We're now mere hours away from the kickoff of the 2012 NFL Football season when the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants renew their heated rivalry once again.
Rejoice, everyone! Football has returned, and with it, so have our 2012 NFL Power Rankings here at Beard and Stache!
We're not going to go all crazy and pick a Super Bowl winner or anything, (though we'd like the game to be between the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers so our two favorite teams are represented) but I'm sure we're going to ruffle some feathers with these rankings nonetheless.
So without further ado, let the craziness begin!
1. Green Bay Packers - Normally, in this case I always put the defending Super Bowl Champions here, which as we all know, is the New York Giants. That being said, Green Bay has too much talent and depth on both sides of the ball, and their 15-1 record in 2011 proves that they have the goods to beat anyone at anytime.
2. New York Giants - Defending Super Bowl Champs. Dominant pass rush. Great quarterback and a vastly improved receiving corps. I thought about putting the Patriots here, but then I remembered who beat who in the biggest game of the year last season.
3. New England Patriots - As much as we here at Beard and Stache dislike the Patriots (trust me — with how often they win, if you're not a fan of the team, it's easy to do), it doesn't mean we don't give credit where credit is due. The Pats' enter 2012 with one of the collectively youngest teams in Bill Belichick's tenure, especially on defense. That being said, it should still be a much better squad defensively than what the Patriots fielded in '11 and obviously the offensive juggernaut led by Tom Brady and co. will continue to dominate.
4. San Francisco 49ers - Dominant defense across the board. Hopefully the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham can open things up more for Vernon Davis in the middle of the field. Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and rookie tailback LaMichael James should provide plenty of rest for Frank Gore when needed. Like last year, this team will go only as far as Alex Smith and the offense can take them. Also, it would help if Kyle Williams actually didn't muff the punts this season.
5. Houston Texans - Great running game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate and that offensive line (despite losing Eric Winston to Kansas City via free agency). Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will continue to deliver through the air while the defense, despite losing 'Super' Mario Williams to Buffalo via free agency, will still continue to be a solid group under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers lost some veterans to retirement/free agency this off-season and top-flight wide receiver Mike Wallace wasn't with the team until recently because of a contract dispute. Despite the time away from the team, he is slated to start Week One at Denver. The defense will be stout as it always is, so the state of the Steelers' season will be determined by the continuity and cohesiveness between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
7. Philadelphia Eagles - Explosive offense and improved depth on defense (we love rookies Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks). The loss of Jason Peters certainly doesn't help Michael Vick's chances of staying healthy, but maybe his new custom-made flak jacket will. If Vick stays on the field, the Eagles will undoubtedly soar, or at least they should on paper. If Vick does go down for whatever reason, Philadelphia will lose their top-ten ranking, but impressive rookie quarterback Nick Foles will keep the team afloat if it comes to that.
8. Baltimore Ravens - The loss of Terrell Suggs until at least Week 7 will be hard to overcome, despite what the team may be saying publicly. Rookie offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele out of Iowa State is making big strides towards becoming the starter, but the loss of Ben Grubbs will definitely hurt. Ray Rice will undoubtedly be Ray Rice, especially since he's finally gotten paid, and despite the defense getting older, they're still dominant. Once again, it will all come down to the play of quarterback Joe Flacco.
9. Atlanta Falcons - The offense led by Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez will be explosive like always. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry looks much improved and should be a nice complement in the middle of that front four along with steady studs John Abraham and Ray Edwards pressuring the quarterback. The loss of Curtis Lofton hurts, but I for one think Akeem Dent is ready to step into that starting role. The secondary should be good with the addition of Asante Samuel alongside Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson too.
10. New Orleans Saints - Despite all of the off-season turmoil thanks to 'Bountygate', the Saints do have a motivated Drew Brees to pick up the slack while head coach Sean Payton watches and critiques games from his couch at home. The offense will continue to score as they always do with Brees running the show, and even though they're without defensive leader Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, the additions of Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne should keep the Saints' front seven from missing a beat.
The only thing that worries me is the secondary because of the loss of Tracy Porter to the Broncos via free agency. In the end though, as long as Drew Brees and the offense are rolling, the Saints will keep on marching in hopes of reaching their next Lomardi Trophy.
