Tag Archives: NFC West

NFL 2019: NFC Preview

Eagles-QB-Carson-Wentz-says-his-back-isnt-fully-healed

If Carson Wentz is healthy, the Eagles could be serious contenders in the NFC this season.

 

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC EAST

It seems like things will never change in the NFL’s “glamour” division. The NFC East hasn’t seen a repeat champion in 15 seasons and I think that tradition will remain the same in 2019. The Dallas Cowboys have come the closest to bucking that trend as they have won the division three times in the last six seasons. But if you’ve been paying attention to that franchise, you should know that they usually disappoint after a successful season. Usually. If you look on paper, the Philadelphia Eagles probably has the most talent in the division from top to bottom. A lot is going to depend on the play of the QB. Nick Foles almost lifted Philadelphia again in the 2018 postseason, winning on the road in Chicago and almost upsetting New Orleans. With Foles now in Jacksonville, Philly will be depending on Carson Wentz to return to his 2017 form where he was a MVP candidate. He’ll have plenty of help this season as the Eagles are deep at the skill positions. At WR, DeSean Jackson returns to Philly joining Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. The Eagles should have an improved backfield this season as well. They acquired RB Jordan Howard from Chicago and drafted speedster Miles Sanders from Penn State. On defense, DT Fletcher Cox leads a loaded group on the defensive line. Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins also returns though Philly’s secondary seems to always be a weakness year in and year out. The defending champion Cowboys also return with a talented roster in 2019. A lot of the talk during the offseason with Dallas has been about the contract situations of QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, and star RB Ezekiel Elliott. I’m sure all three will get their deals, respectfully, especially Elliott who is easily the most important player on the roster. Despite all the talk about the offensive side of the ball, the real reason why Dallas made a run to the postseason last year was their defense. I think Dallas will be strong defensively again in 2019. LB’s Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the cornerstones for this defense right now and for the future. The Cowboys should be able to get after QB’s this season with DE’s Demarcus Lawrence and newcomer Robert Quinn. Dallas needs to find an answer in the middle of their run defense as they absolutely killed them in their playoff loss against the Rams. In the secondary, they have promising young talent. Safety Xavier Woods could have a breakout season. CB Byron Jones made the Pro Bowl last season but he gives up big plays in crucial situations. I don’t see Dallas extending his contract unless his interception numbers improve. He has 2 in four seasons as a pro. If Washington didn’t get derailed by injuries on both sides of the ball last year, they probably would have won the division. They enter the 2019 campaign with holes in their roster due to injuries and losses in free agency. The QB position is still reeling after injuries last season to Alex Smith and Colt McCoy. They may have to lean on Case Keenum to start this season but if he’s shaky, the cries for rookie Dwayne Haskins will get louder. What else might not help is the absence of OT Trent Williams. Without him, it may not even matter who Washington starts at QB. I really liked Washington’s defense at the beginning of last season. I think losing LB Preston Smith will hurt them this year though they did draft a possible replacement in Montez Sweat. Washington has young talent on their defensive line but that unit has to stay healthy this year. The secondary already has CB Josh Norman but they should receive a boost with the addition of safety Landon Collins. No one is expecting much out of the New York Football Giants this year as they lost Collins and Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason. Surprisingly, QB Eli Manning returns in what should be his swan song. The Giants used their top pick in the draft on QB Daniel Jones from DOOK and I expect that they do plan to play him. The leash on Manning this year should be short. If trading away OBJ wasn’t bad enough, the WR core turned into a complete dumpster fire right as training camp began. Injuries and suspensions will leave the QB’s with not a lot of reliable options in the passing game. RB Saquon Barkley will be tasked with literally carrying this offense. The Giants defense is in full rebuild mode. They could surprise some teams but they have a lot of young and unproven talent. Rookies CB Deandre Baker and DT Dexter Lawrence will have to grow up quickly in their first seasons. Projected Finish: 1) Eagles, 2) Cowboys, 3) Washington, 4) Giants

