With free agency slowing down from the autobahn-pace in which it began, teams are starting to look set. With that, it seemed like a good time to take a first swipe at power rankings.
You'll find surprises below, to be sure. Some of you will definitely feel I have a couple of teams too low. One that might be a hair high is New England, but the Patriots did win 14 games last season. Until we see how guys fit in with their new teams, who goes down to injury, and whatever personnel moves are sure to transpire, this is how they stand.
1. Green Bay Packers
Overcoming 12 major contributors on IR to go on to win the Super Bowl is impressive enough. The only major defection was DE Cullen Jenkins, who didn't play half the season anyway. His absence is far exceeded by the return of Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley. Why is everyone so sure Donald Driver is done? I'd still take him over Jordy Nelson.
2. New England Patriots
As if 14-2 wasn't good enough, the addition of a potentially not quite as fat and lazy Albert Haynesworth as well as a happy Chad Ochocinco and a re-upped Matt Light make this team formidable, per the norm. Stephen Neal's retirement hurt, as did Tully Banta-Cain's departure, especially considering the pass rush is not one of this team's strengths.
3. New York Jets
4. Philadelphia Eagles
This team might be calling itself the Heat, but let's hope the Eagles' Superman makes a better run in the fourth quarter than Miami's Superman. While Michael Vick should be solid again, don't expect another 100-plus passer rating. The key for this team will be the play of its weak links: Offensive line (as usual), and the Stewart Bradley-less LB corps.
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh made a Steelers-esque splash in free agency, re-signing Ike Taylor and Willie Colon. Yay. That's okay, the formula to success remains unchanged: Draft and retain. I got $10 that says first-round pick Cameron Heyward fits in and contributes down the stretch. Here's hoping Aaron Smith does as well. Triceps tears and being 35 are a tough mix.
7. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts deserve this spot. If one team could stay above the fray of lockout disunity and disorganization, it would have to be these guys. Indy has a system, starting with where it just essentially guaranteed $90 million to Peyton Manning. Now if recently re-signed Joseph Addai produces this season, the ranking goes higher. If not, the aging defense might suffer from too much time on the field.
8. Atlanta Falcons
I'm not drinking the Falcons' Kool-Aid just yet, although their 13-3 finish warrants them being in the top 10. Atlanta lost guard Harvey Dahl in free agency, Michael Turner has trouble staying 100 percent, and Julio Jones has done nothing yet. If John Abraham starts playing his age (33), 13-3 and making the playoffs could be 9-7 and gone fishing.
9. New York Giants
The G-Men are one club that hasn't gotten any respect. The Matt Dodge punt, Eli Manning's turnovers, Brandon Jacob's contract, Osi Umenyiora's everything. Yet, Tom Couglin's bunch still won 10 games a year ago, and should handle the work stoppage better than other clubs. The revamped offensive line is a question mark ... the question mark.
10. Baltimore Ravens
How do you figure Baltimore? Who's going to play opposite a slowing Anquan Boldin? How much does this team miss Todd Heap? Does Joe Flacco look like Norman Bates? This team needed more than Bernard Pollard this offseason, but if it gets these questions answered, Baltimore could rocket up the rankings in short order.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Haley is the NFL's version of Rangers manager Ron Washington. No two head honchos in sports resemble a homeless guy better than Haley and Washington. Still, Haley has done a nice job working in conjunction with Scott Pioli to carve this team both in his image and that of the Patriots. Don't look for the Chiefs to fall flat, although ...
12. San Diego Chargers
…it would be easy to swap these two. This has to be make-or-break time for one Norval Turner. There's still a lot of talent on this team. Re-signing Eric Weddle was huge. But somebody has to help Philip Rivers out this season besides Patrick Crayton. As in someone better than Crayton. Here's looking at you, Ryan Mathews.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No Bucs fan can be entirely happy about Barrett Ruud's departure. I'm pretty sure they took it worse than Sabby Piscitelli's exit last year. It will be interesting to see how Raheem Morris' young team responds after the lack of structure during the lockout. Tampa was the best team not to make the playoffs. Much rides on the development of those baby defensive linemen.
14. Dallas Cowboys
It's tough putting Jerry's boys even this high. But truth is, Dallas went 5-3 down the stretch, and the three losses were by a total of seven points. They probably should have gone 7-1. The defections of Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Leonard Davis, and Marc Colombo might end up being addition by subtraction. Meanwhile, new acquisition Abram Elam should be an upgrade over Alan Ball at safety.
