Ah, the NFC.
Sure, the AFC might have the most recognizable teams and faces in the modern NFL. Brady, Peyton Manning, LT, and Vince Young all call the American Football Conference home. But there is one thing the NFC has that the AFC doesn't.
Consider this: Over the last 10 years, the AFC has sent sixteams to the Super Bowl. That's right. Six.
Compare that to the nine different teams that have represented the NFC: the Giants (twice), the Rams (twice), the Falcons, the Buccaneers, the Panthers, the Eagles, the Packers, and the Bears have gone to the Super Bowl since '98.
How many Super Bowl trophies are shared among those teams?
The AFC has been the Goliath of the NFL in recent years. Deep down, though, who doesn't want David to win?
With that in mind, here are my fearless predictions for the NFC, broken down by conference.
The NFC North has gone from the NFL's punching bag to a division of legitimate contenders seemingly overnight. The 2006 Bears made it to the Super Bowl, and the Packers nearly got that far last season. Don't forget about the Vikings, though. Adrian "All Day" Peterson and company are looking to make waves in '08.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were one of the feel-good stories of 2007. Led by veteran signal caller Brett Favre, the youngest team in the league managed to not only silence critics, but stun the football world by earning a 13-3 record, the number two seed in the playoffs and a trip to the conference finals.
This year will be a strange and unusual one for the Pack. For the first time since Bill Clinton was President (the first time,) the Packers will be without Favre, who retired following the 2007 season.
Favre's shoes are expected to be filled by Aaron Rodgers, the team's first round pick in 2005. Because of Brett Favre's legendary toughness, Rodgers has scarcely seen the field in the regular season.
Fans got a taste of the future last season when he filled in for an injured Favre on Thursday Night Football against the Cowboys. Rodgers was impressive, throwing for 218 yards and a touchdown.
The quarterback situation is not set in stone. The Pack used its second round pick to draft Louisville QB Brian Brohm in April. The Packers organization has said the job is Rodgers' to lose, but both quarterbacks will have their eyes on the starting job.
With the exception of the quarterback situation, the Packers are as good as any team in the NFC. Their offense was ranked 2nd in the NFL, behind only the mighty 18-1 Patriots. The defense was also stout, ranking 11th overall.
The quarterback situation will likely determine the fate of the team in 2008. The Packers have a difficult stretch of games early on, and it remains to be seen what the loss of Favre's leadership will do to the team. Still, the team's talent is hard to ignore, and it should be able to put them over the top in the NFC North.
Patrick's Prediction: 11-5, 1st in the NFC North
The Vikings were one of the most fun teams to watch in 2008. Running back Adrian Peterson stole the show in Minnesota, rushing for 1341 yards with 12 scores, all in his rookie season. For his efforts, he was elected to the Pro Bowl, ahead of star running backs Brian Westbrook and Marion Barber.
With Peterson and veteran runner Chester Taylor, the Vikings have what is quite possibly the best rushing tandem in the league. The addition of former Bears' wide receiver Bernard Berrian via free agency should help the progression of third year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
The Vikings also greatly improved their defense by adding All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen. Allen led the NFL in sacks in 2007 with 15.5, and should help improve an already stout defense.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was quick to endorse his new player and the organization. "We should have a good shot to win the NFC North division," he said. "Anytime your ownership is willing to do what Mr. Wilf did to acquire Jared Allen, it makes you glad to be a member of the Vikings."
Another benefit for the Vikings is their division. With Green Bay facing its first season without Brett Favre, and the Bears going nowhere without a legitimate quarterback, the NFC North is up for grabs. A division crown and a playoff birth are within sight for the Vikes.
The fate of the team may ultimately lie in the hands of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. His 2007 season was unimpressive, finishing with a 70.8 passer rating, throwing 12 picks to just 9 scores.
The additions to the offense, as well as the strength of the running game should help Jackson. Without at least the threat of a passing game, though, the Vikings may not make it very far.
Patrick's Preditction: 9-7, 2nd in the NFC North
What a fall.
The Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2006, missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record in 2007, and are looking like a team with serious questions for 2008.
Chicago did not draft a quarterback in the draft, and will have an open competition for the starting job between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.
Orton was the story of the team in 2005. After Rex Grossman went down with an injury at the start of the season, the rookie Orton was called in to the starting job. In 15 games he led the Bears offense and helped the team reach the playoffs.
The quarterback was also given a chance to prove himself at the end of last season, starting three games.
“It’s always tough when you come into a season without playing at all the season before,” Orton said. “To get the three games at the end of the year that I did and get a lot of work in so far in the offseason, I feel like I’m a better player.”
The offense is also lacking in the run game. Former first round pick Cedric Benson has been a disappointment. His arrest early in the offseason for boating under the influence added more negative publicity to the team.
The defense also has its share of questions. Veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher is petitioning for a new contract, and has recently threatened to skip camp. The Bears cannot afford a distraction from one of their star players.
The offseason was painful for the Bears. Lead wide receiver Bernard Berrian left via free agency to division rival Minnesota. This leaves veteran Marty Booker and special teams dynamo Devin Hester as the team's starting receivers.
The Super Bowl-calibur defense remains largely the same. The Bears will need to rely on the unit if they want to return to the playoffs in a division that is truly up for grabs. With so many questions on offense, the Bears will need to shock the world to make their way in to the postseason.
Patrick's Prediction: 8-8, 3rd in the NFC North
What can be said about the Lions that hasn't been said before? The team may be on the rise, but it is a slow climb. Meanwhile, the other teams in the North are getting better. The time is now for the Lions to get serious about winning.
Quarterback John Kitna again said that the team should be able to pull off ten wins. While anything is possible, the Lions will need a lot of heart and a little luck to make it happen.
The Lions ranked dead last in total defense last season. The major problem was in the passing game, where they ranked 31st, ahead of only the porous Vikings secondary. The run defense was not much better at 23rd overall. The team attempted to fill the void on defense with the draft.
To make matters worse, many of the team's start players were grumbling last season. Losing defensive tackle Shawn Rodgers could prove to be an addition by subtraction. Wide receiver Roy Williams was hoping for a trade before the season ended, although it seems likely that he will stay on the team for the 2008 season.
The offense, led by John Kitna, has potent weapons. Wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are a tandem with great potential. Rookie running back Kevin Smith has a chance to be a playmaker for the offense. These players, along with an improved offensive line, will be aiming to improve on a year in which they put up only 346 points all season.
The Lions are a work in progress, but the improved competition in their division does not do them any favors. Detroit will likely remain the bottom dwellers of the North.
Patrick's Prediction: 6-10, 4th in the NFC North
Next time: The NFC East