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Article:An Early Look at Contenders for Super Bowl XLIV

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Although it's quite pointless, due to so many factors taking place between one season to the next, i.e. free agency, draft, injuries, etc., everybody does it.

Right after each Super Bowl, experts begin to put out their early favorites/contenders for the following year's Super Bowl, so here's Pro Football 101 early look at who might don the field when the Super Bowl is played in Miami next year.

1. New England Patriots

Had Tom Brady not gone down in Week One, is there really any doubt as to which team would've been representing the AFC in the 2008 Super Bowl? I don't think so.

Even with the Brady loss, coupled with Rodney Harrison's, Adalius Thomas', Laurence Maroney's, etc., the Matt Cassel led Patriots picked up a head of steam at the midpoint of the season and finished with an impressive 11-5 record, three games better than the 8-8 AFC West Champion Chargers.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, due to tie breakers, etc. they were eked out by the 11-5 Dolphins and missed the postseason. With a healthy Brady back in the mix, the Patriots are the early favorites.

2. New York Giants

Injuries are a part of the game, we all know that, but self inflicted ones? Yep, WR Plaxico Burress' self inflicted gun shot wound signaled the demise of what would've been a repeat Championship for the Giants.

At the time of the incident, the Giants were 10-1 and had beaten all four participants in the Championship Games during that stretch.

Unfortunately for New York, the team couldn't adjust the offensive scheme to account for Plaxico's loss and the wheels came off in December. This team has very few holes to account for. With a possible trade for a number one receiver, plus some wise drafting, they'll be the favorites in the NFC to go back to the Super Bowl.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were a good team that won the Super Bowl, not a great team. They caught a lot of breaks in '08 with the injuries and down seasons suffered by the premier teams in the conference: New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego.

The precipitous drop by the Jaguars was unexpected as well. However, the NFL is a game of attrition and the Steelers were the last man standing. The defense is very solid and will continue to be in 2009.

Offensively, they'll need to address their offensive line, but that's about it. This team will be a contender once again next season.

4. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts got off to a slow start in '08 primarily because of injuries. Injuries to the offensive line disrupted the entire flow of the offense and the running game never really got going this season.

Defensively, the secondary was ravished by injuries, so having a healthy S Bob Sanders and CB Marlin Jackson will help in '09.

The nine-game winning streak was a bit misleading because the only good team they beat in that stretch was the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-20, and aside from that, it was the Texans, Jaguars, and Lions of the league. So it wasn't surprising to see them ousted in round one when they were forced to play against better competition.

In 2009, it'll be interesting to see how the Colts will adjust to their new coaching staff, but the talent is still there.

5. Philadelphia Eagles

This is one that can go either way. The Eagles overcame all odds to bounce back from a 5-5-1 record to make it to the NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately for the Eagles though, the NFC Championship Game is like kryptonite to both Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb and they were unable to carry their team into the Super Bowl.

Questions for this team are numerous because they have so many veteran free agents to address: both offensive tackles, safety Brian Dawkins, QB Donovan McNabb and so on. They've also seen some of their staff raided by Steve Spagnuolo, who's now the coach of the Rams.

But the nucleus is there; free agency, drafting and the handling of Donovan McNabb will tell you a lot going into 2009.

A few others:

San Diego Chargers The talent is there, and GM A.J. Smith is adept at finding quality players in the NFL draft. But the team is aging, and the Super Bowl window which was once wide open appears to be nearly shut.

We know San Diego will win out in December. The real question is, "Can they get off to a better start this year?"

Atlanta Falcons If Matt Ryan continues to develop at the pace he did in his rookie season, this team will be a force to reckon with. RB Michael Turner was a steal in free agency and this defense rounded nicely into form under rookie HC Mike Smith.

With a few more additions in free agency and through the draft, the Falcons could be calling first place in the NFC South home for a while.

Baltimore Ravens If the Ravens can find a way to keep the linebacking core intact, they'll be a force once again in the AFC North. Rex Ryan will be missed, but let's face it: over Ray Lewis' tenure, the defense has never been worse than 6th in the league expect for the year he only played five games.

And they've been through multiple defensive coordinators in that time frame. QB Joe Flacco should only get better and Ozzie Newsome is excellent in both free agency and the draft, so look for Baltimore to once again be making some noise come January 2010.

Dallas Cowboys Talent alone doesn't equal Super Bowls, it equals Pro Bowls. And that's where you'll find Dallas players playing in February. Under HC Wade Phillips, the Cowboys have no chance of winning a Super Bowl and very little chance of winning a playoff game. Phillips is 0-5 in the postseason.

Vegas has Dallas as the early second betting choice to win next year's Super Bowl, so I just had to put my two cents in on the matter.


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