One year ago, few followers of the NFL predicted that the Miami Dolphins, with a 1-15 record to end the 2007-08 season, would finish the 2008-09 regular season campaign as the AFC East division champion. Nor did the wisest of observers envision the Arizona Cardinals, for decades one of the league’s most inept organizations, as the National Football Conference champs after they stumbled into the post-season with an uninspiring 9-7 record. But the Cardinals fell just short of upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers last February in a suspense-filled Super Bowl XLIII.
Which team will follow in the paths of the Dolphins and Cardinals this season? Perhaps there won’t be any. It could be that perennial powers such as the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Steelers will maintain superiority and suppress the dreams of potential party crashers in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings.
What should be expected is close races in all four divisions of the NFC. In the East, the Giants and Eagles are the most complete teams. Nevertheless, the Giants may be hampered by the inexperience of their unproven wide receiver corps and a linebacker unit that has not distinguished itself as being a consistently solid group. They open up this Sunday (4:15 p.m.) at home against the Washington Redskins and play four of their first seven games on the road.
Last season, the Giants were the NFC’s No. 1 seed at 12-4 entering the playoffs, but will have a much more difficult path to the top spot again. The Eagles are built to dethrone them and a more cohesive Dallas Cowboys outfit is also capable of muscling their way to the top spot. The expected outcome from this writer is both the Giants and Eagles conclude the regular season at 11-5 with the 10-6 Cowboys missing the post season. Mediocrity will be the label carried by the 8-8 Redskins. The Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons will join the Giants and Eagles in the Super Bowl tournament.