By Shawn Muller –

(CBS) For as much as it pains me to say so, I believe the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers will — once again — be the class of the NFC in 2011.

Yes, I know the talk of the NFL during the off-season has been about the Philadelphia Eagles and their Miami Heat-like free agent binge, but until I see what the Eagles actually do with all that talent on the field, I will consider them (like their Heat brethren) as paper champions off of it.  I do think Philadelphia will win the NFC East in 2011, but I am just not ready to pencil them in to the Super Bowl this season, and I sure as hell am not going write off the Packers (I just threw up a little bit typing that) as a one-hit wonder.

But other than Green Bay and Philadelphia—the apparent front-runners of the NFC– which teams will join this year’s playoff party?  Here are the iron-clad, guaranteed, one-hundred percent, locks to make the NFC playoffs.

Ok, so maybe that was a bit of a stretch, but I don’t think I will be too far off.

NFC South:


Oh wait. That is college football.

This should be a fun division to watch this year. Atlanta is the defending champion, but New Orleans made the playoffs with an 11-5 record, and Tampa Bay was on the cusp, sitting at 10-6. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have the Falcons as my pick to win it again, but I just can’t do it. I feel like they caught lightning in a bottle on their way to the top seed in the NFC Playoffs last season with a 13-3 record. They have all the key pieces back, and there is no reason why I should think they won’t repeat this season, but I just can’t help myself.

Instead, I am going to go ahead and pick the New Orleans Saints. Anytime you have Drew Brees behind the center, your team has a chance.  Tampa is about two years away from making some noise in the NFC, and New Orleans is two years removed from winning the world championship. For that reason alone—pretty deep I know—you have to give the nod to the Saints over the Falcons and the Bucs.

NFC West:

Was there a bigger joke in all of sports last year than the NFC West?  I mean, come on. The Seattle Seahawks “earned” a playoff berth by grinding out a regular season record of 7-9? That right there should automatically result in a one-year post-season ban from the playoffs in 2011.

Of course that can’t happen, so I guess I have to pick the least of four evils in this one. Seattle would be the obvious choice since they won the division last year, but I am going to say otherwise.  And I am going to base it on strength of schedule and nothing more, thus, the Arizona Cardinals are going to win the NFC West in 2011.  Now I am not saying they are going to win the division with a 12-4 or an 11-5 type of record.  I am just saying they are going to win it because they have the league’s easiest schedule in 2011 according to last season’s win-loss record (113-143).

Instead, maybe 8-8 or 9-7 will win the division this season.

Maybe 6-10 will.

Who knows?

If you are keeping tabs that make the NFC playoff picture look something like this:

NFC North:         Green Bay Packers
NFC East:            Philadelphia Eagles
NFC South:         New Orleans Saints
NFC West:          Arizona Cardinals

So that leaves us with the Wild Card slots.  What to do….what to do?

The way I see it, there are four serious contenders for the final two playoff spots: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit (yes, that Detroit).

Everyone else will be watching from home.

Since the Lions have the NFL’s 3rd toughest schedule, and the Cowboys have the league’s 15th toughest schedule, I am going to have to go with the Bears and the Falcons.  Both teams won their divisions last season, both teams have easier schedules than the other two, so why not?

Stranger things have happened, right?

There you have it.

The Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints, the Arizona Cardinals, the Chicago Bears, and the Atlanta Falcons will represent the NFC in the 2011 playoffs.  Does it look similar to last season’s playoff participants?  It should.  The only difference is we are swapping birds out west.

So, which team will win the conference crown?

That is to be determined at a later date…

shawn muller 2 9 Muller: NFC Playoff Predictions Are Pretty Easy, Actually

Shawn Muller

Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at Read more of his blogs here.