Teams that could be first — or third — in their division

 The Ravens will go as far as Joe Flacco takes them in 2009. (Rob Carr / Associated Press)

The Ravens will go as far as Joe Flacco takes them in 2009. (Rob Carr / Associated Press)

There are several teams that I can’t get my mind around in 2009. Fans are obviously optimistic about their team, but that’s not good enough for me. So here’s a list of teams I want to feel good about but something in my mind keeps getting in the way.

Green Bay Packers — I know the Packers were a fragile team last year, when you consider the style of play and age of their corners. Aaron Rodgers had a good statistical year throwing 28 touchdowns to arguably one of the best receiving crews in the league.

My problem with stats is the fact that with the exception of the Falcons game, when things were going bad for the Pack, Rodgers was unable to play the team back into the game. It was either a great game or blah.

Defensively, the Pack is making the transition to the 3-4 scheme. I love B.J. Raji, but we will have to see if he can develop into a Casey Hampton-type power-pig at the nose. We will also have to see how Aaron Kampman will develop as the elephant (outside pass rusher). All in all, I just don’t have a good feel for Green Bay. I could see the Packers winning the division. I could also see them finishing third.

New Orleans — I have been disappointed with the Saints for two years running after coach Sean Payton led them to the NFC Championship Game in his first season. There is more than enough blame to go around on the defensive side of the ball. I believe that Gregg Williams will finally whip that Aint’s D into shape.

I actually have more problems with the Saints offense on the road. I understand it’s tougher to play on the road, especially for dome teams, but there is too great a drop off in production offensively on the road for my liking. Like the Pack, I could see the Saints winning the division or finishing third.

Baltimore — The Ravens are an interesting team in transition. Last year, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed willed the team into the AFC title game. The Ravens on paper should be better, considering that the defense is virtually intact with the exception of the loss of Bart Scott. The question remains, though, how much of a dropoff, if any, there will be due to the loss of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Offensively, the Joe Flacco story was cute, but the reality is that the Ravens won in spite of him. Flacco will have to take some positive steps forward this year, because there was too much pressure placed on the defense and the running game last season. If Flacco takes those steps, I could see the Ravens possibly winning the division, but with the return of Carson Palmer, I could also see the Ravens finishing third in the AFC North.

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