Preseason NFL Power Rankings
by Robert Ferringo - Updated 08/20/2008
Here is the this week's installment of Doc's Sports Power Rankings:
1. New England Patriots - Raise your hand if you really think that Tom Brady is injured. I mean, c'mon, haven't we seen this about 1,000 time before? Bill Belichick probably just didn't want to subject his star QB to the intense blitz of the Bucs so he left him at home. Randy Moss admitted last week that he was "scared" of trying to top last year's production. It's the first hint of what I believe is a fact about this Pats team - they are in for a ridiculous Super Bowl Hangover and are simply not the 2007 Patriots anymore. That said, they start the year with Kansas City, the Jets, Miami and San Francisco. What a joke.
2. San Diego Chargers - San Diego has two preseason games in five days next week so look for them to be extra cautious with some of their key players. In fact, that's been a main theme in camp: resting the starters. Against St. Louis, 13 of their starters did not play. Nine starters did have offseason surgery, so the care is necessary, but I think the Chargers will be fine to open the season. They likely won't be as sharp as you'd expect, given their lack of time together this fall, but by late September they should be firing on all cylinders. Keep an eye on Jamal Williams' knees. Those two orbs of flesh and bone may be the key to S.D.'s season.
3. Dallas Cowboys - I think Joe Horn would be a great fit on this team and I would like to see them make a push. I think he'd be a solid slot guy, and with some depth issues at wideout the move makes sense. That is, if his Ego wouldn't somehow put them over the Ego Cap. Defensively, look for a lot more man-to-man coverage from the Cowboys because they have increased their talent at corner. That's a double-edged sword. On one hand, they should generate more big plays out of the defense and should do a better job of smothering opposing offenses when they're on. On the other hand, that makes them susceptible to a lot of big plays.
4. Indianapolis Colts - If you are worried about Peyton Manning coming back to lead this team, just think about one thing: it's Peyton Manning. I'm not talking about what a great quarterback he is. I'm talking about what a huge by-the-book dork he is. Do you think he's taking one shortcut or not doing one thing perfectly in his rehab? Me neither. He could be a bit rusty. As in it might take the whole first half of their Week 1 game with Chicago before he finds a groove.
5. New York Giants - The Giants are officially so "underrated" that they are now overrated. They are the defending champions, for chrissakes. How are people not taking them seriously? They are being taken seriously, and they need to ease up on the Disrespect Card because if they play it this early they won't have it in the kicker for later. Now, on the field, the G-Men absolutely dominated Cleveland on Monday, regardless of the final score. Steve Spagnuolo has that defense hungry and in attack mode. Their issues will come if teams figure out how to protect on the blitz and the Giants have their corners exposed.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Yes, I know it was Matt Cassell. And I know that the Patriots don't care about the preseason. But you can consider me on the Bucs Bandwagon. They look exceptional right now. My issue with them two years ago, when I predicted their free-fall in the standings after a 2005 playoff trip, was that their offensive line was suspect and they didn't have a quarterback. Well, done and done. Their offensive line is solid and they have one of the most impressive arsenals of skill position players in the league. I love their backfield and look for a strong year out of Antonio Bryant. He was very productive in 2005 and 2006 before he started running his mouth. But he could be a perfect compliment to Joey Galloway and that was something that definitely held them back last year.
7. Seattle Seahawks -Matt Hasselbeck's back is tightening up again. That's not a great sign considering he is that team right now. But what is also troubling is that Seattle has taken 21 penalties in two preseason games. For a veteran team in an established system that makes me wonder if they are getting a little too comfortable as the NFC West Champs. And five field goals, including the game-winner in OT, has to give rookie Brandon Coutu (from Georgia) a leg-up in the kicking competition.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers -The Steelers are still trying to finalize who will be their starting center. Right now the camp battle is between Justin Hartwig, who was a huge disappointment in Carolina, or undersized Sean Mahan. My money is on Hartwig. Troy Polamalu is back on the practice field, and not a moment too soon. Also, keep an eye on Lawrence Timmons this year. The second-year player is a beast and is apparently pushing hard for time on the field. I think he'll make the most of his time this season and will allow some of the veterans to stay fresh.
9. Tennessee Titans - Vince Young looked awful against the Raiders last week, and that has to be a concern. From a betting standpoint, it's just moderately frustrating that the Titans can not be considered a "solid" favorite pick against teams that they are better than because you never know what VY is going to do. As a dog? He is great for the same reasons. But the Titans are an upper-tier team this year. And the only way they can stay that way is if Young gets better. Period. This is turning into a Mike Vick situation where the team wins in spite of him, and he get the credit for the victories even though the team is exceptional at running the ball and playing physical defense. Two more notes on the Vick comparison: Alge Crumpler has been involved, and neither quarterback was ever given a top-flight wideout to work with.
