Its finally here. Football time. That most wonderful time of the year. 27 days till College Football (and yes previews are coming from that too) but first up Part I of our 5 part series the agonizing pain I live in as a Cleveland fan...I mean preview of the NFL. Huzzah. Up first handicapping the NFC risers. Teams that missed out on the playoffs last year that have a shot of getting in this year. Now the point isn't (yet) to identify who on this list will actually make the playoffs but if I was to make guesses as to most likely to least likely here's my list....Let the debate begin
1) Nawlin Saints
After a surprising rebirth two years ago the Saints came back to Earth last year. However they made a few key offseason moves (namely solidifying linebackers with getting Jonathan Vilma and adding Shockey for the offense). Their schedule includes trips to the arguable less than stellar AFC West and NFC South and its looking like a return. Plus Ghengis McCain approves of them.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
Everything seemed to go wrong for the Iggles last year: distracted coach, injuries galore , actual Philly fans, etc. And yet despite all of those problems the Eagles ended at a respectful 8-8. Sure they don't have receivers but when did that stop them from making the playoffs? The NFC East is easily the hardest division to predict so hey why not...
3) Minnesota Vikings
All Day, the Purple Avenger, Purple Jesus. Whatever name you give Adrian Peterson he instantly made the Vikings respectable. They can run the ball, stop the run and with Jared Allen possibly rush the passer. The only minor detail is Tavaris Jackson. Can he be adequate? That's a big if but IF......
4) Arizona Cardinals
I swear every year might be THE year that the Cardinals get into the playoffs. And every year they disappoint. Perpetual teases (much like Autumn Reeser) Last year they got close at 8-8 but as always fell short. You have to feel though that the Coaching staff of Wisenhunt has them moving in the right direction. Right? More than Dennis Green right? Leinart is in the spotlight returning from injury as is Edgerin James fighting father time.
5) San Francisco
I wanted to put one controversial choice in there. That way if I'm right I seem like a genius. Here's my argument. The defense was all injured so they'll be better. They play in the NFC West. Anyone want to argue that there's an unstoppable juggernaut there? They play the AFC East. Mike Nolan may have perfected a secret formula to give Alex Smith super-human powers. I dunno but I like their chances better than the teams listed below
6) Carolina Panthers
The d-line isn't what it used to be. Jake Delhomme never was what he was possibly hyped to be (skilled). John Fox back is against the wall. Its playoffs or a pink slip. Same with the GM. They traded up to improve their o-line and get Jonathan Stewart. Rumor has it Fox has taken various members of the Panthers' families to a remote location in Inner Mongolia and will only return them if they put up a good fight (although Steve Smith seems to think that applies to other Panthers)
7) The Rest: Detroit, Chicago, Saint Louis, Atlanta
Maybe if you combined all these teams into one they might have a chance. Otherwise it'll be the surprise of the year for any of these......