Ranking the NFC Teams from Top to Bottom
Preseason football kicks off today, with several match-ups followed by a weekend full of games.
This will be the first chance for fans to get a glimpse at what work teams have been able to put in with time severely limited by the lockout.
How will free agent pickups pan out?
How will the rookies perform?
Will a change in scenery revive veteran players' careers?
Did the lockout increase the chance of injury for many star players?
Will the new coaches have an impact this year?
All are questions that each franchise will have to answer in some capacity.
As is customary, it is time to see where your team stacks up against the other teams in the conference.
Of course, this list can change throughout the season depending on performance. This is just an early glimpse of how the teams stack up.
First up: the 16 teams of the NFC.
1. Green Bay Packers
Why are they No. 1 on the list? Because they are the Super Bowl Champs!
You have to pay respect to the champs whether you like the team or not.
The Packers did not make many moves during the offseason, but that is not always a bad thing.
Cheeseheads should watch to see if the Packers are going to be stronger than they were last year with key personnel returning and the hope of them remaining healthy thorughout the year.
The Packers did limp into the playoffs last year, but got hot at the right time and hoisted the Lombardi trophy.
Can the champs remain strong and make another playoff push for a shot at another title, or will the Super Bowl hangover get them and they fall flat this year in their efforts to repeat?
2. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are still trying to bounce back from the shellacking they took at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs last year.
After a strong showing through the regular season, the Falcons came up short in their sole playoff game.
In an effort to improve upon last year's efforts, the Falcons gave away a lot of draft picks to move up the board and draft Julio Jones.
Jones gives the Falcons another deep threat opposite of Roddy White; plus, Tony Gonzalez is always a reliable option at TE.
The backfield remains strong, with RBs Turner and Snelling returning.
On defense, the Falcons added Ray Edward, which will certainly help with the pass rush.
There was not a lot of moving parts for the Falcons, and I think that is where their strength lies.
Only time will tell how much better they have gotten.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have a chance to be a great team this year, as management have loosened the purse strings and went out and purchased many available free agents on the market.
They picked up Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Anthony Hargrove, Ryan Harris, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Donald Lee, Evan Mathis, Jarrad Page, Vince Young and Steve Smith.
They also acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie via the trade of QB Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals.
Again, a lot of potential on paper, but that is a lot of moving parts and new faces to try to get on track, especially with the lockout shortening the amount of time that coaches have to get the team to gel.
This could either pan out to be very good for the Eagles or very bad.
It will exciting to see what the Eagles can do with big names on the roster such as Vick, Jackson, McCoy and Asomugha.
It certainly is hard to not move them up higher on this list, but with all the newness on the team, you have to wait to see what they are going to do first.
I know everyone still remembers what happened with the Miami Heat when a lot of folks jumped the gun and labeled them the champions without them ever stepping foot on the court together.
4. New Orleans Saints
Last time we heard from the New Orleans Saints, they were on the business end of 67 yard scamper by Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch that sealed their fates in the playoffs.
The Super Bowl champs once removed are certainly looking to bounce back this year.
Like the Eagles, the Saints have made a lot of moves during the offseason as well.
They released RB Reggie Bush and brought in RB Darrin Sproles.
They were also able to pick up RB Mark Ingram in the draft. Ingram has the potential to be a stud in the NFL for many years to come barring any injuries.
C Olin Kruetz was brought in from Chicago, which should help the run game.
The receiving corps remains intact, so the Saints may finally have a balanced attack between the rush and the pass.
The defense has been tightened up with new additions as well, which means the Saints are also in prime position for another Super Bowl push.
How the new additions fit into the equation will be interesting to see, but there's no doubt that Coach Sean Payton will have this team ready come game day.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to be one of the surprise teams of last year.
Management's gamble with hiring Raheem Morris two years back has seemed to pay off, as this team is playing with a confidence that had seemed to be lost in the final years under coach John Gruden.
Josh Freeman is quickly moving up the ranks and has the potential to become a top QB in the league. If he can continue to make smart choices with the ball, and if Coach Morris can put more trust in his starting QB than he had last year, the Buccaneers will certainly be a team to contend with this year.
RB LeGarrette Blount is also a key cog in the success of the Bucs.
The rush defense is still suspect, but fans are hoping that issue gets addressed before the start of the season.
The Buccaneers did not make a lot of moves during the offseason, which raised a lot of speculation, especially with this team's potential, but what most people did not realize is that the Buccaneers were closer to the salary cap than what was originally forecasted.
The Buccaneers look to improve in house and have the potential to do so as the youngest team in the league, but that youth may be a crutch as well.
We'll see whether Tampa Bay's success was a fluke or the product of hard work come the kickoff of the NFL season.
6. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler's heart and leadership were called into question when he did not return to the field in a winnable game against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship Game.
He has been working hard during the offseason to prove to his doubters that he is the leader that will take the Bears back to the Super Bowl.
The first step is for him to improve his decision making.
