Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Training camp has not officially started, so it may be a bit early for league power rankings. Many things can happen in camp to cause a team's ranking to slip or rise before the season opener. That being said, I still found myself analyzing the 32 teams, their draft grades, free agency, and last season's records to form my 10 best teams for 2009.
10) Chicago Bears (finished 9-7)
The Bears have had a very busy offseason. It started with the miraculous signing of former Denver Bronco quarterback Jay Cutler; a deal that spawned from a nasty dispute between the Pro Bowl quarterback and the Bronco's new head coach Josh McDaniels. The Bears also added Orlando Pace on the offensive line. The 7 time Pro Bowler will need to stay healthy to make a difference in quarterback protection.
The Bears will also have 2nd year running back Matt Forte who rushed for 1,238 yards last season; averaging 4 yards per carry. If the defense can get back into the top 10 of the league, then the Bears could have a decent shot at winning the NFC North and may find themselves in the playoffs in 2009.
9) Carolina Panthers (finished 12-4, lost at home to Arizona in playoffs)
After an embarrassing loss at home to the Cardinals in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs, the Carolina Panthers signed quarterback Jake Delhomme to a 5-year contract worth $42.5 million. The contract says a lot about the franchise's faith in Delhomme. Especially after he threw 6 interceptions in the loss to Arizona.
This season the Panthers are looking to bounce back from that disappointing end to their season and make another run at the Super Bowl. They will have a decent shot since they're bringing back 21 players from last year's roster. That includes running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
8) San Diego Chargers (finished 8-8, won their division but lost in the playoffs)
The 2008 Chargers became the 0nly team in NFL history to start a season 4-8 and still make the playoffs. Once in the post season, the 2008 squad defeated the Indianapolis Colts and went on to lose to eventual champions the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. Look for the Chargers to improve on their record and make a serious run at the championship in 2009.
The team is returning its entire offense for the upcoming season. They are also competing in a weak division with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders looking to rebuild their once competitive franchises. With a running game that features both LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, look for the Chargers to be a power house in the AFC West.
7) Tennesee Titans (finished 13-3, lost in playoffs at home to the Ravens)
Tennessee finished the 2008 season with the best record in the league. They entered the playoffs with home field advantage, but lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round. Now the Titans aim for a championship ring with the help of veteran quarterback Kerry Collins and the awesome running attack of Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
There were some major changes on the defensive side of the ball. The Titans lost Albert Haynesworth to free agency and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is now the head coach of the Detroit Lions. The Titan defense was ranked 7th overall last season and had a large role in their 13-3 record.
6) Baltimore Ravens (finished 11-5, lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game)
The Baltimore Ravens looked like contenders in 2008. They made it all the way to the AFC Championship game last season and lost to the Steelers who eventually won the Super Bowl. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco showed poise and efficiency while starting for Baltimore. He became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win 2 playoff games.
The defense ranked 2nd overall in the league last season. The Ravens were smart and signed both Terrell Suggs and veteran leader Ray Lewis; even though both linebackers started the offseason as free agents. Look for Baltimore to contend for the division and the Super Bowl in 2009.
5) New York Giants (finished 12-4, lost in the playoffs to the Eagles)
The Giants had a respectable season in 2008, but lost in the playoffs at home to the Philadelphia Eagles. During the offseason, New York released wide receiver Plaxico Burress due to his highly publicized misconduct off the field. They also lost veteran wide receiver Amani Toomer. The wide receiver position definitely has voids on the roster.
They did draft Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden to help fill the vacant wide receiver positions. However, the lack of NFL experience with these players has got to be a concern for the Giants. With last year's 5th ranked defense, stellar lines up front on both sides of the ball, and Eli Manning at quarterback, New York and company will remain viable contenders in 2009.
4) Indianapolis Colts (finished 12-4, lost to the Chargers in the wild card game)
Peyton Manning and the Colts had another decent season in 2008. However, if it doesn't result in a championship ring, the Colts regard the season as sub par. They will have another chance at the Super Bowl this year if the team can continue its constant playoff presence.
Manning was named league MVP last year and the defense was ranked 11th in the league. However, with the departures of coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, the Colts are entering a new era of competition in Indianapolis. New coach Jim Caldwell looks to keep the winning ways around during his tenure. Meanwhile, wide receiver Reggie Wayne has no problem filling the role of go-to-guy.
3) Philadelphia Eagles (finished 9-6-1, lost to the Arizona Cardinals in NFC Championship)
The 2008 Eagles barely made the playoffs, but once they got there it was obvious that Philadelphia was ready to play. The Eagles won 2 playoff games before losing to the Cardinals in a highly competitive NFC Championship game. Donovan McNabb will continue his role as quarterback and face of the organization in 2009.
The majority of the coaching staff will stay in place for the Eagles. But, they did lose some key players. Defensive veteran Brian Dawkins went to the Broncos along with backup running back Correll Bulkhalter. Veteran and key offensive player Brian Westbrook is rehabbing an ankle injury and will miss most of camp. The Eagles drafted running back LeSean McCoy to help carry the load.
2) New England Patriots (finished 11-5)
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the season in the 2008 season opener. Somehow the Patriots, with backup quarterback Matt Cassel, still managed to win 11 games. Amazingly, that record was not enough to get them to the playoffs. They were the first 11 win team to miss the playoffs since 1990.
Brady seems to be healthy and ready for training camp. The New England defense was ranked 10th last season and will still feature guys like Richard Seymour and Adalius Thomas. Veteran wide receiver Randy Moss will still be running routes for Brady, which can only yield positive results. Also, the Pats picked up a lot of players in free agency. Wide receiver Joey Galloway, running back Fred Taylor, and defensive back Shawn Springs were just a few of the veterans added to the roster. Look for coach Bill Belichick and company to contend for their 4th Super Bowl.
1) Pittsburgh Steelers (finished 12-4, won the Super Bowl)
The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl last season and they did it in the most impressive fashion. For starters, they competed against the most difficult regular season schedule in the league. Five of their 16 games were nationally televised, which is the most allowed by one team. And, they had to drive 78 yards in a come from behind victory in the final minutes of the Super Bowl to beat a hot Arizona Cardinal team. They won the championship and they made it look easy.
This will be the third season for coach Mike Tomlin and all of Pittsburgh is buying whatever he's selling. The team loves him, the fans love him, and even the media seems to be smitten with the tough, hard working head coach. With star quarterback big Ben Rothlisberger at the helm and the 2008 number one ranked defense still intact, the Steelers will try to defend their championship in 2009.
Well, those are my power rankings for 2009. As training camp gets underway, we will see exactly what these teams bring to the table and how they will fare against the rest of the league. As preseason turns into regular season and regular season leads into the playoffs, it will be interesting to look back at this list to see just how these 10 teams competed in the 2009 season.
photo credit: Michael Rooney "http://www.steelcityhobbies.com"