NFL predictions (cont.)
First place: New York Giants (11-5) -- Both the Eagles and the Cowboys will be heard from in the division race, but the overwhelming depth the Giants have on their defensive line and in their running game gives them the key difference makers in those head-to-head games that decide the NFC East. And as much attention as New York's receiving game has garnered, I like their blend of both quality and quantity among all those young pass-catchers. Unlike last year, the absence of Plaxico Burress won't derail the Giants playoff drive.
Last place: Washington (5-11) -- With a tenacious defense that will keep them in most games, the Redskins won't look like a last-place team for much of the season. But that's where they'll end up because offensively they scare almost no one. Even winless Detroit scored more than Washington's 265 points last season, and only a quantum leap from fifth-year quarterback Jason Campbell changes that dynamic. And that's if a shaky Redskins offensive line can give him enough time to survive in the pocket.
First place: Green Bay (12-4) -- I've got a feeling about these Packers, especially when I survey the rest of a wide-open NFC field and try to divine if there's an out-of-nowhere team with a legitimate shot to represent the conference in Miami next February. Green Bay is my NFC Super Bowl pick, and last year's dismal 6-10 finish is but a memory now that Aaron Rodgers looks like a man playing possessed and the Packers' new-look 3-4 defense appears ready to work as planned from day one.
Last place: Detroit (4-12) -- I like the blend of veteran leadership that rookie head coach Jim Schwartz brought to town -- guys like linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson, and defensive tackle Grady Jackson to name a few -- and his efforts at changing the losing culture in Detroit ring true so far in a way that Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli never achieved. But it still won't add up to much for the 2009 Lions. The future in Detroit is definitely not now.
First place: New Orleans (11-5) -- In the seven-year history of the wildly entertaining NFC South, not only has there never been a team win back-to-back division championships, no one has ever put together consecutive playoff seasons. You can't say that about any of the other seven NFL divisions since the 2002 realignment. That kind of history rules out Carolina and Atlanta (a pair of 2008 playoff teams) for me, and sorry, and no one in their right mind is forecasting big things for the Bucs this season. There you have it: My best argument is it's the Saints' turn.
Last place: Tampa Bay (4-12) -- New Bucs head coach Raheem Morris is trying to restore some swagger to Tampa Bay, but you can't help but wonder if his team lost too much experience at once last offseason, when the likes of Monte Kiffin, Jon Gruden, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Jeff Garcia went out the door in rapid succession. The Bucs are so short-handed this season that they are even playing minus a home game, thanks to that agreed upon trip across the pond to play New England in London in Week 7. Perhaps it's best, because their loyal hometown fans aren't going to like a lot of what they're asked to endure this year.
First place: Seattle (9-7) -- I expect the NFC West to be a season-long battle between the Seahawks and defending champion Cardinals, but Arizona is going to have to prove it has the mental resiliency to combat the post-Super Bowl syndrome that has afflicted so many losers of the big game this decade. The 2006 Seahawks were the only team to follow a Super Bowl defeat with a playoff trip. If Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy this year and the Cardinals' Kurt Warner doesn't, that's the difference in the division right there.
Last place: St. Louis (5-11) -- It's not a long journey from the bottom to the top of the mild, mild NFC West, and that should give Rams fans hope. New head coach Steve Spagnuolo has a solid plan in place, and has already set about ending the dysfunction that reigned in St. Louis. This year is about program-building and finding out which players are part of the answer. If all of that goes well enough, the quest of winning can wait until 2010.
NFL Truth & Rumors