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2009 NFL Preview: Looking At The NFC

Posted on September 07, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers should recover from a disappointing 2008 season.

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers should recover from a disappointing 2008 season.

Overview: For most of this decade, the NFC East has been the dominant division in the NFC putting at least two teams in the playoffs in six of seven years since the division realignment in 2002. Conversely, the NFC North has put multiple teams in the playoffs only once since 2002. The 2009 season could see a reversal in fortune as the NFC North has three teams capable of reaching the playoffs while the NFC East has a lot of question marks.

NFC East: Until Plaxico Burress destroyed his career (and his team’s season) last November, the New York Giants appeared headed to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. The team has still not completely fixed their situation at wide receiver, but overall the Giants are a very formidable team. The Dallas Cowboys are hoping for addition by subtraction after jettisoning talents, but disruptive receiver Terrell Owens. The Cowboys still have a talented team, but to secure a spot in the playoffs in 2009 they will have to be much more consistent than in recent years given the overall strength of the conference. The Philadelphia Eagles made a number of moves to get younger and better in 2009. If some of their new starters can step up, the Eagles could be among the teams fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, opened the checkbook to bring in defensive standout Albert Haynesworth, but unless the $100 million man can also play offense, the Redskins could be in for another disappointing season. The Skins have enough talent to contend for a playoff spot, but they have very little margin for error.

Albert Haynesworth is the $100 million dollar man for the Washington Redskins.

Albert Haynesworth is the $100 million dollar man for the Washington Redskins.

NFC North: Because each of the three top teams in this division appear to be stronger than a year ago, the battle for supremacy in the NFC North promises to be one of the most interesting to watch this season. The Green Bay Packers didn’t add the same level of impact player as the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, but they did take steps to improve a defense that struggled a year ago. With a year of experience under his belt, quarterback Aaron Rodgers could emerge as one of the top passers in the NFL and will lead an explosive offense. The addition of quarterback Jay Cutler seems to suggest that the Bears will shift from a run oriented to pass oriented offense. However, more than anything, having an offense capable of moving the ball both through the air and on the ground should help the Bears increase their scoring average and take pressure off a defense that in recent years has struggled to remain among the NFL elite. Since Brett Favre officially joined the Vikings, many have anointed them as the team to beat in the NFC. Though they have a favorable early schedule that will allow Favre to become comfortable with his new team, it still is to be determined if a 40-year old quarterback who was injured much of last season can lead the Vikings to a championship. The Detroit Lions still aren’t strong enough to contend in such a powerful division, but they certainly will not go winless again in 2009 and led by rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford seem to be putting the pieces together to eventually be competitive within the division.

Matt Ryan will look to build on his excellent rookie campaign for the Falcons.

Matt Ryan will look to build on his excellent rookie campaign for the Falcons.

NFC South: In more than 40 years in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Despite a formidable schedule, it appears that could change in 2009. Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner were key additions a year ago and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez could be just as valuable this season. The Carolina Panthers were as strong in the regular season a year ago as any team in football and the surprising return of Julius Peppers should help them contend again. However, the Panthers have been in the preseason mix almost every year under head coach John Fox, but injuries have often derailed their playoff hopes. Quarterback Jake Delhomme is now 34 years old and keeping him healthy will be an important task if they hope to repeat as NFC South Champions. With one of the best quarterbacks in football in Drew Brees as well as a talented collection of players on both sides of the ball, the New Orleans Saints will certainly contend for a playoff spot in 2009. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in playoff contention until the very end a year ago, but an off-season shakeup makes it likely that the Buccaneers will take a step back this season. Gone is head coach Jon Gruden and veterans Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Jeff Garcia. Replacing Gruden is 32-year old Raheem Morris, who will turn to former Jacksonville Jaguar quarterback Byron Leftwich to lead the offense. In addition to Brooks, a future Hall of Fame linebacker, the defense also is without long-time coordinator Monte Kiffin. They will be younger in 2009, but could struggle as new players look to emerge.

NFC West: Despite being the weakest division in the conference a year ago, the NFC West did produce the NFC’s Super Bowl representative in the Arizona Cardinals. Look for the Cardinals to be competitive again in 2009, but the division is also much improved from a year ago. The Seattle Seahawks were hampered by injuries a year ago and also knew they were playing out the string with a lame duck coach in Mike Holmgren. If Matt Hasselbeck is back at full strength, they could emerge as the top team in the division. Mike Singletary was rewarded for his solid job at the end of last season as interim head coach with the full-time gig. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain such influence over his team over a full season. The 49ers are building some talent, but they may need another year to gel. Even though they won two games, the St. Louis Rams were almost as bad last season as the Lions. They should be a little better in 2009 and in a division that is questionable in its strength, could see an immediate improvement in their record.

Donovan McNabb will look to lead the Eagles to another playoff appearance.

Donovan McNabb will look to lead the Eagles to another playoff appearance.

Players To Watch: Watch for the addition of Michael Vick to the Philadelphia Eagles to actually help make Donovan McNabb a more dangerous quarterback in 2009. Adrian Peterson has rightfully earned the title as the best running back in the NFL, but Michael Turner is right on his heels. Julius Pepper was supposed to be gone from the Panthers after last season, but he is back and look for him to again be among the top defensive players in the league.

Key Rookies: Obviously, all eyes will be on Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions the minute he steps on the field in the regular season. He will likely take his lumps in 2009, but will look to build for future success. Look for Chris “Beanie” Wells to become the primary running back in Arizona and for Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry to move immediately into the lineup.

Predictions:

The Brett Favre saga has gone on too long to end in anything other than dramatic fashion.

The Brett Favre saga has gone on too long to end in anything other than dramatic fashion.

Out On a Limb: The Brett Favre saga has gone on for so long that it seems destined to end in some dramatic fashion. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with him lifting the Lombardi Trophy as a final “I told You So” to Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if his career ends with a Joe Theismann-Lawrence Taylor type moment where he is carted off the field with the question of when will he retire no longer in doubt. Anything in between would almost be unfair to the millions of football fans who have been subjected to the constant reports about his status for more than two years. My “out on a limb” prediction is that for the first time since his initial season in Green Bay in 1992, Favre will not start all 16 games of the NFL season.

Playoffs: The 2009 NFC season will be one of the most entertaining in recent memories with 13 teams fighting for six playoffs positions. In the end, the Giants, Packers, Falcons and Seahawks will emerge as division champions with the Bears and Eagles earning the wild card spots. Green Bay and Atlanta will meet in the NFC Championship Game with the Packers emerging as the conference champions.

If A.J. Hawk and the Packers can regain their defensive strength, Green Bay could end up in Super Bowl XLIV.

If A.J. Hawk and the Packers can regain their defensive strength, Green Bay could end up in Super Bowl XLIV.

Super Bowl: It may not be the matchup the television networks want, but my preseason prediction is a battle between the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers. The Ravens defense will control the game early, but Aaron Rodgers will lead the Packers to a big second half and a 27-14 victory.

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