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Doug Farrar
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Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Eagles, Giants Battle

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Based on the draft, free agency, injury issues, and other factors, here are my top five for 2009: The Super Bowl Champion Steelers are a fait accompli to be in the mix; here are the teams most likely to knock off Pittsburgh's crown:

1. Philadelphia Eagles -- Their trip to the NFC Championship game seemed to whet the appetite for an aggressive offseason. Starting with the trade for ex-Buffalo tackle Jason Peters, the Eagles repaired an offensive line that finished 16th in Adjusted Line Yards and had serious trouble in the red zone. I had first-round pick Jeremy Maclin of Missouri as my second-rated receiver behind Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree. His ability to sneak in and out of routes will be of great benefit to Donovan McNabb and the West Coast Offense he runs. Second-round running back LeSean McCoy is an excellent rotational option with Brian Westbrook. Third-round tight end Cornelius Ingram of Florida replaces the redoubtable L.J. Smith, and cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris was a nice value pick in the fifth round. In 2008, the Eagles were in the "close, but no cigar" department. Now, they look like real contenders for a Lombardi Trophy. Problem is, their primary contender may be in their own division...

2. New York Giants -- By most accounts, the G-Men had one of the strongest drafts of 2009, yet another testament to Jerry Reese's personnel acumen. Eli Manning's performance went south once he lost primary target Plaxico Burress, so Reese got him two new receivers: first-rounder Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina and third-rounder Ramses Barden of Cal-Poly. The 6-6 Barden gives Manning that tall target again, while Nicks plays with savvy route-running skills and aggressiveness after the catch. UConn tackle William Beatty could be a steal as he adds his talent to the best offensive line of football, and the defense has been helped greatly by several front seven acquisitions. Reese knows exactly how tough the NFC East will be this year, and he's armed head coach Tom Coughlin with everything needed to break away from the pack.

3. New England Patriots -- Not only do they get Tom Brady back, but Bill Belichick has fixed a porous secondary with the draft acquisitions of Oregon safety Patrick Chung and UConn cornerback Darius Butler. Chung is a hyper-aggressive tackler, and Butler is the best cover corner in this class. Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace is a huge earthmover in the middle. Any team with Brady and Belichick at the helm is an extreme threat, and if they can sort out the running back problems, no team is more dangerous.

4. San Diego Chargers -- Few execs are more skilled at getting the best personnel than Chargers GM A.J. Smith, and he's scored in yet another draft. First-round DE/LB Larry English is an outstanding pass rusher who will provide great depth if Shawne Merriman's contract or injury issues catch up with him. Texas Tech guard Louis Vasquez is a 6-5, 335-pound mauler whose power belies the spread offense he played in. Western Ontario defensive tackle Vaughn Martin is a huge young man with raw instincts and ridiculous speed. Best of all for the Chargers is that they play in a division with the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and the "banana republic" that the Denver Broncos have become. That's six fairly easy wins right there.

5. Carolina Panthers -- A great draft for Jon Fox and Marty Hurney. They started with a great tactical move, trading out of the first round and picking up Florida State pass-rusher Everette Brown in the second round. That's brilliant when you consider the reduction in price for a second-round player with first-round talent, as Brown is. Now, they have San Francisco's first-rounder in 2010, which is seen as a far superior draft class. Troy cornerback Sherrod Martin and Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson were other steals in a draft class that augmented Carolina's status as one of the most powerful teams in the NFL.

By Doug Farrar  |  April 29, 2009; 10:10 AM ET  | Category:  New England Patriots , New York Jets , Philadelphia Eagles , Pittsburgh Steelers , San Diego Chargers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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