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The Best of the NFL
by Jim Feist - 09/04/2012
The pro football season kicks off this week when the Cowboys travel to the defending champion NY Giants, a division rival and revenge game. Despite the fact that the NFC has won three in a row, the AFC has won 9 of the last 15 Super Bowls. Here is a look at some of the best of the NFL.
Cowboys: Yes, let's go ahead and put the underachieving Cowboys in here. Despite a slew of injuries Dallas nearly made the playoffs. There is star power everywhere with the emergence of RB DeMarco Murray (897 yards), QB Tony Romo (31 TDs, 10 INTs) and WR Dez Bryant. The defense had to work in a new defensive coordinator last season without the benefit of training camp in Rob Ryan.
They are loaded with pass rushers Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware (19.5 sacks) and add rookie CB Morris Claiborne (LSU) with the No. 6 pick. So when are they going to win a big playoff game? That's the question Jerry Jones must be wondering, adding some pressure on the coach. It's a tough division and, outside of more injuries, there really are no excuses in Big D. The Cowboys bring a 9-3 run under the total into the new season.
Packers: Remember us? Green Bay didn't win a playoff game, ousted by the eventual champion Giants, and done in by a subpar defense. But they had a spectacular 2011 regular season, going 15-1 with the third ranked passing attack averaging 307.8 yards per game.
QB Aaron Rodgers (45 TDs, 6 INTs, 4,643 yards) leads this high-octane passing attack. The defense ranked last in passing yards, though they elected to bolster the defensive line in the draft with DE Nick Perry (USC) and DT Jerel Worthy (Michigan State). That could help defensive coordinator Dom Capers to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks. They are the NFC favorites in Las Vegas and are on a 12-5 run over the total.
Steelers: Teams that lose the Super Bowl have a recent history of not even making the playoffs the next season. Pittsburgh (12-4) defied that a year ago, making the playoffs but had a stunning loss at Denver in overtime. The Steelers have exceptional balance on offense, 10th in passing yards, 14th in rushing behind QB Ben Roethlisberger (21 TDs, 14 INTs), RB Rashard Mendenhall (928 yards), WRs Mike Wallace (1,193) and Antonio Brown (1,108), plus TE Heath Miller.
The defense was No. 1 in the NFL in yards and tops in points, surrendering just 14.2 ppg. Their linebacker depth is outstanding as they get after the QB with their zone blitz schemes. They are on a 13-5 SU, 8-10 ATS run on the road, plus a 6-0 run under the total, and there is plenty of talent for this team to return to the postseason.
Patriots: Despite plenty of flaws on a defense that was a sieve last year, Bill Belichick's team made the Super Bowl and came close to winning their fourth title in 10 years. Big Bill loaded up with defense this offseason, moving up twice in the first round to grab DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse) and LB Donta Hightower (Alabama) to bolster the line and pass rush.
The offense gives the coach nothing to worry about behind QB Tom Brady (5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 12 picks) and their super tight ends duo of Rob Gronkowski (1,327 yards) and Aaron Hernandez (910), both entering their third seasons. They are on an 8-3 run over the total and their success comes down to the new-look defense.
NY Giants: A 9-7 regular season record meant little as the Giants got hot at the right time, carrying a 6-0 SU/ATS run into the new season. QB Eli Manning (29 TDs, 16 picks) carried the offense as they were 5th in passing but dead last in rushing. They hope Virginia Tech RB David Wilson can upgrade the attack, but there are no worries with a dominating defensive line led by Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks).
49ers: The emerging NFC power? Jim Harbaugh's team came out of nowhere last season with a sensational defense and power running game to host the NFC championship game. This defense was fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points (14.3 ppg). Harbaugh brought in a run-oriented offense (8th in rushing) and demanded a physical, hard hitting defense. The passing game behind QB Alex Smith (17 TDs, 5 INTs) was a weak spot that was exploited in the NFC title game by the Giants, which is why they drafted WR A.J. Jenkins (Illinois). They carry a 13-4 SU/11-5-1 ATS run into the new season, as well as 9-3 under the total.