Power Rankings: Patriots open at No. 1
With the draft and the bulk of free agency behind us, it's time for some offseason Power Rankings. We're sure it won't make Colts fans happy, but the Patriots are a solid No. 1, grabbing six of the eight first-place votes from our panel. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts picked up the other two top votes and come in a No. 2. With the top four teams all coming from the AFC; it is still clearly the NFL's power conference.
While the Colts return 19 starters from the team that won Super Bowl XLI, the Patriots' aggressive offseason moved them to the top of our rankings. The Patriots jumped right out of the gates in free agency, adding arguably the best unrestricted player on the market in linebacker Adalius Thomas. Thomas will bring versatility and playmaking to a defensive unit that showed some cracks at the end of the 2006 season. While Thomas was the first splash, the Pats didn't stop there. New England remade its wide receiving unit, trading for Randy Moss and Wes Welker and signing Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington. Adding Moss is a risk and the enigmatic receiver will be one of Bill Belichick's biggest challenges. But if the Patriots can get anything close to the Moss of old, their offense is going to be really good.
The Colts lost some players on defense, but as long as Peyton Manning is throwing to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the Colts are going to be one of the teams to beat. Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (first-round pick) was a nice addition and should step right in as the No. 3 receiver. As always, the biggest question in Indy remains the defense.
The Bears are the highest-rated NFC team at No. 5. Between trade requests (Lance Briggs), jail stints (Tank Johnson), coaching defections (Ron Rivera) and the longer-than-it-needed-to-take contract extension for coach Lovie Smith, it's been a tumultuous offseason for a team that went to the Super Bowl. Despite that, the Bears still have one of the NFL's best defenses and they still play in the NFC North. They might not go 13-3 again, but they will be playing in January.
The other end of the rankings looks a lot like it looked at the end of last season, with the Raiders coming in at No. 32. The Raiders have a solid defense, so if JaMarcus Russell can make an immediate impact, they could actually be decent. But that's asking a lot from a rookie QB. Oakland had competition for the basement position, with the Browns (two votes), Lions (two) and Bucs (one) all picking up last-place votes.
Anyway, onto the rankings, which we're sure will look completely different after Week 1, after all, our offseason rankings last year had Seattle No. 1 overall, while the Saints were No. 27 and the Jets were No. 31. Also, you can rank the teams yourself.
(Editor's note: LW indicates each team's ranking in the final Power Rankings of 2006.)