NFC NORTH

The Chicago Bears had zero buzz entering the 2018 season until they made an acquisition that completely turned their franchise around. Trading for edge rusher Khalil Mack made Chicago into a contender in the NFC and he’s a difference maker that could keep Chicago atop this division for a couple years. Chicago’s defense really didn’t have an identity since Brian Urlacher retired. Now, they feature one of the top front sevens in the league that specializes in getting to the QB. On offense, the Bears will be looking for QB Mitch Trubisky to continue to improve as a down the field passer. The backfield will look different this year, as Jordan Howard was send away to Philly. RB Tarik Cohen could have a breakout season and rookie RB David Montgomery has impressed so far in the preseason. Minnesota will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 2018. QB Kirk Cousins will be forever criticized in the media because of his contract but I believe he’s a much better player than people let on. The emergence of WR Adam Thielen has been a huge help for Cousins and the passing offense. Thielen and Stephon Diggs form one of the top 1-2 punches at receiver in the league. Minnesota is still waiting for RB Dalvin Cook to breakout as he has a ton of ability. The Vikings defense took a step back last season. They’ll be looking to bounce back in 2019 with many returning starters including LB Anthony Barr who almost left in free agency. I think Green Bay is going to go through some growing pains this season as they are rebuilding. Replacing familiar names with young talent could actually workout for them in the long run especially on the defensive side. LB Clay Matthews is gone but free agent signing, LB Preston Smith, is a younger, talented replacement. On offense, everything will be tied to all-world QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is still the top passer in the league but the Packers need to do a better job at protecting him, as he isn’t getting younger. WR Davante Adams has solidified himself as one of the best WR in the league and as Rodgers’ top target. Every year it seems like Green Bay will be waiting for somebody to breakout at the RB position. Maybe it will be RB Aaron Jones who scored 9 times last season. In Detroit, it’s looking more and more like the Matt Patricia experiment will be ending soon. This could be a make or break season for him as Detroit has a roster than shouldn’t be in the NFC North basement. I feel bad for QB Matt Stafford who is on his way to being the latest star player to have his career wasted at Ford Field. If Detroit doesn’t have a great season, I wonder if he would try to force his way outta there though it would be hard because of his massive contract. Stafford will have decent talent around him this year. WR Kenny Golladay had a breakout 2018 season and RB’s Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson should be a formable duo in the backfield. I think Detroit’s defense could be good enough to keep the Lions in games this season. They had a top 10 secondary last year and upfront, they added DE Trey Flowers from New England and DT Mike Daniels from Green Bay. I’m not sure what Daniels has left in the tank but I love the revenge factor of him signing with Detroit after being cut by the Packers. Projected Finish: 1) Bears, 2) Vikings, 3) Packers, 4) Lions

NFC SOUTH

In recent years, I have picked the Saints to come out of the NFC because on paper, they appear to have the best or one of the best rosters in the league. The same could be said again going into 2019. The way the Saints’ season ended last year should serve as enough motivation to see the team atop this division again. On offense, they return elite talent at the QB, RB, and WR positions. RB Alvin Kamara will have a new partner in the backfield this year in Latavius Murray. Drew Brees will also have a new weapon in the passing game, TE Jared Cook. New Orleans’ defense was pretty decent last year and I think the addition of DT Malcolm Brown from New England will make them stronger. I think the Carolina Panthers had a great offseason but their success will be tied to the health of QB Cam Newton. If Newton is back to 100%, Carolina could be a sleeper in the NFC. I still think Newton doesn’t have enough help on the offensive side of the ball. RB Christian McCaffrey proved himself to be a legit threat behind the tackles as a runner and as a receiver. WR D.J. Moore needs to have a similar breakout season in 2019. I really like how Carolina improved their defense in the offseason. They have a nice mix of young talent (rookie DE Brian Burns) and veteran leadership (DT Gerald McCoy). The LB group will miss Thomas Davis but they still have Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, and newly acquired veteran Bruce Irvin. The Atlanta Falcons did reach the Super Bowl a few seasons ago but they seem to reach expectations. As long as they have QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, they are going to put up big numbers. But Ryan isn’t getting enough help from his offensive line. Atlanta addressed that in this past draft but those young blockers are going to have to grow up fast. RB Devonta Freeman returns to the backfield for Atlanta but without Tevin Coleman who left in free agency. Atlanta defense has been seen as a weak point on this team but they do have great individual talents in LB Deion Jones and edge rusher Vic Beasley. Tampa Bay has a long way to go in order to be competitive in this division again. But I really like the hiring of new head coach Bruce Arians. Him and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be tasked with saving the career of QB Jameis Winston who is running out of favor in the organization. Winston still has the tools to be a successful QB in this league but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Hopefully, the coaching change will help.  The reliable WR Mike Evans returns to provide big plays in the passing game. Tampa also resigned OT Donovan Smith to help keep Winston upright. Tampa’s defense is going through a transition, marked by the sudden release of long time Buccaneer, Gerald McCoy. They added veteran Ndamukong Suh to the defensive line but the real newcomer to look for will be rookie LB Devin White. I would be surprised if this Tampa team won a lot in 2019 but this season will be really all about fixing Jameis Winston. Because if they are picking high in next year’s draft, they probably be looking for a new QB. Projected Finish: 1) Saints, 2) Panthers, 3) Falcons, 4) Buccaneers

