Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013 NFL Season Preview: NFC

Now that my NFL Predictions and AFC preview for this year are complete, it's time to try to make some sense out of a crazy and confusing NFC. While with the AFC this year, you pencil in two or three teams and then sit and stare blankly at who to fill in, the NFC is the exact opposite. I can literally make a good case for every NFC team as to why they will make the playoffs and thus I don't think there is one standout favorite to win either of the four divisions. That means making predictions is almost like pulling random records out of a hat, but I do it anyways because it is fun and I just love talking about football.

NFC East:

It's easy to pick defending division champs Washington Redskins this year. However, I'm not so sure about them. The main question with them is how soon will RG3 be ready to play? And even when he plays, will he be able to stay healthy? Andrew Luck I can predict a bright future, but RG3 I'm not so sure. I appreciate his boldness and lack of fear as he runs, but he needs to learn to protect himself better and perhaps stay in the pocket more as running quarterbacks always get hurt. If RG3 is healthy the whole season than this is a great team, but that's a big if.

Never count out the New York Giants in this NFC East. Yes last season was a bit of a disappointment, but don't forget that just two years ago they won the Super Bowl. The Giants always seem to find a way to bounce back after a disappointing season and with Eli Manning as their quarterback they are always a team to watch out for.

Is this the year that Tony Chocko and the Dallas Cowboys finally make it over the hump? Or are they going to once again get so close and almost play really good, but then drop it in the end? Romo just got a huge contract extension for some odd reason and he does have good weapons to throw to, led by Dez Bryant, so I wouldn't count them out. However, history of this team also tells me not to bet on them either.

The wild card in this division this year is the Philadelphia Eagles. Last year they came up last and they didn't necessarily change up their roster that much, but what they did is they switched coaches, letting Andy Reid go and picking up Chip Kelly from Oregon. Great college coaches don't always turn out to be great NFL coaches, just look at Nick Saban as an example, but I personally believe in Chip Kelly. I think the Eagles have great talent on their roster that he can work with and turn into a real force in this division again.

NFC North:

This could be the most competitive division this year, but my money for the division will once again be on the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers lost receiver Greg Jennings, but he shouldn't miss a beat as he still has Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley. Also there's a possibility that the Packers might actually have a running game this year with rookie running back Eddie Lacy joining the crew. And of course as long as Aaron Rodgers is still with the Packers, they will be right up there at the top.

Last year Adrian Peterson almost single handedly took the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs on one of the best years in a long time for a running back, considering that some didn't even know if he would play at all. Well, with him back again, the Vikings should have no problem being back again, but in order for them to win the division or make a playoff run, Christian Ponder needs to step up to the plate and provide the Vikings with a passing game. If he does so, this will be a scary team this year.

Last year was a big disappointment for the Detroit Lions, but this is a team with a lot of talent on their team and shouldn't be counted out. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson will do their job of course and if other receivers around Megatron can step up, opposing defenses will have a lot of trouble stopping this offense. Added this year in the running game is Reggie Bush and him teamed up with Mikel Leshoure should be able to provide good balance to this offense. The problem with the Lions is they need to figure out this thing called defense. Teaming up Ziggy with Suh and Fairley should make for a great defensive line, but a defense needs a bit more than that to be successful.

Finally we have the Chicago Bears. The Bears were on a good track last season until the sputtered and died at the end, barely missing the playoffs. That led to the odd decision to can Lovie Smith. What was even more puzzling was the decision to hire Marc Trestman as their new head coach. Trestman has NFL coaching experience in the past as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for various teams, but was most recently working as head coach of a Canadian Football League team upon hire and I don't know if this was a good decision. The Bears do have talent on their team, but in a tough division and a tough conference, the lack of a good coach could hurt them.

NFC South:

The NFC South is the most confusing division this year in trying to predict where teams end up, but I will start with defending division champs Atlanta Falcons. Last year the Falcons ended up with an impressive 13-3, but in my opinion they were the most overrated team in the NFL. They made it to 13-3 on the league's easiest schedule and struggled to win tons of games that they should've won by a large margin. This season they will be graced with a much harder schedule and I think they will struggle through it. They do have one of the best receiving duos in the league, but those thinking that Stephen Jackson will be their savior at running back might be disappointed. As a long time Rams fan and a huge Jackson fan myself, I can say that the man's best running days are behind him.

Saying last year was a rough season for the New Orleans Saints is definitely an understatement. With Sean Payton back in command and Drew Brees running the show on offense, I think this could be a bounce back year for them. As always, the offense will be on fire, but the big problem last year for them was defense and I don't know if they fixed that problem this offseason. If they can somehow figure out how to play defense, then I say they win the division, but that might be a pretty big if.

