By Don Banks
September 09, 2009

Coming up with our Week 1 NFL Power Rankings before anyone has actually played a regular season game is a little like trying to solve the Wheel of Fortune puzzle before they turn any of the letters around. Clueless is the feeling.

But with the league's 65-game exhibition game schedule mercifully over, it's time to set our board and see what happens between now and January 3. Commence the rising and falling, and keep in mind that the previous rankings refer to where each team stood as NFL training camps began opening in late July....(Send comments to

NFL Power Rankings, Pre-Regular Season Edition
1 New England Patriots
Pre-camp ranking: 1
Between them, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Rodney Harrison owned a combined 11 Super Bowl rings with a Patriots logo on them. And now they're all gone, and Junior Seau too. I picked New England to win it all this season, but I'm not as confident in that choice today because you wonder how much leadership the defense can lose without it exacting a toll. Don't fixate on Tom Brady's knee and the offense next Monday night against Buffalo. It's the defense, especially what has been a very shaky secondary this preseason, that may tell us more about how far the Patriots can go in 2009.
2 Pittsburgh Steelers
Pre-camp ranking: 2
I'm interested to see how many opponents try to use the approach against the Steelers' top-ranked defense that Arizona proved so successful with in the second half of the Super Bowl: spreading out Pittsburgh's 3-4 front seven with quick drops and a timing passing game. The problem is, not every offense has a Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald to do the attacking. Tennessee gets the first crack at Pittsburgh on Thursday night, but with ex-Steelers receiver Nate Washington and rookie tight end Jared Cook both hurting, the Titans may not have enough passing game weapons to fully exploit Dick LeBeau's defense.
3 Green Bay Packers
Pre-camp ranking: 19
Nobody has taken a bigger leap (16 spots!) up our rankings than the Packers, but nobody had their preseason either. I know, most preseasons are meaningless, but Green Bay might have been the exception to the rule this year. This just looks like a young team with a bunch of players coming of age at the same time, and it's hard to not be impressed by the midseason form the Packers achieved in August.
4 New York Giants
Pre-camp ranking: 6
I love how the Ravens approached this preseason. They already knew they could run the ball and play rock-solid defense, so they let offensive coordinator Cam Cameron open up the playbook and find out if Joe Flacco and Co. could take the passing game to a new level. Looks like mission accomplished and now opponents realize Baltimore can beat you a lot of different ways.
5 New York Giants
Pre-camp ranking: 4
Not all that long ago, the Giants were a maddeningly inconsistent team, but you pretty much know what you're going to get from New York these days. They've been to the playoffs an NFC-high four years in a row under Tom Coughlin, and you have to like their chances to make it five. As for their need at receiver, the G-Men were pleasantly surprised by what they saw out of rookie Hakeem Nicks in the final two weeks of the preseason. Plaxico who?
6 Tennessee Titans
Pre-camp ranking: 7
Don't judge the Titans too harshly if they wake up 0-1 on Friday morning. Winning at Pittsburgh in prime time is nigh impossible. But Tennessee has talent everywhere and I get the sense head coach Jeff Fisher knows his roster is deeper than it has been since 2000 or so. Last year's 10-0 start and 13-3 record won't be duplicated, but neither will 2008's one-and-done in the playoffs.
7 New Orleans Saints
Pre-camp ranking: 14
Clearly I was a tad premature in being so high on the Saints in the preseasons of 2007 and 2008, because this will be the club I kept waiting for New Orleans to grow into: Capable of matching offenses with anyone in the NFL, and opportunistic enough on defense to give themselves a chance to win most weeks. I'm convinced the effect new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have on the Saints will be difference making. Atlanta will be tough to get past, but the NFC South is there for the taking for New Orleans.
8 Philadelphia Eagles
Pre-camp ranking: 3
There's so much we still don't know about this Eagles team, and it should make for an intriguing season. What will be the real impact on the offense of the Michael Vick signing? How will the Donovan McNabb-Vick dynamic play out? Is the retooled offensive line ready? What does Brian Westbrook have left after two offseason surgeries and no playing time in the preseason? And can new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott fill the very large void left by the death of Jim Johnson? Things are never boring in Philly, are they?
9 San Diego Chargers
Pre-camp ranking: 5
The Chargers have a knack for making things tougher on themselves than they ought to be, but in this season's woeful AFC West, that's going to be difficult in and of itself. You certainly hope this week's Shawne Merriman drama isn't an omen that portends a challenging season ahead.
