September 5, 2011
Patriots vs. Packers
In the AFC, Rex Ryan has painted a bull's-eye on his Jets. No question, his defense has credentials. But his passing game is vulnerable and his quarterback is shaky in the red zone.
More likely, it will be the Patriots reasserting themselves. The Steelers are old, the Ravens have too many questions on offense and the Colts' Peyton Manning has a bad neck. The Chargers? When do they ever win a big game? When Bill Belichick is willing to take on Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco in the same season, he's on to something.
In the NFC, the Eagles are intriguing because of their upgrades on defense. But can Michael Vick last 16 games? Or 19? Matt Ryan and the Falcons haven't shown up in big games. Drew Brees and the Saints have. But I like the Packers because of what Aaron Rodgers brings.
Jets vs. Saints
The only reason to pick against the Packers is the fact they would have to repeat. We all know how difficult it is to win back-to-back championships.
The Saints couldn't repeat last year, but now that they are a year removed from their Super Bowl experience, they are a good bet to reclaim their throne. Their offense could be better than ever, and they have beefed up their defense considerably.
The AFC looks to be up for grabs with a number of potential contenders — the Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers among them. But the last AFC team standing could be the Jets, who lost in the last two conference title games.
They'll make it one game farther this time — but lose to the Saints.
Jets vs. Packers
Los Angeles Times
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez took a big step forward from his first to second season, and he'll continue to trend upward as he gets increasingly comfortable with Brian Schottenheimer's offense. Santonio Holmes is back for a full season, and Plaxico Burress is an upgrade from Braylon Edwards. Darrelle Revis leads a defense that consistently is among the league's most disruptive.
The Packers won the Super Bowl last season despite 15 players on injured reserve. Having running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley back gives Aaron Rodgers even more weapons, and Clay Matthews is a favorite for defensive player of the year. The Packers have another advantage: Unlike most defending champions, they didn't spend all offseason hearing how great they are.
Jets vs. Packers
The AFC is a tossup. Philip Rivers is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, but the Chargers have questions on defense and Norv Turner always seems to push his team's buttons too late. The Patriots are always an easy pick, as is whoever emerges from the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. But let's go with the heart and not the head and pick the Jets, who have dropped a notch in talent but have a tough defense and a bona fide winner in Mark Sanchez.
In the NFC, the Eagles are the latest version of a "dream team." But as we've seen, a collection of superstars does not a championship team make. The Falcons seem poised to make a run at the Super Bowl, but it's hard to see Matt Ryan leading them past Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and the Packers.
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