NFL pre-camp power rankings
Hey, football fans: Take a big hulking swig of happy juice – NFL training camps are upon us!
No more half-pint diva actors pretending to be shot down with sniper fire in that OTHER football (see: Cup, World). Forget about any sports where the players are so much bigger and egotistical than the teams, that they can form their own (that means you, Miami Thrice).
It’s time for America’s passion to come back as the biggest, baddest dudes around knock each other silly just to make their own teams.
But safety first: Put on your cups, toss in your mouth guards and button your chinstraps. Here’s where we stand entering our camp odyssey, 2010 style.
1. Saints (13-3) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Saints hoped to hit the offseason and hit up some defenders to widen Drew Brees' margin for error. Mission accomplished via free agency (added DEs Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson) and the draft (first-round pick CB Patrick Robinson). Keeping Darren Sharper in the mix solidifies their No. 1 ranking, as does that Lombardi Trophy they haven’t stopped flaunting.
2. Colts (14-2) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Indy has followed Bill Polian’s post-Super Bowl pledge to beef up the O-line, but will Peyton Manning actually run the ball or just audible to a pass on every down like it seems every year? Concerns aside, the Colts are still the class of the AFC – even if Reggie Wayne holds out until mid-late August.
3. Vikings (12-4) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: You can make the case that the Vikings should have been the NFC champs, if not for a beaten-down brainfart by the King of Wranglers in New Orleans. Still, the Vikings are as close to a complete team in the business. If/when Favre comes back (probably in time to play in Minnesota’s third preseason game), then the Vikes may be the NFC's Super Bowl favorites.
4. Jets (9-7) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The new Jets are brash and bold in every way, and they show with every offseason move. The draft was no different, as the Jets supplemented their draft haul by cutting guard Alan Faneca and trading RB Leon Washington to the Seahawks. Replacing Faneca is New York's second-round pick, OL Vladimir Ducasse (which sounds more like a cello player than a lineman). The Jets dealt Washington once they traded up to grab USC star Joe McKnight in the fourth round. And adding first-round CB Kyle Wilson to Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie could be deadly for opposing QBs.
5. Ravens (9-7) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: With offseason additions Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, the Ravens are being talked about as legitimate Lombardi trophy contenders. That’ great and all, and Joe Flacco may be bragging to everyone this summer how great they will be. But until Ed Reed returns from the PUP list in proper working condition, we’ll hold back a tad on the Ravens. But just a tad. If Reed returns as good as new, this is your sleeper Super Bowl team.
6. Cowboys (11-5) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: This has been a shockingly silent offseason in Dallas considering expectations entering one without a salary cap. But maverick owner Jerry Jones just couldn't help himself in the draft once enticing WR Dez Bryant starting slipping in the first round. In Bryant, Dallas added a major weapon. But at what expense? Dallas did not address their OT hole left by Flozell "The Hotel" Adams, instead hoping Doug Free can hold down the spot for a full season. Tony Romo sure hopes he can.
7. Packers (11-5) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The happiest Packer on draft weekend was QB Aaron Rodgers, who likely chest-bumped someone after Green Bay grabbed stud OT Bryan Bulaga in the first round. But some Cheeseheads are worried that Ted Thompson ignored the void at LB made by Aaron Kampman's free-agency defection, in addition to the aging cornerback corps. Now with the D-line taking a hit from Johnny Jolly’s suspension, too many questions remain for a team that otherwise should be in the NFC mix to play on Super Sunday.
8. Chargers (13-3) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Not many 13-3 teams have transition years. Yet here are the Chargers, post L.T., Antonio Cromartie and Jamal Williams. But they like their subs, first-round RB Ryan Mathews (the NCAA leader in rush yards/game in 2009), free-agent pickup Nathan Vasher and fifth-round space-eating DT Cam Thomas. GM A.J. Smith may need sensitivity training, but he can scout and draft with anyone. The question in camp is whether or not his pride is getting the best in him as he stands off with probable holdouts Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill.
9. Bengals (10-6) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: In the draft, many were stunned that the Bengals didn't leap all over troubled, yet talented WR Dez Bryant late in his first-round slide. But that's mainly because Cincy had already signed free-agent former problem child Antonio Bryant. Instead the Bengals focused on giving QB Carson Palmer a nice pass option at tight end by snatching Jermaine Gresham, then adding two other WRs in the third and sixth rounds. Is it enough? Only if Cedric Benson can follow up his solid 2009 season on the ground.
