The season starts tonight! Finally, we once again will have football. On the eve of the season, I have rankings and predictions. Enjoy (And sorry if your team is too low, my opinion may be flawed).
NFL Preseason Power Rankings
Tier 1 - The Elite
Not to be overthought. They won 15 games last season, have the whole team back, added a bruiser in Cedric Benson, and added some young talent on defense, as they used 3 picks in the first 2 rounds on that side of the ball. The defense still will struggle at times, but last season proved that it doesn't matter when the offense is on point.
Brady is still one of the best in the league, and he once again has a deadly receiving core with Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez, plus Brandon Lloyd through free agency. A solid offensive line paving the way for their versatile RB-by-committee, and the defense should be a bit better than it was, even if it still looms in the bottom third statistically.
Tier 2 - Playoff Teams, With A Hell Of A Shot
The Ravens don't have a superstar QB like the two teams above them, but they are just so damn balanced it's ridiculous.
Houston returns a mean, young defense under Wade Phillips. The offense had an elite rushing attack last season, but without Schaub under center and Johnson sidelined, they couldn't balance it out. Well...they are both back. It just remains to be seen if they can stay healthy.
The Eagles will put it together this year. Even if Vick misses 2 or 3 games, the Eagles will have a nice season. They have play makers on both sides of the ball, and added some good pieces to the defense.
The Giants made one hell of a run to the Super Bowl. But keep in mind, they only had 9 wins and got outscored in the regular season. Still, they have a solid team and one of the league's better signal callers.
They are similarly built like the Ravens, talent all throughout the roster. I'm worried about Alex Smith winning them games in the playoffs, but in the regular season in their division, they should win 11 or 12 games.
Tier 3- The Playoff Bubble
3a. Better Side Of The Bubble
On paper they have what it takes to go deep into the playoffs. A Top 10 QB, strong tandem on receivers will have the passing game on point. But Ryan isn't as consistent as he should be, and I'm worried about the running game. Their defense these past seasons has failed them on some occasions, although it should be decent.
Looking at their O-line makes me weary, but I think the Bills grab the final spot in the AFC. They have decent skill personnel on offense. On defense, the back 7 won't be great, but that Front 4 will absolutely tear up the opponent's backfield.
The big thing you have to consider is how that team did with Tim Tebow at QB. I have less faith in Manning than others do, but he will be leaps and bounds better than Tebow. However, I do think the "D" overachieved a bit last year, and I don't see much talent in their stable of running backs.
Don't be too surprised if KC makes the playoffs. Cassell isn't as bad as he's made out to be. And it's important to note that he has a bruising back (Hillis), an elite speed back (Charles), and weapons on the outside. Expect the defense to be stout.
The Saints won't be as good as they've been with all that has happened this off season. However, Drew Brees is the man and he is as determined as ever, and the rest of the roster has some talent, although I think they struggle a bit with getting to the QB.
3b. The Side Of The Bubble You Don't Want To Be On, But There Is Still Much Hope
I like that the Bears went out and got some receiving targets for Cutler. Forte is back, and now he has a backup. I'm not excited about the line, however; it needs some work. And Cutler still needs to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent throwing the ball and making decisions. The defense looks like it could be good, but very far from spectacular. Ultimately, they are better than the Chiefs and Bills, but the playoff format of 6 and 6 keeps them out.
Although I doubt Dalton regresses, I also don't see much of an improvement for Andy. He had a dissappointing preseason, and the talent around him hasn't improved. They will miss out on the playoffs.
Every season, the Dallas train comes with talent, publicity, and thus, hype. And they usually fail to impress. I think Romo will have the passing game going on a lot of days, but I think the pressure is too much after his first 4th quarter gaffe of the season.
Stafford to Johnson looks great, but I feel like they don't have enough else. The running game is questionable, and the offensive line is too. On defense, I see a solid defensive line, but Vanden Bosch is on his last leg, and the secondary is still weak. Similar story as the Bears...they are amongst the 12 best, but don't make it with this format.
Tier 4 - We're Not That Good, But You Can't Say We're "Bad"
I think he'll have another great fantasy season, but Newton isn't taking the next step forward just yet. I doubt they let him run as much as he did last year, and his TD-INT ratio needs to improve. I like their running game, but on the other side, the defense will struggle to stop a decent offense.
I hate this team on paper. But considering they were actually pretty good until Campbell went down last year, they have awesome special teams, and McFadden is a game changer when healthy, I think they win maybe 6 or 7 games.
Freeman will be better after his horrid last season, and he has some new players around him. I still worry if Freeman can lead the offense on a consistent basis, and can the defense get enough stops.
