NFL Preseason Power Rankings

There's always a lot to say at the beginning of the season, so I'll keep the introduction short. For longtime readers, welcome back: this is my fifth season doing NFL power rankings for Sports Central, and you're the reason for that. Thank you. New readers, I hope you enjoy the column and that you'll check back throughout the season.

New rankings are posted every Tuesday of the regular season. One very important note is that rankings are for right now. A team's ranking this week indicates how good I think they'll be in Week 1, not necessarily how good they'll be this season. Brackets show predicted regular season record.

1. Carolina Panthers [11-5] — This is a very good team without Kris Jenkins, but if he can stay healthy and play the way he did two or three years ago, it's a great team. Keyshawn Johnson's presence means that Jake Delhomme may throw to more than one player this year, and Keyshawn's blocking skills should help to open up the running game for DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams.

2. Indianapolis Colts [13-3] — There's something missing, and I don't know what it is. The team is great, with strength at every position. The Colts should be fine in the regular season — heck, they should be fantastic — but they've proven repeatedly that they'll give away big games to teams they should beat, and I won't take the Colts to win their conference.

3. Seattle Seahawks [12-4] — A few changes aside, the team that went 13-3 and won last year's NFC Championship Game is basically intact, and should easily win the NFC West, which remains the league's weakest division. Matt Hasselbeck seems to have come into his own as a quarterback, which gives the team more options on offense, but if Mike Holmgren tries to change the formula that worked last year — run first, pass later — the team will stutter.

4. New England Patriots [12-4] — Almost every year, the Patriots do things I think are nuts, and they're terrific anyway. Three years ago, they cut Lawyer Milloy right before the season opener, got blown out 31-0, then went 17-1 the rest of the way, including a victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII. This year, they let Willie McGinest go to Cleveland, and they're starting the season without their only premier pass-catcher, WR Deion Branch. If everything works out, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have redefined the term "genius" as it applies to professional football.

5. Denver Broncos [11-5] — It's not realistic to expect that Jake Plummer will play as mistake-free as he did last season, but Denver's offense should be fine, and the defense looks terrific. If the team can stay healthy and Plummer can combine the spark he showed in Arizona with the consistency he showed during the regular season last year, the Broncos will win the Super Bowl.

6. Kansas City Chiefs [10-6] — The offseason departure of offensive coordinator Al Saunders could hurt production on that side of the ball, but there's still a ton of talent there. Willie Roaf's retirement is a definite loss, but Kyle Turley isn't chopped liver, and Roaf missed half of last season anyway, so there shouldn't be a huge drop-off. The defense has a ton of talent, but some of the players are old and past their primes, while others are young and may not have come into their own yet. If defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham can get them all to play up to their potential, the Chiefs will be among the league's best teams in 2006.

7. Washington Redskins [9-7] — It's hard to evaluate a team that makes so many offseason changes. Washington has a terrifying receiving corps and running back brigade, plus a defense that should be among the league's best as long as it stays healthy. Lack of depth on the offensive line is a concern, but by far the biggest problem is quarterback. It's fair at this point to label Mark Brunell injury-prone, and he was a decided liability at the end of last season, when his ineffectiveness forced Joe Gibbs to run Clinton Portis into the ground and the team scored a combined total of only 20 points in its two playoff games. With Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El around to complement Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, Brunell has no excuse not to produce this year, but I don't think he's really up to the challenge.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [9-7] — The defense is still great. The offense could be shaky. Chris Simms remains largely unproven, and Tim Rattay doesn't inspire confidence as a backup on a team with strong playoff aspirations. The receiving corps is decidedly subpar if Joey Galloway gets hurt or comes back to earth, and Cadillac Williams needs to stay healthy for the team to have any kind of running game. The Bucs should be good, but that's too many "ifs" for them to be great.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars [10-6] — Few teams enter the 2006 regular season with such a gaping divide between offense and defense as the Jaguars. The defense should be exceptional, but the offense has no proven producers. The line is fine but not special. QB Byron Leftwich and RB Fred Taylor are injury-prone. Jimmy Smith's retirement leaves the team with no experienced receivers. The Jags have a lot of talent and should be competitive, but until the offense proves otherwise, they aren't in the top tier of NFL teams.

10. New York Giants [9-7] — I like Tiki Barber, the offensive line, and the defensive front seven, but I'm not sold on anyone else. The biggest worry is quarterback Eli Manning, whose lack of consistency really hurt the Giants last year. Barber carried the offense at the end of last season, and Manning continues to struggle in road games. The Giants have an absolutely devastating schedule in the first three weeks of the season.