10. Washington Redskins -Jason Campbell was completely rattled by the Jets 3-4 defensive alignment last weekend. After completing 80 percent of his passes in the first two exhibition games, Campbell went just 4-for-10. The 'Skins need to work on that because, counting the Giants, who employ multiple blitz sets, Washington will face eight teams this year that employ a 3-4. The good news is that the Redskins offensive line has been dominant, and their skill and depth makes them one of the best units in the league. That will only help Campbell develop.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars -This team has a real tentative grasp on this slot, as their lackluster preseason is simply backing up my theory that this team is headed for a regression. The exact same thing happened after their 2005 playoff appearance, and I insist that this team isn't even close to being a Super Bowl contender. Not even close. I don't want to overreact to one preseason game, but this team is sliding. Their first-string passing offense has been the worst in the league - and that is no exaggeration - and, as I pointed out before, they still have one of the most putrid receiving corps in the league. Also, don't forget that they have a new defensive coordinator and are sans Marcus Stroud, who was one of their best defenders. Jack Del Rio was all over his team following its performance against Miami, so it will be very interesting to see how that translates against Tampa this week.
12. New Orleans Saints -Jason David was absolutely abused by Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans last week, and the Saints secondary looked disturbingly similar to last year's unit. Also, injuries are piling up on this team, especially along the defensive line. Brian Young (knee) and Sedrick Ellis (ankle) have both been gimpy and now Hollis Thomas - a critical component on last year's front - is out for at least two months with a torn tricep. Also, the team still has to be gentle on the surgically repaired knees of Mike McKenzie (the key to the secondary) and Jon Vilma (the key to the linebackers). Also - to the surprise of no Giants fans - Jeremy Shockey still hasn't logged any time with the team due to various ailments. And that says nothing of Deuce's McAllister's tentative return. There are a lot of ifs on this team regarding its health.
13. Houston Texans -Realistically, this team could be rated higher. Their first team offense has been humiliating opposing defenses so far this fall and I fully expect that to carry over into the regular season. The problem is that we still don't know what to expect from their front seven. They have some names and some individual talent on that defense, but they have not gelled as a unit and that should take some time. If they can't establish a consistent pass rush they will hang their subpar wideouts out to dry. They have the second-best QB and second-best offense in the division. But can they prove that they are tough enough to leap over Tennessee and Jacksonville?
14. New York Jets -They are at 14…and climbing. It's amazing how one guy has seemingly drained the life from one team and breathed life into the other. Here's the problem though - it's nearly impossible to find people breaking down the Jets beyond their quarterback. I can assure you that opponents are spending time figuring out how to attack their offensive line and their weak back seven. But it's so tough to gauge anything with this group's preseason because they have been enduring Favre-mania.
15. Minnesota Vikings - This team is still very difficult to gauge because they are playing things so close to the vest. Minnesota's main asset will be its physicality in a division where they have the dominant offensive and defensive lines. But they aren't risking injury in the preseason so they are playing it soft. T-Jackson's knee will heal and he'll be better to start the year. But the injury definitely sheds light on the fact that the Vikes really have no contingency plan for if he goes down or is ineffective.
16. Philadelphia Eagles -I covered my feelings about the Eagles on the blog last week after their game with the Panthers. This is going to be a tricky team to get a read on, as they are young but athletic in a lot of spots. I do know that unless each member of the secondary lives up to the hype - and there's a lot of hype around this group of ex-Pro Bowlers - then this defense is going to be a debacle. The good news this week is that Shawn Andrews returned to practice. The bad news is that I think Reggie Brown is going to be setback by constant ailments this year.
17. Oakland Raiders -It's official: the Raiders are my sleeper team this year. Their defense has a chance to match what it did in 2006, when it was a Top 5 unit and one of the most unheralded groups in the league. They can run the ball on just about anyone, and if you can run the ball you can win in this league. JaMarcus Russell is going to be erratic. Most first-time starters are. But he has all the tools that Vince Young does and he gets about half the hype. If Javon Walker gets his head out of his ass, he and Zach Miller could give the O some options. All in all, this team has some aggressiveness and some attitude. I love that.
18. Arizona Cardinals -I was very glad to see the Cardinals answer the triangle (the phrase "answer the bell" can only be used during the regular season. Since it's the preseason, they answer the triangle). They were languid in their opening preseason game but came back focused against the Saints. The problem now is one of chemistry and karma. First, the quarterback situation is a potential time bomb. I, for one, think people are severely overestimating Kurt Warner as a full-time starter, and ignoring his lengthy injury history. Second, the Anquan Boldin issue (and is there any surprise that he's a Rosenhaus guy?) also has the potential to seep into the locker room.
19. Buffalo Bills -The offensive line looked pretty good last week against Pittsburgh base defense. However, the Bills desperately need to get Jason Peters in camp if they want to realize their potential this year. James Hardy's presence paid off in the red zone, as the extra attention he received from Pitt helped Robert Royal get free underneath for a score. Also, Trent Edwards has a deep thigh bruise and should be fine.
20. Cleveland Browns -Yeah, I said last week to Beware Everyone's Sleeper. And after breaking down the tape of Monday's game against the Giants I am convinced that the Browns are not a contender. Again, I don't want to overreact to one preseason game. But Cleveland needs to show me something. Their one OT win over Seattle was their only win against a playoff team last year and they simply beat up on bottom feeders. I don't think Romeo Crennel is a top-tier coach, and this Browns club is starting to remind me of Everyone's Sleeper from a few years ago - the Bengals. (Remember when they were The Next Big Thing? How did that work out?) Cleveland doesn't stop people in the secondary and still has some questions at the point of attack on both sides.
