The boys of Winter

Six weeks have already passed in the quest to make it to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami and some teams are showing great promise while others are already on the outside looking in.
In the NFC East, the Giants are looking strong and are considered by many to be the favorites to win the NFC East. Led by Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and their top-notch offensive line, the giants look well-positioned to take the title here, but there are concerns over their receivers and defense.
Expect the Cowboys and the Eagles to be pushing the Giants all the way. The cowboys now have a Jessica Simpson-free Tony Romo and with Wade Phillips the defense is well in hand; expect them to have a good year. The Eagles are now sporting a major distraction with the Michael Vick signing and some wrote them out of the playoffs as soon as he signed, but coach Andy Reid is just too good to let the whole thing fall apart over one inexplicable signing. Look for the Eagles to contend for the wildcard.
In the NFC North, look for the Packers to win this fairly easily; with Aaron Rodgers and Dom Capers on hand, this team is going their usual tough team to win against. The Bears look to be runners up here, but should not have too hard of a time getting there; Jay Cutler and Matt Forte should be able to bring the Bears some wins this season. On the comic relief side, look for the Lions to improve dramatically over last season, likely getting at least one win this year after coming off the most dismal record in sports last year.
In the NFC South, the Saints look like the team to beat with the aggressive play calling of Gregg Williams on defense, perfectly complimenting head coach Sean Payton. The defense on the Saints is rock-solid and Drew Brees is quite likely the best quarterback in the conference. Trailing the Saints will likely be the Falcons. With tight end Tony Gonzalez coming on board Matty Ryan will be even better in his second year. The Panthers should finish third here and the Bucs will be in the cellar having a season reminiscent of last year’s Lions.
Last year’s Super Bowl runners up the Cardinals should lead the NFC West. This team has been on the cusp of greatness for a while now and one has to wonder if they will ever get there. The Cards of the past have lacked a confidence that they found last year to achieve in the playoffs and should finish on top of the NFC West this year. The 49ers will be on the Card’s heels all year long and with Mike Martz out of the picture look for this team to run the ball a lot more, giving Frank Gore a chance to put up some monster numbers. Seattle’s inability to run the ball with any consistency or ferocity will leave them under .500 on the season and this team needs some serious work to become a legitimate threat in the future. The Rams will continue to languish this year with a group of receivers that leave most fans asking the question “Who?”
In the Super Bowl champion AFC, the defending champion Steelers will be in the hunt again, with Big Ben leading the offense and their always threatening defense, look for the Steelers to win the AFC North or at least score a wild card berth. The Ravens will be the Steelers biggest rival for the number one spot this year with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice leading the offense, they are a threat both in the air and on the ground. The state of Ohio will have little to cheer about this year with the Bengals pathetic offensive line, the only bright spot for Cincinnati will be that at least they’re not Cleveland who will be lucky to pick up more than two or three wins.
In the AFC South the Titans are looking solid under head coach Jeff Fisher and Tennessee brings a solid running-based attack to the field every week. The Texans look good this year and this may be the year that they finish on top. They are a legitimate threat for the number one spot here if Matt Schaub stays healthy for the year. This is one of the most closely contested divisions and the Colts are a big reason why. Peyton Manning and crew won some games last year that they had no business winning, but their offensive line is showing some weakness and although Manning can cover up a lot of mistakes, there may be more this year than even he can fix. Look for the Jaguars to round out the division with another poor showing for their few fans.
In the AFC West, the Chargers are a no-brainer to take the division, with a ridiculously talented team that looks to rack up twelve or thirteen wins this season. The rest of the division is just awful with none of the remaining teams looking to break .500. The Raiders may win six or seven games, but it is unlikely after the questionable cutting of Jeff Garcia.
The Chiefs are a tough enough bunch with an excellent coach, but their schedule is brutal this year and they will be lucky to get five or six wins out of it. The memories of the Super Bowl winning Broncos of the late ‘90’s are starting to not only fade but leave people questioning if they really happened at all. Fans have a long, cold winter to look forward to in Colorado, but it will still be better than the Broncos this year who may win two or three at best.
The AFC East should once again be dominated by the Patriots under the steady hand of Tom Brady. Their passing game is phenomenal and Fred Taylor contributes huge on the running game. Under head coach Bill Belichick the Pats should once again be the class of this division. The Jets will be a threat and head coach Rex Ryan brings a solid dose of credibility to the team. Their defense is relentless and will be keeping quarterbacks awake all year long.
The Bills are legitimate contenders, but are a big question mark thanks to their signing of one of the biggest locker room and on-field distractions in the game, T.O. The Dolphins are also a threat, but will likely be out of the picture as they will likely lose a few that they should win on paper. At the end of the season, look for the Giants to take the NFC and the Patriots to lock up the AFC for Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010.

Story by James Souilliere
From J SELECT Magazine, November 2009