Thanks to the 2011 NFL Lockout, last year my initial NFL power rankings weren’t posted until after the first exhibition game. Those rankings were still somewhat of a half-blind stab, considering that the truncated offseason really didn’t give us any indication on how each NFL team would be constituted. But as it turned out, my first impressions and initial feelings about the teams were pretty prescient and were a useful guide for another successful football season.
Last year I wasn’t buying into Philadelphia nearly as much as everyone else and they fell on their face. I predicted that Indianapolis would go exactly 2-14 without Peyton Manning and that the New York Giants would go 9-7 in the regular season. I bought in earlier than just about everyone with Tennessee, Carolina, and Denver while also selling on Kevin Kolb and Arizona out West.
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Of course, while there were a lot of hits in my initial NFL power rankings there were also several misses.
I was slow to buy into Detroit (I had them 15th), Houston (17th) and was way too high on St. Louis (16th). And my worst misses were on both Cincinnati (I had them rated No. 32) and San Francisco.
Below is my first NFL power rankings of the 2012 season. This one is more of a “soft open” and I will be a bit more predictive in my next power rankings, which will likely come again after the first preseason games. And in the meantime, here is my preseason version of Doc’s Sports NFL power rankings:
1. New York Giants (0-0) – I’ve been doing these NFL power rankings for nearly a decade and I don’t think I’ve ever had the Giants ranked No. 1. That may seem crazy since they have won a pair of Super Bowls during that span. But as I have said 1,000 times: the Giants are a team that falls on its face when they have expectations and they play their best when their backs are against the wall. I don’t do NFL power rankings in the postseason either, and that is always when this team seems to be playing its best football. We will see how the G-Men handle success this year after nearly missing the postseason last winter.
2. New England Patriots (0-0) – The past few years I have grudgingly put the Patriots among the Top 5 teams. They have been overrated during that time as Tom Brady’s breathtaking play and a pathetic division has overshadowed their feeble, Downy-soft defense. But the Pats deserve their hype going into this year. They have a cupcake schedule (again) and they could make a run at another 16-0 regular season. They could lose at Baltimore or drop a game to the Jets. Besides that the only three teams on the schedule that I think stand a chance (Denver, Houston, and San Fran) have to come to Foxboro.
3. Green Bay Packers (0-0) – In 2010 the Packers nearly missed the playoffs (remember, it took a tight win over Chicago’s backups in Week 17 to even make the postseason) and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last year they dominated the field while going 15-2 and imploded in the postseason. We’ll see how it plays out for the Packers this year in one of the two best divisions in football. The offense is still unstoppable. But for all the talk that they will get improved defensive play this year I don’t really see any upgrades.
4. Baltimore Ravens (0-0) – I actually think this ranking might be a little too high. And if Ed Reed does decide to hang them up (I don’t think he will) then this team could be in big trouble. Baltimore has enough talent and the right system to remain a threat. But we’ve seen them shoot themselves in the foot in the most critical of times season after season. Let’s call it what it is: this is a “choke” team, and I don’t know that this group will ever win a title (be it AFC title or a Super Bowl) because they just don’t come through in the biggest postseason moments.
5. San Francisco 49ers (0-0) – Look, I absolutely think that the 49ers are going to come back down to earth this year. They went 13-3 last season and I think that a 10-6 mark will take some work (9-7 is more likely) this year. But they have one of the best defenses in football, a powerful running game, and they made some upgrades in their receiver corps that may just improve their attack overall. I know everyone is expecting Alex Smith to be a drain on the offense. But let me ask you: what if he improves? The guy is a veteran, he throws a good ball, and he is in the second year of this system. It’s not a stretch to think he can be better.
