With the draft long done and most significant player movement now complete, it?s time to produce the initial ratings for the 2010 NFL season.
Frequent readers will note that I?m generally not a fan of these premature speculations, but it?s one of the more common questions I get asked this time of year.
Note that this is not necessarily how I think they?ll finish in terms of records, but rather an overall overview of how likely the teams are to succeed.
There is clear stratification in my mind between the top 7, the next 6, the following 8, and then the remainder to the bottom 2, which are well behind the rest.
1. New Orleans Saints: The defending champs must remain at the top until any games are played. Any list that doesn?t follow that rationale is inherently bogus. They still have all the key pieces returning, too.
2. Minnesota Vikings: This is contingent upon a certain #4 returning, but the Vikings are loaded at the skill positions on offense and their defensive front 7 is near the top as well. Take Brett Favre out of the mix and they fall to about 10th.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Any team with Peyton Manning and the weapons around him is dangerous, and they should get healthier and deeper in some key areas.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Added some needed help, and they lost nobody they?ll miss from a team that learned how to win last year. The OL still concerns me, however.
5. Baltimore Ravens: Anquan Boldin helps the passing game, providing a needed balance. The defense is still very intimidating...except at CB.
6. San Diego Chargers: So much riding on a rookie RB, though I do believe Ryan Mathews is up for it. All the contract squabbles are worrisome, and the depth took a hit.
7. Green Bay Packers: The ?old guy? corner tandem must be awesome again, but this offense can and will put up points in bunches.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: Very underappreciated defense should get more margin for error now that Carson Palmer has more toys to play with. This franchise has struggled to sustain success, and there are a lot of character and chemistry concerns.
9. New York Jets: No AFC team has made more noise, but lost in that cacophony is how much talent and leadership has departed. The Sanchize must avoid the sophomore slump.
10. Washington Redskins: No team did more to improve this offseason, adding major upgrades at QB, RB, OT, and Coach/GM. The defense will still be very good even if Albert Haynesworth sits out.
11. Atlanta Falcons: I think too many people overlook all the injuries that rocked the Falcons last year. All those players will be back, and they?ll be better than the ?08 version that stunned the NFL.
12. Houston Texans: Still not as good as they think they are, but the potential is there to take the next step and make the playoffs. A fast start sans Steroid Boy Cushing will be a challenge.
13. New York Giants: This team always seems to thrive under lowered expectations, but the OL is not what it was and the secondary still looks like a problem.
14. New England Patriots: In Brady and Belichick I Trust, because no Welker, no running game, and a thin, porous defense wouldn?t win six games without the franchise QB and best head coach in the league.
15. Arizona Cardinals: I believe the shift to a more run-based offense will work, and I still really like the defense despite some key losses. They?ll sorely miss Kurt Warner?s leadership and chutzpah when losing though.
16. Miami Dolphins: A lot riding on Chad Henne?s development and Brandon Marshall?s mental health, neither of which are givens. The youngsters on defense will have a big say in the season.
17. San Francisco 49ers: I?m still skeptical of any team led by Alex Smith, and I think Vernon Davis was an aberration, but the defense is strong and I like the OL moves, even if they have some growing pains.
18. Chicago Bears: I like a lot of the offseason moves, but asking this shaky OL to run Martz?s complex offense is a huge risk. Peppers must prove worthy of the big contract or else they?ll sink.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Big Ben incident might keep them out of the playoffs, but a healthy Troy Polamalu could keep them very dangerous.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: They rolled the dice big-time, and not just at QB with Kevin Kolb. I can see this team being 11-5 or 5-11, but probably not anywhere in between.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars: Is there any team with less of an identity than the Jaguars? Nondescript QB throwing to greenhorn WRs is scary, but if the defensive talent congeals quickly and MJD stays on track, they could surprise.
22. Oakland Raiders: I like their offseason moves, and the arrow is pointing up. Time for those recent risky Al Davis picks (DHB, Mitchell, McFadden) to make him look good, or else they?re still no better than 6-10.
23. Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson had a historic season, Vince Young was great, yet they still struggled. I don?t expect a repeat from either guy, and the undersized defensive front 7 looks vulnerable.
24. Detroit Lions: Definitely on the rise, but the OL is still a weakness. Calvin Johnson must step up, and so must the overhauled D-line. Matt Stafford could break into a star.
25. Denver Broncos: Ryan Clady?s knee injury scares me a lot, especially with the QB issues. The antique secondary had better turn back the clock, because other than Dumervil there is little to like up front.
26. Kansas City Chiefs: A great draft class helps, but still so many questions (pass rush, passing offense, OL, DL) and I?m not crazy about any of the answers currently in place.
27. Carolina Panthers: As many as 8 new starters on defense, and now Steve Smith will miss the entire summer while trying to groom a rookie QB to start. It will get worse before it gets better here, despite some genuine young talent and a fantastic rushing offense.
28. Cleveland Browns: The back 8 on defense has legit potential but also potential problems, and the passing offense won?t scare anyone...except new majordomo Mike Holmgren.
29. Seattle Seahawks: The culture change was necessary but won?t be so smooth, not with their defensive front four and numerous offensive questions.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Both starting WRs and DTs will be rookies, the secondary is overrated, and despite a solid rookie campaign I?m still not sold on Josh Freeman at QB. They?ll compete if they can run the ball though.
31. Buffalo Bills: Waging a QB battle between 3 guys that would be lucky to be backups on most teams, with a completely unsettled OL and a defensive scheme change that they don?t appear to have the personnel to pull off...yet.
32. St. Louis Rams: Re-signing Atogwe helps, but who will Sam Bradford throw the ball to, and where is the pass rush...or the depth at any spot?
Via Jeff Risdon/RealGM
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