NFL training camps are officially getting underway this week, which means the offseason is finished. We get to move past police blotter news and into actual football news. Although the NFL has moved closer to becoming a year-round business, there is enough down time that the return of training camp is a welcome relief for fans.
Since the New York Giants wrapped up their victory in Super Bowl XLVI, the whirlwind of free agency and the draft have left many teams in substantially different positions than at the close of the 2011 season. Joel Thorman's May power rankings reflected the many personnel changes. Since then teams have gotten a better idea of what their rookies and free agent additions can do, while also sorting through injury situations.
Now we get a chance to hear from SB Nation's NFL bloggers. Most people head into the season fairly optimistic about their team's chances, which can lead to subjective opinions. However, we have compiled ballots from all 32 NFL blogs and averaged out the rankings to come up with our first power rankings of the 2012 season. The Green Bay Packers lead the way with 21 first place votes. The New York Giants received the second most first place votes, but finished behind the Patriots in these rankings.
1. Green Bay Packers (21 first place votes)
From Acme Packing Company:
The Green Bay Packers of 2012 look very similar to the team that went 15-1 in 2011. Early draft picks were used to fill the team's biggest holes from last season, while Jeff Saturday was signed to replace Scott Wells. A lot of the Packers' success will depend on whether or not their rookies are able to help generate a pass rush, but the offense should be good enough to make them a playoff team even if that pass rush is abysmal once again.
Running back and left tackle are question marks, but the rest of the offensive line is among the best in the league, and the Packers ran more than they needed to in 2011. No one expects a repeat of 15-1, but everyone is expecting another division title in Green Bay.
From SB Nation NFL:
New England's offense averaged more than 32 points per game for the second straight season last year. They could do even more damage this year with the addition of Brandon Lloyd, a Josh McDaniels favorite. They may need the firepower if Bill Belichick's defense looks anything like last year's group. They are relying on first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower to replace Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, who remains unsigned, as the team's top pass rushers. A full season of work from Patrick Chung will help the secondary. The most notable addition to a unit that allowed almost 300 passing yards per game was seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard.
The sheer presence of Tom Brady means the dynasty will go on, but for how much longer?
3. New York Giants (9)
From Big Blue View:
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants have a difficult road back to the playoffs in 2012. They face what might be the NFL's most difficult schedule. Still, there is a great deal of talent and the Giants would very much like to better last season's 9-7 regular-season record.
4. San Francisco 49ers (1)
From Niners Nation:
Coming off a wildly successful 2011 turnaround season, the 49ers were able to return their entire top-ranked defense, while making several moves to bolster an inconsistent offense. The 49ers signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and drafted A.J. Jenkins in hopes of bolstering a passing attack that struggled mightily against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers also added LaMichael James in the draft and Brandon Jacobs in free agency, which should bolster their rushing attack.
The key for the 49ers in 2012 will be getting consistent play on offense. Alex Smith was widely considered the "weak link" as many viewed him as a "game manager" for the 49ers. A full offseason with Jim Harbaugh puts him in a position where many 49ers fans are hoping for a sizable step forward.
From Battle Red Blog:
Coming off the first successful season in franchise history, the Texans saw 40 percent of their starting OL (Winston and Brisiel), one of their starting LBs (DeMeco Ryans) and one of the most physically gifted players in all of football (Mario Williams) depart. Oh, and their starting QB is coming off a season-ending injury. Not exactly a recipe for smooth sailing, but the Texans still boast plenty of talent, the offensive genius of Gary Kubiak, the defensive wizardry of Wade Phillips, and a division that isn't as stout as it was a couple of years ago. I like Houston's chances to make postseason noise yet again.
From Baltimore Beatdown:
The Baltimore Ravens head into the 2012 season knowing they were one Lee Evans dropped pass away from getting to the Super Bowl last year. However, for the second time in four seasons, the Ravens could not get it done in the AFC Championship Game. Head coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice have made the post season every year they've been together in Baltimore and 2012 figures to be the fifth year in row for them.
