GTG's PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS + PREVIEW HARD KNOCKS SEASON 1 1) Steelers - The reigning AFC Champions enter 2011 as a clear favorite in the tough AFC North and, perhaps, the entire conference. Led offensively by Big Ben, Mendenhall, and the receiving trio of Ward, Wallace, and Miller, the Steelers have the firepower and experience to put up points with the best of them. Defensively Pittsburgh dominates with an unholy linebacker corps that would send shivers down the spine of every offensive coordinator in the NFL. Look out for Pittsburgh in 2011. 2) Ravens - Baltimore enters 2011 as a true threat to bring the Lombardi back to Ravenstown. This team has and always will be led defensively by a great group driven by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata. Offensively, 4th year QB Joe Flacco should shine in 2011 despite losing two of his favorite receiving threats (Derrick Mason & Todd Heap). He should be protected exceedingly well by one of the better offensive lines in football. RB Ray Rice is also coming off of a great year and should set the pace offensively for an overall superb football squad. 3) Jets - According to Rex Ryan, the Jets have the best team in the NFL and are going to win the Superbowl no doubt about. I don't quite agree with Coach Ryan, but the Jets will be very good in 2011. The offensive side of the ball has always been the weaker department for the NYJ and this year will be no different. Mark Sanchez, although making great strides in his game, will need to step it up even more and prove that he has a true grasp for the offense. Adding the fresh out of jail hands of Plaxico Burress should give him a big target in the red-zone, something the Jets have struggled to find previously. Expect Greene and Tominlinson to pound it early and often for the Gang Green. Nick Mangold leads a talented but young offensive line that should be effective in 2011. Defense always comes first for the Jets and they seem to be as good as ever while being paced by Bart Scott, David Harris, and Darrelle Revis. Re-uping with Antonio Cromartie solidifies the Jets D as a powerhouse once again in 2011. 4) Falcons - The dirty birds of Atlanta enter 2011 as the reigning NFC South champions. After winning one of the toughest divisions in football, you know they have to be good. Matt Ryan had his best year as a pro in 2010 and he, along with fellow pro-bowlers Michael Turner and Roddy White, should make the Falcons' offense truly deadly for the foreseeable future. Retaining the timeless Tony Gonzalez and adding the explosive Julio Jones certainly doesn't hurt either. Defensively, Atlanta is still catching up. They have a nice core with Lofton in the middle and John Abraham and Ray Edwards providing the pass rush on both ends of the line. Although their D doesn't seem that scary on paper, they are good enough to hold their own and allow the offense to win games for them. Atlanta's 2011 squad could be the best team that Arthur Blank has ever assembled. 5) Bears - The Monsters of the Midway had a successful season in 2010, making it all the way to the NFC championship game. Despite popular opinion, I expect Chicago to be even better in 2011. The offense is entering its second season under Mike Martz's system so the comfort level should be high amongst returning starters. Adding Roy Williams should help with the pass game no matter what Cowboys fans say. Losing Greg Olsen and Olin Kreutz hurts, but the Bears have the appropriate pieces to step in and still make plays. Matt Forte should be solid once again, and adding Marion Barber to the mix at RB should give the Bears some much needed depth. Defensively, Chicago is led by their leaders Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Adding Amobi Okoye and drafting Stephen Paea should help bolster a line that was looking for support next to Julius Peppers. The secondary is somewhat of a question mark though that should be considered average at best. 6) Chiefs - The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off of a 10-6 AFC West winning season last year. Expectations are high entering 2011 and riding mostly on the back of the speedy RB Jamaal Charles. Charles will lead the Chiefs offensively, with the veteran Matt Cassel as the signal caller in front of him. The receiving corps is led by the impressive Dwayne Bowe but not much is there behind him as far as a consistent receiving threat. WRs Dexter McCluster and rookie Johnathan Baldwin should find some opportunities to make some plays if they are put in the right position and used effectively. Defensively, the Chiefs are led by the athletic Tambi Hali and the shut down corner Brandon Flowers. Safety Eric Berry is also one of the most exciting defensive players in all of football. The Chiefs defensive line is still pretty mediocre even with the addition of Kevin Gregg. Overall, the Chiefs have some minor issues on both sides of the ball, but should still be a pretty good football team in 2011. 