I took a look at all of the teams after the draft and most of free agency has taken place but before any preseason games have been played. Below are the results of my analysis. I’m sure many will disagree, please tell me why. Cannot wait for the season to start.
1. Seattle Seahawks: One of the league’s top defensive units in 2012 became stronger virtue of a tremendous offseason. They signed sure-tackling hard-hitting cornerback Antoine Winfield and added Cliff Avril to a front seven that performed above expectations last season. Having their defensive backfield’s minds off the distractions that plagued the end of their season should prove beneficial for a team that was close to going to last year’s NFC Championship game. They added strong depth through the draft and have enough playmakers up front on defense to possibly move some of their defensive ends to linebacker. Oh yeah, and they traded for Percy Harvin. If all goes as expected Russell Wilson will have an amazing season and the Seahawks should be in the Superbowl.
2. Denver Broncos: What does the best slot receiver for the past few years do when his current team does not want to pay him what he feels he is worth? Go play with Peyton Manning of course. The Denver Broncos now have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive side of the ball, to include the all-time rushing touchdown, career touchdown and single-season touchdown NCAA record holder Montee Ball out of Wisconsin. They bolstered a problematic defensive unit by signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips. This team should make the Superbowl as long as their defense can play close to the level of their offense.
3. San Francisco 49ers: The Niners scored big in the draft with Marcus Lattimore. The 4th round is a great place to take a chance on a player with the level of talent displayed by Lattimore before his injury. The addition of Anquan Boldin to an already talented receiving corps gives them the large possession type player they have needed on the outside. Last year’s Superbowl losers look the best they have in a few years and young gun Colin Kaepernick has some valuable playoff experience. The main issue for this team is that some of the other strong teams have also become stronger.
4. Atlanta Falcons: This team looks as close as any to a Superbowl champion year after year but just cannot make it to the big game. They lost two big names in their secondary but drafted cornerbacks with their first two picks to try to fill these holes. Osi Umenyiora was signed to aid a defense that was lacking a consistent pass rush but will not have much help around him. The biggest move they made was the signing of Steven Jackson. His superior talent has been wasted on a poor team; he will more than make up for the loss of Michael Turner. Their division keeps getting better but they should still make the playoffs.
5. Houston Texans: The biggest moves this team made this offseason have been questionable. With their first round selection they took DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson who had been accused of spreading feces throughout his hotel room during the combine. They signed one of the best safeties in recent history in Ed Reed, but he is in the twilight of his career. The same team that has been dominating the AFC South should continue, partially due to their stellar offensive and defensive line play as well as the play of Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but mostly due to the lack of competition in their division. The only team that is close to challenging is Indianapolis. Expect this team to compete for a Superbowl berth.
6. Green Bay Packers: The top team in the NFC North did not do much to bring in help before the draft, but they rarely do. They can afford to do this because Ted Thompson is one of the best managers in the draft on a yearly basis. They locked in their most talented defender for the rest of his better years by signing Clay Matthews to a 5-year contract extension. A team that sorely needs a consistent run game used two of their first four picks on the running back position. Eddie Lacy out of Alabama is considered by some to be a hit or miss while Johnathan Franklin out of UCLA looks to be a safe bet to make solid contributions from the start. Datone Jones is a big body that will keep blockers tied up which is something they’ve been looking for since the departure of Cullen Jenkins.
7. Baltimore Ravens: The defending Superbowl champions lost many locker room leaders mainly on the defense but also on offense. The departures of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard will be too much for this team to overcome when it comes to repeating as Lombardi trophy winners. They signed troubled Rolando McClain, who could not even hold onto his job in Oakland, and drafted a couple of defensive playmakers with their top two picks. Overall they had a good draft, but will not re-create the magic they made last year.
8. New England Patriots: It is hard to decide where to start with this team, How about the impending murder charges on former star tight end Aaron Hernandez? This team lost two of their leading playmakers from the previous season in he and wide receiver Wes Welker (Welker went to the Denver Broncos via free agency). The defense is still young and hungry, and should only be improved with the addition of the veteran leadership of long time Arizona Cardinal Adrian Wilson. If the presence of Tim Tebow does not cause too much trouble the offense should perform as always under Tom Brady and this team should make the playoffs yet again.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: In recent years I have been waiting for this team to break out and control the AFC North and year after year they flirt with it but fail to come out on top. This young team is on the verge of a breakout and this should be the season they take over. Their main focus early in the draft was to diversify their offense, they picked another pass-receiving tight end (Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame) to complement the skills of Jermaine Gresham and a running back (Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina) to spell veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With probably the most talented young defensive line in the league this team has the potential to destroy opponents.
10. Washington Redskins: Whether they have RGIII or Kirk Cousins calling the signals once the season starts they should be a force in the NFC East. Mike Shanahan has made a star out of yet another late-round pick running back in Alfred Morris and the defense is young and plays with a fierce intensity. Add to that the return of some key parts along the front seven and this defense should experience a big boost. The uncertainty at quarterback may prove to be a distraction for this team at first but they are primed for a NFC East title repeat.
