NFL Preview 2017: NFC

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In case you missed it, I covered the AFC on Sunday. I’ll keep the intro brief, since I’m currently fighting off a debilitating illness. NFC time, spoiler alert, it’s much better than the AFC.

NFC EAST

dallas_cowboysDallas Cowboys– Just what everyone wants, more Cowboys talk! Did you know the Cowboys stylize themselves as America’s Team? I just learned that the other day! What an odd bit of trivia. In fact, I feel like I haven’t heard much about the Cowboys for years. If only they were on national TV more often so I could get to know them better.

Where to actually start with the Boyz? The psychopath running back? The second-year QB who will still face criticism if he isn’t perfect despite an historic rookie season? The collection of all-powerful cosmic beings known only as the Cowboys Offensive Line? The shitty defense? The fact that they played in 10 one score games last year and were probably lucky to win 7 of them? The fact that they haven’t won a playoff game since 1995? The fact that they went from playing a last place team’s schedule to playing a first place team’s? The fact that the extremely rare genuinely fun Cowboys story (the emergence of former basketball player Rico Gathers as a beastly tight end) was cut short when he was put on IR? I don’t know, I think I’m out on the Cowboys.

Over/Under 9.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Zeke getting suspended (maybe?)

Burning Question: When’s Romo coming back?

Bold Prediction: They’ll come in to week 17 in a do or die scenario for the playoffs and lose controversially so the entire offseason will be dominated by debates about if the Cowboys were cheated and how much damage they could have done in the playoffs.

 

new_york_giantsNew York Giants– Gotta tell you, I’m a little nervous. This Giants team looks legit as hell. Their defense is completely stacked. Receiving weapons out the ass. They’re looking like a very real Super Bowl contender, where they’d almost certainly face the Pats. I never want to experience another Pats-Giants Super Bowl as long as Tom Brady is in the league. If the Giants make the Super Bowl, I’d rather the Pats lose first round. Since the first two Giants teams that beat the Pats really weren’t very good in the regular season, I might be inclined to think this year’s Giants squad would be too good to make their signature crazy run, but they’re still flawed enough to lose some games they shouldn’t. Their o-line and running game suck. Eli is still Eli. They could out play every single team they play all year, but actually winning more than 11 games isn’t in their DNA. If they win their last 3 games, though, I’m going to be officially scared.

Over/Under 9 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Signing Brandon Marshall

Burning Question: Is the only way to get Odell to show up for a playoff game to make sure it takes place on a boat?

Bold Prediction: They’ll probably beat the Pats to win the Super Bowl

 

philadelphia_eaglesPhiladelphia Eagles– The Eagles are kind of like Titans Lite. I’ve seen plenty of people saying the Eagles could surprise. Saying reckless things like Carson Wentz is the best young QB. They’ve got a late-2000s Giants defensive line. Philadelphia is suddenly the center of the sports world. And, honestly, I’m kinda sorta buying the hype.

This team is built on their defense, which was one of the very best in the league last year. Now add Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long, and first round pick Derek Barnett to the defensive line, which already had standouts Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham? This team could cause some serious havoc up front. Carson Wentz hit the rookie wall hard last year, but he showed some serious signs of the possible things to come at the beginning of the season. If he can put together a consistent 16 games (and doesn’t try to be Tom Brady in his second year in the league), the offense could be pretty good. They’re not going to win the Super Bowl (obviously, they still play in Philly), but don’t be shocked to see them in the playoffs.

Over/Under 8 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Adding to the d-line

Burning Question: What does your favorite cheesesteak place say about the inner workings of your subconscious? My column:

Bold Prediction: Everyone will overreact to every single game

 

washington_redskinsWashington Redskins– I know everyone was waiting to find out, and the answer is yes: I am brave enough to say Washington. It was easily the most (only) anticipated part of this blog. I won’t let the media scare me from calling a team by its proper name. Impressive, I know.

A distant cousin (get it?) of my love of brown jerseys is my love of maroon jerseys. Love Virginia Tech jerseys, sometimes love the Cavs jerseys, love the Skins set. Burgundy and gold is just a prime time combination. Might be the best color scheme in the league, honestly. Top five at worst. So even when they give up 45 points per game, they’ll still look great doing it.

