Here are the final preseason NFL rankings, along with regular-season predictions, based on a composite of analyses from nationwide media sources.
#1 NFC East
Michael Vick, RGIII, Peyton Manning's Younger Brother, Jerry Jones... this division is absolutely loaded. In 2011, the NFC East had an aggregate record of 30-22 (not counting losses against the ultra-tough NFC East). The four teams combined for an astonishing 12 wins against the powerhouse NFC East.
Prediction: All four teams should make the playoffs. Two of them will win the Super Bowl.
#2 Dallas Cowboys
Third-year player Cowboys Stadium is poised for a breakout season; this behemoth could dominate the league for years to come. Dallas was just one win away from a division title in 2011.
Prediction: 9 wins and 7 really good excuses for losing.
#3 San Francisco 49ers
The Niners start the season at 13-3, making it nearly impossible for the other team in their division to catch up.
Prediction: San Francisco was only one game away from the Super Bowl last year. Look for them to go deep in the playoffs.
#4 The New York City Football National Football League Football Giants
At long last, Eli Manning has moved out of Peyton's shadow. He's newsworthy in his own right, without reference to being "Peyton's younger brother", or "living up to Peyton's reputation." Because the younger Manning has w-- PeytonPeytonPeytonPeytonPeyton. Damm. Sorry, Eli.
Prediction: The Giants should go deep in the playoffs. Seriously, though, what does that mean? It's not like there are 10 rounds, where "deep" could mean anything between 6 and 9. We're obviously fudging. But given the Giants' history of post-season runs after a crappy regular season, can you blame us?
#5 Belichick Bradys
Fifty million football fans think the Patriots will be good. But we're professionals, dammit, so when WE say they'll be good, it means we've figured out something you haven't. Really.
Prediction: Thanks to an NFL Network replay frequency that induces quantum MWI effects, we project the Pats to shatter NFL records for both wins and losses, finishing the season at 84-28.
#6 Green Bay Packers
After a wildly successful Aaron-Rodgers-in-the-shadow-of-Brett-Favre story in 2010, the 2011 Packers fell flat, doing little else besides playing football. They made a half-hearted effort to revise the 2007 Patriots' "perfect season" motif, but like a premature movie reboot, it was doomed to fail because the original was better.
Prediction: Green Bay will finish the season one win away from something really good.
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers
The defense is aging, but opponents will still have a very difficult time matching up against the Steelers' six Lombardi Trophies.
Prediction: Look for a 2-3 start, after which Pittsburgh will be excused from the remainder of the regular season. They will then go 5-0 in postseason, because Ben Roethlisberger just knows how to win in the playoffs. Presumably this involves outscoring your opponent, but we're pretty sure there's some other secret.
#8 Philadelphia Eagles
This has to be one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Because you can't argue with name recognition, and we've followed them closely enough to know the entire roster.
Prediction: It's astronomically unlikely that any team could be ravaged by injuries two season in a row, so we'll repeat our 2011 prediction with even more confidence: The Eagles will be great.
#9 Peyton Manning
The biggest free agency drama in recent years reached its conclusion when Peyton Manning acquired the Denver Broncos. Manning alone was projected to be a 10-win team; adding the Broncos to his roster makes him an instant contender.
Prediction: Expect the kickoffs in Denver to go deep.
#10 Hurricane Isaac
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, say the great philosophers. So, tragic as it may have been for non-fans, 2005's Katrina was clearly the inspiration for the Saints' Super Bowl Championship that year... er, a couple of years later.
Prediction: If Isaac picks up, look for New Orleans to go deep.
#11 The Pittsburgh Steelers' Main Division Rivals
Sure, all NFL teams have big, strong men who wear pads and push each other around for a living. But the Baltimore Ravens play the Steelers twice a year, so they must be "tough" and "physical" to some higher degree.
Prediction: 6 "tough" wins, 4 "aggressive" wins, 3 "physical" losses, and 3 "gritty" losses.
#12 Detroit Lions
When this team makes it to the Super Bowl, then everyone will believe that they are a Super Bowl contender. See what we did there? Whatever happens, it comes back as an "I told you so."
Prediction: With Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, look for this team to throw the ball deep.
#13 Officials Labor Dispute
Insider reports say that the two sides have agreed in principle to a rookie salary cap for 20-something [football] officials. "We don't give a rat's ass about that," said a [labor] official. "How many [football] officials are in their twenties?" The sticking point, according one [labor] official, is a demand that [football] officials receive certain perks "comparable but not necessarily equal" to those of players. The NFL has offered three media reports each year, real or fabricated, involving [football] officials in nightclub brawls. Football/labor officials are holding out for six. "And they have to say that I punched out some punk kid, 'cause I don't like rap music or something," added a [labor] official.
