The NFL Is Almost Here Again – NFC Preview16 min read
It seems an age since Philadelphia Eagles won Superbowl LII in Minneapolis.
Their 41-33 win over New England Patriots saw the underdogs lift their first Lombardi Trophy. They did so without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, who suffered an ACL injury in week 14 last season.
However this season has seen a raft of changes and the NFC is possibly the most talented it has been in a long time. It promises to be a rather intriguing season and we take a look at each division before the season starts.
Despite their pre-season woes, it is hard to look past The Eagles in the East having added Michael Bennett from Seattle to improve an already packed roster. It should be taken into account that they have not played many of their starters in their three defeats since lifting the ultimate prize. They will also be boosted by the return of Carson Wentz who was on course for the MVP before his season ending injury. They finished last season with a 13-3 record and entered every game in the post season as the underdogs. This helped to fuel back up QB Nick Foles and co to a well deserved crown, with Foles being named the Superbowl MVP too. It is hard to see any cracks in this impressive team.
There are not many teams that go 3-13 with this much talent on their roster. But the New York Giants may just be happy to have suffered last season as they were rewarded with the second pick in the draft. Whilst many thought they would take the successor to Eli Manning, they were unable to turn down the opportunity to pick what most believe to have been the best player in the draft in Running Back Saquon Barkley. One of the most dangerous wide receivers in the game has now been locked in to a long term deal ending a contract saga that dominated their off-season. Odell Beckham Jr has inked a $95m five year deal making him the highest paid player in his position in the league. Having missed most of last season he will be eager to show just why the Giants spent so much to secure his future at Big Blue. He has been incredibly effective when healthy and the addition of Barkley will assist him as defenses will think twice before leaving either of them unattended.
It is a pivotal year for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys after missing out on the playoffs last season. However, with concerns over their wide receiving core since the departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witton I am not so sure they will be able to keep pace with their divisional rivals. However this does mean that much of their offense will run through their star RB Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing in his rookie year two seasons ago. He may very well have done so last season had off-field issues not led to a six game suspension.
Unfortunately I see the Washington Redskins being the ones to prop up the division. Whilst I think that Alex Smith is an underrated QB I am not sure that he has the skills to be able to lead a side very much still in transition. During his time at Kansas City he did lead them to the playoffs every season. The Redskins would not have been helped by the loss of draft pick Derrius Guice for the season. I had high hopes for the Running Back and he was an outside bet for the rushing yards leader, with only off-field incidents causing him to tumble down the draft instead of the first round as his talent deserved.
Eagles to win the NFC East
Giants to make the playoffs
Elliott to lead the league in rushing yards
There are few more intriguing teams than the Los Angeles Rams. With coach of the year Sean McVay calling the shots many thought that their offense would be explosive once again this season. However, what has surprised most people is the way in which they attacked the free agency market. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh have all been added to bolster their defensive side of the ball. They have also added Brandin Cooks from the Patriots to add another dimension to their already impressive offense. The Rams have not been afraid to splash the cash to secure their key players either, securing star RB Todd Gurley, offensive player of the year last season, to a deal which sees him become the highest paid player in that position. They also tied defensive player of the year last season Aaron Donald to a new deal, also making him the highest paid defensive player ever. Things seems pretty rosy in LA.
Much attention in this division will be aimed at fellow Californian side San Francisco 49ers. Having tied QB Jimmy Garoppolo to a huge $27.5m a year deal, which at the time was the biggest deal in NFL history, despite the fact he has only ever started seven NFL games. Admittedly he has won all seven of these games, including all five since he was traded to the bay area from New England late last season. They have strengthened in the off season also adding former divisional adversary Richard Sherman from Seattle.
One of the most intriguing sides however are the Arizona Cardinals, who are an under the radar team with an abundance of talent. This is possibly due to the situation they have at QB. Free agent Sam Bradford has signed, who is renowned for having injury issues. They took Josh Rosen in the first round of the draft and, whilst he is undoubtedly talented, he is expected to sit behind Bradford this season. RB David Johnson, who sat out all of last season through injury, has also been welcomed back. However don’t be fooled by this, as it was a wrist injury and will not affect his running ability. He scored 20 touchdowns in his last full season and he is keen to improve on this tally as a key component of this offense. He has set himself a target of 1000 rushing and 1000 receiving yards this season which shows he is hungry to get back to his best form.
