What a year! Looking back I never would've guessed the Cowboys would make it to the playoffs, T.O. would stay relatively quiet, the Bengals would stop being the Bungles, the Jets would even sniff the AFC Championship game, the Steelers wouldn't make it to the playoffs and finish third in the division, Favre would come so close to another Super Bowl, Miles Austin would have a big year, the Broncos would start off 8-0, two teams would go 13-0, New England wouldn't go deep into the playoffs, Cutler would be horrible, Chris Johnson would break the record for total yards in a season and eclipse 2,000 rushing, Alex Smith would be resurgent, and the Rams, Raiders, and Lions wouldn't have winning seasons! Oh, wait... never mind on the last one. So off to the rankings. I only described the playoff teams only, including the Steelers because they were ahead of the Patriots...
1) Saints- Any surprises here? They thoroughly beat down the Colts on all levels and played a flawless Super Bowl. Thank Sean Payton for his guts, New Orleans, he made the hardest call of the game that paid off dividends. Now the question becomes if they can repeat. But does it really matter to them right now? Why don't you go down Bourbon Street and see.
2) Colts- It had become common sense through the minds of football commentators, players, fans, coaches, and any other person with ties to the NFL; when you have Peyton, anything is possible. The little exception to that rule is when he is the one making it impossible. Now, we can't put it all on his shoulders. Caldwell's decision for Matt Stover to kick a 51-yard field goal when he clearly doesn't have the range he did earlier in his career and not go for it on fourth changed the outcome of that game. But still, it doesn't help when your QB throws an interception that gives the other team points that seal a win. Next year, is there any doubt that they will be favorites in the AFC? But at some point you have to wonder, are they just built for regular season success?
3) Vikings- There is no doubt this will be the most closely watched team in the offseason. They may have saved themselves from moving to LA with the addition of this one guy and the increased revenue he brought and still, Zygi Wilf wants a new stadium. It should be interesting to see how that plays out. But one things for sure, the decision of a certain someone's retirement could make or break this team in 2010-2011. At least you'd still have Adrian Peterson in the backfield... if he could actually hold onto a ball. The secondary is what needs improvement on the team. But even that isn't a true weak link of the Vikings. They have the talent, but they need the man that made it all click back.
4) Cowboys- They did it. They overcame December. Now they have to get together January. Wade Phillips bought himself some more time. But I got news for you, Wade, Jerry Jones will only be nice for so long. If the Boys don't get more then 1 playoff win in the next two years, something tells me Wade is gone. Jerry has a franchise QB going to waste in Romo. Oh wait! That's right! Romo may very well be the problem. He didn't choke in December. Okay, what about January? He has weapons, especially with the emergence of Austin. The first thing that needs to be addressed this offseason is that offensive line, then the defense.
5) Jets- When you have a defensive mastermind running a defense full of stars, and a trio of running backs each with different styles behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, you have a playoff team. Mark Sanchez has two wins under his helmet and he was dangerous at times this year. Now imagine next year. There will be talk of a sophomore slump, but I don't buy it. He has weapons on offense and enough talent around him to prevent that. They will be a threat to the Patriots crown in the AFC East next year.
6) Chargers- It's kind of a sad thought. A San Diego without L.T. or Shawn Merriman. But chances are, they part ways with the team. Philip Rivers is still quarterbacking, and that's what matters the most though. Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson coupled with Rivers is still an explosive bunch. Norv Turner faces a challenge though, finally getting to the big game. The talent is there, but the success doesn't transfer with it.
7) Packers- They earn a spot over the Eagles based on quarterback play. This team next year could be challenging for the NFC crown. First thing they need to do, get the defense healthy. Al Harris being back should sure up the secondary opposite Charles Woodson. A ball-hawking safety wouldn’t hurt either. Come April, they need to get that offensive line fixed up too. If they take the north, Mike McCarthy 2011 coach of the year, anyone?
8) Eagles- From the outside looking in, I see a lot of holes in the Eagles organization. They have questions at quarterback, running back, offensive line, and pretty much the only bright spot on the team is wide receiver where they are stacked. Andy Reid, Philadelphia believes in you, somewhat. But can you convince them to trust Donavan?
9) Bengals- They are starting to put together the winning formula. Run and play good defense. They have their pair of shutdown corners in Jonathon Joseph and Leon Hall, Ray Malaluga and Keith Rivers solidifying the LB corps, and Jonathan Fanene anchoring and putting pressure on the quarterback upfront. Cedric Benson became a star in 2009 in front of an average offensive line without their No. 1 draft pick, Andre Smith. Now he gets him back., and people need to watch out. The only problem, Carson Palmer. Is he really as good as people think he can be? He didn’t have the great year to prove it.
10) Ravens- Jim Zorn was a great hire for Flacco. Now get a top-flight receiver, and you have a volatile offense. The best thing is, a good passing game will free up the running game. Watch out for Ray Rice. The secondary got better for the second half of the season and Ladarius Webb looked like he could be something special. But you always have to wonder, how long does Ray Lewis have?
11) Cardinals- Kurt Warner will be missed severely. The question becomes if Matt Leinart can step up and become a star. He has the weapons and a newly found running game to help him. With a defense to help him not play from behind, I say he does and the Cardinals hold off the Niners for another year.
12) Steelers- What happened to the defense? That secondary has some serious issues it needs to fix. Getting Troy Polamalu back will help a lot, but what about the offense? Rashard Mendenhall put up some good numbers and showed real promise in the running game, and Ben is still Ben. No problems there, except on the offensive line, still.
13)Patriots- They are the lowest ranked playoff team and are even below a non-playoff team. Why? Their defense. It’s a mess in New England. The real bright spot? Brady and Belichik . And even Brady wasn’t that great. The end of a dynasty? Next year will tell. But they have questions. Major, major questions. What about running back? Is Laurence Maroney really good enough to be a 20+ touch running back a game and average more then 3.5 YPC? Work on it, Belichick, or your teams run might be over.