NFC WEST

The LA Rams made a surprise run to the Super Bowl last season and they could be in line for a return visit. QB Jared Goff will look to keep improving and the return of WR Cooper Kupp from injury should help. Kupp will return to an already talented group at WR that includes Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. RB Todd Gurley is the real engine that keeps this Rams offense running. His health has been concerning recently but if healthy, he’s the best back in football. The Rams have the best defensive lineman in football in DT Aaron Donald. On the edge, they traded for DE Dante Fowler late last season and that move paid off greatly for LA. He returns to a Rams defensive line that should be the tops in the NFC. The Rams also added a pair of veterans on defense looking to prove that they still got it: LB Clay Matthews and safety Eric Weddle. Last season, we learned that no matter how many faces change on both sides of the ball in Seattle, they’ll always have a chance with QB Russell Wilson behind center. Wilson will be without reliable target Doug Baldwin this year but he will be expecting big things from rookie WR DK Metcalf. Outside of Metcalf, WR Tyler Lockett proved to be a playmaker in the offense last season. On defense, Seattle traded away their best pass rusher in the offseason. They’re going to need someone on the defensive line to step up. The strength of Seattle’s defense is still intact as long as they have LB Bobby Wagner in the middle. San Francisco has accumulated so much young talent in recent years, I feel like they could be a surprise team this season. A lot is going to depend on the play of QB Jimmy Garoppolo who has not looked great so far in preseason. San Fran is also really missing a big play WR. In the backfield, they are loaded with returning starter Matt Breida and free agent signee Tevin Coleman. I think this 49ers team has promise because of their defense. They acquired DE Dee Ford from Kansas City and picked up the top pass rusher in the draft, Nick Bosa. If the 49ers do one thing well this year on defense, it will be getting after the QB. San Fran also signed LB Kwon Alexander who was a playmaker in Tampa Bay. I’m not sure what CB Richard Sherman has left in the tank but it would be nice if this defense saw contributions from him in the secondary this season. Arizona is starting back at square one this season after firing their head coach after one year. They brought in Kliff Kingsbury to coach the team despite having zero NFL experience and they drafted a talented young QB first overall who will be tasked with fixing an offense that was pretty bad last season. This experiment in Arizona is going to be a great success or a great disaster. QB Kyler Murray will have enough veteran help around him in WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson. Great pass rushers, Chandler Jones and newcomer Terrell Suggs will headline Arizona’s defense. I like the addition of LB Jordan Hicks who made a lot of big plays in Philadelphia. CB Patrick Peterson returns to the secondary, which was one of the best in football a season ago. Arizona will be hurt without Peterson as he will be suspended for the first 6 games of the season. Projected Finish: 1) Rams, 2) Seahawks, 3) 49ers, 4) Cardinals

 

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NFL 2018: NFC Season Preview

