Balance of Power
R&H’s 2012 NFL Power Rankings
With the NFL Draft complete, team rosters are beginning to take shape and the season of projections is upon us. While power rankings are not necessarily projections as much as they are a “state of the team”, so to speak, they do tell us a lot about what we can expect to see from a team coming out of the gate to open up the 2012 season. Without further ado, here is Rattle and Hum’s 2012 NFL Power Rankings.
1. New York Giants
The defending Super Bowl Champions will have a tough task ahead of them if they expect to repeat in 2012. The division rival Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles both got much, much better on defense over the offseason, so Manning and company will have to step up their game.
2. Green Bay Packers
The Packers were Super Bowl favorites in 2011, but ran into the steamroller that was the New York Giants. Green Bay addressed their pass rush by taking Nick Perry in the 1st round of the draft, but there is uncertainty in the secondary now that safety Nick Collins is no longer around. Can one of the league’s worst pass defenses get any better in 2012?
3. New England Patriots
The Patriots finally cashed in on their steady supply of draft picks, selecting Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft. New England finally has an infusion of talent on defense. If they can put all that talent together and make this defense at the very least respectable, the Patriots should be Super Bowl favorites in 2012.
4. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made it clear they want to give Alex Smith as many weapons as possible for the passing attack, adding Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in free agency, and then using their 1st round pick on wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who was a reach at that spot. We know the defense will be tremendous, but honestly, what does this team’s ceiling really look like with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback?
The Texans seemingly took some big hits in free agency, losing the likes of Mario Williams, Demeco Ryans and Eric Winston. However, the offensive line was replenished in the draft and 1st round draft pick OLB Whitney Mercilus is ready to team up with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed to form a deadly three-man rotation of pass rushers in H-town. The Texans just might have the deepest roster in the NFL, an important ingredient in any team wishing to make a Super Bowl run.
6. Baltimore Ravens
The loss of T-Sizzle was a huge blow to the Raven. It just makes the Courtney Upshaw selection look that much better, though. The bottom line is, the Super Bowl window is quickly closing in Baltimore, with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the twilight of their careers. Did Baltimore do enough in the offseason to get them over the hump? I have my doubts.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers did a phenomenal job of addressing the holes in their offensive line in the draft by nabbing stud offensive guard David DeCastro and highly-touted-but-troubled offensive tackle Mike Adams. Big Ben has to be a happy man, and I believe Steelers fans will be amazed at what giving a quarterback time to get set in the pocket will do for an offense. The question is, will this defense begin to show its age, or will they continue to play at an elite level?
8. New Orleans Saints
What a mess of an offseason for the Saints. You have to give them credit for staying ahead of the game by signing linebacker David Hawthorne away from the Seahawks with the imminent suspension of defensive leader Jonathan Vilma looming, but chemistry cannot be underestimated in the NFL. With no Sean Peyton for the year and no Drew Brees in offseason workous, where is the leadership going to come from?
9. Detriot Lions
The Lions finally invested in an offensive tackle, a position that has been a need ever since Matthew Stafford was drafted. Jeff Backus is old and hasn’t exactly been a world beater at tackle. The concern in Detroit is that one of the NFL’s worst defenses failed to add any significant talent. What exactly is the game plan in Detroit to improve this defense?
10. Cincinnati Bengals
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t be floored if the Bengals won the AFC North. I still believe the Ravens are the favorites, but the Bengals have a rock solid defense run by Mike Zimmer, and an exciting young combo in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The Bengals did a great job of adding depth to their offensive and defensive lines in the draft. They’ll have one of the deeper teams in the league. They failed to add an impact running back after the loss of Cedric Benson, however, which could come back to haunt them.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had just two selections in the first 4 rounds of the NFL Draft, and they were able to add a solid interior lineman in Peter Konz of Wisconsin. The Falcons’ offseason was pretty quiet, and the biggest news was likely the loss of defensive leader Curtis Lofton. This team didn’t make any significant additions to the roster on either side of the ball, and that is a concern for a ball club that has failed to have any playoff success in the Matt Ryan era.
12. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning automatically makes the Broncos a contender to make a deep playoff run. No one knows how healthy Manning really is except for Manning, but from everything we are told, he’s completely healed from three neck procedures. The Broncos still have a lot of needs on both sides of the ball (offensive line, secondary), but if Manning can come in and lead this team to a Super Bowl despite those deficiencies, his status will go from Superstar to Legend.
13. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers made improving the defense a point of emphasis this offseason, signing linebacker Jarret Johnson away from Baltimore and then using their first three draft picks on defenders, including DE/OLB Melvin Ingram of South Carolina. Look for an improved Chargers defense in 2012. Offensively, the Phillip Rivers lost his main target Vincent Jackson to free agency, but San Diego is hoping that newly acquired free agents Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal can help fill that void
14. Dallas Cowboys
If the Chargers made improving their defense a point of emphasis, the Cowboys made it an absolute priority. Dallas went all in, trading away valuable draft picks to move up to select heralded LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. It’s a boom or bust move, but the time to make a Super Bowl run is now in Dallas. The pieces are there, so Tony Romo will have no more excuses if he can’t lead this team on a deep playoff run in 2012.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are another team that drastically improved on defense over the offseason. Andy Reid finally addressed the linebacker position, trading a mere 4th round pick for impact linebacker Demeco Ryans. The Eagles also nailed the draft, taking three front seven defenders with their first three picks to solidify what should be a scary defensive line. The Eagles must, however, get consistency from DeSean Jackson and a healthy year from Michael Vick this season if they expect to beat out the Giants and the Cowboys within their own division.
16. Chicago Bears
The Bears were off to a terrific start in 2011, only to see their season derailed with a season ending injury to Jay Cutler. While Chicago was able to bring in Brandon Marshall and draft Alshon Jeffrey to give Jay Cutler some much needed targets on offense, the offensive line was not adequately addressed. If Cutler goes down again, the blame will rest upon the shoulders of the Bears’ front office for failing to add protection for their quarterback in 2012.
17. Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ bid for Peyton Manning came up short, so veteran Matt Hasselback will once again be taking the snaps in Nashville while the Titans continue to groom Jake Locker. The Titans didn’t make any splashes, but they quietly had a solid offseason, adding talent to their lines in Steve Hutchinson and Kameron Wimbley. Kendall Wright could be an exciting player for Tennessee, but running back Chris Johnson must return to Pro-Bowl form if the Titans want to have a prayer at unseating the Houston Texans as AFC South Champs.
18. New York Jets
The Jets’ offseason moves were interesting, to say the least. No one saw the Tim Tebow trade coming, but Rex Ryan and the Jets are not afraid of media coverage, and they’ll be getting plenty of it. New York gambled on their first two draft picks, taking DE Quinton Coples and WR Stephen Hill, two high risk/high reward players who could potentially make or break the Jets’ 2012 campaign. The obvious storyline will be whether or not Mark Sanchez can hold onto his job as starting quarterback for the entire season, or if the chants for Tim Tebow become so deafening that the Jets are forced to make the move.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were decimated by injuries in 2011. It’ll be like watching a completely different football team in 2012. Running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Maoeki, and safety Eric Berry alone will immensely upgrade the product on the field. The Chiefs also added the mammoth Dontari Poe and then addressed the holes on their offensive line by signing OT Eric Winston and drafting two tackles in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft. If Matt Cassel can play decent football, don’t be surprised to see the Chiefs challenging the Broncos for the AFC West crown. This is a very good football team.
20. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals gave Kevin Kolb another weapon on offense, drafting receiver Michael Floyd in the first round of the draft. They also got great value in the 4th and 5th rounds in offensive linemen Bobby Massie and Senio Kelemete. The huge question mark is at quarterback. Kevin Kolb was a big disappointment in 2011, and he’ll have one more year in Arizona to prove that he belongs as a starting quarterback in the NFL. If he doesn’t, Arizona will be drafting high in the 2013 draft and shopping for a new QB.
21. Buffalo Bills
The Bills took a huge step in the right direction in free agency in 2012, pilfering DE Mario Williams from the Houston Texans. Buffalo has historically had trouble convincing free agents to come play in upstate New York, but the Mario Williams signing could change all that. DE Mark Anderson (10 sacks in 2011) was also signed, and the Bills drafted cornerback Stephon Gilmore to add talent to the secondary. The Bills have an uphill climb playing in the AFC East with the Patriots and Jets, but the future looks bright in Buffalo.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Say what you will about the Seahawks shocking selection of OLB Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall selection, but at least they acted with conviction. Seattle obviously knows who they want and they have a plan. The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn away from Green Bay to be their new starting quarterback, but one has to wonder how much confidence they really have in him after they flirted with Peyton Manning and were rumored to be interested in Ryan Tannehill. There’s no question Seattle has a talented, emerging defense, but whether Matt Flynn can lead this team to success is anyone’s guess at this point.
23. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton proclaimed that his improvement from his rookie campaign in 2011 will be “through the roof”. If that’s the case, the Panthers’ offense may be virtually unstoppable. I’m tempering my expectations. Defensive coordinators’ game-planning for Cam Newton will be “through the roof”, as well, so let’s not get too excited. Carolina drafted the best linebacker in the draft, and the future is brighter than ever for the Panthers. They are close to making the playoff leap, but it will take at least one more year.
24. Washington Redskins
The Redskins have their man at quarterback in Robert Griffin III, and the fans are ecstatic. Washington still has a ton of question marks at other positions such as offensive tackle, wide receiver, and the secondary, though. Can Trent Williams stay out of trouble and be the tackle the Redskins drafted him to be? Is Pierre Garcon capable of becoming a #1 target? Can one of a collection of castoffs in Cedric Griffin, Tanard Jackson, and Brandon Meriweather stick at safety? The Redskins threw a ton of money around this offseason, as usual, but it’s going to take some time to build around RG3. At least the centerpiece is now in place.
25. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders mortgaged their future on the acquisition of Carson Palmer in 2011, and so far, it looks to have been a grave mistake. The Raiders didn’t draft until the end of the 3rd round in 2012, and they could be without a 1st round pick in 2013 as well, depending on how this season plays out. Raiders fans should begin praying right now that Carson Palmer returns to form, or this is going to be a bad football team for a long, long time.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs had plenty of money to spend this offseason, and they didn’t waste any time doing it. Tampa nabbed the best offensive lineman in free agency, Carl Nicks, and the best wide receiver, Vincent Jackson. Then, the Buccaneers selected the best safety in the draft in Mark Barron and the 2nd best running back in Doug Martin. This roster drastically improved in a matter of months, but they are a young team nonetheless, and there will be growing pains. Quarterback Josh Freeman looked to be the real deal after the 2010 season, but a disappointing 2011 has raised some question marks. If Freeman can return to form, the Buccaneers have a legitimate shot of making noise a year or two down the road.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
What’s better than having one real wide receiver on your team? Having two! The additions of Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon were desperately needed in Jacksonville to give Blaine Gabbert a fighting chance of making it as an NFL quarterback. Gabbert was just plain awful in 2011, but the added weapons should help. Nobody will deny that the Jaguars have a stingy defense, but that is all for not if Blaine Gabbert plays anywhere near as poorly as he did in 2011. I have my doubts about his future as an NFL quarterback, but this is his chance to prove us all wrong.
28. St. Louis Rams
The first step in the right direction was the hiring of new head coach Jeff Fisher. He will bring a positive attitude and a winning culture to the locker room in St. Louis. The Rams focused on solidifying their defense this offseason, signing Cortland Finnegan and drafting the likes of Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins. Running back Steven Jackson is still steady as ever, but the Rams must do a better job of protecting quarterback Sam Bradford this year. If they don’t, their prized QB could end up going the way of David Carr.
29. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns surprised a lot of people by taking quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick in the 1st round. The 28 year old rookie is no ordinary rookie, and he will likely be the starter on opening day. The addition of Trent Richardson finally gives the Browns a legitimate go-to guy on offense. Richardson is the real deal, and he will instantly improve this team offensively. Unfortunately, the Browns failed to upgrade the wide receiver position, which is really going to limit what they can do offensively this season. Richardson will help, but there is no explosion offensively on this football team.
30. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins got their quarterback of the future in Ryan Tannehill, but he won’t see much of the field in 2012. Miami traded away it’s best offensive player in wide receiver Brandon Marshall. With Matt Moore at quarterback, Reggie Bush at running back, and Davone Bess as their #1 target at wide receiver, I have a hard time seeing how the Dolphins will score any points in 2012. This offense could be historically bad this year. It’s going to get ugly.
31. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings did the right thing my drafting offensive tackle Matt Kalil to protect Christian Ponder, and they also added a great talent at safety in Harrison Smith. There are so many holes on this roster, though, that you must forgive the Vikings if they can’t fill them all in one year. I have my doubts about whether Christian Ponder is the long term solution at quarterback, and he will probably take more lumps this season. Minnesota must look into getting him some more weapons at wide receiver next offseason if he’s to have a chance to succeed.
32. Indianapolis Colts
Sure, the Colts will stink in 2012, but Andrew Luck is in town, and all is well. Don’t be surprised to see Luck struggle in his rookie campaign. The Colts did a good job in the draft of acquiring weapons to surround Luck with to help with his development. The selection of Luck’s college teammate and tight end Coby Fleener is huge, as that will help ease the transition into the NFL for Luck. The Colts are switching to the 3-4 defense and they have holes all over the place on that side of the ball. It’s going to be hard for Indianapolis to stop any offense this year.