September 2, 2008

2009 NFC preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

With the AFC out of the way, how about those boys in blue?

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys (Last season: 13-3).
The Cowboys have everything a team needs to be great. A high throttle offence, a strong defence and a schedule without too many causes for concern. Their only issues are their depth at receiver — not much after Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton — and possible clubhouse cancers. It may look all peachy with Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson right now, but Dallas better hope they don’t get into trouble away from the field. Then there’s the whole Tony Romo-Jessica Simpson deal, but I see them ending it by midseason.
Prediction: 12-4.
Philadelphia Eagles (Last season: 8-8).
The big difference in Philly this season is a healthy Donovan McNabb. He’ll be on top of his game in a big way to hold off second-year QB Kevin Kolb in his eventual road to replace the veteran. Figure in Brian Westbrook, who’s on the cusp of going from wildly underrated to overrated, and the addition of Asante Samuel to a defensive back core that was already top-notch and you have a legit contender. The departure of Takeo Spikes helps too (see San Francisco for more details). I think Philly could make it back to the NFC Championship this season if they cards fall right.
Prediction: 10-6.
New York Giants (Last season: 10-6).
I’ll tell you right now that it’s a fat chance that the Giants repeat as champions. I’d be hard pressed to even see them in the playoffs this season. Eli Manning has still only played one great, consistent month of football in his career; I don’t believe he can play like that for an entire season. The reason that they beat the Patriots was their amazing pass rush and that has disappeared. The loss of Osi Umenyiora in the preseason and the retirement of Michael Strahan are not good signs.
Prediction: 8-8.
Washington Redskins (Last season: 9-7).
Having the best backup quarterback in the league might not help the Redskins as much as you think. Todd Collins led Washington the post-season after Jason Campbell went down last season but the same thing won’t happen again. A first-year coaching staff and another system to learn won’t help anyone. Finally, the key to Washington’s great finish last season — sadly — was the death of Sean Taylor. God forbid another murder of anyone, even if it does help your team.
Prediction: 7-9.
NFC North
Minnesota Vikings (Last season: 8-8).
The Vikings built themselves into Super Bowl contenders this offseason and might have the best defensive line in the NFL now. Jared Allen and co. could be a new version of the famous Purple People Eaters of old. Add in a running game that is borderline unstoppable and you have all the recipes for a true NFC north division champ. They do have a problem at QB with Tavaris Jackson’s inexperience but leaning on their vaunted rush should take some pressure of his shoulders. I think they’ll survive Bryan McKinley’s suspension just fine and roll through this division.
Prediction: 11-5.
Green Bay Packers (Last season: 13-3).
The Pack are a team full of question marks to me. Can Aaron Rodgers step up into Brett Favre’s shoes? Can Ryan Grant prove he’s the real deal? Can the defence play the same way they did last year? Can they handle a tougher schedule? In order, I think the answers are no (Favre’s shoes are too big but Rodgers won’t be awful), no (I wouldn’t bank too much on guy who had a good eight games only), yes (there’s no signs this defence will slack) and not really (their schedule for this season is a lot tougher than the one that got them to 13-3). 
Prediction: 8-8.
Detroit Lions (Last season: 7-9)
The Lions may not be as pathetic as they used to be but they’re still not good. Trading away the best player on your defence (Shaun Rogers) is never a good way to improve your team. The only bright side is that Calvin Johnson will grow into a top flight receiver this year. With his skill set and the fact that the Lions will most likely be playing from behind a lot, it means a lot of receptions for Johnson and Roy Williams. I can envision the Lions abandoning their commitment to the run quite quickly, their personnel just aren’t right for it.
Prediction: 6-10.
Chicago Bears (Last season: 7-9).
