The Cowboys are Vegas darlings to win the NFC this year. Is it the drive to play on home field for the Super Bowl? Did Tony Romo get a new girlfriend? Is it all the America’s Team fans driving up the betting price? Who knows. The Cowboys have the most talented roster in the NFC and it’s easy to see why Vegas bookies are pegging them at 5-1 odds to win the NFC. But I’ve got a better bet.
Unlike the AFC, there are only a handful of teams worthy of consideration to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV: Saints, Cowboys, Vikings and Packers. One of these teams will be in Arlington on February 6th, 2011.
Dallas Cowboys (Prediction: 11-5 / 2009: 11-5)
It’s all too perfect. The Cowboys on a destiny run for a home-cooking Super Bowl. It’s going to be the story of the NFC this year since the Cowboys always hog the spotlight — that is until they shrink in the spotlight. There’s no question that with all the talent Jerry Jones has amassed on this team that they will win the NFC East and have a first round bye. You can name any of the skill position players on the Cowboys and think “man, that guy’s good.” (Well, maybe not Roy Williams, who is going to lose his job any day now.) But what’s always creeping in the back of your mind is that the Cowboys just don’t have the minerals to win when it really counts.
Just look at the tape from last year’s drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings and you’ll see why I’m not expecting the Cowboys to take that next big step. After 6 sacks and Tony Romo running for his life in a 34-3 loss, the only player they replaced on the offensive line was an aging Flozell Adams. You’re going to tell me Doug Free is the answer to the O-line issues plaguing Dallas? The Cowboys stockpile of talent will get them plenty of wins this year, but another early exit in the playoffs.
New York Giants (Prediction: 9-7 / 2009: 8-8)
The Giants are counting on a couple of things to get them back into Super Bowl form: the return of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs from an injury plagued 2009 season and a change in defensive philosophy under new DC Perry Fewell (not to be confused with the Jane’s Addiction frontman). While the offensive side of the ball can click with a surprisingly decent WR corps and Eli Manning at the helm, the Giants really needed to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
Last year, they gave up 26.7 points per game, bad enough for 30th in the league. The addition of Antrel Rolle should help their secondary but the Giants are still a mess at linebacker. Right now, Keith Bulluck, Jonathan Goff, and Michael Boley are penciled in as the starters. Who? Exactly. With such a gaping hole, it’s hard to pick this team to get more than 9 wins this year.
Philadelphia Eagles (Prediction: 7-9 / 2009: 11-5)
(In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan.) While nobody in the front office will admit to it, the Eagles are in a retooling mode. It’s not quite the rebuilding that the Detroit Lions and St Louis Rams of the league are doing but there are virtually no expectations in Philly this year that they are anything more than a .500 ball club. Instead, this is the season to develop Kevin Kolb, Jeremy Maclin, and Shady McCoy. Despite having a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball (don’t forget Brent Celek and Desean Jackson), the offensive line is liable to get Kolb killed in his first true year as a starter.
On the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush is expecting big things from rookie Brandon Graham to complement Trent Cole. Stewart Bradley returns from a torn ACL and has looked in the preseason like he’s fully recovered. After trotting out random trash at the safety position last year, the Eagles used their 2nd round pick (aka “The McNabb Pick”) on Nate Allen and will be counting on the rookie, which is always a scary proposition. The Eagles are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Not counting kickers, the oldest person on the roster will be Juqua Parker at 32 with no one else older than 30, depending on whether Kelley Washington makes the team. Yep, it’s rebuil… retooling time.
Washington Redskins (Prediction: 5-11 / 2009: 4-12)
It’s the same old song every year from the Washington Redskins. Instead of building a contender slowly and steadily (really, how the skins fans put up with this crap year after year is one of the great mysteries in sports), the Redskins try to buy one with big name stars and big name coaches. This year, it’s Mike Shanahan and Donavan McNabb. After the Albert Haynesworth debacle, you’d think they’d have learned. Nope. Like a junkie in need of a fix, the Redskins are at it again.
A lot of excuses were made by Donovan McNabb apologists in Phily the last couple of years: he didn’t have a good offensive line, his wide receivers were mediocre, there was no running game to support him. How exactly is Washington a better fit for his diminished mobility and inability to complete the short passes? Perhaps a fresh start is exactly what McNabb needs to rejuvenate his career. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Donovan McNabb, Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker. That sounds exactly like my fantasy football starting lineup in 2004. I think I went 5-11 in my league that year too.
