The following is a worst-to-first team-by-team pre-camp NFL power ranking. This is a three part series: Part 1 (32-22), part 2 (21-11), part 3 (10-1). All statistics are courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
32) Cleveland Browns
Offense: The Browns only averaged 13.6 points per game (30th) in 2011, so could it be any worse in 2012? It could be, the Browns decided to improve their offense by drafting RB Trent Richardson (#3) and QB Brandon Weeden (#22) who is set to replace former starter Colt McCoy. Unfortunately Weeden won’t have much talent in the passing game as second year receiver Greg Little has ability but is unreliable catching the ball. LT Joe Thomas and Center Alex Mack are excellent but they’ll be counting on rookie Mithchell Schwartz (drafted #37) to play RT.
Defense: There is some talent here but losing second year DT Phil Taylor to injury will hurt an already weak run defense (147.7 YRS per, 30th). Strong-side LB Scott Fujita’s three game suspension, bounty-gate, doesn’t help either. Second year DE Jabaal Sheard will look to improve on his 8.5 sack performance. MLB D’Qwell Jackson had 158 tackles/3.5 sacks and CB Joe Haden is a solid defender.
Analysis: The Browns play in a difficult division with a tough schedule. Their defense was 5th (19.2) in points per but they will be on the field to often as rookie Richardson can’t carry the team alone and Weeden will surely have his rookie struggles especially with the lack of prime targets. Just wonder what Matt Barkley looks like in Brown?
31) Jacksonville Jaguars
Offense: Finished last season 28th in points scored (15.2) and 32nd (136.2) in passing yards. Second year QB Blaine Gabbert started 14 games last year was sacked 40 times and had a quarterback rating (QBR) of 65.5. The Jaguars drafted WR Justin Blackmon (#5) and added veteran WR Laurent Robinson to help their anemic passing attack. RB Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing (1,606 YRS) and was the primary reason the Jags won 5 games. He is unhappy with his contract so maybe the combination of wear/tear and lack of motivation will cause a down year.
Defense: Like the Browns the Jags defense is not bad they ranked 6th (313 YRS per) but they’ll be on the field a lot as well. They only had 31 sacks in 2011 lead by Jeremy Mincey’s eight. The defense is simple not dynamic enough to carry a weak offense.
Analysis: Gabbert will have to step-up big time for the Jags to stay out of the AFC South cellar, just don’t expect it. Wouldn’t be surprised to see ex-Dolphins QB Chad Henne before the year is over. Maybe they can beat the Colts in their division but their schedule doesn’t show many wins.
30) Indianapolis Colts
Offense: Lose a franchise QB gain another, they hope, as the Andrew Luck era begins. The Colts helped out the #1 overall pick by drafting ex-Stanford teammate TE Coby Fleener, TE Dwayne Allen and re-signing veteran WR Reggie Wayne. The Colts lost long time offensive line anchor center Jeff Saturday but added RT Winston Justice who could single handedly end Luck’s career. The Colts do have some options on the o-line but it will be a work in progress. Donald Brown will be the feature RB for now as new head coach Chuck Pagano will want to run the ball to protect his future star QB. Round five pick RB Vick Ballard could see some significant time since he is considered a power runner.
Defense: Pagano and new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will be changing the team from a base 4-3 to a 3-4. As most Jets fans know this can be a difficult process. The current defensive personnel does not fit this scheme but they will implement it. The Colts defense gave up almost 27 points per game last season, so even with a transition it shouldn’t get worse.
Analysis: The Colts may have lucked out, no pun intended, getting the top QB prospect in years but the team is certainly rebuilding. Job one is to protect and grow Luck as they put the pieces in place to contend again. The Colts will fight to stay ahead of Jacksonville in the AFC South.
29) Miami Dolphins
Offense: While QBs Matt Moore and David Garrard will fight to see who starts the season the Dolphins didn’t use the #8 overall pick to leave Ryan Tannehill on the bench for long, besides they only averaged 192.3 yards per game passing last year with Moore’s 12 starts. Not that any of these QBs have someone the throw to as the Phins traded their best receiver Brandon Marshall (81 REC, 1,214 YRS). They did acquire WR Chad Ochocinco who couldn’t put up numbers with Tom Brady throwing to him. RB Reggie Bush could easily lead the team in receptions this season. The offensive line gave up 52 sacks last year but they will replace the entire right side with veteran OG Artis Hicks and draft pick (#42) OT Jonathan Martin. Maulers like LT Jake Long and C Mike Pouncey will be playing new head coach Joe Philbin’s zone-blocking schemes, round peg in square hole?
Defense: Here’s a theme, round peg in square hole, Philbin and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will be switching the defense from a base 3-4 to a 4-3. Karlos Dansby seems to fit the MLB role and Cameron Wake had 8.5 sacks last season and should fit at DE. Where the rest fall is anyone’s guess? They’re pass defense ranked 25th in 2011 and there is no sign that will improve.
Analysis: The Dolphins have changed their offense/defense and will be breaking in a rookie QB at some point, the growing pains will show. Their schedule is not bad but it will be difficult for them to stay out of the AFC East basement.
