Football is back. The NFL regular season starts Thursday, and we'll be following along with a weekly ranking of the top 10 teams. Here's our initial list, based on last season's performance and offseason player movement. Who's number one? Shouldn't be too hard to guess...
The Bucs have a young quarterback, Josh Freeman, who's ready to make the leap, and they have offensive weapons in RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams. The NFC South is very tough, but Tampa Bay could surprise some people.
The Jets relied on a tough defense in 2010 to get to the AFC title game for a second straight year. The D will be solid again, and they picked up embattled WR Plaxico Burress to add offensive punch, but QB Mark Sanchez doesn't wow me, and RB LaDainian Tomlinson ain't getting any younger.
It all depends on Peyton. The legendary quarterback is sitting out Week 1 with a neck injury, and if it lingers, the Colts are in real trouble. If Manning recovers quickly, they'll be right there in the mix for the AFC title yet again.
The Ravens have plenty of offensive firepower, with RB Ray Rice and new acquisition WR Lee Evans helping QB Joe Flacco. And the ageless Ray Lewis anchors an intimidating defense. But will it be enough to get past Pittsburgh or New England? Tough call.
With QB Drew Brees leading the way, the Saints will always have a chance to score points. But their revamped running game (featuring Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and rookie Mark Ingram) may take some time to click in a brutal NFC South.
The third NFC South team in the top 10, the Falcons added rookie WR Julio Jones to an already potent offense featuring QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White. The defensive secondary will need to step up, though, especially against division foes like the Saints and Bucs.
QB Michael Vick is back and healthy (for now), and acquisitions like DB Nnamdi Asomugha will strengthen a defense that was just average in 2010. A rebuilt offensive line might take some time to gel, but this team has too much talent -- they'll challenge for the NFC crown.
Just about everyone is back from last year's Super Bowl squad, as QB Ben Roethlisberger and a stingy defense will lead the way for the Steelers. A relatively easy schedule late in the season could fuel momentum for yet another playoff push in Pittsburgh.
They just keep coming, don't they? With QB Tom Brady at the helm and head coach Bill Belichick plotting from the sideline, the Patriots are too good to bet against. How will new WR Chad Ochocinco fit in? Will last year's sketchy passing defense improve? It might not matter -- this team just wins games.
The new season starts the way the last one ended, with QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on top. RB Ryan Grant is healthy, and LB Clay Matthews, LB A.J. Hawk, and CB Charles Woodson return on defense. Until someone else proves otherwise, the champs are still the team to beat.