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Peter King releases his 2010 NFL Power Rankings

SI.com’s Peter King released his first NFL power ranking for the 2010 season and has more than a handful of surprises, most notably at No. 1.

1. Green Bay. It’s not just the maturation of Aaron Rodgers. It’s the carryover from a fluky end to 2009 (the weird playoff loss at Arizona) and the fact that only one team in football — New Orleans — had a better point differential than the Pack’s plus-164 last year. I like Jermichael Finley to become a great player in his second starting season. I don’t trust the pass-rush (where Clay Matthews is the only real thing), and I worry about two of the top three corners coming off ACL surgery, and aging. But the defensive front is formidable, and a very good match for the good run teams of the AFC North. I also like Weeks 2 through 5 on the schedule (Buffalo, at Chicago, Detroit, at Washington), which sets up for a strong start.

This should make my colleague John Paulsen extremely happy. The Packers’ offense is explosive, although the offensive line will once again be the focus. Rodgers endured a ton of hits last season and those blows eventually catch up with a quarterback. His O-line must do a better job of protecting him for them to get back to the playoffs.

With Green Bay ranking first, King must have the Saints at No. 2, right? Wrong.

5. New Orleans. The Saints face a daunting task: Only four times in the last 30 seasons has a team repeated as Super Bowl champ (San Francisco in 1990, Dallas in 1994, Denver in 1999 and New England in 2005). The Saints will surely score enough to win again. The question is whether defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can tread water in 2010, because I think that’s all he’s going to have to do. New Orleans doesn’t have to be in the top 10 in defense — the Bills allowed 15 fewer points last year, the 49ers 60 — but Williams, again, will have to find a way to get pressure with middling front-seven talent and make sure the Saints don’t have to score in the 30s every week to win.

I think Carolina will be better, and Atlanta might be, so this is not a mail-it-in division race for New Orleans. But when the Saints had to pick it up last year, they did, in a big way. Will complacency bite them? That’s something you can never tell at this point of the offseason, but they’re young at enough important positions to make another Super Bowl run.

It’ll be interesting to see how good the Saints defense will be this year. They have a gaping hole at linebacker and who knows whether or not they’ll get the same production out of safety Darren Sharper (who is coming off knee surgery) as they did last year. That said, Sean Payton is a fantastic play caller and his offensive schemes are extremely difficult to beat. I’m more than a little surprised that King has the Saints ranked this low with their entire offense coming back, but as he notes, history isn’t on New Orleans’ side.

I think King has the Dolphins (six) and Panthers (eight) way too high. Carolina isn’t a top 10 team with Matt Moore under center, John Fox on the sidelines and Julius Peppers in Chicago. Conversely, I think he has the Vikings (No. 13) and Falcons (No. 16) too low. Full disclosure: I’m a Falcons fan, so I’ll admit I’m biased. But to have Atlanta ranked behind Carolina is a stretch given that the Falcons finished 9-7 last year despite a tough schedule and injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner.

I don’t get SI.com’s fascination with the Panthers. I remember Dr. Z routinely had them in his top 10 over the past decade and now King is getting his knees dirty bowing down to them too. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a solid football team. Their rushing attack is outstanding, their offensive line is very good and their defense can be dominating at times. But No. 8? I don’t think so.

What does everyone else think? How did King do?


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