NFC EAST

Will the Eagles suffer a Super Bowl hangover? Probably. The health of QB Carson Wentz will be a concern. The guy played at a MVP level last season before his major leg injury. I think he can return and be the same player but circumstances have changed from last season. The Eagles lost pieces at the RB and WR position in the offseason. I think Philly still could win this division because their defense will once again be really good. But then again, it’s a tough road to become back-to-back champions in this division. The Cowboys did not help QB Dak Prescott in this offseason. They unceremoniously cut WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, who wasn’t a difference maker any more anyways, suddenly retired. Dak Prescott and the passing game in Dallas as a whole struggled last season and you can’t just blame that on one player. You can blame it on the awful play calling but also this: Prescott just has to play better. I think he can have a bounce back season but who knows. He’s going to have to prove it. But the bottom line is that this offense is reliant on RB Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. The Cowboys do not have a reliable big play target in the passing game and that is going to hurt them. On the bright side, for the first time in a while, there is real optimism surrounding this defense. They brought back DE Demarcus Lawrence on the franchise tag and he was a terror on the edge last season. Also, things are looking up in the secondary with the young corners they have. Dallas is one “Earl Thomas trade” away from maybe having an elite defense. I think the Giants made a mistake placing their faith into QB Eli Manning again this offseason. QB’s don’t grow on tree and Manning has the look of someone who is done in the league. But the draft pick of RB Saquon Barkley has many optimistic in New York. The Giants made an effort to improve their offensive line and they return a talented receiver core led by recently contract extended Odell Beckham Jr. New York will have concerns on defense. They traded away Jason Pierre-Paul and replaced him with no one. I like the trade for ILB Alec Ogletree though. Washington chose trading for Alex Smith over re-signing Kirk Cousins. That is such a Dan Synder move. So, vanilla. I mean, Alex Smith can be go but he isn’t nearly as dynamic as Cousins. At least, when it counts. Washington has many issues before the season has even started. Injuries at RB mean they may have to lean on an aging RB Adrian Peterson. The WR group is really average. TE Jordan Reed is really good but he can’t stay healthy. Washington desperately needs to improve their defense, which they have tried through the draft. They have plenty of young talent on that side of the ball but they need to start paying dividends sooner than later. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Eagles, 2) Cowboys, 3) Giants, 4) Washington

NFC NORTH

Minnesota is great shape in 2018 because once again, they will be strong defensively. The Vikings were the big winners in the offseason, signing the top QB available in Kirk Cousins. If history can serve as a reminder, signing that the big name free agent QB can back fire or not exactly work out as planned. I don’t expect Minnesota being able to plug in Cousins and have a real dynamic passing attack. But Cousins doesn’t have the bar set high for him. He was really has to run the offense and not make mistakes. Minnesota has talented receivers but they are really more suited to run the ball. So, needless to say, I’m excited about RB Dalvin Cook who had his season cut short last year due to injury. Again, Minnesota should be pretty tough on defense. They are solid across the board on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Green Bay’s success will once again be tied to the health of QB Aaron Rogers. Green Bay is not a good football team on paper but Rodgers just seems to lift this team out of mediocrity time and time again. The Packers don’t have consistency at RB or at the WR position. TE Jimmy Graham might prove to be a huge addition though. Green Bay’s front seven on defense looks old and not nearly as good as they once were. There is hope in the secondary though. 2018 draft picks, CB’s Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, have looked really good in preseason. Detroit was mighty neutral in the offseason. They really didn’t do much to improve. This tells me that new head coach Matt Patricia is in the process of starting a massive rebuild. And that kinda stinks for QB Matt Stafford because he’s really good but his team is in no shape to compete. I think RB LeGarrette Blount will provide some stability at that position if he stays healthy. Two extremely under rated guys in Golden Tate and the emerging Kenny Golladay leads the Lions at WR. Detroit actually has a decent defense but they aren’t good enough to close out games. I feel like Stafford usually has to blame this team out a lot, much like Rodgers in Green Bay. I think the Bears could be on the verge of turning their franchise around but a lot is going to depend on QB Mitch Trubisky. He is going to have to show some sizable improves in his second year. The Bears have great talent at the skill positions on offense. RB’s Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen should form a great duo in the backfield. Chicago made efforts to improve the WR position in the offseason with the additions of Allen Robinson and rookie Anthony Miller. It will be even greater if WR Kevin White can finally stay healthy. The Bears might be held back by their defense in 2018 as they are still a work in progress. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Vikings, 2) Packers, 3) Lions, 4) Bears

NFC SOUTH

The New Orleans Saints are legit Super Bowl contenders in my eyes. It’s amazing how fast they were able to turn around their defense. Now, it looks like they may be able to give QB Drew Brees a farewell swan song that he deserves. He will once again lead an explosive offense. RB Alvin Kamara is special player from out the backfield and WR Michael Thomas is one of the better receivers in the league that no one talks about. I also like how the Saints did not rest on their laurels during the draft and traded up to grab one of the best pass rushers. From top to bottom, the Atlanta Falcons probably have one of the best rosters in the entire league. It was true last season and it may be true again in 2018. That tells me their coaching stinks or the players are really lacking in the area of execution. Let me just run of some names from the top of my head: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. That’s a solid group of talent to have on offense. Atlanta’s defense has plenty of talent as well especially at the LB position with Deion Jones and Vic Beasley. I’m afraid that Carolina’s window is slowly closing. Since the Super Bowl lose, they have refused to improve their offensive line and I think that will bite them again this season. Cam Newton can’t be Cam Newton if he is running for his life or worse, injured. I never was a believer in RB Christian McCaffrey as an every down back but he has looked the part early during this pre-season. Carolina is also missing a big play WR. Maybe WR Devin Funchess can be that guy or maybe newcomer D.J. Moore. Carolina’s defensive front seven will be solid this season as look as they stay healthy. Their secondary remains to be a weak spot. Tampa Bay is in a tough spot thanks to the Jameis Winston suspension. He is going to have to come back and perform at a high level if he hopes to stay in the team’s future. The Bucs have a lot of unproven talent at the RB position this year but that could prove to be a good thing. WR Mike Evans is one thing Tampa can count on offensively. Tampa has a chance to be really good up front on defense with the addition of DE Jason Pierre-Paul. They made an effort to improve their defensive line in the offseason and they may see that pay off sooner than later. Tampa also has a good group at LB. Their secondary needs work as they lack playmakers at corner. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Saints, 2) Falcons, 3) Panthers, 4) Buccaneers

