Welcome to Part 2 of this year’s NFL Preview. Today we will look at the NFC Conference, and will break down everything. I’m gonna run through a bunch of topics in this column, including rankings, hot takes, and one liners.
Once both previews go up, you can guess my predictions. Then you’ll see if you’re correct on Thursday.
- NFC North
- NFC West
- NFC East
- NFC South
Even though the Bears won’t be great, the NFC North is the best division in the NFC. We have possibly the best team in the NFL with Green Bay, and two teams who were very good last year. The Lions and Vikings are both going to be good teams. But one has to beat out the other…. More on that later.
The NFC West was the best division in football, but after two teams shifting their direction, it’s fallen behind. They’ll still get two teams into the playoffs.
The next two divisions are clusters, but the NFC East has the better teams. There’s more stability here. We know what most of the teams are gonna be. In the South, anything goes. I honestly have no clue what will happen there. There’s a case that all four teams could win the division. Let’s hope that, whoever wins, has a record above .500.
Who’s gonna get fired first?:
- Tom Coughlin
- Jay Gruden
- Sean Payton
Tom Coughlin is 69 years! 69! Like, he’s old! He may not be coaching long! Maybe the Giants will get rid of him sooner than most expect.
This is a brink year for Coughlin. New York hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, when they won the Super Bowl. They’ve been close since. This team is always the one where we expect playoffs or we expect average. They’re never bad, but never great. Coughlin’s been running on the same level as Marvin Lewis, but Lewis has made the playoffs lately. Coughlin hasn’t. He has to this year, or his retirement will come earlier than he probably wanted.
I’m writing about the Washington Dysfunctionals (Hey! We should change the name to that! It represents the team itself and the city they play in!) below, but Jay Gruden’s term as head coach might be a short one. This organization obviously has no communication within, with visible riffs between owners, front office people, and Gruden himself. It may not be the play of the team that forces Gruden out.
I don’t know about this next one. I guess it’s possible, but as of now, it seems unlikely. If the Saints are an absolute tire fire in Week 6 or so, then there could be major changes. But for now, I think most of the big changes will come after the season.
- Aaron Rodgers
- Russell Wilson
- Matt Ryan
- Matthew Stafford
- Cam Newton
- Tony Romo
- Drew Brees
- Eli Manning
- Jay Cutler
- Colin Kaepernick
- Carson Palmer
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Nick Foles
- Sam Bradford
- Kirk Cousins
- Jameis Winston
NFC East- The name itself is a headline
There’s a lot of mediocre divisions in the NFL, but the NFC East is the one mediocre division that 1) The media loves and 2) Always produces the headlines. Literally, it seems almost every NFL head comes out of that division. The Cowboys create headlines just because of the logo on their head. The Redskins are a headline just because of the actual name of the team, which really isn’t that big of a deal, and have a never-ending QB controversy. The Eagles are insane and may or may not have any clue what they’re doing, and the Giants have a quarterback with a famous last name and a stud young receiver, who just may be overrated because of one catch. I mean, Good Lord!
The Packers will be fine
Jordy Nelson’s injury was catastrophic at first, and caused everyone (including me) to throw a fit about the preseason. But once my Packer friends got over it (and everyone else), we all realized it wasn’t going to hurt Green Bay as much as we previously thought.
There had been an insane amount of injuries over the Summer, so everyone was already in a bad mood about the preseason coming along. I remember at my fantasy football draft with my friends that I hosted, I said, after the draft was complete, that “You know, one of these guys that we just drafted will get hurt and be out for the season.” Everyone moaned and groaned, but we all knew it was coming. First went Kelvin Benjamin, 2nd was Jordy Nelson.
We can debate later whether the preseason is needed, but long story short: Something needs to change.
My biggest takeaway from Nelson’s injury was “Man, how underpaid does Randall Cobb look now?”. Cobb’s now the No.1 target for Aaron Rodgers with Nelson out, and re-signing him looks smarter than ever. Green Bay also has 2nd year wide receiver Davante Adams, who’ll have more balls thrown his way, which should boost his production big time. Jeff Janis could become a name people start to hear, as the Packers have been so good at finding good receivers out of nowhere.
The James Jones signing was pretty funny to me at first, because I thought he was a lot older than he actually was. Turns out, I was thinking of NBA player James Jones. I’m usually pretty good about not mixing names between sports, but they’re literally the exact same player, even though they’re in different sports! I should write about this later…
Bottom line: The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. They have a really good running back, and plenty of weapons. They’re gonna be fine.
The Rams will be good, but not good enough
I remember when all my 49ers friends were talking about how their team would be the first team to host the Super Bowl in the middle of 8th grade. Good times, aye?
Instead, they’ll be the worst team in the NFC West. Yeah, I dropped that before the prediction column, but isn’t it pretty clear?
Seattle’s gonna be super, super good. The Cardinals will be fine. And St. Louis, well, there’s questions, but they could be good! Here’s how:
Before I explain how good the Rams will be, I’m also gonna drop this: Eight wins max for St. Louis.
After moving on from Sam Bradford, who never really did anything besides get paid a ton of money and blow out his knee every year, breaking Rams’ fans heart, St. Louis has gone in a new direction. They got Nick Foles, who most people are skeptical on, but has the potential to be a viable starter while the Rams evaluate him more. I don’t think Foles is the new face of the Rams, but he definitely has the reigns this year. Foles won’t have to be great, but he’s gonna have to make some plays on offense. I’m a tad worried about the St. Louis backfield, especially since they’re seriously injured heading into Week 1. Tre Mason may not play. Todd Gurley is out at least three games. That’d leave Benny Cunningham starting, in what now looks like a train wreck of a backfield.
