1. Philadelphia Eagles
Very well-rounded team here. They have an extremely good offense, if Brian Westbrook is able to stay healthy, but still very good if not. Expect to see DeSean Jackson continue to enhance his stature and become a top-10 WR in the NFL.
The Eagles have a top 10 QB, top four RB, top 20 WR (at this point), along with explosive young draft picks in RB LeSean McCoy and WR Jeremy Maclin.
The defense shares something in common with the offense: It is nicely put together. No holes anywhere. B-Bunk and Patterson are a scary young DT combo, and should only improve next to the ferocious Trent Cole, who generates great blindside pressure on the opposing QB.
McNabb has finally got a legit receiving core, so no more excuses for the front office and "fans."
2. New York Giants
Stop talking to me about Plax.
When you have Brandon Jacobs on your team, you can afford sub-par receivers. With a running back that hard to bring down, defenses will be forced to put eight in the box, which also makes for a very effective play action game, and that isn't dependent on your talent at WR.
The offense will be fine.
The defense outside the D-Line is totally average, but guess what? They have the best line in the NFC that puts insane pressure on the quarterback literally every play.
Insane DT rotation with Robbins-Canty-Bernard after the recent signings, combined with two top five DEs and a shutdown CB? This defense will definitely be effective.
3. Atlanta Falcons
I think Matt Ryan is going to have an MVP-type year.
That can only improve the performance of those around him. The Falcons could very legitimately have four Pro-Bowlers from their offense alone—Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, and Roddy White. A young offensive group that GMs can only dream of.
Additionally, Michael Jenkins is one of the league's best possession receivers, although widely unrecognized.
Defensively, the important pieces are definitely there. Elite pass-rusher in Abraham, young stud and defensive leader in Curtis Lofton, and the imposing presence of Jonathan Babineaux on the defensive line make the Falcons a very formidable defensive unit.
Look for them to have their official breakout year and take power in the division from the Panthers.
4. Minnesota Vikings
The only position the team is even a little bit shallow in is QB, but honestly, I see no reason why Jackson won't be able to throw the ball accurately to the solid targets he's been provided, run the ball a little bit, and exist in the two seconds between the snap and handing the ball to AP.
Peterson can take the ball 20+ times a game, and I'm sure this team will be fine offensively.
Nothing to worry about on the other side of the ball. Allen and the Williamses compose an elite defense line and pass rush, who can play comfortably knowing that Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson have their backs.
Antoine Winfield is indeed declining though, but his age should be veiled by the intense pressure Allen will provide. It'll be a very interesting race between the Cutler-led Bears, and Favre's team that wasn't.
5. Carolina Panthers
I know Jake Delhomme didn't sleep well after "leading" (more like dragging) his team to a brutally humiliating loss to the Cardinals in the 2008 playoffs, and thus I'm sure he's going to do every single thing in his power to make it up to his teammates this year.
Even though the Panthers are going to begin phasing Delhomme out of the offense in favor of DeAngelo Williams, he'll still factor in heavily to the team's success with his intangibles and constant drive to win.
The question is, is Steve Smith willing to sit quietly while the old Carolina guard begins to see less and less of the ball? He's always had a big mouth. We shall see.
6. Arizona Cardinals
The Super Bowl runner-ups remain, for the most part, intact.
Arizona's NFC-best is back, except with a possible dynamic addition: Beanie Wells. He's a great power back with straight-line speed, and has pretty substantial potential in the NFL. Not that he matters all that much, we know this offense can dominate with no running game to speak of.
The defense will make or break the Cards' season.
If they can improve a bit from last year on that side of the ball, I can see this team coasting to the division title. The Seahawks aren't exactly ready to be considered a viable threat, what with a huge question mark at quarterback and running back, and Walter Jones coming off of major surgery.
7. Chicago Bears
The Bears are going to have a major star emerge on their offense, and his name will not be Jay Cutler.
Jay Cutler will play a part in said star's success though.
Matt Forte, behind an improved o-line, with a viable QB putting defenses on their heels, is honestly a 1,400-yard threat. I don't think people understand how amazingly great he was for them last year. Without him, the Bears' offense would have been in the conversation with the Lions and Rams for the NFL's worst.
We're going to witness at least 4.5 YPC and 14 TDs from him. Book it, sign it, bank on it.
That said, I think Devin Hester will surprise a lot of people this year. Word out of the Bears' camp is that his hands and route-running are greatly improved, and he and Cutler have good chemistry. This won't be an offense to sneeze at in any way.
8. New Orleans Saints
I absolutely love the firepower on offense. Three bold Saints predictions:
- Brees breaks the passing record with Colston back full-time
- Pierre Thomas breaks out, rushing for 1,000 yards and six or more TDs
- Marques Colston is in the top three in receiving
The Saints' offense honestly has the makings to rank up there with the greatest ever, and I would not be surprised if they take the NFC South division.
