Top 10 NFL Power Rankings After Preseason Week 3

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The best team in the NFL, right now, is…?

While it’s tough to gauge talent levels from the preseason, much can be learned about each team.

For most NFL teams, Week 3 of the preseason is a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Starters play more often, more of a game plan is used, and overall we get a better sense of how the starters look in preparation for the regular season.

Which teams move up or down in this week’s NFL power rankings?

10. Philadelphia Eagles

Keys to the Season: A Healthy and Consistent Michael Vick

The Dream Team season of 2011 is thankfully gone. Now it’s time for a seriously loaded Philadelphia Eagles roster to show up and shut up the doubters. To do that, they need a healthy Michael Vick for all 16 games.

Like him or not, Vick is the key to the season for Philadelphia. Vick’s ability to deliver the ball with room to run is key to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin using their explosive speed post-catch. Vick’s running ability opens up rushing lanes for LeSean McCoy and makes it tougher for defenses to stick with McCoy in the flats when Vick commits to passing the ball. It all centers around No. 7 in Philly.

It wouldn’t be a surprise for Philadelphia to have one of the best defenses in the game; the talent is definitely there. To take the talent they’ve built and turn it into a winner, the Eagles need Vick.

9. Baltimore Ravens

Keys to the Season: Joe Flacco

Looking around the roster of the Baltimore Ravens, you could easily see this team winning a Super Bowl. To do that, Joe Flacco has to step up at quarterback.

Flacco isn’t bad by any means, but he’s not been great either. No matter how many pundits say that Flacco’s win-loss record is all that matters, when it matters most, Flacco hasn’t been able to deliver. Throw out stats and look at the play in the playoffs—it’s easy to see that the Ravens need a big year from the quarterback.

Flacco has talent around him to have a big season. Ray Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and the duo of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith should be great this year. We know the Ravens defense will be dominant. The only thing standing between Baltimore and a Lombardi Trophy is the play of Flacco.

8. Atlanta Falcons

Keys to the Season: The Offensive Line

Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez make for a potent offense, but none of that will matter if the offensive line doesn’t protect Ryan and open holes for Turner.

The Atlanta Falcons have built a team with the speed to win on both sides of the ball. The offense is loaded with the playmakers listed above, but for those players to produce, the offensive line has to open things up.

Whether it’s Sam Baker at left tackle or Tyson Clabo on the right side, this unit needs to play much better than they did in 2011. When the line gets no push, it won’t matter how good the talent around them is.

7. Houston Texans

Keys to the Season: Staying Healthy

You could easily argue that had the Houston Texans stayed healthy in 2011, they would have played in the Super Bowl. We’ll get a chance to see just how good this team can be this year, assuming they can stay healthy.

The team lost Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams for at least part of the 2011 season—something that allowed youngsters like Connor Barwin and T.J. Yates to show their value to the team, but it also kept them from realizing their potential.

With Schaub and Foster healthy in 2012 and Johnson hopefully back to full strength soon, Houston has to be considered a favorite to win the AFC.

6. New York Giants

Keys to the Season: The Offensive Line and Secondary

The reigning Super Bowl champions have the talent to win a second straight Lombardi Trophy, but they’ll face a tough road to New Orleans if the offensive line and secondary don’t improve.

The offensive line was marred by injury in 2011. While it is back healthy this year, there are still holes in the unit. Trusting William Beatty and Kevin Boothe on the left side is brave, especially considering the pass-rushers they’ll be asked to stop in the NFC East. The offensive line is a better unit than the individual parts, and the scheme will help, but the Giants need Beatty and Boothe to play their best football yet.

The secondary has been banged up this preseason, but the team needs top play from Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara at cornerback against the wide receiver talent they’ll face within the division. Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips have to play better than they did last season, but that should happen, as the scheme allows them to play more in deep coverage and less in man situations.

5. Chicago Bears

Keys to the Season: J’Marcus Webb and the Offensive Line

The Chicago Bears could win the Super Bowl with this roster, but it all hinges on how well the offensive line protects Jay Cutler.

It’s no secret that Cutler has been abused the last two seasons. Some of that goes to the scheme of Mike Martz, and some goes to the lack of talent on the offensive line. The team is hoping the removal of Martz and the improved play upfront will result in a healthy season for Cutler and bigger production in the passing game.

J’Marcus Webb will get the most attention at left tackle. He’ll be asked to shut down Clay Matthews, Cliff Avril and Jared Allen within the NFC North—no small feat. Webb has looked better this year, and Mike Tice’s scheme should protect him better, but the individual players must step up too.

The entire line is the biggest question mark for a team that has the talent to go deep into the playoffs this year.

4. New Orleans Saints

Keys to the Season: Replacing Sean Payton

This might be the most talented New Orleans Saints team ever. No, really.

Drew Brees at quarterback. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles in the backfield. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and others catching the ball. Pro Bowlers across the board on the offensive line.

Not only is the offense potent, the defense looks much better. Curtis Lofton and Brodrick Bunkley were huge additions to the team. Getting top production from second-year pass-rusher Cameron Jordan will be huge as well.

The key, though, is replacing head coach Sean Payton. How well Brees and the assistant coaches acclimate to the loss of their leader will determine if the Saints are a Super Bowl contender or on a one-year layoff.

3. New England Patriots

Keys to the Season: Improvement on Defense

As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are in New England, the Patriots have a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl every season. That’s been proven over the last decade. For the Patriots to go from Super Bowl appearance to Super Bowl champions, they have to be better on defense.

With an offense as potent as the Patriots should be in 2012, the defense doesn’t have to be great. But why shouldn’t they be? The Patriots have long relied on their offense to bail out the defense, when the best teams Belichick has had in New England were dominant on defense.

With a strong draft class coming in, Belichick’s defense should be much better in 2012, and for New England to shake their string of playoff disappointments, they’ll have to be. The pressure is on for Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower and Co. to make big impacts in their first season.

2. Green Bay Packers

Keys to the Season: Rushing the Passer

One look at the Green Bay Packers’ draft class tells the story of where this team needed to improve. The defense.

Green Bay’s first six picks in the 2012 NFL draft were on defense. Dom Capers may be a great coordinator, but even a genius needs players to do the work on the field. For Green Bay to win another title, Capers’ unit has to be better in 2012.

Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy were added to the roster with one purpose—rushing the passer. With Perry at linebacker and Worthy at defensive end, Green Bay now has two more speedy players who can come in and terrorize the opposition.

With an offense as dangerous as Green Bay has, any improvement on defense will be good enough to get Aaron Rodgers and the Packers back into the Super Bowl.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Keys to the Season: Alex Smith

After President Obama, Alex Smith might be under the most pressure in the United States. The expectations in San Francisco are Super Bowl or bust, and Smith’s shoulders will be the ones that that responsibility rests on.

Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke have built a team that can win in any situation, as long as the quarterback is good. The defense will be elite, the run game is loaded, and the offensive line is very underrated. All that’s missing is a quarterback who can win ballgames.

Smith had his best season in 2011, and with the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins, he should be even better in 2012. Smith will have to be at his best for the 49ers to meet the expectations of a fanbase that’s anxious for a Super Bowl.

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