Seattle Seahawks have seen a number of changes this off season. The Legion of Boom is no more. They haven’t had a running game since Marshawn Lynch left. But the one thing they do have is Russell Wilson. He threw for 33 of their 34 touchdowns last season and the onus will once again be on of the best QBs in the game. However, I think after the improvements elsewhere in the division this may just be a task too far for the talented 29 year old. But if he manages to guide them to the playoffs somehow then he may just deserve that MVP award.
LA Rams to win the NFC
San Francisco to make the playoffs
David Johnson to have 2000+ rushing and receiving yards combined
The Minneapolis Miracle was one of the best plays all season, but for Minnesota Vikings fans they will be disappointed that this wasn’t in a Superbowl. Still waiting on that elusive first title, they had a great chance to compete in one on home soil last season. After a stellar 13-3 season lead by Case Keenum they were blown away by the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. However having been so close they acted quickly to secure free agent Kirk Cousins who many see as a significant step up at the QB position. He better be after they signed him to a fully guaranteed contract of $28m a year. However they will see this as a wise investment and will be hoping for him to guide them to the big game in February.
Possibly the most feared quarterback returns this season having missed most of last year through injury. He does so fresh from signing the biggest deal in NFL history to earn himself a cool $33.5m a year. Aaron Rodgers will be hoping that this new deal can help him add to his one Superbowl ring. He has also not been shy to voice his opinions on Green Bay’s dealings this off season and has watched as his long term go to man Jordy Nelson left for Oakland. He does however have a new redzone target in the form of Jimmy Graham and he may look to utilise Devontay Adams more this time round. However it does not really matter who he has, he can find a way to extend the plays and his rivals have described him as the bogeyman. This highlights just how well thought of he is by his peers.
The division is rounded off by the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Both teams are slightly in transition, with both hiring new coaches. The Lions are the best placed to challenge the big two in this division, having been only one or two wins away from the playoffs last season. They have an abundance of talent but I can’t see past the Vikings or the Packers. I can see the Bears finishing bottom of the NFC North unfortunately. That said, I have hopes for them looking to the future – this is a project being built with a very youthful side who will look to want to improve on their 5-11 record last year but this is a team building towards a brighter future.
Vikings to win the Superbowl
Aaron Rodgers regular season MVP
Lions to make the playoffs
Probably the most loaded division in all of the NFL. Three teams progressed to the play-offs last season. THREE.
You have to feel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who find themselves up against it this season. They are not helped by the suspension that quarterback Jameis Winston will serve to start the season. They were already up against it with the first three fixtures against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers but will now have to do so without their star QB.
It is star QBs that define this division. New Orleans Saints are probably the most well equipped to challenge for the big prize. Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees is simply one of the finest to have ever played the game. He consistently puts up ridiculous stats and will be eager to add to his one Superbowl ring. The Saints have quietly gone about compiling a very talented and youthful side with last seasons offensive rookie of the year Alvin Kamara having a break out year. Much will be asked of him with fellow RB Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games of the season. They will be fancied to once again make the playoffs but will be hoping that this year they are not beaten by a play affectionately known as a ‘miracle’.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season last year. They were probably still affected by the devastating loss in Superbowl LI, blowing a 25 point lead which was the biggest comeback in Superbowl history. However, they still have one of the most dynamic offenses in the game. Julio Jones is one of the most dominant WR in the game and he will be looking to bounce back from a slow season last year where he was only able to score three touchdowns. He was also close to catching a last second touchdown which would have clinched a playoff victory over eventual champions Philadelphia. Matt Ryan has also penned a new deal which now sees him earning $30m a year and he will want to prove his worth and that his MVP season was not a one off by banishing the Superbowl demons. With the Superbowl in Atalanta this season the prospect of making amends on home soil is incredibly tempting.
Former MVP Cam Newton rounds off the superstar QBs in this division. They made the playoffs last year but lost out to rivals New Orleans and they will face them twice in three games to end the regular season. This could be pivotal in how this division ends up. Cam is a bit of an enigma as he has not been able to string two seasons at a consistent level together and tends to have a down year after excelling. He led the Panthers to an 11-5 record last year but may find the going a bit tougher this time around. The question remains as to which Cam we will see.
Saints to win NFC South
Falcons to win their first four games