The first Power Rankings of 2012 are in, and we have a lot of interesting things to discuss.
ESPN.com chose to its first rankings early this year, and it couldn't come at a more volatile time. Teams are adding and subtracting players everyday in free agency, and the draft is yet to come. Therefore, the voting was very challenging for myself and the rest of the panel.
Here is how things turned out for the AFC East:
Power Ranking: No. 2
Walker's vote: No. 2
Analysis: New England came in behind the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No argument there. New York proved to be the better team on the field in February. The Patriots have retained their biggest free agent -- receiver Wes Welker -- via the franchise tag and added deep threat Brandon Lloyd to an already dangerous offense. Yes, the Patriots still need some help on defense. But four draft picks in the first two rounds should fix it. There's no reason to think the reigning AFC champs shouldn't be one of the elite teams again next season.
Power Ranking: No. 20
Walker's vote: No. 17
Analysis: It's clear the panel doesn't think very much of the AFC East at this stage. The second-place team came in at No. 20. I voted the Jets three spots higher at No. 17. I understand the pessimism. Starting quarterback Mark Sanchez finished last season with a thud. The Jets have chemistry issues and haven't done much to improve the roster. New York's biggest signing thus far is safety LaRon Landry, who may or may not be healthy enough to make an impact. The Jets just don't have the cap room to do much in free agency. This group's best chance to improve this offseason is to nail the draft.
Power Ranking: No. 23
Walker's vote: No. 16
Analysis: This was the biggest disparity from my ballot to the overall vote. I had Buffalo seven spots higher than the panel. The Mario Williams signing was big for Buffalo, but it didn't do much for the Power Rankings. I'm looking deeper with the Bills and the fact Kyle Williams and Fred Jackson -- two of the best players on the team -- are coming back healthy. Jackson and C.J. Spiller running the ball could be dangerous, and Buffalo's defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. There are some good pieces in Buffalo as long as everyone stays healthy. I actually voted Buffalo one spot higher than the Jets, but don't read too much into it. I view both teams as virtually even right now. I want to see how they continue to improve their rosters via the draft and free agency.
Power Ranking: No. 28
Walker’s vote: No. 31
Analysis: The Dolphins came in at No. 28 and I voted them at No. 31. It’s pretty surprising Miami is in the this spot. Because, regardless of Peyton Manning’s decision, I thought the Dolphins had a good chance to put themselves in playoff contention this offseason. Instead, Miami gutted its roster by trading away their Pro Bowl receiver (Brandon Marshall), cutting its leading tackler (Yeremiah Bell) and failed to get a viable starting quarterback (David Garrard). The Dolphins’ defense should be solid, but I really don’t see how the offense can score enough to surpass last year’s win total.