7) Buccaneers - Tampa is a good, young team that should continue to improve after going 10-6 last season. QB Josh Freeman had a breakout year as did rookie RB LaGarrette Blount. The receiving threats consist of the oft injured Kellen Winslow, Arrelious Benn, as well as 2010 stand out Mike Williams. Defensively, losing Barrett Ruud is a tough pill to swallow. However, I have heard good things about rookie LB Mason Foster and many expect him to step right in and contribute. Their D line is young and stacked consisting of Da'Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, and Roy Miller. Aqib Talib is the leader of the secondary along with the ancient Ronde Barber. This is a very well rounded team who could definitely make some noise in the tough AFC South for years to come. 8) Cowboys - America's team is coming off of a disapointing 6-10 season which saw head coach Wade Phillips get canned by Jerry Jones. With a new coach for the entirety of the season, Jason Garrett, the Cowboys are primed to start fresh and get off to a fast start in 2011. The 'boys are offensively talented with huge play makers at the skill positions. With the struggling Roy Williams leaving for Chicago, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant should be the main WRs without a doubt in Dallas. Being paired with a gamer like Jason Witten at TE, Tony Romo should be excited to work with such a talented group of pass catchers. At the RB position Dallas is loaded with Felix Jones and Demarco Murray. Defensively, the Cowboys are led by the ungodly beast that is DeMarcus Ware. The secondary remains somewhat suspect. 9) Texans - 2011 would seem to be a great year for the Texans to get over the hump and finally make some noise in the playoffs. Primed offensively with the solid Matt Schaub and gifted Andre Johnson, stopping the pass should be a big problem for opposing defenses. Having Arian Foster to hand the ball off to makes them all that more dangerous and intimidating. I expect the Texans to have a very effective offense this season as well as the near future. On the other side of the ball, defensively, the Texans are still trying to find consistency. Adding CB Johnathan Joseph should certainly help in that aspect. The drafting of rookie J.J. Watt should also look to give Texans fans hope for defensive success in the future. They still have to prove it on the field though and until then they are being held back by their defensive inadequacies on the line and in the secondary. 10) Giants - The main thing that the Giants bring to the table against opposing teams is the effectiveness of their pass rush on the defensive side of the ball. This attack, led by sack masters Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, is the main problem that the Giants D provides for enemy teams. The defense's secondary, however, is looking to improve. The injury to first round draft pick CB Prince Amukamura should not help them any to begin the season. Overall, this defense is still considered to be above average in the NFL and should rank in the upper half of the league when all is said and done. Offensively, Eli Manning is looking to rebound from a season in which he threw 25 interceptions. His main receiving threat this minute is Hakeem Nicks who had a break out 2010 season. It is uncertain if FA WR Steve Smith will return to the Giants, and losing TE Kevin Boss to the Raiders should also add uncertainty to their passing game this season. Running the ball, Ahmad Bradshaw is their main option after posting a nice 2010 season for himself. However, he is still an unproven commodity and consistent offensive contributions from him cannot be written in stone for 2011. 11) Rams - St. Louis is coming off of a 7-9 season but things are looking up for the Rams. QB Sam Bradford had a very promising rookie year in 2010 and should be expected to improve greatly after gaining pro experience. Adding Mike Sims-Walker to their young receiving corps should improve their pass game all the more. Running back Steven Jackson has always been a consistent workhorse, and adding Tampa Bay castoff Cadillac Williams to the fold should give them a nice combo out of the backfield. Defensively the Rams still need to build. Drafting DE Robert Quinn is a step toward building a solid defensive base, but the Rams still need to work on their effectiveness as a unit. St. Louis is a promising team that should have a great shot at winning their weak division. 12) 49ers - 2011 is a new start for San Fran as the Jim Harbaugh era starts in rainbow city. The 9ers ended 2010 with a 6-10 record, and finished 3rd in the very bad NFC West. Things are looking up for them, however, after landing very physically gifted DE Aldon Smith in the rookie draft, as well as future QB Colin Kaepernick. Longtime 49er and massive bust Alex Smith is still scheduled to be slotted in as the starting QB this season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the rookie battle for playing time if he looks good in camp. Signing Braylon Edwards to battle Michael Crabtree for the top spot on the depth chart should make both guys even better. Vernon Davis is one of the best receiving TEs in the league and he should be targeted plenty this season. Frank Gore is Frank Gore and should have a productive year if he doesn't get held down by injuries. Defensively, they lost big Abrayo Franklin at the nose. Patrick Willis should still keep the defense competitive as he is widely regarded as the best linebacker in the world. The 49ers could definitely have a shot at the NFC West this year if Harbaugh can get