11. Philadelphia Eagles [9-7] — Everyone says they won't believe the Eagles are back until they see it, but I view last season as an aberration. This is a great team. Donovan McNabb was hurt all of last season, but he's back now, and Jeff Garcia is a terrific backup who should probably be starting somewhere. The defense remains the heart of this team, and the question mark is the offensive playcalling. If Andy Reid helps his team with clock management and a balanced offensive gameplan, the Eagles should make the playoffs, and maybe the Super Bowl.

12. Dallas Cowboys [9-7] — The Cowboys are going to start the season really strong. Bill Parcells is counting on a lot of players who are old (Drew Bledsoe), injury-prone (Julius Jones), time bombs (Terrell Owens), or all three (Terry Glenn). There's no way this leaky ship keeps afloat all season.

13. Cincinnati Bengals [9-7] — I honestly believe that the AFC North is up for grabs this year, and not just between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Bengals' defense is not going to intercept 3,000 passes again this season, and starting middle linebacker Odell Thurman will miss the first quarter of the season due to a suspension. Carson Palmer looks fully recovered from his injury, but I worry about Chad Johnson's focus, which seems to shift more and more to himself and how often he's on TV rather than how his team performs. Cincinnati was remarkably lucky with major injuries last season, and that doesn't usually happen twice in a row.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers [10-6] — Let's be clear on one thing right off the bat: the Steelers are better than this. But not with Ben Roethlisberger in the hospital. When he comes back — or if Charlie Batch tears things up — I'll give them an immediate boost. I do worry about the offseason departures of Randle El, Kimo von Oelhoffen, and Chris Hope, Roethlisberger's long-term health, and the age of key players on both sides of the ball. Thursday's opener against Miami should give us a much better idea about this team.

15. Miami Dolphins [9-7] — Everyone seems to love Nick Saban. I don't, but I do think he's got a nice staff with former head coaches Mike Mularkey and Dom Capers as assistants. Daunte Culpepper should give the team a major upgrade at quarterback, but I worry about a defense whose best players are well over 30. That could be a problem before year's end.

16. Minnesota Vikings [10-6] — It seems like the Vikings are always the hardest team to predict at the beginning of the season. On paper, they should be able to play with anyone. There's a lot of young talent on the roster, especially on defense, and if those young players continue to develop, Minnesota should win its division.

17. Chicago Bears [9-7] — There is no way Chicago's defense will be as good this season as it was last year. Even if everyone plays just as well, which is unlikely, there will probably be some injuries, which the team largely avoided last time around. Moreover, every team in the NFC North spent the offseason studying Chicago's defense and figuring out how to beat it. If the Bears win the division again in 2006, it will still be with good defense, but they're going to need some help from the offense (especially a strong running attack) and the other teams in the division, all of whom will have to crash and burn. That's not out of the question.

18. Atlanta Falcons [7-9] — On paper, the defense is terrifyingly good. John Abraham and Lawyer Milloy join a defense that was already loaded with talent, but the coaching staff has struggled in the past getting everyone to gel and produce results. The offense remains the Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn show, as the wide receivers on the roster scare no one.

19. Buffalo Bills [9-7] — There's definitely reason to be optimistic about the Bills this year. J.P. Losman is a year older and should give the team much better quarterback play than it got in 2005, while the defense should be improved by the return of linebacker Takeo Spikes and the additions of safety Donte Whitner, the eighth pick in last April's draft, plus DTs John McCargo, the team's other first-round pick, and Larry Triplett, who was with Indianapolis last season. With a stout defense and an offense predicated on Willis McGahee and the running game, Buffalo figures to be one of the most improved teams in the league this year.

20. Cleveland Browns [7-9] — If everything goes right, the Browns could be a terrific sleeper this year. The defense should be good, especially the front seven. Offense is more of an unknown. The running game should be fine, but Charlie Frye is an unproven quarterback with undistinguished backups, and the receiving corps is going to be awfully weak if Braylon Edwards doesn't develop into a star.

21. Baltimore Ravens [6-10] — Fans have been very optimistic this offseason, and there are some good reasons for that. The acquisition of Steve McNair gives the team its best quarterback in franchise history, and Kyle Boller is still available if the injury-prone McNair has to miss any time. On defense, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed return from injuries that forced them to miss significant time last season. I don't like Baltimore this year, though. Simply put, they are too old. McNair hasn't played a full season in three years, Jamal Lewis is useless, and Jon Ogden and Ray Lewis are shadows of their former selves. The Ravens should start the season fairly strong, but they won't be able to keep it up for 16 games.

