New York Giants
Unlike last year, the New York Giants will be the division champs. Yes, Michael Strahan's retirement is a blow to the defense. Whenever you lose a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and have the Cowboys right behind you, it will be tough. But the Giants have a great young player named Justin Tuck, who had double-digit sacks off the bench last year.
Their secondary took a loss when Gibril Wilson left for Oakland; however, they picked up a seasoned veteran in Sammy Knight. They have good corners when they are healthy. Sam Madison is a Pro-Bowl caliber corner, and Aaron Ross can hold his own on the opposite side. Corey Webster is looking like a first-round bust, but did intercept Brett Favre's last throw ever.
With Osi and Tuck putting pressure on the QB, the secondary won't have to be that good.
Even if the cancer that is Jeremy Shockey is not traded, he might not be that much of a headache in the huddle, mainly because he is barely there. When you watch the games, you'll see how Shockey was overthrown to, and when he did catch it he usually made a big play. However, he tended to go to the sideline with an "injury". He usually came back and still made a play.
Plax can be a selfish receiver by not running his routes as hard as he can when he doesn't get the ball. However, he is huge and makes big plays. With the typical corner coming in at 6' or under, and running a 40 in 4.4 or faster, it is easy for him to dominate a game.
Brandon Jacobs is becoming a premier runner that can take out a corner with a huge hit in the beginning of the game. Eli is developing into a solid QB that can win games. He has a lot of help with young, fast receivers.
Yes, they beat the Giants two out of three games last year. Yes, they added Pacman Jones, the same Pacman Jones that gave Vince Young his ROY award. He had two INTs against the Giants the last time he played, and he took one back for a TD. He also returned a punt for a TD in the fourth quarter to beat the Giants 24-21.
They also re-signed T.O., have Terry Glenn coming back from injury, and drafted a nice running back that was able to put up 1,000 yards, averaging 9.1 YPC while playing behind Darren McFadden. And I didn't even mention Mike Jenkins, the playmaking corner from USF.
However, the Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996. You can blame Romo's hands vs. Seattle, or that the Cowboys were outplayed by the Giants, or Jessica Simpson cursed them, but they still can't win the big game.
The Cowboys have a very good, young secondary, but they don't like Roy Williams. Roy needs a better coach to help him in coverage, even though he made the Pro Bowl last year. He is still a dominant hitter who is very good at stopping the run.
The offense is good because Romo doesn't get hit that much, mainly because of his dominant O-line and his mobility. It seems that he is a much better passer on the run than in the pocket. Marion Barber is finally getting his well-earned shot to start at RB, and he has a home-run threat behind him in Felix Jones.
TO has continued to be dominant, despite his age, as he let Keyshawn know. Let's see how long T.O., Tank Johnson, and Pacman Jones can go without fighting. T.O. is actually trying to work things out with Romo, even putting on an Oscar-worthy acting performance while defending Romo last year.
Jason Witten is a dependable TE, except when I draft him on my fantasy team. DeMarcus Ware is becoming one of the top defenders in the league. I still think the Cowboys will make the playoffs, but they will be eliminated in their first game.
The Eagles won't make the playoffs, and they should have traded McNabb. Donovan is aging rather quickly, and is no longer one of the top QBs in the league. When Garcia and McMahon took over, they did a better job than McNabb.
DeSean Jackson will help the WRs, but he is not the answer to their problems. They still need a No. 1 receiver.
The defense isn't getting any younger either. Asante Samuel should help the secondary, but they need a dominant run stopper, like Trotter used to be.
Jason Campbell will determine how far they go. They have Clinton Portis, but all of those carries will add up quickly, and they will take a toll on him. Good thing they have Ladell Betts to finish the one-two punch.
Santana Moss is playing like he's a Jet, and he is making me believe that his one breakout season was a fluke. They still have a lot of underrated and underperforming receivers. Their defense is what keeps the team strong, and it is a tragedy that they lost Sean Taylor.
Minnesota will be the division champs, unless Kyle Orton wins the starting job for the Bears.
Adrian Peterson is one of the only running backs that lived up to his hype. People are saying that he is the next Eric Dickerson. Unlike Reggie Bush, who was compared to Gale Sayers, Bush was running against weak Pac-10 opponents. Peterson set his goals high, saying 2,000 yards is his target for this year. Teams are going to have to game plan against Peterson, and it may be time to bring back the 46 defense.
The O-line is still dominant, and Chester Taylor is a great insurance policy for Peterson.
Tarvaris Jackson seems to have a lot of pressure on him this year. The Vikings signed Gus Frerotte, drafted John David Booty, and they still have Brooks Bollinger as well.
Sydney Rice, who I thought was a steal in the draft last year, has to step up and make big catches. The signing of Bernard Berrian was huge; now they have a deep threat, and they don't have to worry about covering him.
E.J. Henderson is becoming an elite linebacker and a real leader on the defense. The Vikings are very good at the draft, picking up Rufus Alexander last year. Alexander is an All-American OLB from OU, and he should help the defense, if he stays healthy.
The Vikings secondary is great, but they don't have to be with how good their D-line is. The tandem of Williams and Williams (Kevin and Pat) up the middle is going to do damage on other teams' running game. They lost first-round bust Erasmus James, but they still have one of the most dominant D-lines in football.
If they go with Grossman at QB, they won't be very good. If they go with Orton, they could be the champs. Kyle led the Bears to the Super Bowl, just to watch Grossman throw it away.
Urlacher is not a cancer to the team; he is just causing a business headache. The Bears still need to sign Tommie Harris and Devin Hester, and both have just one year left. Brian wants as much money as he is worth. Anyone that says Urlacher is overrated needs to watch a Bears game, and every time they are on defense, watch Urlacher and see what he does.
The defense needs to start playing as a team again. They have pretty good corners, great linebackers, an above-average D-line, and solid safeties.
They just released Benson, so now they have to depend on the other Adrian Peterson and Garret Wolfe. I would not be surprised if they try to budget Shaun Alexander in here. However, I don't think they have the money.
The wide receivers are a concern. They have Brandon Lloyd, who made great plays with the 49ers, but struggled with the Redskins, and Marty Booker, the one-time Bear who might be at the end of his career. Devin Hester makes the special teams great, and at WR, he gets great separation. He just needs to learn how to catch. The Bears O-line is also getting older.
Green Bay Packers
Yes, they made it to the NFC Championship Game, and yes, they were one mistake away from the Super Bowl. However, they are not the same team without Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers came out of the weakest QB draft in recent history.
Alex Smith went undefeated against easy teams with a good WR in college. Rodgers put up numbers at Cal, and they both cashed in at the Draft. Rodgers has a better chance at success than Smith, because he was behind Favre for a few years and was able to learn his system.
The Packers have the best young receivers in the league. The O-line gets their job done. Ryan Grant went from practice team on the Giants to a starter on the Packers. I think he will have to step it up to the next level this year, because teams don't fear Rodgers like they did with Favre.
The defense is good, but Atari Bigby and Al Harris are overrated. Bigby draws more 15-yard penalties than big plays. Al "I'm going to do what I do" Harris let Burress run all over the field on him. Woodson who was overrated in Oakland, and yet he is underrated in Green Bay.
A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett lead a great LB corps. The D-line is good with Aaron Kampman being their leader. The Packers still have a good team that could earn the division title, but they are in the most underrated division in the NFL.
The Lions had a promising year last year, even though they did not meet Kitna's demands. Kitna is an average QB that is aging. He doesn't make rookie mistakes, and he can inspire his team.
Roy William is one of the purest young receivers, and he will dominate the league. Calvin Johnson has the potential to be good, but potential is the most useless word in the dictionary. Williams will attract double teams, and if Johnson can't perform, he should be out of the league.
The defense is lead by the young LB Ernie Sims, who is just a tackling machine. They did lose Shaun Rodgers, and they need to overcome that. The Lions' defense will determine how many games they win, and whether or not they make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is the most unpredictable division, next to the NFC West. The Buccaneers are the defending division champs, and they could repeat for one reason: Defense.
Barrett Rudd had a breakout season, and he needs to repeat it. He has Derrick Brooks and Cato June with him. Gaines Adams should dominate next season, and Aqib Talib adds youth to Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon.
Jeff Garcia is a great success story, and he still has it in him to compete. He needs help from Galloway, Stovall, Clayton, and Hilliard though. Ben Troupe was a good pickup for the Bucs, and he should add to their TEs.
Cadillac Williams needs to step it up now that Warrick Dunn has returned. Earnest Graham is also still there. The O-line is pretty good, and they just need to play as a team to make it back to the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints
A close No. 2 here. This team depends on Deuce McAllister. He needs to comeback healthy from his knee injury. They could have the most explosive offense with Colston as a WR and Bush playing utility. Coming in as a RB or WR, Bush just needs to become a dominant RB, because Deuce's knees aren't getting any younger.
Drew Brees is a great QB that will get the ball in his receivers’ hands.
Randall Gay and Mike McKenzie should be good enough at CB for the defense.
Perhaps the Saints' best move of the offseason was acquiring LB Jonathan Vilma. Sedrick Ellis will bolster the D-line, and hopefully he will not be another D-line bust for the Saints. Will Smith just got a contract extension, and as long as Charles Grant doesn't get in trouble with the law for his offseason antics, he should be starting at DE.
Drafting Jonathan Stewart was a good move to replace DeShaun Foster. DeAngelo Williams is the real deal. He dominated at Memphis and will continue to do so for his pro career.
Jake Delhomme needs to get healthy. He is a 33-year-old QB, and he might not have much time left. Steve Smith, D.J. Hackett, Dwayne Jarrett, and Muhsin Muhammad make an outstanding receiving corps.
Brad Hoover, Nick Goings, and the O-line need to step up as blockers. Julius Peppers needs to get back to his dominating form at DE.
Chris Gamble is a great young corner, and Ken Lucas is good on the other side. Jon Beason and Thomas Davis should step up their game next year too. As long as injuries don't catch up to the Panthers, they could compete for the NFC South title.
It will take a long time to rebuild this franchise. Matt Ryan could be the answer, and the Falcons are going to stick with him. It is unfortunate that they parted ways with Crumpler, but they still have Roddy White and Mike Jenkins, who will have to step up as WRs.
Michael Turner was a great pickup, and he will now have his time to struggle behind that O-line. The defense has a promising LB in Michael Boley, and Keith Brooking is still there. Jamaal Anderson is a good young DE, and John Abraham will have to step up as a DE.
Seattle has the best chance of winning this weak division. Hasselbeck still has Branch, Engram, and Burleson to throw to. Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett should have a good battle against Maurice Morris for the starting RB position. The O-line is still good. Patrick Kerney leads this defense, with stars like Julian Perterson, Lofa Tatupu, and Marcus Trufant
Their offense will depend on who wins the starting QB role, Matt Leinart or Kurt Warner. Fitzgerald and Boldin is the best receiving duo in the NFL. Edgerrin James will bang out the tough yards. He is still a running back that can get 250+ carries a year.
Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick are two, up-and-coming TEs.
Roderick Hood and Eric Green will be joined by Rodgers-Cromartie to help bolster the secondary. Karlos Dansby is a dominating LB, and Darnell Dockett is a force at DT. However, the leader of the defense has to be Adrian Wilson. The Cardinals always look good on paper, but let's see how they perform.
San Francisco 49ers
They were picked by many to win the division last year. Frank Gore needs to stay healthy and not play like he did at the U. Alex Smith needs to perform and find Vernon Davis.
The defense has a star in LB Patrick Willis. They also have a steal in Reggie Smith, a corner from OU. Isaac Bruce was a nice pickup this offseason. They have a good secondary, but they will primarily depend on the D-line.
St. Louis Rams
On paper, they have a great offense. Marc Bulger needs to perform on the level that he is getting paid. Tory Holt will perform big, like always. Drew Bennett needs to step up his game and play like he did in Tennessee when Derrick Mason went down. Randy McMichael is on the downslope of his career.
Brian Leonard could bring fans back, and Steven Jackson needs to run hard again.
Leonard Little and Chris Long should be forces at DE, while La'Roi Glover and Adam Carriker close out the DT spots. It should take about another year before they can compete in this weak division.