By Ron Jumper
So I already ranked teams 1-16 Here, just in case you missed it. Now it is time to move on to the bottom half of the league. That isn’t to say they aren’t important, as you might have noticed no one from NFC West has been in the rankings yet so that guarantees someone from this list will make the postseason. Also, keeping up with the bottom dwellers is usually a great way to find value each week, especially on the totals.
17. Baltimore Ravens
While some would say this is low, I think they will take a step back this season. The defense will be good but not dominant. The offense still doesn’t have enough fire power to generate many points themselves, as field position and turnovers provided by the defense were a big part of how the Ravens generated offense in 2008. Looking at it plain and simple, an above average defense and a below average offense make the 2009 Baltimore Ravens… well… about average. Expect 8-8 or 9-7 from the Ravens this season.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Some would say that I’m crazy having the Seahawks this high, but this team is still very talented when healthy. Before the additions of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Aaron Curry, just being healthy makes this team the most talented in the weak NFC West. Matt Hasselbeck isn’t done just yet and I don’t think the running back combo of Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett is that bad. The defense still has playmakers, especially defensive end Patrick Kerney. I think they are clearly ahead of the Rams and 49ers, and just a notch above the Cardinals.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins caught the world by storm in 2008, but that won’t happen again. Teams will figure out the “Wildcat” after having an off-season to study up. Opponents will crowd the box and force the Dolphins to beat them through the air, particularly down the field. You probably know where I’m going… Chad Pennington is more of a West Coast, dink-and-dunk quarterback and, at this point, Ted Ginn, Jr. hasn’t been as dynamic as Dolphins faithful have hoped. The defense is solid in the front seven, but the secondary is awfully young. I think both Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will be very good one day, but it is asking a lot from just rookies.
20. Arizona Cardinals
I think we have to be careful not to overvalue the Cardinals. They were only 9-7 in the weak NFC West. Yes, they got hot in the playoffs and Larry Fitzgerald played out of this world but we need to stay reasonable. Warner is old and usually unable to put back-to-back great seasons together or stay healthy for 16 games. The biggest key that no one talks about is that they let Edgerin James go. When Tim Hightower was the feature back late in the regular season… lets just say it didn’t go well. I don’t think the defense got better this offseason and may have actually taken a step back. Don’t forget they have new coordinators. Oh and that whole Super Bowl loser jinx…
21. Washington Redskins
It is tough to play in the NFC East, but I could see the Redskins finishing higher in my power rankings. The defense could potentially be dominant, as they were very solid overall last season. With an upgraded pass rush, the sacks and turnovers should go up. Also, having some continuity on offense by having the same system in place for consecutive years should really help Jason Campbell. There are question marks, like the health of Clinton Portis, but this is a team that could be very good.
22. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are not as bad as some people think, but the playoffs are a stretch. With the weapons they have at the skill positions, Kyle Orton will be able to just not make mistakes and spread the ball around. The defense will struggle again, as they should have focused on that side of the ball more with their recent draft. As it is, they still have holes to fill but they just might be a little better than the experts think.
23. Buffalo Bills
This is one of the hardest teams to figure out, as if they can survive some growing pains early they might be pretty good. The offensive line is brand new, likely to start a couple of rookies. Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games. Oh, and didn’t they sign some guy named Terrell Owens? This is without question a boom or bust team in 2009. If the defense can stay healthy and improve the pass rush, they might be pretty good. If the offensive line can get it together and T.O. can stay calm, the offense does have weapons. Those are big “Ifs” so my fingers are crossed…
24. New York Jets
Mark Sanchez is going to have to survive the pressure of being a highly drafted quarterback in New York. That can be tough, with so much pressure to excel quickly thanks to Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The rest of this team is solid, except maybe at receiver. I love the running backs and offensive line, and the defense is loaded with high dollar players that had better perform admirably. In a tough division with a rookie QB, I see the Jets underachieving this season. Around 7-9 or maybe 8-8 seems about right.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are another team waiting in the weeds to sneak back into the playoff picture. Carson Palmer is an elite QB when healthy, the defense is much better than people think, and Chad Ochocinco seems to be primed for a big season. However, they need help on the offensive line and I’m not sold on Cedric Benson. This team has potential to be explosive on a few Sundays, but I’m not sure they are built to sustain success over 16 games.
26. San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are hopeful they can have a good season. I see why they are optimistic, but I still have concerns. I think they lack a proven quarterback and explosive weapons at receiver. The defense is improving but not quite ready to make their way into the top 10. In short, they will be better but not quite ready to be consistent each week.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last season, the Bucs raced to a 9-3 start and were being talked about with the top teams in league. Then, 4 embarrassing losses later, Monte Kiffin follows his son to Knoxville, Jon Gruden is fired, and icon Derrick Brooks is cut. To put it mildly, things will be different in 2009. As you can see, I don’t have them ranked last but, because that schedule is so tough, they just might finish the season with the worst record. I only see a game or two that they might be the favorite. Whether it is Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, or Josh Freeman, the offense is going to struggle to attack through the air. The offensive line and running backs are solid, but the passing game is inferior and the defense is loaded with youth and question marks.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
This is a unique team, as they will probably have a couple of games where Matt Cassell is throwing some nice balls and Todd Haley will be slicing and dicing the defense. However, most weeks, we’ll see a young defense and inconsistent running game lead to losses. If Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson can wreak havoc like they did in college together at LSU, plus maybe another receiver steps up, then they might have hope.
29. Cleveland Browns
The Browns tried to trade pretty much the entire roster, as well as a new coaching staff coming into the dog pound. It is hard to figure what kind of season they are going to have, as we still have to figure out who the quarterback is going to be for starters. Jamal Lewis looked old last year, so the running game could be interesting to say the least. I’m not sure how the wide receiving core is going to shake out, as Edwards greatly underachieved last season, Donte Stallworth has been in and out of jail, they traded Kellen Winslow, Jr., and they drafted two receivers in the second round of the draft. Trying to sort all that out and project can give you a headache…
30. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have a long way to go, as they are rail thin at wide receiver and along the defense. They have made an effort to upgrade the offensive line, we’ll see how good Jason Smith and that new unit can be. There is always Steven Jackson, who is so talented but you never what you are going to get from week to week. If that line overachieves and Jackson stays… happy… then the offense might be okay. As it is, I think they are still the worst team in the bad NFC West.
31. Oakland Raiders
Amazingly, the Raiders have talent and could be a decent team if they could start doing things the right way from here on out. Despite the bad drafts and poor free agent signings, this team has an elite cover corner (Nnamdi Asomugha), nice depth at running back (McFadden, Fargas, and Bush), and a coach who actually appears to want to be there. They’ve invested too much money in JaMarcus Russell, but playing Jeff Garcia would make them a much better football team. It won’t happen, barring something unusual, but Garcia is a great leader and playmaker.
32. Detroit Lions
And last but certainly not…well actually they are least. The Lions had a long way to go and they made marginal strides. I don’t think that offensive line is going to hold up, making it even harder for Mathew Stafford whenever that day comes they hand him the keys. The secondary is depleted and, after Calvin Johnson, the receivers are not anything to write home about. The NFC North improved this offseason, making it even tougher on the Lions. I expect another long season in Detroit.