Over/Under 7.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Signing Terrelle Pryor

Burning Question: What’s the relationship between the number of Redskins losses and the amount of change the name columns?

Bold Prediction: They’ll be top five in points scored and points allowed

 

NFC NORTH

green_bay_packersGreen Bay Packers– Feels like the Packers have been essentially the same team ever since Aaron Rodgers took over, and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, are once again a popular pick to make the Super Bowl in the NFC. And, once again, it’s easy to see why. No matter who’s there, who’s healthy, who’s hurt, who the running back is, as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center there won’t be five better offenses in the league. He’s one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks of all time, and, even though he’s somehow 33, is somehow getting better. They’ll score at will (in the regular season, at least).

The only problem is their middling defense. They finished in the bottom half of the league in just about everything, including 3rd down conversion percentage allowed. Hard to torch opposing defenses from the sidelines. Regardless of what Rodgers does, the defense is what typically fails the Packers at the worst possible moment. They got completely run off the field by Atlanta, and they didn’t really do a whole lot to address it. One dimensional teams can only go so far in pro sports, and the Packers may find themselves at a crossroads if they disappoint again.

Over/Under 10 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Signing Martellus Bennett

Burning Question: Will Aaron Rodgers spend more time planning his next photo bomb than studying film?

Bold Prediction: Every Packers owner you meet will tell you about it within seconds of talking to them.

 

minnesota_vikingsMinnesota Vikings– Could a home team finally play in the Super Bowl? Honestly, it’s not all that far fetched. This is a pretty interesting roster. Sammy Sleeves was….kind of good last year? Sure, he operated at an Alex Smithian-level of conservative play, but he still set the record for completion percentage in a season. People forget he was traded two weeks before the season started. Now that he’s got a full year in the system under his belt he might actually try throwing the ball more than five yards downfield. Rookie Dalvin Cook might give them a semblance of a running game, something they sorely lacked with the absence of team legend Adrian Peterson. Only problem is, their offensive line is complete ass. They might have the worst tackles in the league. It could easily submarine their season barring some sort of unexpected improvement.

The defense faded badly down the stretch, but they were terrifying in the first half of the season, and they certainly have the talent to dominate on that side of the ball. They’re deep at every position and, with a stronger finish and a bounce back from linebacker Anthony Barr, could finish as a top five defense. If they can avoid adding to the never-ending list of Vikings-related examples of Murphy’s Law, they might actually have a chance to make a run in the postseason.

Over/Under 8.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Releasing Adrian Peterson

Burning Question: Does Bradford have it in him to captain Sex Boat 2?

Bold Prediction: The Super Bowl will take place in Minnesota

 

largeDetroit Lions– In some strange, parallel universe, the Lions are a perennial powerhouse and a multi-time Super Bowl champion. Where everything always goes right for them, they win big games, and their great players don’t retire early to escape the unending hell that is playing for the Lions. We do not live in that reality.

Over/Under 8 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Locking up Matt Stafford (side note, if you don’t think the Lions were 100% right to do this, you’re a fool. There’s 15 good quarterbacks in the league and he’s one of them. They had no choice whatsoever, and that’s the price you pay for good QBs)

Burning Question: Will slightly changing their jerseys reverse close to a century of luck so bad it can only be explained by the supernatural?

Bold Prediction: The Lions will not win the Super Bowl

 

chicago_bearsChicago Bears– Hope is always high when you draft a quarterback second overall, but there’s usually a reason a team is picking second overall. For the Bears, that reason honestly seems to be the front office. It’s been a head-scratching few seasons for them, and this offseason was just a microcosm of how self-inflicted most of their wounds are. Trading three valuable picks just to move up one spot when the 49ers weren’t going to take Trubisky, anyway. Bidding against absolutely no one to sign Mike Glennon to a huge deal. Bidding against absolutely no one to claim kicker Roberto Aguayo off waivers then waiving him. Keeping John Fox for this year when they’re almost definitely firing him after the season, killing the chance for some early continuity for their prize QB. There’s actually some interesting pieces on this roster, particularly on defense, but their own front office might hold them back from ever moving forward.

