Every year in the NFL offseason, we as fans try to predict which teams will dominate the league and post 12- and 13-win seasons, and ultimately win the Super Bowl.
It is not an exact science, of course, and this is just my take on things. Anybody in 2008 who was asked to pick the next two NFC champions would probably not have the Cardinals and Saints as their first choice of teams.
This list ignores the teams that are routinely in the discussion as the teams most likely to be powerhouses (such as the Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, and Cowboys) as well as teams that already posted 12+ wins last year.
Rather, it looks at some teams that are on the verge on reaching that next level (listed alphabetically).
1. Baltimore Ravens
2009 Record: 9-7 (lost in AFC Divisional Playoffs)
2010 Notable Non-Division opponents: Week 1 at Jets, Week 5 vs. Broncos, Week 6 at Patriots, Week 15 vs. New Orleans
The Ravens already have a solid defense with star veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata among others that just added two solid potential rookie starters in Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody. The defense will likely continue to be one of the best in the league.
The offense is also looking very solid. Joe Flacco made strides to become a better quarterback in his second season and will likely continue to do so with new receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth as well as two talented rookie tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Throw in the fact that they have one of the most talented offensive players in the league in Ray Rice, and the Ravens' offense might no longer be a weakness.
With Ben Roethlisberger missing six games, the Ravens have a chance to take over the AFC North for good if they overtake the Bengals.
2. Denver Broncos
2009 Record: 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2010 Notable Non-Division opponents: Week 3 vs. Colts, Week 5 at Ravens, Week 6 vs. Jets, Week 14 at Cardinals
The Broncos are a team that has routinely been in the center of controversy for some reason or another every since Josh McDaniels was hired. However, there are plenty of good pieces in place to make a run at the Chargers for the AFC West crown.
It seems like nobody ever has faith in Kyle Orton to be the man to succeed, but he is a solid NFL quarterback who does his job.
With the added pressure of having Quinn and Tebow behind him on the depth chart, I really think that Orton is going to elevate his game to the next level and turn quite a few heads. In addition, they have the very talented Knowshon Moreno playing running back.
Their defense is still overlooked by many. The secondary is anchored by future Hall of Famers Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, and they have talented linebackers with Elvis Dumervil and the never talked about, but highly talented DJ Williams.
This is a team that most people have no faith in to succeed but their schedule is relatively easy and they have a very talented team, so they could make a run at the Chargers for the AFC West.
3. Green Bay Packers
2009 Record: 11-5 (Lost in NFC Wild Card)
2010 Notable Non-Division opponents: Week 8 at Jets, Week 9 vs. Cowboys, Week 15 at Patriots, Week 16 vs. Giants
When most people talk about the NFC North this offseason, the focus is on the blockbuster moves by the Chicago Bears or the continued speculation about the "will he or won't he" with Brett Favre in Minnesota. However, the Packers might be the best team in the division now even if Favre comes back.
On offense, they solved their biggest need by drafting Brian Bulaga in the first round of the draft. They still have Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and now the emergence of Jermichael Finley to round out their passing attack.
The duo of Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson has shown flashes of potential, and could finally emerge as one of the league's better duos.
Their defense last year was formidable. They were second in the league in yards allowed and seventh in the league in points allowed. The loss of Aaron Kampman is not that much of a loss as they were 4-1 after he went down with an injury.
Al Harris will be back in the lineup, and there is no reason to think that they won't be one of the stronger units in the NFL.
4. New York Jets
2009 Record: 9-7 (Lost in AFC Championship Game)
2010 Notable Non-Division opponents: Week 1 vs. Ravens, Week 5 vs. Vikings, Week 6 at Broncos, Week 8 vs. Packers, Week 12 vs. Bengals, Week 15 at Steelers
The Jets already have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and they should still be dominant despite the loss of safety Kerry Rhodes. Stud nose tackle Kris Jenkins will be back in the lineup and the Jets added former Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie to a secondary that already has Darrelle Revis.
Most of the upgrades came for the Jets came in their offense. While Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca were big losses this offseason for their rushing attack, they still have the young and talented Shonn Greene along with the addition of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson can still be a dangerous back behind an offensive line that is as good as the Jets' line is.
To complement their rushing attack, the Jets added new receiver Santonio Holmes to help their passing attack. Although Holmes must serve a suspension to start the season, he can help open up the passing game.
Mark Sanchez took large strides during the postseason last year and we will see if he can continue to do so this season.
The Jets could finally have what it takes to be more than an afterthought in a division that has been dominated by the Patriots for the past decade.
I would love to hear what the readers have to say regarding these teams or any other teams that could become surprise powerhouses in 2010.