Eagles not taking a T.O. from NFC title

Aug 30, 2005 2:50 AM

There’s no better time of the year than the beginning of football season.

The salary cap and the draft are two large factors that keep the NFL competitively balanced, and the No. 1 sport for viewers. This week I’ll look at the top teams in the NFC, including last year’s records.

Next week, it’s the best of the AFC.

Eagles (15-4 SU, 12-7 ATS): Once again, the NFC is Philadelphia’s conference to lose. This group has made four straight trips to the league championship game, advancing to the Super Bowl in February. The Eagles have talent on both sides of the ball, offensive balance, a strong quarterback and solid coaching staff. Philly finished ninth offensively and 10th defensively.

All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens and DE Jevon Kearse proved to be stellar acquisitions, turning into difference makers in getting Philly over the hump. Donovan McNabb responded with a career passing year (31 TDs, 8 INTs). However, the schedule is tougher and Owens caused the flap of the off-season with his pouting. The ”˜under’ is 17-5 in Philadelphia’s last 22 games. Another positive stat for Eagles fans — a 26-8 SU, 24-10 ATS road mark the last four years.

Vikings (9-9 SU, 8-10 ATS): The flashy Minnesota offense appears ready to take the next step. The upstart Vikings are young and hoping to avoid a third straight flame out following a strong start to the season. Minnesota managed to back into the playoffs last year and their first round upset of Green Bay kept the wolves off Mike Tice’s doorstep. At least, for the moment.

QB Daunte Culpepper (39 TDs, 11 INTs) leads the way and is off a terrific campaign. There are several new looks. Longtime star WR Randy Moss is gone, replaced by first round draft pick Troy Williamson. Culpepper has been spreading the ball around more in preseason, which could make Minnesota better than its No. 4 offensive ranking of a year ago. The key will be defense, with seven new starters aboard. The line is anchored by Kenechi Udeze, first round pick Erasmus James and DT Pat Williams (from the Bills). Vikings fans will expect a strong finish this year.

Packers (10-7 SU, 7-9 ATS): Once again it’s a (near) last stand for an old warrior. QB Brett Favre is back, which is good news for Packers fans. Favre leads a Green Bay offense that was No. 3 in the NFL, with outstanding balance behind RB Ahman Green. However, there are concerns.

Jim Bates steps in as defensive coordinator, the third one HC Mike Sherman has tried over the last three seasons. It’s hard to believe, but the Packers are 5-5 SU and 2-8 ATS their last 10 games at Lambeau Field. If they can tighten up the defense, the Packers could go a long way. Unlike Minnesota, the urgency level is higher with Favre not having many years left in that aging arm.

Lions (6-10 SU, 8-8 ATS): The new kid on the block? Detroit has drawn early interest on future’s tickets in Las Vegas, going from 60-1 to 35-1 to win the Super Bowl. The Lions made important strides defensively last season, improving to 22nd overall (15th against the run) and allowing a No. 2 best 3.8 yards per carry.

The offense has emerging QB Joey Harrington and added veteran Jeff Garcia in case the kid still isn’t ready. Throw in young RB Kevin Jones (1,133 yards) and the potential of speedy young WRs Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and rookie first round pick Mike Williams, and you can see why expectations are high on the Lions making some noise this fall.

Panthers (7-9 SU, 6-9-1 ATS): Carolina does not want to be known as a "one year wonder." After making the Super Bowl two years ago, injuries decimated its 2004 season. This is the bounce-back year and there’s a lot to like about the Panthers, starting with poised QB Jake Delhomme (29 TDs, 15 INTs).

The defense still is young with a terrific front line. Offensively, Carolina sports a one-two punch of RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. No respect? Carolina was 6-1 ATS as a dog last season, and 14-2 ATS in that role over the last 16 games.