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Post-lockout snapshot: Sizing up the NFC

07.25.11 at 12:29 pm ET
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Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers look to lead the Packers back to the Super Bowl. (AP)

With the work stoppage coming to a close, here’s a quick look at how each NFC team is positioned in the post-lockout era, using current roster, salary cap positioning and continuity of front office and coaching staffs as criteria:

Packers: The defending Super Bowl champs are well positioned to defend their title, as they have almost everyone set to return. Not great cap room to make moves, but frankly, they don’t need to do much, if anything.

Giants: They had a rough finish to the 2010 season and also will deal with some salary cap questions, but they still have a veteran core and coaching staff in place.

Eagles: Andy Reid and Michael Vick have worked together the last two seasons, they have their defensive nucleus all returning, and they have some cap space — they could go after Plaxico Burress.

Buccaneers: Tampa has an excellent salary cap situation (approximately $60 million!) and some of the best young talent in the league. Remains to be seen how they can follow up on last year’s 10-6 surprise finish, but they should continue to make the NFC South a three-team race.

Saints: They face some real free agent questions, including Reggie Bush, but tandem of Drew Brees and Sean Payton means they will stay a highly competitive playoff team in what could be the NFL’s toughest division.

Bears: It’s tough to remember, but Chicago made it all the way to the NFC championship game last year despite an occasionally erratic Jay Cutler and a shoddy offensive line. Good cap room, but need to pick up more offensive options (Plaxico?) if they are interested in getting to the next level.

Falcons: They have all the important pieces returning, but Atlanta gave up a ton for rookie receiver Julio Jones, and there are questions as to whether or not they can bounce back from a horrible home playoff defeat.

Lions: Detroit has some terrific young talent on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Matthew Stafford coming back after injury. Look for the Lions to add a veteran in free agency, and they could ultimately make the same sort of leap that the Bucs did last season.

Rams: Like the Lions, are on the upswing, have a solid young core and good room under the cap. Could be contenders in the Plaxico sweepstakes.

Cardinals: Arizona has good room under the cap and could end up making moves — they are reportedly interested in Philadelphia backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. But Kolb is no sure thing and there are questions on the defensive side of the ball.

Seahawks: There are questions about who will play quarterback for Seattle, but the Seahawks have some excellent room under the cap and are coming off an impressive postseason effort.

Cowboys: Hamstrung by a hideous salary cap situation, they will have to make some serious cuts if they want to get to the next level. Positives? Returning quarterback Tony Romo and Jason Garrett (entering his first full year as head coach) have a good relationship.

49ers: San Francisco was really hurt by the lockout — rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick and new coach coach Jim Harbaugh haven’t been able to work together yet because of the work stoppage. (Does that mean more Alex Smith at the start?) The Niners do have some room under the cap, and they could get more if they cut veteran defensive back Nate Clements, so they could make some moves in free agency.

Redskins: Free agency moves could loom — they wouldn’t be the Redskins if they didn’t make at least one big splash in the offseason — but there’s still a long way to go before they can be considered a serious playoff threat. It sounds more and more like Donovan McNabb is going to be dealt.

Vikings: Young coach (Leslie Frazier was 3-3 in six games last year) and rookie quarterback (Christian Ponder) leave a lot of questions about the state of the franchise. The Vikings are now over the cap, and could also lose Ray Edwards and Sidney Rice in free agency.

Panthers: Like Tennessee, San Francisco and Cleveland, Carolina has the unlucky trio of new head coach, new assistants and new quarterback. That, and the possible trade of wide receiver Steve Smith, all adds up to a long season for the Panthers.

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