1. 49ers

NFC Championship Game loss two years ago. Super Bowl loss last season. That makes the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers the sexy pick to take the next step this season. No argument here.

2. Seattle

They are the one team that can hang with the 49ers in terms of being physical. Dynamic quarterback Russell Wilson, like Kaepernick, figures to keep getting better. Let the fun begin.

3. Atlanta

All the pieces are in place. All that's missing is a timely play or two in the postseason for this team to reach the Super Bowl.

4. Washington

Robert Griffin III is on track to make a successful return from a major knee injury. However, every drop back, every scramble is going to elicit a collective sigh from Redskins faithful. Too much pressure is on one player.

5. Green Bay

Safety Charles Woodson, wide receiver Greg Jennings and left offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (injury) are gone. Yet, who's going to overlook a Packers team that has quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews?

6. New Orleans

Quarterback Drew Brees had an off year, the defense was historically bad and overall the Saints regressed without suspended coach Sean Payton. It says here that Payton's presence makes the Saints a playoff team once again.


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7. N.Y. Giants

It's about that time again when everyone overlooks a Tom Coughlin-coached team, only to be proved wrong in the end.

8. Philadelphia

The football world eagerly awaits the verdict on whether Chip Kelly's high-flying offense can succeed in the NFL. Even if it does, he still needs need to dig deeper into his bag of tricks for a defensive fix.

9. Dallas

Owner Jerry Jones showed quarterback Tony Romo the money -- $55 million guaranteed -- now it's time for Romo to show Jones, teammates and fans postseason success.

10. Minnesota

There's only so much running back Adrian Peterson can do to carry the Vikings. Losing wide receiver Percy Harvin makes the task even tougher. Big fall is coming.

11. Detroit

The Lions are two cornerbacks away from being a playoff-caliber team. Unfortunately, those cornerbacks are Deion Sanders and Mike Haynes.

12. Chicago

Quarterback Jay Cutler is in the final year of his contract. Mercurial wide receiver Brandon Marshall already is acting out. First-year head coach Marc Trestman might yearn for a return to the Canadian Football League before long.

13. St. Louis

Coach Jeff Fisher took the Rams from two wins to seven his first season. More impressive, he constructed a team built to hold up in the rugged NFC West. There's more work to be done.

14. Carolina

Quarterback Cam Newton played well the latter part of last season. He said it's time for him and his teammates to put it together for an entire season. It sounds good, anyway.

15. Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers latest attempt to change their fortunes came in the form of a trade for former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. The gap is closing, but the Bucs need even more help.

16. Arizona

The Cardinals finally landed a proven starting quarterback. The downside: Carson Palmer is 33 and playing behind a questionable offensive line. A familiar outlook awaits Palmer, Cardinals.