NFL 2017: NFC Preview (Condensed)

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Dak Prescott has the keys to the castle in Dallas. What will he do with it? And can Matt Ryan get over what happened in the Super Bowl?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC East

New York Giants – I think the Giants have the best defense in the NFC East. They are strong up front with two passing rushing vets (JPP & Vernon) and a big run stuffer (Damon Harrison). I think they are weak at the LB position but they are loaded with talent in the secondary. New York should also have a sound passing attack on offense. Eli Manning will have a wide array of weapons to choose from this season with Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and rookie TE Evan Engram. The Giants do have question marks with their running game and offensive line. But I think they can outlast the competition in a tight NFC East race. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC East Champs)

Dallas Cowboys –For whatever reason, the Cowboys haven’t been able to string together back-to-back successful seasons too many times since the 90’s. And after blowing a great opportunity the change the narrative last season, they return this season with little or no improvements. I think the offense will be okay. I think Dak Prescott will not fall into a sophomore slump. There are some changes on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott might miss the start of the season but I think the run game will still be strong. And the Cowboys do return many weapons in the passing game led by Dez Bryant and the leadership of Jason Witten. On defense, all eyes will be on LB Jaylon Smith who missed all of last season due to injury but the Cowboys are expect big things out of. Outside of that, the Cowboys return a defense that cant create pressure and are featuring wholesale changes in the secondary. At this point, I feel bad for Jason Witten. I feel good about Dallas in 2018 though. Prediction: 8-8

Washington – I like what Washington has on defense. If they could just find some consistency on offense they could be a sleeper team in the NFC East. QB Kirk Cousins is a mixed bag but I like his gunslinger mentality. Many are expecting a big year from free agent signee WR Terrelle Pryor. Washington also had a nice big target for Cousins in TE Jordan Reed if he can stay healthy. Much like New York, offensive line and running back are where the question marks lie. Like I said earlier, I like many of the pieces on this Washington defense. They have already suffered some injuries on the defensive line and at LB but they wisely prepared for this in the draft. I’m interested in seeing how rookies DE Jonathan Allen and LB Ryan Anderson develop in their first years. Washington may have some weak spots in the secondary but they at least still have CB Josh Norman. Because of what they have defensively, Washington might surprise a bit this year. Prediction: 7-9

Philadelphia Eagles – Some have Philadelphia as a sleeper team in this division. I just don’t see it. Is Carson Wentz going to turn out to be a baller in his 2nd year? Maybe. He’ll have pretty weapons this year at WR with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles are still reeling at the RB position from the LeSean McCoy trade. Do they really expect LeGarrette Blount to be their #1 back? Philly’s defense will be pretty much the same from a season ago: decent front seven, trash secondary. I like DT Fletcher Cox and rookie DE Derek Barnett. In a best-case scenario for this team, I don’t even see them making it past 8 wins. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – I really don’t see how this Packers team got better in the off-season. A lot of familiar faces from the last couple seasons are gone. The Packers are in the transition of getting younger on defense with OLB Clay Matthews the lone veteran holdover. They let Eddie Lacy go in free agency. Ty Montgomery is talented but can he really be an every down back? But as last year proved, because they really weren’t that good either, as long as they have Aaron Rodgers behind center, they’ll be okay. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC North Champs)

Minnesota Vikings – I like this Minnesota team because Mike Zimmer has himself a tough defense on this squad. It was the defense that led them to a hot start to begin 2016. Eventually, they fell apart down the stretch but as long as that same defense returns, they’ll be in a lot of games this year. Obviously, there are plenty of questions on offense especially at the QB position. QB Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready until the middle of the season so they will have to ride it out with Sam Bradford for now. Minnesota will also be dealing with a couple of new starters on the offensive line. But I think they will have a better run offense this season even with the departure of Adrian Peterson. I’m expecting big things from rookie RB Dalvin Cook. Prediction: 8-8

Detroit Lions – I don’t even remember that the Lions made the playoffs last year. They really didn’t make any dramatic changes in the offseason. QB Matthew Stafford will give them a chance to win every week. The Lions are still missing consistency in the run game. Stafford has pretty good targets to go to in the passing game. This has to be the season where TE Eric Ebron proves himself as a legit TE in the league and not just an athlete. Detroit will be solid defensively, at least up front. First round pick LB Jarrad Davis will be counted on early in his career. And you could say the same about second round pick CB Teez Tabor. I think the Lions are a running game away from challenging Green Bay in the division. Prediction: 7-9

Chicago Bears – The Bears are still rebuilding but with a veteran head coach. Weird. I’m wondering if John Fox will be around to see the final product. After spending money on QB Mike Glennon for some reason, the Bears went ahead and traded for QB Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky has shown promise in the pre-season and Chicago might as well stop wasting everyone’s time and insert him into the lineup. RB Jordan Howard is returning after an impressive rookie season. The Bears have question marks at WR. Kevin White is healthy and he will receive plenty of opportunities this year. Chicago’s defense is a mess. They need to build that side of the ball up as soon as possible if they want to climb out of the basement in this division. Prediction: 5-11

