Take it from the top

September 07, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

The Sun's Bill Ordine ranks the NFL's 32 teams


1. INDIANAPOLIS (14-2) / / With unquestionable talent but dubious heart, the Peyton Manning-era Colts may be the best NFL team to never make it to the Super Bowl. But oddsmakers think otherwise, and kicker Adam Vinatieri might prove to be the difference.

2. CAROLINA (11-5) / / Coach John Fox ran out of running backs last year in the NFC title game, but he boosted the offense in the offseason with receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

3. NEW ENGLAND (10-6) // As long as a team has a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback pulling the trigger, it's a threat to win it all.

4. SEATTLE (13-3) / / Most of the pieces from last year's NFC title team are still in place, but the curse of the Super Bowl runner-up lurks.

5. PITTSBURGH (11-5) / / Ben Roethlisberger seems to be under a black cloud and there's the question of how team chemistry will be affected by the loss of Jerome Bettis and Antwaan Randle El.

6. DALLAS (9-7) // Terrell Owens could do for the Cowboys what he did for the Eagles when they went to the Super Bowl in the 2004-season -- or what he did to them last season when he destroyed team chemistry.

7. DENVER (13-3) / / If Jake Plummer plays like he did during the regular season rather than the way he did in the AFC championship game, the Broncos will threaten.

8. MIAMI (9-7) / / After a 6-0 finish last year and acquiring Daunte Culpepper in the offseason, the Dolphins appear ready for a return to glory.

9. CINCINNATI (11-5) / / With a healthy Carson Palmer, the Bengals will be 10-6 or 11-5. Without him, you can turn those records around.

10. WASHINGTON (10-6) / / A sluggish preseason should make the Redskins worried, but one of the NFL's most experienced coaching staffs may be able to turn things around.

11. CHICAGO (11-5) / / Rex Grossman starts at quarterback, but veteran backup Brian Griese may be the most important guy on the roster.

12. KANSAS CITY (10-6) / / The Chiefs are still high octane on offense, but also are still looking for a defense with new coach Herman Edwards.

13. N.Y. GIANTS (11-5) / / The Giants could return to the top of the NFC East if Eli Manning becomes more consistent at quarterback and Tiki Barber holds up.

14. JACKSONVILLE (12-4) / / The Jaguars won 12 games last year and you wonder how they did it with Byron Leftwich out for five games.

15. RAVENS (6-10) / / Obviously, a healthy Steve McNair is the key because even if he doesn't come close to another Most Valuable Player-caliber performance, he gives the team direction and hope on offense.

16. PHILADELPHIA (6-10) / / The Eagles have some potential holes, such as a questionable receiving group and a shaky Plan B if running back Brian Westbrook gets hurt.

17. TAMPA BAY (11-5) / / The Buccaneers are getting old where it's bad (on defense), and young where it can be bad (at quarterback).

18. ARIZONA (5-11) / / With Edgerrin James in the backfield, the Cardinals could finally make a playoff run if the offense performs as advertised.

19. ATLANTA (8-8) / / Michael Vick has to take the next step as a quarterback for the Falcons to be better than a so-so team.

20. MINNESOTA (9-7) / / One of 10 NFL teams with a new head coach, the Vikings are likely to get worse before they get better.

21. SAN DIEGO (9-7) / / The Chargers are a solid team but too much depends on quarterback Philip Rivers, whose NFL experience consists of 30 pass attempts.

22. CLEVELAND (6-10) / / The offensive line is in trouble and quarterback Charlie Frye is inexperienced. That's a bad combination.

23. SAN FRANCISCO (4-12) / / This team couldn't possibly get any worse. Coach Mike Nolan seems committed to staying the course with second-year quarterback Alex Smith.

24. ST. LOUIS (6-10) / / The Rams will be looking for new direction as they transition from "The Greatest Show on Turf." The makeover is likely to be painful.

25. GREEN BAY (4-12) / / Most football fans would like to see Brett Favre lead a competitive team in what could be his final season, but the odds are against it.

26. DETROIT (5-11) / / Maybe Mike Martz is a much better offensive coordinator than head coach and maybe Jon Kitna is a consistent starting quarterback. Maybe.

27. NEW ORLEANS (3-13) / / This season is more about civic revival than simply winning football games. That's quite a burden for rookie Reggie Bush and recuperating veteran Drew Brees.

28. TENNESSEE (4-12) / / A young defense should improve but whoever starts at quarterback knows he's only baby-sitting the job for Vince Young.

29. N.Y. JETS (4-12) / / The Jets drafted for two or three years down the road when they concentrated on the offensive line. That means a lot of losses now.

30. OAKLAND (4-12) / / Do Aaron Brooks and Randy Moss even like each other? Will it matter? It'll take all the leadership Art Shell can muster to keep these guys together.

31. HOUSTON (2-14) / / The only record on the horizon for quarterback David Carr is for being sacked -- 208 in four seasons. Keeping him alive is new coach Gary Kubiak's top job.

32. BUFFALO (5-11) / / New general manager Marv Levy is a smart guy with a Phi Beta Kappa key. He'll need to be an absolute genius to get the Bills to .500.

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