6. New Orleans Saints (0-0) – There are bad offseasons and then there is what New Orleans has endured. But when we get down to it this team lost its coach (a big loss, but the Colts went to the Super Bowl with Jim Caldwell – JIM CALDWELL! – after Tony Dungy left), its middle linebacker (replaced by underrated Curtis Lofton) and starting guard Carl Nicks (replaced by capable Ben Grubbs). That’s not good, but it’s not catastrophic. They still have one of the best offenses in the game and there is no doubt that these guys will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
7. Atlanta Falcons (0-0) – Am I the only person that is not selling Atlanta right now? This team is following the path of a lot of recent Super Bowl champions. The Giants lost their first playoff game in 2005 and 2006 before winning the Super Bowl in 2007. Green Bay and New Orleans both had to experience postseason disappointment before they broke through. And Indianapolis lost in the playoffs four straight times before they won their Super Bowl. Atlanta has fallen to the eventual champions the last two years so it’s not like they are getting dumped unceremoniously. I still like this group.
8. Houston Texans (0-0) – The most impressive thing about the 2011 Texans was how physically they played on both sides of the ball. They manhandled Atlanta and Pittsburgh at home and they were more than man enough for Baltimore in their playoff loss. A healthy Matt Schaub is a big “addition”. But some cracks in the foundation surfaced this offseason. Two of their starting offensive linemen are gone, as are stud defenders Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. But this team has a stranglehold on the feeble AFC South. I would be stunned if they didn’t make a return trip to the postseason, even if they aren’t necessarily better this year.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) – This is the lowest that I have had the Steelers going into a season in several years. This franchise is built to win, plain and simple. And while the last 18 months has seen them overhaul the roster – literally out with the old and in with the new – the core of this team is still as strong as any in the NFL. At 100.5 per game the Steelers actually led the league in total yardage differential. They made some tough cap decisions during the offseason and the locker room will have a different feel. But I know I’m not in a hurry to bet against them.
10. Chicago Bears (0-0) – Right now the Bears are a big-time “buzz” team. Their move to get Brandon Marshall was bold and is a high-risk/high-reward maneuver. And their best move of the offseason was dumping blowhard Mike Martz, who was one of the worst coordinators in the NFL. The defense is in place. And the skill players can be elite now that they have Matt Forte back in the fold. They still have a massive Achilles heel with their shaky offensive line. But this team has a lot of momentum right now and a quick scan of their schedule says it would be a big upset for them not to win 10 games.
11. Denver Broncos (0-0) – I am definitely wary of buying in to the Broncos too much too early. But, seriously, does anyone think that Peyton Manning would come back if he couldn’t play at a high level? He also has the best defense, offensive line and running game that he has had to work with in at least five years. And Manning was able to take guys like Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, and Pierre Garcon and turn them into productive wideouts. So I am not worried about Denver’s receiver situation.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) – I think the Eagles are in a really nice position heading into this season. Obviously I’m not in their locker room. However, I’m sure there will be renewed focus and determination going into the year after what was a humbling and humiliating 2011 season. DeMeco Ryans was an excellent pickup and this team really wasn’t far off the pace last year; their plus-68 scoring differential led the division and they blew no less than three games in the fourth quarter. Everyone knows where I come in on Mike Vick – he’s always been overrated and is a disaster waiting to happen – but the question this year is for his cohorts: are they as talented as The Hype suggests?
13. Detroit Lions (0-0) – I know, I know: I’m nuts for not having the Lions in the Top 10 and for not hailing them as a Super Bowl contender. But let’s not get carried away over one good year. Detroit has a nice foundation. But we’ve seen a lot of teams flash in the pan for a playoff trip and then come back to earth the following season. Their offseason has been dominated by negative off-field stories (mostly arrests) and this looks to me like a team that might have trouble handling success.
14. New York Jets (0-0) – This might actually be a little bit low for the Jets this year. Like the Patriots, they will enjoy an easy schedule this season and they still have a fair amount of talent. And my perspective on the Tebow signing is this: forget what it might mean from a marketing, PR and “quarterback controversy” standpoint (if you can). What that move may symbolize is a dedication by the Jets to get back to their roots as a ground-and-pound, tough, defensive-oriented team after two years of getting softer. That is absolutely what they need.
15. Dallas Cowboys (0-0) – Yes, the Cowboys are still mediocre. And the only reason that they are even rated this high is that I respect the top-end talents that they have on both sides of the ball. But after their “stars” there is a huge drop-off in talent and experience. The real culprit over the last two seasons has been lack of depth and inexperience. That is still a huge issue. If you look at Dallas’ 22 starters you think this is a playoff team. If you look at the other 30 players on the roster all I see is another mediocre, underachieving season.
