Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion and one of the two or three most talented teams in the league. It is always difficult to measure a team off of a Super Bowl win; their motivation and concentration are often reduced. Still the Packers are getting a number of player back from injury, play in a soft division and have a relatively easy schedule which makes them the early favorite for home field advantage in the playoffs. Chicago won this division last season but the offensive line remains a question and the defense is getting old; if they can stay healthy they might get into the playoffs as their schedule is otherwise favorable. Detroit is certainly improving but still needs to add some pieces to the back seven of the defense to have a playoff shot. Minnesota is rebuilding at this point and need to work on the offensive line.
There has been a lot of commentary about the Eagles who have been uncharacteristically busy in free agency. Their defensive secondary is certainly formidable and they are one of the more talented teams in the NFL at this point. There seems to be a definite push to win a Super Bowl and it is possible that anything less than a championship will result in some front office/coaching changes there. The critical question is can Vick stay healthy which, given his playing style and the limitations of their offensive line; that seems to be a bit against the odds. They play in a division with good defensive lines and Vick tries to extend plays resulting in taking to many hits. Still going in they probably have to be considered the favorites in their division with both Dallas and the Giants on close behind, one or the other of those teams is likely to make the playoffs.
The New Orleans Saints are talented and seem to be the favorite in their division from that standpoint alone. Losing their center to free agency is certainly a negative factor but they are solid everywhere else and the defense should be improved. The Falcons offense is solid and should continue to provide ball control but the defense needed to improve and it is not clear that it has, which will make repeating their division championship from last season difficult. Tampa Bay continues to improve and could challenge in the division as their defense continues to develop. Carolina is likely looking at another top three draft pick next season as putting a rookie quarterback behind a mediocre offensive line is not a recipe for success.
The NFC west is going to be interesting and likely competitive, at least between the teams involved, but each has a number of question marks and anyone coming up with double digit wins, while possible, seems unlikely. Picking a winner here will depend upon quarterback play and in most cases some additional good fortune as well. The best quarterback going in is Bradford for the Rams; still developing the change in the offensive scheme will not help him though and a young defense will have to get better in a hurry. Kolb got the early hook in Philadelphia and working for Whisenhunt in Arizona cannot be all that reassuring; the offensive line has some questions which may complicate his development as well. Seattle has some pieces but can Jackson put them together; the history on him is not reassuring but there is some talent there. San Francisco has an uphill battle changing their coaching staff and losing a couple of key components from the defense. Pick one, your choice, right now the Rams seem to me to have the strongest case largely based on a young and talented offensive line.
The playoff’s then will have most of the usual suspects with Dallas/New York and Atlanta/Chicago (making that opening day contest of some interest) the most likely wild cards. With Green Bay the likely one seed it makes it difficult for the Eagles or Saints, the two strongest contenders, who will likely have to play through each other to get to the championship game. The Eagles have the defensive backfield that gives them the best chance against the big play offenses of the Packers and Saints which was obviously one of the points of their off season but will it be sufficient? The possession of the second seed, and a chance for some bye week recovery time, is probably critical to their chances.