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NFL Preview: NFC Predictions

September 10, 2010

And now, predicting how things will shape up in the NFC:

NFC West

4. Seattle Seahawks – They’ve pretty much jettisoned the core of the NFC Champions from three years ago. The one key holdover is QB Matt Hasselbeck, and most people have kind of forgotten about him anyway. He used to be one of the better QBs in the league, but now he’s an injury prone mediocre QB.

New coach Pete Carroll was a failure in his first stint as a head coach, but found success at the college level with USC. Those who think that college coaches rarely succeed at the pros should keep in mind that USC was essentially a professional program.

I expect Carroll to eventually succeed, but this team seems to be in the beginning of a rebuilding phase. Last place seems likely.

3. San Francisco 49ers – The winners of this year’s “Team that everyone is really high on even though they haven’t actually accomplished anything” award. The team that wins this “award” always seems to fall well short of expectations.

I like coach Mike Singletary, and there is some talent present. But I think QB Alex Smith holds them back. A former #1 overall pick, he really hasn’t shown enough to make anyone think that he can lead this team to the heights many predict. This is now his fourth year in the league, and most guys who are going to be successes would have at least shown some sign by now.

Maybe the surrounding talent like RB Frank Gore and WR Michael Crabtree can allow them to meet the expectations, but I don’t see it happening.

2. Arizona Cardinals – Can anyone explain why the Cardinals didn’t go after Donovan McNabb in the offseason? It’s not like they had a lot of faith in Matt Leinart since they brough in Derek Anderson to compete with him. McNabb would have loved to go to Arizona, and isn’t this team almost a guaranteed playoff team with him?

Regardless, they have Anderson as their QB, and that should be a huge dropoff from Kurt Warner’s play last year. Combined with some key departures like WR Anquan Boldin and S Antrel Rolle, I see the Cards falling short of the playoffs this year.

1. St. Louis Rams – The Rams have been awful the past couple of seasons, and now have a new QB in #1 draft pick Sam Bradford. I’m a fan of coach Steve Spagnuolo, and I think he’ll have the Rams defense playing at an extremely high level.

Rookie QBs used to struggle upon entering the league, but in the past few seasons, we’ve seen teams win playoff games with rookie signal callers. Considering they’ll likely lean on RB Steven Jackson, and only ask Bradford not to lose games for them, I think the Rams will be another success story.

NFC South

4. Tampa Bay Bucs – This looks to be a rebuilding year for the Bucs. After having a very old team two years ago, and seeing the team collapse, they pretty much blew everything up and brought in a lot of younger players.

QB Josh Freeman might develop into a good player. He looked sharp at times last season, but I can’t see him taking this team very far this year. They’re counting on RB Cadillac Williams to carry the running game, but the only thing you should count on Cadillac for is getting hurt.

With a questionable offense, this team would need a good defense to succeed. But the Bucs defense looks to be even more of a question mark. It will be difficult for this team to avoid finishing last.

3. Carolina Panthers – People forget that this was the NFC’s #2 seed two years ago before QB Jake Delhomme imploded. The new QB is Matt Moore, and it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from him. He has gone 6-2 as a starter thus far in his career, so he may be good.

As long as Moore isn’t a disaster, the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart should at least keep the Panthers in games.

The defense lost their best-known player in DE Julius Peppers, but it may not be that big of a loss since Peppers has been a bit overrated for years.

I think the Panthers stay in the race, but just aren’t quite as good as two other teams in their division.

2. New Orleans Saints – (This was written before the opening game)

The core of the champs returns, so why aren’t they my pick to win the division? Well, as good as QB Drew Brees and the offense looked last year, they may have overacheived a bit. And the Saints defense played well enough, but I always got the feeling that they were the type of defense who played well mostly because of the team’s offense.

The Saints were usually playing with a lead, and knew that opponents would be trying to make comebacks. That led to a lot of big plays and interceptions by the defense. I don’t know if they can count on so many big plays this year.

Basically, I feel the Saints caught a lot of breaks last year (and this isn’t detracting from their title since almost every champ catches a lot of breaks) and things may not go as smoothly this season. They make the playoffs, but it will be as a wild card.

1. Atlanta Falcons – I really thought highly of the Falcons chances heading into last season, but injuries pretty much derailed them. If QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner stay healthy, then they should have an excellent offense.