A sleeper team in this division I would say is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season the Bucs started out great with a 6-4 record, but then fell flat and ended the season 1-5. However, they have tons of talent on their team. They found a gem last year in Doug Martin at running back and have Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Kevin Ogletree at receiver. Josh Freeman compiled a great stat sheet last year and if he can learn to better discern between his team and the opposing teams and not throw so many interceptions, this offense will be on fire. Also lets not forget that the Jets decided they no longer needed the league's best cornerback in Darelle Revis and shipped him off to the Bucs, so this Tampa defense could also be a force to be reckoned with. Don't be shocked if the Bucs wind up on top of the NFC South when all is said and done.

Finally we have the Carolina Panthers. With Cam Newton as head of this team, they have potential to breakout and be a great team, but the problem is that they have been stuck in the middle of the pack since they drafted him and apparently they are fine with mediocrity because they really didn't do anything this offseason to improve their team and thus in a competitive NFC, I really don't see them doing a whole lot. I expect them to once again land around .500 or just below.

NFC West:

It was only three years ago where the NFC West was the worst division in football as the Seattle Seahawks won the division at only 7-9. Now the tides have turned and the division is one of the best. It will be a hard battle between the Seahawks and Niners for the division title, but I am giving the edge to the Seattle Seahawks. I actually think the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, but they may not end up with the best record as they do have a fairly challenging schedule. So they will be challenged, but all that talent on offense as well as the league's best defense will carry them through. Losing Percy Harvin to injury did hurt them, though.

I wasn't pleased with how Jon Harbaugh handled the Alex Smith situation last season, but it worked out in their favor as the San Francisco 49ers made it to the Super Bowl and now the future of the 49ers is in the hands of Colin Kaepernick. I think this makes for a very bright future, but it will also make for a very fun rivalry between them and Russell Wilson's Seahawks for years to come. The current problem this year for them which ultimately may hinder their progress a bit is that the injury bug hasn't been very nice to them, specifically in their receiving corps as both as Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will start the year on the PUP list. As division champs last year, the Niners get an even harder schedule than then the Seahawks and in Kaepernick's first full year as starter, I could see him going through a bit of growing pains. But I still think they will be playoff bound.

Meanwhile in the NFC West, while the Seahawks and Niners battle it out for the top, the other two teams aren't just going to lie down dead. In fact, they might provide an annoying challenge to them. Starting off, my own team, the  St. Louis Rams. In his first season as head coach, Jeff Fisher did a great job of leading this team to a 7-8-1 record and with all the attention the Niners and Seahawks were deservedly getting, the Rams took control in divisional games, ending with a 4-1-1 record. The Rams also did a great jobbing of building their team in the offseason. They scored big by grabbing Jake Long from the Dolphins. They also grabbed tight end Jared Cook to team up with Lance Kendricks and drafted speedy receiver Tavon Austin, potentially giving the Rams something they haven't had since Tory Holt left -- a true number one receiver. The defense also improved by adding Alec Ogletree to a unit that was already built up pretty good by Fisher. Two big questions for the Rams lie at two of the most important positions. First off, it's step up or shut up time for Sam Bradford. He needs to take his game to the next level or else the Rams need to start bringing in people that could potentially replace him. Second is running back. Stephen Jackson served this team very well, but he has started to decline and it was time to move on. The problem is the Rams didn't really replace him and thus hope that either Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Peed steps it up to fill the gap as both are coming into their second year. Richardson was the late round pick but actually showed potential to possibly be the man while Peed was the second round pick who didn't really do anything. Whether or not the Rams make a surprise run and sneak into the playoffs is up for debate, but they are at least headed in the right direction.

Now after ranting on about my team, it's time to finish up with a cursed franchise in the Arizona Cardinals. A few years back, Kurt Warner pulled off some big time magic by making this team great and even leading them to a super bowl. However, before Warner it seemed that no matter who was on the team or who was coaching the team, the Cardinals would lose. And now after he's left, the Cardinals seem to have gone back to that curse. They have great talent, they just don't win games. However, Carson Palmer is now the quarterback and his story is similar to Warner's. Palmer was a great quarterback whose career was suddenly slowed down and almost ended. After a failed stint in his next stop, he is here with the Cardinals. This is exactly what happened to Kurt Warner and he led this team to great heights. Can Palmer do the same? He has the pieces around him to do so. Also, new head coach Bruce Arians pulled off some big time magic last season with the Colts, so who knows. But I'm not betting on it right now.

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