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – There’s a lot of talk about the blown lead in the Super Bowl and the hangover from that. I know that Super Bowl losers, especially in this fashion, usually have a hard time getting back but I think Atlanta may have something going. I think this way because I liked what I saw from their defense last season and I like the additions they made in the offseason. Atlanta has a legit pass rush with Vic Beasley and I think rookie Takkarist McKinley could make an impact up front as well. I’m a big fan of the young LB’s they have especially Deion Jones who had a great rookie season. Atlanta will also see reinforcements in the secondary with the return of Desmond Trufant who missed most of last season. Everyone knows about what Atlanta has on offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, etc. But I think the improvements on this young defense will really make this team dangerous in the NFC again this season. Prediction: 13-3 (NFC South Champs)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For the first time in a while, the Bucs enter a football season with some momentum. This team will be led by QB Jameis Winston who has really taken on a leadership role in that locker room and the team has brought in. Winston will be surrounded by probably the most talented he’s been around in his career. Tampa is loaded at WR with Mike Evans and newcomer DeSean Jackson who can really stretch the field. TE Cameron Brate impressed last season but the team decided to really maximize the TE position with the first round selection of TE O.J. Howard. I’m worried about the suspension of RB Doug Martin but this Tampa offense will be about what Winston can do in the passing game. Tampa returns a solid defense led by DT Gerald McCoy. I really like their LB core. They are missing playmakers in the secondary though. I think Tampa should be good enough to make that jump in the post season in 2017. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Carolina Panthers – The Super Bowl hangover was real in Carolina in 2016. I think Carolina is in a position to rebound and maybe return to the playoffs but they need to do two things. First and more importantly, they need to ensure that the defense can stay at the level they were in during 2015. And secondly, they need to get Cam Newton better protection and younger players at the skill positions on offense. They did the latter in this offseason and I’m afraid that wasn’t the direction that this team needed to go. I think Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will do good things in their rookie seasons but I prioritize the line scrimmage over the flashy skill players. I think Newton will be able to use those young guys effectively but I’m worried about his protection especially that he is coming off off-season surgery. On defense, Carolina is starting to look old. They gave up on Kony Ealy and brought back an ancient Julius Peppers. I really like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly but they both have injury concerns. Carolina may slightly improve from 2016 but they need to do a better job at protecting their franchise QB and getting younger talent on defense. Prediction: 8-8

New Orleans Saints – There isn’t much buzz surrounding the Saints going into 2017. We know they will pass the ball well with QB Drew Brees. Its too bad that they couldn’t make it work with Brandin Cooks but they did bring in Ted Ginn Jr. to take his role as the speedster at WR. RB Mark Ingram is the established back in this offense so, I don’t understand why they brought in an aging Adrian Peterson. Defense remains the main issues on this team. DE Cameron Jordan can only do so much. The Saints did make an effort on improving their secondary through the draft this offseason. I think the Saints will compete. But they wont be on the same level as the three other teams in this division. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are still in the mist of a decent run in the NFC as consistent title contenders. But I get the feeling that their window is starting to get smaller. Which is supposed to happen in the NFL. You can’t resign and keep everyone for only so long. But Seattle should be in pretty good shape in 2017. QB Russell Wilson returns and Seattle continued their efforts in the off-season to improve his offensive line. I think the Eddie Lacy signing could improve the run game if he can stay healthy. And that’s a big “if”. WR Doug Baldwin is massively underrated and TE Jimmy Graham can still take over a game when called upon. This team will continue to be led by the defense though. The front seven is tough and can pretty much do it all. Pass rush, run stuff, etc. The Seahawks also still have the three major cogs in the L.O.B., Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor. Prediction: 11-5 (NFC West Champs)

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona massively under performed last season and they return in 2017 with a supremely talented roster. On offense, RB David Johnson established himself last season as one of the top RB’s in the league. Arizona’s passing game is still dependent on QB Carson Palmer’s health. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think much of the WR’s on the roster but WR Larry Fitzgerald is still as good as they come. Arizona has recognizable names on defense but they need to become an elite unit if Arizona hopes to make the postseason. They will miss Calais Campbell up front but Chandler Jones is still a pretty good pass rusher and first round pick Haason Reddick could develop into a difference maker. I feel that Arizona secondary under performed last season but that should change as long as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu can stay healthy. I think the Cardinals have too much talent to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wild-card)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams hired a 30-year-old coach to lead the team in 2017. Maybe that youth can energize a team that hasn’t done anything note worthy in a while. Can second year QB Jared Goff show that he is worth his top selection in the draft a year ago? Can RB Todd Gurley return to form? Can the Rams finally get some consistency out from their recievers? Will the newly acquired Sammy Watkins keep the number 2 as his jersey number? Has the only player worth a damn on this roster (DT Aaron Donald) ended his holdout yet? Too many questions. Prediction: 5-11

San Francisco 49ers – Nothing quite says “we’re rebuilding” like saying “we’re rolling with Brian Hoyer as our QB this year”. San Francisco should be a complete disaster offensively this season. Its fitting that the offensive coordinator that blew it for Atlanta in the Super Bowl is now the head coach. On the bright side, San Fran is building a defense that might become a problem real soon. They basically have an all-Pac-10 defensive line and I liked the late addition of veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil. LB NaVorro Bowman returns and he’ll get a chance to groom rookie Reuben Foster who dropped right into the 49ers lap in the draft this pass April. Foster should have been a top 15 pick. The secondary leaves much to be desired but that front seven might end up being one of the best in the league. But with Brian Hoyer at QB, that tells me that this team must be tanking for one of the top signal callers in college. Prediction: 3-13

 

NFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3 (NFC South)
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5 (NFC West)
  3. New York Giants – 10-6 (NFC East)
  4. Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (NFC North)
  5. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6 (Wild-card)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7 (Wild-card)
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