Over/Under 5.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Bulls trading Jimmy Butler

Burning Question: How big of a grace period did the Cubs give every Chicago team before the fans actually expect them to win again?

Bold Prediction: Someone will reenact the “Da Bears” skit every time the Bears win

 

NFC SOUTH

atlanta_falconsAtlanta Falcons– I know it’s a long shot, but if any Falcons fans are reading this, I’ll give you a moment to look away…… Just kidding. There are no more Falcons fans left. The Patriots killed all of them. Just like they killed the Falcons. Kyle Shanahan skipped town. Matt Ryan is completely shattered. Devonta Freeman is seeing ghosts and mirages as he trudges through the desert he finds himself in. The entire defense has PTSD. The Falcons are dead. They might not win a game for three years.

Over/Under 9.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Went six months without blowing a 28-3 lead

Burning Question: If you open a stadium and no one comes to see it, did you open a new stadium at all?

Bold Prediction: Matt Ryan won’t throw a touchdown pass all season

 

tampa_bay_buccaneersTampa Bay Buccaneers– The third in 2017’s Trendy Team Triumvirate, the Bucs bought a one-way ticket on the Hype Express when they parlayed an offseason where they spent a bunch of money and brought in some fancy offensive toys with and appearance on Hard Knocks. But this isn’t this first time the Bucs have been the hot team. Seemingly every year the Bucs are the popular pick to be the surprise playoff team. And it never comes to fruition. Why should this year be any different? Well, for starters, everyone has faith in Jameis Winston.

Their passing game should be dynamic this year. Jameis will make the odd terrible decision, but it’s a lot harder to make those bad decisions when you’ve got Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate on the field. They don’t have a run game and their o-line isn’t great, but at least they can throw it all over the yard, right? The defense is good, not great. I don’t know if that’s good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC. They won’t win the division, so odds are they’ll be fighting with the Vikings, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons, and Cardinals for the two Wild Card spots. While the truly great defenses still win games, offense is what really matters in 2017. Is the Bucs’ offense better than the Falcons’? No. Better than the Cowboys? If everyone’s playing, probably not. I think the Bucs are probably out of the playoffs once again.

Over/Under 8.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Signing DeSean Jackson

Burning Question: Did you know Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?

Bold Prediction: Dirk Koetter will walk the plank after this season (get it? Because they’re named after pirates?)

 

carolina_panthersCarolina Panthers– I don’t know if I’m just higher on the Panthers than everyone else or what, but any time you put a team that was in the Super Bowl two years ago (that still has the majority of their key contributors) on a last place team’s schedule, I’m one to assume they’ll win a lot of games. I’m particularly high on their defense, which finished top five in weighted DVOA, which gives more value to how team play in the second half of the season. That means that they figured out whatever was going on in the early part of the season and fixed it, and, barring injury or Thomas Davis finally realizing how old he, should continue to play at a high level this season.

If the defense is a known quantity, the offense is the great mystery that will decide this team’s future. Was Cam Newton hurt all of last year, or did he really regress that badly? Was it all a product of poor offensive line play? A lack of reliable receiving options outside Greg Olsen? A subpar running game? Pretty much every facet of the offense struggled last year, and they seem to be placing a lot faith in everyone who played poorly last year turning it around. Rookie Christian McCaffrey should help. If reports are to be believed, he’ll have 100 catches and over 1,000 rushing yards. Regardless of what he actually does, he may be better in the abstract for now. If defenses have to react to the idea of McCaffrey, it opens things up for everyone else. Literally anything that takes some pressure off Cam is a good thing. I’m betting on the Panthers to bounce back, and bounce back big.

Over/Under 8.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Drafting McCaffrey

Burning Question: What new way will Cam invent to have fun playing football that gets people riled up?

Bold Prediction: They’ll make the NFC Championship Game

 

new_orleans_saintsNew Orleans Saints– I love the Saints for a variety of reasons. I love offense, and theirs is the gold standard over the past decade. I love the SuperDome and the energy that comes with it. I love their jerseys. I love that they’re brothers in arms with the Patriots, franchises who were unfairly railroaded by Roger Goodell. I love their unwavering commitment to having a bottom five defense every year, regardless of the personnel and coaching staff. Unfortunately, that last point will probably sink them yet again this season.

