Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who's the Favorite in the NFC?

Another football Sunday has almost come and gone, and the ever-changing perception of who is the best team in the NFC is as muddled as ever. The Bears seemed to have a strangehold on that title through the first half of the season. Then the Tony Romo-led Cowboys took the NFL by storm for a few weeks, being "annonted" (to the dismay of Bill Parcells) best team in the conference. But as soon as you could say, "How bout them Cowboys," the Saints dismantled Dallas last week in a dominating 42-17 win on the road.

So after this week's games, who's in the driver's seat in the NFC? I'll rank the six teams that currently hold playoff positioning in order of worst chance to advance to the Super Bowl to best:

6. New York Giants: They're currently in the sixth slot in the conference after losing to the Eagles moments ago. If Michael Strahan is able to come back from his injury, it'll be huge for this team, but in the end, the fate of the Giants rests with Eli Manning, and he has yet to inspire any confidence in his late-season play over his three-year career.

5. Seattle Seahawks: Though it's a long-shot, the 'Hawks may yet be left out of the playoffs entirely and lose the division title if they lose their final two games and the 49ers win out. Seattle's been hit hard with injuries to key players this year and currently have no momentum on their side. At this point, this looks like a one-and-done team in the playoffs.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Speaking of momentum, Philly has a lot of it right now, having won three consecutive games with Jeff Garcia at the helm. Their defense, led by their ferocious secondary, is still as aggressive and opportunistic as ever, and offense has gotten into a real groove recently. The Eagles right now look like a darkhorse that could make a run in the playoffs.

3. New Orleans Saints: The Saints have the advantage of having the best QB in the NFC in Drew Brees, and a multitude of weapons on offense including Reggie Bush, but their run defense remains iffy. They're capable of going all the way, but I have a feeling that the Dallas game might have been the best game they'll play all season, and if they play the Cowboys in the playoffs, you can bet Parcells and company will be ready and angry.

2. Chicago Bears: Based on record, (12-2) you can argue that the Bears actually deserve the mantle of favorites. However, it's been much more of a roller coaster ride than the record indicates. Their biggest wins have come against overrated Seahawks and Giants teams, and they've had to sneak out wins against some of the dregs of the league in Arizona and today against Tampa Bay. Homefield advantage throught will help, but is no guarantee of a Super Bowl berth.

1. Dallas Cowboys: I'm hating myself as I type this, but rationally, I still think that the Cowboys are the most dangerous and most balanced team in the conference. They're as explosive as anyone on offense, and have the ability to get it done on defense. But even they are a flawed team. Their last two opponents, the Falcons and Saints, have hung 28 and 42 points on the defense respectively, and the secondary is prone to getting beat deep. On offense, you never know what you're going to get from Terrell Owens, who could drop an easy pass as easily as he could break a long one for a touchdown. Even so, they're less flawed then their competitors in my opinion, and may have re-established themselves as the NFC favorite with their win over Atlanta last night.

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