As the upcoming NFL season approaches, teams have continued tweaking their rosters in efforts to compete for a chance at the Lombardi Trophy. The Super Bowl is in New Orleans this year, so I am sure the added incentive has doubled the stakes. The NFL Draft is over and free agency is nearing a halt.
We take a look at the top teams, as rosters presently constituted here at BlvdAve. In descending order.
BLVDAVE Presents: 2012 NFL Preseason Power Rankings
32. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts will actually "Suck for Luck" this season. Completely blown up from anything resembling the Indy team that made 11 straight playoffs, this is going to be the beginning of a true rebuilding process for the horseshoe.
31. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have managed to successfully transition from one rebuilding era to another. The Colt McCoy ever is over (as if it ever began), and the Weeden-era approaches. This seems like a cheesy sequel to Unnecessary Roughness. Oh and by the way, Peyton Hillis is out and Trent Richardson is in.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is on the mend. Christian Ponder is doing another tour of duty at the quarterback position, and the 'Vikes have bolstered up a bit at the offensive line. Still not enough with one of the weakest defenses in football. Jared Allen cannot do it all.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Landing perhaps one of the highest potential weapons of this years draft in Justin Blackmon, the Jags have added yet another weapon to the rushing attack of Maurice Jones-Drew. Blaine Gabbert proved to be a steal for Jacksonville, passing for 2200yds and 12TD's on a team predicated on the run. The defense has taken significant hits this offseason coming off a top 10 season. The AFC South is up for the taking, but the AFC isn't.
28. St. Louis Rams
Perhaps one of the most intriguing teams heading into the season, the Rams picked up an unprecedented six players in the top 96 selections according to ESPN. Sam Bradford has something to prove, without Brandon Lloyd. Stephen Jackson must carry a bears share of the load. Health is the biggest question on this team.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Head Coach Greg Shiano may be in for the season of his life. Inheriting a team coming off a season where they failed to meet expectations, and as a result, bolstering its offense by adding Dallas Clark and Vincent Jackson. These players will mix in with Josh Freeman (3592yds, 16TD's) and LaGarrette Blount (781yds, 5TD's, 14 games started). Tampa Bay may surprise many and burst out of the tough NFC South with teams such as New Orleans, Atlanta, and Carolina all showing various vulnerabilities.
26. Miami Dolphins
The David Garrard to Ocho Cinco connection has been birthed. Not to mention the intentions on Reggie Bush being an every down running back. This has the potential to be a monumental disaster or one of the most versatile, electrifying offenses of 2012. The 3rd ranked rush defense returns and the 25th ranked pass defense has made some tweaks. It will all however, rely solely on the offensive continuity. Don't be surprised is Ryan Tannehill takes over the reigns if Garrard fails to make things work.
25. Buffalo Bills
The Bills defense was so bad, that even though the offense was among the leagues best, the defense managed to find ways to still lose games. That may be about to change. The Bills used $100mil ($50mil guaranteed) to alter the run D that plagued the team all season, signing Mario Williams from the Houston Texans. The Bills have made moves, and a solid investment in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (6yr-$59mil), however many can't grasp the fact that the Bills are a perpetual letdown season after season.
24. Seattle Seahawks
Skittles, Pete Carroll, the 12th man.
23. Washington Redskins
RGIII will assume the role as 2012-13's Cam Newton, and the Skins' will play the role as the Carolina Panthers. The addition of Pierre Garcon, and the return of Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, and the emergence of Roy Helu should bring the excitement back to Chocolate City.
22. Oakland Raiders
This Oakland Raiders team will be the first true playing in A.D.(After Davis). However, the team looks to continue his memory in changing the teams philosophy back to the old black and blue Raiders. Hiring defensive guru Dennis Allen as head coach, and taking valuable picks in the draft to select high potential defenders, and also signing cornerback Ron Bartell. The biggest challenge for Oakland will be at the quarterback position, as Carson Palmer gave the Raiders hope last season, but knocking on the door will be fellow USC-alumn and backup Matt Leinhart.
