As summer in the desert starts to heat up, so to does the NFL season, with teams heading into training camp and writers trying to decipher how strong each unit is before a snap has yet to be played.
Here's my take on the NFL power rankings heading into camp:
Seahawks 1. Seattle
The Seahawks are the group to beat after their Super Bowl loss last year. Yes, you read that right. Russell Wilson still lacks a long term contract, but that won't stop him from showing up. The Seahawks pilfered TE Jimmy Graham from the Saints this off-season, adding to their offensive arsenal. Oh yeah, they also have the best RB in the game in Marshawn 'I Don't Interview' Lynch. On defense, they only lost one player from their SB team last year in CB Byron Maxwell's jump to the Eagles. But, and this is a big but, they lost their defensive backs coach. That could be an issue, depending on how the DBs adjust. All that being said, the Seahawks appear to be the best team heading into training camp.
Packers 2. Green Bay
The Packers are a good team, with a elite QB in Aaron Rodgers and an offense that is capable in both rushing and passing attack. RB Eddie Lacy is a bruiser out of the backfield, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb averaged 2800 yards and 25 touchdowns between them as Rodgers receiving targets. Combined with a Dom Capers' defense, and the Packers are easy contenders for a trip to the Super Bowl.
3. New England Patriots
So, Deflategate still looms large. Does QB Tom Brady get suspended for four games? Less than four? This put the Patriots in a bind, as we all know that Brady is the 'stufff' that makes this team tick. That being said, the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC, as well as defending champions, can't take that away from them.
Colts 4. Indianapolis
Andrew Luck is the NFL QB standard for the next generation, and the Colts are building around him. Young WRs T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief are joined by rookie speedster Philip Dorsett and veteran Andre Johnson, giving Luck a dynamic WR stable to work with. Frank Gore comes over from the 49ers, bringing a physical presence to the run game. Make no mistake, the Colts and Andrew Luck are winners heading into this season.
One of the greatest to play the game may be coming to the end of his ride. QB Peyton Manning has rewritten record books, but in the loss to the Colts last year, he looked done. If Manning bounces back to the QB that beaks records, expect the Broncos to have a good season, as Coach Kubiak has assembled playmakers around Manning. But if the Manning that the Broncos have under center is the Manning that showed up at the end of last season, that turns them into an average team at best.
Joe Flacco has a new OC in Marc Trestman, and that effect on the QB remains to be seen. Additionally, Flacco will have to adjust to new faces in the huddle as rookie TE Maxx Williams could see playing time with Dennis Pitt recovering from a hip injury. Defensively, the Ravens remain stout, with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil applying pressure to opposing QBs. The Ravens are a well coached team with plenty of talent to keep them in contention through the season.
The Cardinals are on an upward trend under the guidance of the Bros. Cue, Gm Steve Keim and Coach Bruce Arians. To protect their aging QB, the Cardinals signed OG Mike Iupati. Iupati is also expected to open up the run game for playmaking RB Andre Ellington and new addition rookie David Johnson. John Brown continues to grow as a receiver, giving the Cardinals a solid three headed threat with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. If the Cardinals stay the course under new DC James Bettcher, expect the Cardinals to be in the hunt towards playoff time.
The Cowboys lost last year's leading rusher Demacro
Ahhh, Chip Kelly, or should I say 'Chop' Kelly? Just his actions alone propelled the Eagles into one of the most talked about teams in the off season. He remade his team in his image, and didn't spare any corner of the organization. He's rolling the dice on newly acquired QB Sam Bradford to stay healthy. Coach Kelly pulled in a stud inside linebacker in a trade many questioned, Kiki Alonso for LeSean McCoy, until he recruited Demarco Murray and Ryan Matthews into the fold. Will Coach Kelly strike gold or crash and burn?
The Bengals are another team that die by their QB. Andy Dalton is just good enough to make it close, but in the end, he fails during the playoffs. Until they solve the
The Steelers are a good team, and QB Ben Roethlisberger leads a talented offensive group that consists of fellow standout RB Le'Veon Bell whose play last year had him mentioned in complete back circles. Antonio Brown continues to stay atop the WR mountain, growing high rapport with Big Ben. Defensively the Steelers drafted OLB Alvin Dupree adding his talents to a young linebacker crew that consists of fellow youngster Ryan Shazier.
13. San Diego
The Phillip Rivers trade rumors swirled about early in the season, but now, heading into training camp, the QB is firmly entrenched as leader of an offense that added rookie RB Melvin Gordon who the Chargers expect to even up the offense. Antonio Gates had twelve touchdowns last year, as he and Rivers gracefully age as a tandem. If the Charger can give Rivers some help on the defensive side of the ball, he could make a push for the playoffs.
Teddy Bridgewater was my pick for best QB coming out of the 2014 draft class, and the Vikings scooped him up. He showed flashes early, and solidified himself as a viable option for the Vikings. Combine his play at QB with the generational back that is Adrian Peterson, throw in WR speedster Mike Wallace and the Vikings offense is noteworthy. Flip the coin to the defense and the Vikings are no slouch there either, so expect a highly competitive football team from the Vikings.