16. San Diego Chargers (0-0) – How in god’s name is Norv Turner still coaching this team? He is one of the NFL’s all-time losers and as long as he is still at the helm this team is going to be second-rate, at best. Free agent losses and too many draft busts have zapped this team of their talent edge. As far as rebuilding modes go, I’ve seen much, much worse so all is not lost. But as long as good ol’ Norv is “leading” this group they only have one destination: disappointment.
17. Carolina Panthers (0-0) – I am cautiously optimistic about Carolina’s chances this year. Apparently so are a lot of other people, and that could crush their value in the NFL betting market. Carolina’s offense is high octane and if Cam Newton progresses – especially in terms of ball security – the Panthers can really help take the pressure off their thin defense. The NFC South has always been a great breeding ground for sleeper teams and Carolina could definitely be a new addition to the postseason roster this January.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) – I was as surprised as everyone else by Cincinnati’s 9-7 season last year. Andy Dalton was much better than I expected and their defense was one of the most underrated units in the league. But when you get down to it the Bengals did not beat a single playoff team, going 9-0 against also-rans and 0-7 against playoff clubs. Sure, they played some teams like Houston, San Fran and Denver tough. But they didn’t beat anyone. The Bengals start 2012 with four of six road games leading into a brutal three-game homestand against Pittsburgh, Denver and the Giants. They also close the year at San Diego, vs. Dallas, at Philly, at Pittsburgh and home to Baltimore. I think that a .500 record is a huge stretch.
19. Seattle Seahawks (0-0) – Along with Kansas City, the Seahawks are, to me, one of the toughest teams in the NFL to get a read on. A big reason for that is that they have a debacle of a quarterback situation with two mediocre veterans and a rookie vying for control of the team. That type of quarterback controversy – unless someone obviously separates – will set a poor tone for the season. But the Seahawks have a Top 10 defense and an excellent running game and they have won seven games in back-to-back seasons. They may be trending upward. But that QB conundrum is a big anchor.
20. Buffalo Bills (0-0) – Right now this is another “buzz” team that is getting a little love in football circles. The Bills made some splashy free agent maneuvers and they are hoping to build on a strong first half of 2011. They have the makings of a potential Top 10 defense and an excellent running game. And a quick scan through Buffalo’s schedule shows me that they are just a game or two away from being a 9- or 10-win team. But it all falls on the shoulders of Ryan Fitzpatrick and a shaky passing game. His performance will be the key to the whole year for this group.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) – As I said: I’m stumped when it comes to Kansas City. On one hand, their 2011 season was derailed by key injuries and a midseason coaching turnover. On the other hand, they were, statistically, so much worse than their 7-9 record suggests. (They were outscored by 126 points on the season, which was worse than 3-13 Minnesota and 4-12 Cleveland.) I’m not a fan of either Matt Cassel or Romeo Crennel. But I will admit that if this team can run the ball like it did in 2010 and defend like it did in 2011 they could be in the mix in a bizarre AFC West.
22. Washington Redskins (0-0) – The Redskins have almost become Oakland East. This franchise is still dining on the glory of things that happened a quarter century ago and they haven’t been relevant in a decade. Laughable quarterback play, terrible in-game management by the Shanahans, and negative karma from their scumbag owner has all conspired to hold back what is actually a pretty talented Washington roster. They are hoping that rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III can turn all three of those things around. That’s a tall order. And I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on this underachieving bunch.
23. Tennessee Titans (0-0) – Last year I was, quite literally, the only NFL analyst in the country that was predicting that the Titans would be in the playoff mix the last weeks of the season. I was the only person on their bandwagon and if Kenny Britt hadn’t been injured I think they would have made the postseason. However, I’m predicting a step back this year before a potential step forward next season. The Titans have a brutal schedule and an 0-4 start is almost a certainty. After that they will likely pull the plug on Matt Hasselbeck and go with Jake Locker. I’m not altogether sure that’s going to help matters.
