Faithful Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor
If you're a faithful Cold, Hard Football Facts reader, you already know the No. 1 team in our 2010 preseason Power Rankings: the Saints, a.k.a., the defending champions.
It's kind of a tradition around here that the champs hold the No. 1 spot in our debut rankings the following season.
Until they do something in the heat of actual battle to make us change our mind, the Saints are a strong No. 1. They certainly don't appear to have taken any steps back. Their smooth offense returns intact, as does their coaching staff and front office. The defense wasn't completely great by the numbers in 2009, but the Defensive Passer Rating was impressive and it was clear in the playoffs that the unit worked just fine in conjunction with the offense. That very same defense made the big late-game play that preserved victory in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
But as you can see from our preseason rankings of a year ago, this position is likely to change. Our top four teams this year came in 13th, 9th, 14th and 21st in last year's preseason rankings. And our top four preseason teams of 2009 finished the regular season ranked 16th, 9th, 8th and 17th.
In other words, enjoy our meticulously chosen Cold, Hard Football Fact for each team. But don't put too much stock in the rankings.
They'll be a-changin' soon enough.
1. NEW ORLEANS (16-3 in 2009)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 13; midseason, 1; final regular season, 4
2010 storyline in two words or less: Super hangover.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Of the last five teams to win Super Bowls by 14+ points, only two won a playoff game the next season, and only the 1996 Packers went back to the promised land (losing to Denver).
2. INDIANAPOLIS (16-3)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 9; midseason, 2; final regular season, 2
2010 storyline in two words or less: Same old.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Peyton Manning is the only quarterback in NFL history to win 13+ games under three different coaches (Mora, Dungy, Caldwell). He is also tied with brother Eli for most Oreo Double Stuff Championship licking appearances (1).
3. GREEN BAY (11-6)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 14; midseason, 17; final regular season, 5
2010 storyline in two words or less: Rodgers redux.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: QB Aaron Rodgers had a unique mix of production and accuracy in 2009. He led the NFL in interception percentage (1.29 percent picked) and also managed 30 TDs. No QB in the Live Ball Era has matched it – Ken Anderson came closest with 29 TDs with the Bengals in 1981.
4. DALLAS (12-6)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 21; midseason, 6; final regular season, 6
2010 storyline in two words or less: Super advantage?
Cold, Hard Football Fact: A Super Bowl host hasn't made the playoffs since the 2001 season, when the Tampa Bay Bucs lost in the first round. The 1998 Dolphins were the last team to win a playoff game in their Super hosting season.
5. BALTIMORE (10-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 2; midseason, 10; final regular season, 9
2010 storyline in two words or less: Loaded.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Ravens have 15 players on the current roster that have been to at least one Pro Bowl. Just call them "Hawaii's Team."
6. SAN DIEGO (13-4)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 6; midseason, 14; final regular season, 1
2010 storyline in two words or less: Unpaid problems.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Chargers could be in some deep trouble if LT Marcus McNeill and No. 1 WR Vincent Jackson hold out. In a year of great QB play, San Diego was first in Passing Yards Per Attempt last year (7.96) and rode it to a 13-3 record. But they finished outside the top 10 in almost every other Quality Stat last year; if the passing game falls off, there isn't much else there.
7. MINNESOTA (13-5)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 11; midseason, 11; final regular season, 3
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Vikings have had 10 different primary quarterbacks over the past 20 seasons – 11 if you count the pair of Grover Cleveland-esque stints of Brad Johnson.
8. NEW ENGLAND (10-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 5, midseason, 4; final regular season, 7
2010 storyline in two words or less: Balanced attack.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Every year from 2006-09, the Patriots have ranked among the top 8 in scoring offense and scoring defense. The other franchises to achieve this four years running since the 1970 merger were all dynastic: Cowboys (1992-1995), Packers (1994-97), Steelers (1972-76) and 49ers (1983-1992 and 1994-97).
9. N.Y. JETS (11-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 18, midseason, 15; final regular season, 9
2010 storyline in two words or less: Pressure's on.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Of the 40 conference championship losers since 1990, only five made the playoffs as wildcards (like the Jets in 2009). Three of those teams returned to the playoffs the following year, but only one (2008 Ravens) won a playoff game.
