Ranking best backfields (cont.)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Questionable: Parker missed five games last season with injuries and failed to average 3.0 yards per carry in five of Pittsburgh's last nine games. Then again, the Steelers also won four of those five.
The Thought: Few quarterbacks play as well within themselves as Roethlisberger, who has Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes developing and possibly Mendenhall long term.
7. Atlanta Falcons
Add/subtract: Trading for TE Tony Gonzalez gives Ryan a new, experienced toy.
Questionable: The Falcons went 11-5 and to the playoffs with a rookie QB and LT. How much better can they be if Ryan and Sam Baker avoid any sophomore jinx?
The Thought: This team thought it was so solid on offense that it spent its first five draft picks -- and seven of eight -- on defense.
8. Green Bay Packers
Add/subtract: The Packers spent their top two picks on defense, which makes sense considering the pending changes on defense. Plus, the Packers were already the No. 5 scoring offense in Rodgers' first true year.
Questionable: How much will the new 3-4 defense help the offense in the field position and turnover battles? And is the OL as good as the talent it is protecting?
The thought: It wasn't quite "Brett who?" by season's end, but Rodgers had become the best quarterback in the NFC North and No. 6 in the league in passer rating. Grant is a top-10 tailback. Add to that two 1,000-yard WR's and this is a backfield you do not want to play.
9. Chicago Bears
Add/subtract: The Cutler trade was THE deal of the offseason, but the Bears also added three veteran offensive linemen (including Orlando Pace), two of whom likely will start and enhance the backfield.
Questionable: WRs like Devin Hester and Earl Bennett, plus rookie Juaquin Iglesias, are still huge unknowns. Cutler will make them better, but are they NFL-caliber? RT Chris Williams is a virtual rookie after missing much of '08 with a back injury.
The Thought: Cutler threw for 4,526 yards and eight TD's with no real defensive support. Forte rushed for 1,238 rookie yards and was No. 3 in total yards, with no consistent pass threat. They both have what they need now.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Add/subtract: Keeping C Jeff Saturday was a big add, and personnel guru Bill Polian's knack with late-round picks makes Brown (27th overall) worth a serious look.
Questionable: An offense 32nd in rushing average is just that: average. Even with Manning.
The Thought: Tony Dungy leaving the organization doesn't directly affect the offense, but Dungy did, in fact, directly affect just about everything. Manning is still one of the league's greats but he needs more from his backs. Still, Peyton Manning operating out of an empty backfield would rank in any top 10.
11. Carolina Panthers
Add/subtract: Few major transactions, but if DE Julius Peppers would show up without incident, everybody will feel a lot better.
Questionable: Delhomme is 34 and started 16 games in four of his six Carolina years. Can the Panthers' OL limit his sacks to 20 again?
The Thought: Delhomme's '08 finish vs. Arizona was a nightmare (five interceptions), but four of Carolina's five losses were to playoff teams. The Panthers have two No. 1's at tailback and No. 1's at both OT's (Jordan Gross, Jeff Otah).
12. Miami Dolphins
Add/subtract: No significant additions to an offense that was balanced and effective.
Questionable: Will there be a letdown after one of the great one-season turnarounds in league history?
The Thought: The Dolphins' home arena has been renamed Landshark Stadium. There's a joke in there somewhere, but no one is laughing at the "Wildcat" package or the 11-5 mark last season, so this backfield gets ranking points for variety.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Add/subtract: The Cards thought Wells was worth a No. 1 pick to the point of parting company with Edgerrin James.
Questionable: Warner played 20 games last season; how likely is that to happen again? And Anquan Boldin's future is a question even if it is in Arizona again.
The Thought: Warner's chances of a second straight magical year are unlikely, even with Larry Fitzgerald's help. Wells needs to make an immediate impact to keep Arizona close to offense it was in '08.
14. Baltimore Ravens
Add/subtract: Adding OT Michael Oher with a first-round pick and C Matt Birk through free agency should upgrade a front that was responsible for the No. 4 rushing attack but ranked 22nd in sack percentage.
Questionable: How much more latitude with Flacco get from OC Cam Cameron? And is there a next step up for McClain, who was solid and improving through the final weeks?
The Thought: The offense was managed well in '08 with a rookie under center but the feature backs can do better than their 3.9 yards per carry.
15. Houston Texans
Add/subtract: The Texans lost swing tackle Ephraim Salaam, but they didn't address offense until the third round of the draft. And even then, they only addressed the interior line so Houston must be satisfied with its current backfield protection. Dan Orlovsky was added for QB depth.
Questionable: Schaub's consistency. He repeatedly posted big ratings but lacked the requisite steady production of an elite quarterback. He's only played 11 games in each of his two Houston seasons and has 24 TD's vs. 19 INT's in that span.
The Thought: Slaton was one of the NFL surprises in '08 but critics would argue that he and the Texans snuck up on teams and they often point to them winning five of their last six in another tease finish.
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