The New Orleans Saints were the feel good story of the NFL last year, winning its first ever Super Bowl over the Indianapolis Colts. A year later, they are ready to try and make it two titles in a row.
But first, they have to make the playoffs again, and in the NFL, nothing is guaranteed on any given Sunday. So, will Matt Ryan and his Atlanta Falcons or anyone else in the NFC South challenge the Saints for the division title? Will Donovan McNabb’s new team the Washington Redskins beat out his former Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title? And will the Minnesota Vikings, with or without Brett Favre, going to repeat as NFC North champs? And finally, who will emerge as division winner in the wide open NFC West?
Read on below to see how these four Blogcritics writers and fellow football fanatics feel about the NFC’s four powerhouse divisions.
NFC East: Sean Schiraldi
As Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith enters the NFL Hall of Fame, we are reminded of a time when the powerhouse NFC East was home to the best teams in football. Well, it seems that we are back there. After a monster intra-division trade that sent longtime Philadelphia Eagles general Donovan McNabb to the rival Washington Redskins squad, there is a strong possibility that the division will have four teams gunning for three playoff spots.
The Cowboys won the division last year at 11-5. They bring back the team’s core players in 2010, and with Roy Williams in shoulder pads catching passes from Tony Romo, joining the young stars, WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten, there’s no reason they can’t at least duplicate that.
The Eagles, who also finished 11-5 last season, seem to be in a rebuilding phase of sorts, having lost their leader, QB Donovon McNabb, and their work horse, RB/WR Brian Westbrook. But all rational signs point to the Eagles remaining solid. QB Kevin Kolb showed flashes of brilliance last year, and Brian Westbrook is not the player he once was. The Eagles are still solid at the defensive side of the ball and should compete for one of the two available wild cards.
The Giants come into the season with a lot to prove to themselves. 2009 was a disappointing season to say the least, with a 5-0 start leading to an 8-8 finish, and a January spent with family. Eli Manning, who earned the right to be counted on when he took Big Blue to the promised land a while back, returns to the field and will try to get a passing game out of a team that handled all its business on the ground behind the two-headed monster of RB Brandon Jacobs and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, which operated behind a solid offensive line. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
That leaves us with the unpredictable Washington Redskins, who went 4-12 last year, but have undeniably inserted one of the league’s best at the QB position (McNabb). That alone should tilt the scales somewhat. The Skins do have talent around him, with RB Clinton Portis and WR Santana Moss being joined by RB Larry Johnson. Their defense also has potential, with CB DeAngelo Hall and FS LaRon Landry holding passing games in check, and should depend on the play of last year’s expensive addition at DT, Albert Haynesworth.
The NFC East should definitely be a wild ride in 2010.
NFC North: Sean Ramblings
How can someone predict the winner of the NFC North division without knowing the status of one individual? This player has a significant impact on his team and how opponents prepare for this team. While he said he has retired, no one is quite sure whether or not he will return this season. In fact, the media speculation about his status seems a bit ridiculous. So now, the world waits for Detroit Lions TE Casey Fitzsimmons to make his decision. Were you expecting this to be about someone else?
Even without knowing Brett Favre’s status, I’m picking the Minnesota Vikings to win this division. Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in football while Sidney Rice has emerged as a top-tier wide receiver. Add Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe, and you have yourself a potent offense. Minnesota’s defense isn’t too shabby either as evidenced by their #6 rating (#2 against the run) last season. Plus, do you really expect Favre not to play this season? Exactly.
The Vikings are not going to have an easy road to the division crown though. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will challenge the Vikings for the division. Aaron Rodgers emerged last season as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Green Bay Packers had even better defensive statistics than the Vikings last season (#2 overall; #1 against the run). However, the same defense gave up 51 points to the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears made the biggest splash this offseason adding five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro Julius Peppers. If Jay Cutler can cut down on his interceptions, Chicago will join the Packers in the wild card hunt.
As for the Lions, well, we’ll have to see if Casey Fitzsimmons decides to make a comeback from retirement.
NFC South: Troy K
Picking a winner here should be easy, right? The division houses the current Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, who have managed to hold together the core of their team (offensive/defensive playmakers and coaches). So it should be easy for the Saints to win the South…
Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy in the NFC South, as history is against the Saints. Since 2002, no division champion from the South has claimed the title consecutively, and no division champ has even made consecutive postseason appearances. Going on history alone, the Saints are a good pick to finish last in the strange NFC South.
If we follow through the South’s crazy history to this season then Tampa Bay, in fact, should emerge as division champions after finishing last in 2009. Sounds outrageous, right? Well, the history of the South shows that the team that finishes last has won the division six times out of seven in the season following their last place finish, and that one rogue season, 2008, saw Atlanta pick up a wild card berth.
So while my head says New Orleans should make a good run at the division title, hopefully riding the good vibes of their first Super Bowl title, I can’t discredit history and that means not discrediting Tampa Bay.
NFC West: Alex Kramers
The reigning NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals will begrudgingly usher in the Matt Leinart era (again) after Kurt Warner’s retirement. The former Heisman Trophy winner has thrown six more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (14) in 29 games (17 starts), and has made more appearances on TMZ than on the football field over the past two years. Factor in a mediocre defense that lost linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle, and the Cards’ string of consecutive division titles will come to an end.
So who will win the wide open, weakest division in the NFL? Spoiler alert — it won’t be the St. Louis Rams, who’ve gone 6-42 since 2007 and feature less talent than overpaid rookie quarterback Sam Bradford had at the University of Oklahoma.
With the aging Matt Hasselbeck, who has missed 11 games with injuries over the last two years and threw the sixth most interceptions in the league in 2009 (17), Mike Williams – yes, that one – competing for a starting job, and one of the worst pass defenses in the league (30th in 2009), the Seattle Seahawks have 6-10 written all over them.
Which brings us to the San Francisco 49ers, who haven’t won the NFC West since Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens were still pretending to get along in 2002. With 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore, a solid vertical attack led by Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, and a defense that allowed the fourth fewest points in the NFL last year (17.6), San Francisco’s only glaring weak spot is at quarterback.
There’s no denying that the oft-injured Alex Smith and the equally underachieving David Carr are terrible. But in a perennially pathetic division — the four teams have combined to go 129-191 (.403) over the last five years — the Niners should easily match last season’s eight victories.
And in the Warner-less NFC West, that should be more than enough to claim the division crown.
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