskins are expecting big things out of their young quarterback Robert Griffin, but the overall talent around him is suspect. Defensively they are strong up front, but have some big holes in the back end.
26. St. Louis Rams-
–The Rams added some impact free agents and a lot of young talent in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. How quickly they all gel together will determine how successful they can be.
27. Miami Dolphins-
-Miami is in rebuilding mode, but they show some nice future potential. They should expect a strong offensive line and rushing attack, but don’t figure to have the quality weapons for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
28. Cleveland Browns-
-The Browns added some high potential guys in the draft, including a new RB Trent Richardson, and QB in Brandon Weeden, but still firmly remain in 4th in the tough AFC North.
29. Minnesota Vikings-
-How much Adrian Peterson’s injury slows down the star back could impact, how well this team can develop. Minnesota still has serious questions in their receiving corps and secondary, which will hurt them this season.
30. Indianapolis Colts-
-The Colts are revamping their entire offense and defense, while remaking their roster. It’s the right move overall, with an eye on the future, but it could make it a pretty long season in Indy.
31. Oakland Raiders-
-The Raiders are a team that could win as many as eight games, or collapse to the bottom of the league. Given the amount of talent that exited this offseason, and the lack of draft picks to replace them, the latter outcome seems more likely.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars-
-The Jaguars made a major effort to give Blaine Gabbert weapons this offseason, but it’s unclear if it will help the 2nd year quarterback as much as the jaguars hope. A contract hold-out by Maurice Jones-Drew causes further issues to an offense that was pretty ugly last year.