NFL Season Preview: NFC Conference
Picking a team to root for is always one of the first steps in following the NFL. I’m sure most that are reading this have that covered, but if this happens to be the year you’ve finally decided to give the NFL a shot then go ahead and pick. This could be based on scientific methods such as liking the colours of a team’s jersey or a soft spot for the team logo. Whatever you decide stick with it; you don’t want to be known as one of those people that change their team with every new season.
In the previous article we went through the divisions within the American Football Conference (AFC) and briefly spoke about each team as we look forward to the 2017 season. It’s now time to have a look at the National Football Conference (NFC) to do the same.
Along with the AFC South, this could be one of the most competitive divisions with each team having the skills to challenge for the top spot. Ezekiel Elliott had an amazing rookie season rushing for over 1,600 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns in the process. Elliott is currently appealing his six game suspension as part of a yearlong NFL investigation into a domestic abuse case brought against him. As Dallas Cowboys have a week 6 bye, Elliott wouldn’t be back in action until week 7 if the appeal is unsuccessful. During this time RB Darren McFadden will step up to take the majority of the rushing snaps. Dallas also have one of the best offensive lines in all of football so McFadden could find success here and that will open up lanes for the like of WR Dez Bryant to attack opposing defences through the air.
Philadelphia Eagles have been busy this offseason acquiring WR’s Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery. They rounded it off with RB LeGarrette Blount and then traded Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round draft pick for CB Ronald Darby from Buffalo Bills. More recently they waived RB Ryan Matthews. These changes will bring around a fresh feel to the offensive and should help QB Carson Wentz.
You never truly know which Washington Redskins you’re going to get from week to week. Losing in the final game to divisional rivals New York Giants eliminated them from playoff contention last year as they finished with a 8-7-1 record after a tie game with Cincinnati at Wembley. The last two seasons have been brighter though with it being the first time Washington have ended consecutive seasons with a winning record since 1996-97. Having picked up DL Jonathan Allen with their first pick in the 2017 Draft and then LBs Ryan Anderson and Josh Harvey-Clemons, Washington seems to be looking to be more aggressive this year.
Running with the theme of unpredictable teams, New York Giants come on down. We’re well aware of the talent star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is capable of. In the off-season the Giants signed QB Geno Smith, CB Valentino Blake and WR Brandon Marshall, and released WR Victor Cruz and RB Rashad Jennings. They also claimed CB Tay Glover-Wright off waivers from Philadelphia, waived CB Nigel Tribune, and then re-signed Nigel Tribune. They’ve got a solid backbone and these transactions tell me that they’re looking to strengthen around that. Time will tell if it worked.
During last year’s Super Bowl, Atlanta Falcons was 28-12 up with six minutes remaining before Patriots secured what is sure to go down in history as one of the best sporting comebacks ever. I’m sure that bitter taste left from not winning lingers in the mouths of the Falcons players. They’ll come back hungry and in arguably the best offensive in the league they’ve got the chance to go one step further. Having agreed contract extensions with both RB Devonta Freeman and CB Desmond Trufant, look for them to play hard.
Drew Brees has reached the milestone of 5000 passing yards in a season five times. To put that into perspective, no other QB in the history of the NFL has done it twice. Normally with a New Orleans Saints game, you expect a high scoring affair and this year shouldn’t be any different. Saints picked up Adrian Peterson to sit behind Mark Ingram in the depth chart and Michael Thomas continues to develop as a wide-out. It’s on the defensive side though that the Saints needed to pay attention to and they did just that at the 2017 Draft. Saints picked up CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams, LB Alex Anzalone and DE Trey Hendrickson. Each of the last three seasons New Orleans have finished with a 7-9 record and this year plan on working their way back into playoff contenders.
