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Old 04-08-2009, 06:26 PM   #1
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Default An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_yl...=tsn&type=lgns
An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

By Vinnie Iyer - SportingNews 3 hours, 42 minutes ago

It's been only eight weeks since Super Bowl 43, but with all this insanity regarding the NCAA Tournament, it's hard not to think about what the NFL's version of the final four will look like in '09.

You would think filling out a successful bracket in the NFL would be a lot easier, just because there are only 32 teams. But then you realize any one of them can surprise you to survive and advance past the regular season, and about a dozen have a real shot at winning it all.

So to help with such a challenge, it's important to look at similar attributes that allow top college basketball teams to get to the national semifinals.

A college hoops team needs a good backcourt to go deep in the tourney. An NFL team needs a good backfield—a.k.a. a strong running game—to win multiple playoff games. Point guards and quarterbacks are similar passers and leaders. An inside game is also key, whether it's working well close to the basket or executing well in the red zone. Then of course, like in every sport, defense wins championships.

Picking the final two teams standing in the AFC "regional" was like going with powerhouses from the Big East and ACC; it came down to picking a pair from an elite group. The NFC provides much more of an opportunity to go with Cinderellas. High seeds from one year go to being on the bubble the next. It's fun, knowing that going with at least one "George Mason" could pay off.

This selection show has had enough drama. Let's reveal the "top four seeds":

— New England Patriots. Call them the '09 favorites in the "Big AFC East." The Dolphins are reigning champs, the Jets are a Jay Cutler away from being very tough, and the Bills even made a splash with Terrell Owens. But barring another major injury to Tom Brady, the Pats will be back as the beast of the division.

Their passing game should be awesome, and their power running game gets an upgrade with Fred Taylor. Bill Belichick has used the free-agent period to add experience to the secondary, and the team has 11 picks with which to work in the draft. That should allow the Patriots to add much needed youth and depth to their front seven. They won't miss the playoffs again, and they won't be an early out when they get there.

— Pittsburgh Steelers. We know it's difficult for any team to repeat as Super Bowl champions, but the Steelers have the nucleus intact to at least get to the penultimate round. It starts with the AFC North. Cincinnati and Cleveland are trying to clean up their respective messes. Baltimore will be a tough archrival again, but will lose a bit defensively without Rex Ryan and Bart Scott.

The Steelers didn't lose any significant veterans, and as usual, they had the youngsters ready on the roster to provide more than adequate replacements. It's scary they won without steady offensive line play and a strong running game, and with a refocus on that and the return of Rashard Mendenhall, watch out. Mike Tomlin is a great young coach, and his staff is intact. Plus, Ben Roethlisberger will be hungry to match Brady's three rings.

— Dallas Cowboys. Now it gets interesting. In the past two years, we've had Giants-Packers and Eagles-Cardinals as the NFC's championship game matchup. Not only it is hard to predict which team will make the playoffs in this conference, but the seeds also don't mean anything.

So why not go with a third different team from the NFL's best division, the NFC East? With Owens out of town and the team dumping some off-field baggage, the Cowboys are in position to open their new stadium in style. The defensive talent, led by DeMarcus Ware, is Super Bowl worthy. The key is becoming more efficient and balanced offensively, and helping that carry over to the entire team.

The passing game won't lose too much once Roy Williams gets on the same page with Tony Romo, but without the crutch of T.O., the 'Boys will lean more on a strong rushing attack as the ideal complement to their defense. Going back to the basics of pounding away with Marion Barber and Felix Jones to set up the pass will turn Dallas from a disappointing non-playoff team to the contender it should have been.

— New Orleans Saints. While the Cowboys are this year's version of the Giants and Eagles, the Saints are that wacky offensive-minded team ready for a shocking run, a la the '08 Arizona Cardinals. They should look a lot more like the '06 Saints in 2009. Like Dallas, New Orleans showed flashes of greatness last season, but eventually, inconsistent play led to a record that wasn't good enough, even in a mediocre conference.

The Saints finished a respectable 8-8, putting them last in a surprisingly tough NFC South. Of course, being last in that division in the previous year usually means one thing—a division title the next year. The Saints' biggest competition will be Atlanta, but after two non-playoff years, Drew Brees is due for—and too good not to get—at least a wild-card shot in the NFC tournament.

The Saints will advance by scoring often and putting their defense in favorable positions to get takeaways. Taking care of the ball and controlling the clock were part of the M.O. when the Saints got to the NFC title game three years ago.

It's still easy to like someone from the AFC side of the bracket to win the Super Bowl, but as we have learned from recent NFC history, if no pick can be considered safe, no pick can be considered crazy, either.

For more in-depth NFL coverage, including weekly mock drafts, free agency analysis, matchups, statistics, projections and more, visit Sporting News' Pro Football War Room today.

Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:56 PM   #2
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

I think it'll be Steelers Colts, and the Panthers, Packers[idk why]
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Old 04-08-2009, 07:07 PM   #3
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

I think the Packers will be back to their 07 form this year. Capers will get that defense doing good if not great things this season and Aaron Rodgers will continue to put up better stats then that Brett guy he replaced.
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Old 04-08-2009, 07:19 PM   #4
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

i think the eagles can make another good run with the addition of another talented rb and receiving threat 4 mcnabb
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Old 04-09-2009, 05:47 AM   #5
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

I hope New England is no where near the playoffs. I hate that bunch of douch bags.
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Old 04-09-2009, 08:52 AM   #6
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

Quote:
Originally Posted by Galax Steeler View Post
I hope New England is no where near the playoffs. I hate that bunch of douch bags.
i want to see the afc title game between steelers and pats, that way there will be no more questions about the team of the decade

i think itll be the STEELERS, pats, packers (maybbeeee), and falcons (maybbeeee.. see what matt ryan can do)
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Old 04-09-2009, 09:02 AM   #7
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

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Originally Posted by jev7452 View Post
i want to see the afc title game between steelers and pats, that way there will be no more questions about the team of the decade

i think itll be the STEELERS, pats, packers (maybbeeee), and falcons (maybbeeee.. see what matt ryan can do)

Yes I would love to play the Patties and kick their butts in the AFC Championship. I think the packers will be playing Philly in the NFC if they get another good receiver to come in.
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Old 04-09-2009, 09:43 AM   #8
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

Romo's still the qb of the Cowboys if I'm not mistaken. Yet every so-called "expert" believes the Cowboys to be an elite team every off-season it seems. How many playoff games has Romo win? Or better yet, what are his stats like in the month of december & onward? And when was the last time that joke of a franchise won a playoff game at all? Oh yeah, 13 freakin years ago.

But watch out, the Cowboys are coming
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Old 04-09-2009, 09:55 AM   #9
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

This incessant Pats nuthugging gets old year after year after year....

Guess what? The Pats didn't win the SB last year! And they aren't going to win it next year either...
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Old 04-09-2009, 09:55 AM   #10
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Default Re: An early NFL final four: Power to the AFC

I want the pats in the AFC championship

The win this past season was NOT revenge. I want to humiliate them on the 2nd biggest game of the year
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