NFL Power Rankings: Rating the Giants, the Eagles and the NFC Playoff Contenders
Ten weeks into the 2010 football season, the men of the NFC have begun to separate themselves from the boys.
There are a number of teams, from Brett Favre's Minnesota Vikings to Jason Garrett's newly acquired Dallas Cowboys, who are too far gone to have any hope of contending for an NFC playoff berth. They will still have an impact over the final month and a half by playing those teams who do have a fighting chance, but their seasons are now all but over. In fact, only nine teams in the NFC stand a reasonable chance to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Out of those who remain standing, then, let us try to find a favorite.
Who will make the playoffs and who will head home in early January? Who will earn home-field advantage? In short, who are the best teams in the NFC right now? Read on.
9. St. Louis Rams
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As solid as rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has been, the Rams are not a playoff-caliber football team. They need another year at least and an upgrade at wide receiver to become legitimate contenders.
Because the NFC West is so abysmal, though, the Rams are very much in the thick of the playoff race. Seattle stands at 5-4, a surprisingly strong start under new head coach Pete Carroll. The Rams are only a game off that pace, and they beat Seattle handily in St. Louis earlier in the season.
This race for the fourth seed in the NFC will likely not be decided until Week 17, when Bradford leads his squad into Seattle for the final game of the regular season. The Seahawks have to be the favorites there, thanks to their rabid home crowd. Still, the Rams are not out of anything yet.
8. Chicago Bears
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Brian Urlacher's triumphant return from injury highlights a season of pleasant surprises for the Bears, who stand (somehow) at 6-3 and are tied for first place in the NFC North. As good as all that sounds, evidence abounds that the Bears are playing over their heads.
Jay Cutler has thrown 12 touchdowns but also nine interceptions, and has been sacked far too often (some of that falls on the terrible offensive line, some of it on Cutler himself). The running game has been nonexistent, a constant sore spot for the Chicago media and a sign of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's stubbornness—and of the offensive line's ineptitude.
The defense has stood tall against the run, but the very young secondary remains grossly vulnerable to big plays in the passing game. The Bears play Week 17 in Green Bay, where the Packers (also 6-3) could well put an end to Chicago's playoff hopes.
7. Seattle Seahawks
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If anyone doubted Pete Carroll's ability to rally and motivate a team, they ought to order a slice of humble pie to make the crow go down more smoothly.
Carroll has taken a rather modestly talented Seahawks team that went 5-11 last season and matched that win total through his first nine games at the helm. The Seahawks took back-to-back beatings in Weeks 8 and 9, when they were outscored by a combined 74-10. Their season might easily have fizzled then and there.
Instead, Carroll brought his team roaring back for a 36-18 shellacking of the Arizona Cardinals that put them right back into first place all by themselves. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and receiver Mike Williams (a former USC standout during the Carroll era, but not much of a pro prior to this season) are enjoying career renaissances, though Hasselbeck's numbers are ugly.
Meanwhile, Carroll has put his stamp on the team by assembling a strong and athletic defensive front. The Seahawks lack elite talent anywhere, but under Carroll, they may well be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Did anyone see this coming?
Josh Freeman and the ultra-young Bucs have taken the NFC South by storm this season, led by a strong running game (LeGarrette Blount has been a stud since signing midseason) and a sturdy pass defense anchored by veteran lockdown corner Ronde Barber.
The mountain is a tough one to climb for Tampa Bay, who play in the same division as the defending champion Saints and conference-leading Falcons. The Bucs play especially critical games at home against Atlanta in December and in New Orleans on Jan. 2. They likely will not make the playoffs, but they deserve the spot more than Seattle or St. Louis.
5. New York Giants
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Eli Manning and company were the toast of the town entering Sunday's game against the Cowboys, but that 33-20 loss hurt their standing pretty badly. Suddenly, they trail the Eagles in their own division and are fighting just to stay on the inside looking out for the playoffs.
The passing game and the defensive pass rush are excellent, but the ground attack must get more consistent in order for New York to reach its full potential. In the meantime, Manning could do more to take care of the football: Only Brett Favre has thrown more interceptions this season.
4. Atlanta Falcons
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It's no swipe at the Falcons, who are a strong team from top to bottom. Several things, however, suggest that their record does not necessarily make them the class of the NFC.
With the exception of a Week 3 win in New Orleans, Atlanta has been dominant only on their own home turf: They are 5-0 at home, but 2-2 elsewhere. Their most impressive win of the year came Thursday night over Baltimore, but it was a close game in Atlanta.
There is no question that the Falcons have balance and talent across the board offensively, but their pass defense is porous and they need to find a counterbalance for their pass rush, which all comes from one side of the line right now. Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham have been excellent, but unless the Falcons can get more from the left side of their line and close down those passing lanes, they will continue to give up big plays through the air.
3. New Orleans Saints
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After the Browns took down New Orleans in Week 7 and left them 4-3, the defending champions seemed to be on the ropes. Two statement wins (one over the mighty Steelers and one in style over the Panthers) later, the Saints are a serious threat in the NFC South all over again.
The next four games ought to be a breeze for Sean Payton's crew. It will come down to the final three weeks of the season for the Saints, who need to win at least twice during a stretch in which they play the Ravens and Falcons on the road before coming home to face Tampa Bay.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
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Michael Vick is having a season for the ages.
He has played only five games' worth of football, but has accounted for almost 1,700 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns...without a turnover.
Add a lethal receiving corps featuring DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, a suddenly very potent pair of running backs named LeSean McCoy and Jerome Harrison and a strong secondary anchored by Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel, and you have a crew capable of winning six of their last seven games and securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
1. Green Bay Packers
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The Packers were a preseason Super Bowl darling, and one has to wonder what has so drastically changed that Green Bay is now considered a second-rate contender.
Yes, injury has devastated this team. The losses of Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett are especially daunting, although the depth the team has demonstrated at their positions is pleasantly surprising.
Honestly, were everyone's hopes for this squad pinned on the notion that Ryan Grant was a franchise running back? He wasn't, even when healthy. Nor was Al Harris an irreplaceable component in the team's secondary.
Green Bay may or may not earn the division crown and a first-round bye, but either way, no one will want to go to Lambeau Field come January. Clay Matthews leads a stellar pass rush, while Aaron Rodgers has plenty of weapons left with whom to work. Look out for the green and gold.