2010-2020: The Decade of the NFC?
The first decade of the 2000s was arguably dominated by the AFC. Seven of the 10 Super Bowls were won by the AFC, which included three Super Bowl wins in four years by the New England Patriots. The AFC has had six of the 10 league MVPs, including four from Peyton Manning.
I think the NFC will start to even it out this decade, and will show which teams look prime to make runs in the future. I'm not saying all of these teams will be Super Bowl-bound this decade; however, I do believe that as these teams improve, the NFC as a whole will solidify.
Here are teams to watch out for in the coming years.
New Orleans Saints
The Super Bowl Champs look good heading into next season.
Drew Brees is simply ridiculous right now. In the Super Bowl he was stellar, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 114.5, well deserving of the Super Bowl MVP award.
This season, the Saints' running backs Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush combined for a total of 2,486 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns in the passing and rushing game.
The Saints' defense, while not exceptional all season, managed to hold the high-powered Colts' offense to just 17 points, and forced regular season MVP Peyton Manning into throwing the game-sealing interception.
Should the Saints be able to return most of their starters, look for them to excel next year as well.
Green Bay Packers
After a disappointing playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers will be heading into the 2010-11 season with a bad taste in their mouth and fire in their eyes.
The Packers started the 2009-10 season 4-4, and went on to win seven of their final eight games to achieve a record of 11-5, finishing second in the NFC North.
They did this while implementing a new 3-4 defense, playing with one of the youngest lineups in the league, and overcoming numerous injuries to starters.
Aaron Rodgers has shown us that he can lead the Packers to wins, as the Packer offense was one of the most explosive offenses in the league, ranking third in scoring, and sixth in total yards.
Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, when executed properly, stifled teams. The Packers ranked first in rush defense, allowing just 83 yards per game, and second in overall defense, giving up 284 yards per game.
The Packers have youth on their side going into this next decade. Rodgers is one of the most successful young quarterbacks in the league. The emergence of tight end Jermichael Finley was also a big lift at the end of this season. The Packer defense has potential at many positions, especially linebacker.
Should the Packers be able to solidify their offensive line and defensive backfield (all four starting defensive backs, Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, were injured at some point this season), they will be a force to reckon with in the near future.
The Dallas Cowboys finished first in the NFC East this season with an 11-5 record.
The Cowboys also pulled out their first playoff win since 1996, beating the Eagles, 34-14.
Among the weapons for the Cowboys' second-ranked offense (which averaged 400 yards a game) was the trio of running backs in Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice. These three backs ran for 1,966 yards.
Tony Romo threw for 4,400 yards, and had thousand-yard receiving performances from both Jason Witten and Miles Austin.
The Cowboy defense gave up just 16 points a game this season, and was headlined by star defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who had 11 sacks.
The Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North this year with a 12-4 record. After starting 11-1, the Vikings stumbled into the playoffs, where they eventually lost to the Saints.
The Vikings had the second-ranked offense in the league this season, scoring almost 30 points a game. This was largely due to Brett Favre having arguably the best season of his career.
The presence of Favre helped turn less-than-stellar receivers, such as Sidney Rice, into big-time players.
By drafting Percy Harvin, the Vikings picked up a long-term player who is an extremely versatile when he isn't sitting out due to migraines.
Adrian Peterson, who led the league in rushing during the 2008-09 season, was not nearly as dominant in the 2009-10 season. (Although he still rushed for close to 1,400 yards).
The real question for the Vikings is the quarterback situation. If Favre comes back, there is the question of his age and durability. Should Favre move on, who will step up to take his place?
The Vikings could be deadly in this upcoming decade, mostly depending on who is at the helm of the offense.
New York Giants
The Giants have all the pieces to be a successful team, however poorly they finished this season.
Not many defensive lines in the league can compare to the starters of the Giants.
Eli Manning is an above-average quarterback and he has decent depth at wide receiver.
Despite their poor performance this season, the Giants should be able to bounce back and succeed in the years to come.
Other Teams to Note:
The Detroit Lions:
Yeah I'm not kidding...the Lions.
While I don't see them getting anywhere anytime soon, as the Lions improve as a team, the NFC North will improve as a division.
As Matthew Stafford comes into his own at quarterback and Calvin Johnson recovers from his recent injuries, the Lions' offense can do some damage.
If the Lions can draft some talent this year, and they should with the 2nd pick, hopefully they will develop into a competent team that can help the division, and the conference, as a whole.
The Arizona Cardinals:
The Cardinals have two of the best wide receivers in the game in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. If Matt Leinart steps up to fill Kurt Warner's shoes, the Cardinals could be a force next season, as well as in seasons to come.
The Philadelphia Eagles:
With or without Donovan McNabb, the Eagles will have a successful 2010-11 season. DeSean Jackson's impact on the Eagles is similar to Harvin's impact on the Vikings. The return of the injured Brian Westbrook will give whoever quarterbacks the Eagles another weapon on offense.