As the off-season draws toward a close, every football fan raises the immortal question; who will win the Super Bowl this year?
While the AFC reloads for another powerful season full of great games, there's uncertainty as to what will go on in the NFC. Let's take a moment to review what the NFC brings to the table.
We'll start with the NFC North.
There is no question that the Minnesota Vikings are the preseason favorites to win the division title, with Adrian Peterson leading a potentially explosive offense that is backed by a good, but not great, defense.
A solid run-stopping line, waiting to devour opposing ball-carriers, is spearheaded by newly-acquired defensive end Jared Allen, who is a force in stopping the run game, and also brings the big-play making ability to disrupt the passing game and crank out double-digit sacks.
Behind the Vikes, nothing is certain.
One would say the Packers are next, but losing Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre at the reins hurts the Packers chances. The pieces are there for a great season, but with untested triggerman Aaron Rodgers, and a good but aging defense, there's no telling what will happen up in Green Bay.
Next, we go to Detroit, where even more questions abound. Will the Lions fail to meet their expectations again? Or will this be the year where they break through? With a good passing game, and a decent defense, the Lions need all the luck they can get.
And finally, Chicago. After the release of tailback Cedric Benson, no one's for sure who will step up to carry the rock for the Bears this season. As for the passing game, Chicago fans hope that Kyle Orton or Rex Grossman will step up and shine.The defense, led again by Brian Urlacher, should be solid this year, and, at times, may be the only thing keeping the Bears in games.
From here, we move to the NFC East, possibly the NFC's best division. With no teams finishing under .500 last year, big things are expected.
To start the East, Dallas is the favorite to win the title this year. They are without a doubt one of the NFL's best teams, as they showcased last year. With an explosive offense and a rock-solid defense, the Cowboys are expecting to make it all the way to Tampa Bay to play for the Super Bowl.
Next up are the New York Giants. Last year's Super Bowl winners are choc-full of talent yet again. But with questions on defense following the retirement of 7-time Pro Bowler Michael Strahan, as well as losses in the secondary, a shroud of mystery is on the Giants this season.
We go to Washington, where the Redskins have made additions to an already good team. With a strong draft and good free-agent signing, Washington has the talent to win the division and possibly go deep in the playoffs.
Finally, we have Philadelphia. The Eagles are looking to better their 8-8 record from last season. As with Washington, the pieces are there for greatness. But with doubts about the defensive line, and scrutiny on QB Donovan McNabb's ability to stay healthy, the future is unclear for Philly.
We'll head to the NFC South, where lots of talent lies, but not always the ability to win. With 3 teams under .500 last year, perhaps the most doubt is in the South.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last year's division winners, there is the belief that they'll win it again, and they can back the claim up. With a traditionally monster defense, and a good balance on offense, all the Bucs need to do is win the close games, and they could be a threat to any team.
New Orleans Saints fans are hoping for a title as well. With a great pass offense led by Drew Brees, as well as the dangerous RB tandem of Reggie Bush and Deuce McCallister, who is coming off knee surgery, combined with an upgraded defense, the Saints have the intangibles.
The Carolina Panthers are hoping that the draft helps them this year. With their two 1st round picks the drafted running back Jonathon Stewart to provide a ground threat, and OT Jeff Otah to shore up the offensive line, mixed with explosive wideout Steve Smith and a decent defense, the Panthers could surprise.
Finally, the Atlanta Falcons have laid all the hopes on the shoulders of rookie QB Matt Ryan, their first 1st round pick. With few offensive weapons, and a barely-there defense, one wonder what will happen this year.
And last, but not least, we end with the NFC West. Can we expect Seattle to win the division yet again, or will we be surprised by an underdog team?
In Seattle, automatic assumptions of a division title are everywhere. And the Seahawks make good of these assumptions. With a good offense, and a hard-working defense, Seattle is poised to win the West for another year.
Behind Seattle, the Arizona Cardinals could be the team that surprises the 'Hawks and wins the division. With an offense that make defensive coordinators cautious, and what should be an improved D, the Cards could surprise everyone.
It's really a toss-up between San Francisco and St. Louis. I'll go with St. Louis this time. They have all the ingredients to resurrect "The Greatest Show on Turf", the Rams could be a thorn in everyone's side this year, with a great pass offense manned by Marc Bulger, and what could be a good defense.
Finally, the 49ers are hoping the Frank Gore, their star RB, will lead them to victory. With uncertainty at QB, the pass game is pretty much ruled out. On D, crushing LB Patrick Willis returns to give offensive coordinators nightmares.
As a whole, the NFC will drastically improve from last year, but don't expect them return to their status of the 80's and 90's, where they won the Super Bowl close to every year. Good luck to all those fans of NFC teams; some of them will need it to survive!
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