his players to fall in line. 13) Lions - Detroit's 6-10 year in 2010 may seem meager to some, but don't be fooled as they were consistently competitive in almost all of their games in. The Lions have steadily been showing improvement under head coach Jim Schwartz and I would be surprised if this year was any different. After having a solid draft consisting of DT Nick Fairley, WR Titus Young, and RB Mikel LeShoure, the Lions seemed to be stacked with talent heading into this year. To make matters even better, Detroit has signed veteran linebackers Justin Durant and Justin Tulloch to help solidify the defense even more. The defense seems to be developing nicely as Fairley can now be paired with the dominate Ndamukong Suh as well as the wily Kyle Vanden Bosch. The signing of Eric Wright at CB also will help to give the secondary some depth. On the other side of the ball, the Lions offensive key for the season is QB Matt Stafford staying healthy for all 16 games. If he does, I would mark the Lions down for at least a .500 season. He's got weapons aplenty to throw to including Megatron and Brandon Pettigrew. If the rumors are true and rookie RB Mikel LeShoure is injured and out for the year, I would still expect Jahvid Best to step in and be productive for D'town. 14) Titans - For the first time in almost 2 decades, the Titans' franchise enters a year without Jeff Fisher at the helm of the coaching staff. Times are a changin', and the Titans are looking for a spark by making the coaching move. Drafting Jake Locker suggests even more that the Titans are in rebuild mode for the next few years. Signing Matt Hasselbeck to mentor Locker should be beneficial for the young gunslinger in his first year as a pro. As of right now its unsure who will be starting, but if I were Tennessee, I'd move forward with Locker and let him learn on the field, not on the sidelines with a clip-board. Having Chris Johnson to hand the ball off to will make life a little easier for whoever gets the starting nod. Kenny Brit, albeit having his off the field legal issues, is still a pretty good receiving threat and the best amongst a pretty mediocre group of WRs. Defensively, the signing of FA Barrett Ruud is a huge move especially with the loss of Stephen Tulloch. Ruud should earn the respect of the Tennessee faithful and become a fan favorite immediately. Cortland Finnegan is a upper-echelon corner in the NFL and the Titans secondary should be solid in 2011. The defensive line still needs work as their group seems to be below average talent wise. 15) Vikings - Minny is coming off of a disappointing 6-10 season and is hoping to get back to being as competitive as they have been in recent years when they have made playoff runs. Sadly, I just don't see that happening right away. New head coach Leslie Frazier has a good reputation in the NFL, but he has his work cut out for him. Bringing in Donovan McNabb seems like a pretty desperate move after drafting Christian Ponder in the first round. Either Minnesota sees something in McNabb that I don't, or they are just not ready for Ponder to take the reigns. Either way, McNabb could put egg on my face by proving he is not done being a productive player in this league. That should be a tough task in 2011, however, after losing the Vikings star WR Sidney Rice to free agency. 2nd round draft pick TE Kyle Rudolph could perhaps step in and provide a set reliable hands, something that the Vikings are sorely lacking. The WR group now seems a bit rag tag with new players joining the fold such as Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashdou. The only player that truly shines on offense for Minnesota is Adrian Peterson. Peterson drastically cut down on his fumble numbers last season and should be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2011. Defensively, Jared Allen leads the charge yet again for the Vikes. Losing Ray Edwards on the line may seem to hinder Allen's production a bit, however. This defense is still capable, but not what they were just a few short seasons ago. I just don't see the Vikings making the playoffs in 2011. Prove me wrong! 16) Raiders - Oakland enters this season after an 8-8 campaign in 2010. The Raiders were absolutely decimated in free agency losing both Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller. Offensively, Oakland is going to try again with Jason Campbell at QB after he was his average self in 2010. The Raiders parted ways with longtime offensive lineman Robert Gallery which could hurt the amount of protection that Campbell receives. With Miller gone, the Raiders brought in TE Kevin Boss from New York. Boss is not the level of player that Miller is, but he should still be a productive receiver with some decent blocking skills. The WRs that Oakland has to offer is not very impressive. It seems as if the top guys this year will be Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford battling with Darius Hayward-Bey for the other starting position. Running the ball, Darren McFadden looks to be legit after tallying his first 1,000 yard season as a pro. Defensively, losing Asomugha hurts this secondary more than words can describe. They re-signed CB Stanford Routt to a big contract, but he is not nearly the player that Nnamdi was. Richard Seymour on the line, and Rolando McClain playing linebacker rounds out the rest of a pretty decent defense. 