24. Arizona Cardinals (0-0) – This is another team that I might be underselling. Because even though they always have massive holes on their roster this team always seems to be better than the sum of its parts. They were playing well at the end of last year and made a splash at the NFL Draft by getting Michael Floyd. But he seemed more like a luxury pick, and, other than that, Arizona did nothing/very little to improve in the offseason. They seem to be treading water in a division where the other three teams are improving.
25. Miami Dolphins (0-0) – Apparently I am the only one in the country who likes Matt Moore. If he had been the starter for the entire 2011 season then I think Miami would’ve been a playoff team and Tony Sparano might still have a job in South Beach. Miami wasn’t far off from being a good team. But they definitely lost more than they gained in the offseason and I can’t say they are heading in the right direction. I think Ryan Tannehill was a waste of a draft pick – he is garbage – and the potential of a rookie quarterback, rookie coach and rookie GM steering the ship means Miami will stay irrelevant for a few more years.
26. Oakland Raiders (0-0) – After decades of mismanagement and squandered resources the Raiders seem like they finally have some stability and may have reached dry land. I think their long-term prospects are better than they were, say, 18-24 months ago and there are pieces to build on. But Carson Palmer is a washout and once Darren McFadden gets hurt again the offense will tank and Oakland’s usual downward spiral should ensue. But I am less certain that will be the Raiders path this year than I have been in the past.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) – Just in case you’re wondering, Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer. He was a one-man horror show last year at quarterback. And unless he shows a shocking amount of improvement I don’t have high expectations for this year. Jacksonville definitely has the potential to jump up a few slots in this list. Their defense is legit (No. 6 in yards allowed) and they can pound the rock with their rushing game. Also, they benefit from playing in a pathetic division so there is definitely room to move forward.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) – Tampa didn’t have the worst record in football, but at the end of last season they were the worst team in the game. Raheem Morris was completely over his head and has moved on. He left behind some good young pieces – this team went 10-6 just two years ago – but after watching this group completely mail it in last December I have serious doubts about Tampa’s heart. The offense should be able to put points on the board as long as Josh Freeman goes back to taking care of the ball. But nothing about the defense instills confidence.
29. St. Louis Rams (0-0) – The Rams have been the worst franchise in football over the last half-decade. And as you look through the roster right now the team is nearly devoid of top-end talent. But they went 7-9 in 2010 and were everyone’s sleeper team last year. Maybe they can bounce back. And in the NFC West anything is possible (ask San Fran). The Rams are going to be leaning on a lot of youth this year as they continue to rebuild. But I really like Jeff Fisher and I think he will get this group playing good, tough football sooner rather than later.
30. Minnesota Vikings (0-0) – It is tough to believe that just two years ago this team was a Brett Favre interception away from going to the Super Bowl. Since then a coaching change, age and injury has rotted out this club’s foundation. And since Minnesota is in what is, right now, perhaps the best division in football they won’t have room to breathe as they try to rebuild. Were it not for Jared Allen’s superhuman ability – he was the best player in football last year, period – there would be nothing redeeming about this bunch.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-0) – This team is just a mishmash of personnel and, to this point, has shown no real plan for improvement. I definitely like Brandon Weeden’s ability. But Colt McCoy is not nearly as bad as he is being portrayed; he was shackled with the worst skill players in all of football and now so is Weeden. They have a couple good players here and there but on the whole this team has a long way to go before it is a cohesive franchise.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-0) – I know there is a belief that Andrew Luck instantly has this franchise back going in the right direction. But what if Luck is a bust? What if he is just mediocre? This team is undergoing a complete and total overhaul. There is little depth – everywhere – and we have no idea how the players are going to perform in their new systems (including switching to a 3-4 defense). Their skill position players, outside of Reggie Wayne, are awful. And the defense was a train wreck last year, without much of a talent infusion. I think that three or four wins is the ceiling here. But that said, there may be some value here against the spread if the Colts get off to a slow start.
Robert Ferringo is a professional football handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable football seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football years and over the last 12 months his clients have more than tripled their bankrolls with his predictions in all sports. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. You can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!). Click Here for more info.