Monday, September 1, 2008

NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

In addition to the weekly fantasy football updates, we will be publishing NFL power rankings, typically every Tuesday. This week's rankings come a day early, since the season already kicks off this Thursday with Washington visiting the New York Giants.

The rankings are called "The 10," as they comprise of who we believe the top 10 teams in the league are at the time the rankings are published. Why not include more teams? Blame time restraints. Well, here's the first installment of this series:

1. Dallas Cowboys
Why: Yes, neither quarterback Tony Romo nor head coach Wade Phillips have ever won a playoff game, but there is a lot of reason to believe that this season will be magical. The Cowboys are solid at every position, thanks to a bevy of offseason acquisitions; Dallas picked up cornerback Pacman Jones and middle linebacker Zach Thomas to bolster their defense and also drafted speedster Felix Jones to serve as a nice compliment to bruiser Marion Barber in the backfield. Add these impact players to last year's 13-3 team, and you get our 2009 Super Bowl pick.

2. New England Patriots
Why: Despite their problems in the secondary (which they attempt to address in the signing of CB Deltha O'Neal), the Pats still have the best offense in the NFL. They will give up more points than they did last year, but with the Tom Brady-Randy Moss-Wes Welker triangle, they'll be scoring in bunches as well. Don't forget that New England is also loaded at running back with Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and LaMont Jordan. We see the Pats repeating as AFC champs this season.

3. Indianapolis Colts
Why: Now that Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney are healthy, the Colts seem primed to make a run against the Patriots for AFC supremacy. However, the Colts lost center Jeff Saturday last Sunday (Saturday tore his MCL and will be out for at least half the season) and also have a string of injured players on defense, which is why we have them behind the Pats in our preseason rankings. The offense, already brought down by the loss of Saturday, will be under a lot of pressure to carry this team through the first few weeks of the season with DE Robert Mathis and DT Raheem Brock also out with injuries.

4. San Diego Chargers
Why: Many people have pinned the Chargers as the best team in the AFC, and even in the NFL, but we're not seeing it. Ok, Philip Rivers heroically played last year's AFC Championship game with a torn ACL, but how does that make him a better quarterback? Rivers is not an elite QB, and the last time an average quarterback won the Super Bowl was Trent Dilfer with the Ravens in 2000. Baltimore had the one of the best defenses of all time that season, and we don't think the Chargers currently match up to that. The Chargers, however, do have some things going for them this year, hence their #4 ranking; Antonio Cromartie has developed into a lockdown cornerback, and LaDainian Tomlinson will put up another monster statistical season. Look for the Chargers to win the AFC West but not truly contend for the conference title.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars
Why: Quarterback David Garrard and the Jags showed the world that they were for real in last season's divisional playoff game against the Pats, and Jacksonville is back this year with strength on both sides of the ball. Tackle John Henderson leads one of the game's best defensive lines, and the linebackers and secondary aren't too shabby either. On offense, the Jaguars sport the one-two combo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew at running back that helped the team to the 2nd best rushing offense in the league last year. The only questions are in the receiver corps; the Jags have former Viking first-round bust Troy Williamson and erratic Jerry Porter as their starters. To compete in the AFC, the Jaguars will need to somehow establish their passing game, as they will not go far with a one-dimensional offense.

6. New Orleans Saints
Why: The Saints have one of the league's most potent offenses. Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees heads a large group of playmakers in receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, and backs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. New Orleans also acquired star tight end Jeremy Shockey from the Giants this offseason, who rounds off their loaded offense. On the defensive side, the Saints hope that the addition of rookie tackle Sedrick Ellis will help a squad that on average gave up 24 points per game last season. The Saints will score a lot of points, and as long as the defense can bend but not break, they will be a winning team.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Why: The Steelers are making strides on offense while retaining one of the league's best defenses. After last season's 32 touchdown versus 11 interception effort, Ben Roethlisberger has developed into a top-tier quarterback. Santonio Holmes' strong sophomore effort dictates his own rise as a receiver; Pittsburgh has a top receiving tandem in Holmes and stalwart Hines Ward. In addition, rookie Rashard Mendenhall joins Pro Bowler Willie Parker in a strong backfield. The Steelers are a real threat in the AFC if their offense plays as good as it looks on paper, since they have no significant losses from last season's top 3 defense.

8. New York Giants
Why: We wanted to give the reigning Super Bowl champs a little bit of respect and tried desperately to justify a top-5 ranking, but we couldn't find ample evidence. The losses of pass rushers Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to retirement and injury hamper the otherwise average defense, which is built around quarterback pressure and relied on it in their playoff wins last season. Quarterback Eli Manning must continue the quality play he displayed in last year's postseason if the Giants are to even return to the playoffs, as the offense will need to carry the team this year. Manning has the weapons in the likes of Plaxico Burress and Brandon Jacobs; he just needs to make good decisions with the football.

9. Green Bay Packers
Why: Only part of the Packers' success last season can be attributed to Brett Favre, and there is no reason to believe why the team will be much worse this season under quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In case the offense falls into trouble, a solid defense headed by linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk can lead the team, but it is unlikely that the Packers will ever even encounter this situation. Rodgers will be aided on offense by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver at wideout; they perfectly complement each other, as Jennings is a big-play guy while Driver is a possession receiver. In addition, running back Ryan Grant aims to carry over his amazing play in last year's postseason to this 2008 regular season. As long as Rodgers doesn't flop, the Packers will compete in the NFC.

10. Cleveland Browns
Why: Quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver Braylon Edwards are fully recovered from injury and will play in week 1, which is great news for the team. The two both enjoyed breakout seasons last year and have established themselves as an elite quarterback-receiver combo. At 10-6 last season, the Browns were the surprise of the NFL, and they only hope to build on that record this year. The addition of receiver Donte' Stallworth further strengthens their high-scoring offense, which will have to make up for their below-average defense. Nonetheless, Cleveland will challenge the Steelers again for the AFC North division title.

Agree or disagree with our rankings? Leave a comment!