The lockout is over, the NFL is back, training camps have kicked off and free agency has died down after a frantic few days. Now that we have had a chance to survey the NFL landscape, we know which players to watch in 2011 and we have a pretty good idea of which teams will be the ones to beat in January. A few weeks out from Ravens-Steelers, let's do some pre-preseason power ranking. Let me know what I got wrong.
1. Patriots: Adding Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth to a team that went 14-2 last year is scary, especially when that team has arguably the best quarterback and the best coach in the league.
2. Packers: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers won it all last year with nearly a third of their team on injured reserve. Getting healthy returns from those players is as good as making a big splash in free agency.
3. Eagles: They’re no “Dream Team,” but the Eagles have been the story of a wacky offseason. They landed the biggest fish in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but their hopes hinge on Michael Vick’s health.
4. Falcons: They gave Matt Ryan another toy in Julio Jones and boosted their defense with Ray Edwards.
5. Steelers: They were hamstrung by the lower salary cap ceiling, but their core remains intact.
6. Ravens: Ditto for the Ravens, who have continuity and experience going for them. They lost key free agents, but have faith in their in-house replacements. This team goes as far as Joe Flacco can take it.
7. Saints: Most of their team is coming back, and they added rookie running back Mark Ingram and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Also, count on Darren Sproles doing a passable Reggie Bush impersonation.
8. Bears: I like what the Bears did in free agency -- Roy Williams should click with Jay Cutler -- but my gut tells me that they won’t duplicate their success from 2010. Right now, though, this spot seems right.
9. Jets: Missing out on Asomugha hurts, Plaxico Burress isn’t as good as Braylon Edwards and I’m not sold on Mark Sanchez. Then again, I doubted them the past two seasons. We know how that turned out.
10. Colts: Peyton Manning’s neck injury is a concern. If he’s not himself, they will miss the playoffs.
11. Cowboys: Usually they are overrated and overhyped. This year, they might just fly under the radar.
12. Chargers: They lost their grip on the AFC West in 2010, but Philip Rivers won’t let that happen again.
13. Texans: We know they can score points, but what about the defense? They switched to a 3-4 and also upgraded their personnel with rookies Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
14. Giants: They will compete for a playoff spot. Also, look for Hakeem Nicks to play like an elite wideout.
15. Chiefs: They were one of 2010’s biggest surprises, but their quarterback is still mediocre Matt Cassel.
16. Lions: The Lions are close to restoring the roar after another fine draft. They will surprise in 2011 -- if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy. I know that’s a big if, but they sure have surrounded him with talent.
17. Vikings: I wouldn’t count on Donovan McNabb finding the fountain of youth in Minnesota like his predecessor, Brett Favre, did. But even if he is just average, the Vikings will have a bounce-back season.
18. Titans: Another team that had a rough 2010, the Titans will have a new coach and quarterback.