It doesn’t matter if it’s Sexy Rexy or Kyle Orton under centre, this team’s offence is horrible. The only points the former Midway Monsters are getting are by special teams dynamo Devin Hester and from turnovers caused by their great defence. Speaking of Hester, if he can continue to grow his game into a better wide receiver, the league will never be able to catch up with him. The only problem that will remain is who will get the ball into his hands.
Prediction: 4-12.
NFC South
New Orleans Saints (Last season: 7-9).
I’m not sure what effect playing in London will have but let the record show that the Giants won at Wembley last year and went on to be Super Bowl champs. With Deuce McAllister back from injury and ready to help balance the offence with Reggie Bush, the Saints can get back on track after a down season. With the addition of Jeremy Shockey, this team may return to the top of the league; where it was two seasons ago when they made the NFC championship game. I’ve already invested heavily in the offence on my fantasy team and they better not disappoint.
Prediction: 11-5.
Carolina Panthers (Last season: 7-9).
There’s going to be chemistry issues when your top receiver decks a teammate in the preseason like Steve Smith did. The team will suffer without him in the lineup while he serves his two game suspension but isn’t too bad off when he returns. The problem last season was inconsistency (Testaverde, Moore) and crappy quality (Carr) at quarterback but with Jake Delhomme back, those should be solved. They’re not going to be a great team but they should take the second wild card slot in my opinion.
Prediction: 8-8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last season: 9-7).
Seems like every year a new team is atop the NFC South and that doesn’t bode well for the defending champ Bucs. This team is another year older and there wasn’t much change to the roster. Jon Gruden and his staff are a great group of teachers but this team won’t have the talent to take them back to the playoffs.
Prediction: 7-9.
Atlanta Falcons (Last season: 4-12).
Matt Ryan has the weight of an entire franchise on his shoulders — never good for a rookie quarterback. Many teams like to ease rookie pivots into the league but the Falcons don’t really have a choice when you consider who else is on the roster. Chris Redman and the recently cut Joey Harrington aren’t exactly awe-inspiring. Look for Michael Turner to have an inconsistent struggle of a year. He’ll soon learn that the linemen in Atlanta aren’t nearly as good as the Chargers were.
Prediction: 3-13.
NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (Last season: 10-6).
Buried away in the pacific northwest, everyone forgets how good the Seahawks are and how hard it is to play at Qwest Field. In this division it will be hard for them to not make the playoffs and a switch to a runningback-by-commitee system improves their ground game over the stutterstep-and-fall-down stylings of Shaun Alexander. Don’t be surprised if the ‘hawks take a deep run in January before Mike Holmgren’s exit.
Prediction: 12-4.
Arizona Cardinals (Last season: 8-8).
Kurt Warner didn’t exactly beat out Matt Leinart for the starter’s job; it was more like Matty boy lost it. Leinart has to grow up on and off the field if he wants to be a successful player. Warner will be playing to prove he’s not washed up but for as many touchdowns he throws, he gets picked off a bit much. With either of these guys behind centre, I think 8-8 is the ceiling in Arizona. Anquan Boldin should thank his lucky stars he’ll be gone soon (wouldn’t he fit great for the Cowboys?).
Prediction: 7-9.
San Francisco 49ers (Last season: 5-11).
Seeing Takeo Spikes on the Niners depth chart is the first sign that they’re not a playoff team. Spikes, a good linebacker, has not played in the post-season once over his 11 year career. Don’t expect that to change in San Fran. It’s also not a very good sign when the guy you drafted first overall a mere three summers ago is sitting on the bench while a journeyman — whose name sound more like a bar than a football player — is starting. Having J.T. O’Sullivan taking snaps is not a way to win in the NFL.
Prediction: 4-12.
St. Louis Rams (Last season: 3-13).
The Rams are slowly and surely building up their defensive line through the draft and will be great as early as this season. The problem is on the other side of the ball though. Poor blocking has led to a collapse of this once great offence and Rams really needed to improve that side of the ball instead of the defence. It’s easy to see another high pick heading to the Rams next spring.
Prediction: 4-12.

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