Happy Friday, friends. As promised, I’m back with my mostly useless NFC predictions. Last year, I nailed the AFC like nobody’s business, and never found time to even do any pronosticatin’ on the NFC, so this is a step up.
The general perception is that the NFC is a stronger conference than the AFC. I would agree with that generally, but it’s not necessarily because of what I see at the top. Rather, it’s the strength in the middle of the pack that is compelling. Teams like St. Louis, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Dallas are better than the middle-of-the-pack teams that the AFC has to offer.
Without further ado, let’s get to the predictions.
Washington 10-6 (#4 Seed in Playoffs)
New York Giants 9-7
Dallas Cowboys 9-7
Philadelphia Eagles 7-9
This division has four teams that are pretty evenly-matched, and which will have a puncher’s chance in every game, but which have major identifiable weaknesses.
The Redskins can run the ball, and their defense is solid, but I don’t trust their receiving corps very much. I also think that Robert Griffin needs to alter the way he plays, and learn that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.
The Giants can rush the passer, and they have a good quarterback and two good receivers. Their secondary is garbage though (again), and I think they’re going to struggle to run the ball. Their offensive line is also quite below average.
The Cowboys have good talent, but I think they’re lacking severely at safety, and their scheme change baffles me. I don’t understand why you’d want to play Tampa 2 with the corners they have.
Finally, the Eagles are going to surprise some people this year. I think they’re going to run the hell out of the ball with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. I also think that they’re going to create favorable passing situations for Michael Vick, and that DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, and Jason Avant will all have strong years. If their defense didn’t look like such a train wreck, I’d pick them to win the division.
Green Bay 11-5 (#3 Seed in Playoffs)
Detroit 9-7 (#6 Seed in Playoffs)
If I had more balls, (and if I saw more consistency out of Matthew Stafford), I’d pick the Lions to win the division. Their defensive line is the best in the NFL, and it’s going to win them a lot of games. I also think that Reggie Bush was a perfect fit for them, and that he’s going to have the most impactful season of his career.
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a good receiving corps, but a weak offensive line. I’m also not entirely sold on rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin at RB. The defense has some good players, but I worry a little bit when I read that Clay Matthews is mad because he’s going to be in coverage more. Why would Dom Capers want to do that?
Chicago is going to take a step back defensively, I think, and it’s about a combination of age and inexperience. I do like Jon Bostic as a guy who can do a nice job stepping in for Brian Urlacher, though. On offense, I don’t think that what Marc Trestman wants to install suits Jay Cutler much.
I also don’t think that Trestman and GM Phil Emery are married to Cutler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they let him hit free agency next season, particularly with what looks like a strong QB class coming in the 2014 Draft. Add in Brandon Marshall’s hip, and this feels like a lost season for the Bears, kind of a step-backward-to-step-forward year.
Finally, Minnesota is due to regress. I don’t believe in Adrian Peterson being able to maintain the level of play he showed last year, and I don’t believe in Christian Ponder being able to improve to the degree necessary. They’ll lose a lot of close games, I think, and get Leslie Frazier canned.
New Orleans 11-5 (#2 Seed in Playoffs)
Tampa Bay 9-7
This is going to be a very competitive division, and it’s the only one I see with everybody having a winning record.
I like the Saints to win the division, because I think they have both the best QB and the best head coach. It will be interesting to see what Rob Ryan does with the defense, and there’s some risk that they stay Spags-esque (Did you know he’s with Baltimore now – maybe he brings defensive awfulness with him?).
I think they’re going to be pretty strong overall, though, on the strength of the offense. Look for Robert Meachem to settle back into his deep threat role, and to look better than he ever did in San Diego.
Tampa had a pretty explosive offense last year, and people are talking like Josh Freeman is some kind of problem for them. I think he’s not too different from Stafford in Detroit – big-time talent, inconsistent production. I think that the improved secondary that the Bucs will field will make them very competitive all year.
Atlanta seems due to regress a bit from last year. Their offensive skill positions are really good, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on Steven Jackson, given his age and mileage. I also think their offensive line is below average and declining. On defense, I think they took a step back in terms of personnel as well. That said, they’ll pass the ball well enough to compete for a spot in the playoffs.
Finally, Carolina is here, and this is the ultimate flyer to me. For as much love as Cam Newton gets, I don’t see him as a very good NFL QB yet. He has issues with ball placement and overall accuracy, and there’s a big step to be taken by him to get to the level of his hype. I’m guessing he takes a lot of that step, because the talent is there. I also think the Panthers’ defense is going to be the best in the division.
Seattle 11-5 (#1 Seed in Playoffs)
San Francisco 11-5 (#5 Seed in Playoffs)
St. Louis 9-7
Everybody knows this is the best division in the NFL, right? Funny how a couple years ago, it was a total laughingstock.
I think that Seattle and San Francisco are evenly matched, but I give the edge to the Seahawks, because I think they have a few more playmakers on their roster. I also trust Russell Wilson slightly more than I do Colin Kaepernick. I really like the Seahawks defense, and I think they’re going to use Bruce Irvin a lot like the Broncos use Von Miller when he gets off his suspension.
For the 49ers, I’m a bit concerned with their receiver situation as long as Michael Crabtree is hurt. On defense, the key is Justin Smith, as it has been for years. If he plays at a Justin Smith level, the Niners will be nasty up front. If not, they’ll still be pretty good.
The Rams have improved their offensive line and receiving corps, and when you add that to their solid defense (especially up front), this is an intriguing team. I doubt their QB Sam Bradford, and always have, and I question their running back situation. Still, this team is going to be physical and fundamentally sound, and they’ll be around the periphery of the postseason.
Finally, my local team, the Arizona Cardinals. They have a good defense, and I think that the additions of Carson Palmer, Eric Winston, and Rashard Mendenhall, and the return of Levi Brown make them competitive on offense. I view them as the fourth-place team here, but the kind of fourth-place team that can beat anybody on any given Sunday.
That's what I have for today, friends. I'll be back tomorrow with some playoff predictions. I expect I'll get to last night's glorious game film on Monday evening, and that I'll have some thoughts on that Tuesday or so.