1. San Francisco 49ers– They’ve improved significantly on both sides of the football. They acquire Anquan Boldin from the Ravens to give them a threat on the outside for Kap and a stingy defense returns with most of it’s starters coming back along with free agent signing Nnamdi Asmougha. When the 49ers are good, the NFL is good and they will be the projected favorites to win the NFC for the second straight season.
2. Denver Broncos– Peyton has turned this team into a contender. After a 2-3 start last year, the Broncos finished off the season with 11 straight wins to give them the best record in the AFC. Peyton has a more complete team in Denver than he did in Indy. A better offensive line, a physical defense and good special teams all surround him. Denver also signed Wes Welker to compliment DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. He will space the field and open up the flat.
3. New England Patriots– They will always be in the top 5 power rankings. This offense will look a bit different coming into next season. No Wes Welker, they sign Danny Amendola who can hopefully fill that void Wes left if he stays healthy. They lack some depth on the outside as far as wide receivers go but knowing how Belichick operates, he will work with what he has and you have two top 5 tight ends coming back in Gronk and Hernandez. This defense has been the biggest question mark the last few seasons.
4. Atlanta Falcons– They finally got that playoff monkey off their back a season ago. They get over the hump and get to the NFC title game. The Falcons I feel will pose as one of the two biggest threats to the 49ers in the NFC. They’ve improved on both sides of the ball as well. They sign Steven Jackson in free agency. Listen to this offensive line up. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Jaquizz Rodgers and now add Steven Jackson to the mix. On defense, they finally get that pass rusher they’ve needed in Osi and he can be effective if he can stay healthy.
5. Seattle Seahawks– Along with the Falcons, the Seahawks will pose as another big threat to the 49ers in the NFC. What a year they had in 2012 and I’m expecting bigger things from them this year as well. They were my number one winner after free agency. To get a dynamic player like a Percy Harvin will make your offensive even more explosive. He’ll stretch the field and bring versatility. The defense signed Cliff Avril as well to give them a more effective pass rush. The NFC West is stacked this year.
6. Houston Texans– This spot seems about right for them. The AFC South will be the Texans division for some years to come now although the Colts will be competitive with them. The Texans signed Ed Reed in the off-season and Brian Cushing will return and he’s the voice and leader on a Texans defense that got the job done last year without him. JJ is also returning. That’s 20.5 sacks and 69 solo tackles returning. He will be a force yet again in Houston. The biggest question mark is Matt Schaub. He struggled down the stretch. The Texans drafted a wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins to play alongside Andre Johnson.
7. Green Bay Packers– They’ve resigned two vital pieces to this team in Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers. I still have a very hard time trusting this defense. The Packers defense has been the biggest issue these last two seasons. They give up many big plays down the field and they put no pressure on the quarterback other than Clay Matthews getting to the passer. I was impressed by what they did with their draft picks by picking Eddie Lacy and he will more than likely start come week 1 and be asked to have an immediate impact. Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings is now a member of the Vikings. This could be Jordy Nelson and James Jones’ time to shine.
8. Baltimore Ravens– They would show up on this list sometime soon. This will a very different team entering 2013. No Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard or Anquan Boldin. That’s a lot for a defending champion to lose in the off-season. Joe Flacco received the contract extension he’d been seeking after coming off a Super Bowl win. The Ravens defense did get younger after making some nice picks in the draft. We’ll see how this all will pan out in Baltimore.
9. Cincinnati Bengals– They added some toughness on that defense by signing James Harrison to a two year deal. He will bring a great pass rush to a defense who doesn’t really rush the passer too much. A.J. Green will only get better and better. He and Andy Dalton have truly become a nice and young qb/wr duo in the NFL today. The Bengals also drafted Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame who will play alongside Gresham and A.J. and will be another weapon for Andy down the field.
10. Washington Redskins– I’ve stated many times that the NFC East is the most unpredictable division in the NFL. The Eagles were heavy favorites to win the east last year (how’d that turn out?), the Giants sruggled down the stretch and the Redskins won their first division title since 1999. RGIII had a solid season and Alfred Morris was a vital piece to this offense. As a defense, they lost Brian Orakpo but he’s coming back after an injury that forced him to sit out the rest of the 2012 season last year. What will RG3 do in year two?
11. Minnesota Vikings– From 3-13 to a playoff team in 2012. If it’s not for Adrian Peterson and the season he had, the Vikings would not have come even close to playing football in January. The Vikings improved this off-season with an excellent draft. They drafted Shariff Floyd out of Florida, Corrdarelle Patterson out of Tennessee and Xavier Rhodes out of Washington to fill holes in Minnesota. All three of these guys will be asked to have an immediate impact as the season rolls along.
12. Indianapolis Colts– What a year they had in 2012. After the worst season in franchise history (2-14 in 2011), the Colts went 11-5 and won a great portion of those games without Chuck Pagano who was out due to a battle with leukemia. Andrew Luck put together a very stellar rookie campaign and Reggie Wayne is still a top ten wide receiver and this defense improved as well. The Colts will be competitive again in 2013 if you ask me.
13. Chicago Bears– After a 7-1 start last season, the Bears went 3-5 down the stretch to miss the playoffs despite having a 10-6 mark. Changes were made. Lovie was fired and Marc Trestman was hired. Phil Emery knows what he is doing. The Bears biggest issue the past few seasons has been the offensive line. No quarterback has tasted the grass more than Jay Cutler has. The Bears signed Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and drafted Kyle Long to improve that offensive line. They also signed Martellus Bennett to give the Bears another threat alongside Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte.
14. New York Giants– This is the most unpredictable team in the NFL. Just a year removed after a Super Bowl victory, the G-Men missed the playoffs last year. Their biggest question right now is the contract status of their best offensive player, Victor Cruz. I was impressed with the Giants draft this year. Selecting Pugh to help out that offensive line and Damontre Moore to be added on to that defense was a plus. What can we expect from Eli and crew this year?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers– A much needed goal for the black and yellow was to get younger. This defense wasn’t the same last year. Teams ran right through that Steelers vaunted zone defense like it was nothing. That pass rush struggled all year and Ben can’t ever come into a season healthy. The Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones hoping he can bring some youth to a Steelers defense that’s needed it. This offense lost Mike Wallace to free agency but they bring back Emmanuel Sanders who will now be the go to guy down the field in Pittsburgh.
16. New Orleans Saints– When you talk about a coach who’s impact was greatly missed a season ago, Sean Payton’s name will pop up in most conversations. Sean was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to his role in the Saints bounty scandal. This Saints offense never missed a beat especially when you have #9 under center for you. This defense was a really big concern. They gave up 7,420 total yards last year. They missed gap assignments, gave the QB all day to throw and that defensive line was pushed off the line of scrimmage 4 and 5 yards each time off the ball. I expect an improvement in the big easy this year with Sean back on the sidelines.
17. Miami Dolphins– Ryan Tannehill put together a very nice rookie season. You just didn’t hear about it due to what Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III were accomplishing. They were one of my big winners after free agency. They bought in Mike Wallace who will give them more of an outside threat and Dannell Ellerbe to improve that defense. I think it’s safe to say the Dolphins have passed up everybody in the AFC East and will pose as a bigger threat to the Patriots in the division.
18. Dallas Cowboys– We always ask this question: What’s wrong with the Cowboys? This team has potential to be a great team, they just don’t show up. I had a very loud opinion about Romo receiving his extension. They gave a guy who’s only won a single playoff game in his tenure there. With a 100% Dez healthy, he and Romo can be deadly. Jason Witten is truly the engine to this offense in Dallas. I’ve often stated that if you can limit his big plays, you can stop this offense. As a defense, DeMarcus will now be a full time defensive end in the Cowboys new defensive scheme under Monte Kiffin. It’s time to win in Dallas now.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– I really like Greg Schiano as their head coach. He bought a new attitude to a Bucs team who entered 2012 as losers of ten straight games. He bought more discipline to this team. A trade that some thought wouldn’t happen finally happened. The Bucs acquired Darrelle Revis to improve a pass defense that gave 297.5 yards per game (most in the league last year). Also to improve that secondary, they signed Dashon Goldson from San Fran.
