Pre-camp Power Poll: Rankings complete with potential headaches

The New Jets and Dallas Cowboys reside at the top of Sporting News’ pre-training camp power poll, but other teams have realistic Super Bowl aspirations.

 
Is this their year? Coach Norv Turner and QB Philip Rivers have supporters.
Is this their year? Coach Norv Turner and QB Philip Rivers have supporters.

Take the San Diego Chargers, ranked No. 4, who have won four consecutive AFC West titles with no Super Bowl appearances to show for it. The Chargers remain a deep and versatile team, even with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill threatening extended holdouts because of contract disputes.

 
"The Chargers are a team that still has the talent to win it all," ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. "You can’t help but look at the Colts in the AFC, but there’s an ebb and flow to a team’s development and I think this could be the year for the Chargers. That disappointing playoff loss to the Jets last year was a learning experience.
 
"Philip Rivers is still learning as a quarterback, but he’s a heck of a player. I think this might be their time. They have the talent. Mentally, they just have to get over the hump."
 
The Chargers hope Tra Thomas or Brandyn Dombrowski can pick up the slack for McNeil if he sticks to his threat to hold out until Week 10. Even if Jackson reports, he will miss the season’s first three games under suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
 
Still, the Chargers have plenty of weapons, including Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, wide receiver Malcolm Floyd, third-down back Darren Sproles and rookie running back Ryan Mathews, who will ease the loss of LaDainian Tomlinson to the Jets.
 
No need to throw a pity party for the Chargers. They could have another reason to party in February.
 
Potential headache: CB Darrelle Revis, C Nick Mangold and ILB David Harris all want new deals.
 
Potential headache: Doug Free might not be ready to replace Flozell Adams at left tackle.
 
Potential headache: Asking the Saints’ defense to force as many turnovers is asking too much.
 
Potential headache: If Jackson and McNeill really stay away, others will be under pressure to step up.
 
Potential headache: The offensive line might not be good enough to keep Brett Favre from getting battered.
 
Potential headache: The 3-4 defense that yielded 51 points in a playoff loss to Arizona still has question marks.
 
Potential headache: WR Reggie Wayne wants more money, although in Indianapolis these disputes rarely get out of hand.
 
Potential headache: They still must establish a consistent No. 2 receiver opposite Steve Smith.
 
Potential headache: The secondary could give up big plays, especially if injuries continue to hamper S Ed Reed.
 
Potential headache: Can they generate a consistent running game to balance
the offense?
 

11. New England Patriots

Potential headache: If their pass rush does not improve, their defense might
not either.
 
Potential headache: Alex Smith has yet to prove he is good enough to quarterback a team into postseason.
 
Potential headache: Another team that must reach hit opposing quarterbacks more often.
 
Potential headache: This team has gone young, and there could be some
growing pains.
 
Potential headache: The fallout from QB Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension—both his absence and the attention when he returns.
 
Potential headache: Does new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have the right players to fit his system?
 
Potential headache: With QB Kurt Warner and WR Anquan Boldin gone, the offense figures to be less explosive.
 
Potential headache: If RB Chris Johnson does not match last year’s superlatives, the offense could suffer.
 
Potential headache: Their defense was shredded last season and must prove that it is not in decline.
 
Potential headache: The offense still could be short on playmakers to help QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco.
 
Potential headache: An offense that only scored more than 20 points four times last season might not be much better.
 
Potential headache: If QB Jay Cutler struggles early under Mike Martz’s guidance, Bears fans will not be forgiving.
 
Potential headache: They have three quarterbacks fighting to start, but not one is
very good.
 
Potential headache: Just because QB Jake Delhomme switched teams does not mean his play will improve.
 
Potential headache: It might take a young QB like Josh Freeman time to mesh with new receivers.
 
Potential headache: An unproven offensive line might make Donovan McNabb’s transition more difficult.
 
Potential headache: No telling if enough has been done defensively to improve a league-low 14 sacks from last season.
 
Potential headache:If Kyle Orton does not play well in preseason, a quarterback controversy will ensue.
 
Potential headache: Unless WR Dwayne Bowe has a bounce back year, QB Matt Cassel will long for a consistent No. 1 receiver.
 
Potential headache: If RB Darren McFadden is not ready to be a feature back, the running game could sputter.
 
Potential headache: The veterans they added defensively already might have played their best football elsewhere.
 
Potential headache: If they rush rookie QB Sam Bradford into the lineup, he might struggle learning under fire.
 
This story appears in July 21’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.

