With the preseason officially starting up again, the regular season is finally in plain sight just down the line. Teams, as always, spent most of their offseason figuring out how to improve themselves and preparing for the long season ahead.
For the NFC, the league has gradually become much more competitive overall. As a conference, the NFC has won three Superbowls in a row. However the last two league champions (Saints and Packers) failed to win a playoff game the following year. Heading into 2012, the Giants hope to avoid that same trend.
This year, the NFC looks to be as strong as always. Here are my general thoughts on the conference this season:
Toughest Division: The NFC North
What more could you want? Two teams, the Lions and Packers, have explosive offenses with a third trying to catch up. Each team made great strides in the offseason to get better as well. The Bears added Marshall to go with Cutler. The Packers added pass rushers to improve their defense. The Lions added cuffs DBs to stop the pass. While the Vikings are the low point of the division, the NFC North could very well have three teams in the playoffs.
Most Underrated Division: The NFC South
If thereís a division that improved the most in the NFC, itís the NFC South. Normally this is just a two team race between the Saints and the Falcons, but this year, all four teams could be in the hunt. The Panthers and the Bucs both made big strides in the offseason to give the other two teams problems. Donít be surprised if this division race goes down to the last week.
The Favorite: San Francisco 49ers
Iíll buy into how the 49ers improved in the receiving department. The additions of Randy Moss, Mario Mannignham, and even rookie AJ Jenkins will give Alex Smith more targets to throw to. Combine that with all 11 starters returning on defense, it makes it very plausible that the 49ers could make it to the superbowl.
The Dark Horse: Chicago Bears
Before the injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last season, the Bears went 7-3. They were already a solid team, but the moves they made this summer could put them in contention for the conference. Besides adding Brandon Marshall, the bears locked up Forte to a long term deal, had a great draft, and added much needed depth across the board.
The Most Surprising: Carolina Panthers
With Cam Newton entering his second year, the Panthers have a chance to be explosive. Rookie LB Luke Kuechly will most likely have an immediate impact on defense as well. The Panthers are in good hands under coach Ron Rivera and could surprise a lot of teams this year.
The Most Underrated: New York Giants
It might seem weird that the reigning champs could be regarded as underrated, but the Giants have flown under the radar since Tebowmania hit New York. While they do have the leagueís toughest schedule, many are forgetting the upgrade to the running game that was made in the draft. The Giants might not repeat, but they are still a very dangerous team.
The Most Disappointing: New Orleans Saints
The Saints still have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Although after Roger Goddelís sanctions, the Saints could very well have a setback year. Where the suspensions will hurt the most is in the coaching department. Joe Vitt seems like a solid replacement for Sean Payton, but Vitt is also suspended for the first six games. Much like the Patriots following Spy Gate, the Saints are trying to redeem themselves. In this case at least, donít expect a 16-0 season.
Predicted Playoff Teams:
Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears
What do you think of the NFC? Let us know in the comments.