After ruling one conference, Teflon Tommy arrives in Tampa looking to leave his mark on the NFC.
By: Elias McMillan
It’s August and I’m feeling good about the upcoming season for the Dallas Cowboys. I know that when you just read that, your mind was screaming “Noooo. It’s a trap!” But really, I have no problem saying this about Dallas and setting myself up for a major disappointment. Why? Because why not. It is not out of the realm of possibilities to think this. The Cowboys return the number one offense in the NFL. They can certainly run it with Ezekiel Elliott. And Dak Prescott ran an improved passing attack, which added the best WR in CFB. Will the defense hold them back again? We’ll things could be different this time around. Major changes to the defensive line and a Bryon Jones-less, turnover-hungry approach in the secondary would make things even easier for Dak and the offense. But this hype has fallen short time and time again. What if the defense doesn’t improve? What if the offensive line starts to decline? Injuries? Etc. I’m just saying that it looks like new head coach Mike McCarthy has done his due diligence (including drafting extremely well this past April) so I’m expecting this team to win many regular season games. I’m not sure what that means for the playoffs. I feel confident saying that Philadelphia will be next to Dallas in terms of competition in the NFC East. Where Philly lacks in talent they make up for it with grit and toughness, which got them to the playoffs last year. QB Carson Wentz returns still looking to regain that 2017 form while playing well enough to keep rookie QB Jalen Hurts on the bench. RB Miles Sanders could have a big year as the Eagles “A1” option in the backfield. The Eagles have many questions at wide out but they hope rookie Jalen Reagor can provide some answers. On defense, Philly features a beastly front led by Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and newcomer Javon Hargrave. CB Darius Slay comes over from Detroit to a secondary that lost Malcolm Jenkins in the offseason. The Washington Football Team may not have a mascot (yet), but they quietly have a nice collection of young talent. Their QB situation is intriguing. QB Dwayne Haskins is looking to fully grasp the starting spot but veteran Alex Smith is also in the mix after rehabbing a gruesome leg injury. Also lost in all the QB talk, how different the offensive line will look without Trent Williams. In the backfield, they had to release one of their younger guys but the remarkable Adrian Peterson, at age 35, may be a player for Washington to rely on. WR “Scary” Terry McLaurin looks to continue his success from his rookie year. Washington has a talented defensive line and even more so now with the addition of DE Chase Young who is said to be the best overall player in the draft. I don’t see the New York Giants winning many games this year. QB Daniel Jones won a game last year at Tampa and the media immediately crowned him. I mean, he did show promise last season but let’s relax. I don’t think he has proven anything yet. The only thing proven about this offense is RB Saquon Barkley. On defense, there’s nothing to be exciting about. It’s just a mixture of mid-level veterans and unproven young guys. It’s going to be a rough year for football in New York.
Playoff Teams in CAPS Projected Finish: 1) DALLAS, 2) Philadelphia, 3) Washington, 4) New York Giants
In 2020, Minnesota won’t look too different than a season ago. Which means, on paper, they’ll still have the best roster in the NFC North. QB Kirk Cousins is coming off a good year and the Vikings offense will also welcome back stars like RB Dalvin Cook, WR Adam Thielen, and TE Kyle Rudolph. They traded away WR Stephon Diggs but they drafted a possible replacement in Justin Jefferson. The Vikings will look different upfront defensively this year without Everson Griffen but they’ll feature DE Danielle Hunter who is one the best at his position. Once again, Anthony Barr will lead a talented group at LB. Many changes at the CB position but the Vikings do offer one of the top safety tandems in the league with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. It’s almost forgettable that the Packers made the NFC Championship last season. But they were in the position to help their cause in the off season through the draft but they chose not to. I’m guessing that the front office is thinking that the team will be good as long as they have QB Aaron Rodgers though they drafted his possible replacement in the first round. WR DeVante Adams is really good but that stands out even more because Green Bay doesn’t have a reliable second option. I think RB Aaron Jones has proven himself and I’m intrigued to see rookie A.J. Dillon. Green Bay’s defense isn’t all that great but they have two great players in LB Preston and Za’Darius Smith. Chicago is a team with many talented players but I don’t feel so confident about their chances this year. QB Mitch Trubisky has struggled and now he is pretty much playing to keep his starting job as the front office brought in Nick Foles in the offseason. I thought RB Tarik Cohen would break out last year but that didn’t happen. David Montgomery grabbed the reigns of the running duties in the backfield but he may have some injury issues. I do really like Chicago’s WR core. It’s a nice mix of young players and veterans like Allen Robinson. The Bears will have a great pass rush as long as they have LB Khalil Mack and even more so this year with Robert Quinn joining on. The Bears have another playmaker on defense. Safety Eddie Jackson has emerged and earned himself a big contract extension. The Lions will have a decent roster this year but I don’t think they’ll be good enough to contend for the playoffs. QB Matt Stafford returns from injury looking to re-establish himself as one of the better passers in the NFL. They’ll have a nice mix at RB with Kerryon Johnson and rookie D’Andre Smith. Stafford will also have the weapons at WR with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. On defense, Detroit’s front in a work in progress, which is why they brought in Danny Shelton from New England. They are surprisingly talented at the LB position. Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, and Jamie Collins are all good players. The secondary will be without Darius Slay, putting the spotlight solely on first round pick Jeff Okudah from Ohio State.
