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NFL Top 10
by Wayne Root - 09/04/2012
1) San Francisco 49ers-- Can we just ship them the Lombardi Trophy? This team is not only complete, that completion may be the only thing keeping them from winning it all. Let's dismiss the defense since all 11 starters return (although one was lost to injury a few days ago). But that leaves us with leadership issues. There are too many voices to be heard on the offensive side of the ball. I'm not sure if Alex Smith has what it takes. His main focus has to be on execution, not who gets the ball. Only one at a time can have it: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker all want it. I'd hate to be in the huddle having to listen to those stars telling me how open they were and the ball should have been throw their way. Good luck to Mr. Harbaugh with a very challenging season with the superstars and prima donnas.
2) Houston Texans-- Welcome back Matt Schaub. This team has the ability to make the rest of Texas have someone to root for this season. The Texans went on to the playoffs without Schaub, who had that painful Lisfranc injury last season, but they didn't advance very far in the playoffs without him. This season should be his best, as they usually are when stars are in their last year under contract. It seems that the entire team is coming to the dance floor healthy and in a very easy division. Big leads in those games could have their players resting in most 4th quarters. Most importantly, the Texans have the best D in the NFL. That can take a team a long way.
3) New England-- The Pats are loaded with the best offense in football and they re-loaded on D in the draft. So they are everyone's favorite. But not mine. The problem? No line. And that could get Tom Brady hurt. During the past off-season, Matt Light retired, and since Brian Waters hasn't reported to the Patriots yet, it sure looks like he is following Light's lead. Free agent Robert Gallery also decided to retire. The team released center Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins had knee surgery. Coach Belichick will also be tested since the New York Giants game plan on how to beat the Patriots is being studied and copied all over the league. But if they can keep Brady standing upright, and Wes Welker healthy, and truly improve the D with all the young talent, the Pats still have the magic to go to the big dance.
4) Green Bay-- How does a team go 15-1 with the NFL's worst defense? I guess that can be seen as "a glass half full moment." Afterall, any progress at all on D would spell trouble for the rest of the league. Unfortunately the preseason report card on defense gives them a failing grade. LB Desmond Bishop had surgery on his hamstring and was placed on Injured Reserve. CB Davon House has a dislocated shoulder and Nick Collins still hasn't received medical clearance to return to football. Mike Neal was suspended for four games and second-round pick Jerel Worthy wasn't able to win a starting job. So...the ball remains on the side of the offense to get things done....again! But this year they have an added problem...competition with both Chicago and Detroit, who are sick and tired of seeing "The Pack is Back" signs in the stands.
5) Baltimore Ravens---It's all about the defensive secondary for the Ravens (aka the team coached by that "other Harbaugh brother"). They are not getting any younger. The Ravens have to be concerned about their linebackers. First, it was NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs going down with an Achilles tendon injury. Alabama star Courtney Upshaw had a non-productive preseason and re-injured his shoulder. If the offense has to carry this team, they will not be in the Super Bowl. Their road game attitude needs to be addressed again, as they let some easy road wins get away last year. I still do not see a real leader on offense that is that "TAKE CHARGE GUY" every Super Bowl winner needs.
6) Chicago Bears---As goes Jay Cutler, this is the direction of the Bears as well. He can stay healthy if his offensive line can do their job- a big "if". His injuries (and his life) are in their hands. The Bears offensive line has allowed 105 sacks over the past two years. By comparison, Buffalo gave up just 23 last season. And with his talented receiver group, that only means two choices during games- he'll leading lightening fast TD drives, or on his back. But getting RB Matt Forte back was huge! This offense is loaded. They will certainly give the Pack a run for their money.
7) Dallas Cowboys---America loves their Cowboys. How unlucky to have all the injuries this early in the season, especially after outspoken owner extraordinaire Jerry Jones has made it known what he expects from his team this year. They need TE Jason Witten, but he questionable for week #1. The certainly need Miles Austin healthy and he's a question mark. There are also injuries on the offensive line to deal with. Romo is an All Pro regular season quarterback and Jason Garrett has a full season behind him, so it's time to put up, or shut up. The NFC East is a very interesting division as theere is nothing clear-cut at the top and they continue to beat each other up.
8) Pittsburgh Steelers---This team has a lot of questions to answer. First, new offensive coordinator Todd Haley has implemented his style. Then there's the health of Rashard Mendenhall. James Harrison is feeling it with his knees and Mike Wallace has been a distraction the past four weeks. Two highly touted rookies are down and out- David DeCastro and Sean Spence. So it's back to the leadership quality of Big Ben at QB. He seems like the only veteran leader that's left. This will be a 3-horse race with the Ravens and the Bengals.
9) New York Giants---This team has good chemistry. Eli Manning has come into his own as a leader. The once shy younger brother has really stepped up to a new level. But there are injury concerns to overcome early in the season. Terrell Thomas once again is hurt and will be out of commission, as New York has placed him on injured reserve. Prince Amukamara will miss the season opener due to his high-ankle sprain. The biggest issue could be a typical one for all past Super Bowl winners- complacency. Coach Tom will have to pull another one out of his hat, as he did last year when all of New York indicated he wouldn't need a hat...since they were ready to chop off his head!
10) Philadelphia Eagles---It seems the offensive line is actually adequate enough to protect Michael Vick. But it's when he starts running out of the pocket that he is open season for every defender to pop him hard. And that's with no added bounties. They all like to hit QB's. Vick simply has to learn how to avoid putting himself in so many potentially hazardous situations. He needs to be smarter when getting a first down on a scramble, instead of sliding, deciding to run for another 10 yards, taking a big hit, and winding up hurt in the process. He promised Coach Andy Reid that he'll make better decisions with the ball...but then again, this is the same QB that said the Eagles were a dynasty last season (when they didn't even make the Playoffs)! I hate to see Coach Reid working under an ultimatum. But then again, he's paid to produce championships and has been given the tools- so maybe the owner is correct to turn up the heat. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen...or Philadelphia!
Wayne's Honorable Mention:
10a) New Orleans
And all the rest with Playoff aspirations...
Seattle (they win the award for "much improved")