15. Detroit Lions
Lions fans officially can't blame Matt Millen if this team goes 6-10. It's been three years A.M., and Detroit has as much talent as anyone. Risky move giving Nick Fairley a guaranteed contract, considering his reputation. But if he's even 80 percent of Ndamukong Suh, and Matthew Stafford can start, oh, I don't know, 12 games, look out.
16. Chicago Bears
17. St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford is happy. Steven Jackson is happy. Everyone loves Josh McDaniels except for Tony Sheffler and Brandon Marshall. Speaking of receivers, is Danny Amendola going to catch 148 five-yard ins or will this offense get the ball vertically to big names, like, uh, Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson? Maybe Mike Sims-Walker makes a difference.
18. Oakland Raiders
19. Seattle Seahawks
While T-Jax might surprise all of us besides Sidney Rice, Seattle needs more than these two players to show up to improve on last year's 7-9 record. Getting Brandon Mebane back in the middle of that defense was big as was adding Zach Miller. Looming larger is how much of a factor Marshawn Lynch decides to be.
20. Houston Texans
Chalk landing here up to another team hurt by the lockout. Wade Phillips needs more time to get all his players used to their new assignments. First-round pick J.J. Watt could make a huge difference as a 3-4 defensive end. Either way, the back four has to get better. Will Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning turn the secondary around?
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
It took us 21 teams to get to a legit quarterback competition. Does it seem like David Garrard is the only five-year starter in the NFL who's no more famous or revered than the local JUCO QB? It will be interesting to see how 10th overall pick Blaine Gabbert fares. Yet, signing Paul Posluszny to a six-year, $42 million dollar contract makes this ranking seem generous.
22. Minnesota Vikings
Shockingly, Donovan McNabb still gets mentioned publicly as much as gubernatorial housekeepers. Why? His footwork stunk last season, he was wildly inconsistent, and he was benched for Rex Grossman of all people. Why not just let Christian Ponder play? There are so many good, proud veterans on this team that 22 seems harsh, but there it sits.
23. San Francisco 49ers
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has an advantage Jim Harbaugh does not. He knew his guys prior to the lockout. The work stoppage had to impact this group, what with a brand new staff and new offense. Michael Crabtree is hurt, Manny Lawson, Nate Clements and Aubrayo Franklin are gone. But at least Tarvaris Jackson wasn't named the starter, right?
24. Tennessee Titans
Which Matt Hasselbeck shows up in 2011? The guy who deep-sixed the league's fourth-ranked defense in the playoffs, or the oft-injured, inconsistent player of the last three years? Whatever the case might be, his presence should be good for eighth overall pick Jake Locker, especially with a new staff in place.
25. Miami Dolphins
Before Tony Sparano goes all Tony Sparano on us, and spearheads a team that features Daniel Thomas and a 1-yard cloud of dust, let's see if Chad Henne's hurt feelings give him the eye of the tiger. Defensively, Jared Odrick and Koa Misi could make a young unit formidable. Still, throw the ball downfield occasionally, please.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Putting fresh face Kevin Kolb to the side, who is his ace-in-the-hole? Everyone desperately wants it to be Beanie Wells. Particularly fantasy editor Michael Fabiano. Arizona must run the ball effectively. It will do Kolb some good, give Fabs something to facebook blast, and give the struggling defense a rest.
27. Buffalo Bills
Highly anticipated debuts
28. Cincinnati Bengals
Watching Andy Dalton work with Steve Mariucci during NFL Network's draft coverage was good TV. It's hard not to like the redhead. He should start. There's sure to be a last-second eBay bid on Carson Palmer, but no way Mike Brown budges on this one. Losing Johnathan Joseph hurt, hurt, hurt. Nate Clements is a rich man, but a poor man's Joseph (or Leon Hall.)
29. Cleveland Browns
I have no idea where to put these guys. How good is Colt McCoy? Was Peyton Hillis' big year a fluke? How much will the lockout hurt rookie coach Pat Shurmur and his staff's plan? These are all big, big questions that leave the Brownies here.
30. Denver Broncos
I think the Johns will get this thing turned around. But with the lockout delaying the transition to a new coaching staff, an uncertain quarterback situation and a defense transferring from a 3-4 to a 4-3, it's difficult to move the Broncos up. If Tim Tebow ends up starting (although it's Kyle Orton for now), Denver might reside around these parts for some time.
31. Carolina Panthers
32. Washington Redskins
John Beck was the first player to drive up to Redskins headquarters immediately after the lockout ended, but was turned away. Some reports said that's just how the front desk staff felt about him starting.