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2010 NFL Power Rankings – Pre Training Camp by Lloyd Vance

Even without Big Ben to start the regular season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be looking to get Pittsburgh back in the playoffs in 2010

With training camps set to open soon for most NFL teams, I thought it was a good time to unveil my first ranking for the 2010 season.  The great part about this time on the NFL Calendar is that rankings don’t matter as hope has sprung eternal around the league.

Every team is 0-0 heading into training camp and “Yes” even the St. Louis Rams (1-15) believe they have positively upgraded their roster and drafted well enough that training camp two-a-days can’t get here soon enough.  And why not…since 1996 there have been at least 5 new playoffs teams that had been sitting home the year before – highest total was 8 teams in 2003.

80-man rosters are pretty much set for every team…Sorry T.O… – still need to sign rookies as only Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is the only first rounder signed — so here we go with our rankings of all 32 NFL Teams.

1.  Saints – The 2009 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch.  In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!!  The Saints only lost players that they believe already have replacements on their current roster. Sean Payton’s offensive squad has more weapons than almost every team in the NFL, including an O-line that returns all of it’s starters from the Super Bowl.  However there are a couple things that New Orleans will need to shake out in the pre-season, which are their defense not relying on turnovers too much – produced an NFL best 39 fumbles and INTs plus 8 turnovers into touchdowns.  And the usual Super Bowl winner problems of complacency, money, and injuries.

2.  Vikings – All off-season it had to have bothered the Vikes that they were so close to playing in the Super Bowl (lost in overtime).  Keys for sustaining their success from last season will be veteran QB Brett Favre coming back (already a done deal…trust me), RB Adrian Peterson concurring his fumbling woes, and the Vikings’ defense getting better performances from everyone outside of Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen.  Head Coach Brad Childress has now tasted success, so it is easy to think that Minnesota will be right back at the top of the NFC North, but I think the Packers and Bears might have something to say about that.

3.  Colts – Another season, another 12 wins for Indy (NFL Record seven Consecutive).  The Colts are a regular season buzzsaw, but once again the playoffs, it was a different story.  QB Peyton Manning’s team lost in Super Bowl to the Saints and at some points in the game, the younger team from New Orleans “Out Physical-ed” Indy.  There is no doubt that Manning and his plethora of receivers will continue to put up yards and points.  But the Colts need more of a running game from veteran RB Joseph Addai and 2nd year RB Donald Brown plus their defense needs to get more physical at the point of attack.

4. Cowboys – Maybe the curse of Quincy Carter is over as the Cowboys won in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 by demolishing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard round.  Unfortunately the Cowboys got a quick taste of reality in the divisional round as the Viking pasted them 34-3.  However owner Jerry Jones obviously thinks that his team has a chance of playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium so Dallas’ roster pretty much is set.  The keys for Dallas will be QB Tony Romo continuing to make big plays with WR Miles Austin, RB Felix Jones gaining a more prominent role and the Cowboys defense improving in their back four.

5.  Ravens – An already dangerous team just got a little bit tougher this offseason as John Harbaugh’s squad had a very good draft and also obtained quality veterans like WR Anquan Boldin.  With QB Joe Flacco coming off an impressive season (posted a 95+ passer rating in 9-of-16 games in ’09), underrated RB Ray Rice looking like the second-coming of Marshall Faulk and a hungry defense returning just about everyone, Baltimore is a scary bunch.  Expect team leaders MLB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and WR Derrick Mason to show younger players, like Terrence “Mount” Cody, how it is to make a playoff run.  But don’t forget the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals should be ready to fight for the AFC North crown.

6.  Chargers – After dominating in the regular season and looking like a strong Super Bowl contender, the Chargers were out-physicaled by the NY Jets in a tough 17-14 home loss.  Fiery quarterback Philip Rivers could do very little as the J-E-T-S pounded the rock and played attacking defense.  Of course, recently jettisoned RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be blamed for some of the Chargers problems.  But in the end, the NY Jets dug deeper and Norv Turner’s team appears to be in need of a spark.  In the 2010, San Diego is hoping an influx of younger players including first rounder RB Ryan Matthews will be what they need, but the Chargers better be leery of the Broncos.  Also they better figure out what to do with unsigned players OT Marcus McNeil, WR Vincent Jackson, and LB Shawn Merriman.