15. St. Louis
They traded QB Sam Bradford for Nick Foles. Is this the defining moment for Coach Fisher? The defense is scary good, with standouts like DE Chris Long, DT Aaron Donald, DT Michael Brockers, DE Robert Quinn and newly acquired DT Nick Fairley. The Rams also made a splash by drafting a potential game changer in RB Todd Gurley who will start on the non-football injury list, but once healthy, could help Foles guide the Rams to a winning season.
Rex Ryan is now at the helm for the Bills, a team in search of a QB. Currently auditioning for the role are first round draft pick E.J. Manuel, league journeyman Matt Cassell and Tyrod Taylor. The great news for the winner is that they'll be able to sling the ball to a WR unit that includes the sensational Sammy Watkins and the dangerous speedster Percy Harvin. Oh, and as a backup they get to hand the ball off to RB LeSean McCoy, a game changer in his on right. If Rex can get motivate DEs Mario Edwards and Jerry Hughes, look out, NFL.
QB Matthew Stafford has such an arm, and combined with the phenom that is WR Calvin Johnson, I always expect more from the Lions than they actually deliver. Now the Lions field a much weaker defense after losing DTs Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, even after bringing over Haloti Ngata. The offense lost the versatile RB Reggie Bush as well. If this Lions team is going to win, it needs to find the hunger.
18. Kansas City
19. New Orleans
The Saints had a questionable offseason, losing TE Jimmy Graham in FA. QB Drew Brees still has WR Marques Colston and second year man Brandon Cook, who looked every bit the superstar before going down with injury, but beyond them the cupboard isn't overflowing.
They purloined their new head coach from
Their defense is top notch with stalwarts like J.J. Watt and new addition Vince Wilfork, but the QB conundrum keeps the Texans from being a threat to take it all. Heading into training
22. New York
The Jets are a new team from top to bottom. New GM, new head coach in Todd Bowles. Old but new CBs in Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis. New stud rookie DT in Leonard Williams. New wide receiver threats in Brandon Marshall and rookie Devin Smith. The only old thing is QB Geno Smith, and the Jets' greatness will only go as far as he takes them. No pressure, really.
23. New York
The Giants find themselves having to rely on rookies to contribute in important roles. At starting left tackle, it appears rookie Ereck Flowers will be protecting QB Eli Manning. On the defensive side, how will the Giants handle the Jason Pierre-Paul situation? Is this the begin of the end for Manning and Coach Coughlin? Many questions abound in NY.
Cam Newton and who else? Yeah, I struggled as well. The offensive cupboard is bare, and the restocking in progress is still in the early phases. On the defensive side, they have one of the NFL's stud ILB in Luke Kuechly but an average season won't win the NFC South.
Jay Cutler! Yes, that is really the power ranking. Jay Cutler. The man of a million coordinators. The QB who is a coach killer. Now there is a new regime in town. Meet your QB, Jay Cutler. Until the QB issue(s) are fixed, the Bears are not going far.
26. San Francisco
A new head coach, check. A wave of player retirements, check. Stud ILB returning from major knee injury, check. I don't know who owns the 49ers voodoo doll, but whoever it is stuck a ton of needles into it. I cant think of any other explanation for the offseason this team has had. I wonder if Coach Tomsula has any magician experience on his resume, because I have a feeling in the NFC West, he's going to need it.
Young Derek Carr might be the future of the Raiders franchise, answering their QB question. Heading into Year 2, the Raiders are putting weapons around him, players like drafted WR Amari Cooper and FA Michael Crabtree. On the defensive side, Khalil Mack is the OLB sack machine DC's drool over, and he can only get better.
Raise your hand if you thought drafting Johnny '$ signs' Manziel was a good idea. The Browns did. Now they're trying to patch that gaping hole in their sub with QB Josh McCown, a league journeyman at best. I don't foretell a bright future in my Magic 8 Ball globe.
The talk of the Bucs leads to new front man QB Jameis Winston and his ability to pick up the system. He has two productive large targets in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and if RB Doug Martin can return to pre injury form, the Bucs could be dangerous. I just see development taking more than a year.
Is this the year of Kirk Cousins as QB? Robert Griffin III was a star that shined bright, and it appears has already burnt himself out. Throw in the loss of Brian Orakpo on the defensive side and the Redskins find themselves looking for answers.
QB Blake Bortles was sacked 55 times last season. To remedy that issue, the GM brought in bringing in Stefen Wisniewski and Jermey Parnell. To assist the QB, the Jags drafted T.J. Yeldon. What to watch for is a lack of solid CB play on the defensive side.
Newly drafted franchise QB Marcus Mariota held out forever. Justin Hunter is in trouble with the law, and ergo, the commish. Coach Whisenhunt has said he'll tailor the offense to match Mariota's strengths. Judging by his lack of offensive success in AZ, I truly don't think that phrase means what the coach thinks it does. I see a long season for the Titans.
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.