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Pre-Season Power Rankings: Part 2

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

1. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers has one of the best arsenals of weapons in the league and the Packers figure to be in the top 3 in offense once again. Their defense looks to return to 2010 form, though losing quality ILB Desmond Bishop for the season could hurt. The secondary needs to rebound though I’m not sure they did enough to reinforce the talent in their defensive backfield. The Packers will need to find consistency and production in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they look like a good bet to win the NFC North once again and it would be hard to bet against them in January.

2. New England Patriots – If Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots are all but guaranteed to have a top 5 offense. Adding Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to an already dangerous passing attack should worry the rest of the AFC field. The Pats might also see more explosiveness from the RB position with 2nd year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen replacing the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ultimately though, the Patriots will only go as far as their defense takes them. Adding Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower looks like it will pay dividends but can their secondary improve from last year’s nightmarish season? If New England can get a good season from a few of their younger DB’s (Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard), they will be nearly unstoppable.

3. Houston Texans – The Texans have an excellent offense and an excellent defense. Man for man, they might have the best 22 starters in the league. However, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have durability questions and the team’s depth isn’t great. Furthermore, I don’t trust coach Gary Kubiak to win in the playoffs. The Texans should put together an excellent regular season if they can avoid injuries to their top players, but they will need to prove that they can take the next step in the post-season.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers – It seems as if many fans and experts are discounting the Steelers a bit this year and it’s tough to see why. Their defense is still loaded with talent and young players like Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward figure to play bigger roles in 2012. The offense underachieved last year for a number of reasons but the O-line should be improved and the WR corps is still amongst the game’s best if Mike Wallace reports. Even without Wallace, there is enough talent for the Steelers to put up a lot of points if they can do a better job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. The Steelers are still one of the most talented and best coached teams in football and seem poised for another good year.

5. New York Giants
– It’s tough to know what to make of the Giants. 2012 could see a return of the mediocre and underachieving regular-season team that they’ve been for most of Tom Coughlin’s tenure or perhaps the 2011 Super Bowl champion team of December – February will be on display for a full 16 games. If their key front 7 players are healthy, the Giants have enough talent to repeat as Champions. The big questions for New York are their CB’s, OL and running game without Brandon Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t established himself as a consistent threat and I’m not a fan of 1st rounder David Wilson or backup D.J. Ware. The OL was a big problem last year and hasn’t improved much on paper though, as we saw, they can win with what they have.

6. New Orleans Saints – The Saints would be higher up in these rankings were it not for the suspension of Sean Payton. New Orleans has an incredibly talented roster, elite QB and enough young talent to think that they could improve in many of their weak spots. However, taking Sean Payton off the sideline is a huge loss. He might be the 2nd most valuable coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and it’s tough to see the Saints hoisting the Lombardi without him. Still, the Saints should be playoff-bound and Drew Brees is capable of putting the team on his back if needed. With the Super Bowl being played in New Orleans this year, it would be quite a story for the Payton-less Saints to win it all on their home turf.

7. San Francisco 49ers – Projecting the 49ers at this point in the pre-season comes down to one thing: do you think Alex Smith can repeat his 2011 season? Smith will never live up to his #1 overall status, but there’s plenty of reasons to think that he can continue to be a top third type QB under coach Jim Harbaugh who was superb at hiding Smith’s weaknesses and setting him up for success. The defense is loaded with depth and top-end talent and should remain an elite unit. Throw in a terrible division and the 49ers should be headed back to the post-season and double-digit wins.

8. Baltimore Ravens – The good news for the Ravens is that they were one or two plays away from the Super Bowl last year. The bad news is that it’s tough to see how they’ve improved enough to get themselves to the next level. Losing Terrell Suggs for the season is a huge blow and Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are at the very end of the line. As well coached as the Ravens’ D has been, a step back would not be surprising. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they probably cannot withstand a step back from the defense as their offense is simply not good enough to carry the team. Between the timid and overly conservative game plans of the coaching staff and the inconsistencies of QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens offense will be an average unit once again. Ray Rice is good enough to keep the unit from being bad, but the team will not be able to win (or even make the playoffs) without the defense playing up to the lofty standards set by the franchise over the last decade.