If the backfield, like I believe, underperforms, the Rams will have to rely on Foles and the defense to win games. Oh yeah, on that defense.
Um, well, they’re pretty good! Like, really, really good. This defensive line, like Buffalo’s has backups that would start for the 49ers, who’s defensive line is atrocious. Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley are listed at the same position on the depth chart. They won’t play their line like that, but it shows you how deep they are. The secondary could use some work, but this front seven will carry the load on defense. Great defensive play will get this team to eight wins, but Nick Foles has to do more than we see coming if the Rams are gonna be better than I see them being.
By the Rams’ being good, I mostly meant that they’ll be so much better than last year. Again, I don’t expect them to make the playoffs.
The NFC South is still a train wreck
What was the probably the worst division ever will be more of the same this season. I don’t expect it to be as bad, but there’s a good chance the division winner wins 10 games or less. No one’s strong enough! Everyone has problems, and only a couple teams have true strengths. Let’s figure them out!
Biggest strength: Running back
Biggest weakness: Defense
Drew Brees is a nice strength at quarterback, but this may be his last season in New Orleans due to their cluttered salary cap. Plus, he’s got like one guy to throw to. Trading Jimmy Graham was killer, especially for a team that had figured out how to correctly use him. They got much needed offensive line help out the deal (plus they drafted Andrus Peat). New Orleans is gonna pound the ball, and with Mark Ingram plus C.J. Spiller (who’s out for Week 1, FYI), it shouldn’t be a problem.
However, the Saints’ defense is filled with holes. The linebacking core is shot, the secondary has a bunch of guys who’ve underperformed, and the defensive line has one good player. There’s issues here, and they’re big enough to keep the Saints out of playoff contention.
Biggest strength: Offensive weapons
Biggest weakness: Linebacker
While there are issues at running back, the Falcons’ offense is loaded with talent. Matt Ryan is the most underrated quarterback in the league. He puts up great stats every year, even if his team wasn’t great. Now, Julio Jones is locked up. Roddy White is productive (but needs to stay healthy). Devin Hester makes stuff happen, and Jacob Tamme has been reliable for a long time.
The Falcons won’t have to the run the ball as much this season, and that’s a good thing since the offensive line is a work in progress. This will be the best offense in the division.
Biggest strength: Linebacker
Biggest weakness: Wide receiver, offensive line
The Panthers defense won’t be dominate like it has the past two seasons, but this linebacking core will be fun to watch, and will make necessary plays. No one else on this defense will. I have complete confidence that Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will destroy other team’s running games. But that’s all this defense will be able to do.
Kelvin Benjamin’s injury was devastating, and is the biggest loss for any team this offseason. That was Cam Newton’s No.1 target, and was supposed to be a breakout guy (again) this year. That kills the Panthers’ offense. Since the offensive line is a disaster, they won’t able to run the ball as well. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are good, but aren’t good enough to survive with a bad offensive line.
Biggest strength: Wide receiver
Biggest weakness: Linebacker
The Buccaneers got their franchise quarterback, and I believe there will be some great signs that he’s the one this season. However, Tampa Bay’s just not equipped yet to win this season. Their weapons core will help Jameis Winston tremendously, but there’s other areas that are a ways away. The defensive line is good, but this linebacking core features a grand total of zero names I’ve heard of. Yeah, that’s a problem.
You’ll see my official pick for this division tomorrow, but I think it’s pretty clear who I’m taking.
Lions or Vikings?
This question is the biggest one in this conference. I believe the NFC is much cleaner than the AFC, with more teams that have cleaner outlooks on this season. You know how I feel about the Rams, so that’s clears up one of the Wild Card spots. This is the other discussion that shapes the Wild Card. I’ll say it now, but one of these teams will get the final playoff spot. Here’s the case for both:
Can we just start by saying that they have the best quarterback out of the 2014 NFL Draft? Teddy Bridgewater was amazing last season, and beat everyone’s expectations. This year, he has more to work with. The Vikings don’t have to rely as much on their young QB either, since Adrian Peterson is back and ready to dominate. Minnesota is gonna go with their running game first, and then transition to the pass with their new weapons. Mike Wallace is fine, but is a big addition to a receiver core that was very weak last year. The Vikings’ defense has the chance to be top ten in the NFL, and they addressed their biggest need in cornerback. The Vikings are gonna be in contention all year long. This is exactly what my friends wanted to hear.
OK, this isn’t exactly my case for the Lions to beat out the Vikings. It’s basically the equivalent of a half court shot at the end of a basketball game. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Lions this year. They lost one of the best defensive players in the league, which was only half of their dominate defensive line. Nick Fairley left to go join the Rams, who really didn’t need him. Haloti Ngata’s good, crap, Haloti Ngata’s great, but he can’t replace what they once had.
Detroit has a powerful offense, but doesn’t have a solid running back (yet; Ameer Abdullah showed great signs in the preseason though). This offensive line is very inexperienced, which is the last thing you need when you’re gonna have trouble scoring. The Lions will have to get great production out of Ngata to compete with Minnesota, and will have to finish top five in the NFL in scoring. Yeah, talk about a long shot.
We have to wait to judge Chip Kelly’s moves
What Chip Kelly has done this offseason has been crazy, amazing, inspiring, confusing, stupid… You could use every adjective in the world to describe this offseason. However, Kelly’s made moves based on what he believes in, and has made them with his vision. I like some of the things he’s done, and hate some of them. However, Kelly knows what he wants. He knows how it’ll work. We don’t. So we should probably wait to judge it.
NFL Prediction Column coming tomorrow…….