Despite the loss of OLB Terrell Suggs, this defense is deep enough to make up his stats, and while you cannot replace the reigning NFL DPoY, the offense has improved to the point that the defense no longer has to carry this team.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (1)
From Behind The Steel Curtain:
This is the year for the Steelers offense to catch up to the level of the defense. An increased emphasis on time of possession and fewer turnovers will keep the Steelers' defense plenty rested and looking to improve on bleak takeaway and sack numbers from 2011. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley will bring with him a new system that will better utilize the depth the offense has, and the Steelers, ranked in the bottom third in the league in scoring, will put more points on the board. A 12-4 team that's improved from the previous year is a Super Bowl contender.
From Canal Street Chronicles:
The Saints have had what is unmistakably the weirdest offseason in NFL history. The double whammy of the BountyGate scandal and Drew Brees' contract situation were the culprits. Still, the Saints were able to have a semi-successfull offseason. First, wide receiver Marques Colston was retained. They were able to improve the linebacking corps by signing Curtis Lofton, Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne, as well as help the defensive line by bringing in Brodrick Bunkley and Remi Ayodele.
The loss of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks will hurt, but thankfully the front office was able to get a respectable replacement in Ben Grubbs. The best news of the entire offseason came Friday the 13th of July; Drew Brees was officially re-signed to his mega contract. All in all, the offense will be as powerful as always, which will make the Saints as playoff contenders. I also expect the defense to make a hell of a turnaround with new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and the new additions. Expect another double-digit-win season by the black and gold. Who Dat!
From Mile High Report:
The Broncos made the biggest splash during the offseason by winning the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Is that enough to put them over the top, however? That's the biggest question heading into Training Camp. The Broncos have become a completely different team in the 18 months John Elway has run the show, and last season's surprise playoff run - topped off with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers - put high expectations on a team that may not quite be ready to meet them.
The addition of Manning does nothing to lower those expectations, but Manning's presence does give the Broncos a puncher's chance of coming close to reaching them. The Broncos will score points in 2012, and they will move the ball in 2012.
Can the defense, now run by former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, make enough plays and come up with enough turnovers to keep Manning and the offense in positive situaitons, especially early on in the season during Denver's murderous opening schedule? That's the question, and the answer will ultimately have more to do with where the Broncos end up in 2012 than Peyton Manning.
From Bleeding Green Nation:
Yes its true that everyone said the Eagles would be Super Bowl favorites last year and that ended up not being true ... But this time we really mean it! Seriously though, the Eagles defense showed signs of coming together near the end of last year and have added some significant upgrades this offseason. All those signings from last year could really start to pay off this year.
11. Detroit Lions
From Pride of Detroit:
Coming off of their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, the Lions enter 2012 with hopes of building upon last season's trip to the postseason. They had a relatively quiet offseason in terms of roster moves, and 21 of their starters are back from last year. The goal for the 2012 season is to not only make it back to the postseason, but also to pick up what would be only their second playoff win since 1957.
12. Chicago Bears
From SB Nation NFL:
The Bears finally got things turned around last season, just in time for Jay Cutler to go on the shelf along with the team's hopes of making the playoffs. If health is on their side, the Bears offense should be potent this season thanks to offseason additions of Michael Bush and Brandon Marshall. The offensive line is the team's biggest liability. First-round pick Shea McClellin beefs up the pass rush. The only real concern for Chicago's defense is Brian Urlacher, who will be a full go at camp despite a knee injury in the final game of the season last year.
The Bears and the Lions will battle it out for the second spot in the NFC North. Can Chicago even push the Packers?
13. Atlanta Falcons
From The Falcoholic:
The Atlanta Falcons are in a transition year, albeit one where they should remain a contender. The team is returning most of the roster that won them a playoff berth in 2011, but now boasts an upgrade at defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan and a potential upgrade on the offensive side in the form of Dirk Koetter. It will take the team some time to gel, but with potent weaponry in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Michael Turner, not to mention a secondary that features Brent Grimes and Asante Samuel, they're poised to surprise the naysayers.
From Bolts From The Blue:
The Chargers seem to have the talent to be one the league's top teams, but they'll once again be battling against luck, health and coaching. 2010 was the year of disastrous Special Teams, and 2011 was the year of Greg Manusky, disastrous Defensive Coordinator. If first-year DC John Pagano (brother of Chuck Pagano) can be as good as his brother was with the Ravens, the Chargers should have no problem making the playoffs.