I also think their defense should be improved thanks to the addition of CB Dunta Robinson. As long as the defense can keep opponents off the scoreboard, the offense should be able to do some damage.

Last season marked the first time in franchise history that they had two consecutive winning seasons. This year, they make it three in a row and win the division.

NFC North

4. Chicago Bears – I correctly identified them as last year’s overhyped team that will disappoint. QB Jay Cutler was supposed to be the answer, but instead he was a complete disaster throwing many costly interceptions, and acting like a surly jerk off the field. Cutler has talent, but it isn’t clear if he will be able to properly harness it in Chicago…or anywhere else.

The Bears used to be carried by their defense, but that unit has declined from the top rated group that carried the team to the 2007 Super Bowl. They can hope that the return of LB Brian Urlacher from injury, and the signing of DE Julius Peppers will reverse the trend, but both of them are past their primes, and I don’t know if they’ll be enough. This team looks destined for last place.

3. Detroit Lions – Things are slowly improving for the Lions. QB Matthew Stafford looks like he might be a player, and WR Calvin Johnson already is one of the best in the NFL. The Lions offense definitely seems like it is on the upswing.

As for the defense, they still have some improvements to make, although Rookie DT Ndamukong Suh should help them considerably.

They might not yet be at playoff level, but at least the Lions have hope ahead, and seem to have put their 0-16 days behind them.

2. Minnesota Vikings – As much as Reggie White is beloved, should we hold it against him that without him, Brett Favre probably doesn’t win a Super Bowl? Without that title, Favre probably doesn’t get away with this non-retirement crap, and ESPN wouldn’t have dedicated 20 hours a day to following his status.

Regardless, after Favre blew another playoff game, and faked retiring again, he’s back to lead this year’s team. Only he doesn’t appear to be completely healthy, and with receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin having injury issues of their own, the Vikings passing game may not be that great.

Of course, they could always lean on superstar runnning back Adrian Peterson, but I don’t know if head coach Brad Childress is smart enough to do so.

On the other hand, the Vikings defense looks like it will be the team’s strength. But it won’t be strong enough to win the division this year.

1. Green Bay Packers – They started slowly last year, and blew the two Vikings games, possibly because they were too distracted by the Favre sideshow. That shouldn’t be an issue this year, and the Packers offense could be the best in the NFL. QB Aaron Rodgers seems to have risen to star level, and he has a good supporting cast.

The Packers defense looked good last season until they were absolutely torched in the playoff game against the Cardinals. If the regular season was the reality, and the playoff game was just a fluke against a good offensive team, then the Packers could be Super Bowl bound.

NFC East

4. Washington Redskins – I’ll do a more detailed preview of the Redskins in a separate post. They will show some improvement from last season (and it would be hard not to) but I don’t think there’s enough talent on hand to keep them out of the basement.

3. Philadelphia Eagles – As usual, I will give the team a more detailed preview. Loaded with young talent, they also have quite a few question marks that will keep them out of the playoffs.

2. New York Giants – I predicted a division win for the Giants, but instead, they had a very disappointing season. Their defense collapsed, as the secondary couldn’t seem to stop anyone. The defensive line should be a strength, yet they underperformed last year. I’m thinking that there’s too much talent on this defense for them to play that poorly again.

On the other hand, the Giants offense is a huge question mark. RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs seemed to take huge steps backwards last year. And then there’s Eli Manning. In 2008, he looked like he was becoming one of the best QBs in the league. Then Plaxico Burress went to jail. Ever since, he has looked ordinary.

Basically, I think the Giants either have another run in them, or else coach Tom Coughlin gets fired and they probably rebuild a bit. I’m leaning towards a playoff spot, but it wouldn’t shock me if this team disappoints again.

1. Dallas Cowboys – Sadly, the Cowboys have the most talent in the division, and therefore will probably win it. It isn’t clear if the Cowboys were that good last year, or they were fortunate enough to play an Eagles team that they matched up very well against.

Coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo finally won some key games in December and January last season, which should have erased the “Can’t win when it counts” label. Except they underperformed so badly in the playoff loss to Minnesota that the talk came back.

Based on their strong defense alone, the Cowboys will win the division, but I see another playoff disappointment ahead.

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card Round

Falcons over Giants

Saints over Rams

Divisional Round

Falcons over Cowboys

Packers over Saints

NFC Championship

Packers over Falcons

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