It’s not too early to look ahead to next season, even with the Saints’ fingerprints still fresh on the Lombardi Trophy. We took our first 2010 rankings to current and former players and executives to see what they think.
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Dallas Cowboys
Fox analyst and former Cowboys FB Daryl Johnston: "Does the Cowboys at No. 2 surprise me? Absolutely not. One of the big concerns people had was that Dallas always melted (down) at the end of the year. I think they silenced a lot of the critics. Linebacker Keith Brooking has brought in some great leadership that they needed."
3. Green Bay Packers
4. New Orleans Saints
GM Mickey Loomis: "No. 4? How come we’re not No. 1? We’ve got a good group of core players, a great coaching staff. I think our window of opportunity is going to last at least as long as Drew Brees is our quarterback."
5. San Diego Chargers
6. New York Jets
CBS analyst and former Jets QB Boomer Esiason: "No. 6 is about right, provided Mark Sanchez takes the next step and continues to develop as a quarterback. They need a pass rusher in the worst way. But they have Darrelle Revis, the best corner in the league. They have David Harris, the most underrated linebacker in the league."
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
NFL Network analyst and former Steelers CB Rod Woodson: "No. 7 may be a little high, but I can see them in the top 10. Their offensive line is an issue. Getting more depth in the secondary, at the corner position, is another issue. Their secondary has to step up, whether Troy (Polamalu) is there or not."
8. Philadelphia Eagles
LB Will Witherspoon: "Eighth? We should at least be sixth. We had some young guys, we had some injuries. Once we pick those guys back up, it will be a whole different animal."
9. Baltimore Ravens
RB Ray Rice: "We should be No. 1, not No. 9. We’ve made the playoffs the last two years. We’ve shown that we can win playoff games. It would be a nice step for us to win the division. Getting that extra week of rest in the playoffs is important."
10. Minnesota Vikings
11. Atlanta Falcons
12. New York Giants
CBS analyst and former Giants QB Phil Simms: "No. 12 for the Giants is about right. I think it’s important for them to re-establish who the leaders of that team are, get four or five guys to really step forward. What was their identity last year? I’m not sure they really established that."
13. Tennessee Titans
14. New England Patriots
15. Houston Texans
16. San Francisco 49ers
17. Miami Dolphins
CBS analyst and former Dolphins QB Dan Marino: "No. 17 is a little low. They were almost a playoff team, and they had a brutal schedule. They need Ronnie Brown to come back healthy, and they need playmakers on the outside at wide receiver. But their young quarterback, Chad Henne, developed nicely last year."
18. Carolina Panthers
19. Cincinnati Bengals
CBS analyst and former Bengals DB Solomon Wilcots: "No. 19 is too low. They won the AFC North, and that’s one of the toughest divisions. They swept both of them. They’ve got a strong defense and good young players. Even if they slip a little, I don’t see them slipping out of the top 12."
20. Arizona Cardinals
DT Darnell Dockett: "That’s too low, but it doesn’t matter. We won the NFC West two years in a row. We’ve never had a losing season since Ken Whisenhunt has been there. Not having Kurt Warner? There’s nothing that we can do about it. We’ll be fine. I actually like the fact we’re not one of the highlighted teams. It motivates us."
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
22. Chicago Bears
Former Bears QB Jim Miller: "They’re a middle-of-the-pack team, anywhere from 16 to 24, 25. Mike Martz’s (offensive) system is very tough to learn. So I think it’s going to take some time, not only for Jay Cutler but Johnny Knox, a young receiver. It really is going to set back Devin Hester. He’s going to have to learn a whole new system."
23. Washington Redskins
CBS analyst and former Redskins GM Charley Casserly: "No. 23 is about right. They will be a better team with Mike Shanahan. But they’re in a tough division. I don’t think they will take a major jump, at least not next season. Even though they have the No. 4 pick, they only have five picks overall."
24. Denver Broncos
25. Cleveland Browns
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks: "There are a lot of questions to be answered. Where do they start? Last year, they drafted a quarterback. Does that mean they turn to the defense this year? They’ve got some pieces in place, especially in the secondary, but up front there’s no foundation around which to build."
27. Kansas City Chiefs
28. Oakland Raiders
CBS analyst and former Raiders QB Rich Gannon: "No. 28 sounds about right. The instability of the quarterback position is a big part of it. You have to have a guy at that position who is productive and efficient. The Raiders don’t have that in JaMarcus Russell. Getting (offensive coordinator) Hue Jackson was a good move. He helped Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco. Maybe he can help a guy like JaMarcus Russell."
29. Detroit Lions
30. Seattle Seahawks
Former Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander: "That’s better than I thought they would be. They’ve had two back-to-back bad seasons, two back-to-back injury-filled seasons. They haven’t carried the games, especially taking care of their home turf like they used to. I think it’s going to be exciting with Pete Carroll. He’ll bring new life."
31. Buffalo Bills
32. St. Louis Rams
NFL Network analyst and former Rams RB Marshall Faulk: "They’ve earned the No. 32 spot. It’s well-deserved. The Rams are more worried about firing their trainer and their equipment manager than they are worried about the coaches responsible for their play on the field. That says a lot. When the first offseason move you make is to fire your trainer? Perfect. Maybe the draft will help. But at no point last season did I see anything that made me think they were turning the corner. It’s painful to watch."
This story first appeared in the February 15, 2010 edition of Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.