9. Dallas Cowboys
Sleeper alert here. Even though people are focusing heavily on the loss of Terrell Owens, my Cowboys still possess a very potent offensive attack. With MB3 and the dynamic Felix Jones back healthy, not as much pressure will be on Tony Romo to carry the team to success.
The Cowboys' coaching staff have decided to change things up a bit, choosing to go with more of a run-based offense a là the 2008 Panthers, as they have a very similar running back combo. Jason Witten and Roy Williams will be playing second fiddle to the D.D.D. (Dynamic Dallas Duo)
10. Green Bay Packers
Packers are in a rough division, and have a sketchy defense. That's the only reason they're ranked where they are. Adjusting to a 3-4 isn't an overnight process, and I think the staff may have rushed into the transition without sufficient resources.
They're going to play certain players out of position and hope to acquire fillers next offseason. That tells me they don't truly expect to compete, and I don't blame them.
I think Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings are both on tap for enormous years though. Promising squad for the future, that's for sure.
11. Seattle Seahawks
I'm 50/50 on Hasselbeck right now. It's just hard for me to believe that a QB of his age can come back from an injury that severe and perform again at a high level.
I do love his two main targets though: new addition T.J. Houshmandzadeh and young tight end John Carlson.
Walter Jones is another question mark. Arguably the best LT of this decade, but at the fragile age of 35 now and coming off of major surgery as well.
The core of this team is just too old; they need to purge the old guard after this season in my opinion, and stock up on young talent. Eight wins is a reasonable prediction for this team, and a wild card berth is a reasonable aspiration.
12. Washington Redskins
Nos. 9-12 on this list are pretty tight, and this is probably a bit of an unfair ranking for a team with the level of talent Washington has. New acquisition Albert Haynesworth will be a huge boost to the entire line and pass rush, and that will enact a ripple effect that will carry to the LBs and secondary, too.
The problem with this team, for me, lies with Jason Campbell and the offense.
Campbell just can't seem to have that breakout year, and after being Zorn's pet for so long, I'm sure his teammates are a bit tired of it. He was seriously discussed in trade talks this offseason, and was close to being moved for a third rounder.
Now, that has to be a little slap in the face for a young QB with considerable talent. Hopefully he puts a chip on his shoulder and proves me and the rest of the doubters wrong.
13. San Francisco 49ers
SF made some positive moves this offseason, starting with stealing Michael Crabtree with the 10th pick in the draft. I do think he'll have somewhat of an instant impact on the offense, taking pressure off of Morgan and Davis.
I think Shaun Hill can get it done, but fellow veteran Frank Gore NEEDS to have a full, healthy year for this offense to succeed. It'll be tough behind such a criminally awful o-line though.
The defense does have some bright spots, specifically in the front seven, but neither side of the ball is enough of a strength to make a real push at the playoffs in 2009. Grab another high pick and use it wisely.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Byron Leftwich is not a good quarterback.
I don't care what he did in one game against the Redskins—at this point he's a backup. He has two cancers as his top two targets, which was a genius move by the Tampa FO.
Derrick Ward hasn't ever proven he can be a feature back, yet they give him gobs of money and promise him the ball. I guess the plan is to hope someone can have a random breakout/comeback year, and if not, get a top 10 pick and run with it. This team goes nowhere in a very tough NFC South division.
15. Detroit Lions
Made some great additions to the offense in Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew. I expect both to make a large impact at some point in their careers.
But the Lions' FO has made the smart decision, starting big-armed veteran Daunte Culpepper, throwing their No. 1 overall pick, who they've invest so much money in, to the wolves behind an awful offensive line.
There is so much talent on this offense it's insane, but the Lions have got to be patient. When they shore up their line a little bit more they can insert Stafford, and watch him soar with the great target Brandon Pettigrew will become, and the top four wideout they already have in Calvin Johnson.
Their LB core is looking nice, but both the defensive line and secondary need a bit of work, though both are fairly solid. This team wins at least three games this year and begins the long climb back to contention.
16. St. Louis Rams
Marc Bulger is sub-par, and the prospect of Donnie Avery as your No. 1 receiver is dire indeed. If Steven Jackson goes down again, this is going to be a horrible offensive team.
And quite frankly, I'd be surprised to see them average a touchdown per game.
The defense isn't bad or anything, but not near a Steeler-esque level that can come close to compensating for a bad offense.
There sure are some nice pieces that are wasting away in the garbage dumpster that is St. Louis.
Article Credit due to Bcransom, power rankings columnist at RealSportsTalk.
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