Go Broncos, Nuggets, Rox
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Back In The 303!
The Hype Train Is Officially Out Of Control: "Jay Cutler Is My Sleeper Pick For MVP"
I like seeing our boys get some love, I'm not one of those "fly under the radar" people... But this is just ridiculous.
Training camp power rankings
Though there hasn't been much NFL on-the-field action in the past month, there's been plenty of off-season activity. Unfortunately, most of it's been negative news. Crimes, protests, polished press releases from the desks of various team owners and the commissioner.
For fans and the media alike, it's nice to turn our attention to something outside the courtroom and the world of PETA, and on to actual football.
And starting this week with the long awaited opening of NFL training camps that's exactly what we have.
What better way to get back in to the swing of things than some training camp Power Rankings.
1. Indianapolis Colts:
Indianapolis lost several key defensive players from its championship team last season (Nick Harper, Cato June, Mike Doss, Jason David specifically) via free agency over the off-season. On offense, Dominic Rhodes and Brandon Stokley each signed with squads in the AFC West. But, maybe the biggest off-season loss for Indy came last week when longtime Colts left tackle Tarik Glenn announced his retirement. Glenn started 154 regular-season games during his 10-year career with the Colts and has protected Peyton Manning since the quarterback first entered the league in 1998.
So who fills in for the 10-year vet? Most likely a rookie second-round pick Tony Ugoh out of Arkansas. Right tackle Ryan Diem and second-year man Charlie Johnson have been mentioned as potential replacements as well. But whoever gets the nod won't be as steady and trusted as Glenn.
Hey, the Colts are the defending champions. And for that they're my number one. But with two new starting cornerbacks, an enormous question mark at left tackle, and a slew of rookies who will be expected to perform right away, question marks certainly abound. Indy plays New England and San Diego in consecutive weeks during November. By then, we'll have some answers on the '07 Colts.
2. New England Patriots:
While it seems as though everyone else in the media is ready to crown the Patriots as kings of the NFL and champions of Super Bowl XLII, I've had my reservations. I wrote about my concerns with this season's New England squad back in June. Patriots fans let me hear about it then, and I'm sure they'll let me hear about it now. I'm about as well liked as A-Rod and Bucky Dent up in New England these days. And that's fine. I just can't put New England on top of Indianapolis yet.
3. San Diego Chargers:
The Chargers were the only team in the NFL to not sign a single veteran free agent over the off-season. What's that tell me? A.J. Smith really, really, really likes his squad. Michael Turner's back, Kris Dielman was re-signed, and all seven of the Chargers' draft picks were locked up by the end of July. Receivers Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and first-round selection Craig Davis are looking good and ready to take both the NFL and fantasy leagues across the country by storm. Tomlinson, Gates, Merriman, Rivers it's a parade of Pro Bowlers in San Diego.
So what's not to like? Well, the coaching staff from last year's 14-2 squad underwent an "Extreme Makeover: SoCal Edition" this off-season. The head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, tight ends coach and linebackers coach from last year's AFC West champions are now all gone. In comes a cast of new characters, headed up by Norv Turner and his career 58-82-1 record as a head coach. Does the coaching carousel help or hurt San Diego? We'll have to wait and see. For now? I'll keep San Diego at No. 3 in the Power Rankings.
4. New Orleans Saints:
Everyone's pumped about New Orleans this year. REALLY pumped. From Peter King to the independent blogs on the web, it looks like everyone with access to a keyboard and a URL address has the Saints playing in Glendale come February. Can you blame them? New Orleans reached the NFC Championship Game last January and only got better over the off-season.
On defense, Charles Grant was re-signed for a long-term deal; veterans Brian Simmons, Kevin Kaeshivarn, and Jason David were all brought in to bolster an already solid defense; and speedster corner Usama Young was drafted out of Kent State in the second round.
On offense, Robert Meachem replaces Joe Horn, and Antonio Pittman adds yet another playmaker to an already loaded backfield. Meachem's rehabbing from an injured knee now, but should be ready to dazzle by September. Drew Brees and Sean Payton have even more weapons on offense than they did last year, and the defense improved across the board. What's not to love? I'd hold off on booking those February flights to Phoenix for now. But if I were a Saints fan, I'd at least add an airline's website to my "favorites".
5. Baltimore Ravens:
Interesting off-season for Baltimore. Coming off a magical 13-3 season in which they won the AFC North, the Ravens lost key contributors Jamal Lewis, Tony Pashos, Adalius Thomas and Olvie Mughelli in free agency. But they responded by bringing in Willis McGahee one of the premier running backs in the league and had a strong draft. First-round pick Ben Grubbs will be a first-year starter and third-round selection Yamon Figurs should make Ravens fans have visions of Jermaine Lewis when he's returning kicks. Baltimore's defense loses the versatile Thomas, but remains one of the tops in the league. They're still the class of the AFC North.
