We are just a few days from the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers facing off against the New Orleans Saints and officially kicking off the 2011 NFL season. The start of the season also means SB Nation's weekly NFL power rankings return.
Our first edition of the 2011 NFL power rankings gives a nod to the defending Super Bowl champs, who are ranked No. 1. Here's how the rest of the league shakes out:
1. Green Bay Packers: The Packers get this spot after winning the Super Bowl last year. They're clearly talented and I'll keep them here until they prove they're not worthy of the top spot.
2. New Orleans Saints: It seems like a few people are forgetting about the Saints. The Patriots and Eagles got a lot of the headlines but this is still one of the best teams in the league lead by one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
3. New England Patriots: They were a 14-win team last year and added some big-name pieces. Big names can sometimes be a lot of fluff but the Pats have a way of getting the most out of these guys.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as that defense is there, they're competing for a Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger should hope Hines Ward is still playing at a high level. Oh, and Rashard Mendenhall? He's pretty darn good.
5. Philadelphia Eagles: They added a ton of pieces this offseason. If QB Michael Vick starts every game, this team could be in the Super Bowl. The problem? I can't see him starting all 16 games. His health is the key to the season.
6. New York Jets: The Jets have been to the last two AFC Championship games. They have question marks like every other team but that defense might be the best in the league.
7. Atlanta Falcons: If RB Michael Turner can stay healthy -- I have my doubts -- then the preseason Super Bowl predictions could be correct.
8. Baltimore Ravens: I want to put them higher because they're so consistent but they lost a lot of good players this year.
9. San Diego Chargers: No way the special teams is as bad as last year. No way there are so many injuries. Plus, WR Vincent Jackson is back for the entire year. I like the Chargers a lot in 2011.
10. Dallas Cowboys: This is a lot higher than most people have them ranked but I think 2010 was an aberration. They get back to the playoffs this year an Rob Ryan improves the defense.
11. Indianapolis Colts: Yeah, I really don't know about QB Peyton Manning either. If he plays the majority of the season, then this is the right spot for them. If he doesn't? Well....
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I love QB Josh Freeman and what Tampa Bay did last year. Like the Chiefs, a tougher schedule this year.
15. St. Louis Rams: I considered putting them above the Chiefs and Bucs because QB Sam Bradford is going to take another big jump this year.
16. Chicago Bears: Insert line on being worried about QB Jay Cutler's interceptions.
17. Detroit Lions: If QB Matthew Stafford is healthy, I think this team can win nine games, or more. Stafford's the key here.
18. Tennessee Titans: This might be the team to beat in the AFC South if QB Peyton Manning isn't healthy.
19. Houston Texans: I'd probably have them ranked higher if I hadn't predicted for the last three years that they'll break their playoff streak. Is this finally the year?
20. Seattle Seahawks: I like some of those offseason additions but I gotta see them without QB Matt Hasselbeck.
21. Arizona Cardinals: QB Kevin Kolb makes this team very, very interesting. They were in the Super Bowl just two and a half years ago and the right quarterback could get them headed in the right direction.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew will keep them competitive. A solid season from QB David Garrard could put them in the division title hunt.
23. Minnesota Vikings: This team has some big-name talent but a lot of holes as well. If QB Donovan McNabb has a good season -- big if -- I can see them passing .500.
24. Miami Dolphins: Adding RB Reggie Bush has me a little excited for this team. Of course, they gotta figure out how to use him.
25. Oakland Raiders: This was a team on the rise but then they lost their best defensive player (CB Nnamdi Asomugha) and one of their best offensive players (TE Zach Miller).
26. Cleveland Browns: I wanted to rank them higher but I just couldn't. I'm a fan of QB Colt McCoy and, if they were in a different division, I think we'd be talking about them as a division title sleeper.
27. San Francisco 49ers: There are some decent offensive weapons there but a lot of question marks, too. How will QB Alex Smith play? Will RB Frank Gore stay healthy? LB Patrick Willis is still the man, though.
28. Buffalo Bills: Chan Gailey can make a bad offense good and a good offense great.
29. Denver Broncos: QB Kyle Orton gets criticized too much, I think, and he'll make life difficult on more than a few teams. The Broncos added some nice pieces on defense but now they have to prove that those pieces can translate to wins.
30. Washington Redskins: QB Rex Grossman.....yeah. Redskins fans hope Mike Shanahan can work some of his magic.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: If QB Carson Palmer returns at some point -- most seem to think he won't -- then this team becomes competitive again. Until then, they're relying on a rookie quarterback.
32. Carolina Panthers: They actually have a decent defensive line and gave DE Charles Johnson big money. But until QB Cam Newton and Co. prove they can win consistently, they're going to be hanging around here.