Playoff Teams in CAPS Projected Finish: 1) MINNESOTA, 2) GREEN BAY, 3) Chicago, 4) Detroit
This division could be defined by the play at the quarterback position. The Saints have had the best overall roster in recent history but they haven’t been able to turn that into post-season gold. New Orleans will return their usual suspects on offense with Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Karmara. The Saints are equipped with reinforcements at the offensive skills positions even at QB with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. New Orleans returns most of their starters on defense and they brought back Malcolm Jenkins as a veteran presence in the secondary. The most hyped team in this division is one that signed Tom Brady in the off-season. Tampa Bay had a productive offense a season ago but expectations will be even higher with Brady, who also brought along TE Rob Gronkowski. It was already enough that this offense features Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at WR. There will also be much intrigue in the backfield with the returning Ronald Jones and newcomer veteran LeSean McCoy. My question with this team is if the defense can be good enough to keep the opposing team off the scoreboard. Upfront, Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea can eat up enough blockers to free up playmaking LB’s Devin White and Shaquil Barrett. But that secondary struggled last season. Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. could be a player that would help that situation. Atlanta will be under the radar once again this season. The stability that QB Matt Ryan has brought to this franchise doesn’t get talked about enough. Atlanta’s offense is really about how dominant WR Julio Jones can be on any given Sunday afternoon. RB Todd Gurley comes home looking to prove that he can stay healthy. On defense, DT Grady Jarrett is the main disrupter on the line of scrimmage and LB Dion Jones is also a big playmaker. Carolina will be rebuilding after firing their head coach, bringing in an inexperienced hire, and going through a messy divorce with the franchise’s most visible player. Now at QB, Teddy Bridgewater is finally betting on himself after a history of being injured in Minnesota and learning from Drew Brees in New Orleans. He’ll be greatly assisted in the backfield by RB Christian McCaffery who is one of the most electrifying players in the league. Bridgewater’s options at WR don’t sound exciting but they do have D.J. Moore and veteran Robby Anderson. The Panthers are going to be really young defensively this year. I like who they added in the draft on their defensive line. LB Shaq Thompson takes over as the leader of this defense after years of playing along side of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Playoff Teams in CAPS Projected Finish: 1) NEW ORLEANS, 2) TAMPA BAY, 3) Atlanta, 4) Carolina
So, there’s always a surprise team that breaks out and goes from last place to first. I think that team will come from this division. Seattle and San Francisco have been battling for supremacy in the NFC West more recently but in 2020 I think it will be the Arizona Cardinals who will make a huge leap. QB Kyler Murray flashed potential last year and earned Rookie of the Year honors. I think this season he’ll continue to show improvement and in result, Arizona will be in contention. What is really going to help Murray this year is newcomer WR DeAndre Hopkins. After being casted off by Houston, Hopkins will be looking to show what everyone else knows, that he is one of the best WR in football. In a division with so many great defenses, I think the Cardinals will be able to say that they are among them. The group they have at LB is among the best in the league. They have a premiere pass rusher in Chandler Jones and multiple veterans at the LB position who are going to help mold their top pick in the draft, Isaiah Simmons. If Simmons can accumulate quickly to the pro game, this defense is going to be scary as he is a player who can make an impact as a rusher or in coverage. The Cardinals have had issues with pass coverage but they return veteran CB Patrick Peterson and free safety Budda Baker. The 49ers will be looking to repeat as conference champs this season. Embattled QB Jimmy Garoppolo is back as he is still trying to solidify himself as one of the league’s top passers. San Fran returns tons of depth in the backfield but not at WR where they are already suffering from many injuries. Rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk maybe thrown into the spotlight early in his career. Garoppolo will be able to count on TE George Kittle who is at the top in his position in the NFL. The Niners had a great defense a season ago but there will be changes this year. DeForest Bunkner was traded away from a talented group at defensive line that includes Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. Rookie DT Javon Kinlaw will most likely fit right in with this group, as he was a highly disruptive force at South Carolina. The 49ers also have a productive group at LB as Fred Warner has been able to develop nicely. I like play in this secondary doesn’t matter much when you have such a dominant front four but loudmouth CB Richard Sherman will lead that group if he can continue to stay healthy. Seattle will stay in the mix in this division as long as they have QB Russell Wilson. Seattle will however be a run heavy offense this year, which means plenty of RB Chris Carson. The Seahawks don’t really have a “No.1” at WR but they’ll return Tyler Lockett who gained over 1,000 yards in 2019. We shouldn’t sleep on DK Metcalf who definitely has potential. I’m sure what TE Greg Olsen has to offer because he just can’t stay off the injured list. On defense, Seattle made a big splash trading for safety Jamal Adams. He joins a secondary that surprisingly struggled last year. Seattle will be tough in the middle of that defense with LB Bobby Wagner roaming around. In Los Angeles, the Rams will open up a new stadium hoping to mark the beginning of a new era for the franchise. I think the Rams have some talented players but as a whole, their roster doesn’t match up in this division. QB Jared Goff is criticized because of his contract but he’s an okay player. Todd Gurley is no longer in the backfield but the combo of Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson wasn’t too bad in his absence. I think rookie RB Cam Akers is going to be the breakout star for this offense. At WR, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are a decent duo. Really, this team only has two great players and they’re both of defense. DT Aaron Donald is beastly and CB Jalen Ramsey talks a lot but usually can back it up. I think the Rams will finish last in this division but probably with a 8-8 record. They wont be a terrible football team. I just think the other three teams in the division have a lot more talent.
Playoff Teams in CAPS Projected Finish: 1) ARIZONA, 2) SAN FRANCISCO, 3) Seattle, 4) L.A. Rams