By Matt Vensel
1:15 PM EDT, August 3, 2011
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.
19. Buccaneers: Will they build on last season? It’s unlikely given what the Saints and Falcons have done.
20. Rams: The awful NFC West is cluttered again, but I give the early edge to the team with the best QB.
21. Seahawks: That being said, I really like the additions of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller.
22. 49ers: And I think Jim Harbaugh will get the 49ers heading in the right direction in his first season.
23. Broncos: John Fox would be wise to give the job to Tim Tebow and give the ball to Willis McGahee.
24. Jaguars: They have some talent, but this could be a transitional year for the Jaguars.
25. Dolphins: In 2009, Kyle Orton found Brandon Marshall 101 times for 1,120 and 10 TDs. Just saying.
26. Cardinals: Kevin Kolb will warm up to Todd Heap quickly (write that down, fantasy football fans).
27. Raiders: Oakland coach Hue Jackson has his work cut out for him. The Raiders lost one of their best offensive weapons in Zach Miller and one of the best defensive players in football in Nnamdi Asomugha.
28. Panthers: 2010 was a disaster, but this will be an intriguing team with Cam Newton under center.
29. Browns: I was a fan of what they did in the draft, but why aren’t they making moves for the present?
30. Redskins: Mike Shanahan has made magic with no-name tailbacks. Can he do it with QB John Beck?
31. Bills: Still no quarterback of the future, but that means they will be in the running for Andrew Luck.
32. Bengals: Again the epicenter of turmoil in the NFL, the Bungles erred by not trading Carson Palmer.
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