|Cam Newton's presence in the huddle pushes the Panthers into the top five on this list. (Getty Images)|
The NFL is an "air" game now, a pass-happy league built around quarterbacks who can throw the ball.
I've been a big believer in that way of thinking for a long time, which is why my four-pronged approach to building a team is even more important now than it has ever been.
To refresh, the four-pronged approach is this:
1. Get a franchise passing quarterback.
2. If you have that guy, get the player who can knock down the other guy's franchise passer.
3. If you have those two, get the corner who can knock down the quarterback's passes.
4. If you have those three, make sure to get a premium tackle to keep the other teams' pass rushers off your quarterback.
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Four key positions. Four key players. If you have all of those, you should have success.
In the past, the left tackle might have been more important than the corners, but I've amended that. Getting cover players is imperative with the move to more passing. Having an elite one really is a big plus.
I used my four-pronged approach to rate the 32 teams heading into 2012. Each of the four categories has players ranked 1-32, with only one player per team per category. So if a team has two elite pass rushers, only the top one counts. The player ranked first gets 32 points, with the player ranked last getting one.
I then added up the total points to come up with a four-pronged total score. There is a catch. The quarterback position, which is now maybe 65 to 75 percent of the game, gets double points.
For example, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is my top-rated passer. He gets 32 points for that, but it doubles to 64 in the team calculation. The idea is that the premium passers are worth twice as much as any other position -- and maybe even more.
Based on the calculations, there are some interesting outcomes. For one, the team at the top is the Dallas Cowboys with 135 points. They are well positioned at the four key spots with Tony Romo at quarterback, Tyron Smith at left tackle, DeMarcus Ware as a pass rusher and Brandon Carr on the corner. That doesn't mean the Cowboys are my pick to win the Super Bowl. It just means they are positioned well at four key spots.
One of the surprise teams in the top 10 is the Carolina Panthers. But they are also strong at the four key spots, especially now with Cam Newton at quarterback.
Some of the players I put in for their teams are based on projections. For example, I have several rookies penciled in as starters, although that could change. Injured players, such as Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, aren't included.
Being good at those four key spots in the "air-game era" is a must. The four-pronged approach is as important now as it has ever been.