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DIESELMAN
07-03-2006, 04:32 AM
Let's make it clear that these ranking are based upon the assumption that all key veterans will start the season healthy (even Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper) and that all rookies will be signed on time (unlike Chicago's Cedric Benson last year).

http://nfl.com/news/story/9532593

Here are the top 5:

1. Carolina

Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme nearly won the Super Bowl three seasons ago.
In 2005, it was No. 3 in total defense and was No. 2 in takeaways. It also had 45 sacks. The defense lost one starter from 2005 (Will Witherspoon) and played the season without Kris Jenkins, who will turn from injury in 2006. Carolina signed six veteran starters in free agency (two linebackers, two defensive linemen, a center and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson) who should be a big help. Carolina's bye will be Week 9 and it will play Dallas, Pittsburgh and the Giants at home. Carolina will end the season with road games against Atlanta and New Orleans. Johnson and rookie running back DeAngelo Williams (Memphis) should help an offense that finished No. 22 last season.

2. Indianapolis
In 2005, the Colts were ranked No. 11 in total defense and No. 2 in sacks, had 31 takeaways and scored four defensive touchdowns. Adding kicker Adam Vinatieri was BIG. Also last season, the Colts offense was No. 3 in rushing. Losing Edgerrin James was big, but remember that Dominic Rhodes rushed for 1,000-plus yards (as an undrafted rookie) in the season James missed with a knee injury. Rookie running back Joseph Addai (LSU) has a chance to be very good. Peyton Manning, who is entering his ninth season at age 30, still is very good and so are his receivers (Harrison, Stokley, Wayne). Last year, Manning had 28 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions -- not as good as 2004, but still very good. The bye will come in Week 6. Indy has road games against Denver, New England and Dallas in a four-week span (Oct. 29 through Nov. 19).

3. Pittsburgh
The Steelers lost three starters to free agency and Jerome Bettis retired. The defense finished No. 4 overall and No. 3 in scoring defense with 30 takeaways and 47 sacks. The Steelers will have to play road games against the Jaguars, Chargers and Panthers, and will finish the season at Cincinnati. On offense, the Steelers need Willie Parker and Duce Staley to come through to help the running game, which is so important to the team's success. Draft choices Santonio Holmes, Anthony Smith and Willie Reed need to help take up the slack for the departed players they will replace. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger's injuries are a concern. The bye will come in Week 4. Someone must successfully fill the void Antwaan Randle-El left if the team is to return to the Super Bowl, but this is a well-coached team and an outstanding organization.

4. Seattle
The previous five teams that lost the Super Bowl have failed to post a winning record the following season, but this will not happen to Seattle. Last season, the Seahawks had 27 takeaways and led the NFL with 50 sacks, but finished No. 16 in total defense (No. 5 against the run; No. 25 vs. the pass). First-round draft choice Kelly Jennings (Miami, Fla.) should help the pass defense. Seattle will play road games against Chicago, Kansas City and Denver, and the season finale will be at Tampa Bay. Eight games will be played against teams with new head coaches in 2006. The offense had a league-high 57 touchdowns last season (including Shaun Alexander's league-record 28). Matt Hasselbeck is one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, and Alexander re-signed with the team after rushing for a league-high 1,880 yards last season. A big key will be to replace Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson, who left for Minnesota.

5. New England
The Patriots were the only team to make the playoffs in 2005 with more turnovers (18) than takeaways (24). Last season, the Patriots were No. 7 in total offense, No. 26 in total defense (No. 31 against the pass), and ranked near the bottom with games missed by injury. They have good young players on both lines. Tom Brady had a great season in 2005 and should be even better this season. Don't be surprised if rookie running back Laurence Maroney has a great season. Tight end Ben Watson will be a factor. New England will plays Denver, Indianapolis and Chicago at home. The bye will come in Week 6, and New England will end the season with road games at Jacksonville and Tennessee. The big job will be to find a capable replacement for Adam Vinatieri.

CantStop85
07-03-2006, 11:50 AM
Carolina's an intriguing pick at #1. On paper they should be really good. If the offense shows up, they could very easily make it to the Superbowl. However, I don't think I'd put them #1...probably top 3.

lilyoder6
07-03-2006, 12:23 PM
carloina is a good team.. now they have another weapon on offense that will make defenses think about double teaming smith and leaving one on one with johnson, foster, or the TE.