22. San Diego Chargers [7-9] — All teams have to deal with injuries, but the Chargers already have major injury problems, and they haven't played a meaningful game yet. Roman Oben will miss at least the first six weeks of the season, and Steve Foley is out for the year after being shot by an off-duty police officer. LaDainian Tomlinson notwithstanding, the focus this season will be on two young players, quarterback Philip Rivers and linebacker Shawne Merriman.

23. Arizona Cardinals [7-9] — The offense is stacked with explosive players, but there are serious question marks on the offensive line and defense. With newly acquired RB Edgerrin James running and catching passes out of the backfield, the Cardinals have plugged their most obvious hole, but James won't be effective if the line can't create holes for him, or if the Cardinals are always playing from behind and can't run the ball. There are promising players on defense — the talent is there — but it hasn't come together yet. If it does, Arizona could be a playoff sleeper.

24. New York Jets [5-11] — As the 2006 season begins, some of the team's most important contributors from recent years are missing. Curtis Martin is injured, Kevin Mawae is in Tennessee, John Abraham is with the Falcons, and there's a new coaching staff. Chad Pennington is still the quarterback, but he's never played a full season, and there's no reason to expect that he'll start now. There are a lot of question marks on this team, and in a competitive division, that means the Jets are going to have a lot of trouble this season.

25. St. Louis Rams [7-9] — Man, has this defense gotten an overhaul. Jim Haslett is in as defensive coordinator, and new starters include DT La'Roi Glover, SS Corey Chavous, and MLB Will Witherspoon. The team also lost some valuable contributors, but the defensive line in particular has a lot of potential if the new players get comfortable quickly. Gus Frerotte is a great pickup, since he already knows Scott Linehan's offense, and starting QB Marc Bulger has trouble staying healthy.

26. New Orleans Saints [5-11] — Few teams have more question marks this season than the Saints, but there's certainly exciting potential in place for this rebuilding team. New head coach Sean Payton will tutor former Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, giving fans reason to expect vastly improved quarterback play. The team's offense should depend less on Brees, though, than the explosive backfield tandem of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. If McAllister stays healthy, the Saints can use Bush as a receiver and a Bo Jackson-type change of pace, while if McAllister misses time with injuries, Bush is available as an exciting replacement.

27. Oakland Raiders [5-11] — If Randy Moss plays like he did three or four years ago, this offense is simply going to blow up. With Jerry Porter starting across the field from him and Lamont Jordan in the backfield, the Raiders have the tools to give defenses nightmares. Their own defense, unfortunately, is also a nightmare. The secondary had a good preseason, but that doesn't mean anything. If Fabian Washington and Michael Huff develop the way coaches hope they will, the defensive backfield could be strong, but the defense as a whole is simply subpar, and that's going to doom the Raiders in a division filled with strong offenses.

28. Green Bay Packers [5-11] — For years, the offensive line formed the backbone of a balanced attack. In the last two seasons, the middle of the line has been gutted and replaced with a collection of unproven talent. Most worrisome for this team, though, is the play of its quarterback. In 2005, Brett Favre had the worst season of his career, throwing a league-worst 29 interceptions. I'm not confident that the tools are in place for Favre to be successful, and I expect the Packers to struggle a great deal this season.

29. Detroit Lions [4-12] — Mike Martz is the new offensive coordinator, but if all you've got is lemons, even the best chef can't make anything besides lemonade. The Lions don't have a starting quarterback, though in Jon Kitna and Josh McCown they have two guys who are good backups. I've liked Detroit the past few seasons, but they're a mess right now, and this is going to be a rebuilding year.

30. Tennessee Titans [4-12] — No team in the NFL has more quarterback drama. Billy Volek figures to be the starter for now, but he'll have to play awfully well to keep Kerry Collins and Vince Young on the sideline. Whoever plays quarterback, his production figures to be limited by one of the league's weakest receiving corps, led by Drew Bennett. The defense is a mix of Pro Bowl talent — Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Albert Haynesworth, and Chris Hope — with mediocre or unproven players. Keep an eye on the health of newly-acquired center Kevin Mawae, as that could have a major impact on this team's success.