15. Dallas Cowboys
From Blogging The Boys:
The Cowboys suffered from a secondary that was shredded at critical points in games last season. Injuries and a skill-set that didn't match Rob Ryan's defensive scheme were definite problems. The secondary has received a big upgrade in the 2012 offseason leaving the Cowboys with one major question - can the interior offensive line hold up? At most other positions, they have the quality to compete with the rest of the league.
From SB Nation NFL:
The Bengals stunned the world last season by sneaking into the playoffs with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton working with the incredible A.J. Green, another rookie. The biggest difference for the Bengals last year was on defense. That unit allowed an average of just 20.2 points per game, a year after giving up nearly 25 points week after week.
During the offseason, they shored up the secondary with the addition of first-round pick CB Dre Kirkpatrick. A hole at safety and questions at running back could be problems. Cincinnati plays in a tough division, where the Ravens and the Steelers usually trade places as the AFC North winner and wild card. Filling up Paul Brown Stadium is a win in and of itself.
17. Buffalo Bills
From Buffalo Rumblings:
In a whirlwind off-season, the Bills have assembled a considerable amount of talent, particularly on the defensive line. As such, they're a popular "sleeper" pick, whatever that may mean. The idea in Buffalo is simple: get better defensively (check), turn the ball over less offensively, and stay healthy; if that's accomplished, they'll be even better than the playoff-caliber 5-2 team that we saw at the outset of the 2011 season.
All of that, of course, is much easier said than done. Add in the fact that the Bills are 2-10 under Chan Gailey in division games - the much less hyped Dolphins swept this team by a combined score of 65-31 last year, for the record - and the Bills have a ton to prove before they can live up to their "sleeper" status.
From Cat Scratch Reader:
In case you hadn't noticed: Cam Newton changed everything. There's no statement too big to describe the impact he has had on the Carolina Panthers organization in just over 12 months. For the first time in over a decade, the Panthers have an elite offense, so this off-season was devoted to completely revamping the defense and special teams.
Through free agency the team signed noted special-teamers from around the league, and backed that up by taking the best returner in college football, Arkansas' Joe Adams in the 4th round. 2011 was a year that saw the Panthers lose no fewer than four defensive starters, and created a vacuum where week in, week out Carolina were playing sub-par defensive talent.
With players returning from injury, and the addition of Luke Kuechly, the Panthers defense will not be perfect but should be far better than last year. On the strength of offense alone, and the two other phases improved, there's no way this team in going 6-10 again.
19. New York Jets
From Gang Green Nation:
The Jets are going back to what they do best. Ground and Pound with solid defense. A lot will rest on Mark Sanchez's shoulders and the ability for the team to maintain chemistry. The Jets have improved the defense with the addition of Coples and Davis, who in my opinion will be playing half of Bart Scott's snaps by the end of the year. The addition of Landry and Bell to the secondary will give the Jets what they need.
On offense, it's a big contract year for Greene and Keller. Will Tim Tebow bring some dynamism to the team or will he be a distraction? Stephen Hill is an excellent pick-up who can stretch the field and create room underneath for Holmes and Keller. Wayne Hunte is a worry, but he is 'OK' in run blocking, if we can go back to ground and pound and the defense is as good as we expect. I fully expect us to be back in the post-season after a one year hiatus.
Related: Mark Sanchez Interview (Video)
20. Tennessee Titans
From Music City Miracles:
As you can see from these rankings, most people are not very high on the Titans this year. While the schedule the Titans face looks tougher this season, there is no doubt they are going to be a better team. Both coordinators will be able to put in the whole gameplan this season. They weren't able to do that last year due to the lockout.
There are still some questions on defense, but this offense is going to be explosive. That is what it is all about in today's NFL.
From Arrowhead Pride:
The Chiefs' potential is much higher than their actual power ranking. This team has top 10 potential given the players returning from injury, including Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry. Assuming both come back healthy, the Chiefs have as good of a chance as anyone to win the AFC West. With Charles and Peyton Hillis running the rock, Matt Cassel won't be asked to be a hero, and the Chiefs could see a repeat of their 2010 season, which ended in a division title.
