Greg Cote’s NFL team rankings for 2012

Quarterbacks in the NFL always seem to lead the league in newsworthiness, and that’s true entering this season even more than usual. Not even New Orleans’ Bountygate scandal — the fallout causing coach Sean Payton’s year-long suspension among other penalties — can muscle the big QB stories off the top of the 2012 marquee.

One of those dramas is playing out in Miami, where Dolphins fans are more excited by Ryan Tannehill than by any rookie passer since Dan Marino in 1983. And yet, leaguewide, Tannehill might not even make the top-five biggest QB stories nationally.

No. 1, of course, is that Peyton Manning changed horses, moving his saddle from a Colt to a Bronco. Whether he can come off a year lost to neck surgery and rediscover his Hall of Fame form in Denver is the biggest story in pro football.

Rookie Robert Griffin III taking over in Washington and fellow rookie Andrew Luck taking over for Manning in Indianapolis run a dead-heat for next-hottest story at the position. Luck was the top overall pick to Griffin’s second, but the buzz and anticipation for RGIII seems greater going on. (Could it be the nickname?)

Let us not forget Tim Tebow, whose trade from Denver to the Jets weighs in fourth among our quarterback stories — though you would think it was first with no challengers based on the hyperventilating New York tabloids. Tebow could be the most discussed backup in history. (Poor Mark Sanchez might want to have earplugs ready after his first home interception lest the “We want Tebow!” chants sweep him off the field).

OK, I’ve delayed the inevitable long enough. My division-by-division analysis, playoff forecast and Super Bowl pick will appear Sept. 7 on the first of our Friday NFL prediction pages. For now, here is my annual ranking of the 32 teams, and as always those teams’ cooperation in helping to make this list as accurate as possible will be both hugely appreciated and thoroughly unexpected:

1. San Francisco 49ers (13-3 last season):

2. New England Patriots

3. Green Bay Packers (15-1):

4. New York Giants (9-7):

5. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8):

6. New Orleans Saints (13-3):

7. Baltimore Ravens (12-4):

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4):

9. Houston Texans (10-6):

10. Chicago Bears (8-8):

11. Detroit Lions (10-6):

12. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7):

13. Atlanta Falcons (10-6):

14. Denver Broncos (8-8):

15. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): A very solid defense and potentially strong ground game give Seahawks much to feel good about. Like their division chances. But the big question is at quarterback and especially whether Matt Flynn is ready to lead.

16. San Diego Chargers (8-8):

17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8):

18. New York Jets (8-8):

19. Oakland Raiders (8-8):

20. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): RB Jamaal Charles and S Eric Berry are healthy again, and OT Eric Winston and RB Peyton Hillis are nice additions. Chiefs could have a postseason shot if QB Matt Cassel is good enough, a serious question.

21. Buffalo Bills (6-10):

22. Carolina Panthers (6-10):

23. Washington Redskins (5-11):

24. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): Birds ended last season on a 7-2 run, and wisely drafted WR Michael Floyd to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. But the choice of Kevin Kolb or John Skelton at the most important position serves to dampen enthusiasm.

25. MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-10):

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12):

27. St. Louis Rams (2-14):

28. Tennessee Titans (9-7):

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11):

30. Indianapolis Colts (2-14): No. 1 rookie QB Andrew Luck makes things interesting but he has negligible surrounding talent after aging WR Reggie Wayne. Huge roster turnover puts Indy in a more obvious rebuilding mode than any other team.

31. Minnesota Vikings (3-13):

32. Cleveland Browns (4-12):

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