9. Detroit Lions – If the Lions can keep themselves out of trouble and avoid taking tons of stupid penalties, they could be a serious contender in the NFC in 2012. Of the teams in my top 10 rankings, the Lions are the team I could see as most likely to flop. Matthew Stafford is clearly an elite QB when healthy – but his ability to stay healthy needs to be proven. The defense has to improve from their 23rd overall ranking (points allowed) if the Lions are to challenge the Packers for the NFC North. While the Lions have some fairly big holes on their roster, an elite QB and disruptive pass rush can take you a long way.

10. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have underperformed for awhile and it’s tough to avoid feeling that with a better coaching staff, they could be a consistent double-digit win team. Their DB corps which killed them at times last year has received a big boost in 1st rounder Morris Claiborne and prized free agent Brandon Carr. They still lack a pass-rusher to take attention away from DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant’s problems (both off-field and on) could really affect the offense given the lack of depth at WR. The OL – a perpetual problem in Big D – still looks shaky on paper. Still, the Cowboys have a lot of talent, a top QB and promising young players at a number of positions. The ‘Boys have a brutal opening stretch on their schedule, opening in New York against the Giants and then heading to Seattle before facing Tampa Bay and Chicago at home. After their week 5 bye, they head to Baltimore. If they’re still afloat after week 6, I like their chances for a return to post-season play and a potential Super Bowl run.

11. Atlanta Falcons
– After last year, I’m highly skeptical of both coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan’s ability to win a championship. Smith looked out of his league last year with overly conservative gameplans and a bad feel for when to take chances in his playcalling. The Falcons have a ton of talent with which to work, but seem to lack the killer instinct that great teams tend to have. In many ways, they are reminiscent of the Marty Schottenheimer Chiefs teams of the mid/late 1990’s (or even his Chargers teams of the mid 2000’s). The Falcons should be a contender next year and a top regular season team, but probably not a team headed for a deep playoff run.

12. Chicago Bears – Though I’m not a fan of big contracts for RB’s, re-signing Matt Forte was a must for a team lacking consistency on offense. Adding Brandon Marshall was very smart and will give Jay Cutler a solid, if inconsistent at times, target. Drafting Alshon Jeffery could turn into a major coup though I’m skeptical of Shea McClellin’s ability to have an impact in a 4-3 – assuming he can stay concussion free. While the Bears offense should be better than in recent years, their defense is getting old and still has holes in a number of key places. The offensive line has been bad far more often than good in the last few seasons but little was done to upgrade that unit. With Green Bay still an elite team and Detroit on the rise, the Bears could face an uphill battle to return to the playoffs.

13. Cincinnati Bengals – On paper, the Bengals have a pretty stacked roster. Certainly, they’ve added a ton of big name college players over the last few years. Yet, it’s still tough to pencil them into a playoff spot. One big reason is their division,, another is the growing pains that accompany many young QB’s. Andy Dalton was adequate last year, but his 80.4 QB Rating was worse than Kevin Kolb’s and only slightly better than Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding reliable, though mediocre, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could help take pressure off Dalton, though Green-Ellis isn’t a huge upgrade over Cedric Benson. If the Bengals haul of young prospects can step up, or they can find another big-time weapon on offense to complement A.J. Green, Cincinnati could be a big surprise next year.

14. Denver Broncos – The similarities between the Broncos and late 2000’s Colts are numerous: exceptional pass rushers, weak in the trenches, shaky secondaries with some upside, mediocre running backs and a team which will rely heavily upon the right arm of Peyton Manning. If Manning stays healthy, the Broncos should win the AFC West and could win 10-12 games. However, the Colts don’t have a Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne (let alone all 3 in their prime simultaneously) and it remains to be seen how effective Manning can be playing outdoors every week. We’ve seen him have success in bad weather and with mediocre supporting casts, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is very much the Manning of old. However, like the Manning-era Colts, the team will collapse without him and it’s not a sure thing that his neck will hold up.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – The problems with basing an offense around Michael Vick were quite apparent last year: he simply isn’t very good at times and he can’t stay healthy enough to be at his best for more than a few games. Rookie Nick Foles will probably be called upon at some point in 2012 when Vick inevitably gets hurt or benched. There’s a good amount of talent on the Eagles roster and they could contend for the NFC East title, but they will need a lot of luck with Vick’s health and performance. The Eagles’ placing in the middle of my rankings is a direct result of them most likely having to play a few games with Foles or Mike Kafka at QB and they’re probably not good enough to survive with those guys for more than a game or two.

16. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are right in the middle of my rankings for one reason: I could see them being very good or really terrible. More than any other team, it’s hard to get a feel for whether or not this is an 11-5 type team or 5-11. The QB situation is one big reason why: Matt Flynn is a total unknown and neither Russell Wilson or Tarvaris Jackson strike me as guys that can take a team to the playoffs. The skill position players are a bit overrated but are capable of great things at times. Marshawn Lynch can be a top back at times, and a non-factor at others. Sidney Rice is an excellent weapon when healthy – which has been rare. Seahawks fans seem to love the non-Rice receivers led by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu but the front office seems to have a different opinion as they’ve seemingly auditioned or signed every washed up veteran imaginable. If Braylon Edwards or Terrell Owens makes the roster and can be a #1 or #2 guy, Flynn should be set up for success. The Seahawks D is steady and well-coached but their depth is questionable and might have overachieved last year. 1st rounder Bruce Irvin will be one of the most intriguing stories to watch this year.

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1980’s Forgotten 1st Rounders: QB’s

July 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The 1980’s produced a number of good QB’s, many of which were found in the opening round of the draft. The 10 drafts from 1980-1989 produced 2 of the best QB’s in the history of the game – Dan Marino (27th overall, 1983, Miami Dolphins) and John Elway (1st overall, 1983, Baltimore Colts), as well as two guys who have strong arguments for being in the top 10-15 all time: Jim Kelly (14th overall, 1983, Buffalo Bills) and Troy Aikman (1st overall, 1989, Dallas Cowboys). These 4 combined for a record of 490-305-1, with 29 Pro Bowl Appearances and 13 trips to the Super Bowl. The other 14 QB’s drafted in the 1980’s weren’t nearly as successful, though Ken O’Brien (24th overall, 1983, New York Jets), Vinny Testaverde (1st overall, 1987, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Jim Everett (3rd overall, 1986, Houston Oilers) had their share of success over careers of varying length.

As with any series of drafters, there were plenty of duds to go along with the Canton bound signal callers. Kelly Stouffer (6th overall, 1987, St. Louis Cardinals) was perhaps the biggest huge flop. While 1987 was one of the weaker 1st rounds in history, nothing can put a good spin on Stouffer’s level of failure. First he held out and forced his way out of St. Louis, then was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and then (after one brief moment of glory in his first ever NFL game) played about as poorly as any QB can in the NFL. His career ended with a 5-11 record, 7 TD, 19 INT and a QB Rating of 54.5. Stouffer’s ineptness was rivaled or, perhaps, surpassed by that of Chuck Long (1986, 12th overall, Detroit Lions), Art Schlichter (1982, 4th overall, Baltimore Colts), Todd Blackledge (7th overall, 1983, Kansas City Chiefs) and Rich Campbell (6th overall, Green Bay Packers, 1981).

However, those guys were mostly remembered either for their huge success or huge failure on the biggest possible stage. While Ken O’Brien and Jim Everett might not be familiar names for younger NFL fans, chances are anyone who followed football in the 1980’s and early 1990’s remembers them as guys who were (at the time) regarded as decent-to-good (though inconsistent) starting QB’s who you never really wanted calling signals for your team despite their moderate success (see: Pennington, Chad for a more modern example). While O’Brien and Everett (best remembered for blowing up in an interview with Jim Rome on TV) are somewhat memorable players, even in a “you had to be there” way, the following guys you might not remember at all unless they played for your team (from most to least memorable):

Jim Harbaugh (26th overall, 1987, Chicago Bears) – Harbaugh might be a guy you know, or have heard of (depending on when you started following football). After all, he played 14 seasons and was a starter for 10 of those years. However, his pedestrian numbers and career mediocrity might have led you to forget that he was a fairly hyped 1st round pick once upon a time ago. His brilliant season in 1995 with the Indianapolis Colts (coming just inches away from a trip to a Super Bowl) was one of the top passing seasons of that decade. However, the rest of his career was totally forgettable. Only 3 times in his career did he lead his team to a winning record in his starts (1990,1991,1995).

