[Editor’s note: This is a snapshot as to where each team stands entering Week One, not necessarily a prediction of how they’ll finish.]
1. Packers: Sure, they barely made the playoffs. But they won the games that mattered most. They’ll stay atop the mountain until someone knocks them off.
2. Saints: They could be that someone.
3. Chargers: If they can get off to a fast start, they could finally have a special finish.
4. Falcons: Atlanta’s motto for 2011 — “if you can’t beat ‘em, try to outscore ‘em” — could result in an Arena League outcome when the Falcons face the Packers.
5. Steelers: After three prior Super Bowl trips since 1995, the Steelers have missed the playoffs the next year. So maybe they should be a lot lower than this.
6. Jets: If Mark Sanchez can play in the regular season like he plays in the postseason, the Jets will be No. 1 before too long.
7. Patriots: The team that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2007 needs to save a few of those regular-season victories for January.
8. Ravens: To get to the Super Bowl, the Ravens could use a home playoff game or two. To make that happen, they need to knock off the Steelers at home on Sunday.
9. Eagles: Questions on the offensive line and at linebacker could keep this team’s dreams from coming true.
10. Cowboys: Complacency in 2010 could give way to hunger in 2011. Which could carry the Cowboys farther than expected.
11. Bears: The No. 2 seed in the 2010 NFC playoff field could be heading a lot lower than this.
12. Texans: Last year, the Texans triumphantly beat the Colts in Week One. It was the 5-10 record the rest of the way that screwed things up.
13. Buccaneers: Those 10 wins in 2010 notwithstanding, failing to beat the Lions at home in December raises questions about whether this franchise is ready to succeed.
14. Lions: No team that has won eight games in three years has ever been so widely assumed to be a playoff contender.
15. Giants: With each snapped ACL, the Giants slide farther and farther into oblivion.
16. Chiefs: The departure of Charlie Weis will hurt this team more than anyone realizes.
17. Cardinals: The Kevin Kolb trade already was a success; Larry Fitzgerald has signed an extension.
18. Colts: Serious concerns regarding No. 18 justifies putting the Colts at that same position.
19. Jaguars: With more than $35 million in cap space and Luke McCown as the starting quarterback, it’s hard not to wonder whether Wayne Weaver simply wants to stuff his mattress with cash this year.
20. Raiders: That 6-0 record in the AFC West gets tested immediately on Monday night.
21. Rams: A new offense and limited opportunities to teach Sam Bradford to run it could cause the Rams to take a step backward this year.
22. Vikings: If the offense clicks quickly, the Vikings could end up much higher than this.
23. Seahawks: If/when Charlie Whitehurst becomes the starting quarterback, the Seahawks will climb the ladder.
24. Bills: I still think the Bills could swipe a playoff spot this year. But last year’s finish forces them to start from the back of the pack.
25. 49ers: With Jim Harbaugh running the show, they likely won’t be in the 20s for long.
26. Browns: See the 49ers.
27. Titans: For a team that had the same head coach for 17 years, too much is changing, too quickly.
28. Panthers: Six games against the Falcons, Saints, and Bucs will make it very hard for the Panthers to compete this year.
29. Dolphins: The owner wanted Jim Harbaugh, but settled for Tony Sparano. Sparano wanted Kyle Orton, but settled for Chad Henne. The fans want the Heat, but may have to settle for the Dolphins.
30. Broncos: The fumes of Josh McDaniels are hanging in the mile-high air like the remnants of rancid pork burrito night.
31. Redskins: Maybe Dan Snyder can get Joe Gibbs to unretire again.
32. Bengals: Every Sunday, Cedric Benson will feel like one of his assault victims.