Green Bay Packers (Prediction: 13-3 / 2009: 11-5)
The Green Bay Packers absolutely baffled me last year. They would lose a clunker to dreadful Tampa Bay and then reel off quality wins against Dallas, SF, and Baltimore. Part of the reason the Pack settled down towards the end of the season was protection for Aaron Rodgers. In the last 8 games of the regular season, the offensive line gelled and only gave up 13 sacks in the those games. Since Green Bay lead the league in sacks allowed (51) in 2009, you can see how much Rodgers was running for his life in some of those early games, especially the two games against Minnesota (15 total).
With every starter healthy coming out of the preseason (unless I’ve just jinxed them), the Pack should remain in the second half of 2009 form — that is to say, very very good. On offense, Jermichael Finley is going to sensational this year and be a game changer similar to Jason Witten in Dallas. Meanwhile, the defense has only gotten stronger with Clay Matthews in his second season and Charles Woodson getting better with age. As always, the Packers are all about the QB and despite fumbling the season away last year, Aaron Rodgers showed that he can sling it as well as anyone in the league and is poised to be the second best QB in the NFC behind Drew Brees.
Minnesota Vikings (Prediction: 10-6 / 2009: 12-4)
Since the Vikings have improved every year under Brad Childress aka Ned Flanders, the easy pick would be to peg them at 14-2 and to win the NFC. Not so fast. While the team is mostly intact, they haven’t upgraded an offensive line that was showing some holes by the end of the year. If you have Adrian Peterson and the run game can lay eggs such as they did against Arizona and Carolina, there’s something wrong there.
While Favre bailed them out again and again (until he cost them the game against NO), can we really expect Favre to have a great of a year as he did in 09? Even if you ignore age for a second, Favre isn’t going to play better in 2010. With his surgically repaired ankle and Sidney Rice out for the first six games, I highly doubt Favre will come close to his 2009 stats. The Vikings are still a very good team but there’s a new sheriff in the NFC North
Chicago Bears (Prediction: 6-10 / 2009: 7-9)
When the Bears traded for Jay Cutler, I thought that they had solved their QB problems. And despite some flashes of brilliance, it turns out I was very wrong. Not only did Cutler give it up 26 times last year, he seemed to throw INTs at the worst of times. Only way the Bears could lose this one is if Cutler throws an INT? Interception.
Because Jay Cutler isn’t really that bad, the Bears went out and got Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator to save their hides. This makes absolutely no sense to me. While Jay Cutler has the arm to sling it down the field to any of their speedy receivers, the offensive line won’t be able to get him enough time for Martz’s aerial attacks to work. Factor in that Matt Forte is no Marshall Faulk and this Chicago campaign has disaster written all over it. Maybe after this season, people will stop wondering, “how does Lovie Smith still have a job?” — because he’ll be on the unemployment line.
Detroit Lions (Prediction: 4-12 / 2009: 2-14)
It pains me to have to watch, read about, or even think about the Detroit Lions. Wake me up next year when Stafford, Jahvid Best, and Donkey Kong Suh are fully seasoned to go along with Calvin Johnson and we might be talking about an 8-8 season. The good news for Detroit fans is that with the final purging of any player drafted by Matt Millen, that stench of loserdom is finally starting to come out. That’s something.
New Orleans Saints (Prediction: 12-4) / 2009: 13-3)
You’d have to be some sort of idiot not to pick the Super Bowl champs to repeat as at least division champs. And I’m no idiot (depending on whom you ask, of course.) With virtually no losses on either side of the ball besides Scott Fujita, what could I possibly tell you about the Saints besides that they’ll easily win their division.
Atlanta Falcons (Prediction: 10-6 / 2009: 9-7)
I get the feeling that a lot of people are going to pick Atlanta as their dark horse in the NFC race. On the surface of it, they have all the pieces in place: a QB looking to rebound from a sophomore slump in Matt Ryan, a fat RB that has decided to slim down to regain his speed and quickness in Michael Turner, and a WR who is looking to make the step from Pro Bowler to elite in Roddy White. Ok… sign me up too. The problem with the Falcons is that they’re in the same division as the Saints. But they’re good enough to get a wildcard.