Jim McMahon (26th overall, 1982, Chicago Bears)
– The guy whom Harbaugh was drafted to replace, Jim McMahon is probably best remembered for his sweatband and babysitting the offense that played alongside one of the greatest defenses in modern football history. Like Harbaugh, McMahon played for a deceptively long time – all the way until 1996. He appeared in 120 games in a 15 year, 6 team career. However, he only played in more than 10 games in 5 seasons. Injuries, mental mistakes and bouts of wildness made McMahon a guy who always found himself a starting job but never holding it for a full season. In 15 years, his highest single season passing total was just 2392 yards (his Super Bowl winning 1985 season). His longevity and the success of the Bears’ defense in the mid 80’s saved McMahon from total irrelevancy.

Chris Miller (13th overall, 1987, Atlanta Falcons)
– He had a brief period of success in the Falcons 1991 playoff run and his injury shortened 1992 season (in which he was leading the league in QB rating before getting hurt). Other than that, Chris Miller is one of the most forgettable QB’s of the late 1980’s/early 90’s. He played for 10 years, started 92 games but won only 34. A career 54.6 completion % and 74.9 rating.

Tony Eason (15th overall, 1983, New England Patriots) – The 1983 draft produced 3 of the very best QB’s ever (Elway, Marino and Kelly). Tony Eason was drafted one spot after Kelly and 12 before Marino (with Ken O’Brien in between). At first, he looked like he was going to follow in his class of 83’s footsteps. In his first year as a full time starter, 1984, he put up a very impressive 93.4 QB Rating. Only Marino and Joe Montana were better. Unfortunately, 1985 wasn’t kind to Eason – he put up a very poor 67.5 QBR despite leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl. His performance in the Super Bowl, even considering the quality of the Bears’ defense, was nothing short of appalling (so bad that he was benched early on in the game). He rebounded in 1986, going 10-4 as a starter with a QBR of 89.2 (4th best int he NFL). The Patriots era of bad luck, putrid play and sheer incompetence began in Eason’s lost 1987 season. Their franchise QB separated his shoulder, then suffered nerve damage in his elbow as a result of wearing his sling too tightly. He would go on to miss almost all of 1987 and 1988 and was traded to the Jets in 1989. He started just 10 games after his successful 1986 campaign.

Marc Wilson (15th overall, 1980, Oakland Raiders) – Even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Oakland Raiders were known to be poor at their early round draft selections (Marcus Allen aside) on the occasions when they actually used them (even then, they liked to trade their 1st round picks away). Marc Wilson was drafted to be the long term replacement for the aging Ken Stabler. Seeing how you’ve probably forgotten (or never heard of) Wilson, it follows that he never became the franchise guy that Al Davis had hoped. Somehow, he managed to stick around with the Raiders for 8 years – far longer than most 1st round flops. He only started 8+ games in 4 seasons and in every one of those 4, he threw more INT’s than TD’s. He had a brief tour with the Patriots in 1989-1990, easy to forget given how terrible those teams were, before retiring in anonymity in 1991.

Mark Malone (28th overall, 1980, Pittsburgh Steelers)
– If you watched ESPN for football coverage in the 1990’s, you might remember Malone. Otherwise, you might have forgotten all about him, even if you were a die hard football fan in the 1980’s. Like many mid-late 1st round QB flops, Malone kicked around the league for longer than he should have. Somehow, he ended up playing in 73 games over 9 seasons. His career 50.9 completion %, 60 TDs to 81 INT and 61.9 QBR
tell you everything you need to know about Malone if you had forgotten him like just about everyone outside of Pittsburgh.

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