7.  Patriots – Was it just me… or did the Patriots look like an old rusty team in 2009 as the Ravens hammered them out of the playoffs.  Though I am not ready to totally bury the 3-time Super Bowl champs, I do believe that head coach Bill Belichick also saw his team aging and went about give it an offseason makeover.  Veterans Junior Seau, Shaun Springs, Jarvis Green, and others are long gone, leaving a mix of former Super Bowl players and some youngsters.  It will be incumbent on Belichick to lean on former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and future HOF Randy Moss as the Patriots try to re-tool while holding off the hungry NY Jets.  Of course Brady doesn’t play defense, where Belichick’s unit needs to be better in deep coverage.

8.  New York Jets – Everyone’s pick for the team that won the offseason, the New York Jets, will be trying to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row.  Last year after an up-and-down regular season, Rex Ryan’s team got hot at the right time beating the Bengals and Patriots to make it to the AFC Championship game.  However this year everyone will be gunning for the “cocky” J-E-T-S as there are high expectations on them due to the additions of OLB Jason Taylor, WR Santonio Holmes, L.T and others.  But you know and I know that everything will boil down to whether QB Mark Sanchez is ready to be more than a “Caretaker”.

9. New York Giants – It was a rollercoaster ride for the G-Men in 2009.  They started out like gangbusters as they jumped out to a 5-0 record against some cupcakes, but from there injuries – mostly in their secondary – and big plays against their defense caught up with the Giants.  An 8-8 record just is not good enough in New York City and volatile head coach Tom Coughlin knows it.  Expect a rejuvenated team based around bruising RB Brandon Jacobs, newly acquired veteran LB Keith Bulluck and an attacking defensive line – highest sacker in ’09 was DE Justin Tuck with only 7 sacks.

10.  Cardinals – The Matt Leinart era is about to kick-in out at University of Phoenix stadium.  The Cardinals’ former first round pick in 2006 finally will get his chance to replace veteran Kurt Warner after the future HOF retired.  Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is preaching that the Cardinals will be a more balanced team on offense, which means 2nd-year RB Chris Wells should be more active.  I will be interested in seeing how their defense plays after surviving a pinball machine against the Packers and being throttled by the Saints in the 2009 playoffs.

11. Steelers – A year after winning the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in 2009 as they finished with a 9-7 record.  Some big reasons for the Steelers fall from grace were inconsistency, injuries (see Troy Polamulu), and a pass-happy offense.  Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who just received an extension, is preaching that his team is going to play “Steelers Football” again i.e. Run the football and play tough attacking defense.  Of course any talk about where the Steelers are as a team begins and ends with QB Ben Roethlisberger who is currently suspended for the season’s first 6 games.

12.  Bengals – It will be real interesting to see if last year’s feel-good team, the Bengals, can get back to the playoffs.  2009’s Beast of the AFC North (swept the division) looked good until the playoffs when the NY Jets hammered them.  Offensively QB Carson Palmer needs to produce more bigger plays and the rest of the unit needs to live-up to loudmouth receiver Chad Ochocinco’s boasts.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis is trying to get an extension so he will need another great season from his defense which is led by CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

13.  Falcons – After battling through many injuries in 2009, the Dirty Birds seem to be everyone’s pick to be a rebound playoff team in 2010.  A good reason for optimism in Hotlanta is that this young team has bought into the teachings of fiery head coach Mike Smith and his staff.  The Falcons have the modern version of the quadruplets as they sport a leadership type quarterback in Matt Ryan, a workhorse running back in Michael Turner, a pass-catching tight end in veteran Tony Gonzalez and a big-play receiver in Roddy White.  If their O-line is stable, I am not really worried about their offense.  However their defense needs to rally around big-ticket free agent CB Dunta Robinson.

14.  Texans – You have to hand it to Houston as they accomplished a major goal in 2009 by producing their first winning season since their inception in 2001.  But as nice as it was to be over .500, the Texans still have a ways to go to catch the Colts.  Head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith were given a half-hearted vote of confidence, but you can tell management wants a playoff contender now.  The Texans will need to lean on the offensive firepower of Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and NFL receiving yardage leader WR Andre Johnson. But it will be interesting to see if their defensive unit is better without disgruntled defensive back Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and you know that will fall on DE Mario Williams (9 sacks in ’09).

