1. Dallas Cowboys
Outlook: The Cowboys return all but two of their starters from a team that won its division and a playoff game. The Cowboys will again be good, but what looks to be a brutal schedule could work against them.
2. New York Giants
Outlook: The Giants have an awful lot to prove after starting last season 5-0 before going on an 11-week nosedive. It’s the defense that needs work after giving up a team-record 427 points.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Outlook: The Eagles bid adieu to longtime quarterback Donovan McNabb in the off-season, opening the door for fourth-year veteran Kevin Kolb to take over the offense. The Eagles’ defense looks to be improved with the acquisition of veteran LB Ernie Sims and second- round pick Nate Allen at safety.
4. Washington Redskins
Outlook: The Redskins hired two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan and traded for Donovan McNabb. The defense could lead the way back to respectability as Jim Haslett takes the reins.
1. Green Bay Packers
Outlook: The Pack has the best young quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, and tight end Jermichael Finley seems poised to join the elite at his position. Their defense was ranked second overall last year in its first season under Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Outlook: With Brett Favre deciding to return to Minnesota for his 20th professional season, the offense should be in decent shape, but don’t expect Favre to repeat his 2009 performance (4,202 yards, 33 TDs, 7 INTs) without injured Sidney Rice.
3. Chicago Bears
Outlook: The Bears acquired star defensive end Julius Peppers and hired passing-game guru Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, but this is a team with a lot of question marks, particularly at quarterback where Jay Cutler has to reduce his interceptions (he threw 26 last season). Also of concern are running back Matt Forte’s drop-off last season and that the Bears have a pair of key veterans in linebacker Brian Urlacher (wrist) and center Olin Kreutz (Achilles) recovering from injuries.
4. Detroit Lions
Outlook: Promising quarterback Matthew Stafford should benefit from having started 10 games as a rookie. Rookies Jahvid Best (running back) and Ndamukong Suh (defensive end) will be counted on heavily.
1. New Orleans Saints
Outlook: The NFL’s No. 1 offense last season gets virtually everybody back, and the defense is largely intact, too. New Orleans has an outstanding secondary and creates turnovers in droves.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Outlook: Running back Michael Turner appears to be healthy entering 2010, and QB Matt Ryan could be in for a breakout performance in his third NFL season.
3. Carolina Panthers
Outlook: Quarterback Matt Moore played extremely well down the stretch last season. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart might be the NFL’s best duo, with each surpassing 1,100 rushing yards in 2009.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Outlook: Quarterback Josh Freeman started nine games as a rookie, but he threw 18 interceptions and has an inexperienced receiving corps. The defense is rebuilding, starting with its top two draft picks, tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Outlook: San Francisco has finally settled on a quarterback in Alex Smith, and he has some talented playmakers at his disposal.
The Niners also have a good defense, which was tied for third in the NFL last season with 44 sacks and was ranked 6th against the run.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Outlook: Journeyman quarterback Derek Anderson will be wise to target Larry Fitzgerald frequently. The Cardinals are certain to run more, with Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower continuing to split carries. Arizona will be hard-pressed to make a third straight trip to the postseason.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Outlook: The Seahawks had a busy off-season, firing coach Jim Mora after only one season and hiring former USC coach Pete Carroll, who has wasted no time in embarking on a major rebuilding project. Second- year linebacker Aaron Curry is expected to be a standout and big things are expected of rookies offensive tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas.
4. St. Louis Rams
Outlook: Luckily for untested rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, he has an outstanding running back (as long as he’s healthy) in Steven Jackson. If Jason Smith and the offensive line can keep Bradford upright, they should be considerably improved.
All capsules by Jason Brown, Fort Worth Star-Telegram