If you had to pick four NFC teams that you think are going to have the best chance to be in the playoffs most of the next five years or so, who would they be?
OK for the most part the AFC has been same old same old. New England, Pittsburgh, Indy, San Diego (yeah I know Miami, Baltimore, and Tennessee are on the rise, but that isn't what we're talking about).
In my opinion, the NFC is about to start sprouting some teams that will be regular playoff/Super Bowl contenders to be the NFC's answer to the dominant teams that have ruled the AFC for most of the past five years.
Who are the teams that are about take hold of the NFL's National Football Conference? I'll place them in no particular order and we'll see how they rank in three to five years.
This team is young but look at how good they are already. Atlanta has great young receiving threats with Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, plus young upstart Harry Douglas (who not only plays a great spot in receiving but is turning into a dynamic punt returner).
Add in a fantastic and growing running game in Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood and this Falcon's team is starting to look pretty promising. Oh yeah, there is that Rookie of the Year, Matt Ryan running the whole offensive show on the field.
Matt Ryan is showing no signs of slowing down. Regardless of position, the NFL has seen nearly endless examples of sophomore slumps. This kid is determined and focused beyond anything I have seen in a QB since Peyton Manning's early days in Indianapolis.
Speaking of Indianapolis, Atlanta is looking a lot like the Indy of recent years, which is the goal of Atlanta owner Arthur Blank. Mr. Blank has idolized what Indianapolis and New England have produced over the last decade or so, and appears to be achieving similar success through the guidance of Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith.
Indianapolis and New England were laughable franchises in the early '90s and are now premier examples of NFL success. It looks as though another, once embarrassed franchise is following in their footsteps.
Let's not forget about the kicking game with Jason Elam, then throw in the addition of Tony Gonzalez and this Atlanta team is offensively amazing. The defense is average and slowly improving. However, with an offense like Atlanta is going to be fielding, you could field an average defense and still expect to make the playoffs every year.
Expect Atlanta to be in the playoff picture for quite a while.
Yes Philly has had some rough spots. Last year in fact, it looked as though the wheels where finally falling off but they pulled it together as they often do and made an impressive run at the end.
Philadelphia had one of the best drafts this year. Only time will tell, but it would appear that picking up WR Jeremy Maclin (out of Missouri), RB LeSean McCoy (out of Pittsburgh), and fifth round steal TE Cornelius Ingram (out of Florida) was perfect draft science.
Yes Donovan McNabb is aging (as humans do), but there are still plenty of successful years ahead. Similar to how Matt Ryan has benefited from experienced players around him in Atlanta, Philadelphia's new rookies will benefit from experienced leaders in Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and DeSean Jackson.
Beyond the quickly improving offense, the defense ranked third in the 2008 regular season for total yards allowed. If Philadelphia can get beyond their occasional midseason slumps, they can be a dangerous force in the NFC.
Head Coach Lovie Smith finally realized the Chicago Bears are more than just a defense. Yes, a great deal was given up for new starting QB Jay Cutler but it had to be done to compete with what other teams were willing to offer for him.
The Chicago Bears are a blue collar kind of team. A team with rough fans that enjoy seeing their defense pop opposing offenses in the mouth. However, it is time to build the other side of the ball.
You can tell that the Bears are anxious to provide Cutler with some fresh weapons with three wide receivers and a tight end picked up in the draft. The addition of Cutler will also help with running back Matt Forte's growth.
Balance is the key. Chicago's great defense is going to be aging, but Bear's management should be able to keep the Bear's defense well stocked in the future. Yes, the Chicago defense fell off the wagon a little bit last year.
By no means do I predict Chicago to have a top five offense or a top-five defense, however a top 10 for each isn't a stretch in the years to come. That balance should serve them well in the coming years.
New York Giants
Hard to believe that coach Tom Coughlin was on the ropes and was predicted to lose his job in a somewhat disappointing season, just one year before winning the Super Bowl. The Giants did not reach their repeat Super Bowl, but their 2008 season was not disappointing.
Now they have removed the Plax and brought in some new blood with Hakeem Nicks. Hakeem fits the New York scheme and should produce well with Eli running the show.
New York is another prime example of a well balanced team. Their regular season defensive output was top five in the league followed by a total offense that finished number seven in the NFL.
I did mention that this list of four teams was not in any particular order. Even though, I placed New York last in my list I'd have to say I like New York's chances of success over multiple seasons a great deal more than Chicago's.
Lists such as these usually cause fans of other above average teams to wonder why they were left off. Below are some teams that many may think are ready for a run for many years to come, but are a piece or more shy.
I'll quickly touch on why a few teams don't quite make me think they are ready to be regular contenders.
The Quarterback position is huge. Actually it is often referred to as the most important position in all of sports. Arizona might be good for a year or two but eventually will need to replace Kurt Warner and there is no telling how well that will go.
They did have a great draft though, and made a good decision to cut Edgerrin James for Chris Wells. Will Leinart have what it takes to take this team over in a couple of years? I'm not so sure.
Yes, Carolina had a good year in 2008. Age in key positions is going to start to send this team into a decline, especially with all of the young talent in the rest of the NFC South.
The defense doesn't show any signs of making games any easier on the Saint's offense. Drew Brees will likely be playing catchup for a while as teams continue to score at will on New Orleans.
They are doing some reorganizing, which is positive but that can take some time. You can't pick a team to be the "next big thing" when they haven't won a playoff game for over ten years. Maybe this is the year they get it back together, but nothing lends me to think they're on their way to being spectacular.
Same reason as with Arizona. Show me a reliable QB that will lead you for the next five-plus years and then maybe you can be consistently great. Sage Rosenfels is an improvement at the position. How much? We'll find out very soon.
Everyone else should know what the question marks are that leave people concerned for their chances to be a consistent Super Bowl contender. Only time will tell.