21. Green Bay Packers - Let's put it this way: I will be betting against Aaron Rodgers a lot this year. He is suspect in the pocket, and he will be forced to make a lot of snap decisions behind a leaky offensive line. The Packers have not settled on any of their starting guards yet and Rodgers was running for his life against a pretty below-average San Francisco front last week. The Bears and Vikings should absolutely manhandle the Pack up front this year. On top of that, the Packers are a team that's a little more dinged up than most clubs at the moment.
22. Carolina Panthers -After watching Carolina a couple of times I have no problem saying that they are going to be a player in the NFC South race. I think
23. Denver Broncos -I am starting to think that I may be underestimating this team, and it has nothing to do with their beating a completely disinterested Dallas team. Jay Cutler is going to have a big year, and I think the offense will put up some really nice numbers. The defense, which was pathetic last year, only brought back five starters so it's tough to tell if they have progressed or regressed.
24. Baltimore Ravens -They don't have a quarterback, but they do have a solid rushing attack and a top-half defense so they should win their 5-8 games this year. The question is whether or not the veterans on this team are going to keep playing for John Harbaugh once they realize they aren't going to the playoffs. And that should happen by around Week 6.
25. Cincinnati Bengals -I'm not going to rail the Bengals for bringing back Chris Henry. That's what second-rate organizations do. But perhaps they looked at this stat: since 2005, the Bengals are 21-14 in games in which Chris Henry plays and 5-8 when he does not. But another issue is this, the Bengals need healthy bodies at wideout NOW, so the Henry signing doesn't do much to bolster the corp. This team still doesn't defend, they still have an awful coach, and they are still fourth-best in their division.
26. Chicago Bears - So we shall be treated to a full fall of Kyle Orton's neck beard. Glorious. Now that they have that one figured out they just need to come up with an action plan for the running backs, wideouts, and the offensive line. Also, first-round pick Chris Williams will likely provide no relief this year. In the footsteps of Marc Columbo, Williams had surgery and will likely be a non-factor this year. This team is still a mess.
27. Detroit Lions -I will have to admit, the Lions are looking pretty sharp through two preseason games. Jon Kitna has been a razor and Calvin Williams is primed for a breakout season. The defense is going to be as up-and-down and unpredictable as any this year. At times they look like a swarming, speedy unit. At times they look like an E-Z Pass. But any time I start to get optimistic about the Lions I think of two things: 1) they started 6-2 last year and then went absolutely nowhere, and 2) football genius Matt Millen traded lineman George Foster for Tatum Bell, and it looks like Bell might actually get cut. Ah, Millen.
28. Kansas City Chiefs -Chiefs fans are setting their sights on progress, not the playoffs this year. This entire team is simply patchwork, with some exceptional individuals sprinkled in. I'm not a Brodie Croyle believer. And behind a wobbly offensive line he's only going to be more erratic. The Chiefs should be an 'under' machine this year, as Herm is making no bones about his philosophy: keep the clock running as much as possible. The Chiefs have had some nice drives and some solid offensive moments this preseason. But they still aren't finishing drives and that's going to be a crippler.
29. St. Louis Rams -Is anyone else starting to wonder if Marc Bulger is really a good quarterback or if he's just a guy who throws a beautiful ball who put up numbers in a favorable system? The Rams are learning Al Saunders' complicated offensive system this year, and they are still without their best offensive weapon. But the early returns have not been good. The first-team offense now hasn't scored a touchdown in two-and-a-half preseasons. No, that is no joke.
30. Miami Dolphins - Yup, Chad Pennington is worth two whole slots in the ol' Power Rankings. I've always been a Pennington fan and I thought he was wrongfully scapegoated at times in New York. He's a great fit for Miami rebuilding and, dare I say, is the best quarterback the franchise has had since Mr. Marino and his Isotoners. The Dolphins depth chart says that no less than four rookies will likely be starting this year, including two on the offensive line. That should be interesting.
31. San Francisco 49ers -A big part of the reason why the 49ers have struggled on offense - that is, before Saturday's 34-point eruption - is because their quarterbacks suck. Beyond that, several of their key wideouts are nursing injuries and not on the field. I don't understand how this team won't be better this year. I think they will be. But this sums up their plight: they still haven't decided who will be their quarterback, last year's starter Alex Smith or journeyman free agent pickup J.T. O'Sullivan, and they haven't decided who will be their starting middle linebacker, last year's starter Jeff Ulbrich or journeyman free agent Takeo Spikes. The most important positions on each side of the ball and the Niners don't have a clue who to go with.
32. Atlanta Falcons -The Falcons played hard last week but couldn't claim the preseason win that was so critical to this organization. They should get used to disappointment. Matt Ryan will be starting this week and playing into the second half. But one key thing that will affect his play, that most folks won't even realize, is that Atlanta's two starting centers are out with an injury so the Falcons may have to move a converted tackle, Quinn Ojinnaka, to the point.