NFC WEST

The LA Rams were the offseason champs of 2018. That’s usually bad news but the NFC West isn’t as tough as it use to be. In recent history, this division was led by tough defenses in Seattle and San Francisco. Now, it looks like Los Angeles has turned into a haven for defensive talent. The defensive line was already good with Aaron Donald but they went ahead and added Ndamukong Suh. The Rams will also added a pair of playmakers in the secondary in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The Rams were let down in the playoffs by their offense so I think the pressure will be on that side of the ball to continue to get better. RB Todd Gurley will continue to be the tone setter for the offense. QB Jared Goff had a decent second season in 2017. He must show that he can continue to improve. The Rams bring with them in 2018 a talented collection of receivers led by Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Arizona is starting anew at head coach in 2018. They started the offseason with a clean slate at QB and they decided to go with the often-injured Sam Bradford. That decision may come back to bite them though they were able to draft Josh Rosen who may be the QB for the future. Whoever is at QB, they will be able to lean on RB David Johnson. Arizona is lacking a young playmaker at WR though Larry Fitzgerald is still capable at his age. On defense, the Cardinals will be tough to deal with up front. DE Chandler Jones led the league in sacks a season ago. Arizona has a good group at LB and the secondary could be better this year despite losing safety Tyrann Mathieu. There’s a lot of hype surrounding San Francisco this year but I don’t think they are ready to return to the playoffs. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has created most of that optimism around the franchise but they still need to add more pieces around him if they hope to be successful with him. I’m not sold on Jerick McKinnon as a led back in this offense and they are also in the market for a big play wide receiver. I like the collection of young talent they have in their defensive front seven. CB Richard Sherman is going to learn this season how hard life is without playing with the Legion of Boom. Thinking of the Legion of Boom, Seattle might stink this season. It might get so bad that coach Pete Carroll might be a guy who could be looking for an escape by the end of the season. QB Russell Wilson will be carrying this offense again with a lack of a running game and protection from his offensive line. The Seahawks will look mighty thin at receiver this season outside of Doug Baldwin and Brandon Marshall. The biggest difference for Seattle this season will be on defense, as they will look entirely different. Meaning, that they won’t be really good. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Rams, 2) Cardinals, 3) 49ers, 4) Seahawks

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)

NFL 2016: NFC West Preview

Chip Kelly

Was Chip Kelly the right choice at head coach for the 49ers? I say, No.

