Don't forget, folks: If you're reading somebody else's power rankings, you're wasting your time. Cold, Hard Football Facts boasts the single most accurate power rankings on the web
, beating out all our biggest and most unworthy competitors from the major networks or from that cheesy entertainment and sports site. Chumps.)
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts keeper of order
It's time to unleash our first power rankings of the season, an epic piece of Cold, Hard Football Facts exuberance so rich and meaty we briefly considered releasing it as a hardcover book ($19.95, Hog Press).
What can we say? It's been a long offseason, and our first Power Rankings have the feel of a true beginning.
It's not easy ranking teams in August, when soon-to-be gym teachers are deciding games in the fourth quarter, and all 32 fan bases think 12-4 is the low end of their team's chances.
Despite that, we feel we're the only rankings that feature the right choice at the top.
While every Tom, Vince and Barry out there in the NFL ether has New England first, we have a longstanding tradition that makes a lot of sense – at least to our rum-soaked minds. Until there's actual regular-season football that tells us differently, the defending champion will always be No. 1.
So, we present the New York Football Giants, your fearless leader of the Dominant Dozen here in the anything's-possible days of August for 2008. Anyone else in the No. 1 spot is uacceptable until the on-the-field evidence tells us otherwise. Last we checked on the field, the Giants treated Tom Brady and the No. 1 scoring offense in history like their personal rented packmule and walked away with the trophy, the rings and the ticker-tape parade.
Did the Cold, Hard Football Facts foresee such a happening 12 months ago?
We picked the Giants
to go 5-11 in our 2007 preseason predictions, and felt pretty good about it. After all, do-everything RB Tiki Barber was gone, and that just left the sputtering, geeky Eli Manning, the ever underachieving Plaxico Burress, and a few good defensive linemen. (Of course, Bonzo the Idiot Monkey proved far more insightful than you, us or any of the "pundits": He randomly saw glory for the Giants with a league-best 14-2
record. Turns out that, including the postseason, the Giants won exactly 14 games last year. Hooray, lower primates!)
Even when the Giants made the second season, our beloved CHFFs pointed strongly to defeat every step of the way.
But the Giants spoiled parties in Tampa Bay, then Dallas, then Green Bay, and finally hunted down the great New England Patriots, leaving them for dead in the Arizona desert.
It was a hell of a ride, and clearly Big Blue deserves nothing else but the No. 1 ranking until evidence on the field indicates otherwise.
The Giants will need to play impressively to hang on to their spot, but the schedule is favorable. The G-Men open up with three home games against the middle class of the NFL (Washington, Seattle, Cincinnati) sandwiched around a road trip to lowly St. Louis.
The Patriots will have to settle for No. 2 until they do something new and spectacular – as coach Bill Belichick will tell you, last year ain't nothin' but a number. Or words to that effect.
Teams are mostly where they left off a year ago, give or take a few spots, but the order couldn't be less important.
Take last year's August Power Rankings
. Seven of the 12 Dominant Dozen failed to make the postseason. Cleveland, ranked 30th in the preseason, won 10 games. Tampa Bay, ranked 29th in the preseason, made the playoffs. The Packers came in at No. 22 in the preseason but were a field goal away from the Super Bowl. The champion Giants were 19th.
But that doesn't mean our rankings are useless.
Far from it. Sure, the order will be reshuffled more often than the Raiders coaching staff, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
In addition to being the most accurate in the business, our Power Rankings are also chocked full with the type of Cold, Hard Football Fact you'll be popping into NFL conversation for the rest of the week.
So read on. Enjoy. Take it all in, and when you're done comment in our Fearless Forum
– but please, try to bring something better than OMG giants rule eli so awesome WHOOOOOOOO!!!
On to the rankings.
THE DOMINANT DOZEN
1. NEW YORK GIANTS (14-6)
Last year's highlight: Fought hard in Tampa on wild-card weekend, but just fell short against the favored Bucs and bowed out of the postseason early ... oh no, wait, they won the goddamn Super Bowl!!
Last year's lowlight: Who remembers lowlights on the road to glory?
Cold, Hard Football Facts: QB Eli Manning threw 6 TD and just 1 INT in New York's four postseason games; his three straight games without an INT during the playoff romp (Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay) marked just the second three-game pickless streak of his career.
Key figure in training camp: Manning. The Giants proved that with excellent quarterback play (for the first time in years) the pieces were in place for greatness. But it remains to be seen whether the fall of 2008 will be a sequel or a relapse.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Washington, Thursday night season opener. The Giants don't play one of the NFL's established powers until Week 8 (at Pittsburgh).
2. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (18-1)
Last year's highlight: Everything up to the Super Bowl.
Last year's lowlight: The Super Bowl.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Patriots have ranked in the NFL's top 12 in scoring in all seven of Tom Brady's seasons as the starting QB. They've also been in the top 10 in turnover ratio in six of those years.
Key figure in training camp: DB Brandon Meriweather. New England's 2007 first-round pick didn't do much to endear himself to New England fans, as a non-factor in the regular season and a target in the postseason. But he's got the ability to play safety and corner, and the Patriots need big things from him as a sophomore.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Kansas City. Chiefs fans have reason for optimism in 2008 ... but not in Week 1, where the Patriots could be a 20-point favorite before a single down has been played in the 2008 season.
3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (13-4)
Last year's highlight: WR Reggie Wayne finally getting his props, finishing with the equivalent of a triple-double of receiving – 104 catches, 1,510 yards and 10 TDs.
Last year's lowlight: Losing – at home – to Billy Volek and the shorthanded Chargers in the playoffs.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: TE Dallas Clark led the NFL in drops with 12 last year, but Wayne made up for it with a league-high 16 grabs of 25+ yards.
Key figure in training camp: Dr. Art Rettig. Indy's lead physician is dealing with injury concerns with Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Marvin Harrison and Bob Sanders. Anything less than 4-for-4, and the doc will have some splainin' to do.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Chicago. Warm up the TiVo! Super Bowl XLI rematch could feature Kyle Orton vs. Jim Sorgi at QB, depending on the injury/talent status of Manning and Rex Grossman.
4. DALLAS COWBOYS (13-4)
Last year's highlight: A 37-27 Week 13 over Green Bay in a battle of NFC once-beatens and one of the most eagerly anticipated senior-circuit games in years made Dallas the clear conference favorite.
Last year's lowlight: The Cowboys scored 21 points in each of their first 13 games, then failed to reach that mark even once in their final four games, including playoffs, where they became just another easy hurdle for the juggernaut G-Men..
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are achingly beautiful.
Key figure in training camp: Adam "P*****" Jones. No more nickname, and if there's no more attitude, the Cowboys could really be scary. Even if he's just a nickel back on defense, Jones's amazing punt return skills are going to be worth watching. In 2006, he returned three for TDs and was absolutely fearless (league-low three fair catches.).
Week 1 matchup: at Cleveland. Probably the most anticipated Cowboys-Browns battle since the 1969 playoffs, when Dallas lost at home to Cleveland 38-14. In other words, nobody outside Dallas or Cleveland cares about Cowboys-Browns.
5. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (13-6)
Last year's highlight: CB Antonio Cromartie's coming out party: he snagged 10 INTs, recovered two fumbles and scored three touchdowns in his second season as a pro.
Last year's lowlight: The Chargers were smoked at home, 30-14, by the sad-sack Chiefs in Week 4, before rolling out 12 wins in their next 14 games.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Chargers won more regular-season games in the last four years (46) than they did over the previous eight years (43 wins from 1996-2003).
Key figure in training camp: TE Antonio Gates. Few skill players have been as reliable as Gates, but February foot surgery means he might not be ready until 5 minutes before the season starts. Scott Chandler, a fourth-round pick in 2007, was active for only one game last year but could be the starter if Gates isn't ready to go.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Carolina.
6. GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-4)
Last year's highlight: Green Bay's 42-20 playoff win over Seattle (after falling behind 14-0) in frigid, snow-covered Lambeau Field was one of the most memorable games of the decade.
Last year's lowlight: As everyone prepared for Brett Favre vs. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, the Packers forgot to win the NFC title game. Then, even lower lights in the off-season. For more information, Google "favre retirement rodgers text message breaking news tears buyout goodell jets pennington please shoot me"
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Why all the white noise surrounding Brett Favre? Consider this: The Packers reached the playoffs 11 times and suffered only one losing season in his 16 years at the helm. In the 16 years before Favre arrived, the Packers reached the playoffs just once and enjoyed only three WINNING seasons.
Key figure in training camp: Rookie second-round QB Brian Brohm. Hey, they said it was an open competition, right? Go, Brian, go!
