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The Elite of the NFL

Posted Monday, January 7, 2013, at 8:28 PM

With a few exceptions like sprinter Usain Bolt, the best athletes in the world are the players on the first echelon teams of the National Football League. During the playoffs of 2011-2012, the final eight were the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and New Orleans Saints, the last two of which have been supplanted by the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons.

It's open to debate, but my reckoning is that the elite group consists of the conference semi-finalists, who the last time around were the Ravens, 49ers, Patriots and the eventual champion Giants, along with the next-strongest, who were the Texans with their 20-13 loss to the Ravens. The second echelon is the other playoff teams.

The struggle to reach and stay at the top is mighty. The Patriots have been there perennially but haven't won a Super Bowl since 2004 and you wonder if this is their time for a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Some say it will be the Broncos, others the Packers; and you wonder if the Saints and Giants will return and which others from the second echelon will surmount the pinnacle.

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James R. Campbell
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