10. ATLANTA (9-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 15, midseason, 11; final regular season, 15
2010 storyline in two words or less: Jekyll, Hyde.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Falcon defense of the first four weeks of the season and the last four was brilliant: 6-2, 13.6 PPG allowed. The middle eight weeks? Not so hot: 3-5, 27 PPG allowed. Bonus fact: Despite this inconsistency, the Falcons were the only team to finish the season ranked where we had them in the preseason.
11. CINCINNATI (10-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 27, midseason, 7; final regular season, 9
Cold, Hard Football Fact: For all of the flak Terrell Owens takes for his divisiveness, last season's misery in Buffalo was only his third losing year in 13 full seasons in the NFL (excluding his exile from Philly in 2006). He's also played for six top-five scoring offenses.
12. PHILADELPHIA (11-6)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 3, midseason, 9; final regular season, 8
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Eagles have had two rare occurrences: solid 10-year runs at quarterback. Over the fondly remembered Ron Jaworski decade (1977-86), they had 73 wins plus three in the playoffs. The maligned McNabb years (2000-09) produced 103 wins and 10 playoff victories.
13. HOUSTON (9-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 22, midseason, 13; final regular season, 13
2010 storyline in two words or less: Passing fancy.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: There's not much doubt that the Texans can throw (third in Yards Per Attempt during the great passing season of 2009). But they ranked no higher than 12th in any of our other Quality Stats.
14. MIAMI (7-9)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 17, midseason, 20; final regular season, 19
2010 storyline in two words or less: Hog heaven.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Dolphins were a bit of a rarity – they finished Top 5 in the offensive and defensive Hog Indexes, which almost always would correlate to a successful season. But their No. 23 rank in Passer Rating Differential killed them.
15. SAN FRANCISCO (8-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 25, midseason, 19; final regular season, 14
2010 storyline in two words or less: Whatchutalkinbout Willis?
Cold, Hard Football Fact: San Fran is the favorite to win the NFC West for the first time in nearly a decade, and Patrick Willis is one of the main reasons. He's one of 11 players since 1978 to debut with three Pro Bowl nods and at least two first-team All-Pro mentions (most recently Adrian Peterson, Brian Urlacher).
16. PITTSBURGH (9-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 1, midseason, 5; final regular season, 16
2010 storyline in two words or less: Troy's back.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Yes, there's reason for concern about the Steelers offense. But the return of Troy Polamalu (and NT Casey Hampton, and DE Aaron Smth) can't be overlooked. Since 2007, Polamalu has missed 16 games and played 32. The Steelers are 8-8 and allow 20.4 PPG without him, 23-9 and allow 15.4 PPG with him.
17. N.Y. GIANTS (8-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 4, midseason, 16; final regular season, 21
2010 storyline in two words or less: Stiffen up.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Giants were 10th in net yards last year but 19th in net points, thanks in large part to defensive inefficiency: They finished dead last on our Bendability Index a year ago. Defensive efficiency has been an issue under Tom Coughlin – even in their Super Bowl year, the Giants ranked 24th.
18. ARIZONA (11-7)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 8, midseason, 12; final regular season, 10
2010 storyline in two words or less: QB void.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: From 1920 to 2004, the Cardinals won two playoff games. During Kurt Warner's five years, they doubled that total with four and hit double-digit wins for the first time since 1976. So yeah, he might be missed a bit.
19. CAROLINA (8-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 10, midseason, 21; final regular season, 17
2010 storyline: Averagetastic.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: A couple of years back, we did a piece on the most average teams in the modern era. The 2009 Panthers deserve a spot on that list, going 8-8, matching their opponents with 5.2 yards per play and scoring 19.7 PPG to opponents' 19.2 PPG. They can break the mold if they get a breakout performance from Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen in the wake of the Jake Delhomme Era, who's career went down in a ball of flames last year before he was benched.
20. TENNESSEE (8-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 7, midseason, 25; final regular season, 18
2010 storyline: D-plus.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Tennessee endured one of the biggest season-to-season defensive declines in history, from No. 2 in scoring defense in 2008 to 28th in 2009. They added six defenders in the draft, and hope that parting ways with aging mainstays Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bulluck is addition by subtraction.
21. DENVER (8-8)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 30, midseason, 8; final regular season, 20
2010 storyline: Tim. Tebow.
