By TPR Staff

I truly am a big believer in the Bill Parcells mantra that you are what your record says you are, but there are times, as I demonstrated yesterday, that there are times that I think that theory can be challenged.

With that thought in mind, forget about the record of all of the contenders in the NFC currently and let’s take a look at everything from strength of schedule, signature wins and playoff positioning to determine who is the most likely to be representing the conference in New Orleans come February.

The Favorites

Atlanta Falcons

With Matt Ryan having a career season and the Atlanta offense performing up to a level that was expected of them last season, if ever there was a season that their MVP candidate quarterback can get that first playoff win monkey off his back, this is the year.

However, I’ve never seen a team with a 10-1 record get as little respect as Atlanta currently is. In fact, it’s more than lack of respect, but disrespect. There isn’t a pundit out there that thinks they’re the best team in the NFC. To be truthful, the reason why is because they don’t know how to do anything easily. Eight of their eleven games have been decided by less than a touchdown and they’ve played down to their competition far too many times.

They’re obviously the favorite based off of their record, but if they face a tough defensive match up in the postseason, we could see a repeat of their bad playoff loss to Green Bay a couple years back. But, they have showed a knack for finding ways to win close games and that should count for something.

San Francisco 49ers

With possibly the best defense in the entire league and now running with a quarterback who takes their offense to above average, it’s hard not to like the Niners on paper. And knowing that they have a veteran like Alex Smith as a safety net in case the young Kaepernick struggles in the postseason is always nice.

San Francisco has beaten teams this year with defense. If they keep you under 14 points, there’s usually next to no shot to beat them. They do everything well on that side of the ball and only need their offense to do enough to get by. If the playoffs started today, they’d be my pick to win the conference.

The Challengers

Chicago Bears

After getting outplayed on defense by Houston and then exposed by San Francisco, the Bears rebounded nicely against a division rival to maintain a slim margin on the division. Their defense is ailing with some key injuries and that is their key to the whole thing. They’ve done a sensational job at turning the ball over this year and if that luck holds, they could pull off the upset and get to the big dance.

Green Bay Packers

A year removed from 15-1, the Pack faced some early season struggles, but seemed to get their mojo back after demolishing the best the AFC has to offer in Houston. That was until the ran into New York on Sunday night. That’s the one match up I don’t like for the Packers in the postseason. If someone else knocks off the Giants, I could easily see a return trip to the Super Bowl for my preseason champion pick.

The Dark Horse

New York Giants

It’s that time of year again where the Giants begin to get hot. After some poor play headed into the bye, everyone was writing their eulogy before they came out and blasted the red hot Packers. But as defending champs, they get on this list for that alone. Plus, they are that team that seem to be able to flip that switch when it’s time to work in the postseason. Watch out for Eli and the boys, even on the road.

Anything can happen in the NFC, as I believe the competition to get there is a much more difficult road in this conference than the AFC. Any one of these five teams could be the representative in New Orleans come February and it wouldn’t surprise me. Playoff positioning is going to be key, as there are several that are just bad match ups for some of these teams, regardless of record or home field.

For a look at my thoughts on the AFC, you can find it right here.

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