2012 NFL TEAM POWER RANKINGS - Final Preseason Rankings:(2011 records in parentheses)
*Indicates a "handcuff" pickup (a player that could prove valuable if the starter is injured)
1) Green Bay Packers (15-1) - At 15-1 in the regular season in 2011, the Packers start the 2012 season #1 in my Power Rankings. With Aaron Rodgers guiding the team, Green Bay should be a Super Bowl contender again. Cedric Benson's addition could work out to be a missing piece. Fantasy players to watch: QB Aaron Rodgers, RB Cedric Benson, WR Greg Jennings, WR Jordy Nelson, WR James Jones, TE Jermichael Finley, K Mason Crosby, and Team Defense.
2) New England Patriots (13-3) - All the key players returning (Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, etc.) Lost BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but gained Brandon Lloyd and drafted hard on defense. Only a couple of AFC teams capable of competing with them this season. Fantasy players to watch: QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Wes Welker, WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, and K Stephen Gostkowski.
3) NY Giants (9-7) - With the Lombardi Trophy in hand, it was hard not to put the Giants #1 in the Power Rankings. The Giants are obviously solid across the board, but play in a very tough division, with the Cowboys, Eagles, and upstart Redskins. The road to another ring will be tough, but the Giants are fully capable. Fantasy players to watch: QB Eli Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB David Wilson*, WR Victor Cruz, WR Hakeem Nicks, K Lawrence Tynes, and Team Defense.
4) San Francisco 49ers (13-3) - Defense is still the best in the league, and the team worked on adding WR help. No problem winning their division again. Fantasy players to watch: QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, RB Kendall Hunter*, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, TE Vernon Davis, K David Akers, and Team Defense.
5) Baltimore Ravens (12-4) - Defense is solid and Ray Rice is unstoppable. Watch rising star Torrey Smith. Fantasy players to watch: QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, WR Torrey Smith, WR Anquan Boldin, and Team Defense.
6) Houston Texans (10-6) - Injuries stalled the Texans last season (Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels). All are healthy and their defense is solid. Fantasy players to watch: QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, RB Ben Tate*, WR Andre Johnson, TE Owen Daniels, K Shayne Graham, and Team Defense.
7) Chicago Bears (8-8) - Reunite Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Throw in a healthy Matt Forte. Bears move into contention. Fantasy players to watch: QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, RB Michael Bush*, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Devin Hester, WR Earl Bennett, WR Alshon Jeffrey, K Robbie Gould, and Team Defense.
8) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) - As long as Ben Roethlisberger can walk, this team will be competitive. Give him Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and they are one of the AFC's best. Watch Rashard Mendenhall's eventual return to see if he has recovered from his injury. Fantasy players to watch: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Isaac Redman, RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Mike Wallace, WR Antonio Brown, WR Jerrico Cotchery, TE Heath Miller, and Team Defense.
9) New Orleans Saints (13-3) - Without their coach and various suspended players, the Saints have drifted through the Power Rankings. But, I have a feeling Drew Brees will have something to say about that in the end. Fantasy players to watch: QB Drew Brees, RB Darren Sproles, RB Mark Ingram, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Marques Colston, WR Devery Henderson, WR Lance Moore, TE Jimmy Graham, and K Garrett Hartley.
10) Atlanta Falcons (10-6) - There is a lot of hype involving Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White. I (and some of my fantasy teams) hope they can live up to it. Defense will need to step up against some of the better NFC teams for the Falcons to maintain their #10 ranking. Fantasy players to watch: QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, RB Jacquizz Rodgers*, WR Roddy White, WR Julio Jones, WR Harry Douglas, TE Tony Gonzalez, and K Matt Bryant.
11) Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) - Can Michael Vick stay healthy? Weapons are there, but health is always the issue. Defense is among the league's best. Fantasy players to watch: QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Brent Celek, K Alex Henery, and Team Defense.
12) Detroit Lions (10-6) - Highpowered offense with best WR in the game. Can they solve their running-game problem? Fantasy players to watch: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Kevin Smith, RB Mikel LeShoure, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Nate Burleson, WR Titus Young, TE Brandon Pettigrew, K Jason Hanson, and Team Defense.