 
Senior writer Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

The New Jets and Dallas Cowboys reside at the top of Sporting News’ pre-training camp power poll, but other teams have realistic Super Bowl aspirations.

 
Is this their year? Coach Norv Turner and QB Philip Rivers have supporters.
Is this their year? Coach Norv Turner and QB Philip Rivers have supporters.

Take the San Diego Chargers, ranked No. 4, who have won four consecutive AFC West titles with no Super Bowl appearances to show for it. The Chargers remain a deep and versatile team, even with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill threatening extended holdouts because of contract disputes.

 
"The Chargers are a team that still has the talent to win it all," ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said. "You can’t help but look at the Colts in the AFC, but there’s an ebb and flow to a team’s development and I think this could be the year for the Chargers. That disappointing playoff loss to the Jets last year was a learning experience.
 
"Philip Rivers is still learning as a quarterback, but he’s a heck of a player. I think this might be their time. They have the talent. Mentally, they just have to get over the hump."
 
The Chargers hope Tra Thomas or Brandyn Dombrowski can pick up the slack for McNeil if he sticks to his threat to hold out until Week 10. Even if Jackson reports, he will miss the season’s first three games under suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
 
Still, the Chargers have plenty of weapons, including Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, wide receiver Malcolm Floyd, third-down back Darren Sproles and rookie running back Ryan Mathews, who will ease the loss of LaDainian Tomlinson to the Jets.
 
No need to throw a pity party for the Chargers. They could have another reason to party in February.
 
Potential headache: CB Darrelle Revis, C Nick Mangold and ILB David Harris all want new deals.
 
Potential headache: Doug Free might not be ready to replace Flozell Adams at left tackle.
 
Potential headache: Asking the Saints’ defense to force as many turnovers is asking too much.
 
Potential headache: If Jackson and McNeill really stay away, others will be under pressure to step up.
 
Potential headache: The offensive line might not be good enough to keep Brett Favre from getting battered.
 
Potential headache: The 3-4 defense that yielded 51 points in a playoff loss to Arizona still has question marks.
 
Potential headache: WR Reggie Wayne wants more money, although in Indianapolis these disputes rarely get out of hand.
 
Potential headache: They still must establish a consistent No. 2 receiver opposite Steve Smith.
 
Potential headache: The secondary could give up big plays, especially if injuries continue to hamper S Ed Reed.
 
Potential headache: Can they generate a consistent running game to balance
the offense?
 

11. New England Patriots

Potential headache: If their pass rush does not improve, their defense might
not either.
 
Potential headache: Alex Smith has yet to prove he is good enough to quarterback a team into postseason.
 
Potential headache: Another team that must reach hit opposing quarterbacks more often.
 
Potential headache: This team has gone young, and there could be some
growing pains.
 
Potential headache: The fallout from QB Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension—both his absence and the attention when he returns.
 
Potential headache: Does new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have the right players to fit his system?
 
Potential headache: With QB Kurt Warner and WR Anquan Boldin gone, the offense figures to be less explosive.
 
Potential headache: If RB Chris Johnson does not match last year’s superlatives, the offense could suffer.
 
Potential headache: Their defense was shredded last season and must prove that it is not in decline.
 
Potential headache: The offense still could be short on playmakers to help QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco.
 
Potential headache: An offense that only scored more than 20 points four times last season might not be much better.
 
Potential headache: If QB Jay Cutler struggles early under Mike Martz’s guidance, Bears fans will not be forgiving.
 
Potential headache: They have three quarterbacks fighting to start, but not one is
very good.
 
Potential headache: Just because QB Jake Delhomme switched teams does not mean his play will improve.
 
Potential headache: It might take a young QB like Josh Freeman time to mesh with new receivers.
 
Potential headache: An unproven offensive line might make Donovan McNabb’s transition more difficult.
 
Potential headache: No telling if enough has been done defensively to improve a league-low 14 sacks from last season.
 
Potential headache:If Kyle Orton does not play well in preseason, a quarterback controversy will ensue.
 
Potential headache: Unless WR Dwayne Bowe has a bounce back year, QB Matt Cassel will long for a consistent No. 1 receiver.
 
Potential headache: If RB Darren McFadden is not ready to be a feature back, the running game could sputter.
 
Potential headache: The veterans they added defensively already might have played their best football elsewhere.
 
Potential headache: If they rush rookie QB Sam Bradford into the lineup, he might struggle learning under fire.
 
This story appears in July 21’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.

 
Senior writer Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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