Tuesday, September 2nd, 2003
I'm skipping Five Quick Hits this week, but they'll be back for my first
Power Rankings of the regular season. This edition rates teams as I think
they'll be at the beginning of the season. On to the rankings, the
number in brackets indicates my prediction for the team's final record. As
always, I welcome questions and comments. Please use the
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) -- Picking the Super Bowl champs to repeat
seems easy, but most people don't do it. If they stay healthy, though, I
don't see a team in a better position to win the Super Bowl. I think Thomas
Jones may finally show something this year, but the running game and the
nickel are my biggest concerns for Tampa in '03.
2) Tennessee Titans (11-5) -- By the end of the season, I think the
Titans will have dropped in the rankings, but with everyone fresh, I like
their chances. Opening-week against Oakland should be a good test. I worry
about depth, so they'll have to stay relatively injury-free. I think they'll
regret cutting Neil O'Donnell.
3) Oakland Raiders (11-5) -- George Allen's Over-the-Hill Gang used
to fade at the end of the season, but for the first 10 weeks, they were as
good as anyone. Even if the Over-the-Hill Raiders lose their opener against
Tennessee, I think they'll be tough at the beginning of the season. I also
think they'll need to run the ball more often, though.
4) Green Bay Packers (10-6) -- I probably sound like a broken-record
predicting everyone to start stronger than they'll finish, but I just can't
see Green Bay making it through the whole season without losing someone they
can't afford to. I'm skeptical that Nick Barnett is the answer at middle
5) New England Patriots (10-6) -- I had them second until they cut
Lawyer Milloy. Can't understand that one. The Patriots need to prove they
can run the ball and throw long at least once in a while. I expect them to
open the season strong.
6) Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) -- Some day, I will understand why every
year it's chic to pick the Eagles not to win the NFC East. Last year, it
was because they lost Jeremiah Trotter. This year, they're missing Hugh Douglas.
Philly probably won't be as good as last season, but I wouldn't count them
7) Miami Dolphins (10-6) -- At the beginning of the year, I trust
them. I like Jay Fiedler -- a solid, underrated player -- and most of their
key guys are healthy. People seem to have forgotten that Ricky Williams has
been injury-prone, and he got a lot of touches last year, so I worry about
whether he can hold up.
8) New York Giants (10-6) -- The Giants were a good team last year,
and I think they got better this offseason. Brian Mitchell, who replaces
Ron Dixon as kick-returner, seems ancient now, but it's the great ones who
surprise you whenever you expect them to slow down. Mitchell was my All-Pro
returner last season.
9) New Orleans Saints (9-7) -- I actually don't think the Saints will
be that great this year, but for the last two seasons, they've started with
a bang, so they're high in the Power Rankings for now. Nice test opening
week at Seattle. I'm dying to see how much they miss Kyle Turley, and to
watch the development of LeCharles Bentley, Donte Stallworth, and Charles
10) Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) -- I could see Kansas City being way
better than this. Or way worse. If the Chiefs can stay healthy, they could
make a serious run at the end of the season. I don't like to put too much
stock in exhibition games, but KC looked awfully sharp this preseason.
11) Denver Broncos (9-7) -- Traded in one overrated quarterback for
another. Even if Jake Plummer is marginally better than Brian Griese, he's
not John Elway ready to lead Denver to a Super Bowl.
12) Indianapolis Colts (10-6) -- Right around now, fans of the AFC
North and NFC West are getting awfully upset at me. But no matter. The short
version of my Indy analysis is that I don't see any reason to expect the
Colts to be better than they were last year. I'm not buying the line that
Edgerrin James is 100% again.
13) San Francisco 49ers (9-7) -- It's been so long since the NFL was
in season that I almost typed "Giants" instead of "49ers". Everyone on the
list from this point on, I have serious reservations about. Not sure why
I don't like the Niners, just a feeling. I know I don't like the coaching
change, though. Big thumbs down putting ego ahead of wins.
14) Baltimore Ravens (9-7) -- My colleague,
Martin, insists that this is Baltimore's year, in the AFC North, at least.
Even though I have them winning the division and first in the Power Rankings,
I'm not sure I agree. A rookie quarterback leading a team lacking depth,
and whose best players (the Lewises, Jamal and Ray) are injury-prone? I think
the Ravens will squeak into the playoffs, third in their division in my Rankings
by the time the season ends.
