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Power Rankings

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Ravens, Saints must overcome adversity; don't sleep on Bengals

First wave of free agency? Done.

Second wave of free agency? Done. (Call it A.P. -- after Peyton.)

NFL draft? Done.

Now, where does your team stand in relation to its peers?

Well, I'll spoil the surprise and tell you the New York Giants still sit atop the board. Big Blue won seven of its last eight games against the best competition en route to the Super Bowl. The move for linebacker Keith Rivers flew under the radar, but it was a need-based maneuver that fortified one of the Giants' not-so-glaring weaknesses.

So that's No. 1. As for the rest, how does everyone stack up as compared to my last edition of the Power Rankings at the end of March?

Let the dissension commence!

The champs remain in the top spot until proven otherwise. Rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle was a heckuva bargain, and had a heckuva journey at the 2012 NFL Draft. When he sat for an interview with me, he looked like a dude whose high school girlfriend made him see "Love Actually" twice in the theater. It's tough waiting in a the green room while 62 other names get called, but Big Blue was thrilled to get first-round talent with the last pick in the second. Randle and first-round RB David Wilson only make the champs that much tougher.

It was another stellar draft for the Pats, and they still haven't stopped acquiring receivers. Now Jabar Gaffney joins Deion Branch, Wes Welker (hopefully), Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Donte' Stallworth ... What, Hart Lee Dykes and Michael Timpson weren't available? Freddie Mitchell still around?

While writing the "team holes" pieces, I struggled with two things: 1) Typing 200 guys' names correctly on no sleep after a long draft weekend; and 2) trying to find real "holes" in Green Bay. When I mentioned that Tramon Williams has gotten worse, Packers fans came at me in droves in his defense. Consider me "aware" of his shoulder issue. This is still a great team. Saying the Packers need a better running game is akin to saying Sofia Vergara would be hotter if she had darker eyebrows.

The Packers leapfrog the Niners from the last installment of the Power Rankings due to a better draft. Yet, there are a couple of things to get to in this space:

1) A reader, "mrphil49erfan," pulled a Dr. Phil on me, pointing out that I was critically harsh on San Francisco's offensive line in my "NFC West holes to fill" take. True, it's better than viable.

2) The 49ers completely revamped a wide receiver corps that held it back in the playoffs. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham were added in free agency, then the club selected A.J. Jenkins with the 30th overall pick in the draft. The Niners went 1-for-13 on third down in the NFC Championship Game, with Michael Crabtree catching one pass all day.

Chicago might have gone for Shea McClellin a little early, but there's no question that the front line needed someone who can make plays on the edge. McClellin is an effort guy, not a speed rusher, so we'll see if his game is fast enough for the NFL. The right tackles in the NFC North are hardly considered world-beaters, unless you're one of those folks who have a Gosder Cherilus or Phil Loadholt Fathead in your room.

Much has been made of the losses of Mario Williams, Eric Winston and DeMeco Ryans in recent weeks. The last two are understandable, but Williams? Won't be missed. Houston has built a 49er-esque front seven, and what's not to love about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips getting two new toys ( Whitney Mercilus and Jared Crick) to rotate into an already formidable pass rush? The only weakness this defense has is at right inside linebacker, where Darryl Sharpton fills in for Ryans.

Terrell Suggs' injury is all the rage in Baltimore right now. The guy should've just pulled a Jeff Kent and said he was washing his truck. Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh can't be happy. This would all be mitigated if Courtney Upshaw Sergio Kindle stepped in and balled out. You know what the Ravens have gotten from the former second-round pick? An all-encompassing nothing. And for all of the Ravens fans who pointed out that tight end Ed Dickson's last name was briefly misspelled "Hickson" in the "holes" piece, we caught it. Now if Hickson would just make the tough catches ...

Loved the Fletcher Cox pick. Mychal Kendricks, too. Awesome. Now, who's gonna keep Michael Vick healthy and on the field?

Bountygate: Medieval

 Saints: Reeling. 

Rest of the NFC South: Improved.

But still ...

Brees > Ryan > Cam > Freeman.

Peyton Manning gets the Broncos in the top 10. What was up with the Broncos opting out of the first round of the draft? You see, taking a guy in the first round requires cash. Literally, real money. Denver wasn't going to spend it, and was perfectly content getting extra picks. Now the question is how much of an impact can second-round DE/DT Derek Wolfe make? The thought here is plenty.

