September 4, 2014

Your 2014 NFC preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

The NFC is so full of contenders, we could see one or two pre-season favourites not even make the post-season. Compared to the AFC, which has just two true standouts, the NFC should be the superior conference, but teams will have to beat up on each other just to make it out. Whether this makes the top teams stronger, or knocks down their records due to the in-fighting remains to be seen. Either way, it should add up to an entertaining year in the NFC.

Predicted records for teams in brackets.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys (6-10): This is the season it all starts to fall apart for the Cowboys. After being on the verge of making the playoffs the past few years, Dallas has been set up for a big step down. While the offence should be fine and could be one of the top in the league, the defence could be worse – and that’s saying something. After having a terrible season last year, the Boys let future hall of famer DeMarcus Ware go and lost top linebacker Sean Lee to injury. It could get ugly in Big D.

New York Giants (6-10): The Giants are still in a rebuild after their Super Bowl run three seasons ago and aren’t ready to contend yet, but have made some steps in the right direction. The biggest being bringing in a new offensive co-ordinator and installing a west coast offence. Why is that so great? Well with shorter throws to make, Eli Manning can’t possibly get picked off as much.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): With Chip Kelly in charge, the Eagles offence was revolutionary, taking many teams by surprise and looking dominant even late in the season. The defence was the big issue, giving up the most passing yards in the league. Adding Malcolm Jenkins will help that a little, but even a slight improvement will go a long way for Philly’s title aspirations.

Washington (7-9): Washington made some moves in the off-season, but the biggest was the one it didn’t make: Changing its racist nickname. If they want to keep it, change their logo to a potato. As for on the field, a coaching change and the addition of DeSean Jackson should spark this offence back to life, but the fact of the matter is that this team will be depending on Robert Griffin III to return to his rookie-season form.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears (11-5): An injury to Jay Cutler couldn’t slow down what has become a juggernaut offence for the Bears. The irony is that the old Monsters of the Midway were run over time and time again on defence. A far cry from recent seasons. But with a few additions across the defence, the Bears should at least return to league average as a unit. With that said, it’s not hard to see the Bears reaching the playoffs and maybe contending for the division title and even a bye.

Detroit Lions (6-10): The Lions were setup for a rebound season after struggling their way to 7-9 last season and firing coach Jim Schwartz. But then they replaced him with sideline mannequin Jim Caldwell and made some questionable draft choices. Caldwell only gained acclaim as Indy’s coach thanks to Peyton Manning and didn’t do so well as Baltimore’s OC last season. Their defensive backs are still poor, so you can expect them to be in some exciting games though.

Green Bay Packers (11-5): When you consider that the Packers won the division last season with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, you have to wonder what will happen with him returning to health. The offence should be outstanding as always and the defence should bounce back from a rough season with some key additions like Julius Peppers. Look for the Pack to be in the mix with the Super Bowl contenders yet again.

Minnesota Vikings (8-8): While the Vikes pass rush and defence is still questionable, the offence can really take a step forward with Norv Turner helming things. And that’s a bit scary when you consider Adrian Peterson is leading the way on the ground. It will be interesting to see if/when the Vikes turn to Teddy Bridgewater, their future at QB, if Matt Cassel doesn’t struggle as much as people might think he will.

Winner: Green Bay Packers

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Last season was an injury disaster for the top-heavy Falcons, with both stud receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White missing large chunks of time. If those two can stay healthy, Atlanta can have a bounce-back season and maybe even contend for the playoffs. The big problem remains the defence, which didn’t see much in the way of upgrades this off-season.

Carolina Panthers (6-10): After a phenomenal rise from under .500 to division winner, the Panthers are set to reverse that trend this season. After losing much of its offensive line, receiving corps and needing to overhaul their secondary, this is not the same Carolina team that earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. To make matters worse, Cam Newton is nursing broken ribs, which is something you never want for your de facto goal-line back.

New Orleans Saints (10-6): In Rob Ryan’s first year as defensive co-ordinator, the Saints made a big improvement on that side of ball. Really, it would’ve been hard not considering how bad the Saints defence was before. If it can steadily improve again in that facet while remaining one of the league’s best defences, New Orleans will be among the best teams in the league again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8): The very fact that the Bucs now have a coach that they don’t actively despise is a sign that this team can cash in on its potential this season. Tampa Bay had a lot of talent last season only to be squandered by coach Greg Schiano. With even an average QB like Josh McCown, this squad should get to .500.

Winner: New Orleans Saints

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals (6-10): Despite finishing with 10 wins last season, the Cardinals were on the outside looking in for the playoffs. The bad news: It won’t be close to that total this season. Their porous offensive line saw only a marginal improvement, Larry Fitzgerald is in decline and Carson Palmer is another year older. Even worse, the Cards could field the worst group of linebackers in the league.

St. Louis Rams (7-9): The Rams pass rush is the league’s best and might even be better this season, allowing the slight shortcomings of their defensive backs to remain hidden. The big problem is that with Sam Bradford injured yet again, the team lacks a true leader on the offensive side of the ball. Until this team gets a field general under centre, I can’t pick them to reach the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers (11-5): The Niners have a high degree of difficulty early on thanks to suspensions on defence and the fact Navarro Bowman is still recovering from a torn ACL. This could lead some to overlook them and setup this well-coached, well-assembled team from making a strong run at the Super Bowl. You also can’t overlook the fact that Michael Crabtree is healthy and ready to light it up with Colin Kaepernick.

Seattle Seahawks (12-4): The defending champs will have a bullseye on their backs – even from the refs. With the new defensive holding rules, the Seahawks physical backs will have to lighten up on the contact with receivers. It hasn’t affected them in the pre-season, but you never know when the games mean something. Seattle will always be a terror at home and there’s no reason why Russell Wilson and the offence can’t continue their steady improvement.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks.

Wild cards: San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears.

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