NFL Power Rankings: August 12, 2012 (Pats No. 1)

The first week of the preseason is nearly over (Cowboys-Raiders play Monday night), which means it is time for me to release my first NFL power rankings for the 2012 season. Power rankings are merely a rank of how teams are playing at the current time and not a prediction for how a team will finish the year. On that same note, preseason power rankings are usually more likely to match preseason predictions than any mid-season power rankings.

My predictions for each division will be coming soon. Stay tuned for that.

1 New England Patriots 0-0 We can all try to fool ourselves by making somebody else the favorite, but why? The Patriots are 24-6 against the AFC East over the last five seasons. If you had to pick one team as a lock for the postseason during the preseason, wouldn’t you have to pick the Pats?
2 Green Bay Packers 0-0 Green Bay has a great argument for the top spot. The Packers have won 21 of their last 23 games and feature the league MVP in the prime of his career.  It will be interesting to watch this team if it stumbles out of the gate. Before last season’s shocking postseason loss against New York, it seemed like nothing could go wrong for the Packers.
3 New York Giants 0-0 The Giants were hot at the right time in 2011, but can this team stay motivated for the course of an entire season? Heck, can it stay motivated for an entire month or even a couple of weeks in a row? Despite that, New York gets the No. 3 spot based off last season’s magical run and my respect for world champions.
4 Baltimore Ravens 0-0 Baltimore did not lose a division game in 2011 and more importantly showed the toughness to finally overcome Pittsburgh. Remember, Joe Flacco declared himself the NFL’s best quarterback this offseason. I know that’s a head scratcher, but Eli Manning did the same thing last offseason and look at where it got him.
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 0-0 Although the offense may be a question mark due to Rashard Mendenhall’s injury and wide receiver Mike Wallace’s holdout, Pittsburgh is still a major force in the AFC. Pittsburgh is 22-8 against the AFC North over the last five seasons. Four of those eight losses came in 2009, which shows just how consistent the Steelers are year in and year out. The aging defense has to be a concern though.
6  Philadelphia Eagles 0-0 The Eagles are hoping to follow the example set by the USA men’s basketball team in the 2008 Olympics. Remember, that team redeemed itself for a terrible 2004.  Can the Eagles go from Dream Team to Redeem Team? Michael Vick’s health will be the first key. Head coach Andy Reid will need to get the ball out of Vick’s hands more so that he takes less hits and can hold up longer. At his age, he can’t run every five plays anymore and not expect to get banged up.
 7    San Francisco 49ers 0-0 The 49ers deserve a lot of respect for nearly reaching the Super Bowl last season with Alex Smith at quarterback, but I have to admit I’m doubting that they can be as successful in 2012 as they were last season. As it did last season, the defense will keep this team in games, but can the ‘Niners find enough offense to win the division? Playing in the NFC West helps a lot.
 8    Houston Texans 0-0 If Matt Schaub had stayed healthy last season, the Texans would have had a great chance to reach the Super Bowl. The loss of Mario Williams will really sting but at least Peyton Manning is now out of the division as every other AFC South team begins to rebuild at the quarterback position.
 9  New Orleans Saints 0-0 Although most casual fans believe the Saints will be just fine without head coach Sean Payton and the other suspended players, New Orleans will have to re-adjust without them. No other team is having to deal with that. Drew Brees is as consistent as they come, but usually punishments like the one the NFL has enforced on New Orleans take a toll over the course of a season.
 10   San Diego Chargers 0-0 San Diego actually got off to a hot start last season and then completely fell apart, which is the exact opposite of the norm we have come to expect from the Chargers. Running back Ryan Matthew’s shoulder injury will affect the start of the season, but this team still has more talent than any other team in the AFC West.
11 Dallas Cowboys 0-0 Dallas was one Tony Romo completion from eliminating the Giants from postseason contention with four weeks to go in the regular season last year, but that pass ended up incomplete and the Cowboys staggered down the stretch to miss the playoffs. It is truly now or never in Big D. Romo still has young legs for a 32 year old NFL quarterback, but he isn’t 22 either.  If DeMarco Murray comes back healthy, this team could finally have a true No. 1 running back to take some pressure off of Romo in the passing game.
 12 Atlanta Falcons 0-0 It looks like Julio Jones and Roddy White are destined to become one of the NFL’s best receiving duos. The biggest question for the Falcons offensively might be the running game. Sure, Michael Turner is a work horse, but how many years can he continue to get over 300 carries in a season without getting seriously injured?
13   New York Jets 0-0 Mark Sanchez will be looking over his shoulder all season at Tim Tebow and eventually Tony Sparano’s Tebow-heavy Wildcat will probably frustrate him. How will the young former USC Trojan handle that?