10. Pats (10-6) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The big cloud in New England remains an under-reported cold war between Tom Brady and the organization, specifically with his lack of a contract extension. Mr. Bundchen took a discount to help his homies in his previous deal, but the buzz is that Brady may not be willing to do it again. If anyone can shut this out and keep personal issues away from the field, it’s Tom Terrific. Good news for the Pats too that the amazing Wes Welker should be ready to rock full-time at camp months ahead of rehab schedule for his busted knee.
11. Falcons (9-7) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: With most of the offense set, Atlanta focused on defense in the draft – zeroing in on a big need by grabbing tackling machine Sean Weatherspoon at linebacker in the first round. The Falcons hope he becomes the heir apparent to Mike Peterson. Still, can this pass rush get to the QB, or will they be rocking the "matador" defense in 2010? Say it with me, "Ole!"
12. Texans (9-7) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Offensive lineman Eric Winston reportedly described Houston’s new philosophy for 2010 by admitting that the team ended every minicamp workout with a chant for the Super Bowl. Even though the franchise has never made the playoffs and only earned their first winning season in team history by winning their last four games of 2009, the Texans are thinking playoffs and beyond for 2010. If the running game can be revived, count on it.
13. Eagles (11-5) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: You may think they are rebuilding, but talk to anyone associated to the team and 100% will respond with how much they all believe in their new young QB Kevin Kolb. Many thought he was ready for full-time action last season, and some whisper that he could be a better fit in Andy Reid’s offense than Donovan McNabb himself. Words are great and all, but the true reveal begins at camp.
14. Steelers (9-7) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Maurkice Pouncey is the latest Steeler involved with a controversy as the NCAA reportedly is breathing down his big neck. Whatever – from Big Ben to Santonio Holmes and on and on, controversies fill newspaper and online quotas. Getting to training camp will be cathartic for Pittsburgh players and coaches (including the newly-extended head honcho Mike Tomlin).
15. Titans (8-8) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Out with the old (former Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who signed with Detroit this offseason, in with the new (first-round pick Derrick Morgan). The Titans are psyched about the future defensive captain Morgan falling into their laps at No. 16 in the draft, one in which they also rid themselves of headache RB LenDale White. With a full season of VY and a happier CJY2K, the Titans should be AOK.
16. Dolphins (7-9) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Aside from the upcoming camp sideshow with Brandon Marshall and South Beach a scary proposition, defense is the big focus in Miami. The Dolphins went defense with seven of the their first eight picks, and they expect big things right away from early-round picks Jared Odrick and Koa Misi. Too often in 2009, the Dolphins could not get off the field or get the big stop. Let's see if these guys can help put an end to that.
17. Redskins (4-12) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: From trading for new QB Donovan McNabb plus OT Jammal Brown and drafting huge tackle Trent Williams, the Redskins have made a serious offseason move. Can this get them out of the cellar in the NFC East? Why not. This team, QB, coach, GM and owner are all motivated beyond belief … well, maybe except Albert Haynesworth.
18. 49ers (8-8) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Niners wanted to get tougher this offseason per Mike Singletary, so why not add 650 pounds of first-round beef in the draft? The 49ers wanted No. 11 overall pick Anthony Davis so badly that they traded up two spots to get him, then were excited that guard Mike Iupati was there at No. 17. With RB Frank Gore healthy, WR Michael Crabtree about to go through his first full training camp and a fast defense, the Niners seem poised to leapfrog the Cardinals in the NFC West.
19. Cardinals (10-6) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Well, maybe Ken Whisenhunt ain't bluffing on Matt Leinart starting in Arizona. Coach Whiz and GM Rod Graves did grab a QB in the fifth round (Fordham's John Skelton), but he's a project. It's Leinart's job to lose. Here’s the thing: Arizona also lost several leaders other than Warner – Anquan Boldin, Antrelle Rolle, Karlos Dansby, etc. While the Cards should still compete with a more-balanced offense, that’s too many studs to lose in one offseason.
20. Broncos (8-8) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Wow, Tim Freaking Tebow. That must have been some 15 minutes of an NFL Combine meeting. That's all it took for McDaniels to be willing to share his Krabby Patty recipe with Tebow, reworked delivery and all. But don't forget the coach's move a few picks earlier in the first round, picking WR Demaryius Thomas instead of Dez Bryant. McDaniels says the pick was purely football-related. RIIIIIIIIIIGHT. By getting rid of Brandon Marshall one winter after dealing away Jay Cutler, this season may make or break McDaniels in Denver.
