Defensive Power Rankings: Texans, Niners elite


We thought about updating our revolutionary tiered Around the League Power Rankings this week, and then we realized it would look exactly like it did two weeks ago.

So let's try something a little different. We present our Preseason Defensive Power Rankings. The list was created by answering a simple question: What depth chart, defensive coach and scheme would we want as a general manager? Talent and 2012 potential matters more here than the final 2011 rankings.

Top shelf: Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Bulls on Parade in Houston have the best combination of young talent and scheme in the NFL, even without Mario Williams. San Francisco's front seven rivals Houston. Baltimore isn't nearly as old as you think, while Pittsburgh still has a surplus of linebacker talent and great continuity under Dick Lebeau.

Anything less than a top-10 ranking in points allowed would be a huge disappointment for these teams. Their defenses can win games on their own.

Next level: Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, and Kansas City Chiefs

We strongly considered putting the Seahawks and Giants in their own tier or the tier above. Seattle is greater than the sum of its parts and the parts are fantastic in the secondary. New York's defensive line can make up for its back seven. Philadelphia's talent remains elite. Their continuity should serve them well in year two under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

The Cardinals are a sneaky defense that's tough to prepare for. We love Bengals coordinator Mike Zimmer and his deep rotation of pass rushers. My Chiefs man crush extends to their young, primed defense under Romeo Crennel.

The talent and potential is there for any of these defenses to be among the best in the league.

Knocking on the door: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Dallas Cowboys

Safety Louis Delmas' surgery is a reminder Detroit is woefully thin in the secondary. It's just not a good back seven on defense. Sorry. Chicago ranks this high because of Lovie Smith and a few standouts, but the talent and track record are mostly overrated. Green Bay has the players and coach to bounce right back to their 2010 level. It's a strong depth chart. Rob Ryan should have enough in the secondary to improve things in Dallas.

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These defenses could go either way. A top-five rank or mediocrity wouldn't be huge surprises.

Middle of the pack: Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins

Buffalo has been so bad on defense for so long and they continue to adjust their scheme. I need to see it to believe it. Atlanta and Jacksonville lack the pass rushers to be elite. The Jaguars defense overachieved last year. There is some sleeper potential in Oakland if Dennis Allen is legit. It's been a while since Washington's Jim Haslett ran a difference-making unit.

Not sold: Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans

Miami's talent should rank them higher, but the scheme change is a worry. Cleveland wasn't as good as their ranking last year indicated. San Diego doesn't have enough difference-makers. At least the Patriots look young and interesting this year. They are on the upswing.

Denver has too many roster holes at defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety. Carolina is similarly uneven. Tennessee's talent is mediocre. Jeff Fisher has enough to work with to improve things in St. Louis.

These defenses ideally won't get their teams beat. But they don't look like standouts.

Sub-mediocre: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts

New Orleans' pass rush should be among the league's worst. Greg Schiano should improve Tampa's discipline, but the talent level has a ways to go. Colts coach Chuck Pagano is fighting an uphill battle considering his secondary. The Vikings have Jared Allen and little else.

Football Outsiders has often pointed out that year-to-year performance on defense is far more volatile than offense. That gives these teams hope, but we're not seeing it.

We'll check back on these rankings after a few regular season weeks to see how dumb we look.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.