 14  Cincinnati Bengals  0-0 Usually, it is tough for a second year quarterback to have success. The good news for Andy Dalton is that his young receiver, A. J. Green, plays as anything but young. One big question mark: Will BenJarvus Green-Ellis be the touchdown scoring machine he was in New England?
 15    Denver Broncos 0-0 Yes, I know they have Peyton Manning. Here’s what worries me about the Broncos: First, without Tim Tebow’s miracle wins last season Denver would have been a .250 team. Second, I see a team that caught a ton of breaks last year to even go 8-8. Third, Peyton Manning looked great in his preseason debut but he is an aging quarterback with a neck issue that could come back at any point. Fourth, the best defensive back for the Broncos (Champ Bailey) is well past his prime.
 16   Chicago Bears 0-0 The middle of the NFL is really a jumbled mess and the Bears are right in the middle of it. If Jay Cutler had stayed healthy last season, I think Chicago would have earned a playoff spot. The Bears have to be relieved that they took care of Matt Forte, avoiding a camp holdout.
 17    Detroit Lions 0-0 Quarterback Matthew Stafford put up unbelievable numbers last season and the Lions became relevant for the first time since the Barry Sanders era.  Can they do it again? As a franchise that has not shown any signs of consistency in the last twenty years, I’ll second guess them until they prove me wrong.
 18  Carolina Panthers 0-0 Behind Cam Newton, Carolina is the sexy pick to win the NFC South. The pick actually makes a lot of sense. The Panthers showed glimpses of greatness last season behind their young quarterback and New Orleans, the toughest competition in the division, is facing a challenging year without head coach Sean Payton.
 19   Tennessee Titans 0-0 Chris Johnson has to be better than he was last season. With Houston looking weaker, Jacksonville full of question marks, and Indianapolis starting the Andrew Luck era, his resurgence could be enough for Tennessee to win the AFC South.
 20    Kansas City Chiefs 0-0 A lot of experts like the Chiefs as a sleeper to win the AFC West or to earn a wildcard postseason berth. It really all depends on just how healthy Jamaal Charles is and whether or not Peyton Hillis can be a reliable backup running back if Charles can’t go 100% right away.
 21    Oakland Raiders 0-0 It is really unfair to judge Carson Palmer off of last season’s performance considering the guy was on the couch one week and playing in the NFL the next, but he has to improve upon last season for the Raiders to have any shot in the stronger AFC West.
 22  Seattle Seahawks 0-0 The quarterback race between Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson will be one of the more interesting position battles during the remainder of the preseason. Seattle fans are hoping that wide receiver Sidney Rice bounces back in 2012 and can avoid injuries.
 23    Washington Redskins  0-0 With Robert Griffin III in town, the Redskins might be a great sleeper pick in the NFC. Remember, Washington swept eventual Super Bowl champion New York last season.
 24    Buffalo Bills  0-0 Buffalo had a great chance to grab a playoff spot after its hot start last season, but the Bills faded down the stretch and ended up being a non-factor once the playoff race began.  I do not like their odds of two straight fast starts, which is probably what they will need to compete with New England in the AFC East.
 25   Minnesota Vikings  0-0 If Adrian Peterson is 100% healthy, Minnesota will be a lot better than the preseason magazines are predicting. Remember, this is only year two of the Christian Ponder era. Patience Vikings fans. Patience.
 26    Miami Dolphins  0-0 Miami has a lot of question marks on offense. Who is the starting quarterback going to be? Can Reggie Bush duplicate his only 1,000 yard rushing season? Can the Dolphins replace Brandon Marshall at wide receiver? Fortunately, I don’t have the space for the defensive question marks in this space. The bottomline: Miami has too many question marks for me to like them right now.
 27    Cleveland Browns  0-0 Brandon Weeden is already nearing his 30s, which means he is not your typical NFL rookie. He will start the season for the Browns, but can he be effective right away? We already know Cleveland believes he will be, because if the Browns didn’t, they would not have selected him at his age in the first round of the draft.
 28    Arizona Cardinals  0-0 Hopefully I’m wrong about him, but every time I see Kevin Kolb play I become more and more certain that he will never become a satisfactory NFL quarterback.
 29  St. Louis Rams 0-0 The Rams need quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson to stay healthy.  If that ever happens, this team could compete in the NFC West.
 30    Jacksonville Jaguars 0-0 Maurice Jones Drew’s holdout has everyone in Jacksonville holding their breath. The Jaguars have to have MJD on the field to score points. Hopefully, it will all get worked out before the season opener.
 31    Tampa Bay Buccaneers  0-0 Doug Martin is expected to become the new starting running back for the Bucs, replacing the inconsistent LaGarrette Blount. It really won’t matter who the running back is if quarterback Josh Freeman continues to move backwards in his development.
 32    Indianapolis Colts  0-0 The Andrew Luck era has officially started. Luck looked very good in his first preseason game, but I think everyone expected that. This season will be a success for the Colts if they can win five or six games and develop some young players around Luck.