1. New Orleans Saints – The champs looked good in the preseason. Drew Brees leads one of the League’s elite offenses. The defense should be good enough. The Super Bowl will take place in Dallas, but the road goes through New Orleans.
2. Indianapolis Colts – The Colts are coming off another stellar season. Peyton Manning is the reigning MVP. It would help if Bob Sanders can actually have an injury-free season.
3. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens are a popular Super Bowl pick. Joe Flacco looks comfortable. Ray Rice is a bruising runner. Anquan Boldin is a nice addition to a talented receiving corps. Like every year in recent memory, the defense is expected to be one of the best in the League.
4. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers had an incredible preseason, picking up where he left off last year. Barring an injury, Rodgers is a sure-fire Pro Bowler. The defense needs to get back to how they were playing during last year’s regular season. Having Al Harris on the PUP doesn’t help.
5. New England Patriots – Tom Brady has Wes Welker back. The Patriots offense will put up points, but can the defense do enough to bring the team back to the Super Bowl? The Colts usually seem to have the Pat’s number, as do the Ravens both are in the way of New England’s road to the Super Bowl.
6. Minnesota Vikings – Brett Favre is back, but his favorite target – Sidney Rice – will miss the first half of the season. The front 7 on defense should be very good, but can the secondary improve its play? Two match-ups with Green Bay will likely determine the winner of the NFC North.
7. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have a dangerous team. They’re balanced on offense and defense. I don’t see any glaring weaknesses, but can Tony Romo lead this team to the Super Bowl?
8. Cincinnati Bengals – Terrell Owens has found another home, and playing opposite Chad Ochocino gives Cincy the League’s best tandem of receivers. Cedric Benson provides balance and should help to take pressure off Carson Palmer. The defense is underrated.
9. San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers appears to be coming into his own, but how will the absence of Vincent Jackson hurt this team? Rookie Ryan Mathews takes over for Ladanian Tomlinson. Antonio Gates is always productive. Playing in the AFC West is a gift.
10. San Francisco 49ers – Mike Singletary and company should have little trouble in the NFC West, probably the weakest division in football. Frank Gore should get a lot of carries, but can he stay healthy?
11. Tennessee Titans – Vince Young finished last year 8-2 in the 10 games he started. Chris Johnson is the NFL’s reigning rushing leader. Jeff Fisher has one of the League’s best mustaches.
12. New York Jets – The Jets have been talked up, but the offense needs to be able to throw the ball better than they did in the preseason. Expect Shonn Greene to have a big year. The defense will be good again, and signing Darrelle Revis solidifies them as maybe the best unit in the league.
13. Houston Texans – Is this the year for the Texans to make the playoffs? Matt Schaub has developed into a fine quarterback. It doesn’t hurt to have Andre Johnson on the outside.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers – Big Ben’s suspension was reduced to 4 games. Can Dennis Dixon lead this team to any wins? The defense in Pittsburgh always seems to play well.
15. Miami Dolphins – Will Chad Henne, like Tom Brady and Brian Griese, continue the trend of forgotten Michigan quarterbacks who find success in the NFL? Adding Brandon Marshall was a great move. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are a two-headed rushing monster.
16. New York Giants – The Giants were disappointing last year. Does Eli Manning have enough weapons? Count on Tom Coughlin to re-energize this team.
17. Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have the offense to compete for a wild-card spot in the NFC. Having a healthy Michael Turner will make a big difference. Is the defense good enough to challenge the Saints’ supremacy in the NFC South?
18. Denver Broncos – Kyle Orton had a great preseason. He seems to be quite comfortable in his second season within Josh McDaniels’ offense system. The team needs to forget about last season’s collapse.
19. Washington Redskins – Mike Shanahan is back on the sidelines. Donovan McNabb is an upgrade over Jason Campbell. Albert Haynesworth has to find a way out of Coach Shanahan’s doghouse – he needs the Redskins and the Redskins need him.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – Kevin Kolb takes over for McNabb in Philly. Eagles’ fans are hoping the preseason is not an indication of Kolb’s effectiveness. Will Michael Vick end up being the starting qb?
21. Carolina Panthers – A great defense and a poor offense. Steve Smith is coming back from a broken hand, but he’s still one of the League’s most dangerous receivers. Two good running backs and an unproven starting quarterback. Can John Fox find a way to put the offense on track?
22. Jacksonville Jaguars – Is Jack Del Rio on the hot seat? Maurice Jones-Drew is a great runner. David Garrard has flashes of brilliance, but needs to be more consistent. The AFC South is stacked this year.
23. Oakland Raiders – The Raiders should be better this year. The JaMarcus Russell debacle is a receding memory; Jason Campbell means at least 3 more wins. Robert Gallery is one of the top guards in the League. The silver and black need to get better against the run if they hope to sneak into the playoffs.
24. Chicago Bears – Lovie Smith seems to be another coach who must win this year. Bringing in Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor will help. Jay Cutler has a cannon for an arm, but he has to stop throwing so many interceptions for this team to be successful. Is Cutler the next Jeff George?
25. Cleveland Browns – Mike Holmgren and Eric Mangini look to Jake Delhomme to right the Cleveland ship. With Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincy in their division, finding wins could prove to be difficult.
26. Detroit Lions – The Lions should be better this year, but are probably a year or two away from legitimately challenging the rest of the NFC for a playoff spot. Matthew Stafford is poised to have a big year, along with Calvin Johnson. Like Cleveland, Detroit has to contend with some vicious division rivals.
27. Seattle Seahawks – The Pete Carroll era begins in Seattle. The Seahawks will rely on Matt Hasselbeck to lead the way. Playing four games against Arizona and St. Louis should make any coach smile.
28. Buffalo Bills – Chan Gailey has a tough job to do in Buffalo. Trent Edwards needs a big year, and rookie C.J. Spiller might be the type of playmaker the Bills have been looking for.
29. Arizona Cardinals – Matt Leinart is out, Derek Anderson is in. Life after Kurt Warner begins for the Cards. Beanie Wells should have a productive year, and Larry Fitzgerald is a defensive back’s nightmare. But without Warner’s leadership and a porous defense, Ken Whisenhunt might be in for a long year.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs should be improved, but that isn’t saying much. Jamaal Charles in the backfield and Matt Cassel throwing to Dwayne Bowe makes the future look brighter than the recent past in KC. Rookie Dexter McCluster is a dynamic offensive weapon.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tampa Bay fans should thank St. Louis for having a team or the Bucs would be in the NFL basement. Kellen Winslow is a big target for Josh Freeman. Cadillac Williams needs to become more of a difference maker.
32. St. Louis Rams – Last and least – the Rams. There doesn’t seem to be many positives in St. Louis, although Steven Jackson is one of the NFL’s best players from the line of scrimmage. Sam Bradford could develop into a productive quarterback, but expect the rookie to experience some growing pains.
You can use these power rankings to your advantage by comparing them to this weeks NFL odds. If you need help with picking winners Maddux’s NFL game picks are must have this season.