13) Dallas Cowboys (8-8) - They could end up #5 or #25. As always, the success or failure of this team rides with Tony Romo. But, watch DeMarco Murray if he can stay healthy. Quality fantasy players at all of the positions. Fantasy players to watch: QB Tony Romo, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Felix Jones*, WR Dez Bryant, WR Miles Austin, TE Jason Witten, and K Dan Bailey.
15) San Diego Chargers (8-8) - If Phillip Rivers returns to the Rivers of old, and if Ryan Mathews can stay healthy, they could find themselves in the AFC playoffs. Fantasy players to watch: QB Phillip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Malcom Floyd, WR Robert Meachem, TE Antonio Gates, and K Nate Kaeding.
16) Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) - Young and fun to watch. Sophomore seasons of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green need to be huge for them to get to the playoffs. Fantasy players to watch: QB Andy Dalton, RB Green-Ellis, RB Bernard Scott*, WR A.J. Green, and TE Jermaine Gresham.
The bottom half of the power rankings need to see improvement and continued growth to work their way up in the rankings.
Here are their fantasy players to watch:17) Tennessee Titans (9-7) - QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Johnson, RB Javon Ringer*, WR Nate Washington, WR Kenny Britt, TE Jared Cook, and K Rob Bironas.
18) Kansas City Chiefs (7-9) - QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, RB Peyton Hillis, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Jon Baldwin, and WR Steve Breaston.
19) Carolina Panthers (6-10) - QB Cam Newton, RB Jonathan Stewart, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Mike Tolbert, WR Steve Smith, WR Brandon LaFell, and TE Greg Olson.
20 New York Jets (8-8) - QB Mark Sanchez, QB Tim Tebow, RB Shonne Greene, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Stephen Hill, and TE Dustin Keller.
21) Buffalo Bills (6-10) - QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Tavaris Jackson, RB Fred Jackson, RB C.J. Spiller*, WR Stevie Johnson, TE Scott Chandler, and Team Defense.
22) Oakland Raiders (8-8) - QB Carson Palmer, RB Darren McFadden, RB Taiwan Jones*, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Denarius Moore, and K Sebastian Janikowski.
23) Seattle Seahawks (7-9) - QB Russell Wilson, QB Matt Flynn, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Sidney Rice, and TE Zack Miller.
24) Washington Redskins (5-11) - QB Robert Griffin III, RB Roy Helu, RB Tim Hightower, RB Evan Royster*, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Santana Moss, WR Leonard Hankerson, TE Fred Davis, and K Billy Cundiff.
25) Arizona Cardinals (8-8) - QB Kevin Kolb, QB John Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, RB Ryan Williams*, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Early Doucet, and WR Andre Roberts.
26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) - QB Josh Freeman, RB Doug Martin, RB LeGarrette Blount*, WR Vincent Jackson, WR Mike Williams, TE Dallas Clark, and K Connor Barth.
27) Cleveland Browns (4-12) - QB Brandon Weeden, RB Trent Richardson, WR Greg Little, and TE Ben Watson.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) - QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Rashad Jennings*, WR Justin Blackmon, and WR Laurent Robinson.
29) Minnesota Vikings (3-13) - QB Christian Ponder RB Adrian Peterson, RB Toby Gerhart*, WR Percy Harvin, WR Jerome Simpson, and TE Kyle Rudolph.
30) St. Louis Rams (2-14) - QB Sam Bradford, RB Steven Jackson, RB Isaiah Pead*, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, WR Brian Quick, and WR Steve Smith.
31) Indianapolis Colts (2-14) - QB Andrew Luck, RB Donald Brown, WR Reggie Wayne, WR Austin Collie, and TE Coby Fleener.
32) Miami Dolphins (6-10) - QB Ryan Tannehill, QB Matt Moore, RB Reggie Bush, RB Daniel Thomas, and WR Davone Bess.
I will be updating these rankings every few weeks through the season, focusing on the fantasy players of each team.
Brian Music is one of five inaugural inductees to the 2011 Toyota Legends of Fantasy Football Hall of Fame on Yahoo! Sports. He has participated in fantasy football for 23 seasons. He participated in his first Yahoo! fantasy football league in 2001 and has competed in 21 competitive-level public leagues since (winning trophies in 15 of the 21 leagues).