Week 1 matchup: vs. Minnesota. Monday Night Football. If the NFC North is going to be a two-team race, as many "pundits" believe, this MNF opener will set the tone for everything that follows. Can't wait to hear Howard and Dandy Don call the game.
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-6)
Last year's highlight: RB Fred Taylor surpassed the 10,000-yard mark for his career, topped 5.0 YPA for the first time in his career, and made his first Pro Bowl.
Last year's lowlight: The Jags surrendered 538 yards, 32 first downs and 41 points in a Week 9 loss at New Orleans.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Jaguars are known for defense, but their career leaders don't exactly make you think Canton. Here goes: sacks, Tony Brackens (55), interceptions, Rashean Mathis (21), touchdowns, Aaron Beasley (4), tackles, Donovin Darius (473), games, Rob Meier (123).
Key figure in training camp: WR Matt Jones. With Reggie Williams and Jerry Porter both hurt, Jones – the superfreak ex-college QB – is reportedly turning heads in training camp. If he avoids a drug suspension after a summer arrest, Jones might be counted on as a No. 1 in September. But he caught only 24 passes in 2007.
Week 1 matchup: at Tennessee. Jacksonville's tough schedule features just one game against a team that was worse than 7-9 last year (Week 17, at Baltimore).
8. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-7)
Last year's highlight: Through 12 games, the Steelers were 9-3 and allowed a stingy 12.9 PPG.
Last year's lowlight: Over their last five games, including playoffs, the Steelers were 1-4 and allowed 29.0 PPG.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Despite attempting the second fewest passes in the league a year ago (442), the Steelers allowed the second highest total of sack yardage (347 yards).
Key figure in training camp: LG Chris Kemoeatu. He's stepping in for Alan Faneca, now with the Jets, and with a battle for the center job raging (Justin Hardwick vs. Sean Mahan), the Steelers need the green Kemoatu (two career starts) to be a good fit.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Houston. The Steelers faced the Texans in Houston's rookie season of 2002. Pittsburgh lost, 24-6, despite outgaining the Texans 422-47. How? Three defensive TDs for those scrappy Texans, who would welcome a similar performance in 2008.
9. TENNESSEE TITANS (10-7)
Last year's highlight: The Titans somehow made the playoffs in the hyper-competitive AFC, despite Vince Young's dreadful 9 TDs and 17 TD INTs. Guess defense does matter – the Titans were eighth in scoring defense and fifth in total defense.
Last year's lowlight: The Titans capped a three-game losing skid with a 35-6 Week 12 loss to Cincinnati that dropped them to 6-5 and seemed to put an end to their postseason hopes.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: In eight of his 28 regular-season starts, Young has been held touchdown-less, rushing or passing. Yet the Titans are somehow 5-3 in those games, reinforcing the theory that Young has some type of undetectable super power that leads to victories.
Key figure in training camp: TE Alge Crumpler. The Titans haven't had a real go-to pass catcher since Derrick Mason, and are counting on Crumpler to give Young a good outlet. But at 30 (31 in December), and coming off a so-so season in Atlanta (42 catches, 444 yards, 5 TD), is Crumpler a game-changer or a ghost of Pro Bowls past?
Week 1 matchup: vs. Jacksonville.
10. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-7)
Last year's highlight: QB Matt Hasselbeck had a brilliant season, throwing just 12 INTs (against 28 TDs)despite the fact that Seattle attempted more passes (590) than any team but New Orleans.
Last year's lowlight: RB Shaun Alexander's possible Hall of Fame career came to a screeching halt, as he hit 30 right at the end of training camp and the wheels fell off his career – 3.5 YPA in 2007 and, as of today, no job in 2008.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Mike Holmgren's offenses have never finished out of the top 20 in scoring in his 16 years as a head coach.
Key figure in training camp: Rookie TE John Carlson. Holmgren likes getting the TEs involved, but first Jerramy Stevens and then Marcus Pollard became known for big drops in big games. With the Seattle WRs in various states of injury, this second-round pick could be a key target early.
Week 1 matchup: at Buffalo. Seattle and Buffalo have played only 10 times in their 32 years together in the NFL, with the Seahawks holding a 6-4 edge. Both teams have scored 235 points in those 10 meetings.
11. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-8)
Last year's highlight: RB Earnest Graham, a distant third on the depth chart in August, was No. 1 by October thanks to injuries – and he made the most of his shot. In his 11 starts (including playoffs), he rushed for 826 yards and scored TDs in seven of Tampa's last eight games.
Last year's lowlight: Cadillac Williams' Week 4 season-ending injury was the latest blow for the 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Even before the injury, Williams had been downgraded to Buick status with only one 100-yard game over his last 14 starts.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Tampa ranked No. 3 rank in scoring defense last year, their 11th top-10 showing in 12 years under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Key figure in training camp: Coach Jon Gruden. The alleged offensive guru has yet to field an offense that finished in the top half of the league in scoring since taking over the Bucs in 2002. A Super Bowl in his first year has been followed with a 36-44 record since, and patience has to be wearing thin despite two uneventful playoff appearances in three years.
Week 1 matchup: at New Orleans. The two favorites in the NFC South go head-to-head. In the 12 games since they became division rivals, the Saints and Bucs have split 6-6 with nine of the 12 games decided by a TD or less.
12. CLEVELAND BROWNS (10-6)
Last year's highlight: Winning 10 games when they were expected to win half that.
Last year's lowlight: Missing out on the playoffs, thanks to a Week 16 loss to Cincinnati in which QB Derek Anderson threw four INTs.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: In their four games against Quality Teams last year, the Browns allowed an average of 400.3 yards and 32.3 points.
Key figure in training camp: NT Shaun Rogers. The Browns tied for 24th on our Defensive Hog Index in 2007, and the up-and-down Rogers comes over from the Lions with big expectations. Rogers had a career-high 7 sacks last year for the Lions, but Detroit's defensive front (which Rogers was supposed to anchor) finished 29th on the Defensive Hog Index.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Dallas.
THE TEPID TWENTY
13. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Guard Steve Hutchinson isn't just one of the best blockers in the game, he's one of the cleanest. In 64 starts over the last four seasons, he's been whistled for only two penalties (for 10 yards total) and has never been flagged for holding.
Week 1 matchup: at Green Bay, Monday Night Football. Last year's Vikes-Pack game in Green Bay was a tough visit for Minnesota: a 34-0 loss that was barely that close.
14. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (8-8)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: QB Donovan McNabb has never thrown more than 13 INTs in a single season, hasn't had back-to-back games with INTs since October 2006 and last reached double digits in picks with 11 in 2003. His career 2.12 INT rate is second best in history.
Week 1 matchup: vs. St. Louis. The Rams and Eagles have played 18 times since the merger, and 13 of them have been in Philly.
15. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (9-8)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Joe Gibbs took his teams to the playoffs 10 times in his 16 seasons as Washington coach (1981-92, 2004-07). In the 12 years in between Gibbs' two Grover Cleveland-like terms, the Skins went to the playoffs once.
Week 1 matchup: at Giants, Thursday night opener. New coaching staff, early start, at the defending Super Bowl champs. Not an easy debut for Jim Zorn.
16. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Saints piled up 5,780 yards last year, fourth in the NFL, but only finished 13th overall in scoring. Part of this disparity was due to their league-low 15 field goals.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Tampa Bay. Two of the most inept franchises ever in the mid-to-late 1970s, the Bucs and Saints have finally achieved ... sweet mediocrity.
17. ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: In their final eight games last year (all started by backup QB Kurt Warner), the Cardinals averaged 30.9 PPG and Warner threw 21 TDs.
Week 1 matchup: at San Francisco. Two of San Fran's five wins came at Arizona's expense in 2007.
18. CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Paging Dr. Peppers ... Dr. Julius Peppers. Despite the presence of one of the most feared DEs in the league, the Panthers were dead last in forcing Negative Pass Plays in 2007 (6.61 percent of opposing QB dropbacks resulted in sacks or INTs). The NFL average last year was more 9 percent Negative Pass Plays.
Week 1 matchup: at San Diego.
19. HOUSTON TEXANS (8-8)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Texans got a big season on the stat sheet from DE Mario Williams (14 sacks), but they finished 31st – ahead only of the aforementioned Panthers – in forcing Negative Pass Plays(7.28 percent).
Week 1 matchup: at Pittsburgh.
20. CHICAGO BEARS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Bears defense fell into oblivion last year. In 2006, they were first in scoring defense and second in total defense; in 2007, they were third in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Last year: 16th and 28th.