It's going to feel like a free fall. The running game will seriously struggle, possibly all season. Meanwhile, solid pass protection isn't a guarantee, Wallace has rust to shake off, and the defense has oldies all over the place. They will stay competitive, but I can't see them making the playoffs.
Rivers is looking like that guy who throws for a lot of yards, but it matters not when you throw too many picks. He lost his top receiving target, and Matthews still can't get over the injury hump. And why is Norv Turner still coaching?
I actually think they have less wins than 1 or 2 teams in the tier below. Their division is a ruthless one this season. RG III will look Okay, but will have some struggles, and he doesn't have enough weapons to mask his rookie mistakes.
Tier 5 - You Will Compete...Every Other Week
Below average QB, serious issues at both tackle spots. That's a formula for offensive struggles, even with Larry Fitzgerald on your side. This team will win 5 or so games somehow, considering they won 8 last year, the defense isn't bad, and Peterson can win one game by himself on special teams.
Gabbert isn't going to all of a sudden confirm his status as a 1st round pick, but he is going to get better. Jones-Drew will be fine, and although it's still below average, the receiving group did get better. That along with a middle-of-the-road defense will keep them competitive on most occasions.
Wow, this looks bad about now. Sanchez looks decent, until he throws a pick six and looks over his shoulder at Tebow. Tebow, meanwhile, still can't throw. The defense, and a bit of Tebow magic will keep this team from being a bottom feeder.
Starting a rookie 3rd round pick never was a good idea, but in this case it isn't all that bad. Wilson has looked great in the preseason, and clearly his biggest "negative" (height) doesn't matter now. Still, he will have his struggles, and offensive line and lack of WR/TE play makers won't help him.
Looking at their roster, it's hard to see how the Titans won 9 games last year. Anyways...Locker is ready, but not ready to excel. His receiving core is questionable at this point, and on the other side, I see a secondary that could struggle. It won't be a complete failure, however, it CJ breaks 1,200 and Locker gets better as the year progresses. I really considered sneaking the Titans into the tier above this one.
Tier 6 - The Shrimp, Mollusks, Lobsters And Stuff Like That. A.K.A. The Bottom Feeders
The Browns are opting for Brandon Weeden over Colt McCoy. Weeden clearly isn't ready to be a good NFL starter, and his supporting cast isn't going to hide anything. The line has no right side, and his receivers are raw and unproven. I just hope they don't pass on Barkley and Logan Thomas.
A lot of people are expecting big improvement. I ask, why? I don't see it. Andrew Luck is an upgrade at QB, but too much is expected of him. And consider the offensive line is "bleh", and the offensive skill players at his disposable is decent but involves a lot of rookies/unproven players. And an untalented defense making a scheme switch could be a disaster.
This is a bad team that got worse as the preseason went on. Cutting Ocho took their WR group from really bad to SuperBad, and losing Vontae Davis clearly was a rebuilding move. Tannehill isn't ready, and will suffer from poor protection and having nobody to throw to. On defense, the linebacking core is talented, but the other groups, not so much.
If AP surprises the hell out of me, and Ponder makes big improvements, this team won't be this bad. But I doubt AP is himself until halfway through the season, and Ponder isn't going to be all that much better. The Vikings are the best team in this tier.
The Rams are built well for the future, but this season will be a drag. Bradford once again has nobody to throw to, and the defense will get scored on my everybody. Jeff Fisher's presence prevent them from getting the top pick.
MVP- Aaron Rodgers
Runners Up: Tom Brady, Ray Rice
Rodgers will get the MVP nod over Brady, likely because of his extremely superior rushing stats, as I expect their passing stats to be very similar, as will be the records of their teams. This will be Ray Rice's year in the league of running backs.
Offensive Player Of The Year- Matthew Stafford
Runners Up: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ray Rice
He's going to throw for a crap load of yards. I'm predicting around 5,400. That will be at least 300 more than Rodgers and Brady.
Defensive Player Of The Year- Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul will either lead the league in sacks or be very close. In the meantime, he will knock down passes, force fumbles, make chase tackles down field, and even block a kick or two.
Offensive Rookie- Andrew Luck
Luck will have some competition, but in the end, QBs have the best chance of winning these types of awards and Luck is the most polished of the rookie Quarterbacks who will start. I'm expecting around 3,800-4,000 yards for Luck.
Defensive Rookie- Dont'a Hightower
Hightower will be a starter all season for the Patriots. He's going to get the nod over tackle machine Kuechley because of the other stats he'll get, as well as being more in the spotlight in New England.
Coach Of The Year - Gary Kubiak
Runners Up: Belichek, Mike McCarthy, Romeo Crennel, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh
Kubiak got the Texans to the playoffs for the first time ever last season. This year he takes things a little further, at least during the regular season. 11 wins without a superstar Quarterback gets him the coach of the year hardware.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the season.