Over/Under 8 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Signing Adrian Peterson

Burning Question: Can you still be accused of putting bounties on players if you never tackle anybody?

Bold Prediction: Drew Brees will throw for 5,000 yards again and no one will care despite the fact that it’s amazing he keeps doing it

 

NFC WEST

seattle_seahawksSeattle Seahawks– You can keep your Packers and Cowboys and Giants, for me this is the team to beat in the NFC. They were one of the best defenses in the league for the millionth straight year despite Earl Thomas getting injured at the end of the season. Now they get him back and add Sheldon Richardson to what was already arguably the game’s best defensive line. They’ll be the best defense in football this year, and every score against them should be treated as a major achievement.

The offense needs some serious improvement, though. They were one of the very best offensive units in 2015, but their dismal offensive line really killed any chance of repeating that. And not much has changed, in that regard. This is still one of the absolute worst offensive lines in the league. Luckily, though, Russell Wilson is the league’s best escape artist, and his skills on the field cover up a lot of the o-line’s faults. The passing game will be fine, just like it was a season ago. But when the Seahawks were at their very best, when they instilled fear into the hearts of anyone who lined up against them, they ran it and ran it and ran it some more. Can this team recapture that Beast Mode magic? Eddy Lacy is skinny now, but he’s sucked the last few years. The rest of their running backs are okay, but not especially dynamic. And, again, a lot of the blame falls on the o-line. Seattle is like a much better version of the Colts in a way. They just kind of keep ignoring the problems they have up front hoping they go away. If they don’t, it’ll be the only thing holding them back.

Over/Under 10.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Acquiring Sheldon Richardson for absolutely nothing

Burning Question: Can jet fuel melt steel beams?

Bold Prediction: They’ll make the Super Bowl, where they’ll be on the goalline with a chance to win….and throw another interception instead of running it

 

arizona_cardinalsArizona Cardinals– I’m kind of running out of steam a little bit here, but luckily the rest of the NFC West is pretty simple. The Cardinals lost a bunch of guys on defense, but they’ll still be a top 5-top 10 unit. Their offense will be okay, I guess? Palmer’s another year older and wasn’t good last year, but they really have no contingency plan in place if he goes down again. David Johnson’s still a beast, though, and should cover up a lot of the mistakes Palmer might make. They’ll throw deep a lot, as Bruce Arians is wont to do, but there’s kind of no one to throw deep to. They’ll benefit from playing the Rams and Niners twice.

Over/Under 8 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Signing living legend Blaine Gabbert

Burning Question: Will any amount of inaccurate passes finally make Larry Fitzgerald angry?

Bold Prediction: Only a random game against the Jaguars will save them from having the worst jerseys in every game they play

 

1024px-los_angeles_rams_logo-svgLos Angeles Rams– The Rams are going to be bad this year. Nothing will change that. Aaron Donald, possibly the best player in the NFL, refuses to suit up until he gets paid. They were by far the worst offense in the league last year and all they added was Sammy Watkins, who I think is vastly overrated. I’m not a Goff guy whatsoever. New Cool Head Coach on the block Sean McVay could turn out to be an excellent coach, but, as they say, it’s hard to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

Over/Under 5.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Changing their helmets, but not the rest of their jerseys for some reason

Burning Question: Has Jared Goff learned where the sun rises yet?

Bold Prediction: With the number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams select…

 

san_francisco_49ersSan Francisco 49ers– This is a terrible, terrible roster, but they’re on the right track. Don’t be surprised if they have a top 10 defense within the next two years.

Over/Under 4.5 Wins: Under

Key Offseason Move: Bringing in strategic mastermind Kyle Shanahan

Burning Question: Will they have the guts to take a knee at the end of games?

Bold Prediction: The Warriors will win the 2018 NBA Finals

 

Special Bonus Predictions

AFC ChampionshipPatriots over Ravens

NFC ChampionshipSeahawks over Giants

SUPER BOWLPatriots over Seahawks

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