Full list and explanations:
1. New England
3. New York Giants
I may not like how Jay Cutler babied his way out of Denver, but by Labor Day, the football world will have forgotten, and by Thanksgiving, the most popular baby name in Chicagoland will be Jay. (Unless it's Jerry, as in Angelo, the man who stuck his neck out and made this deal.) Cutler's a big-time player, and I suspect we'll find out over the next few years if he has nerves of steel and can win the big game.
Now, there's two things we don't know about Cutler and this offense. There's not a great receiver in the house and no promise of one on the way (Angelo should have guaranteed Torry Holt more money to get him to come to the Windy City). So Cutler's going to have to make do with the Devin Hesters and Rashied Davises, apparently. (Not that there's anything wrong with Hester. But he should be a third receiver, using his speed to game-break.)
Two: How good of a leader can Cutler be, coming in with the knock that he chafes on some teammates. It'll be interesting to see if he meshes well with Brian Urlacher; I don't take for granted that he will. Because of the Cutler factor and because I don't love the defense the way I did two or three years ago, I didn't want to leap the Bears over so many other teams. But then I went back and looked at their 2008 numbers. The bedrock stats for a good defense, I've always thought, are opponents yards per rush, turnovers forced and opponents' yards per pass. The yards per rush, 3.4, was excellent, third-best in the league. Turnovers forced, 32, was very good, second in the league. And yards per pass play by foes, 6.20, was eighth in the league. All good. If Cutler can lead an offense that puts up 400 points, only a point and a fraction more than a year ago, the Bears should win 12.
7. San Diego
14. Green Bay
I'm shocked the Packers won only six games last year. It just showed how valuable a piece of their puzzle Cullen Jenkins was. At 6-2 and 305 pounds and with good lateral quickness, he should come back from the torn pectoral that caused him to miss 12 games last year and play very well in the new 3-4. This is a team with far better talent than six wins, and I expect Aaron Rodgers to be better in the fourth quarter this year than last, by the sheer experience factor.
Hiring Dom Capers to run the defense was smart because the 4-3 wasn't working with the talent Green Bay had in-house. With B.J. Raji anchoring the middle, and Jenkins and Clay Matthews and new outside 'backer Aaron Kampman rushing, I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers won 10. But they'll have to run the gamut of a tough schedule the last month of the season (Baltimore, at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, Seattle, at Arizona) to make the playoffs.
Hard to forecast because the offense is so spotty after Adrian Peterson, and I can only assume that Percy Harvin will stay on the straight and narrow with so much at stake in his life and career, but they don't sell insurance for those kind of things. We don't know who will play quarterback for the Vikes. But either Sage Rosenfels or Favre would be better than Gus Frerotte. Eight times they scored 28 or more last year, mostly with Frerotte playing. The biggest benefit? Minnesota has the easiest first month in football: at Cleveland, at Detroit, San Francisco, Green Bay, at St. Louis. If they don't get out to a 4-1 start, you know something's wrong.