21. San Diego Chargers
As the Chargers retired LaDanian Tomlinson's jersey, it seemingly marked the transition into a new generation of San Diego football. And along with that will more than likely include Norv Turner, as his era will undoubtedly end with nothing short of a Super Bowl appearance, and win. The Turner-era has proven to be mildly successful and full of empty results. The loss of Vincent Jackson sparked the acquisition of Robert Meachem. Only time will tell the value of that switch. The Chargers already failed expectations in the worst division in the NFL, and now that Peyton Manning is there to cause problems for teams, this could be an ugly exit for Turner.
20. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals must protect the quarterback. That is if they have any hope of keeping one, and winning football games. Kevin Kolb, one year removed from the blockbuster 6yr-$65mil contract signing, is now reduced to competing with John Skelton for a position. The Cardinals spent the draft upgrading the offense while drafting assistance and appeasing the league's best receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Notre Dame standout Malcom Floyd.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
First things first, extend Dwayne Bowe. Perhaps one the most valuable players to any team, Bowe holds a streamline offense together adding balance to the running game that once garnerd the four-headed monster of Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Thomas Jones(gone) and Jackie Battle(gone). Todd Haley is no longer the Head Coach, as the Chiefs signed Romeo Crennel to take the helms, so no real loss in that department. This may be KC's breakout season, or it's beginning rebuilding season.
18. Carolina Panthers
The scariest thing about Carolina is the fact that in 10 losses, 9 could have gone either way. Add in the fact that Cam Newton gained more weapons in the offseason and has a year of experience under his belt, and this is by far the most mysteriously dangerous team of the upcoming season. Any defense that is better than last years will gain Carolina an extra couple of wins (ranked 27th overall in 2011), anything that resembles a top 10 defense should see the Panthers into the postseason.
17. Tennessee Titans
I believe Chris Johnson's fat contract hangover is over. However, this Titans team will have a season without the fire of Head Coach Jeff Fisher, that will be the biggest factor in the direction the team goes this season. Nevertheless, front office won't let the loss of a coach stop the process of acquiring talent. Adding Kamerion Wimbley from the Raiders to maintain their defensive identity. Also Kenny Britt will look to be on the mend after suffering a significant injury last season, the offense should pick right where it left off two seasons ago.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals took the NFL by storm last season as rookies Andy Dalton (QB, 3,398yds, 20TD's), and A.J. Green (WR, 1,057yds, 7TD's) led a stellar Cincinnati offensive attack. Versatile receiver Jerome Simpson is no longer with the team as well as power back Cedric Benson. However, the Bengals will use former Patriot stop gap Benjarvus Green-Ellis to bring life back to the rushing attack. The top 10 defensive remains intact, adding key defender Vontaze Burfict (LB). Burfict, out of Arizona State who practically fell into the laps of the Bengals, going undrafted and later signing with the team. This team is one year away from being a real contender, barring any setbacks in the continuity of a clean team.
15. Detroit Lions
The Lions should be primed for a run at the Lombardi, however immaturity and a propensity for trouble put make them this generation's Cincinnati Bengals. The Lions have stolen the headlines this offseason for all the wrong reasons, over 7 arrests, many of which are repeat offenders will carry over to the field where they already gave Oakland a run for their money in the penalties department. Nevertheless as long as Megatron is still lined up and Matthew Stafford is throwing him the ball, the Lions should be able to make up for their ignorance of a few roster spots.
14. Denver Broncos
What better way to transition from the Tebow-era than to dive head first into the Peyton-era. The Denver Broncos managed miracles in the Mile High to culminate one of the most electrifying seasons to date. However, if the miracles have left Denver and Peyton Manning's neck hasn't fully regenerated than the Broncos will need divine intervention in order to stay competitive in a fully loaded AFC. The AFC West however is for the taking.