22. Seattle Seahawks
From Field Gulls:
The Seahawks have a strong defense that may improve in 2012 with the additions of DE Bruce Irvin & MLB Bobby Wagner in the draft and DT/DE Jason Jones in free agency. They are strong against the run, but the increased pass rush potential leads fans to hope the pass defense will make great strides as well.
On offense, there are still a lot of questions, and the Seahawks remain without a clear starter at QB. They signed Matt Flynn in free agency and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round to compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, but the three-way battle rages on. Overall, it looks like an improved team on both sides of the football, but the first half of the season will be a very tough test, as Seattle faces off against Dallas, Green Bay, Carolina, New England, San Francisco, then Detroit in Weeks 2-6.
From Hogs Haven:
The Redskins are still rebuilding their roster from the mess of over the hill free agents and poor drafting that Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato put together from 2008-2009.
Although the Redskins finished an abysmal 5-11 last year, the Shanahans' offensive schemes showed success. Having a QB that does not turn the ball over on average twice a game will bring more wins. There are still questions in the secondary and the WR position, but the Redskins could very well win between 7 and 9 games this year ... and 9-7 won the division last year.
24. Oakland Raiders
From Silver & Black Pride:
The Raiders have a very serviceable team heading into 2012. They have an all-new coaching staff and front office which will make for entirely new schemes and philosophy. They are in the bottom third of the league in strength of schedule. They have Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden playing together for the first time, which adds to one of the NFL's best offenses. They were within a defensive stop of making the playoffs last season, and a lot of emphasis has been placed on the defense this offseason; most notably, a new defensive coordinator as well as a head coach who is a former defensive coordinator. They have their best pass rusher, Matt Shaughnessy back from injury to go alongside an already very solid defensive line. The big question mark comes in the linebacking corps. There is no telling what to expect from FA acquisition Philip Wheeler along with Rolando McClain and Aaron Curry.
From Bucs Nation:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers replaced their entire coaching staff and overhauled their roster this offseason, but that doesn't mean they're entering a rebuilding year. The Bucs want to compete quickly, and they've added a lot of talent to do so. Coupled with improvements from a slew of young players on the roster, the team could go a long way this year. Of course, they could also collapse the way they did in 2011, but the team is confident new coach Greg Schiano can prevent a young team from giving up in the face of adversity.
Still, the Bucs face an uphill battle in a very tough NFC South. Can they beat the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons? Those are tall orders for any NFL team, but the Bucs will try to make a run at the division title anyway.
From Revenge of the Birds:
The Cardinals are going to rely on their defense that really came on in the second half of the season and guided the team to a 7-2 finish. On offense, there are a lot of questions, but there is potential. The receiving corp is talented, as are the tight ends. If both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams recover from their knee injuries, combined with LaRod Stephens-Howling, the running back position is also set.
It comes down to the play of the offensive line and quarterback. And it goes both ways. Better QB play makes the O-line look better, and the QB will be better if the O-line gives him time. The question is whether it will be Kevin Kolb or John Skelton. However, if the defense plays at least as well as it did down the stretch and the offense is at least average, Arizona could be a team to watch out for.
27. Miami Dolphins
From The Phinsider:
The Dolphins' strength this season is undoubtedyly going to be the defense, as the team works to incorporate the west coast offense, and work behind Matt Moore, David Garrard or rookie Ryan Tannehill. There's not a lot of love from the media surrounding this team this year, but there are better parts than most people give the Dolphins credit for having. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are both solid receivers, and the addition of Chad Johnson is intriguing, if he can return to something like his Cincinnati Bengals days.
Reggie Bush is obviously the biggest threat on the offense, and will most likely be the focal point, both in the running game and the passing game. Second year running back Daniel Thomas could add a different dimension to the offense, using his size and strength to power the ball forward, while rookie Lamar Miller is a combination of the two other running backs.