Pittsburgh takes a step up from our last rankings based on keeping Mike Wallace, as well as having a sound draft. Getting David DeCastro at 24th overall was probably the best value of the first round. He should start immediately. In fact, DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey next to one another will be formidable for any interior defensive line. If second-rounder Mike Adams turns into a player, this will be a new-look Steeler team. The offensive line had all sorts of problems in 2011, and yet Pittsburgh went 12-4.

A big leap -- the Bengals ranked 19th the last time we spoke -- for the team that had the best draft in the NFL. Cincinnati picked up Dre Kirkpatrick at 17th overall, a move some felt the Cowboys could've (should've?) made had they kept their original 14th pick. Kevin Zeitler instantly upgrades the offensive line. Third-rounder Mohamed Sanu gives Andy Dalton a red-zone target to replace Jerome Simpson. And don't forget Devon Still, who will fit nicely in Mike Zimmer's eight-man rotation up front. With fresh legs on defense to create pressure, a tailback who doesn't cough up the ball (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and slot receiver Jordan Shipley returning next to A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, why can't this team win 11 games?

The Lions made the head scratcher pick of the second round, taking WR Ryan Broyles when the team clearly had more pressing needs in other areas (offensive line, linebacker, secondary, to name a few). Making matters worse is that many analysts had Broyles as a third- or fourth-rounder. Do the two negatives cancel out, like cheating with sisters or something?

Rob pulled a Rex and started running his mouth about how good the Cowboys are going to be again. Someone should send him a stat sheet or DVD of Week 8, Cowboys at Eagles. Love Rob, but sometimes guys just gotta shut up and play ball.

The Chiefs had a good offseason in more ways than one. For starters, they're getting everybody back healthy. Second, signing Eric Winston and Kevin Boss to go along with another solid draft makes this team look like Denver's biggest threat in the AFC West. Yes, they signed Peyton Hillis, as well. They needed another slow running back to fill the Thomas Jones void.

First-round pick Kendall Wright was as happy and cool as could be at the draft. That pleasant demeanor should help while he watches Kenny Britt and Nate Washington get all his first-team reps. The more exciting pick might be Zach Brown, who could make an immediate impact on a defense somewhat devoid of playmakers.

The Falcons have morphed into a passing team, looking to ride the right arm of their fifth-year veteran behind center. It's hard to believe Matt Ryan has been in the league that long, but it's time this "franchise quarterback" takes the next step. This team has won 42 games in his first four seasons, but really has nothing to show for it. On defense, the onus falls on the pass rush, where Ray Edwards (3.5 sacks) hasn't complemented aging John Abraham the way the club envisioned.

New York's first three picks in the draft should help immediately. Quinton Coples might already be the best pass rusher on team, so long as he doesn't inherit Vernon Gholston's old locker. Stephen Hill could start right off the bat, unless Chaz Schilens forgets he's Chaz Schilens and kills it in camp. Demario Davis could start as well, with linebacker Bryan Thomas coming off an Achilles injury and Bart Scott coming off running five yards behind ball carriers all season.

If the Lions shocked people with the second-round selection of Broyles, how would you qualify the Seahawks taking Bruce Irvin in the top half of the first round? Seattle has been bold, signing Matt Flynn just days after ticking off Peyton Manning with an unannounced visit (We're here!), then making a move for a linebacker that several teams didn't think was a first-round pick. It will all work out in the end if a) Jason Jones slides up and down the line en route to 8-10 sacks, and B) Flynn plays within himself. There's no need to throw for 490 and win games on his own.

Oakland wasn't able to fill the cupboard in the draft, as the club's first pick didn't come until the very end of the third round. Carson Palmer has been geeked about running the new offensive system, and must be equally stoked to know he'll have virtually no competition at quarterback. He's elated to have Matt Leinart back as a caddie again.

Speaking of somebody trying to win games by himself, Philip Rivers did a little too much of that last season. His 20 interceptions were a result of forcing the ball to receivers, as well as an ever-changing lineup around him. Will 2012 go differently? Will Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd start? Where do Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Micheal Spurlock fit in? A major problem for Rivers and the offense last year was the lack of continuity. Thus, Antonio Gates can't be overweight (or hurt), and at least two of the receivers need to establish themselves in the offense come preseason.