28) St. Louis Rams
Offense: Ex-Jets coach Brian Schottenheimer will be running the Rams offense along with new head coach Jeff Fisher that finished last in points scored (12.1) in 2011. QB Sam Bradford was sacked 36 times in only 10 games as the Rams gave up 55 sacks total. While they picked up veteran center Scott Wells from Green Bay they haven’t done much more to improve their line. Hopefully Fisher is smart enough to keep Bradford out of harm’s way this season before his is looking left and right not down field. RB Steven Jackson and 2nd round pick Isaiah Pead should see lots of carries as Fisher will override Schottenheimer if he gets pass happy.
Defense: The Rams could not stop the run last season giving up over 150 yards rushing per game. They drafted DT Michael Brockers (#14) and added veteran DL Kendall Langford to help the run defense. DE Chris Long led the team with 13 sacks and LB James Laurinaitis had 142 tackles in 2011. They also added veteran CB Cortland Finnegan and drafted CB Janoris Jenkins (#39).
Analysis: Fisher is a quality coach who understands how to build a team. The Rams are improved just by having him. Sam Bradford seems like a good fit for Schottenheimer’s short pass offense which will protect him from hits and the defense should be good enough to hold their own. The Rams will most likely end up last in the NFC West again but will be a tougher out and should improve on last season’s 2-14 record.
27) Minnesota Vikings
Offense: Second year QB Christian Ponder will be called upon to carry the offense more than usual with Adrian “All-Day” Peterson still recovering from a knee injury. Fortunately Toby Gerhart is a competent replacement but he Vikings may not be able to rush for almost 145 yards per game like last year. While the Vikings lost OG Steve Hutchinson they drafted LT Matt Kalil (#4) and picked-up veteran OL Geoff Schwartz as the line gave up 49 sacks last season. If Ponder is to progress he’ll need to be upright to do so and the Vikings have the potential for a solid line. They also picked up WR Jerome Simpson, who will miss 3 games due to suspension, to go along with Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins as Ponders main receivers. The Vikings also acquired TE John Carlson.
Defense: The Vikings ranked 31st in points allowed (28.2) along with giving up over 250 yards passing per game. All of this with Jared Allen amassing 22 sacks during the season. They used three draft choices to bolster the secondary safety Harrison Smith (#29), CB Josh Robinson (#66) and DB Robert Blanton (#139).
Analysis: If the Vikings o-line can give Ponder some time and rush the ball effectively if/when Peterson returns their offenses could be formidable. There have been reports the Vikings feel confident Ponder can take the next step. The defense will need to get production out of their rookies right away. The Vikings play in arguably the most difficult division and there are some winnable match-ups on the schedule but even a six win season will likely have Minnesota at the bottom of the NFC North.
26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense: In 2010 QB Josh Freeman throw 25 TD – 6 INT, in 2011, 16 TD -22 INT, so will the real Josh Freeman please stand up. The offense struggled as a whole only scoring about 18 points per game. New head coach Greg Schiano will implement a run first mentality as Tampa drafted RB Doug Martin (#31) to lead their rushing attack. They also acquired one of the best guards in football Carl Nicks to bolster the line. The Bucs line would seem to thrive under Schiano’s power running attack. They also added veteran WR Vincent Jackson who has played his career with elite QBs. Wonder if he can elevate his game to help Freeman? WR Mike Williams (65 REC, 771 YDS) will play alongside Jackson. Schiano decided to ship-out TE Kellen Winslow, who led the team in receptions (75), and replace him with the aging Dallas Clark.
Defense: Tampa gave up the most points per game last season (30.9), was terrible against the run (156.1 YDS per) and only recorded 23 sacks. It looks like second year DE Da’Quan Bowers will miss the entire season with an Achilles tear but run stuffing DT Gerald McCoy should be back after missing much of last season to injury. Second year DE Adrian Clayborn did have 7.5 sacks and DE Michael Bennett was solid as well. The Bucs drafted safety Mark Barron (#7) and LB Lavonte David (#58) in an effort to improve their struggling defense.
Analysis: The Bucs need to improve on both sides of the ball they have talent but QB play needs to get back to 25/6 not 16/22 and the defensive back 7 have to play at a higher level as the defensive line is solid. Their schedule is tough enough as the NFC South produced two playoff teams last year. Maybe the Bucs can squeeze out another win or two but they will be at the bottom of their division.
25) Oakland Raiders
Offense: Was the trade for Carson Palmer worth it? It is hard to judge Palmer on last season but now with a full off-season we’ll all get an idea of where he is at. The Raiders do have weapons on offense WRs Darrius Heyward-Bay and Denarius Moore along with RB Darren McFadden make up the strength of the team’s fire-power. Losing workhorse RB Michael Bush will leave the majority of carries to the often injured McFadden. They also lack a proven pass catching TE as they had to release former starter Kevin Boss.