Where the Dolphins could surprise people this season is with the tight end play. Starter Anthony Fasano has routinely been a solid tight end, both blocking and catching - never flashy, but good enough to get the job done. But, this season, add in sophomore H-back Charles Clay, who has been working with the tightends through the offseason, and rookie tight end Michael Egnew, and the Dolphins suddenly have some athletic, pass catching tight ends.
Over new head coach Joe Philbin's time in Green Bay, the Packers spent about 1/3 of their offense going through the running backs or tight ends - with the weapons the Dolphins have now at those positions, that could be a sign of good things to come in South Florida. The defense revolves around defensive end Cameron Wake, who should have help from a combination of Olivier Vernon and Jared Odrick on the opposite side of the defensive line, with nose tackle Paul Soliai moving over to defensive tackle and Randy Starks moving inside in Miami's new 4-3 scheme - and both should be able to penetrate up the middle, and stuff the run as well.
The key for this season on defense is going to be the secondary, and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle should help with that. Vontae Davis has shown flashes during his career, but needs to become more consistent, and Sean Smith has to step his game up in the final year of his rookie contract if he wants to stay with the Dolphins beyond 2012. The safeties are a mess right now, as the team looks to find a starter opposite Reshad Jones. The current competition seems to be between Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver, but I am excited about cornerback-turned-safety Jimmy Wilson, who, once he gets comfortable in his new position, could become a play-making center fielder for the Dolphins.
28. St. Louis Rams
From Turf Show Times:
Starting over is never easy. Fortunately the St. Louis Rams hired a new head coach, Jeff Fisher, with the kind of track record that will make yet another reboot more successful than the others, at least the team hopes so with nothing less than a new stadium on the line. This team has a defense capable of competing this year. The key to their success lies in getting Sam Bradford back on track and playing up to the potential that made him the top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
From Big Cat Country:
The 2012 NFL season for the Jacksonville Jaguars hinges on the progression of quarterback Blaine Gabbert. While it's awfully cliche, it's true. The team should once again have a dominant rushing attack and a top 10 caliber defense, but they had that in 2011 and struggled to win five games.
With an entirely new coaching staff geared towards the quarterback and an influx of potential weapons at the receiver position, the Jaguars will learn exactly what they have in Blaine Gabbert, and if he's the guy they think he will be. If he is, the team can make a push for the playoffs.
From SB Nation NFL:
Make no mistake about it, the Vikings are rebuilding. Quarterback Christian Ponder, the cornerstone of that rebuilding project, struggled through 10 starts, thanks in part to being sacked 30 times and constantly pressured. The addition of Matt Kalil will help keep Ponder upright, as he looks to second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph and disgruntled Percy Harvin as his top targets in the passing game.
Adrian Peterson's surgically repaired ACL is more of a concern than anyone lets on. The defense is likely to struggle again, even with Pro Bowl pass rusher Jared Allen. Rookies and second-chance players in the secondary will look like little more than a speed bump for opposing quarterbacks.
From Stampede Blue:
"New era" will be a phrase thrown around a lot this season in relation to the Colts. It will be used as an excuse for losing, as this young, rebuilt roster fumbles (perhaps literally) its way through what is sure to be a difficult year. The storyline all season will be Andrew Luck and his development. How will he adjust to the pro game? Is he as good as advertised? Will he be a better rookie QB than Peyton Manning was in 1998?
Other storylines include the Colts switching to a new defensive scheme, rookie playmakers like Coby Fleener fitting into the mix, and veterans like Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne adapting to life after contender status. However, all those are minute in size compared to Luck. His success is critical for a franchise that has a strained relationship with its fan base. If Luck succeeds, fans will forget how foolish owner Jim Irsay looked in the releasing of Peyton Manning. If Luck fails (and should Manning succeed in Denver), Irsay might lose the respect of the fanbase permanently.
32. Cleveland Browns
From Dawgs By Nature:
Although Cleveland's offense was unbearable in 2011, they could turn heads early on in the season. The talent they have on the offensive line might be the best kept secret in the league. That could mean top-notch protection for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, and some nice lanes for running back Trent Richardson, who will be featured heavily.
Cleveland's defense played at a high level last year, but is the addition of Frostee Rucker at defensive end enough to drastically improve the team's run defense?