One of the tougher teams to gauge in these Power Rankings. How good are the Cardinals, really? Yes, Arizona won seven of nine to finish the 2011 campaign, but as of yet, they are undecided on a quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt needs to take a cue from himself, decide on a starter and stick with it -- like he did in the 2008 training camp, when Kurt Warner beat out the favored Matt Leinart and then took the Cards to Super Bowl XLIII. Of course, the chances of Kevin Kolb or John Skelton ever becoming Kurt Warner ...

It's so hard to type anything good about the Buffalo Bills, because they end up letting you down one way or another. But GM Buddy Nix is doing his damndest to get one of the AFL's original eight turned around. Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since Rob Johnson was wearing Lilith Fair headbands and Lindy Ruff was coaching the Sabres. Well, Ruff is still coaching the Sabres and the Bills are still in the midst of a playoff drought -- the longest in the NFL. Hopefully, the additions of Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore will make Buffalo a tough place for offenses to play.

Carolina chose not to grab a defensive tackle or give Steve Smith a viable No. 2 in the early rounds -- a bit of a surprise from draft weekend. What the Panthers did get is a big-time player in linebacker Luke Kuechly. The only pause here is the enormous amount of bad luck Carolina has had at linebacker. Thomas Davis can't stay healthy. The team's best player, Jon Beason, missed almost all of 2011 due to injury. Dan Morgan was a beast, but couldn't stay healthy, either. Let's hope Kuechly lines up 16 and knocks 'em down.

The retooling of the Redskins should be interesting, but this team's improvement will hinge on secondary play and the running game as much as it will on RG3. Roy Helu has to establish himself early as the guy, or else the Redskins will continue with the running-back-by-armada approach. Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowls with Terrell Davis ... not Ryan Torain, Evan Royster, Tim Hightower, Quentin Griffin, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Selvin Young ... God, do I have to go on?

Who are the Bucs? Are they the club that lost the last 10 games of 2011 under Raheem Morris? Or are they a new-look team with a new head coach -- as well as new No. 1 receiver, new guard, new safety, etc. -- that can compete in a division whose champion is knee-deep in turmoil? The answer lies somewhere in between, but if the defensive line plays up to its potential, this is a completely different football team. All four players on the line were first- or second-round picks. Look no further than the Giants to see what a good front four can do for playoff hopes.

Everyone is allowed to change their mind. I saw several people immediately change their mind about taking a chance on bottom-shelf tequila while in Mexico this week. The thinking here is that the Jags' No. 32 ranking in our last power rankings was a bit harsh. GM Gene Smith did his best to solve the big issues this offseason, signing Laurent Robinson and drafting Justin Blackmon to improve the WR corps. Meanwhile, the nonexistent pass rush got a boost (in theory) when Smith drafted Andre Branch in the second round. Many around the league thought Branch would go in the first. Speaking of the first, Jacksonville won't climb any higher until last year's first-rounder, Blaine Gabbert, shows something. Anything.

The Dolphins' drop is due to a pretty bad offseason in Miami. This just in: Contrary to what you've been led to believe, Matt Moore is not an awful player. He played great down the stretch in 2009 for Carolina, only to have concussion problems in 2010 (thanks in part to porous pass protection). Last season, he threw 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions and kept the Dolphins in games. Maybe he's Mr. Right Now, but he's a viable Mr. Right Now.

GM Les Snead is doing all he can, as fast as he can. The Rams filled several voids in free agency, starting at corner with the Cortland Finnegan signing. Snead swapped with Dallas to get extra picks in the draft, drafting defensive tackle Michael Brockers and wide receiver Brian Quick with his first two picks. Then cornerback Janoris Jenkins was taken with help from the Cowboys deal. Finnegan and Jenkins comprise the biggest knucklehead CB tandem in the league. That said, teams won't be moving at will in St. Louis this season.

Brandon Weeden says he wants to start. Maybe he'll change his mind when he sees this group of receivers.

Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith were nice picks, but the concern here is starting the season without Adrian Peterson, as well as the questionable reliability of Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson and Percy Harvin at receiver. The corners are another issue. So is the development of Christian Ponder. So is whether or not head coach Leslie Frazier is the man for the job. We'll see.

The Colt drop to last in the rankings. Not because of a poor draft, but rather after an extended look at the depth chart. Remember the old saying "You need a program to know who any of these guys are?" Well, you need a program to know who most of these guys are.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_

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