As NFL teams get ready to begin training camp, most of the major personnel moves for the season have been completed. We’re going to rank each team 1-32, based on how they look entering camp.
1. Green Bay Packers
This is the same team that finished the regular season 15-1. The last time a team finished 15-1 and didn’t win the Super Bowl (Pittsburgh, 2004), they won it the next year.
2. New England Patriots
New England has a schedule in which they’ll likely be favored in every game they play. Expect another double-digit victory season and another deep playoff run.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The injury-ravaged Steelers let the Ravens wrestle away the AFC North title from them last year and they suffered what they consider an embarrassing playoff loss. A healthy Steelers team will be a refocused unit that will compete for another Super Bowl.
4. San Francisco 49ers
It’s highly unlikely that Alex Smith can repeat his nearly mistake-free 2011 campaign, but they have an improved group of wide receivers and return all the key components of their great defense. San Francisco is still the class of the NFC West and it shouldn’t be close.
5. Dallas Cowboys
We’re drinking the Cowboys Kool-Aid as Tony Romo is poised to have another fantastic season. Dallas could have easily won 12 games a season ago but late-game mistakes and poor luck cost them. We believe their luck will change in 2012.
6. New York Giants
The defending Super Bowl champs will not repeat in 2012. Their run to the title wasn’t solely based on luck, but they did experience good fortune with turnovers and a favorable draw. It’s not likely that happens two years in a row, but with another good draft the Giants could actually be a better team in 2012.
7. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are flying under the radar as they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs again, but they’ve had some bad draws over the past four years. They’ve lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs twice in the last two years and four years ago they lost to the Super Bowl representative from the NFC. This is the year they break through with at least one playoff victory.
8. Houston Texans
With a healthy Matt Schaub the Texans figure to be in the Super Bowl mix in the AFC. It’s just difficult to imagine them being better in 2012 after losing Mario Williams, Eric Winston, DeMeco Ryans and Joel Dreesen.
9. Chicago Bears
The Bears were headed toward a great season in 2011 before Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury. Chicago has a healthy Cutler back and his favorite weapon from Denver in Brandon Marshall and if that defense can be very good for another year they have a legitimate chance to go a long way.
10. Baltimore Ravens
Many will think 10th is a little low for a Baltimore team that came within one incompletion away from the Super Bowl but the Ravens may be without Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs for a large part of the season. No matter what Joe Flacco tells us, the jury is still out on him and he’s not an elite quarterback.
11. San Diego Chargers
Generally when we’re high on the Chargers they do their best to let everyone down. Norv Turner and A.J. Smith’s jobs are on the line and they need to make the playoffs and that’s what we believe they’ll do in 2012. Philip Rivers should rebound to his old Pro Bowl form in 2012.
12. Buffalo Bills
The Bills may or may not be a popular sleeper team but they will win games in 2012. A renovated defense with a pretty good offense should make them compete for a wildcard.
13. Detroit Lions
The Lions figure to be solid again in 2012 but it will be different for them playing with expectations following their playoff season. With an improved Bears team in the division, we expect no playoffs for Detroit.
14. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs added right tackle Eric Winston and return Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Matt Cassel and others from injury, thus making significant improvements from last season. In a very winnable division, the Chiefs should be in the mix.
15. Denver Broncos
The defending AFC West champs added quarterback Peyton Manning which should make them the favorites. With a murderers row opening schedule, the Broncos will likely struggle early on and there really isn’t much margin for error.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are a lot of experts Super Bowl pick but the problems that were exposed with last season’s “Dream Team” will rear their ugly head again. Can the line properly protect Michael Vick? If they do can Vick deliver the ball accurately and on time? Too many question marks in a division where there are no easy games.
17. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are the league’s biggest question mark with the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the season and the uncertainty behind Drew Brees contract situation. If all of those pieces were in place they would still have to deal with the free agency losses of Carl Nicks and Robert Meachem.
18. New York Jets
The circus is in town and it will be very difficult for Mark Sanchez to navigate an awful opening schedule and still keep his job with Tim Tebow waiting in the wings. This season could get out of hand before it begins.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are yet to have two winning seasons in a row under head coach Marvin Lewis. That status will remain as the league began to figure out Andy Dalton near the end of last season.
20. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers should be very much improved in 2012 but they play in arguably the toughest and best quarterback division in football. A second option in the passing game to Steve Smith still needs to develop and the Panthers must do a better job of stopping the run.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars may surprise some people as they have a manageable schedule with increased weapons on offense and defense. Look for Jacksonville to hang around .500.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay improved their offense on paper but there are still major questions about their ability to stop the run. They will undoubtedly be better than last year, but their division will still keep them south of the .500 mark.
23. Washington Redskins
The Redskins will certainly be more exciting in 2012 with quarterback Robert Griffin, III, but they play in a division with three current or former Pro Bowl quarterbacks and they will struggle.
24. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks may be in trouble if running back Marshawn Lynch gets suspended and they may not be able to dig out of an early season hole. Their quarterback situation is a major question mark even with the signing of Matt Flynn.
25. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee may use this season to transition from Matt Hasselbeck to Jake Locker and there will be a learning curve. The Titans lost more than they gained in free agency and this doesn’t figure to be a playoff contender.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Their defense could be surprisingly good but the Cards have the same mess at quarterback and not a good enough running game. Kevin Kolb or John Skelton? Does it even matter?
27. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are starting over yet again with rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Again, there will be many bumps in the road for a rookie signal caller with a very questionable set of weapons on the outside.
28. St. Louis Rams
New head coach Jeff Fisher will make a difference but even if they double their win total from a year ago- that’s only four. Lots of holes everywhere for the Rams.
29. Oakland Raiders
New head coach Dennis Allen may have the “it factor” but his roster certainly doesn’t. There’s no reason to believe that Carson Palmer will be anything but finished which is how he looked for most of last season.
30. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts will be interesting to watch with rookie Andrew Luck, but there’s not much hope for that miserable defense. The season will be judged upon Luck’s progression, not wins and losses.
31. Miami Dolphins
The “Fall Flat for Matt” campaign might just be in effect if rookie Ryan Tannehill plays poorly. With the lack of weapons on the outside there’s no reason to believe that any quarterback will succeed in Miami, especially not David Garrard or Matt Moore.
32. Minnesota Vikings
Somebody has to be the worst team in the NFL, right? Adrian Peterson may not be ready for opening day and Christian Ponder doesn’t have much on the outside to work with. Add in an aging defensive line and terrible secondary and there’s not much hope for the Vikes.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for SportsTalkFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie