While it is always tempting to try to rank teams from 1 – 32 in a league, for playoff implications I find it at least equally important to try to rank all four teams in each division.
Hence Haves vs. Have Nots...have a playoff shot, or not have playoff shot. Start with the race for the Drew Brees and Saints-held NFC Championship.
New Orleans Saints
Defending Super Bowl Champs...should be enough said. With Brees and his talented collection of receivers, he should be able to continue to rack up huge passing yards. He plays behind a very deep and talented O line that added help.
They also have an outstanding running game with power and speed diversity, part of which may be attributed to the very fine O line.
The defense took some hits in free agency, but should still be able to really bring the heat. While they might not be truly elite, they are good enough to keep them in games and with that offense it will be enough.
Drafted more O-line help and a corner of the future, and had the luxury of looking to the future with a QB project. Who Dat? Saints are contenders again for sure.
Might Have...Super Bowl hangover.
Last season’s Band-Aid brigade leaders. Have a tremendous young QB in Ryan with enough experience the game is beginning to slow down.
Great RB in Turner and O line which were largely ignored in favour of a fine WR in White with just enough other talent to keep the total focus off him.
A Defense on the rise, that surely gained a significant amount of help in the draft. Falcons drafted 2 for sure and possibly 3 starters on a defense that was already competitive if not dominating, and future replacements fo the age on the O line.
Might Have...a shot at catching the Saints napping. For sure have...a legitimate shot at a wildcard.
Have not a proven QB or any WR to take the focus off Steve Smith. They do have a great tandem of RBs and a fine O line.
They will be a tough out, BUT with a part-season starter at QB and three ranked QB draft picks they will have controversy and learning curve no matter who wins the starting job.
The defense has that dreaded curse: potential. Other than the incredibly solid and underrated Beason to anchor things from the MLB spot, they are primarily young and will get there, but could be a year or two away.
Have Not...much of a playoff shot with the youth is such key positions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Have not had much success lately. They do have a young QB whom has shown flashes and need Freeman to continue his development.
Unfortunately, this is a team in serious rebuild, so his weapons are limited, drafting Benn and Williams for WR help can only be a good thing...eventually.
The defense could not stop anyone from running on them, so they did draft well taking McCoy and Price will make them much more difficult to simply run on.
Have Not...a snowball’s chance at the playoffs, but will at least be far more competitive.
The team that lost to the Saints in the NFC Championship game was the Vikings. The Vikings Have...issues. Will Brett come back? If he comes back, can he stand up one more year?
Behind Brett they have...issues at QB. Jackson is totally inconsistent, a career backup, a couldn’t make the roster late draft pick from last year and a late round project form this year. Not much security.
They do have a fine set of receivers...or did they just look better due to Brett? They do have arguably a great RB, but with fumbling issues. His security blanket third-down partner left, so the Vikings did a fine job in drafting a replacement in Gerhart.
Their O line was pushed about the last half of last year, has three old and regressing parts...and absolutely no backup. Ouch, this is a huge hole, probably one that the strength of the rest of the offense will struggle to overcome.
The Defense is...formerly dominant; another nice way to say old. Not only are the potentially suspended Williams both old, so are their backups. They did get a pretty good replacement for the likely departing FA end opposite the overrated Allen.
The LB are...2/3 on the wrong side of 30. The 4 top corners are....on the wrong side of 30. They did draft one replacement corner...one was not enough. They have...issues.
They might have enough to squeak out a wildcard, but a Super Bowl run became a pipe dream when the schedule came out and shows no relief after week 4.
Green Bay Packers
Have an elite QB in Rodgers with 2 1000+ yard WR and depth. A rising star mismatch at TE with Findlay. The O line had struggles with early injuries, but were much improved the second half of the season.
They drafted 2 more potential starters so now the O line weakness.... probably is a have, but they need to get the starting group sorted out. They do have potentially the league’s best depth in this critical group.
A solid running game, they seem to have no obvious holes on offense.
On defense, they were a team converted to a new 3–4 scheme last season, which saw the greatest improvement of any unit in football. They led the league in turnover margin and added...a safety with a nose for the ball.
Injuries raged through the secondary, all should be back with an added safety. 2 DL were added in the draft for depth.
Solid LB anchored by last season’s ROY candidate Matthews being the standout. They have...a shot at becoming the dominant team in the NFC, and are odds on favourites for the division. They might need to get a much-improved performance from a poor special-teams showing of last year to have a deep playoff run.
The team has not found any weapons at reciever for their inconsistent QB to use in the passing game. They have not addressed a very not quite average O line.
No matter that they raided division rival Vikings for a fine RB option, the line is not good enough.
They have spent a lot of money in Free Agency on the defense. They needed to. They Have drafted some help for a hugely porous secondary. They needed to.
Perhaps only Oakland has made a bigger mistake at the QB position. Not that their turnover machine is not pretty middle of the league type talent, but destroying the draft for 2 seasons has gutted the remainder of the talent level.
They have not...a ghost of a chance of making a playoff push. They might slip below Detroit and into the realm of a top 5 pick next year. Sorry Lovie, not your fault, but you will get fired.
Have not had enough time to turn the 0–16 disaster completely around. How much improvement can there be in two seasons from as bad as they were? A lot.
A young franchise and potential top 5 QB with at least 2 WR to throw the ball to. Trading and scrounging for competitive if not outstanding FA. Drafting a very dynamic RB in the person of Jahvid Best. Getting a potential all-everything DT in Suh.
Trying to patch together a LB and secondary group that will compete, the management team has turned the perpetual loser attitude about.
They have not any chance at the division this year. They might surprise plenty of people and catch both the Bears and Vikings in 2011.
Have won a Playoff game in the last decade! In clinching home field week 17 and then crushing the Eagles in the first round the Boys have exorcized many demons.
They have a solid QB who maybe someday will mature enough to be elite (or not, he may not need to be elite). They have given him a great set of weapons to throw to, potentially the best in the game.
They have a tremendous stable of RBs. They have not fixed the cracks in the O line, but they are not so bad as to be fatal.
Their defense is anchored by Ware, one of the most feared pass rushers in the game. A nice draft added CB help and depth on the D line and on special teams. They have nothing that is so scary good that it draws all the focus, they are just very fine in every phase of the game.
They have, much like the Packers, depth and balance and could make a serious playoff run. They have not really proven they can win anything, as they pretty much embarrassed themselves in Minnesota in the playoffs.
They might have to gain homefield advantage in their new dome to make it to the truly upper echelon.
Have speed youth and plenty of playoff experience over the last decade. Andy Ried and company have a scary box of offensive talent. A very competent if not huge and dominant O line is in place.
They do not have a great deal of experience at QB, but Kolb has looked solid in his playing time and has several years on the bench behind a team legend. Kolb has similar circumstance to Rodgers had in Green Bay, so I expect him to flourish.
Added to this youth movement was 13 draft picks! Speed and more speed. To me this is one of the hardest teams to try to slot in. They have as much or more upside as any team in football.
They have lost very significant team leadership, McNabb, Westbrook, Trotter and White provided the stability that you knew would have the team in the playoffs. They could not quite win it all.
The new group might be the scariest team in football. They have not yet pushed all this talent into game situation. I expect they will be a contender but will need a little time to mature.
New York Giants
Giants have not shown any team character since the departure of Strahan. A talented D that has crumbled and decayed like stinking manure piles on a dairy farm.
Fortunately with their top 4 draft picks they are addressing the mess. Not sure whom might be the defensive leader, but until somebody steps up they have not much chance of getting back to the top of the division.
On offense they have a top half of the league QB with the other Manning. With a much better set of RB and a hugely superior O line to the one in Indy he has delivered...one trip to the Super Bowl and a whole lot of pretty average play.
The team apparently has talent, but just no toughness. They have not much of a shot at the playoffs. Maybe the team is just tired of Coughlin, or maybe his systems are just worn out.
If the NFL truly is a team of follow the leader this team that cannot get over the top maybe needs to follow the lead of Philly or hard to say, Redskins and do a start over. This team might be headed for a rebuild.
The Redskins have not been very good for some time so are rebuilding. McNabb is no doubt a big upgrade over Campbell at the QB spot. Granted the Redskins have had terrible O line play, and they did make huge strides towards fixing that by drafting a probable all pro LT for the future and two other OL.
A good move in that McNabb is a huge investment. With a RB by committee and a very average set of weapons to use, this offense will not be truly explosive but should keep them competitive...sort of.
The defensive has some huge talent in Haynesworth, Orakpo and Landry but will need to really gel as a total group to give them much of a shot. They have not yet had the systems of Shanahan installed and that will take time.
They might surprise and be quite competitive, but the playoffs are likely at least a year away. Things do look better now than at this point last offseason, however.
Have won the division the last two years and are only a year removed from a super bowl trip. They have changed their starting QB, but he has significant time as a starter and enough humbling experience to be ready.
They have great receivers, albeit perhaps only two deep now. The running game is described as average at best, and the O line made it by on the experience and quick release of Warner.
They have had multiple free agent defections, but have worked hard to fill the holes. Three very solid picks on D of their first 4 picks should limit the bleeding. They have the potential to hang on to the division but I doubt it.
They might contend for a wildcard if the cracks do not leak and Fitzgerald can grab the team on his shoulders and single handedly elevate them above the competition.
Somehow I cannot buy all the ifs, and expect a slide to competing for a wildcard, and not quite making it.
San Francisco 49ers
Mike Singletary’s teams have been on the rise since he took over and are on the brink of winning the division. David Carr provides the impetus to have the inconsistent Mr Smith step up, or go away.
With the two very fine O line additions it will be very difficult to even slow down Gore and or Coffee and the run game. Carr has proven he can manage with not much support, so it really is live up to No. 1 or go away, Mr Smith.
Crabtree, Davis, Morgan and Ginn are certainly enough targets. This offense looks to be as explosive as any in football.
Couple that offense with a quick D anchored by Patrick Willis which gained 2 more bigtime playmakers via the draft and this team HAVE to take the step forward this year.
They might have some consistency issues, but the 49rs are a young team that is scary and on the rise mode. They remind me of the 09 Packers.... here they come, but one year away from the deep playoff run. And who says you need a GM to have a very fine draft!
This is a team that seems to have never recovered from being jobbed out of a Super Bowl by the zebras. Holmgren was crushed by things he could not control and eventually had to move on to recover.
He left a distraught, not destroyed team. They have not completely healed, but bringing in the upbeat Pete Carroll was a great move. While I do not have enough background to say they have taken a big gamble and think Charlie Whitehurst might be their QB of the future.
They have not proven to have a backup plan if he fails. With a hole in the O line caused by retirement of perennial all pro Jones, they drafted the future there.
Solid picks for a porus secondary and a potential gamebreaker at WR means the team should get better, but maybe not much better this year. This team might make a run in 2011, but they have not ANY chance at the playoffs in 2010.
St. Louis Rams
Can I create a new category..... lower than the have nots? Let me start with a positive Have. They have drafted 11 guys this year, and one looks like he has the potential to be an NFL QB.
They did even try to get him a couple of young receivers to grow with. They were bad everywhere, and one year cannot fix it all. See the Lions.
At least I think this team took baby steps in the right direction. They have not any chance at being remotely competitive. They might get the first overall pick again next year. As bad as it is, they will not go 0 – 16.
My early line NFC choices:
Saints, Cowboys, Packers and 49ers are the four division winners. Falcons and Eagles secure wildcards.
Packers over 49ers for NFC trip to the Super Bowl.