15) Cleveland Browns (8-8) -- Following their playoff loss last season,
I guaranteed that the Browns would win the AFC North this year. I took it
back in mid-April, and my confidence hasn't been restored. It's nothing against
Kelly Holcomb, and I drafted William Green in my fantasy league, but the
defense has been doing a slow burn for the last couple of years.
16) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) -- Before Joey Porter was shot in the
butt, I had Pittsburgh 13th and winning their division. But Porter is such
an important part of the defense -- my Defensive Player of the Year last
season -- that even if he only misses a couple of games, the Steelers aren't
the same team.
17) St. Louis Rams (8-8) -- I've seen every Rams preseason game this
year, and they look a little like the 2000 Rams team -- the ones with the
terrible defense -- if it hadn't had Az Hakim or Ricky Proehl.
18) Seattle Seahawks (8-8) -- Matt Hasselbeck has been erratic during
his career, but if he opens this season the way he finished the last one,
Seattle will move up the Rankings quickly. The Seahawks' biggest problem
is a lack of depth, especially behind Shaun Alexander.
19) San Diego Chargers (8-8) -- This part of the list is so hard.
The Chargers could be 13th if I had woken up on the other side of the bed
today. I'm not as high on the David Boston acquisition as some people, but
I do think San Diego's offense will be markedly better this year.
20) Buffalo Bills (8-8) -- Last year, I called Drew Bledsoe overrated,
and he responded with the best season of his career. I think it was a fluke,
and so I have Buffalo lower than everyone else again this year. I'm looking
forward to seeing Takeo Spikes out of tiger stripes, but I don't think he'll
quite match the expectations being set for him.
21) New York Jets (8-8) -- Forget Chad Pennington for a minute. In
the offseason, the Jets lost their best offensive lineman, their top wide
receiver, their veteran kicker, and their stud kick-returner. The AFC East
is a league-wide model for parity, though, so the Jets aren't out of the
race, just a little behind.
22) Minnesota Vikings (8-8) -- I know the Vikings should be higher
than this. I just couldn't figure out how to do it. It's the same dilemma
I discussed with the Chargers. If their young defense can step it up, Minnesota
could sneak into the playoffs.
23) Atlanta Falcons (7-9) -- Even if Mike Vick were healthy, I probably
wouldn't have Atlanta in the playoffs. Vick is a huge loss, though, especially
for a team with no other proven weapons on offense. Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett,
and Peerless Price are all bursting with potential, but I'm not confident
they can put it all together this season.
24) Carolina Panthers (7-9) -- Rodney Peete, the starting QB, is not
going to lead a team to the playoffs. Period.
25) Chicago Bears (6-10) -- At the beginning of the year, the Bears
can pretend they have their act together. I don't foresee Kordell Stewart
making much of a difference in John Shoop's offense, which calls for a
quarterback to do almost nothing.
26) Washington Redskins (6-10) -- Washington's season all comes down
to Patrick Ramsey. If he plays well, Washington could make a playoff push.
If he plays poorly, the Snyders could finish last in the NFC East. Aside
from Ramsey, the defensive line and running game -- in that order -- have
to be the areas of most concern.
27) Dallas Cowboys (6-10) -- No one really knows what to expect from
Dallas in Bill Parcells' first-year as head coach. With few significant personnel
changes, I'd guess about the same as last season, with a few noticeable
improvements that don't quite translate into wins. Watch for the Cowboys
to become a better road team under Parcells.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) -- I don't really buy into the theory
that a coaching change brings immediate benefits. It happens once in a while,
but more often, a coach has to build a team that fits his philosophy and
style of play. With Jimmy Smith suspended and QB a question mark, I don't
see the Jags being part of the playoff race this year.
29) Detroit Lions (4-12) -- The key pieces are there -- talented,
young players and a coach who can get the most out of them. Detroit could
surprise us this year, but I think it will take a couple years.
30) Houston Texans (4-12) -- Houston overachieved last season, and
it's tough to make progress in that situation. I just don't think the situation
at running back and offensive line are stable enough for this team to go
31) Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) -- My won't-be-fooled-again pick. I
actually expect the Bengals to be better this year, but last season, I swore
"I will pick them last in the NFL every year until Mike Brown hires a GM
or sells the team". I can't do that in good faith this season, though, because
the Cardinals are going to be really, really awful.
32) Arizona Cardinals (3-13) -- I really can't think of anything good
to say about this team. I picked them to win three games mostly because I'm
too gutless to predict an 0-16 season.