At times, he can be spot on and lead his team to victory. Other times, he can be erratic and throw passes into triple coverage. Bears fans are hoping that his hard work has finally put away the latter, which has caused many a sleepless night.
The Bears did lose C Olin Kreutz to free agency, which will hurt the running game some, but they did bring in Marion Barber to hopefully toughen up the backfield.
They also brought in WR Roy Williams, but he may not make much noise unless he experiences a career renaissance in Chicago.
Of course, the defense will remain strong barring any injuries.
One has to wonder, though, is the window closing on the Bears' chances to win another championship?
7. New York Giants
The Giants have been a hard team to figure out the past few years. They come out of the gates strong racking up wins. Then, about halfway through the season, the wheels begin to fall off and they end up losing their position within the conference, or in the case of the past two years, they miss the playoffs entirely.
The Giants still look as strong as they have in recent years, but the question remains, can they keep it together for a whole season?
They re-signed RB Ahmad Bradshaw, which has the potential to be big if he can secure the ball and stay healthy.
The receiving corps is young, but it does provide plenty of targets for Eli Manning. Can they make up for the loss of Steve Smith, though?
The defense will continue to be the key cog to the Giants' arsenal, if they can fix the issues they had last year (last year's collapse against the Eagles was unforgivable).
Tom Coughlin knows he is on the hot seat and will put in the work to try to get this team back on track, if he has not lost them already.
8. St. Louis Rams
Hello, NFC West!
The NFC West was a miserable division last year. The Seattle Seahawks barely got into the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Although the Rams shared the same record, this team had to be the feel good team of the year.
Rookie Sam Bradford took over as starting QB and helped push the team in positive directions. If he can avoid the sophomore slump this year, then he'll certainly be a great pickup by the Rams.
The team had a great offseason as well by bringing in a lot of new faces to help Bradford. These new members include Cadillac Williams, Jerious Norwood and Mike Sims-Walker.
The defense has improved as well due to a number of free agent moves.
They picked up one of the best safeties in the game in Quintin Mikell as well as Al Harris, Zac Diles, Daniel Muir and Justin Bannan.
These moves may not be on par with the moves of the Eagles and the Saints, but they are still impressive moves none of the less, and may have placed the Rams as the team to beat in the NFC West.
It still remains to be seen how these additions will factor in the play on the field, but the Rams have made strides in the right direction this season.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys had a lot of expectations last year. They were supposed to be headed to the Super Bowl. They were supposed to be the team to beat in the NFC. Then, the season started, and it seemed like nothing was going to go right from there.
Last year saw QB Tony Romo lost for the season due to injury and new Head Coach Jason Garrett replace Wade Phillips after the Cowboys started the season 1-7. Garrett did implement a sense of pride and urgency in the team, and they closed out the season with 5-3 record.
The Cowboys face a new obstacle of getting under the salary cap this year. This forced them to let go RB Marion Barber and WR Roy Williams, amongst others.
The offense still looks to be strong with receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, as well as TE Jason Witten, being Romo's top targets.
It will be up to RBs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice to lead the new corps of rookie RBs that Dallas drafted.
The defense still looks weak, especially on the back end, but new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan could make the changes necessary to toughen up the Dallas D.
Look for Dallas to have a bounce back year and be in contention with the Eagles and the Giants for the top spot in the NFC East this year.
10. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have made a lot of changes during the offseason.
For starters, they let go of an aging, oft-injured Matt Hasselbeck.
In free agency they went out and acquired WR Sidney Rice and TE Zach Miller. Good moves for an offense trying to improve upon the struggles they had last year.
Oddly enough, they picked up free agent QB Tavaris Jackson. A curious move, seeing as Jackson is not the most accurate passer, and has struggled to be a starting QB during his time in Minnesota.
Maybe Pete Carroll sees something that the rest of us cannot see.
Maybe Jackson is a victim of circumstance in Minnesota.
Maybe Jackson is a short term solution for a team trying to turn the corner and get back to winning.
Either way, Jackson is the man right now, unless he loses the job to Charlie Whitehurst.
The defensive issues have been addressed as well, hopefully, but the main story here remains how good will Jackson be for Seattle.
11. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals hope that they have found the answer at QB with the trade to get Kevin Kolb.
Kolb looked to be the man in Philly, but an injury in the season opener led the way for Michael Vick's career revival, and Kolb was never really able to get the keys back after that.
He asked to be traded if he was going to have to fight for the starting position in Philly, and that's how he ended up in Arizona.
Kolb does have weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap, but if he can stay upright long enough to pass the ball is another issue. That offensive line is athletic, but small. If they get beat off of the line, Arizona may find themselves in the same position as last year where they were constantly questioning who was going to be the starting QB.
Defense will be a question mark as well, but it is competent to at least contend again in 2011.
The entire success of the francshise seems to rest on the shoulders of Kolb. This is the job that he wanted; here's hoping that he can not only meet, but exceed, expectations.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Donovan McNabb is now a Minnesota Viking.
