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NFL Power Ratings Leaders, Part 2

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/06/2005

The NFL regular season kicks off this week, and my web site lists my pro power ratings. These ratings are based, in part, on offseason changes, last year’s stats, and a team’s play in the preseason with its starters. This final part is key, as I carefully watched how the starting units on offense and defense played. Last week I looked at the top teams in the AFC. The AFC has won 6 of the last 8 Super Bowls and has the majority of top teams again. I’ll finish up the AFC with the remaining strong teams, and look at the best NFC teams with my current power rating next to them.

Jets (74): NY appears primed to make a run at toppling the Patriots from atop the AFC East. They got rid of disgruntled Santana Moss and brought in speedy WR Laverneus Coles and TE Doug Jolley. New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger promises a more wide-open attack and he threw the ball down the field a lot with the Titans. The defense is solid under second-year coordinator Donnie Henderson, and they added CB Ty Law a few weeks ago. However, QB Chad Pennington has never had a strong arm and he had offseason shoulder surgery. It won’t help an offense that wants to throw the ball down the field if the QB can’t do it well. And Pennington insulted NY fans when he lashed out at the media last season for criticism he can’t win a big game, after which he went out and played horribly in a late season home loss to the Patriots. You have to have thick skin in the Big Apple, and this kid might not have it. If he struggles, the boo birds will be out early, which could shake his confidence. But on paper, at least, this team is better.

Broncos (74): Denver is one of those teams that has been great statistically the last few years, but there’s always something missing with this bunch. QB Jake Plummer is certainly an erratic weak link at times (20 picks last fall) and the secondary has been destroyed by the Colts the last two years in the playoffs. Still, they are not lacking for talent, with a strong defense, a shut-down corner in Champ Bailey, terrific WRs and great running back depth. And don’t forget that home field edge in Mile High!

Bills (73): You have to take seriously a club that has had the No. 2 defense in the NFL in each of the last two years. Throw in RB Willis McGahee and WR Eric Moulds, and the pieces are in place for a team that came close to the playoffs last year. However, the big question mark – and it’s a huge one – is at quarterback, where inexperienced J.P. Losman is being handed the keys to the offense. When asked about Buffalo’s chances, longtime coach Jimmy Johnson remarked, “Forget about it. You can’t go far in the NFL with a kid QB.â€쳌 They’re more likely a few years away.

NFC: Eagles (79): And why shouldn’t Philadelphia be the favorite in the NFC again? Andy Reid runs a no-nonsense operation and they’ve been to the NFC Championship game for four straight years. QB Donovan McNabb is off a brilliant season and in his prime, while the defense is solid all-around. Their road record the last four years is beyond belief. However, the run defense could be a weak link. They were average last season and just let Corey Simon walk. We’ll get an early look at that run defense on Monday when Philly plays at the Falcons, the top rushing team in the NFL in 2004.

Vikings (74): Minnesota feels they’re ready to take the next step, bringing in several young run-stoppers on the defensive line (Pat Williams and rookie Erasmus James). The offense is loaded, with QB Daunte Culpepper and a new Moss-less philosophy. During preseason, Culpepper spread the ball around to many different players. Most likely, this will make them better. The biggest weakness might be the secondary and head coach Mike Tice, a guy who guided this team through two ridiculous second half swoons in 2003 and ’04.

Falcons (74): Run, run, Rudolph! Coach Jim Mora has brought in a tough, physical defensive style and they run the ball better than anyone with RB Warrick Dunn (1,106 yards), T.J.Duckett and a QB named Michael Vick. The 4-3 defensive front led the league in sacks with 48. So what’s their weakness? How about Vick? He threw 14 TDs and 12 interceptions, and made poor passes and decisions in the NFC championship game loss to the Eagles. The passing offense needs improvement to avoid being so one-dimensional on offense, something that opposing defensive coordinators lick their chops over.

Panthers (74): This appears to be the surprise team of the NFC, or certainly a bounce-back club. This group is very talented, with a tough defensive front, an emerging QB in Jake Delhomme (29 TD, 3,886 yards, 15 interceptions) and excellent running back depth. Even the secondary is getting better, as Carolina led the league with 26 interceptions a year ago. After all, this team won the NFC two years ago.

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