NFC East (predicted order of finish and records)
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) – A team that made a gutsy run to the NFC title game by beating superior opponents comes into this season with a better team in my opinion. It’s hard when you lose the heart and soul of your defense, but Andy Reid’s squad got younger and better on the offensive line, and that helps when your quarterback in McNabb and running back in Westbrook are arguably on the back sides of their careers. I would say that the other NFC East teams are down from last year, and in a conference that has no great teams, I think the Eagles can truly stand out.
New York Giants (8-8) – I’m afraid we saw a little glimpse of what we will see this season during the Giants’ playoff loss last season, and in my eyes, the Giants have been grossly overrated coming into this season. However, their defense is still among the best in the NFC and if it becomes a situation where the offense does enough to get by, New York will be just fine. Their lack of weapons in the passing game concerns me, and though their running game was top notch last season, it might be a little too one-dimensional, leading to an up and down season.
Dallas Cowboys (7-9) – The team that was everyone’s no-brainer pick to win this division last year has become sort of an afterthought in the NFC conference picture. Many may think that losing T.O. is addition by subtraction, but I just think it’s subtraction. They may have some good, young players on both sides of the ball, but Romo isn’t getting any younger, and Wade Phillips isn’t getting any smarter, making it all the more likely that Dallas’ window for contention is all but closed. A team with major depth concerns, the Cowboys will be a 17-week disappointment.
Washington Redskins (5-11) – To put it bluntly, the ‘Skins can’t compete in such a rugged division, and though they are probably the best last-place team in football, that doesn’t win you any awards. They may have talent, but that is outweighed by questions and age on both sides of the ball, starting with the quarterback and his arsenal of weapons, if they can even be called that. The long and tiresome adjustment period will continue into Jim Zorn’s second year and maybe even beyond, as the Redskins will continue to cellar dwell until further notice.
NFC North (predicted order of finish and records)
Minnesota Vikings (11-5) – I would pick the Vikings to win the North even without Brett Favre, but he surely puts them over the top. Seriously, he does. They’ve been a good quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender since the Culpepper and Moss days, and now with Adrian Peterson getting better, and one of the best defenses in the NFC, the Vikings have convinced a lot of people that this is finally their big year. My only concern would be the coach. Who is Brad Childress again? I’m not sure, but I do know who Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson are.
Chicago Bears (9-7) – All of a sudden, the NFC North has gotten a lot better and deeper, many thanks to Jay Cutler. There still might not be any receivers in Chicago, but one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, best young running backs, and consistently one of the league’s best defenses is a recipe that everyone should be buying into this season. I only gave them 9-7 because they have been so up and down since they won the conference three seasons ago. I like them a lot, and wouldn’t be surprised if they pull a rabbit out of their hat come January.
Green Bay Packers (8-8) – The Packers have become a trendy pick to make major strides in the NFC this season, and though that might happen, this division is too strong. Aaron Rodgers is a lot better than people realize, and their defense is stacked with young playmakers. In all likelihood, Green Bay will probably a fringe playoff team somewhere around the .500 mark, but if all of the pieces fall into place, they are a legitimate contender to win this division and make noise in the playoffs. It’s a little too soon for the Pack in my opinion, but the talent is there.
Detroit Lions (3-13) – They won’t go 0-16 again, but just because they’ll notch a few wins, it doesn’t mean they’re any better. They have a new quarterback, a new coach, and a plan for the future, which I like. However, they also have a raw defense, a tough division to play in, and what I assume would be a disgusted fan base due to the recent trends. The Lions are still a long ways away from any sort of contention, but there’s nothing else to do but start over when you go an entire season without winning a game. I still can’t believe a team could do that.
NFC South (predicted order of finish and records)
Carolina Panthers (11-5) – I think the best division in football is now the NFC South. A Panther team that had such a great regular season and laid an egg in the playoffs comes back with essentially the same cast of characters under head coach John Fox. A lot of people have soured on them coming into this season, but there is no plausible argument for why Carolina can’t and won’t win this division. They have a lethal two-headed monster at running back in Williams and Stewart, and a really good defense. The Panthers will still be there come January.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – I know the popular thing to do is to latch on to good, young, overachieving teams and pick them to shock the world, but let’s not get carried away. The Falcons are good – really good, but I would say that going back to the playoffs is a realistic target for Ryan, Turner, and Co. When I see people picking them to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, my first thought is one of ridiculousness. Their defense isn’t great, and the schedule is brutal, but I love Matt Ryan and Michael Turner to bring home another winning season.