6. Denver Broncos:
Ranking a team that didn't even make the playoffs last year as the sixth best in the league? Sounds crazy, but I love what Denver did this off-season and see big things out of the Broncos in '07. Jay Cutler's my sleeper pick for league MVP and Travis Henry's going to flourish in the Broncos' running scheme. I also love what Denver did on the defensive line via the NFL draft, getting younger and more versatile overnight by picking up college stars Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, as well as off-the-field wildcard Marcus Thomas. All three should make immediate impacts.
The Broncos had a terrific July mini-camp (a rarity in the NFL), which was attended by most of the team. Longtime number one target Rod Smith is still recovering from off-season surgery, but insists he'll return. In the meantime, young wideouts Brandon Marshall and David Kircus will vie for the starting gig alongside Javon Walker. Of course, Marshall needs to be healthy to compete. The talented speedster hobbled off the field a few weeks ago with a tweaked quad. D.J. Williams, Champ Bailey, Dre Bly, Travis Henry, John Lynch, Cutler and Walker could all be Pro Bowlers come February. I'd be shocked if Denver wasn't playing playoff football come January.
7. Chicago Bears:
Though Bears fans will likely find it preposterous that their team is ranked behind New Orleans, it's hard to think Chicago improved over the off-season. While the addition of Darwin Walker will help, there are still a few lingering question marks. Lance Briggs got a one-year deal before the start of camp but could still be poisonous in the locker room, Tank Johnson's gone, Thomas Jones was traded to New York, and contributors Ian Scott, Todd Johnson, Alfonso Boone and Cameron Worrell are all elsewhere as well. More importantly, five of Lovie Smith's assistant coaches including defensive coordinator Ron Rivera are no longer with the organization.
Who knows what Chicago's going to get out of the Cedric Benson/Garrett Wolfe/Adrian Peterson/Devin Hester combo at running back, and Rex Grossman is... well... not the most consistent quarterback in the league. History isn't exactly on Chicago's side either. Five of the last six Super Bowl runners-up failed to make the playoffs the following year. Then again, the defense is still likely tops in the NFC and the addition of Adam Archuleta should only help. Chicago's going to be strong in '07; no questions there. Is it the NFC's best team, though? I'm tentatively tipping my hat to New Orleans on that for now.
8. Seattle Seahawks:
Word out of Seattle is that for the first time in eight years, Mike Holmgren installed new plays and formations even before training camp began. Seattle's ready. No one's really talking about the Seahawks, but with a healthy Alexander and a healthy Hasselbeck, as well as the additions of Patrick Kerney and Deon Grant on defense, Seattle should be vastly improved from last year. Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, D.J. Hackett, Bobby Engram and a carnival of rookie receivers should more than make up for the loss of Darrell Jackson at wideout. Yes, the NFC West will be better this season than it has been in years. But Seattle's still the division favorite.
9. Cincinnati Bengals:
The Bengals were a win away from the postseason last year, but ended up losing their final three contests and missing the playoffs altogether. With Carson Palmer completely healthy, Cincy shouldn't find itself on the couch come January of 2008. At least you wouldn't think so. The problem, of course, will be that defense. Yes, the Bengals drafted Michigan star Leon Hall at corner. But Cincinnati finished tied for last in the league in pass defense in '06, and lost key contributors Brian Simmons and Kevin Kaesviharn in the off-season. Budding defensive star David Pollack's still out with a broken neck. The offense will be the engine here, but what's to make of that D? If ever there was a man in the league to make do with what he's got, it's coach Marvin Lewis. But in the AFC North, "making do" may not be enough to get by.
10. New York Jets:
There may be no more popular coach in New York right now than Eric Mangini. He's downright beloved. The "Sopranos" cameo was only the icing on the cake. He'll have a lot of talent to work with in '07. The Jets picked up a 1,000-yard back from Chicago in Thomas Jones, scooped up two defensive starters in the draft, and brought in a host of new defensive linemen via free agency. Jericho Cotchery's everyone's fantasy "sleeper" this season, and there's a ton of excitement around safety Kerry Rhodes. New York's got a difficult schedule in '07, including back-to-back dates with New England and Baltimore to start the season. But Gang Green should be in the AFC playoff hunt come Christmas time. The Pete Kendall contract situation could distract a team guided by a different man, but not Mangini. Look for the Jets to finish second in the AFC East behind New England. Anything less would be a great disappointment.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars:
The Dirk Koetter era never really worked out for Arizona State. He botched the Sam Keller/Rudy Carpenter quarterback situation, got embarrassed against California last year, and poorly managed the clock against USC on national television. Jaguars fans, meet your new offensive coordinator! Of course, Koetter is widely recognized as an offensive genius, and the early word out of Jacksonville is that he and Byron Leftwich are clicking on all cylinders. In an interesting move, the Jags brought in former No. 1 pick Tim Couch. Free-agent addition Dennis Northcutt has already established himself as one of the team's main targets, and chronic under-performers Reggie Williams and Matt Jones are expected to flourish under Koetter's new system.