13. Houston Texans
The Texans got their first taste of the playoffs last season despite losing their best receiver and starting quarterback. Now with Peyton Manning truly out of the division and the Colts no longer reigning dominance, the Texans should have no problem taking over the crown of the AFC South. However, the loss of Mario Williams to Buffalo and a younger, more inexperienced defense as the weak link the Texans are masters of their own destiny, again. The Texans will also have Wade Phillips as the new Head Coach.
12. Chicago Bears
Chicago may have had one of the most productive offseasons in the NFL. Addressing every major weakness via the draft and free agency. The Bears signed receiver Brandon Marshall, reuniting him with quarterback Jay Cutler, with whom each enjoyed their greatest successes playing for the Denver Broncos. They also finally worked out a contract extension with disgruntled, yet transcendent running back Matt Forte, keeping his company with the Bears for another four years. Chicago also added depth to the defensive line, secondary and receiving core. Barring another onset of injuries that plagued the team last year, there could very well be another rematch with the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Atanta Falcons may be one the most head-scratching teams to figure out of the past couple seasons. Equipped with one of the league's most explosive offenses, and an "ice cold" quarterback, the Falcons never really seemed to stumble when Pro-Bowl quarterback Michael Vick was arrested amid dog-fighting charges. However, as far as the postseason is concerned, Atlanta has severely failed to meet expectations. The defense has eroded substantially in seasons past, and as a buffer, the Falcons locked in defensive end John Abraham to a 3yr deal that should cement him as the cornerstone to a defense that must keep up pace with high scoring offense if Atlanta is to make the most out the ever closing remaining window.
10. New York Jets
The New York Jets are much like a Ferrari Testarosa with stock parts. All flare and not much substance. The Jets are stock-piled at defense, and with the edition winning quarterback Tim Tebow, they added more pressure. The Jets failed to make the playoffs after making two consecutive AFC Championship games, and now the window on the team as presently constituted is closing just as fast as the Tebow-fueled Jockey billboards are going up in Times Square. However, if anything goes awry in this Tebow-Mark Sanchez dual quarterback system, than head coach Rex Ryan and Co. will be making just as furious an exit as they did an entrance.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
The Dream Team look to avenge a season that they would like to forget, or maybe not forget. The Eagles made major splashes last season, acquiring highly sought after cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Vince Young, however, you couldn't tell by the play on the field. The Eagles went 8-8 to miss the playoffs and quarterback Michael Vick went yet another season where he failed to start all 16 games. Vick, who just recently released a tell-all book exposing his hidden secrets and dirty laundry, is looking to lay all the cards out on the table this season with a Super Bowl or bust mentality. If they fail, it could be the end of the Andy Reid-era in Philadelphia.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have the smallest window of any team in the NFL. Tony Romo, one of the league's most elite quarterback for nearly the past decade. However, the inability to garner any success in the postseason has saw the team and it's franchise quarterback in the crosshairs of mediocrity. Last season saw significant hits to the team in injuries, however the silver lining was the emergence of Demarco Murray and Laurent Robinson. Unfortunately Robinson took his talents to Jacksonville, but Murray remains and key players such as Miles Austin return. This, much like Philly, is a make-or-break season for Dallas.
7. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints will be under the worlds largest microscope this season. The Saints were the biggest story of the offseason after a multipage documented indicted the team, it's staff and player personnel directly involved in a player bounty. This bounty was predicated on player injuries and supposed "pay for cart off injuries" to many of the league's elite stars. This was a practice that traced back to the Saints 2010 Super Bowl run through the 2011 season. Defensive leader Jonathan Vilma, head coach Sean Payton and then defensive coordinator Greg Williams were all suspended for at least one season and Williams indefinitely. The Saints will be undoubtedly looking for stability this season, but now that the front office finally inked a long-term extension for quarterback Drew Brees (5,476yds, 46TD's), even the release of Robert Meachem won't be able to deter the Saints offensive attack.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers look to return this season with a renewed vengeance. After losing to Denver on a 72yd touchdown pass from Tebow to DeMaryius Thomas in an overtime loss in last years playoffs, Pittsburgh was left to only wait. With the addition of former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley taking over the offense and another year of experience under lightning rod receiver Mike Wallace, the Steelers look to finish business this season, as long as no more funny business happens in the offseason. They also return the majority of their top 3 defense. The key of which is Troy Polamalu.
5. New York Giants
The reigning Super Bowl Champion Giants haven't made much of splash this offseason by ways of addition. They have however by subtraction, by parting ways with bruising running back Brandon Jacobs. This move came as a surprise as they look to build on the success of late winning 2 of the last 4 Super Bowls. Mario Manningham is no longer with the team, so that leaves Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to take the lead as the head of the receiving core. The Giants also made efforts to placate the oft-frustrated Osi Umenyiora
paying him for the next two seasons. This is key as the rest of the defense that tormented teams in last years playoffs remains partly intact. The key to repeating for this team is making the playoffs, again.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The world was very close to watching the Harbaugh Bowl last year. However, ineptitude in special teams plagued the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl. As the window for one of the most dominant defenses in NFL History is closing, future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed prepare for another season of valuable football. If Joe Flacco plays up to the level that his bravado states he is, than this team should have no problem making it back to the AFC Championship Game again. Ray Rice just inked an extension that should see him play a little bit more comfortably as he carries most of the teams offense on his back.
3. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots only flaw is that it must live in its own shadow of dominance. Owning the early 2000's, the Patriots won 3 out of the 4 Super Bowls as Tom Brady emerged as one the NFL's most clutch performers ever. Now the Patiots have lost 2 of the last 5 Super Bowls, both to the New York Giants. The defense has been a consistent eye sore as Brady, Wes Welker and the Patriots offense continue to baffle defenses across the league. New England recently lost running back Benjarvis Green-Ellis to free agency and replaced him aptly with former Indianapolis Colts back Joseph Addai, the Pats also added dynamic wideout Brandon Lloyd. The only thing stopping the Patriots from earning a fourth Lombardi is the development of the young defense.
2. San Francisco 49'ers
San Francisco is right on the brink of a Super Bowl. Literally, the team was it's way to giving the viewing public the privilege of watching two brothers coach a Super Bowl for the first time in history. Unfortunately critical errors by specials teams let the NFC Championship slip away and the most dominant defense in football was forced to wait another year to avenge an otherwise stellar season. Alex Smith comes back with a chip on his shoulder after the Niners spent much of the offseason "flirting" with free agent Peyton Manning. Since both sides have made peace and Smith has been vehemently boasted as the quarterback for San Fran. It doesn't really matter who the QB is anyway, as long as Harbaugh has the defense playing like the 85' Bears and Frank Gore ( 1,211yds, 8TD's) is still getting his touches, it should be another NFC Championship - bare minimum - for the Bay.
Oh, and they signed Randy Moss.
1. Green Bay Packers
Brett Favre's voodoo doll works pretty good. As numbers would have it, there should be no reason this first paragraph shouldn't say something about the Packers attempting a three-peat at the Lombardi trophy. The Packers were grossly upset by the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. To much chagrin, the Packers were finally fully healthy for the first time all season. Despite those injuries, Green Bay managed to follow up a 2011 Super Bowl win by winning 18 straight games heading into the final months of the season. The quest for 16-0 was thwarted in Kansas City, but they managed to finish the season 15-1 before losing against the Giants. The defense for the Packers was near non-existant last season, which is why Green Bay addressed the line during the offseason, most notably signing former Saint Anthony Hargrove out of the bountygate scandal.
Aaron Rodgers (4,643yds, 45TD's) is still the starting quarterback.