NFC favorite?

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Not a dream team, but team to beat

Fox By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com
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Let's get this straight: The Philadelphia Eagles are not a dream team -- not even close. Vince Young made an ill-advised comment when he called his new employer a dream team, and he's lucky the Eagles did not release him on the spot. The only thing worse would have been calling the Eagles the gold standard of the NFL. Jeffrey Lurie still regrets saying that.

But for the first time since Terrell Owens was in town (and happy), Philadelphia should be the team to beat in the NFC. The Eagles have the most dynamic player in the game, Michael Vick, who is a threat to score with his left arm or his legs every time he touches the ball. He is their star, a self-assured leader who has worked to become more than just a scrambling quarterback. While he still likes to run and is a nightmare to defend in the red zone, Vick also is something else: accurate.

Unlike during the Donovan McNabb era -- when the Eagles reached five NFC Championship Games but only one Super Bowl -- Vick has a wealth of talent at wide receiver in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. LeSean McCoy is a shifty back who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Tight end Brent Celek, who spent much of last season in pass protection, has good hands.

The Eagles improved a defense that gave up 23.6 points per game in 2010. They got free agency's biggest prize in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and with Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (acquired from Arizona in the Kevin Kolb trade), Philadelphia has one of the best cornerback combinations in the NFL.

The Eagles also upgraded their defensive line with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and end Jason Babin.

There are three big questions about this team: Can the offensive line, particularly the right side, keep Vick upright and on the field? Can a young, unheralded linebacking corps keep opponents from gashing the Eagles with the run? And does Juan Castillo, Philadelphia's longtime offensive line coach, know what he's doing as the team's new defensive coordinator?

The Eagles are built to score early and often. The defense has abandoned its bend-but-don't-break philosophy and now should be more aggressive. Vick is primed for another big year, with playmakers all over the field. A dream team? No. But they are the team to beat in the NFC.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Packers may be even better in 2011

Clayton By John Clayton
ESPN.com
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Normally, I like to go against the idea of a Super Bowl champ's return to the game. That team is the target of every team that didn't go to the Super Bowl, and someone usually succeeds in knocking out the champs.

But I can see the Green Bay Packers back in the Super Bowl. On paper, how can you not support the Packers winning the NFC? Aaron Rodgers looks as good as -- if not better than -- he did last season. The Packers' depth is better: 15 players are coming off the injured reserve list.

In 2010, the Packers did it the hard way, making the playoffs as a wild card and then getting hot. This year, they should win the NFC North and would get home games during the playoffs, which could make their path to the Super Bowl a little easier.

After the Super Bowl, I said the Packers have the type of youth and talent to have a six-year span during which they could take three serious runs at the Super Bowl. The more you think about this year, though, why not think back-to-back NFC titles?

The last team to repeat as the Super Bowl champ was the Patriots. Like the Patriots, the Packers have the right quarterback in Rodgers. They have plenty of offensive weapons, and you could argue that the Packers have a little more offense than the Patriots' Super Bowl teams. Dom Capers does a great job with the Packers' defense, and he has ways for covering if the team is short a defensive end or a pass-rushing linebacker.

This year's Green Bay team has the answers to questions about last year's team. When Ryan Grant was hurt, general manager Ted Thompson was criticized for not trading to get Marshawn Lynch. Instead, Thompson patiently waited for James Starks to get healthy late in the season. This year, the Packers have Grant and Starks.

The offensive line has young, developing players who can help, but it also looks deep and solid. Letting Cullen Jenkins go was debatable, but Thompson has earned the benefit of the doubt. No one can doubt coach Mike McCarthy.

During the preseason, he's letting Rodgers try out some no-huddle series, and the Packers look unstoppable in the no-huddle.

I can't bet against the Packers this year in the NFC. The best I can do is say that maybe an AFC team such as the Patriots might beat them in the Super Bowl.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.