Last week, we looked at the AFC, deciding what needed to happen for each team to contend for a coveted playoff berth, followed by how each team could falter. Now it?s time to do the same for the NFC, in order of last year?s standings.
New York Giants
Remember how the G-Men beat the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? No more Michael Strahan, but Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, along with Mathias Kiwanuka, will lead the Giants? pass rush. NFL games are won in the trenches, and the Giants are the epitome of such a philosophy. Plus, Eli Manning has solidified himself as a top 10 NFL quarterback. That always helps.
Derrick Ward has gone to Tampa Bay, leaving less insurance for Brandon Jacobs. If Jacobs isn?t able to carry the load of an entire NFL season, the Giants could be in some trouble. Plus, without Plaxico Burress, the receiver duo of Domenik Hixon and Amani Toomer doesn?t exactly scare the rest of the grueling NFC East. Perhaps it?s time for Mario Manningham to make a name for himself.
The Eagles? depth chart isn?t exactly stacked with household names. But it hasn?t been all decade long, and yet somehow Donovan McNabb and Co. have been Super Bowl contenders almost the entire time. Assuming good health, this year should be no different.
Assuming good health is the key, especially in regard to Brian Westbrook and McNabb. A healthy Westbrook makes the Eagles contenders. An unhealthy one puts Philly in a deep hole.
No more T.O. means more team chemistry means it?s playoff time in Big D. The Boys have firepower on both sides of the ball. Wade Phillips better figure out how to utilize it properly. His job is depends on it.
No more T.O. and a new stadium put a great deal of pressure on Tony Romo to win now. Can he handle it, or will he fold under the hot spotlight?
Albert Haynesworth turns out to be the best investment Daniel Snyder ever made. The Skins? defense is completely revamped, and Jason Campbell has a Pro Bowl season.
Clinton Portis isn?t getting any younger, Haynesworth is not the savior, and Campbell is a below-average starting quarterback. Sounds about right.
Adrian Peterson single-handedly gives them a chance to win, especially in the worst division in football not named the NFC West. No more Brett Favre talks makes things a bit calmer in the Twin Cities, too. And that purple defense is always sneaky good.
Aside from the 2000 Ravens, you need a quarterback to contend for the title. Can Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson really get the job done?
Jay Cutler lives up to the hype. Matt Forte has half the season he had as a rookie in 2008. The defense stays healthy.
Cutler fails without much wide receiver presence. That?s about it.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers? offense is good enough. Aaron Rodgers could even be a long shot to make the Pro Bowl this year. If B.J. Raji is the player they thought he was, the Pack will be going places.
One year may not be enough to make the defensive transition from the 4-3 to a 3-4. But could they really be any worse in the fourth quarter than they were in 2008?
Matthew Stafford is better than Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady combined.
Even that might not get the Lions to the promised land.
The two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart continues to dominate. Teams stack the box, and Steve Smith hits a home run or two per game.
Julius Peppers whines and demands to be traded, creating an uneasy locker room. Also, how good is Jake Delhomme?
Tony Gonzalez adds a new dimension to the Matt Ryan and Michael Turner Show. Or he doesn?t, and they?re still an 11-5 playoff team.
Ryan could hit a sophomore slump. But don?t count on it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raheem Morris strikes gold as a rookie head coach, and the Bucs figure out their quarterback situation. Maybe Josh Freeman is the diamond in the rough?
Growing pains. New coach. New quarterback. Not usually a recipe for immediate success.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees throws for a million yards, Reggie Bush stays healthy and contributes on offense and special teams, and the defense learns how to get off the field.
Brees throws for half a million yards, and the defense wears itself out weekly by the fourth quarter. In other words, what happened in 2008.
Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are virtually unstoppable, especially in the worst division in the land. Mediocre defense could even get the job done out West.
Beware of the hangover effect. But in order for that to happen, either Warner or Fitzgerald would have to go down. Without Warner, in comes Matt Leinart. That could be interesting.
San Francisco 49ers
Takeo Spikes, Patrick Willis and Nate Clements man the defense while Frank Gore has a career year.
Shaun Hill at quarterback? Really? Too bad they took Alex Smith instead of Aaron Rodgers. And Rodgers went to Cal, too.
Matt Hasselbeck returns to form with the addition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the roster. Lofa Tatupu makes 200 tackles, and Marcus Trufant has 13 picks. Or it rains every game, giving them ridiculous home-field advantage.
Oh wait, Qwest Field has a retractable dome. Never mind.
St. Louis Rams
Stephen Jackson averages 11 yards per rush, or Google invents a time machine (what can?t that company do?), and the Greatest Show on Turf gets revived.
Microsoft overtakes Google, thanks to Bing. Or the time machine gets put on hold until 2010. Either one.
Jerry Jones. He?s roamed the Cowboys? sideline for years instead of sitting in the luxury box. He?s stuck his nose where it didn?t belong on several occasions. Now he has a new $1.15 billion stadium. Forget Tony Romo. Pressure?s on Jones. And his wallet, for that matter.
Antonio Pierce. The jury?s still out (literally) on whether he had any illegal inclusion in Burress? gun situation. Talk about suspense.
Quote of the week
?Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here [for] just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony [Romo]? Let?s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ?No, I?m really doing well.? Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we?re really doing well.?
— Michael Irvin to Yahoo Sports
What to watch for
Training camp injuries. They happen every year. That?s why you shouldn?t have your fantasy draft until after the preseason, as tempting as it might be to have it now.