Carolina Panthers (Prediction:5-11 / 2009: 8-8)
Despite losing superstar Julius Pepper, the Carolina Panthers have a young and fast defense that’s going to keep them in games. At least that’s the story coming out of preseason. The problem with the Panthers is their abysmal passing game. Last year, the Panthers finished 27th in passing offense and have made no significant improvements this year. While they smartly kicked Jake Delhomme to the curb, they have unproven Matt Moore at the helm. Moore was decent last year in the 7 games he started but he’s not going to give anyone a fantasy boner. It won’t take long for fans to start grumbling for Jimmy Clausen.
The Panthers are going to win with defense and the running attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Unfortunately for Panthers fans, that’s not going to be many wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Prediction:4-12 / 2009: 3-13)
There’s a silver lining for Bucs fans: television blackouts will mean you have 4 spare hours on Sunday to do something productive with your lives instead of watching this dreck. For years, the Tampa Bay defense was so formidable that everyone assumed they’d always be a defensive powerhouse. That went out the window last year and it looks like there’s no relief in sight for 2010. With apologies to Dean Wormer, slow and unskilled is no way to go through life, son.
San Francisco 49ers (Prediction:10-6 / 2009: 8-8)
The Niners have some continuity at offensive coordinator for the first time since Alex Smith and his curiously manicured eyebrows came to town. Coming off a much needed “show me” season in 2009, Alex Smith rescued himself from the brink of being Jamarcussed with a career high of 2,350 yards and 18 TDS (12 INTS) last year. This year, with Frank Gore and a full season of Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith has both fantasy owners and Niners fans salivating.
Defensively, the Niners are solid and there’s no reason to expect that they will fall off from last season’s stellar performance and will represent the NFC West in the playoffs – the first playoff appearance since 2002 for SF.
Seattle Seahawks (Prediction:8-8 / 2009: 5-11)
The good news is that it can’t get much worse than 2009 for Seahawks fans. With Pete Carroll free from having to worry about petty things like NCAA rules and violations, he should be able to focus entirely building a football team. Wait, who am I kidding, Pete hasn’t cared about NCAA rules and violations in years. All joking aside, I thought the hiring of Carroll was a tremendous move for the Seahawks in the offseason. Despite his lukewarm record in the NFL, he is a huge upgrade from Jim Mora Jr. That alone should equal a couple of wins.
While the offensive additions have gotten all the press this year, the Seahawks biggest need for improvement will be on the defensive side of the ball. After a dreadful 2009 season, they added safety Earl Thomas in the draft. Earl Thomas is the real deal. With the return of a healthy Marcus Trufant and improvements on the offensive line, the Seahawks won’t be near the bottom in points allowed this year. Watch out for Golden Tate, who, when not trying to steal maple bars from bakeries, is gonna be a playmaker for Seattle.
Arizona Cardinals (Prediction:7-9 / 2009: 10-6)
It’s absolutely astounding what a difference Kurt Warner makes. After watching Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson seemingly incapable of leading the team down the field, you really have to appreciate what Warner did in Arizona. Even though Whisenhunt has been coy about who the starter is going to be opening day, the fact that Leinart was demoted for game 3 of the preseason speaks volumes. You have to wonder why Whisenhunt hates Leinart. It’s almost impossible to lose your job to a guy with a 42.1 passer rating last year, yet Leinart has accomplished that feat despite Anderson not looking at all close to his pro-bowl form.
I know that Larry Fitzgerald is the best wideout on the planet but when he’s your only dependable weapon and your QB is awful, the offense is going to be hard to watch. On the defensive side of the ball, a downgrade from Karlos Dansby to Joey Porter and the loss of Antrel Rolle means Cardinals fans can expect a lot of what Green Bay did to them in the playoff game. It looks like after a brief visit to the stratosphere for the Cards, it’s back to the land of the bottom feeders.
St. Louis Rams (Prediction:3-13 / 2009: 1-15)
I hear a lot about Sam Bradford not having to be super human. Forget that. They don’t pay you $50M guaranteed to be Trent Dilfer. The good news for Rams fans is that Bradford has responded, even if is only preaseason. Unfortunately, the loss of Donnie Avery means the Rams are left with only one viable weapon and that’s Steven Jackson. It’s going to be a trying year for Bradford but hey, that’s why he’s getting paid the big bucks. The Rams won’t factor at all but at least their fans have some hope for the future.
- Wild Card Round: Dallas over Atlanta / Minnesota over San Francisco
- Divisional Round: Green Bay over Minnesota / New Orleans over Dallas
- Championship Round: Green Bay over New Orleans