11. Chicago Bears - The offensive line still stinks so Jay Cutler will once again need to keep his head on a swivel. One good thing is that he has his old Denver teammate in Brandon Marshall to chuck the ball down field to. Like Ray Rice, Matt Forte also got paid, and barring his knee holds up, he'll once again shoulder the lion's share of the load for the Bears' offense in 2012. Speaking knees, Brian Urlacher's is bother him. All signs point to him being out there come opening day to once again team with Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers in leading what should be a ferocious Bears' defense.
12. Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford to Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson. It's the most dominant and unstoppable combination in the NFL, and as long as those two are healthy (Stafford for obvious reasons despite playing all of 2011 and Megatron because of the notorious 'Madden curse'), the air show should continue in the Motor City. The question is, will their defense be able to make enough stops?
13. Denver Broncos - The Sheriff is back and he looks as good as ever, especially in his most recent tune-up in the final pre-season game of the year against the normally tough 49ers' defense. Peyton Manning shredded them. The defense will finally get to experience what it feels like to play with a lead and young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will reach new heights as long as they've had their heads buried in the playbooks.
14. Dallas Cowboys - Lots of hype surrounding the Cowboys entering the 2012 season. But then again, when is there not? The team has all of the talent in the world on paper, but they have yet to consistently put it together on the field. Hopefully wide receiver Dez Bryant has his head on straight and the new additions to the secondary in cornerbacks Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne can shore up any holes. DeMarcus Ware will continue to be a beast.
This team looks ready to take on the world, but just as they haven't done in previous years, they'll need to prove it this year. Enough talk. It's time to go out and play. I'm talking to you, Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offensive line.
15. Kansas City Chiefs - Injuries to key guys like running back Jamaal Charles and playmaking safety Eric Berry derailed the Chiefs season before it could really even get going. If they can avoid the injury bug in 2012, new head coach Romeo Crennel's tenure in KC should get off to a great start.
16. San Diego Chargers - Out goes Vincent Jackson and in come Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. Running back Ryan Mathews should be ready to go Week One, but in the end, it will all come down to how Philip Rivers develops chemistry with his new receivers as we all know that Antonio Gates will still get his. The defense will continue to be solid as it has been in recent seasons.
17. Cincinnati Bengals - Year Two of the Andy Dalton and A.J. Green era gets underway, and rookie Mohamed Sanu joins the party after Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson have both moved on to new homes (Simpson with the Vikings and Shipley now unemployed after being cut by Tampa Bay). The defense is quickly becoming one of the better units in the league. The front seven is amazing but the secondary (despite it being filled with numerous former round one draft picks) is still suspect at best after Leon Hall.
18. Tennessee Titans - Will we see the Chris Johnson of 2011 or 2010? Since second-year pro Jake Locker is taking over the reins at quarterback after beating out veteran Matt Hasselbeck in the pre-season position battle, you know the Titans are hoping it will be the latter and with the addition of beast guard Steve Hutchinson to an already good offensive line, I'm betting that's who they'll get.
As for the defense, I like the state of the front seven, especially with the play of young former USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey as well as free agent acquisition Kamerion Wimbley. The secondary is still full of question marks however after top cornerback Cortland Finnegan bolted to St. Louis to join Jeff Fisher.
19. Buffalo Bills - The Bills have been busy this off-season; bringing in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to create one of the best defensive lines in football along with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Obviously, the defense will be good. Veteran linebacker Nick Barnett will make sure guys are in the right place, but the secondary will need some time. Hopefully the pass rush from the front four will help mask the inadequacies on the back end of Buffalo's defense.
Offensively, running back Fred Jackson returns from injury, and with him comes the Bills' offensive identity. As long as Jackson is healthy, the Bills' offense should be stable enough to put points on the board. He is the engine that makes them go.
20. Seattle Seahawks - Despite Seahawks' management paying Matt Flynn more than a pretty penny to lure him out of Green Bay, head coach Pete Carroll has decided to go with rookie Russell Wilson at quarterback to open the regular season. He'll have some growing pains no doubt as all rookie quarterbacks tend to, but his impressive showing in the pre-season certainly earned him the job.
Defensively, the Seahawks will continue to surprise people and even though the short-lived T.O. show is over in Seattle, I still really like Doug Baldwin, a hopefully healthy Sidney Rice and a surprisingly sure-handed (at least to this point) Braylon Edwards to hold things down at receiver.
21. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton. Cam Newton. Cam Newton. The guy is a beast and the focal point on offense. He'll throw the bombs to veteran speedster Steve Smith and also run an effective three-headed rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. While there are still some questions to answer at defensive tackle, the return of a healthy Jon Beason and the addition of rookie Luke Kuechly should have Panthers' fans excited for 2012.
22. New York Jets - Has anyone seen the New York Jets' offense take any snaps yet? No, I didn't think so. Or at least, no worthwhile snaps anyway. Forget the quarterback battle between Sanchez and Tebow. I don't care who is under center, this team needs to figure out how to get in the endzone. The stout defense will continue to do its part, but if the anemic offense continues, the Jets could be in big trouble.
23. Arizona Cardinals - John Skelton it is. No surprise to anyone there. Does anyone else think the Eagles pulled one over on the Cards' at this point in the deal for Kevin Kolb. I know I do. The defense will continue to do its thing led by its front four and veteran safety leaders in Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson. Look for Patrick Peterson to have a strong sophomore campaign as well.
Beanie Wells and the now healthy Ryan Williams look to be a great duo in the backfield for Arizona, and Larry Fitzgerald will continue to dominate just as he always has while Notre Dame rookie Michael Floyd makes a few cameo appearances on the highlight reel here and there.
24. Washington Redskins - The RGIII hype is through the roof in the nation's capital, and deservedly so. Say what you want about the man's socks — but there's no question he can flat out play. That being said, there are questions all over this team on both sides of the ball, and in an always tough NFC East, I don't see them getting to .500.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is a put up or shut up year for Josh Freeman after the front office spent big on Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. Veteran Ronde Barber makes the move to safety so that his declining speed is less of a liability. The defense could be good, so it really all comes down to Freeman and the offense.
26. Oakland Raiders - Speed, speed and more speed. Even though the late and great Al Davis is no longer with us, that doesn't mean he didn't leave his stamp on the 2012 Raiders. Carson Palmer has the arm strength to spread the field and gun the ball to speedsters Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford and Darren McFadden will be a beast as long as he stays healthy. On defense, Richard Seymour continues to dominate but it will be interesting to see how they fair in the first few weeks without suspended linebacker Rolando McClain.
27. Miami Dolphins - The Ryan Tannehill show begins perhaps somewhat earlier than many would have thought. Then again, his former college head coach in Mike Sherman is Miami's offensive coordinator, thus he pretty much came into training camp with more knowledge of the system than the rest of his teammates. Karlos Dansby believes the team's new 4-3 defense is at a 'championship caliber level', so I guess that means it comes down to Tannehill and the lackluster offense (outside of Reggie Bush, of course) to be amazing. Good luck with that.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars - Maurice Jones-Drew returned to the team without a new contract. Big surprise. We all knew that he wouldn't be stupid enough to piss away game checks because of a contract dispute, especially when everyone knows that the team is more likely to work with you when you're actually present.
Blaine Gabbert will need to prove the Jags' didn't waste that first-round draft pick last year, and with the additions of Laurent Robinson (way overpaid in my opinion) and rookie stud Justin Blackmon at reciever, he'll have the weapons in place to do just that. Obviously Jacksonville will still lean heavily on it's running game and strong defense, but this year might not be as bad as some people think if Gabbert's play is at least satisfactory.
29. Indianapolis Colts - Most people have the Colts at the bottom of the list. Not us. We're all aboard the Andrew Luck train and are converted believers in his stellar abilities at the quarterback position. The defense moves to a 3-4 thanks to new head coach Chuck Pagano bringing it over from Baltimore. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis might not be used to standing up instead of having their hand in the dirt, but rest assured, they'll still rain hell down upon opposing quarterbacks regardless of where they're positioned on the field.
30. Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson looks healthy and young quarterback Christian Ponder has made strides this pre-season. That being said, don't get your hopes up if you're a Vikings fan. Even if they won't come out and say it, they're in full-on rebuilding mode at this point.
31. St. Louis Rams - Sam Bradford has a few new toys this year in Brian Quick and Steve Smith, but the bulk of the offensive duties will once again fall on the shoulders of veteran workhorse Steven Jackson. Jeff Fisher is a big believer in playing good defense and running the football, and with stud ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, heady middle linebacker James Lauranitis, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins in the secondary, he undoubtedly plans to do just that in St. Louis. The offensive line still really worries me, though.
32. Cleveland Browns - 15 rookies means lots of growing pains for Cleveland in 2012. Oh well. It's not like the team and its fans haven't been here before. Trent Richardson will likely have a few highlight plays, but don't hold your breath waiting for this team to do much of anything positive. Just hang on for yet another bumpy ride and get those Matt Barkley Browns' jerseys ready to pre-order come April.