15. Titans – Tennessee is another team stuck in the NFL’s ever increasing middle.  After a disastrous 0-6 start, everything seemed to finally click once Vince Young was named the starting quarterback.  However it was too much too late as they finished 8-8 and their defense was continually beaten deep.  In their first season sans Albert Haynesworth, Jeff Fisher’s team allowed a whopping 402 points and their former 2008 Pro Bowlers in their secondary looked average at best.  With an eye on fixing their defense, the Titans went heavily on that side of the ball in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will see if they have enough to catch the Colts and Texans, but If nothing else the Titans will be exciting with CJ2K running the ball.

16.  Eagles – The winds of change are blowing around the Philadelphia Eagles.  Former veterans like QB Donovan McNabb, CB Sheldon Brown, S Brian Dawkins, and RT John Runyan are long gone leaving a younger team searching for an identity.  The trade of McNabb to the Redskins changed the entire feel around the team and now it is up to first-time starter Kevin Kolb to take the reins of Andy Reid’s young squad.  Kolb will not have to do it on his own as he has Pro Bowlers WR DeSean Jackson, OT Jason Peters and TE Brent Celek to help him, but the defense is the Birds’ biggest question mark (allowed over 200 passing yards per game).  We will see if the Birds have made enough offseason changes to close the gap between themselves and the Dallas Cowboys – outscored 58-14 in last two games of 2009.

17.  49ers – To me last year was a tease in terms of the Niners.  You can clearly see that energetic head coach Mike Singletary had his team playing well at times, but consistency was not there enough – finished with an 8-8 record.  In order for San Francisco to finally pass the Cardinals and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They will need to have better quarterback play from Alex Smith, improved O-line play behind their two coveted first rounders and more defensive pressure — didn’t have a single player top 6.5 sacks last season.

18.  Dolphins – After shocking the NFL in 2008 by going from worst to first in their division, Miami came back down to earth in 2009 with a 7-9 record including a 1-4 stretch to end the season.  A lot of change is afoot in South Beach, but the Dolphins are hoping that are is more than just LeBron going to the Heat. Surprisingly the Dolphins biggest problem was their defense that allowed 390 points.  With Football Czar Bill Parcells watchful eyes over head coach Tony Sparano, the Dolphins attempted to fix their woes in the draft by going heavily on defense.  They also brought-in WR Brandon Marshall to help their offense.  We will see if these changes are enough to vault them over the Patriots and NY Jets.

19. Packers  –  There is no doubt that Green Bay and QB Aaron Rodgers have the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the NFL – 461 points scored — but the Packers’ 2010 hopes directly hinge on Dom Capers’ defense.  I know his unit allowed only 297 points in the regular season and they were ranked near the top of the entire NFL.  But against the Vikings –you know who torched them – and the Cardinals in the Wildcard round put up points too (lost 51-45) so they needed more than Defensive MVP, DB Charles Woodson. It should be another fun year when the Pack lock horns with Favre and the hated men in purple.

20.  Bears – The head coaching seat in the Windy City is getting extremely hot and it is incumbent on Lovie Smith to return the Bears to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Smith thought that he had solved his Super Bowl loser hangover dilemma by trading for talented QB Jay Cutler, but a 7-9 season in ’09 made the spotlight hotter.  With new offensive coordinator Mike “Mad Scientist” Martz and big-ticket free agents DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor on the team, it is now or never for Smith and GM Jerry Angelo.

21.  Broncos – Another year and another controversial player was kicked out of town by brash head coach Josh McDaniels.  In 2009 it was QB Jay Cutler (to Chicago) being ushered away and in 2010, it was talented malcontent receiver Brandon Marshall’s turn to leave the Rockies – shipped to the Dolphins before the draft.  McDaniels better hope he is right as his team badly slumped down the stretch of the 2009 season — 4-game losing streak to end the season — and some fans’ patience is running thin.

22.  Redskins – There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is “Mike Shanahan”.  The two-time Super Bowl winning head coach, veteran QB Donovan McNabb and new GM Bruce Allen have been called-in to restore the nation’s capital’s franchise.  Already Shanahan and Allen have brought in over 20 new players with many being veterans (McNabb, Larry Johnson, Joey Galloway, Jammal Brown, and others).  We all know this team will be nowhere near their 4-12 record in 2010, but you have to wonder if all these new faces can jell quickly enough.  All the NFL’s entire eyes will be on Philly for the October 3rd, McNabb-Eagles Grudge Match.

