Key question: Can Drew Bledsoe be a Super Bowl quarterback again 10 years later?
Answer: Yes, but there are several obvious qualifiers that go along with that premise. Dallas has a defense that could be dominating, but this is the year that all that young talent must mature into a unit that consistently puts the Cowboys in a position to win. Give Bledsoe some improved protection (49 sacks in 2005), a defense that leads the way and a big-play threat in Terrell Owens, and the Cowboys could reign in a conference devoid of great teams. After all, Bill Parcells took teams to the Super Bowl in both 1986 and '96. He's due.
1. Dallas (10-6): In a division dominated by quality coaching, the Cowboys get the nod based on defense. Dallas' two-year streak of missing the playoffs is the NFC East's longest.
2. Washington (9-7): The Redskins' terrible preseason has shaken my faith. Could it be that Washington has again assembled an all-star roster but an underachieving team?
3. Philadelphia (7-9): The Eagles could be a surprise team early, but that three-game December road trip will be a playoff-drive killer.
4. New York (7-9): Last year's overachievement will only deepen the disappointment in Gotham this season. So much will ride on EliManning's shoulders.
Key question: What will be our lasting memory if this, as expected, becomes No. 4's final NFL season?
Answer: Unfortunately for Packers fans, BrettFavre's jersey number will wind up being synonymous with Green Bay's last-place finish in the division. The Packers and Favre might be able to summon up a special moment or two along the way in 2006, but there will be no final victory lap for the NFL's most recognizable star. We're in for another season where his mistakes are plentiful and his magic fleeting. Favre's propensity for the comeback is legendary, but the deficit is insurmountable at this stage of the game.
1. Chicago (10-6): The Bears' defense is still plenty good, but this time around it won't conjure up comparisons to its counterparts on the 1985-86 Chicago teams. And the Bears must be wary of that three-game East Coast road trip in November.
2. Minnesota (9-7): With their first three games against 2005 playoff teams, it could be a rough start for Brad Childress and his Vikings. But in the second half, look for Minnesota to make a wild-card push.
3. Detroit (5-11): RodMarinelli's tough-love approach is going to take a while to start paying off. Attitude adjustment is always hard to measure, but that's usually where progress begins.
4. Green Bay (5-11): If the Packers can start off with home wins against Chicago and New Orleans, who knows how much of last year's losing karma they might be able to rid themselves of? But that's a big if.