Defense: The Raiders lost some key defensive players including DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbely (7 sacks) and CB Stanford Routt this off-season. MLB Rolando McClain is heading to prison for 180 days and should receive a lengthy suspension from the NFL. Given the losses it is hard to see much of an improvement from the 27.1 (29th) points per game from 2011.
Analysis: The Raiders struggled to get under the salary cap and lost some key players in the process. They also didn’t have a draft pick till the very end of round three because of the Palmer trade. Hopefully they give new head coach Dennis Allen more than one year, no matter what the record, as the revolving door of coaches can’t help a team who hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002. The Raiders will finish the season at the bottom of the AFC West.
24) Seattle Seahawks
Offense: The Hawks look to improve on their 28th (303.8 YDS) ranked offense. There big pick-up former Green Bay Packers back-up QB Matt Flynn who has started two games in his career and is a clear favorite to win the job over Tarvaris Jackson. It was strange that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, Flynn’s former coordinator, didn’t make a strong run at him, red flag anyone? Seattle’s o-line gave up 50 sacks last year because keeping the starting five on the field has been a problem. The offense does feature RB Marshawn Lynch over 1200 yards rushing in 2011. WRs Mike Williams only had 18 receptions last year and deep threat Sidney Rice played 9 games. They did acquire TE Kellen Winslow to replace the departed John Carlson and slot receiver Doug Baldwin led the team (51 REC for 788 YRS) in 2011.
Defense: The Hawks only allowed 19.7 points per game good for 7th in the league but only had 33 sacks. They drafted rush DE Bruce Irvin (#15) in hopes of increasing that number as DE Chris Clemons led with 11 sacks last season. They lost LB David Hawthorne and his 115 tackles to the Saints. Free agent pick-up Barrett Ruud and second round draft pick Bobby Wagner (#47) will try and replace Hawthorne. The Seahawks have a descent secondary led by SS Kam Chancellor (97 tackles, 4 INT) and Pro-Bowl FS Earl Thomas (98 tackles 2 INT).
Analysis: The Seahawks are what they are, play well at home, but usually faultier on the road. It seems their offensive problems will continue even with Flynn and the defense, while not bad, does not pressure the QB enough to carry the lack of offense, so don’t expect much improvement over last season.
23) Washington Redskins
Offense: The Skins hope they have found the answer at QB drafting Robert Griffin III trading up to grab him second overall. Washington’s offense was 16th in yards per game (336.7) but only 26th in points scored (18). Last Season QB Rex Grossman/John Beck and their 24 interceptions helped the Redskins to a minus 14 turnover ratio. Hopefully Griffin can get the team into the end-zone more and keep the interceptions down even as a rookie. Veteran receivers like Santana Moss, newly acquired Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan along with second year WR Leonard Hankerson give Griffin plenty of targets. Let’s not forget TEs Fred Davis (59 REC, 796 YRS) and Chris Cooley along with RBs Roy Helu, 640 YRS in 5 games started, and Tim Hightower. The offensive line gave up 41 sacks last season but you’d figure Griffin’s scrambling ability would help reduce that number as Grossman/Beck were statues.
Defense: Considering the number of turnovers the defenses 13th ranking isn’t so bad and 21st in points allowed (22.9) is a little less egregious. LB London Fletcher had 166 tackles, even at 36, last season while second year player DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan and book-end Brian Orakpo had 16.5 sacks between them.
Analysis: Coach Mike Shanahan may finally have a team that can make some noise this season and beyond. The Skins are in a tough division and will have to deal with breaking in a rookie QB but they have enough talent to be respectable and should improve over last season.
22) Arizona Cardinals
Offense: Question one is who will start at QB, John Skelton (5-2) or Kevin Kolb (3-6)? One of Kolb’s wins came when he left after an injury in the first quarter against the 49ers. Skelton led the team to victory going 19-28, 282 YRS, 3 TD, 2 INT. The Cards traded CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second round pick to acquire Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles. They then signed Kolb to a five year $64 million contract, so they have much invested in him to succeed. 2010 fifth round pick Skelton proved to be the better QB down the stretch of 2011 as Kolb dealt with a multitude of injuries including concussions. The Cards did draft WR Michael Floyd (#13) to play with All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald (80 REC, 1,411 YRS). The Cardinals offensive line gave up 54 sacks last season and they did little to address the o-line problems but RB Beanie Wells did have over 1,000 yards in 14 games.
Defense: The Cards were middle of the road on defense 17th in points per game (21.8) and 19th in yards (355.1). There only major lose in the off-season was DB Richard Marshall (78 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT) who went to Miami. Second year CB/punt returner Patrick Peterson had an excellent rookie year with 4 touchdowns on punt returns, 64 tackles and 2 interceptions. The defense did have 42 sacks with DE Calais Campbell leading the team with eight.
Analysis: The Cardinals were able to overcome poor offensive line play last season to be 8-8. They beat some good teams Eagles (Road)/Cowboys (Home) even the 13-3, 49ers (Home). They were 6-2 in their last eight games and had the same record for home games. If the Cards pick the best QB to lead the team and can improve on their line play they are good enough to fight for second in their division.