23.  Raiders – For once the Raiders don’t seem like the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.  Yes, they have the league’s worst record since 2003 (24 wins and 72 losses).  But already I have seen some positive moves including the jettisoning of underachiever quarterback JaMarcus Russell, bringing in veteran QB Jason Campbell, a solid draft that produced players like LB Rolando McClain, and the same head coach (Tom Cable) for the second year in a row for the first time in a long while.  Al Davis’ boys should be shooting for .500 this season, which would be a big step forward.

24.  Jaguars – It seems everyone in this organization is fighting for survival.  The team is trying desperately to sell enough season tickets to avoid a proposed move to L.A, QB David Garrard is trying to prove he can play like his 2007 form to justify his big contract and lastly head coach Jack Del Rio is fighting to stay in town after two losing seasons in a row.  Well at least the Jags have one of the NFL’s most dangerous players in RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

25.  Panthers –  If it now or never for head coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney who are both entering the final year of their contracts.  Owner Jerry Richardson is healthy now and he will have a greater say in the Panthers this year, so it is incumbent on the team to continue helping their on-the-hot-seat head coach again – finished 4-1 in 2009.  Expect another great year of the NFL’s best two-headed backfield (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), but Carolina’s defense must recover from losing DE Julius Peppers. Expect QB Matt Moore (6-2 as a starter) to hold-off rookie Jimmy Clausen and establish himself as an NFL starter.

26.  Lions – Head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew had one of the best drafts in 2010 as they brought in potential difference-makers DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best to continue their rebuilding.  With QB Matthew Stafford firmly at the helm, there is no reason why the Lions could not win 3 to 4 more games this year.  I am going to make an early prediction…watch out for the Lions in 2011, if there is not a lockout of course.

27.  Buccaneers – Some good young building blocks (QB Josh Freeman, TE Kellen Winslow and S Tanard Jackson) are in place for 2nd-year head coach Raheem Morris, but 2010 looks like another rebuilding year for Tampa.  However there still should be hope as the NFC South since 2003 has had 6 out of 7 years where a team went from worst to first including the New Orleans Saints last year.

28.  Seahawks – New head coach Pete “runaway” Carroll has brought in a ton of new faces (over 25 new players) including retread receiver Mike Williams, former NY Jets RB Leon Washington and former Chargers restricted free agent QB Charlie Whitehurst.  But Carroll’s team still has too many leftover players from the Mike Holmgren era (i.e. QB Matt Hasselback, WR Deion Branch, and others) that will need to figure out where they stand before the entire organization can move forward.

29.  Bills – Can you say, “Oh Canada”?  Right now the reality of playing more than two games a year in Toronto, Canada maybe facing this team.  I am not even sure if new head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have any idea of the mess on their hands.  The Bills have 3 quarterbacks competing and I don’t think any of them can be a week-in-week-out NFL starter and whoever is the starter, they will be playing behind on of the league’s leakiest O-lines.

30.  Chiefs – Head Coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli are trying like crazy to make the hapless Chiefs into New England West, but something is amiss.  QB Matt Cassell after finally getting a chance to start regularly put-up even stats of 16 TDs and 16 INTs while the defense couldn’t stop anyone in 2009, letting up 424 points.  There is nowhere to go but up for Cassell and the rest of this young team who are looking like one big rebuilding effort.

31.  Browns – Football Czar Mike Holmgren took over early as he came in during the end of the 2009 season to start evaluating a roster that looked like multi-purpose threat Joshua Cribbs and not much else.  What Holmgren did find was that there were a few talented players (Cribbs, OT Joe Thomas, and CB Eric Wright), but unfortunately he still will need to put on his janitor’s suit as there is much more housecleaning to be done.  It looks like another long year awaits on the shores of Lake Erie, especially with washed-up QB Jake Delhomme under center.

32.  Rams – Just like the Saints at the top of the food chain…I have to start the Rams at the bottom.  However I do believe that head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Bill Devaney are making positive changes on this team. Hopefully RB Steven Jackson (back) and first rounders QB Sam Bradford, OT Jason Smith, and DE Chris Long will get some help to move this young team out of the basement. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)