10 Chicago Bears
Pre-camp ranking: 13
It's not all about Jay Cutler in the Windy City this year, you know. If the Bears don't play better pass defense -- they were 30th last year -- and find a way to generate more pass rush, Cutler might be starring for a team that vaguely resembles his Broncos of the past two seasons. After opening against Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and drawing Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2, we should know plenty early about the state of Chicago's defense.
11 Atlanta Falcons
Pre-camp ranking: 12
A source I trust who was on hand last season in Atlanta boiled the Falcons' surprising defensive success down to the following simple equation: Atlanta used defensive end John Abraham brilliantly, and when he got to the opposing passer that game, Atlanta won. When he didn't bring the pass rush, the Falcons lost. I think we could be looking at roughly the same story this year.
12 Indianapolis Colts
Pre-camp ranking: 10
I'm on record predicting the Colts will snap both their six-year streak of 12-win seasons and their seven-year streak of playoff trips, so why do I have them at No. 12, arguably the final postseason slot? Because it's not where you start, it's where you finish, as they say. And besides, I've got to do another 16 weeks worth of these here rankings, so grant me some latitude.
13 Minnesota Vikings
Pre-camp ranking: 16
At Cleveland, at Detroit and home against San Francisco should mean the Vikings are 3-0 and the talk of the NFL as September ends. But if Brett Favre's one rollercoaster season as a Jet taught us anything, it's that we should wait to see how the rest of the story turns out. Can we all just do that, please? No? I didn't think so.
14 Seattle Seahawks
Pre-camp ranking: 20
When Seahawks head coach Jim Mora inevitably says his club has come a long way this season, he'll really mean it because for the second straight year Seattle will travel more than any other NFL team. The Seahawks will log 29,054 air miles this year, and their two-season total is a whopping 63,820 miles. Talk about your competitive imbalance. Seattle's natural disadvantage when it comes to geography amounts to a heck of a lot more than a punt or two deflecting off the Cowboys new video screens.
15 Miami Dolphins
Pre-camp ranking: 15
Doesn't it seem as if last year didn't really happen and Jason Taylor never wore a Washington Redskins uniform? The whole episode seems to have just vanished into the ether, with Taylor back to being a Dolphins team leader and no one ever mentioning that him and Bill Parcells got sideways over the whole "Dancing with the Stars" stuff. Weird, huh?
16 New York Jets
Pre-camp ranking: 17
There's a lot of buzz out there about rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and the "it" factor. Sanchez has "it," they say, without ever really defining what "it" is. I get it. He does have it. But let's at least give him time to show it, in games that count, before we rush to make it all about the "it." It's the right thing to do.
17 Dallas Cowboys
Pre-camp ranking: 8
I'm not sure why I've dropped the Cowboys from my pre-camp top 10 down toward the bottom of my second 10 just six weeks later, based on little more than their 2-2 preseason. Maybe I'm just not buying the Wade Phillips is all-business this year storyline. But I do know this: The last time the Cowboys opened a new stadium, in 1971, they christened it with a Super Bowl win that season. (I wonder if the punters were trying to hit the hole in the roof that first year?)
18 Carolina Panthers
Pre-camp ranking: 9
Another team I've obviously lost confidence in since late July. The Panthers looked dreadful in their 0-4 preseason, and then there's this whole messy deal of owner Jerry Richardson firing both his sons from team management. It's hard to see some sort of championship vibe rising out of all that. Starting the season with Philadelphia, at Atlanta, at Dallas may ensure this thing keeps right on snowballing.
19 Arizona Cardinals
Pre-camp ranking: 11
Not that it means a ton, but the Cardinals haven't actually won a game since upsetting the Eagles in the NFC Championship, and I can't convince myself their January mojo will have any carryover effect in 2009. If the 49ers can win in Glendale in the opener, on the day Arizona hangs an NFC title banner, the Cardinals' worst fears of being rendered a hollow champion might be confirmed.
20 Houston Texans
Pre-camp ranking: 18
A lot of pundits are jumping on the Texans' bandwagon -- Mr. King, I'm looking in your direction -- but I'm in wait-and-see mode when it comes to Gary Kubiak's club. With three home games in the first four weeks, a fast start is mandatory if they hope to shed their 8-8 skin and fulfill expectations. First things first, I'd made sure there are no hurricanes on the way to cause the kind of disruption that last September featured. But those kind of predictions are considerably more difficult to make.
