With Brett Favre back in the picture (shocker!), the Minnesota Vikings should be able to secure the NFC North’s playoff spot this year, though receiver woes (Sidney Rice will be missing a large chunk of the season) could leave a gap for the Packers to muscle them out.
In a division where it is likely that no team will actually deserve a playoff slot, the San Francisco 49ers are the clear favorites. Seattle has fallen apart, St. Louis is still a long way from serious contention, and with Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson filling the shoes of Kurt Warner, the Cardinals do not stand a chance. The 49ers may not be a great team yet, but it should be enough for such a weak division.
Incumbent Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints are the easy pick to repeat, despite the division’s lack of a consecutive-season winner since its formation in 2002. The team’s squad is almost untouched from last year, so while they may not be picking up another Lombardi Trophy, they should not have too much trouble keeping the division.
The NFC East is by far the diciest division to predict with no clear-cut winner or loser, and a lot of unknowns, specifically stemming from Donovan McNabb’s migration from Philadelphia to Washington, but the Dallas Cowboys have the surest team to compete, so I will (begrudgingly) give them the nod.
The Green Bay Packers (or, if they end up taking the north, The Vikings) are almost a lock for one of the wild-card spots. For the other, it will come down to a battle consisting of the entirety of the NFC East (sans the division champs). I suspect that the Giants, despite not being too far removed from the team that lucked its way into a Super Bowl victory a couple years ago, will not achieve much more than last year’s lackluster season, leaving the spot to be taken by either McNabb’s former team in Philadelphia or his new team in Washington. I do not trust the unknown (Kevin Kolb) to lead the Eagles, so I will wager the Washington Redskins just snatch the six seed NFC playoff spot, but if new coach Mike Shanahan and McNabb cannot get their offense turned around like I expect, even .500 could be a pipe dream for them.
The AFC North has strong potential, with three teams vying for dominance. Cincinnati is an all-around solid squad (and one I greatly look forward to watching with both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens), and the Ravens and Steelers both have powerhouse defenses and strong offenses. The addition of Anquan Boldin and another year for Quarterback Joe Flacco should make the Baltimore Ravens’ offense clearly the stronger of the two, and give them the edge in the NFC North.
The Oakland Raiders… will continue to lose. Similarly, the Chiefs are going nowhere, and even Tim Tebow’s divine ties cannot save the Broncos (or Josh McDaniels’ career) from bad drafting and horrible luck with injuries. This division belongs to the San Diego Chargers.
The Indiannapolis Colts. By which I mean Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning will win the AFC South. Again. The End.
A solid division, but nothing wows me. Any Bill Belichick team is a threat, but the Patriots are past their prime. The Dolphins have some talent, but I do not see them winning and the Bills hold the key to the basement as long as their quarterback depth chart is headed up by a question mark. I have not forgotten that the Jets backed into the playoffs on a charity Colts game last year and fluked their way to the AFC Championship game. Their lacking pass rush, a half-back who is no lock to succeed, and Mark Sanchez at quarterback prevents me from buying into the Rex Ryan swagger-induced hype. Still, Ryan, Revis, and the New York Jets defense are my pick to take the AFC East.
As recently as Feb. 1, 2009, the Steelers were walking off a field with their heads held high and a sixth Lombardi Trophy secured. Still, their defense has fallen off, their offensive line is as weak as ever, and they have lost their top receiver (Santonio Holmes) for good and star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a quarter of the season to legal charges. These combine to hold them out of the playoffs in my mind, making room for the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots to claw their respective ways into the playoff picture