Heading into 2009 NFL season, figuring out the AFC is easy.

That's right, I said it, the Skins are going to the playoffs ... I think.

That's right, I said it, the Skins are going to the playoffs ... I think.

If you looked at 100 people’s preseason predictions for AFC playoff teams, at least two-thirds of them would have this list – New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and San Diego.

The NFC is a different story. To me, there are only four teams with no shot at a playoff berth in the conference – the Lions, Rams, Bucs, and 49ers.

Perhaps the hardest NFC division to figure out is the NFC East. Four of last season’s Top 8 NFL defenses reside in the division – Eagles (3), Redskins (4), Giants (5), Cowboys (8).

The Eagles are suffering from the injury bug and the defense lost its coordinator, the Cowboys lost T.O., and the Giants lost Derrick Ward and Plaxico Burress … for good. The Skins bulked up their defense with Fat Albert, but did little to ignite their stagnant offense.

The NFC South is just as big a mystery. The only team that won’t contend for the division title is the Bucs, who ironically looked like the division’s best team heading into Week 14 last season.

The Panthers aren’t getting any love, but still have arguably the best running back tandem in the league. The Saints’ offense will again be unstoppable, but their defense hasn’t improved much. The popular pick seems to be the Falcons. If Matt Ryan improves on his rookie season and Michael Turner can replicate his ’08 season, it’s hard to argue against them.

The Vikings should win the NFC North, but aren’t a lock. Media types are all over the Vikings after they picked up Brett Favre. The fact is, the Vikings are a 10+ win team with or without him. They are one of the few teams in the league that can dominate in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

The Packers and Bears will need substantial defensive improvement for a shot at the playoffs, but both offenses will be better. Like him or not, Jay Cutler instantly upgrades the Bears’ attack, and Aaron Rodgers should build on an impressive ’08 season.

At least with the NFC West, there are only two legitimate contenders. The Rams are a train wreck and the 49ers have work to do. The Seahawks will bounce back after a disappointing ’08 season, and should challenge the Cardinals for the division title. But if Kurt Warner stays healthy, the Cardinals’ offense will be too much for anyone in the division.

Enough meandering, time for my six NFC playoff teams – Eagles, Vikings, Panthers, Cardinals, Falcons, and what the hell … the Redskins.

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