31. Houston Texans [4-12] — As if this team needed any more challenges, they'll now be without Domanick Davis, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday. The offense did add Mike Flanagan to shore up the horrendous offensive line, and Eric Moulds and Jeb Putzier give David Carr added targets in the passing game. But subtracting Davis, an explosive runner and an effective receiver who was the team's best offensive weapon, leaves the offense the same place it was last year. The one bright spot is the defensive line, which should be significantly improved by the additions of Mario Williams, Anthony Weaver, and N.D. Kalu.

32. San Francisco 49ers [3-13] — Let's start with the good: the offense cannot possibly be worse than it was last season. Norv Turner is the new OC, and that should help enormously, especially for young QB Alex Smith. Unless Smith turns into Joe Montana, though, the Niners simply have less talent on their roster than any other team in the league, and there's no reason to believe they'll be competitive.

AFC Playoffs

Wildcard: DENVER def. Jacksonville, PITTSBURGH def. Kansas City
Divisional: INDIANAPOLIS def. Pittsburgh, NEW ENGLAND def. Denver
Championship: New England def. INDIANAPOLIS

NFC Playoffs

Wildcard: Tampa Bay def. MINNESOTA, WASHINGTON def. Philadelphia
Divisional: SEATTLE def. Tampa Bay, CAROLINA def. Washington
Championship: Carolina def. SEATTLE

Super Bowl XLI: Carolina def. New England

Comments and Conversation

September 5, 2006

Shea Lamert:

I gotta say, you really seem like you know what you’re talking about. Someone posted this on the Buffalo Bills Forums on, so I had to read it. I’m really glad that somebody else is giving credit to the Bills for making a really good attempt at upgrading our team. I just wish you had mentioned our (hopefully) improved O-Line, with additions like Melvin Fowler and Tutan Reyes.

September 6, 2006

John Brigham:

I am full of optimism with a new season, and possibly deluding myself, but I feel that the Oakland Raider’s strength is their Defensive Line. Granted, they have an undisiplined team, their Offensive Coordinator is a castoff from the past and there are many young players expected to step it up for them to succeed, but I feel that they may have a legitimate defense. Sam Williams, Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard could play well as a linebacking unit and the secondary can gel. Am I crazy or just too hopeful?

September 6, 2006


Hopeful, yes, but with good reason…expect the Raiders D to be in the top15 THIS year…the problem with most so called experts is the rely too much on last year and pier pressure(other so called experts).How many of these so called experts picked Superbowl teams to miss the playoffs the following year? NONE…so let those “Experts” keep writing their jokes and lets just sit back and laugh!

September 6, 2006


You Are an Idiot! 5-11? What are you thinking?

September 6, 2006


First, I looked at the comments for the Raiders (because that’s my team) and I got what I expected. Every so called “NFL expert” says the same things in that the Raiders will make no improvement this year and be horrible. Even though they have a lot of young players who have more experience now, have some very talented players they brought in through FA and the draft, and showed some promise at the beginning of last year and in preseason.
Then, I look at your comments for the Bills (the hometown team here) and you say that they have the chance to be the most improved team in the league?? Then your reasons why they will be are the exact same reasons you say the Raiders will be horrible. You are saying because J.P. has another year, they brought in some high draft picks on D, and Takeo is back…. um…. The Raiders have players that have another year and show promise (Fabian W., Kirk Morrison, ect.), have a lb coming back from injury (Sam Williams) and have high draft picks on D that should help (Huff, T. Howard). This article is ridiculous. Oh and I happen to remember the Raiders smacking the Bills in the face in every aspect of the game when they played eachother last year. Especially having their will against their “all mighty” D. At least next time, make it a little less obvious that your a fan of the Bills and not so much of the Raiders. If not, then base some of these rankings on reality. The Raiders have just as much chance, if not more, than the Bills to have a turn-around year.

September 6, 2006


The Raiders Defense has been steadily improving for three years under Ryan. If the Raiders are doomed it will be thier Offensive line. Subpar Defense, I guess we’ll see come 9/11.

September 6, 2006

Jay Mamorno:

If your going to have an opion about the Oakland Raiders D-fence then at least research it a little bit. They may be young and inexperienced but they can flat out fly. They all love playing in Rob Ryans D and it has made huge strides this pre season. I can almost gaurantee they will be a top 10 Defense this season. If they are I hope you give them the credit they will deserve.

September 6, 2006

Marty Ball:

Uh oh, Brad. It looks like you’ve riled the Lunatic Fringe, also known as Raider Fans. Top 10 defense this year? They play KC, Denver, and SD twice each, plus at Seattle and Cincy.

September 6, 2006


Watch it Marty Ball, your team probably won’t make the playoffs…AGAIN!!!

Leave a Comment

Featured Site