It has been a while since I got people whipped into a frenzy and subjected myself to a good public flogging. So what better time than now to do so, right?
I was asked during my NFL.com chat Wednesday to list the teams I thought had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl in 2011. I named a few off the top of my head, but here's a more thought-out breakdown.
We all know that in the NFL a contender can arise from anywhere in any given season. But still, even before free agency begins -- which I know is kinda nuts in and of itself -- we can identify the real contenders. There are a handful of teams in each division that I believe, right now, are real threats to win the Super Bowl.
(And, as a disclaimer, I am sorry if I did not include your team in this list. This is merely my opinion. I don't have a crystal ball, and I'm not related to Miss Cleo.)
New England Patriots: They had the best regular-season record last year, have the best quarterback in the NFL, the best coach, and an emerging young defense. Most definitely in the mix.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Remember, they didn't get Ben Roethlisberger back until after the quarter pole a year ago. Always loaded on defense. Keeping Willie Colon should be a priority, but they came a few plays from a title last season, and they're still loaded.
Baltimore Ravens: The Steelers have been the only thing keeping them from reaching the final game. Addressed some real needs in the draft, and if Joe Flacco can find his regular-season form in the postseason, this could be Baltimore's year. The schedule sets up quite nicely for them, too.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez has been the opposite of Flacco -- mediocre in the regular season but playing with poise in the playoffs. Plenty of star power on both sides of the ball, and I figure Santonio Holmes isn't going anywhere. No team has come closer to reaching the Super Bowl over the last two years. Maybe they finally get over the hump now.
San Diego Chargers: In my opinion, the best offense in the league, and now Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil will return for a full season. They struggled on special teams but hired one of best coaches in the biz. They were a statistical monster a year ago; the emergence of Kansas City and Oakland should bring out the best in San Diego.
Indianapolis Colts: I tend to think they are cycling down a bit and worry about the defense, offensive line and run game, but they're pretty automatic to win at least 11 games, win their division and, oh yeah, they have this Manning dude under center. So they're going to be a part of the conversation.
Green Bay Packers: Probably don't need to say much here, right? Young team that just won it all. Stud QB. And they won the title with like 15 guys on injured reserve. The best is still to come with this bunch.
New Orleans Saints: They continue to add parts on defense. Had a very strong first round in the draft, finding two immediate impact rookies in defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram. Expert coaching staff will thrive despite lockout. No Super Bowl hangover this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: Already a fine team, and you can expect them to be major players in free agency. If they can beef up the defensive line and add a cog like Nnamdi Asomugha to the secondary, man, all the more reason to like their chances. Keeping Michael Vick healthy will be paramount, but love the young core they have put together.
Atlanta Falcons: There's a lot to like here, though I still wonder if this team is ready to take the leap in the postseason. Matt Ryan has yet to win a playoff game. Offense could be truly powerful in 2011, yet I still have questions about the defense when it comes to crunch time. Regardless, the Falcons clearly emerged as one of the league's premier teams in 2010 and, with their superb front office and coaching staff, are primed for big things to come.
New York Giants: Great young group of receivers, still scary group of defensive linemen, and secondary keeps improving. Say what you want about Eli Manning, but the cat already has a ring. We know they can run the ball. They need help at linebacker, but another very strong organization that could put it all together again in 2011 after a few down years.
So there you have it. I figure Cowboys and Bears fans will probably object most to their lack of inclusion here. I see them as playoff contenders for sure, but I just don't have a feeling they could really win it all. It's just a feeling, just my hunch. But, as we all know, almost anything is possible in the NFL.
The beauty of this league is, no one really knows.
Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora