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Indianapolis Colts - AFC South Champions
As has been a concern in recent years, the Colts regular-season success has left them with little to play for late in the year, and it has possibly cost them some momentum heading into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how well they respond this year.
San Diego Chargers - AFC West Champions
The Chargers are a highly talented team capable of contending if they can simply perform at or near the top of their game consistently. And that is exactly what they have done since early in the season. They enter the playoffs the hottest team in the NFL, winners of 11 in a row. The question now is, though, can they finally parlay all that talent into a Super Bowl appearance?
New England Patriots - AFC East Champions
The New England Patriots have remained consistently among the elite teams in the NFL over much of the past decade, and despite a few stumbles along the way during the 2009 season, they are still a dangerous team to deal with. With one of the more explosive offenses in the league, along with top coaching and a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, a trip deep into the postseason is certainly not out of the question.
Cincinnati Bengals - AFC North Champions
Despite winning the AFC North over the Baltimore Ravens and defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be getting little respect heading into the playoffs. One look at this year's AFC Pro Bowl roster shows not a single Bengals player, and few pundits seem to be giving the team a chance over the likes of the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. But the Bengals are hardly a team that is short on talent as is illustrated by their record.
New York Jets - AFC Wildcard
Winners of five of their last six, the Jets managed to slip into the postseason as a wild card. Of course, the final two of those wins came against a pair of teams with nothing to play for, so many see New York's presence in this year's playoff field as perhaps a fluke. Keep in mind, however, that the Jets not only led the league defensively, they also had the best rushing attack; two areas that are generally key come playoff time.
Baltimore Ravens - AFC Wildcard
A close look at the Ravens roster and style of play shows they are built for this time of year. They play a slugfest-style of football, using a punishing, clock-controlling ground game which ranked fifth in the NFL in 2009. The team, in fact, is very physical on both sides of the ball, and while their defense hasn't been as dominating as in years past, they still can turn on the heat with their aggressive approach.
New Orleans Saints - NFC South Champions
The 2009 version of the Saints once again has plenty of firepower, as we've become accustomed to. The difference, however, is a defense that seems to be bordering on respectability. No longer must the Saints score like a pinball machine. Instead it's a luxury knowing they can.
Minnesota Vikings - NFC North Champions
The Vikings fortunes in the playoffs will rely a lot on Brett Favre's play. However it may be more important they jump start a running game that stalled somewhat down the stretch. The Vikings appear to be vulnerable outdoors and a potent running game could help alleviate that shortcoming.
Dallas Cowboys - NFC East Champions
After showing signs of perhaps another December collapse, the Cowboys are suddenly playing good ball again and have a little momentum on their side. So they could be a big factor in January this year. However, it has been a long time since Dallas has won even a single postseason contest, and the pressure will be on them to get that monkey off their back.
Arizona Cardinals - NFC West Champions
Offensively, the Cardinals are often compared to the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf of early in the decade because of their high-flying aerial attack, which coincidentally was orchestrated by the same quarterback, Kurt Warner. But if the Cardinals are going to make a repeat run at the big game, though, their defense is going to have to go on a run similar to that which propelled them through last year's postseason.
Green Bay Packers - NFC Wildcard
The Packers are a team that seems to be peaking at just the right time. They are in the top five in both offense and defense, and despite entering the postseason as a Wildcard, they won't be an easy draw for anyone. Their offense is nearly as explosive as any in the league, and the defense's switch over to a 3-4 base has been far more successful much more quickly than anyone anticipated.
Philadelphia Eagles - NFC Wildcard
Philadelphia has a high-scoring offense that seems to have a pretty good chemistry despite a lot of young and new players. Defensively, they thrive on pressure and creating turnovers. Heading into the playoffs the Eagles are a dangerous team, and another that seems to be peaking at just the right time despite having dropped their last contest.