17) Cardinals - Arizona made a splash this off season by acquiring Eagles QB Prospect Kevin Kolb. Kolb, although seemingly the best option right now for Arizona, is not a proven player at the next level yet. I think if Kolb can prove to be successful during his stint in the desert, the Cardinals could rise up from the bottom of the rankings like a phoenix. Having a weapon like Larry Fitzgerald certainly shouldn't hurt Kolb's chances at success during his debut season in the white and red. The signing of Todd Heap will also give him a very reliable option with good hands. Running the ball, Beanie Wells should get the vast majority of the carries with Tim Hightower leaving town for Washington. Rookie Ryan Williams should also get some looks and opportunities carrying the rock. Defensively, the arrival of first round draft pick Patrick Peterson should have Cardinal fans excited. Peterson is thought to be the overall best player coming out of the draft. He should fit in nicely in a secondary that needs talent with the loss of DRC in the Kolb trade. Adding Richard Marshall to the fold should also help solidify the secondary. Adrian Wilson is in the prime of his career and should be the consistent play maker that we have seen throughout his time in the NFL. Darnell Docket needs to step up for the defensive line to be successful 2011. Look for the potential emergence of second year LB Daryl Washington in a line backing corps that seems lackluster. If the Cardinals can get the most out of their players, they may be the team that takes the wide open NFC West. If they don't, they could be destined for another 5-11 season. 18) Browns - Cleveland is entering the 2011 season hoping to make some noise in the very tough AFC North. Although the Browns have some very nice pieces going into this year, such as Madden cover athlete RB Peyton Hillis, overall they are still pretty shallow talent wise and will need some tremendous coaching in order to put them in a position to win games. Colt McCoy should continue to progress nicely for the offense, but he still has to prove he is a starter-esque quarterback at this level. At the WR position there is no true #1 in Cleveland and that is an area that they will look to improve on in the future. Defensively, as a unit, they need to continue to improve in order to compete with the teams in their division. I think the Browns will make strides in 2011, but it will still be a year or two before they can actually be considered a threat to make the playoffs. 19) Dolphins - The Phins are coming into this season rather weak and desperate. Whenever you hear a team interested in Brett Favre now a days, you just know that times are tough for that particular organization. You also know that if your fans start chanting a quarterback's name that isn't even on your roster during a public practice session, changes need to be implemented. Let's be honest, Chad Henne more than likely is not the answer in Miami. He has had his struggles and the fan support for the former Michigan QB is almost non-existent. In order to get back to being a successful organization, the Dolphins more than likely need to make a move at QB moving forward. To make their offensive troubles even worse, they lost both of their starting RBs from the last few years to free agency. With Ronnie Brown (Eagles) and Ricky Williams (Ravens) both gone, they will turn to 2nd round draft pick Daniel Thomas from Kansas State. Thomas, while being highly regarded among NFL scouts, can not be relied upon to be a successful starter in the NFL yet at this point of his career. But just wait, it gets even worse. Star WR Brandon Marshall recently came out and revealed during off season that he has Borderline Personality Disorder. Good luck with that group Dolphins fans! At least they have a very good defense to help ease the pain of their offensive woes. 20) Bills - Buffalo may be coming into 2011 with a new set of uniforms, but that will not be able to mask the lack of talent behind the new look. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is highly under appreciated in this league and I would venture to say that he is an even better than average starter at this level. However, he is not a franchise quarterback and not the face of the franchise that Bills fans have been craving. I would not be surprised to see the Bills at the top of the draft next off season addressing these concerns. However, WR Steve Johnson's emergence will certainly help Fitzpatrick in the short term, as will the veteran hands of Lee Evans. The running game will be featured by the versatile Fred Jackson and the dangerous C.J. Spiller. Spiller did not reach the expectations last season that the Buffalo faithful had for him. He needs to prove to the team this year that he is truly as deadly and explosive as he was thought to be while coming out of college. Defensively, drafting Marcell Dareus and Aaron Williams should help improve both the line and secondary respectively, losing the presence of Paul Posluszny over the middle will make them significantly weaker at linebacker. I expect it to be a few years before the Bills get over the hump and make the move from cellar-dwellers to being competitive.