Week 1 matchup: at Indianapolis. It's a long way from Super Bowl XLI.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Kicker Shayne Graham has never missed more than five field goals in a season, and is a remarkable 33-40 from 40-49 yards (82.5) with the Bengals.
Week 1 matchup: at Baltimore. The road to the cellar in the AFC North quite possibly begins here.
22. DENVER BRONCOS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Speaking of kickers, Jason Elam departs Denver for Atlanta with 17 straight seasons of 100+ points under his belt. Elam has more career points (1,786) than Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and Gale Sayers combined (1,740).
Week 1 matchup: at Oakland, Monday night football. For years, there were few surer bets than the Broncos losing to the Raiders – Denver went 20-49-2 against Oakland from 1960 to 1994. Since? How's 20-6 in favor of the Broncos sound?
23. NEW YORK JETS (4-12)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Over their 48-year history, the Jets have never had four consecutive seasons over .500. New QB Brett Favre had winning-season streaks of six years and five years with the Packers.
Week 1 matchup: at Miami. The Jets-Dolphins meeting back in Week 13 of 2007 was as unwatchable as it gets, with combined records of 2-20 going into it. Now, less than nine months later, their Week 1 meeting will get better ratings than the M*A*S*H finale.
24. BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Bills weren't very good last year (30st in total offense, 31th in total defense). But they allowed just 34 Big Plays (according to our Big Play Index), which tied them for the third in the league last year. Every other team in the top 10 made the playoffs.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Seattle.
25. BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-11)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Ravens went from 6-10 in 2005 to 13-3 in 2006 and back down to 5-11 in 2007. The last team to pull the sucks-rules-sucks trifecta was the 2000-2002 Bears, who followed with seasons of 7-9 and 5-11 to put the suck stamp on the era.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost six of the last seven to Cincy.
26. DETROIT LIONS (7-9)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Head coach Rod Marinelli promised a defensive transformation when he arrived in 2006. He's delivered, but in a bad way. The Lions were 21st in scoring defense the year before he took the job (2005), 30th in scoring defense in 2006 and dead last in 2007.
Week 1 matchup: at Atlanta. Thank God for the NFL Sunday Ticket package, or we'd miss out on this instant classic.
27. OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Can Lane Kiffin make it to year three? Of the nine head coaches hired by Al Davis since Tom Flores got the boot in 1987, only Art Shell Vol. 1 and Jon Gruden made it past two years.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Denver, Monday Night Football. Oakland captured a 9-3 stinker of a win over Denver on Dec. 1, 1980, which was then the lowest scoring game in MNF history (No. 4 now).
28. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (5-11)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: San Francisco has lost more games over the last six seasons (25-71) than it did from 1982-1998 (199-65)
Week 1 matchup: vs. Arizona. If the Niners are going to be decent this year, they have to beat second-class teams like the Cardinals.
29. ST. LOUIS RAMS (3-13)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Rams joined the pathetic Dolphins as the only teams in the NFL last year without a single victory over a team with a winning record. A classic break-but-don't-bend defense was the primary problem: the Rams were 21st in total defense, but 31st in scoring defense, which put them at the bottom of our Bendability Index, as the least efficient defense in football.
Week 1 matchup: at Philadelphia. If Rams fans are interested in driving to Philly for the opener, it's 886 miles and 14.5 hours if you obey the speed limits and don't get pulled over outside of Dayton.
30. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-12)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since 1993, and are 3-11 in the postseason since the AFC-NFC merger.
Week 1 matchup: at New England. If the Giants' Super Bowl win over New England was the best upset ever, what would that make a KC win at Foxboro in Week 1?
31. ATLANTA FALCONS (4-12)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Falcons had 31 first- or second-year players on the active roster in 2007, and grabbed 11 picks in the 2008 draft. In the last two drafts, they've had 10 picks in the third round or higher.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Detroit. Best. Game. Ever.
32. MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-15)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Miami won a single game last year, barely avoiding what would have been a multi-way tie for last with everyone and everything else in the known universe that's ever royally sucked. Instead, they settled for the indignity of losing out on the division crown by a never-to-be-broken record 15 games.
Week 1 matchup: vs. Jets. The Dolphins are 200-to-1 shots to win the Super Bowl, which would mean $20,000 for a $100 bet. Friendly tip: Keep the $100.