21 Cincinnati Bengals
Pre-camp ranking: 25
The presence of HBO's "Hard Knocks" cameras didn't exactly portend great success for the Cowboys and Chiefs the past two years, but there is a growing belief the Bengals will be better than most people expect this year. Carson Palmer is the obvious key to Cincinnati's season, but I still can't get over the fact that his brother, Jordan, started that Web site ( that instructs you on the best times during a movie in which to head for the bathroom. Who has that kind of time on their hands?
22 San Francisco 49ers
Pre-camp ranking: 21
As bad as West Coast football was last season in the NFL, with only the 8-8 Chargers avoiding a losing season -- and it took them all season to get there -- it'd be great to see the 49ers return to relevancy. But I don't have my hopes much higher than 8-8 or so for Mike Singletary's team, because it's built to win low-scoring games with a sound defense and running game. That only takes you so far in today's NFL.
23 Buffalo Bills
Pre-camp ranking: 22
I do believe last week in Buffalo was the first time in league history the Turk was the one who got the bad news on cutdown weekend rather than delivering it. Please tell me the Bills didn't send their version of the Turk to inform offensive coordinator Turk Schonert that his services were no longer required.
24 Washington Redskins
Pre-camp ranking: 24
Well of course the Redskins signed ex-Giants quarterback Andre Woodson to the practice squad in part to pick his brain prior to Washington's opener at New York. What's the big hub-bub about? All's fair in love and the NFC East. But knowing New York's snap count isn't going to necessarily make it easier to bring down Brandon Jacobs at the line of scrimmage.
25 Jacksonville Jaguars
Pre-camp ranking: 29
When I see a team make as many last-minute moves in the preseason as the Jaguars just made, adding the likes of veterans Luke McCown, Brian Russell and Kynan Forney, it's normally not a sign of big things to come. Then again, New England didn't exactly stand pat in recent days, and that's my Super Bowl pick, so go figure.
26 Denver Broncos
Pre-camp ranking: 23
Not that it's going to amount to a winning season or anything, but my sense is the Broncos defense will be better than expected, and the Broncos offense will be worse than expected. Which probably isn't what Pat Bowlen had in mind when he hired ex-New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But stuff like that happens in the NFL all the time. See Brian Billick, Tony Dungy, Marvin Lewis and Jon Gruden.
27 Oakland Raiders
Pre-camp ranking: 28
Getting rid of veteran backup quarterback Jeff Garcia because he might threaten JaMarcus Russell's development as a starter is the most faulty piece of logic I've seen employed in the NFL in quite some time. Or at least since the Raiders reasoned that Randy Moss's legs were shot.
28 St. Louis Rams
Pre-camp ranking: 32
I like what I see so far of the Rams defense, and that's at least in part a credit to new head coach and former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. St. Louis in the preseason created 12 takeaways, had 12 sacks, and scored two defensive touchdowns. If the Rams defense can manage to stay in a few more games this season, St. Louis is going to win a few more games this season. That's how that works.
29 Detroit Lions
Pre-camp ranking: 31
By my math, the Lions are one of 10 teams in the NFL this season who will feature different opening-day starters at quarterback compared to last year (presuming Brady Quinn wins the Cleveland job). But none of them inherit a 17-game franchise losing streak but Lions rookie Matthew Stafford. Congrats, kid.
30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pre-camp ranking: 27
It's hard to remember it now, but the Bucs entered last December at 9-3 and facing a first-place NFC South showdown at Carolina. They lost that game 38-23, and nothing much good has happened since.
31 Kansas City Chiefs
Pre-camp ranking: 26
If I were the Chiefs, I'd be very, very careful about playing a gimpy-legged Matt Cassel at quarterback against a Baltimore defense that gets even more geeked than usual when it's playing at home. Far better to see Cassel miss a game than an entire season.
32 Cleveland Browns
Pre-camp ranking: 30
Here's hoping Eric Mangini continues the starting QB subterfuge right through the Browns first offensive series of the new season, putting both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson on the field at the same time, with Josh Cribbs actually at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Wouldn't that keep everyone guessing? Including even the Browns offensive players themselves.

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