Our four main analysts were all locked in a room and told they were not allowed food or drink until they put down a list of 32, to be sent in and tallied up, giving an average score that would determine where they ended up on the list.
The lack of food and water affected some more than others, so point and laugh away as we show you the individual votes, before giving you the overall score.
1) Green Bay Packers (average rank: 1.75)
They nearly went undefeated in 2011 and our team has tipped them to reclaim the Vince Lombardi trophy. An unrelenting faith in Aaron Rodgers seems to be something nobody is prepared to ignore.
2) New England Patriots (2.5)
They looked untouchable in the regular season, but their dink-and-dunk attack got found out by some better defenses, while their own D wasn’t up to slowing down the opposition. Some major moves in the offseason offer hope for these being fixed.
3) Houston Texans (3.25)
They very nearly got to the AFC Championship game with T.J. Yates at quarterback. With Matt Schaub back and that defense even more comfortable in Wade Phillips’ scheme (plus the relative bonus of playing in the AFC South), our team has them pegged for a top spot.
4) New York Giants (5.5)
It’s hard to win a Super Bowl, it’s even harder to retain one. The ‘team to beat’ returns most of its stars but they’ll need to get hot at the right time to stand a chance of repeating.
5) New Orleans Saints (6.25)
So the Saints have lost their head coach, a host of linebackers and a number of key contributors. Our team says so what, they still have Drew Brees. Throw in some defensive free agents who look like upgrades, and they’ll be there or thereabouts.
6t) Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers (7)
The team was split in their belief of who would win the AFC North, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore again being the hardest of rivalry’s to call. San Francisco joined the fun with all believing they’ll win the NFC West at a canter but struggle to match their 2011 performance.
9) Philadelphia Eagles (7.5)
After the moves they made in 2011, could now be the time they start to reap the rewards? There’s a general feeling that the answer to that question is yes. Though much will depend on how healthy Michael Vick can stay.
10t) Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears (10.75)
This is like home for the Falcons who fall into the category of ‘good enough to get to the playoffs’ and struggle to do much more. Coverage remains the concern, with the middle of the field being an area they still look weak. For Chicago, it’s all about getting Jay Cutler and Matt Forte back. They looked playoff bound before those injuries.
12) Dallas Cowboys (11.25)
The talent is there and if Tony Romo consistently makes plays then there’s no reason they can’t return to the playoffs. The problem is, they have to play in the tricky NFC East, and while Neil Hornsby thinks they’re the fourth-best team in the league, the other analysts don’t agree.
13) Denver Broncos (14)
Are we convinced by the health of Peyton Manning? Not at this time, but if he can keep taking hits and stay on the field all year, this Broncos team could be scary.
14) Kansas City Chiefs (14.5)
The problem with this team remains Matt Cassel. Until he improves, a loaded roster is not being put to good use.
15) Detroit Lions (15.25)
Are we sold on the offensive line? Do we think they have the players in the secondary to succeed in the NFC North? A lot is resting on the shoulders of the Stafford-to-Johnson combination being even more prolific in 2012.
16) Buffalo Bills (15.5)
The moves they’ve made have them as potential playoff contenders in our eyes (well, maybe not in the eyes of Ben Stockwell). The defense has scary potential, but it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick who will need to show the kind of consistency his game isn’t known for.
17) San Diego Chargers (16.75)
You can only cry wolf so many times. The Chargers are often a team you tip, but their inability to turn that into championships has our team souring on them. Which Philip Rivers shows up this year?
18) Seattle Seahawks (17.75)
Are we excited by their potential? You bet. But let’s not forget that as good as third-round rookie Russell Wilson looked in preseason, that a) he’s still a third-round rookie, and b) it was preseason.
19) Cincinnati Bengals (18.25)
For a team that made the playoffs last year, there’s surprisingly little love for the Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe it’s wanting to see more from Andy Dalton, but collectively we feel they’re in for a fall in 2012.
20) Carolina Panthers (18.5)
This team needs to be more than just the Cam Newton show, and that means getting better on defense. Charles Johnson needs to play like he did in 2010, Chris Gamble needs to play like he did last year and, more than anything, they need some defensive tackles to step up and bully opposing offensive linemen.
21) New York Jets (21.5)
Sanchez or Tebow? We’re at the stage where it doesn’t matter. The defense will be as suffocating as ever, but the offense looks like such a mess that you forget this team was in the AFC Championship game in 2010.
22t) Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders (22.75)
There’s a general fear that with Jake Locker in the lineup this team is in for some growing pains. While Oakland has the kind of playmakers on both sides of the ball that will at times make you forget they’re undergoing a major rebuilding job.
24) Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Washington Redskins (26.25)
We just couldn’t separate these three teams, all of whom will (or should) be looking at 2012 as a year to see how their franchise quarterback develops. Andrew Luck already looks the furthest along, but he has the misfortune of one of the weakest rosters in the league surrounding him.
27) Minnesota Vikings (26.5)
A bit harsh on the Vikings? Perhaps, but there are some serious questions they need to answer, namely: how good can Christian Ponder be? And will Adrian Peterson be the same player he was before the injury?
28) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27.5)
The good news for the Bucs is they can’t be as bad as they were last year. They’d need to be actively trying to miss tackles to achieve that level of ineptness. That said, even with some heavy free-agent spending, it’s hard to see them making much noise in the NFC South.
29) Miami Dolphins (28)
A rookie quarterback needs some receivers he can rely on, thus it’s somewhat surprising that Miami will be throwing Ryan Tannehill into the deep end with what they have. We can’t see past that to a successful season as this team rebuilds again.
30) Arizona Cardinals and St Louis Rams (29.25)
The worst of the NFC West and very nearly the worst in the league. The Rams need to fix Sam Bradford before it’s too late, while the Cardinals can only wonder what they heck they were doing giving up so much for Kevin Kolb. That was the kind of move that could get someone fired.
32) Cleveland Browns (31.75)
The sad thing about the Browns is they have some top end talent (Joe Thomas and Joe Haden). But what else do they have? Question marks at practically every position. A continual failure to answer these leaves them so far behind the rest in the AFC North you wonder when they’ll ever get close.