1. Houston Texans
2011 RECORD: 10–6
Houston is coming off its first playoff appearance in franchise history and has a loaded squad this season. The Texans showed a lot of toughness in 2011, winning the AFC South title despite losing QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, and DE Mario Williams to injuries. With Schaub and Johnson now at full strength and RB Arian Foster (1,224 yards, 10 TDs) in his prime, Houston will have one of the most powerful offenses in the NFL. The team also has dependable backups in QB T.J. Yates and RB Ben Tate. The defense was dealt a blow when Williams signed with Buffalo in the off-season, but LBs Brian Cushing (114 tackles) and Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks) can help the unit hold down opposing offenses. Rookie DE Whitney Mercilus, a 2012 first-round pick, could make an instant impact with his pass-rushing ability.
BOTTOM LINE: No team in the division can match Houston's firepower and depth.
Grade: A– More »
1. Atlanta Falcons
2011 RECORD: 10–6
On paper, the Falcons look fantastic. They have the NFL's best receiving duo in Roddy White (100 receptions, 1,296 yards) and Julio Jones (959 yards, eight TDs), a QB who can air it out in Matt Ryan (4,177 yards, 29 TDs), and a dynamite RB in Michael Turner (1,340 yards). But the offense sputtered in the playoffs last season, scoring zero points against the Giants in the first round. Defensively, leading tackler LB Curtis Lofton signed with the division rival Saints, and the Falcons must fix a secondary that allowed opponents to convert on 44 percent of third-down attempts last season. With promising young LB Sean Weatherspoon (115 tackles) returning and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan joining the organization, Atlanta's defense should be much improved.
BOTTOM LINE: The Falcons will have no problem making the playoffs. How far they go will depend on how well the offense can move the ball when the season is on the line
Grade: A– More »
1. Baltimore RAVENS
2011 RECORD: 12–4
The defending AFC North champions have averaged 11 wins per year over the past four seasons but one big question remains: Can QB Joe Flacco blossom into a franchise player? Flacco didn't play poorly last season (3,610 yards, 20 TDs) — he just wasn't the star player that the Ravens needed him to be. To take the next step, the strong-armed Flacco must make big plays downfield to complement RB Ray Rice (1,364 yards, second in the NFL). Baltimore's defense gave up just 288.9 yards per game last season, third-fewest in the NFL. But LB Terrell Suggs (AFC-leading 14 sacks), the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, may miss the season with a right Achilles tendon injury. At least 37-year-old LB Ray Lewis (95 tackles) and 34-year-old S Ed Reed (52 tackles, three interceptions) still have some gas left in the tank.
BOTTOM LINE: For Baltimore to make a deep postseason run, Flacco must step up his game.
Grade: A– More »
1. Green Bay PACKERS
2011 RECORD: 15–1
Green Bay 's early playoff exit last season disappointed Cheeseheads everywhere, but Packers fans shouldn't have to wait long for another crack at the Lombardi Trophy. The Pack have the league's most dangerous offensive attack (35 points per game). All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers (4,643 yards, 45 TDs) spreads the ball around to his playmakers better than any other NFL passer. WRs Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley combined for 190 catches last season. On defense, Green Bay ranked last in the league last season in yards per game, and a deep playoff run will depend on the Packers' ability to shut down opposing ground attacks. Green Bay added five new players to their defensive front seven, most notably LB Nick Perry out of USC in the first round of the draft. More »
Meet the new Knicks, same as the old Knicks. Whether they're alienating their hopelessly loyal fanbase with incessant losing, botching a free agent signing like they did with Jeremy Lin or redesigning their new uniforms--which the team unveiled today--as much as things change with the team that plays at Madison Square Garden, they tend to stay the same. More »
Today the 2012 Paralympic Games opened in London and from now until September 9, some of the best athletes with disabilities in the world will compete in 21 different events ranging from wheelchair rugby to swimming. Some of the sports will require wheelchairs designed with cutting edge engineering. What is really interesting about these chairs is how they vary so much from sport to sport. Just like you wouldn't use a basketball shoe to run track, the wheelchairs paralympians use differ greatly to suit the event. Check out this video by the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn to see how these high-end pieces of sporting equipment are designed. More »
We're getting geared up for the start of the 2012 college football season this week. Today we're counting down the Top 10 teams in the nation. As you'd expect, it's an SEC-heavy list, but will the best conference in the NCAA lead the preseason our rankings? We've already counted down from 10 to 6, here are the top 5:More »