The defense, despite the recent waiving of longtime Jaguars star Donovin Darius, remains one of the top units in the league and the rushing attack will be superb yet again. The Jags have the talent and the depth to make a run at an AFC wild card berth, and quite possibly an AFC South title. Whether or not they will be consistent enough to do it, though, is the issue. Remember, this is the same team that dropped its two division games versus Houston last year.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
There were a lot of changes over the off-season for the 2006 NFC East champions. Takeo Spikes, Montae Reagor, Ian Scott and Kevin Curtis are now wearing Eagles green. Gone, however, are 2006 contributors Shawn Barber, Roderick Hood, Donte Stallworth, Michael Lewis, Darwin Walker and Jeff Garcia. Dhani Jones who underwhelmed last year is no longer with the squad either. They're the favorites in the NFC East this season, but did they improve from last year? New faces all around. We'll see how it goes.
13. Dallas Cowboys:
Dallas underwent a bit of a makeover this off-season as well. The Parcells era is now over, as Wade Phillips takes over as the head coach in Big D. Phillips, a career 48-42 head coach, has never won a playoff contest, going 0-3 in previous postseason appearances. His best squad was the '99 Bills, where a curious decision to start Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie and the Music City Miracle led to a first-round exit.
Along with Parcells, gone are veterans Jason Fabini, Marco Rivera and Drew Bledsoe. Additions Leonard Davis and Ken Hamlin should make immediate contributions, while draft picks Anthony Spencer and James Marten will be looked at early and often. T.O.'s been a model citizen this off-season, but how long will it last? Maybe he flourishes without the Tuna. Maybe not. Dallas could very well win the NFC East this year
or just as easily finish 8-8. For a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1996, the Dallas faithful are hoping for the former as opposed to the latter.
14. San Francisco 49ers
There's no NFL team bandwagon quite as full as the San Fran one this summer. With all the pundits dubbing them the "sleeper" team of '07, the whole "sleeper" label almost doesn't make sense. Sleeper or not, it's hard not to like what the Niners did this off-season. On top of a tremendous draft in which they picked up potential starters in Patrick Willis, Joe Staley and Jason Hill, San Fran fared very well in the free agency game, scooping up both Nate Clements and Tully Banta-Cain. They also traded for veteran wideout Darrell Jackson. Alex Smith, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are all primed for monster years, and there's lots of excitement surrounding the young defense.
The big question, of course, will be Smith's ability to succeed without Norv Turner guiding him. Now entering his third year in the league, look for Smith to lean on his backup, savvy veteran and former Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, even more. The 'Niners may be this year's vogue "sleeper" team, but few will be surprised if they secure a playoff berth.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Everyone's excited over Mike Tomlin. FOXSports.com columnist Adam Schein in what I imagine being a very, very, very loud voice is absolutely oozing with optimism over "Camp Tomlin" in his columns, while current and ex-players from around the league are echoing their praise for the young Steelers coach. On the field, Ben Roethlisberger showed up to camp in shape and ready to lead, Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu has signed a four-year contract extension, and rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda has columnists and bloggers giggling with excitement over his knuckleball punts and linebacker mentality.
However, it's not all roses in Latrobe, Pa. Six-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca came to camp without his contract woes being settled, insisting he likely won't be a Steeler next season. Though not exactly pleased, Faneca's in camp, working out and apparently ready to go. Pittsburgh went 8-8 last year. Fans are hoping for improvement in '07.
16. Carolina Panthers
Dan Henning's out as the offensive coordinator in Carolina and former Patriots wunderkind Jeff Davidson is in. Keyshawn Johnson is out at wideout, and a host of young unproven talent is in. Out is the nightmarish backup quarterback situation from last year (Chris Weinke lost 15 of 17 career games in Carolina), and David Carr is in. Travelle Wharton returns from injury and draft picks Jon Beason and Tim Shaw add insurance to the linebacker corps as well.
Lots of changes in Carolina, to be sure. But after an inconsistent 2006 which ended in great disappointment, Panthers fans are being careful with their pre-season optimism. Of course, with a Falcons team in distress and a Buccaneers squad in a rebuilding mode, Carolina could legitimately challenge the Saints for the NFC South crown this year.