Pre-training camp power rankings
How they stack up as teams prepare to return to work
Posted: Monday July 16, 2007 10:45AM; Updated: Monday July 16, 2007 3:47PM
It's time. Eight days until the first full squad (Pittsburgh) reports. Sixty days until opening night (New Orleans-Indianapolis). From the sounds of my Sirius satellite radio -- which somehow found programming every day of my vacation for the NFL Channel (how do you do it, Bob Papa?) -- all of you are ready, and have been ready for weeks.
Not much has changed since the draft, though. With a couple of exceptions, there has been little movement in how I thought the teams stacked up since April. Here goes:
1. Indianapolis: If the Colts are to win the title again, and I think they enter the season with a good chance to go back-to-back, they may need Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks to have the best coaching years of their career. Gone: starting corners Nick Harper and Jason David, former starting safety Mike Doss, starting weakside linebacker and 2006 leading tackler Cato June and in-the-rotation defensive lineman Montae Reagor. Interesting schedule. Indy could easily start 5-0 (New Orleans, at Tennessee, at Houston, Denver, Tampa Bay) and struggle after the Week 6 bye. How about this punching-bag four-pack: at Jacksonville, at Carolina, New England, at San Diego -- in the span of 21 days. The Colts will have to outscore teams all year, and I believe they will.
2. New England: Maybe the interior run defense is better than it played at Indy in the second half. It had better be Sept. 16 when LaDainian Tomlinson and a very good offensive line come east to Foxboro. Two years ago, LT went for 134 yards on 25 carries in a 41-17 Charger rout of the Pats in New England. I like the Patriots now because you can't overstate the importance of this offseason's best free-agent haul ... maybe ever, particularly when it comes to the receiver corps. Tom Brady can finally outscore people.
3. San Diego: Best depth, 1 to 53 on the roster, in the NFL. And maybe, if Philip Rivers can play in the Manning-Brady league, this will be the Chargers' year. Any of the first three teams on this list can win the Super Bowl, which should surprise no one.
4. New Orleans: I'm counting on Reggie Bush being more versatile and just plain better. It's ridiculous that he rushed for a fullback-like 3.6 yards per carry last year. He'll be at least a yard better because he knows the best carries are sometime the zero-yard gains, which are better than the seven-yard losses. He's already learned that -- in December, Bush averaged 5.1 yards per rush. The Saints scored 30 or more points six times in November and December last year. I expect 10 of those days this year.
5. Chicago: The Bears should win home field advantage in the NFC again because of their weak division, but two things scare me about Chicago: Rex Grossman at quarterback and Lance Briggs' potential holdout. I've had enough of the e-mails defending Grossman. Those don't mean anything, Bearaholics. The way a QB plays matters, and Grossman has to be 25 percent better for this team to win a Super Bowl. Moreover, Brian Urlacher won't be Urlacher without Briggs, who makes the Chicago defense so versatile because he's an athlete and hitter on par with Urlacher.