11. Chicago Bears: Well now you have it, Jay, go ahead and show us what you can do. For a few years now Jay Cutler has been whining about the lack of protection he receives and the poor quality of people catching the balls when he has time. Phil Emery selected Kyle Long out of Oregon with the Bears first round pick and later in the draft took Jordan Mills from Louisiana Tech. He also signed Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson to add some veteran experience and the unit should have a whole new look this next season. As long as the new look defense can hold down their end the onus will be on the offensive line once again to push the Bears in to the post season.
12. Minnesota Vikings: The best move the Vikings made this offseason was to sign an aging receiver in Greg Jennings. They countered this great move by first trading Percy Harvin. They think they have their replacement in the slot in 1st rounder Cordarrelle Patterson but many would disagree. Their best draft pick was Xavier Rhodes, cornerback out of Florida State who should immediately start across from Chris Cook. Until the Vikings bring in a consistently competent quarterback Adrian Peterson will not get the ring he deserves.
13. Indianapolis Colts: Last year the Colts were the team everyone liked to see win. Their quarterback, Andrew Luck, is one of the best to hit the game in recent memory and he is a poster boy for humility, hard work and good behavior. Their coach spent most of the season fighting cancer and returned towards the end of the campaign. This year they will not have the emotional motivation, what they will have is more experience for Luck and other young players such as Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. The Colts made some moves to bulk up their front line on the defensive side, which was needed but doubtful to help them turn the tide over on the Texans.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Probably the biggest question on this team is the play of Josh Freeman. Is he going to have a great year and limit mistakes or will he look like the inexperienced mediocre player he frequently has? Doug Martin has shown he is more than capable to take on a large offensive load. This should help relieve some of the stress off Freeman in the red zone. The addition of Darrelle Revis via trade was probably their greatest acquisition and he should completely change the face of the defense. He along with Johnathan Banks out of Mississippi State will anchor the defensive backfield. The Buccaneers should push for a playoff spot this season and could pull off an upset if in.
15. St. Louis Rams: The hole left by Danny Amendola’s move to the New England Patriots was quickly filled in the first round of the draft with the selection of Tavon Austin. Signing TE Jared Cook in the prime of his career was a wise move and should help the continual development of Sam Bradford. The selection of some versatile defenders early in the draft should pay dividends even early on this upcoming season. St. Louis is crippled by the strength of their division but should be improved from their couple previous campaigns. This may be the year the Rams finally decide whether Bradford is their franchise quarterback.
16. New Orleans Saints: If there is anything good to say about this team I cannot think of it at this time. Record setting defense in the worst way possible, entire organization reeling from the “bounty scandal” and the offensive was anything but consistent. Three of their five draft picks were used on defense and their first selection Kenny Vaccaro is expected to start right away. The rest of their division is only improving and this team should not sniff the playoffs.
17. Detroit Lions: Probably the most disappointing team of the 2012 season returned to the cellar of the NFC North. Despite the most dynamic pass-catch combination in the NFL their offense failed to find a rhythm all season. They signed Reggie Bush, most recently of the Miami Dolphins, in order to hopefully deploy a well-balanced attack. The defensive line lost their starting defensive ends but are trying to fill the holes with Ezekiel Ansah out of Brigham Young and Devin Taylor from South Carolina. Ansah has the talent to become an amazing pass rusher but lacks experience. Their defensive backs are weak at best and they also addressed this in the draft. The Lions may roar into the postseason this year but I would not put any money on it.
18. Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles or Michael Vick? Either way there is no way the Eagles win the NFC East. This squad needs help along the offensive line and in the line-backing corps. Lane Johnson should make an impact immediately and Zach Ertz may need some time to adjust to the speed and size of his opponents. They also traded up for Matt Barkley, if he does not contribute shortly this could be a bad move. Look for Philadelphia to finish around the middle of the league this season.
19. New York Giants: This is a team that is constantly loaded with talent yet fails to play consistently. They probably reached for Justin Pugh, tackle out of Syracuse, but they desperately need youth on their offensive line. They neglected to fill some holes on defense, particularly at linebacker and cornerback, and will be counting again on their fierce front four to generate a pass rush. If Eli Manning can play consistently and Victor Cruz plays for his pay this team is in the NFC East running, if both of those things do not happen they will probably miss the playoffs.
20. Dallas Cowboys: The consistently underperforming Dallas squad did not make much of a splash in free agency and probably reached with Center Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin, but all in all had a good offseason. They did not have any glaring holes to fill and added key depth at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield. I would like to rank them higher, but it is impossible to tell exactly which Tony Romo or Dez Bryant will show up on any given Sunday.
21. San Diego Chargers: The best team to not win the AFC West in the 2013 season should at least be interesting to watch this season. They have a strong defense and second round pick Manti Te’o should only strengthen it. If this is the season Ryan Mathews can stay healthy they should have one of the strongest running games in the league. Throwing Danny Woodhead into the mix adds a great change of pace scat-back who has a proven history of game-changing ability. The Chargers do not have the firepower to take over the Denver Broncos, but they may fight for a wildcard spot.