He now finds himself playing two roles: a mentor to rookie Christian Ponder, and a veteran QB on a team that may be entering a rebuilding phase.
McNabb/Ponder's main weapons will be Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin and new acquisition Michael Jenkins. Of course, there is also the ever dangerous Adrian Peterson.
The weapons are there, but the main issue is the offensive line. If they cannot keep McNabb, or any other QB for that matter, on their feet long enough to get a pass off, then the offense will suffer from the same issues it suffered from last year when they were ranked 26th in passing.
Of course, that was with Zombie Favre at the helm, but it still is an issue that should be addressed.
Let's not forget that the Vikings are also under new Head Coach Leslie Frazier. It will be interesting to see how things turn around under him.
This just might be the change that the Vikings need; they dumped Favre's rotting corpse and got rid of Brad Childress.
Things can only go up for the Vikings from here....hopefully.
13. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions would be higher on this list, but they seem to have the worst luck of any franchise in the league. Last year was primed to be a break out year for the Lions, but Matthew Stafford battled injuries all year long, which threw a monkey wrench in their plans.
Again, they had high hopes this year, but the injury bug has already claimed a casualty and sidelined another for an undetermined amount of time. Rookie RB Mikel Leshoure is lost for the season with a torn Achilles, and rookie DT Nick Fairley had surgery on his injured left foot; there is no time table on his return.
The question now is can Stafford stay healthy, or will Detroit fans have to suffer through another lost season without him? Of course, they always have the dangerous and reliable Calvin Johnson, but all of his talens do not mean anything if there is not a decent passer to get the ball to him.
The Lions did make moves in the offseason to help tighten up their defense.
The moves seemed to have panned out before Fairley's injury. Detroit was looking to have one of the fiercest pass rushes in the league with Fairley lining up opposite of Ndamukong Suh.
Detroit may just spend another year wondering what could have been. If the key injuries do not happen, does Detroit find themselves in the position to challenge the for the top spot in the division?
14. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are a team with a bunch of question marks this year, which may be no different than previous years.
The first of many questions is, can Jim Harbaugh turn things around in San Fran?
The next is, can he finally provide stability for Alex Smith or was this just one last try too many?
Will Alex Smith be under center come season's end?
Alex Smith had the potential to be great, but after going through seven different offensive coordinators in seven years, it seems he's fallen victim to circumstances and may never recover.
This may be a do or die year for his career. If he stumbles, then it will not be a shock to see Colin Kaepernick under center.
The 49ers did go out and get Braylon Edwards, but the question is how effective will he be considering there may still be a punishment coming down from the league for his off-field indiscretions and the fact that Michael Crabtree is injured, which will place most of the attention on Edwards.
They still have Frank Gore, but is he going to be effective as he enters his prime? Will he continue to suffer from injuries, or will he lose valuable years on a team that continues to under perform?
The 49ers also tried to address their defensive issues. If they can fix their pass defense, then they may just find themselves in prime position to contend for the NFC West title.
15. Washington Redskins
Rex Grossman believes that the Washington Redskins are flying under the radar and will win the NFC East.
It sure is nice to see he has confidence in his teammates, but he will be a prime candidate for the league's new drug testing policy if he keeps talking crazy like that.
Granted, the Redskins could take all of us by surprise, but it's doubtful.
The Redskins are a team that is in the midst of rebuilding.
They did a good job at starting with the defense. They brought in DT Barry Cofield, CB Josh Wilson, DE Stephen Bowen and S O.J. Atogwe.
The defense should be straight.
The offense got WRs Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Kellen Clemens and RB Tim Hightower.
Even though they got a lot of names on that list, I wouldn't consider any of them viable number two options behind Santana Moss.
None of that will matter if they do not have a decent QB who can deliver the ball to them. That is where the Redskins issues lie. Grossman was sub-par QB a few years ago; there is no way he is on that level now. The fact that he is beating out the other QBs on the depth chart raises even more red flags.
The Redskins may over perform this year, but it's doubtful for a club that would sign many big name athletes and still go 8-8.
16. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers will be better than last year's bunch, no question.
Will they improve and take the division? No.
Cam Newton has the potential to be a star, but he also has the potential to be JaMarcus Russell 2.0.
How the Panthers bring him along will be key to his success.
Make no mistake about it, the Panthers are still rebuilding, thus, they will experience the growing pains that goes hand in hand with bringing a new coach.
The lockout did not help matters much either, as it shortened the development cycle of Newton and reduced the amount of time that the players got to gel with each other under the new regime.
Getting Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen will certainly help the offense, but the question who will be under center still remains. There's also the issue that there is still not a strong number two receiver opposite Steve Smith.
Legedu Naanee is not a bad pickup, but certainly not a marquee player who will divert attention away from Smith.
Like Washington, the defense has been addressed, but the offense is still questionable at best.
Cam Newton is the future of the franchise, but his development will mean spending years trying to climb out of a black hole that he may leave behind, or taking a calculated risk and hitting the jackpot.
Only time will tell which side of the coin they get.