Prediction: [Football] officials will cave in and accept the NFL's offer in exchange for a ban on derogatory use of the word "zebra".
Just "Texans." Because "Houston Texans" sounds funny, doesn't it? You want to put in a comma like you do for the name of the city + state (Houston, Texas). Or just call them the Houston Oilers if you're an old fart.
Prediction: Utter domination of fantasy draft boards everywhere.
#15 New York Jets
The Jets' alleged weakness is their offense, something they adroitly corrected with the acquisition of Tim Tebow. A google search of "Tim Tebow New York Jets" returns over 20 million hits, compared to a bare 3 million for "Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons" and a paltry 671,000 for "Ryan Fitzpatrick Buffalo Bills". Enough said, right?
Prediction: This team will go deep. Into their offensive depth chart. Practice-squad deep. Desperate-trade-for-other-teams'-talent deep, even guys-off-the-street deep.
#16 San Diego Chargers
The Chargers struggled last year, but they still have Phillip Rivers.
Prediction: A slight rebound to 9-7.
#17 Chicago Bears
The Bears struggled last year, but they still have Jay Cutler.
Prediction: A slight rebound to 9-7.
#18 Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton's star is on the rise.
#19 Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs struggled last year, but are hoping that Matt Cassell returns to form.
#20 Tennessee Titans
The Titans broke .500 last year, but the quarterback situation is fraught with uncertainty.
Prediction: You see what we're doing, right? We just look at last year's record and then adjust a bit based on how good and/or famous we think the quarterback is, then maybe bump them up a bit if they have recent playoff history. This isn't rocket science. If this were rocket science, the new Mars Rover would have been a tangled wreckage in some Cuban basement eight months ago.
#21 Jacksonville Jaguars
#22 Toronto Bills
The Bills started strong, but may have peaked early. By acquiring Mario Williams in the offseason, everything they've done since is dull by comparison.
Prediction: With global warming and a move to the north, look for this team to be one of the few playing deep into the 22nd century.
#23 Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were one competent GM away from acquiring former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn as their QBOTF. They settled for drafting Texas QB Ryan Tannehill, who has an impressive track record of being mentioned in the same sentence as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin (638,000 google hits, soon to be 638,001).
Prediction: The Dolphins should contend for the league's top spot in use of the word "rebuilding".
#24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is a sinkhole of anonymity. Even new head coach Greg Shiano's Wikipedia page is under construction. Seriously, his Wikipeida page. Even Ryan Succop has better presentation than that.
Prediction: 3:2 odds against the NFL bothering to record their game results.
#25 USC Trojans
Coach Pete Carroll is apparently trying to form a professional team somewhere in Oregon. Given his low draft grades, however, the project is unlikely to succeed.
Prediction: 11-1, 1st place in the Pac-12
#26 Cleveland Browns
Cleveland was just 4 games away from a perfect 0-16 season last year. By a staggering coincidence, they were also 4 wins away from a playoff berth. Can they continue this delicate balancing act?
Prediction: 0 wins, 0 losses, 16 ties.
#27 "The Scandal"
Shock waves rippled through the football world when it was revealed that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck had graduated and was forgoing his final year of NCAA eligibility. In response to this grievous offense, the NFL announced disciplinary action in April, sentencing Luck to Career in Indianapolis. "Man, that's harsh," said a convicted serial killer currently on death row. "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes." Luck is eligible for parole in five years, depending on unspecified behavior conditions.
Prediction: Misery. Bitterness. Ennui.
#28 Da Raiders
Oakland football fans were somewhat underwhelmed by the passing of owner Al Davis last year. "Really, there's only one angle you can take writing about Al Davis," said one reporter, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But I've got a really nice piece written up for John Madden. I mean, I wish the guy the best and all, but when his time comes, it's going to be a real tear-jerker. Pulitzer Prize stuff."
Prediction: A 48% reduction in gameday violence, as jaded fans just go through the motions to uphold their reputation.
#29 St. Louis Rams
It hurts just to talk about this team. So we won't.
Prediction: Extraterrestrial observers, after years of disinterest in war, disease, and genocide, will finally be moved to pity by the plight of Steven Jackson. He will be transported to a parallel universe and allowed to play for a team that's "merely bad", earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.
#30 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were just seven wins away from a playoff berth last year. Christian Ponder's development should bring them another step closer.
Prediction: If Adrian Peterson stays healthy, expect this team to be playing deep into November.
#31 Cincinatti Tigers
They made the playoffs last year. Behind quarterback... um... some guy.
Prediction: They might again.
#32 Atlanta Hawks or Falcons or whatever
They should-- sh-- *yawn* Really, is there anything interesting happening here?