New Orleans Saints (8-8) – No need to ever worry about the Saints’ offense as long as it is led by Drew Brees, but the defense is still very much in question. It’d be nice to see Reggie Bush become a back that everyone can rely on to give them consistency, as New Orleans might struggle to run the football. In addition, they need to handle the big games in the division better, and if I had to vote, I would say the Saints would probably be the most mediocre team in the NFL as this season starts. They’ll be decent, but no playoffs for the folks in the Big Easy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) – Long-term approach and transition year would be a couple of appropriate terms to describe Tampa Bay’s philosophy coming into this season. A team that collapsed down the stretch last year now has a new coach. Who’s the quarterback? I don’t know. The Bucs are one of only a handful of teams that won’t be too competitive in the NFC, because the conference is in fact a lot better. How about the fact that they play the entire NFC East in the first five weeks? Things might get very ugly, very quickly down in Tampa Bay.
NFC West (predicted order of finish and records)
Arizona Cardinals (12-4) – On the contrary, the NFC West is probably among the worst divisions in football, and it will undoubtedly be won by the Cardinals. Don’t let the 12 wins I gave them deceive you, this collection of players wouldn’t normally win that many, but it looks as if they will rack up the wins against lousy competition. Their offense does resemble that of a championship contender as we saw last year, with the ageless Kurt Warner at quarterback, and a plethora of talented weapons. Their defense might be suspect, but definitely good enough to get by.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – This team performed a lot better under coach Mike Singletary, and I think that may have just been due to change of culture, because I really don’t see that much there. They’ll definitely be able to run the ball with Frank Gore, but their quarterback situation is the shakiest in football, and that isn’t a problem that just goes away. Them being a second place team shows how bad the division is, and I would be hesitant to say that the ‘Niners are average, getting to six or seven wins in the first full season under the new coaching regime.
Seattle Seahawks (6-10) – A team that took an absolute nosedive last year all the way to 4-12 shouldn’t be much better in 2009. Hasselbeck has just about reached the end, and their running game is nothing to speak whatsoever. I’m not sure whether a new coach is a good thing when you’re losing Mike Holmgren, but the job obviously wasn’t done last year. They have a shot to be one of those comeback stories this season, but even so, they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs or be considered among the NFC’s elite group of teams.
St. Louis Rams (4-12) – There isn’t a lot to like about the Rams this year, and though I like the hire of Spagnuolo as the head coach, you have to have better players to contend. They’re another team that’s rebuilding and it’s going to take time, but they have some good building blocks with Jackson at running backs and a few top picks on the interior lines. Bulger has been as spotty as any quarterback over the past few years, and don’t expect anything to change with a weak offense. They’re pretty bad and will be in contention for next year’s top overall pick.
NFC's Top 10 Offensive Players
1) Adrian Peterson, RB - Minnesota
2) Drew Brees, QB - New Orleans
3) Michael Turner, RB - Atlanta
4) DeAngelo Williams, RB - Carolina
5) Brian Westbrook, RB - Philadelphia
6) Jay Cutler, QB - Chicago
7) Kurt Warner, QB - Arizona
8) Aaron Rodgers, QB - Green Bay
9) Larry Fitzgerald, WR - Arizona
10) Steven Jackson, RB - St. Louis
NFC's Top 10 Defensive Players
1) DeMarcus Ware, LB - Dallas
2) Albert Haynesworth, DT - Washington
3) Patrick Willis, LB - San Francisco
4) Jared Allen, DE - Minnesota
5) Justin Tuck, DE - New York
6) Asante Samuel, CB - Philadelphia
7) Julius Peppers, DE - Carolina
8) Osi Umenyiora, DE - New York
9) Adrian Wilson, S - Arizona
10) Brian Urlacher, LB - Chicago