Let's get a few things straight...
This is the guy - for me, at least - who will have the most to do with who ends up representing the NFC in the Super Bowl this season.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports
Credit: Yahoo! Sports
..."The Guys You DREAM about Being"...
#1. (12-4) New York Giants
Comment: Despite the Plaxico-incident, Jacobs missing two weeks/being banged up for a month, and the difficult task of defending a championship...the G-Men remain the team to beat in the NFC as the #1-seed.
Guy to Watch: Brandon Jacobs. Eli is the epicenter of this team; however, this season - unlike last year's playoff team - hinged on the ability of their monster back to brutalize defenses in the first half. 3 more dominant efforts and they may very well again hoist the Lombardy Trophy.
#2. (12-4) Carolina Panthers
Comment: 12-4 is a lot easier when you're undefeated (8-0) at home, which is exactly where the Panthers will be in the Divisional Round in two weeks. Plenty of rest for DeAngelo Williams (1515 yards and 20 total TDs) and company.
Guy to Watch: Steve Smith has more ability than any receiver his size. In fact, it's not even close. He's got to have his head straight and his legs ready to burst through secondaries throughout January. He'll need to carry this team - even more than Williams/Stewart - late in close playoff (potential shootout) games.
..The Guys Everyone Else WISHES to Be"...
#3. (10-6) Minnesota Vikings
Comment: Don't forget what Gus Frerrote did for this team; however, Tavaris Jackson did just enough to lock up the NFC North and a home playoff game for the Vikes. The health of Pat Williams and their psyche against a dangerous Philadelphia team loom ominous. By the way, welcome to the NFL Playoffs Adrian Peterson.
Guy to Watch: Tavaris and A-Pete are the easy gets. I'm watching to see if Bernard Berrian can continue his recent torrid month and prove the contract was well worth it. His speed dramatically changes games downfield.
#4. (9-7) Arizona Cardinals
Comment: As ugly a 9-7 team you've ever seen, they still won their division for the first time since Kennedy was in the Whire House AND will host an actual playoff game.
Guy to Watch: Darnell Dockett is the only defender - outside possibly Wilson/Rolle - who defenses gameplan against. Michael Turner can't be allowed to easily pass through the guard and tackle spots or this game will be well over before the first half ends.
#5. (11-5) Atlanta Falcons
Comment: At the beginning of the season (or even the mid-way point), if you had the Falcons at 11-5 and a favorite in their opening playoff game...you need to hit up Cesar's Palace immediately. This team is playing with house money. Enjoy watching 'em.
Guy to Watch: John Abraham has shut it down in previous playoff games, going as far to not even suit up. He'll need to be all over Kurt Warner next weekend...or the Falcons won't leave Arizona victors.
#6. (9-6-1) Philadelphia Eagles
Comment: Somehow, the tie-game didn't come back to bite them. Meanwhile, Andy Reid and Donovan F. McNabb are playoff bound yet again. Don't look now Giant fans, but the Iggles might be coming to town in two weeks. Look out.
Guy to Watch: We all know how Brian Westbrook makes this team go. I got it. Instead, I'm taking two. Correll Buckhalter showed Dallas what a "change of pace" nightmare he can be; especially in the passing game as of late. Meanwhile, A$$ante $amuel needs to earn a few more of those $$$ back A$AP.
"One of a Kind...for better or WORSE"
#7. (9-7) Dallas Cowboys
Comment: The biggest off-season train wreck resides in Dallas (sorry Favre & Jet haters). Not only is there the issue of Wade "The Babe" and Jason Garrett's futures, but you also get to deal with TO, the never-ending Romo-saga, and the same December questions that continue to plague this franchise. 1996 was their last playoff win. Man, that seems so long ago...
Guy to Watch: TO. Of course.
#8. (9-7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Comment: John Gruden, Jeff Garcia, and the entire organization should be ashamed for losing at home to the Oakland Raiders. Half this roster is out the door and Monte Kiffin is leading the way. One word: regression.
Guy to Watch: The next QB added to this "rotation". Good luck.
#9. (9-7) Chicago Bears
Comment: Kyle Orton may be the future of this franchise at QB; however, the only "skill players" worth feeling confident are Matt Forte and (probably) Greg Olsen. This team needs to unearth a playmaker or two in the upcoming draft, somehow and someway.
Guy to Watch: Is it me or was Brian Urlacher missing this season?
#10. (8-8) Washington Redskins
Comment: Starting 6-2 becomes null and void when you finish 2-6. The real question becomes: is Jason Campbell the QB of the future? You better find out real soon, Mr. Snyder.
Guy to Watch: How soon can Jason Taylor exit the Redskin roster?
#11. (8-8) New Orleans Saints
Comment: Picking up also-rans (McKenzie, Fujita, Vilma, Shockey) isn't working. Meanwhile, what is going on with the RB position - even without Deuce in the mix after this year - and when will this defense be able to stop a JV offense, no less an NFL-one.
Guy to Watch: Is the Jeremy Shockey-experience over already?
..."The Other Others"...
#12. (7-9) San Francisco 49ers
Comment: Mike Singletary put this team on his back and they went 7-9. Kudos. But I gotta ask: what happens when they no longer "sneak up on people", is Shaun Hill their future QB, can Frank Gore stay healthy, and is Mike Martz still have any "genius" left in him?
Guy to Watch: In case you couldn't tell, I'm wondering where Shaun Hill is on the depth chart before Week 1 next season?
#13. (6-10) Green Bay Packers
Comment: Backward steps to say the least. BIG ONES. Rogers seems fine; however, this team too easily slipped to 6-10. What is to be done for a team that likely overachieved in '07 to reach 3-13, yet drastically underproduced its way to double-digit losses in '08?
Guy to Watch: Was giving all that money to Ryan Grant a big mistake?
..."How the 'Mighty' Have Fallen..."
#14. (4-12) Seattle Seahawks
Comment: The team got injured and old all in the same season. Dangerous duo in all the wrong ways. By the way, how stupid does that Deion Branch-deal continue to look???
Guy to Watch: By the way, how much longer is Matt Hasselbeck going to be able to stand up right for more than 10 games in a season, new head coach Jim Mora Jr? What if he can't any longer?
...And then there's "THEM"...
#15. (2-14) St. Louis Rams
Comment: Players L-O-V-E "player-friendly coaches" like Jim Haslett. Duh. But how much do players love losing their last 10 games in a season and appearing to have little to nothing in the pipeline for the future (sorry, Chris Long)?
Guy to Watch: Is Tory Holt much longer for St. Louis?
..."0-16 says it ALL"...
#16. (0-16) Detroit Lions
Comment: I made a real mistake last season thinking the Falcons (post-Vick) were the ugliest situation in football. Motown is in mourning over their "football" franchise. 0-16 shouldn't be wished upon any players or fans. Not even those surviving the post-Millen "Era of Shame" in Detroit.
Guy to Watch: Whichever future #1 overall pick (likely a QB) gets his career ruined next by this franchise. Beware Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford.
I thought I'd hand out some hardware, but I'll save that for later.
AFC coming soon...