Sep. 23, 2016
Projecting the NFC 1 Month Out
If the playoffs were to begin today, the Seattle Seahawks would be the only team from last year's playoffs (and they were the sixth seed) to be in the playoffs this year. Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Put them down, the NFL doesn't turnover THAT much in one season, especially since four of the other five are 6-6 or worse, and the Washington Redskins are 6-5-1. Due to the experience of the Seahawks, I think they are the class of the NFC at this point, even with Dallas at 11-1. So, here are my projections on where everybody in the NFC will be at the end of the season.
16) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Somehow this team beat the Rams 28-0 to start the season. Since then, they have been losing by an average of 11 points, and have lost every game since the opener. If it was not for the Cleveland Browns being 0-12, the 49ers would be the laughingstock of the NFL. This team is a mess, and it will take more than one season to fix it.
15) CHICAGO BEARS: I think John Fox's resume has earned him a third season, and when you look at the state of this team, it's truly hard to put it all on John Fox. I mean, they have Jay Cutler, and when he gets hurt, they have to play Matt Barkley. They have injuries all over the place, but that has forced a few bright spots such as Jordan Howard.
14) LOS ANGELES RAMS: Remember after week four when the Rams were leading the NFC West? Then remember how they lost seven of eight since? At least Jared Goff is finally playing, but with that offense, it doesn't matter. Todd Gurley had a dismal second season, and the Rams have yet to find a receiver. The defense isn't always reliable either, as they have given up 25+ six times (and they are 1-5 when that happens).
13) CAROLINA PANTHERS: From first to worst, at least in their division, is the tale of the Carolina Panthers' season. Injuries have been moderate, but are definitely not an excuse from losing seven more games already than they did last year. Either that schedule truly was super soft, or it was just a one-and-done for Carolina. They won't go 13-3 again, but expect them back in the race next year.
12) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: This is a team that went from 3-0 to 5-7, and that's usually what happens when you have a rookie starting quarterback. I like how the defense has played so far this season, but the offense has struggled at times during their 2-7 run. Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott is always going to be an intriguing conversation, and the Eagles are trending upward.
11) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: With how good this team plays offense, you would think that throwing first round picks and millions of dollars at defensive free agents would do the trick. The Saints just aren't good at scouting defense, but when it comes to offense they find players like Willie Snead, Tim Hightower and Josh Hill out of nowhere. Unless they find defense, this team will stay mediocre.
10) MINNESOTA VIKINGS: I knew Sam Badford (misspelling on purpose) would come back! I was so surprised when he was playing lights out leading the Vikings to 5-0, and then they have lost six of seven. It's not the defense's fault either, the offense just has no playmakers, especially when Stefon Diggs is dealing with injuries. That defense, though.
9) ARIZONA CARDINALS: Yet another failed season, and the Cardinals are a Seattle win away from being out of the NFC West race. Carson Palmer has struggled, and this team is staying alive based on its' defense and David Johnson. The Cardinals haven't had the toughest schedule either, and they have lost to worse teams like the Rams and Bills.
8) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: At some point, this train heading for the playoffs will derail, but Jameis Winston is leading this Tampa Bay team to a much improved season. This team had the number one pick two years ago, and if the playoffs started today, they would be in it. I don't think they can hold course at this point, but the NFC has been backwards all season.
7) WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I think that the Redskins have some solid pieces, but I'm just not as big on them as a lot of people are. You can't win that many games with Robert Kelley as your starting running back, and the "solid" defense has only led them to a record one half game above .500. Kirk Cousins is having a great year, but he's the only reason they are still alive.
6) GREEN BAY PACKERS: This is the weirdest team in the NFL as far as laying out the season, but they still have a good chance to make the playoffs. They have a huge home game against Seattle, and then have the three divisional opponents. If they win out they have a reasonable chance to catch the Detroit Lions, but even with a loss to Seattle, Detroit or Minnesota (not more than one), they should have an inside track to the playoffs. This team has more talent than their record shows.
5) NEW YORK GIANTS: It seems like every season this team starts to self-destruct, and I have a sense of that happening again. They have a game against the Detroit Lions, and the rest of the NFC East, so they can conceivably lose every game. They also could win out, and still be in the wild card. I think that they are too far ahead of the Packers and Redskins to fall out completely, though.
4) ATLANTA FALCONS: Matt Ryan is not a real MVP candidate, and nobody on a 7-5 team that is destined for no better than 10-6 should. And what would Matt Ryan be without Julio Jones? The running back duo is also awesome, and this offense is clicking on all cylinders. This team wins when it plays defense, too, and it has improved, but I'm not sure it has improved enough.
3) DETROIT LIONS: Everybody talks about the divisional rival Minnesota defense, but Detroit's defense is also among the NFL's best. They don't have the flashiest of players, but Jim Caldwell has this defense rolling. And Matthew Stafford is actually playing like a number one pick should, and the offense doesn't really seem to miss Calvin Johnson. I can see them making the second round of the playoffs.
2) DALLAS COWBOYS: Sure, the Cowboys will probably have a better record than Seattle, but I don't think that means they are better. They remind me a lot of that Carolina team from last year, and honestly unless Seattle (or Green Bay if they make it) gets to the Super Bowl, it will go to the AFC. I never will trust Dallas to be good when it counts.
1) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Earl Thomas is done for the season, and maybe his career, but this team is the best in the NFC. They have enough defensive pieces, even in the secondary, to cover for him and make an extended run. Plus, the offense is finally healthy, and TE Jimmy Graham has had a comeback season. Seattle remains the team to beat until proven otherwise.