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There would seem to be fewer potential contenders in the NFC. It's simply not as good as the AFC as far as the number of good teams goes. Remember way back when, when the NFC was supreme? At any rate, let's take a look at a few of the top teams in the NFC heading into 2007-2008.
Chicago Bears - The good news is that with the exception of running back Thomas Jones, just about everyone else from the Super Bowl team, from a player standpoint, is back. The bad news is, only two teams, that were Super Bowl runner ups, made the playoffs the following year, since 1999. Wow. But it's hard to imagine this team not making the playoffs. This is still a damn good defense. The offense, with the QB tandem of Rex Grossman and Brian Griese leaves a lot to be desired. (don't be surprised if you see some of Griese this year) Losing Jones and that double threat of Jones and Benson in the backfield has to hurt, as does Lovie Smith cleaning house a bit and bringing in 5 new assistants. The schedule this year will be no walk in the park either, something they benefited from the past couple of years. So getting back to the Super Bowl will be no easy task, bit this team should make the playoffs. They play in the weakest division in the entire league and still have one of the more talented defenses in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints are headed back to the playoffs this year just with the offense alone. Dree Brees, Reggie Bush and every other starter from a year ago with the exception of Joe Horn. But if they are going to take the next step, the Super Bowl, it's the defense that will have to step up and improve big time. There's hope. After giving up boat loads of points over the first half of last season, they tightened up down the stretch. Only allowing 13, 10, 17, 10 and 7 until the meaningless final game where they gave up 31 to Carolina. But in the 2006-2007 playoffs, the defense returned to early season form, giving up 24 to Philly and 39 to the Bears. But there's building blocks there for sure. If the defense performs the way it did in that 5 game stretch to end last season, and the offense picks up where it left off, this team will be very dangerous this year.
Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks were without Shaun Alexander for 6 games and without Hasselbeck for 4 games last year, yet they still made a playoff run. With those two healthy, it's hard not to consider them among the NFC contenders. But it won't be easy. Many are pegging the 49ers to be vastly improved and to be one of the contenders this year. That's bad news for the Seahawks in the same division as they'll play them twice. Not to mention games against Cinci, Pitt, New Orleans, Chicago, Philly and Baltimore. That's 8 games right there with the outcome seriously in doubt. That's the price of success in the NFL. The talent is still there. But it won't be easy.
Philadelphia Eagles - We're not big believers in the Eagles. Or, for whatever reason, maybe we just don't like them. But this team simply doesn't seem to have the continuity needed for long term success in the NFL. McNabb is on again off again. Are you starting to see a patter with this guys injuries? Last year he had Jeff Garcia step in to bail him out. This year it will be AJ Feeley. Big difference. Brian Westbrook can't continue to carry the team either. The Eagles season will come down to their final 6 games of the season. At New England, home against Seattle and the Giants, at Dallas and New Orleans and then home against Buffalo. At Dallas, New Orleans and New England could be the nails in the coffin for this bunch. If you're an Eagles fan, I'd hope for a great 1st half of the season. If they don't pile up the wins early, they'll be in a world of trouble come December.
Dallas Cowboys - Many have Dallas Pegged as NFC East champ, and perhaps they're right. Everyone returns except the Tuna. But maybe Bill new something. Maybe he felt the team accomplished all it could. Why else would he bail out? Certainly if they were on the brink of greatness, Bill would have stayed a bit longer. But the talent is here in Dallas to at least make it back to the playoffs. Whether or not they can win when they get there is the big question. Plus, now Wade Phillips is the guy who has to baby sit T.O. How many games into the season before T.O is in the headlines with some stupid comments or on or off the field antics? We'd put the over/under at 4 games. Just another obstacle for the Cowboys to contend with I guess.
New York Giants - No Tiki, Strahan holding out and a lame duck coach could spell trouble in New York. Or, it could actually help them. The pressure is off. Expectations are not as high this year as in years past. Coughlin has become more of a players coach and perhaps the players will respond to that. There's still talent on both sides of the ball here, and the schedule looks manageable. There aren't all that many games on their dance card that you would pencil in a loss right now. So with a break here and there this team could win 9 or 10 games. But the loss of Tiki will be a killer.
San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers are the "hot" pick this year among prognosticators looking to go out on a limb a bit. After all, this was a 7 win team last year. But they play in the NFC West where Seattle could lose a step, and St Louis and Arizona figure to be .500 teams. So why not the 49ers? The offense is there already and the defense is improving. On the down side, they lost all three of their coordinators. Offensive, defensive and Special teams. That will hurt. We won't go out on any Super Bowl limbs, but a shot at the playoffs wouldn't surprise us.
That about does it for our look at the NFC. We could have included a few more teams I guess. Perhaps Minnesota can make some noise in the NFC North. Maybe Carolina and Tampa can challenge the Saints in the South. Arizona is probably still a year or two away in the West.
Of the teams previewed above, it's really wide open. With Chicago having a bulls eye on their backs, no one really stands out as having the potential to dominate the NFC. Every team mentioned needs improvement. In looking for teams that had many of the pieces in place a year ago, and figure to have the confidence and experience to improve and make another run, you have to take a close look at New Orleans and Dallas.
If the defense can play like it did in the final 5 meaningful games of last year, the Saints will be the team to beat. They have one of the better QB's in the NFL, a super star back, and the playoff experience from a year ago. They have a year under their belts with gutsy coach Sean Peyton, and they have a schedule that really doesn't look all that bad. There's 10 wins minimum there for the taking. So our pick to win the NFC this year is the New Orleans Saints.