20. Carolina Panthers– I had the Panthers as a sleeper pick heading into the 2012 season. Cam had his ups and downs last year but he played through that and finished strongly. The Panthers went defense with their first two picks in the draft by getting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. This Panthers team can improve with some stellar play from Cam.
21. San Diego Chargers– Norv is out, Mike McCoy is in. This Chargers team hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2009 season. With their first pick in the draft, they drafted D.J. Fluker out of Alabama to protect Phillip’s blind side and they drafted Manti Te’o for the defense. Can this Chargers team get back to it’s winning ways?
22. St. Louis Rams– They were one of my biggest winners after the draft. For them to trade up and select Tavon Austin who was arguably the best wide receiver in the draft was huge along with picking up Alec Ogletree out of Georgia. The NFC West is stacked.
23.Arizona Cardinals– Remember they started the season 4-0 last year? I wasn’t sold on them from the get go and look what happened after that start to the season. They lost nine straight games. Out went Ken Wisenhunt, in comes Bruce Arians who is the reigning coach of the year. Can Carson Palmer revitalize his career in Arizona with Fitz?
24. Detroit Lions– They were by far one of the bigger disappointments in the NFL last year. After a 2011 season that had the Lions playing January football for the first time since 1999, they struggled all throughout the season. Bad tackling, missed gap assignment, lack of discipline really showed. The only shining point for this team was Calvin Johnson. The Lions went back to defense when draft time came around and selected Ziggy Ansah to play alongside Suh.
25. Philadelphia Eagles– You’d think after a full off-season together, this team would be alright. A lot of us were very wrong. I’ve never seen the Eagles play so poorly like they did last year. You can’t put this all on Vick. They had offensive line problems across the board last year and you play as well as those five guys up front. Chip Kelly is now the new head coach and his first NFL draft wasn’t bad. They drafted Lane Johnson to improve that offensive line and surprisingly picked up Matt Barkley in the fourth round.
26 Cleveland Browns– They went defense with their first pick in the draft by selecting Mingo from LSU. When free agency came around, they picked up Paul Kruger. This could be a nice pass rushing duo when you look at it. This starts the second year of the Brandon Weeden/Trent Richardson era in Cleveland. The Browns play and that’s one thing I admire about them.
27. Tennessee Titans– They impressed me with their draft but ultimately games will be won for the Titans by the play of Jake Locker and what Chris Johnson will we see next year? After receiving that contract extension, he hasn’t been the same.
28. Oakland Raiders– They haven’t seen January football since 2003, the last time they were in the Super Bowl. The closest they came to making the playoffs was in 2011. They had a very down year last year. Nothing seemed to go right for the Raiders. It’s the second year under Dennis Allen. This team needs more talent. It may take a few drafts to get that, not just one.
29. Buffalo Bills– They’ve had inconsistent performances from the quarterback position for years now. They surprised us all by selecting EJ Manuel from Florida State. He was the first quarterback taken. They also added Robert Woods, the wide receiver from USC. That could be a pretty nice offensive nucleus in Manuel, Woods, Stevie Johnson and a healthy CJ Spiller.
30. Kansas City Chiefs– They’re still a big work in progress. Andy Reid is now at the helm as head coach. They have their Quarterback in Alex Smith and selected Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan with the first overall pick. Many feel this team will be much improved next year. Only time will tell.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars– Losing Justin Blackmon for the first four games certainly won’t help out this team’s cause. They’ve been considered among one of the worst teams in football. They need help all over and this will take years to rebuild this team.
32. New York Jets– They had the worst offense in football. Mark Sanchez is way too inconsistent for me as a quarterback. I really think Geno Smith will start this year for Rex and crew. If the Jets don’t put something together that results in wins, Rex is out of there as head coach.