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NFC teams look to capture title this year

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NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers — The Packers get the nod in this division, but winning the NFC North is similar to being awarded best behaved at a maximum security prison. Brett Favre will be able to carry the team to another division title, but how far the Pack goes after that depends on Favre's supporting cast.

2. Minnesota Vikings — The Vikings will remain competitive if Randy Moss decides to run over defensive backs instead of civil servants. Offense is not the problem for the Vikings and if they had any semblance of a defense they would be sitting shotgun in the NFC North.

3. Chicago Bears — With no running game, the Bears will again depend on their defense and a suspect passing game to keep them in games. The offense will be under the guidance of Kordell Stewart who will be the Bears' biggest running threat — even though he plays quarterback. In addition, linebacker Brian Urlacher will have to be all over the field with the loss of linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and defensive tackle Ted Washington to New England.

4. Detroit Lions — New coach Steve Mariucci has bought President and CEO Matt Millen a few more years of life. The Lions are a team taking a step in the right direction after a strong draft in which they picked up receiver Charles Rogers and linebacker Boss Bailey, but they are still several instruments away from making any serious noise in the NFL, the biggest void being at running back.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles come back with basically the same roster that brought them within one game of the Super Bowl. Defensive end Hugh Douglas and kick returner Brian Mitchell are gone, but the addition of fullback Jon Ritchie will greatly open up the Eagles' running game.

2. New York Giants — If there is one guarantee in the NFL, it is that around the 10th or 11th week of the season Giants coach Jim Fassel will make a speech that rouses his team to a playoff berth. Defense will be the place where the Giants will have to improve to go deep into the playoffs, because the offense has enough fire power to carry this team to a certain point. After that, all the pressure is on Michael Strahan and the 'D.'

3. Washington Redskins — The "fun-n-gun" is back for year two and the results will be better. As long as coach Steve Spurrier does not play quarterback roulette and lets Patrick Ramsey play the entire season the offense will develop nicely this year. On defense, LaVar Arrington leads a decent group which also includes the ageless wonder Bruce Smith.

4. Dallas Cowboys — If there is any coach who will get every drop of talent out of his team it is Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells. The sad thing is that every drop of talent will only equal about six wins. The Cowboys are very talented defensively, but their offense will struggle to score points the entire season.

NFC South

1.Tampa Bay Buccaneers — After all the preseason moves took place, it is apparent that Tampa is still the most talented team in the league and Jon Gruden will work to make sure the Bucs are able to go back-to-back as Super Bowl champions. Brad Johnson might be the most underrated player in the league, and if he is able to stay healthy I find it very difficult to see anyone beating the Buccaneers in the playoffs.

2. Atlanta Falcons — With the exception of Favre and the Packers, no team depends more on its starting quarterback. So when Michael Vick was injured in the preseason, knocking him out for four weeks, the Falcons were left shell shocked. The saving grace for Atlanta is that three of their first four opponents are the Cowboys, Redskins and Panthers, so they could easily end up having three wins by the time Vick comes back.

3. New Orleans Saints — Each season the Saints come charging out of the gate and each season they fail to make the playoffs. Coach Jim Haslett has to be walking a job security line so thin a gnat would have trouble keeping its balance. The problem with the Saints is that even though they are very talented, they are never able to tie anything together at once. That will be their downfall again this season.

4. Carolina Panthers — The biggest move of the off-season was Carolina picking up running back Stephen Davis, who will be their entire offense. Look for Davis to put up MVP-type numbers because the rest of the Carolina offense is plain bad. The defense is the strong suit of the team and will be the reason for all of Carolina's victories this season.

NFC West

1. St. Louis Rams — "The Greatest Show on Turf" was downgraded to "An OK Show on Artificial Surface" after the Rams' performance last year. Injuries cut short Kurt Warner's season, and even when he was on the field he did poorly. If Warner starts out real slow, the whispers will turn into screams for Marc Bulger to jump into the starting spot. The Rams have enough offensive juice to compete against anyone in the league and that will carry them into first place.

2. Seattle Seahawks — Each year everyone is waiting for Seattle to bust out and become a dominant team. This might be the year. With a breeze of a schedule and the way Matt Hasselbeck grasped the offense at the end of last season, Seattle has a great chance of making the playoffs. Ray Rhodes is as good a defensive coordinator as you will find in the league and he will try his best to create offensive confusion for opposing teams. He also has one of the league's best cornerback tandems at his disposal in Marcus Trufant and Shawn Springs.

3. San Francisco 49ers — Apparently a career record of 57-39 was not enough reason for the 49ers to keep Mariucci. New coach Dennis Erickson is supposed to bring some creativity to the offense in order to generate more points. Terrell Owens is arguably the best receiver in the league and he will continue to perform this year as long as signal caller Jeff Garcia manages to stay healthy.

4. Arizona Cardinals — An NFL player who commits a crime should not have to go to prison, but rather play the rest of his career in Arizona. This is the perfect example of football purgatory because the Cardinals have an owner who does not want to put the cash into fielding a winning team. After Week Three of the season, Emmitt Smith will ache for a daily tee time and a spot on any NFL pregame show.

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