21. Bears (7-9) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: With Peppers hopefully sufficiently motivated, Brian Urlacher healthy and Jay Cutler trying to do his Kurt Warner impression under Mike Martz, the Bears are hoping for a big playoff push in 2010. The biggest key may be RB Matt Forte getting help with Chester Taylor signed to give him a hand in carrying the ball.
22. Giants (8-8) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Will the Giants trade Osi Umenyiora? Maybe, maybe not. This team loves lotsa D-linemen. Even after the Giants took DE Jason Pierre-Paul with their top pick at No. 15, GM Jerry Reese denied unequivocably that Osi will be dealt. Regardless, there's a case for keeping everyone to help the rebuilt secondary, which hopes for a healthy Kenny Phillips and free-agent add Antrelle Rolle to stop the bleeding from last season’s defensive embarrassment.
23. Panthers (8-8) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Panthers can run the ball all day long with the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart. But that may be all they can do well. Steve Smith is still stranded on “Double-Coverage Island” and Julius Peppers is counting his dead Presidents in Chicago. While I love teams that like to run the rock, Carolina seems a few playmakers shy of contending.
24. Jaguars (7-9) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: All four of those Jags fans out there must not have any fingernails left to chew on with all the pressure building in the Jacksonville Jaguars office building. Both coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard are facing “Win or else” seasons. Other than fantasy superhero Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jags are headed right off a cliff.
25. Chiefs (4-12) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Chiefs still can't rush the passer a lick, but added three pieces of dynamite to their young roster in the draft with safety Eric Berry (No. 5 pick), elusive and versatile RB/WR Dexter McCluster and the best return man in the draft with Javier Arenas (seven punt return TDs in 2009) at No. 50 overall. Scott Pioli also scored a huge coup with adding Thomas Jones (1,402 rushing yards in 2009 … Boy, he’s washed up, right?). With Matt Cassel throwing to Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, the Chiefs could surprise.
26. Seahawks (5-11) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: New head coach Pete Carroll has landed nicely with a rebuilding program in the NFL’s worst division – kinda like the USC team he joined back in the day that eventually dominated the Pac-10. Watch out for the Seahawks, who could contend in the NFC West as long as QB Matt Hasselbeck is upright. A strong draft and new energy should make the Seahawks a much tougher out in 2010.
27. Browns (5-11) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: New Browns czar Mike Holmgren had a big dilemma entering the draft – pick a QB at No. 7 or help an alarmingly horrendous secondary. When the draft dust settled, he got both. Who knew Texas star Colt McCoy would last until the third round? That just helps justify the correct decision to attack the back end of the defense, picking the best CB in the draft at No. 7, Joe Haden. Heading into camp, Cleveland is calling Panthers washout Jake Delhomme the QB of the present until McCoy is ready.
28. Raiders (5-11) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: How 'bout them Raiders? Give it up for Weird Al, as Oakland had its best offseason in years. Finally the QB position is not a running joke, with solid player and teammate Jason Campbell traded from Washington to stabilize the purple drank mess left by JaMarcus Russell. That in itself should help the Raiders compete for .500 this season.
29. Bills (6-10) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: OK, so where is the franchise QB in Buffalo? Trent Edwards? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Brian Brohm? Jim Kelly? Instead of going for a QB in the draft, the Bills worked on their running game with Mr. Electric C.J. Spiller – who's really a multi-purpose threat who is a highlight waiting to happen. That's wonderful and everything, but with no qualified blocker for him Spiller could have issues with running room.
30. Bucs (3-13) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Bucs have been looking for the next Warren Sapp for years. So this draft, they spent their first two picks on stellar DTs, figuring two guys could hopefully add up to one Warren. They chose wisely, getting no-brainer pick Gerald McCoy at No. 3 overall and UCLA's Brian Price at No. 35. The NFL's worst run defense just took a big step forward. This should give second-year QB Josh Freeman some hope of pulling a few upsets this season.
31. Lions (2-14) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: The Lions could have left New York City after making the second pick in the draft, DT Ndamukong Suh. That's how good he is. The rest is just gravy in the long road back to respectability in Detroit. But that day is coming sooner rather than later as the Lions are slowly getting there.
32. Rams (1-15) – PRE-CAMP OUTLOOK: Sam Bradford will count his cash and his lumps all season long. The Rams are far from contending any time soon.