Our New York Giants are seeded No. 1 and are favored by the oddsmakers to get back to the Super Bowl this season.
So, who are the primary roadblocks to a second straight Super Bowl appearance for the defending champs? Let's rank the NFC competition.
- Carolina Panthers (12-4) -- We have seen the Panthers and we know how dangerous they are. The Giants beat Carolina, 34-28, in overtime to clinch home-field advantage, but would have lost had the wind not pushed a John Kasey field goal wide. DeAngelo Williams gashed the Giants for four touchdown runs in that game, and forms a formidable running attack along with Jonathan Stewart. Then of course there is always Steve Smith to worr about. To me, if the Panthers and Giants meet in the NFC Championship Game it's a toss-up.
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) -- If the Eagles take the 44-6 season-ending beating they laid on Dallas and carry that type of play into the playoffs, they can be incredibly dangerous. With the Eagles, though, that is a big if. They are as inconsistent as any team in the playoffs. Just look at the two weeks before the Dallas game. First, a 30-10 win over Cleveland. Then, a 10-3 loss to Washington. Which Eagles' team will show up? You just never know from game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter and sometimes series-to-series.
- Atlanta Falcons (11-5) -- The Falcons are a great story, with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan leading an incredible turnaround from a 4-12 season. Ex-Charger Michael Turner (1,699 yards rushing, 17 TDs) has stepped out of LaDainian Tomlinson's shadow and proven he can be a featured back. You can't go deep in the playoffs with a porous defense, though, and that is what the Falcons have. They are ranked 24th in the league defensively, and that won't get it done.
- Minnesota Vikings (10-6) -- Yeah, I know the Vikings just beat the Giants a week ago. But, they only won by a point and they didn't beat the REAL Giants. In Giants Stadium with the season on the line no team with Tavaris Jackson at quarterback is beating the defending Super Bowl champs.
- Arizona Cardinals (9-7) -- Yeah, nice story with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and they high-flying passing attack. But, Arizona is going nowhere in the playoffs. They have the worst running game in the league, and that will kill them if they actually get to the Meadowlands. The Cardinals were blown out in each of the last four games they played against good teams (Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Patriots) and that tells you they are pretenders.