NFL Top 6: Question marks for top contenders

Jun 26, 2012 |
NFL Top 6: Question marks for top contenders
QB Alex Smith is weakest link for the Super Bowl contender San Fran..
QB Alex Smith is weakest link for the Super Bowl contender San Fran..
Few things in the world are perfect. Ernie Els’ golf swing, Bill Murray’s comedic timing, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s breasts… I’m at a loss for any others.

No team in the NFL is perfect. Each team, even the best in the league, has weaknesses and soft spots. Here’s a look at the Achilles’ heel for each of the top 6 favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers (+550)

Biggest weakness: Defense

This was an area of strength in 2010 when the Packers were second in points allowed per game (15.0), second in sacks, second in interceptions and fifth yards allowed (309.1 ypg). The success didn’t carry over the following season.

Green Bay’s defense was among the worst in the league, particularly in the passing game. The Pack surrendered an NFL worst 411.6 yards per game, 299.8 of which came through the air.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is one of the best in the league, but 2011 was no fluke. The Packers will need depth on the defensive line and better safety play to avoid another catastrophe.     

New England Patriots

Biggest weakness: Swagger

It’s been seven years since the Patriots won their last Super Bowl. The Manning brothers have won three Super Bowls since then. New England is still a model franchise but the team isn’t feared around the league like it used to be.

The Patriots are 0-2 in their last two Super Bowl appearances and 2-3 in their last five playoff games. The sense that Bill Belichick can always outcoach an opponent in a big game is gone.

Houston Texans: +1100

Biggest weakness: Receiving options outside Andre Johnson

The Texans were one of the most balanced teams in the league in 2011. The defense finally held up its end (and a lot more) thanks to coordinator Wade Phillips. If it hadn’t been for Matt Schaub getting knocked out for the season after Week 10… well, maybe Houston is playing the Giants in the Super Bowl instead of New England.

Houston’s offense really missed Andre Johnson. He never looked the same after he hurt his hamstring and the Texans didn’t have a player who could step in and stretch the field. Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter are good possession targets but not downfield options.

If Andre Johnson, who’ll be 31 at the start of the season, doesn’t stay healthy, Gary Kubiak’s offensive goes from explosive to dink and dunk in a hurry.

Philadelphia Eagles: +1200

Biggest weakness: Linebackers + Defensive coordinator

Juan Castillo and DeMeco Ryans are going to be talked about a lot – for good or bad – this season in Philly. Castillo was a first year defensive coordinator in 2011 and took the lion's share of criticism for the Eagles defensive shortcomings.

The Eagles flirted with Steve Spagnuolo but head coach Andy Reid decided to keep Castillo around after Spags signed with New Orleans.

Castillo hopes the arrival of Ryans will shore up an area the Eagles have always neglected. Philly hasn’t sent a linebacker to the Pro Bowl since Jeremiah Trotter in 2005. Ryans is the prototypical MLB in a 4-3 defense. He should shore up some of the running lanes opposing teams saw last year against the Eagles.

San Francisco 49ers: +1250

Biggest weakness: Quarterback

I love how San Fran coach Jim Harbaugh won’t admit his club chased Peyton Manning in the offseason. Of course you did, Jim. And nobody really blames you because Alex Smith isn’t an elite quarterback and 90 percent of the time you need one of those guys to win the Super Bowl.

Smith completed just one pass to a wide receiver in the NFC Championship game. The Niners improved his targets in the offseason by signing Randy Moss and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham but will Smith be able to get these guys the ball?

New Orleans Saints: +1600

Biggest weakness: Coaching

Sean Payton is one of the three best head coaches in the NFL. He’s also one of the most brilliant offensive minds, so it’s going to be an uphill climb for the Saints with their regular boss out for the season because of the bounty-gate suspension.

New Orleans hired a new defensive coordinator and the guy who is supposed to take over head coaching duties while Payton is out, Joe Vitt, is fighting a six-game ban himself.

So who exactly is calling the shots in the Big Easy?

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