22. Carolina Panthers: The most recently self-dubbed “Superman” took a bit of a tumble in his second season as the starting quarterback of this young franchise. He was accused of moping and part of his problems probably came from within; although his supporting cast are not all Pro Bowlers. They were limited with only five picks and spent three of them, including the top two, on their front seven. Star Lotulelei out of Utah has the potential to be a top ten defensive tackle in his rookie season and if he can this team may sniff the NFC South division title. Well, that along with put the ball in the hands of the running backs more often.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers: The team that lost to the Green Bay Packers in Superbowl XLV has been in a downward spiral and did not do much to reverse that trend. Their top two picks, Jarvis Jones and Le’Veon Bell should start from Week 1 and the rest of their draft class has a good chance at making the team 53-man roster but should mostly contribute on special teams. The free agency losses of Mike Wallace and James Harrison will hurt this team severely.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: The biggest issue this team had was their quarterback and offensive line play the best move this team made this offseason was to bring in a quarterback (Alex Smith) who has shown that they can capably play the position. They used the first pick in the draft on OT Eric Fisher and he should be the anchor of this line at least through his rookie contract. They have had some talented skill players in place for a few years and the presence of a competent quarterback should push this team from the bottom of the league.
25. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals lost the face of their franchise when they released Adrian Wilson. This is a team that was already struggling at finding an offensive identity and now is in shambles. They did bring in a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer but he is old and his best days are clearly behind him. I would not be surprised if there is not a controversy at the position with Ryan Lindley and Drew Stanton right behind him. Rashard Mendenhall had trouble staying on the field in Pittsburgh and I would expect nothing less here, perhaps the stable of running backs supplemented by Stepfan Taylor out of Stanford through the draft this season will be able to hold down the position during the inevitable injuries to Mendenhall. If Tyrann Mathieu can keep his head on straight he and Patrick Peterson should be able to do some damage on defense, but that is a large task to fill.
26. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill is on a solid path to becoming a great quarterback in this league and the front office tried to help him out by signing middle-of-the-road Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson while drafting only one offensive lineman, Dallas Thomas, in the entire draft. The team’s strength for the past few years has been the defense, so why not focus more on this during the draft? The best shot the Dolphins have at making the playoffs this season is the fact that the New England Patriots are in turmoil.
27. Cleveland Browns: The Cleveland Browns are the team that everyone knows is bad, but every few games they will surprise and put up a fight and sometimes even win. Jim Brown still owes Trent Richardson a thousand apologies for calling him “ordinary.” Richardson may not be the best running back to ever play the game, but he definitely deserves a starting spot in this league. Their offense, which had bright moments last season, still needs some help at pass-catcher. All of their four draft picks were spent on defense but even so they failed to address needs at linebacker other than Barkevious Mingo from Louisiana State University. It is hard to see this team going .500, let alone making the playoffs.
28. Tennessee Titans: At the end of the season this team had many questions that I feel they did not do much to answer. Shonn Greene was added to help spell Chris Johnson, Chance Warmack was drafted in the first round to help protect Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick was acquired in order to light a fire under Locker. Not only does their offense have issues but if it had not been for the Saints this would have been the worst defense of last season. This team should be right ahead of Jacksonville this season, the worst team in the AFC South.
29. Buffalo Bills: It remains to be seen whether the Bills have fixed one of their biggest issues in recent history, quarterback play. They made a lot of changes, including parting ways with every quarterback on their roster last season. Whether E.J. Manuel out of Florida State or veteran Kevin Kolb can fit the bill we will soon know, but not many people are buying it. They are set at running back and have plenty of playmakers on defense but there is no way they win the AFC East this season and therefore will probably not make the playoffs.
30. Oakland Raiders: Matt Flynn finally gets his chance to take over a team, unless Tyler Wilson somehow outperforms him in the preseason and he is relegated to the backup position for the second year in a row. The one constant on this team has been Darren McFadden (when healthy.) The defense has a lot of new faces this season as well as high-profile returning face Charles Woodson. He brings some leadership and experience back to a defense that has been lacking it for a great while. Oakland is a ways off from contending in this league and should be near the bottom of the AFC this season.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are a team looking for an identity. They have a strong defense, most games. They have a horrible offense, most games. They need some players with some stability that they can count on to perform exceptionally in most games. They did not make any monumental moves in free agency but did draft a few players that could make a large difference in the course of the future path this team takes. Luke Joeckel and Johnathan Cyprien should perform well out of the gate while Denard Robinson is one of the draft’s wild cards. If Robinson can learn to play either running back or wide receiver in this league he could be a difference maker for the Jaguars.
32. New York Jets: Dropping Tim Tebow was a great move for this team, but they are still fostering quarterback controversy by drafting Geno Smith in the second round. Pile that onto the presence of Greg McElroy and there is anything but certainty. The only real thing this team has going for them is that it seems the circus has followed Tim Tebow out of New York and to Foxborough. Well that and they picked up Dee Milliner in the draft to replace Darrelle Revis, who did not want to play for the Jets anyway. With only a few ups and a lot of the same downs, they will have a hard time rebounding from last season but may have a better year.