Carolina Panthers have recently replaced former general manager Dave Gettleman with interim general manager Marty Hurney. They acquired RB Christian McCaffrey from Stanford with their first pick in the draft to gain a change-of-pace guy behind Jonathan Stewart. It’s also a well-known fact that Cam Newton gets pounded by opposing teams on an almost weekly basis. During the 2016 season Newton sustained his first concussion and played the last several games with an injured shoulder. Throwing deep passes can only work when you’re getting the time to set up the play, which hasn’t been happening for the Panthers. Newton may also be unlucky not to be getting personal foul calls that seem to be called elsewhere in the league. Look to see quicker releases from Newton to halt this and attempt to create opportunities for rookies Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey.
Boasting a receiving corps that includes Mike Evans, veteran DeSean Jackson and first round draft pick O.J. Howard, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a threat through the air. That is also the case for many other teams in this division though and you could see the Buccs left behind as the season progresses. A middle of the road strength of schedule could help the cause here, although it’s difficult to see a way out of this division for them.
Aaron Rodgers is one of the top tier QBs in the league and the receiving core can be explosive with him at the helm. For the last few years it’s the Green Bay Packers secondary that’s been the issue. During the draft they picked up CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones to attempt to plug these holes. WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery will get the ball early in the season and rookie Jamaal Williams is there if it turns into more of a running back by committee in Lambeau. Packers have made the playoffs eight years running, however they were outclassed by Atlanta in the Championship game last year. With Minnesota progressing as a team, it should be more difficult this year to make it nine seasons in a row.
Speaking of Minnesota, the Vikings drafted RB Dalvin Cook and he should see action early on. In a stark contrast to Green Bay, the QB position and the Offensive line remain a question mark. This is not to say that Sam Bradford did poorly during the last campaign, it was actually the opposite. If Minnesota has real playoff aspirations though, that offensive line will have to perform better as a unit to give Sam Bradford and co a proper shot at getting to the Promised Land.
Matthew Stafford is now the highest paid player in the NFL after recently signing a new contract worth $135 million over five years. The Detroit Lions fans will be hoping he’s worth the money. Lions tried to solve some of the Linebacker troubles by drafting Jarrad Davis and even though Davis has a history with injuries, it’s a step in the correct direction. Behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones there isn’t a whole lot to get excited for, so both Minnesota and Green Bay should be too strong for them.
Chicago should get a relatively high draft pick in the 2018 draft as I can’t envision the upcoming season being much of a success. The others in their division should be too far ahead for them to catch this year.
In both 2015 and 2016 the Seattle Seahawks won the Wild Card playoffs and then fell to opponents Panthers and Falcons in the Divisional Playoffs. Head Coach Pete Carroll has had some terrific success in Seattle that includes a Super Bowl ring and a playoff appearance every year apart from one since he took the job in 2010. The Hawks attracted Eddie Lacy from Green Bay to bolster the running game and added in a potential contract bonus of $385,000 based on the results of a number of weigh-ins. During the draft they traded twice, dropping them out the first round and then eventually taking not one but two DT in Malik McDowell and Nazair Jones. They’ll start the season as NFC West favourites once again.
From the favourites to a team that will fight it out not to finish bottom. San Francisco 49ers will more than likely have to duke it out with Los Angeles Rams to avoid coming last. A team that’s in need of rebuilding started well with the draft this year, acquiring three players on the defensive side in Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and Ahkello Witherspoon. It will continue this with one of the top picks in the 2018 draft also.
Similar to the 49ers, I expect the Los Angeles Rams to be allocated a high draft pick next year as I can’t see them securing a winning record during the regular season. The Rams are by no means devoid of talent with RB Todd Gurley, WR Sammy Watkins and undoubtedly they’re best player Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald. It will be much of the same for the Rams despite the new location.
Narrowly missing out on a winning season last year with a record of 7-8, the Arizona Cardinals get back to winning ways this year. They’ll have to push hard for the playoffs but a stout defence that includes S Tyrann Mathieu, LB Chandler Jones and CB Patrick Peterson, not to mention RB David Johnson (overall number 1 pick in fantasy according to ADP), will give them the opportunity.