Cold, Hard Football Fact:
There's not a heck of a lot to be excited about with the Broncos except for the brilliant selection of Tebow. Losing eight of 10 while allowing 25.8 PPG to close the season cried out for a momentum-builder. The Broncos had better hope Tebow is it. (See our off-season take on Tebow here
22. JACKSONVILLE (7-9)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 23, midseason, 22; final regular season, 22
2010 storyline: Toothless cats.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Jaguars used to have a fairly fearsome D, but in 2009 gave up at least 300 yards of offense in 14 of 16 games.
23. CHICAGO (7-9)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 12; midseason, 18; final regular season, 23.
2010 storyline: Martzmanship.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Bears fans seem pleased with the addition of Mike Martz, but is he really going to help Jay Cutler cut down on his 26 INTs from a year ago? Over his career as a head coach and OC, Martz's QBs have averaged 3.8 INTs per 100 throws ... which equates to another poor year for Cutler (21 INTs) if he matches last year's 555 passes.
24. WASHINGTON (4-12)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 19; midseason, 28; final regular season, 26
2010 storyline: New attitude.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Washington offense hasn't been ranked in the top 10 in scoring since 1999. So why should Redskins fans be excited about Mike Shanahan when Marty Schottenheimer and Joe Gibbs V.2 both failed under Daniel Snyder? Well, for one, Shanahan's offenses ranked in the top 10 in 10 of his 14 years with Denver.
25. OAKLAND (5-11)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 29; midseason, 26; final regular season, 25.
2010 storyline: Still subpar.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Speaking of Redskins offenses, new Raider QB Jason Campbell's offenses were 26th, 28th and 18th in his three years as a Washington starter. And Campbell was third in the league with 13 fumbles to go along with 15 picks in 2009.
26. SEATTLE (5-11)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 24; midseason, 24; final regular season, 30.
2010 storyline: Re-Pete.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Pete Carroll is back, but returning to the NFL as a head coach after a 10-year absence hasn't gone great, at least immediately. Dick Vermeil came back in 1997 with the Rams (5-11) and Joe Gibbs did it in 2004 with Washington (6-10). And those guys were both successful in earlier stints as NFL coaches.
27. BUFFALO (6-10)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 20; midseason, 23; final regular season, 24.
2010 storyline: Spicy!
Cold, Hard Football Fact: According to Wikipedia, "a Buffalo wing is a chicken section (drumette or flat) that is traditionally fried breaded and then coated in sauce." These delights are named after their city of origin, and remain a favorite in their hometown. Oh, the Bills play there too.
28. KANSAS CITY (4-12).
2009 ranks: Preseason, 28; midseason, 27; final regular season, 29.
2010 storyline: Trendy.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Ten teams in the last 20 years have had a winning record the year after three straight seasons with 10+ losses (as the Chiefs have had): the 1991 Falcons, 1992 Chargers, 1994 Patriots, 1996 Redskins, 1997 Jets, 1999 Rams, 2000 Saints, 2001 Bears and 2003 Cowboys and 2007 Browns. So there is hope amid the despair!
29. CLEVELAND (5-11)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 26; midseason, 32; final regular season, 27.
2010 storyline: QB carousel.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Since the 2002 season, Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski and Brady Quinn have started for the Browns at QB. Is there any doubt that all three of their new QBs (Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy) will get a shot in 2010?
30. DETROIT (2-14)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 32; midseason, 31; final regular season, 31.
2010 storyline: Shredded.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Lions changed head coach, positional coach and every major player in the back seven between 2008 to 2009. Yet they STILL had a Defensive Passer Rating of 107.6 in 2009, a barely noticeable improvement from their 110.8 – the worst two Defensive Passer Ratings in NFL history. Amazing.
31. TAMPA BAY (3-13)
2009 ranks: Preseason, 16; midseason, 30; final regular season, 28
2010 storyline: In-e-Quality.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Tampa's "best" rank in any of our Quality Stats last year was 21st in Defensive Passer Rating.
32. ST. LOUIS (1-15).
2009 ranks: Preseason, 31; midseason, 29; final regular season, 32
2010 storyline: Hope?
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Besides the Rams, the only team in the modern era to have three top-two overall picks in the draft within three years was the 1990-92 Colts (Jeff George, Quentin Coryatt and Steve Emtman). The five seasons to follow were pretty decent: three winning seasons and two playoff appearances.