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona has had plenty of regular season success in the last couple of years. In 2016, they will hope to turn that into a legit run to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have proven that their offense could be championship worthy. They had the number one ranked offense in the league a season ago. But I think Arizona will be a contender again this season because of the improvements on defense. Arizona is already decent up front as they were one of the top ranked run defenses in the league. DE Calais Campbell is the stand out up front as tall and athletic pass rusher. I’m really excited to see what first round pick, DE Robert Nkemdiche, can do as a rookie. Nkemdiche, much like Campbell, offers crazy athleticism for a defensive lineman and he’ll be able to be a disruptor in this 3-4 defensive scheme. Arizona also upgraded their pass rush significantly by trading for New England defensive star, Chandler Jones. Jones may have some issues off the field but if he can stay on it, he’ll be an important piece on this defense this season. Star veteran Patrick Peterson will lead Arizona’s secondary again in 2016. But Cardinals fans are really excited for the possibility of having safety Tyrann Mathieu back and healthy for 16 games. Mathieu was having a great 2015 season before he was injured. Now that he’s healthy, he will definitely be an upgrade in the secondary in the postseason that they didn’t have during last year’s playoff run. Having a high scoring offense will continue to be apart of what makes this team successful. QB Carson Palmer is back for another year. Palmer is mistake prone at times but he clearly gives this offense the best chance at being at its best. Having a veteran signal caller like Palmer is important in this offense because the Cardinals are loaded with so much offensive talent. Having a veteran at QB assures that all that talent is being led with someone with experience. At the skill positions, the Cardinals have a mix of younger talent and veteran leadership. I think RB David Johnson could have a break out season after a successful rookie year. In relief of Johnson, Arizona brought back Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. That’s a talented trio of backs that can do it all from out the backfield. At receiver, Larry Fitzgerald is the model of what young receivers aspire to be. Fitzgerald may be older but as you saw in the playoffs last season, he can still break a game open in cutch situations. Malcolm Floyd and Jaron Brown are also explosive receivers in this offense. Arizona has a great balance on offense and they can beat you in so many different ways. I think we will see this season that the improvements on the defensive side of the ball will add up to more success in the post season. Prediction: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

Seattle Seahawks – Since Seattle’s emergence as a power in the NFC, they have gone through offseason’s that saw them lose starters on both sides of the ball. Despite that, this team will be deep enough again with talent to compete for a division title. Seattle took a step back last season and they probably should have lost that wildcard round playoff game in Minnesota. Seattle also had some key players leave in free agency and thru retirement. RB Marshawn Lynch retired but Seattle seemed prepared for that move. RB Thomas Rawls showed promise last season and he’ll be set to be the starter in the backfield in 2016. Seattle also drafted a couple of RB’s so they will be prepared if Rawls get injured like he did a season ago. The running game will be important in Seattle’s offense this season but as always, QB Russell Wilson will be the player that will make this offense successful or not. Wilson had a great 2015 but the perception still exists that he isn’t a great passer. Wilson may never put up Aaron Rodgers numbers but he still has the ability to come up with big play after big play in key moments in a ball game. One thing that would help Wilson in 2016 would be a better offensive line. Seattle must have realized this because Wilson will have a number of new starters up front that came over in the draft or free agency. Better play upfront will allow Wilson to display his talents inside the pocket as a passer. Seattle’s receivers still don’t get enough credit but that’s ok as long as they keep making plays for Wilson. WR Doug Baldwin is coming off his most successful season yet and is probably one of the best possession receivers in the league. WR’s Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett fit the mold of what Seattle wants out of their receivers. They have an overachieving group at WR and that is just how they like it. TE Jimmy Graham could add a legit dynamic aspect to this passing game if he ever gets healthy. Seattle’s defense lost Bruce Irvin in free agency but they will still have the players upfront to be a dominant defense this season. DE’s Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark are a great group at providing pressure in the backfield. Seattle not only has a great pass rush but they ranked number one in the league last season at stopping the run. Without Irvin, Seattle’s LB core doesn’t have a lot of depth with Bobby Wagner as the lone stand out. The Seahawks secondary will be great again in 2016. The Legion of Boom will return three of its main core in CB Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. With the talent Seattle has upfront on defense and in the secondary, I think they’ll be good enough on that side of the ball compensate for the short coming of an offense that might not be as good without Marshawn Lynch. I don’t think Seattle’s offense will be a weakness but I do think that the team’s success will be more about what they get done on the defensive side of the ball. Seattle will be that team that no one will want to play in the post season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams are back in Los Angeles and honestly, it isn’t as exciting as it sounds. It is a little different seeing “Los Angeles” associated with the NFL again. But they can try to put this team on reality shows all they want. The bottom line is that this team is as average and boring of a team that you will ever see. I mean, they do have two legit stars on both sides of the ball but nothing else really outside of that. I don’t know if this was a marketing move of a football move but the Rams traded to the top spot of this past year’s draft to take QB Jared Goff. Goff was a accomplished QB at Cal but after the preseason, head coach Jeff Fisher proclaimed him to be the “third-stringer”. No matter the case, the Rams really need someone to work successfully at the QB position in 2016. Rather it is Goff or starter Case Keenum. Even if the Rams had legit quarterbacking, the receiving core is extremely average. WR Tavon Austin is game breaker but more so on special teams. Austin just hasn’t been consistent enough as a receiver in this league yet. WR Kenny Britt is an underrated possession receiver and nothing much else. Maybe rookie WR Pharoh Cooper can be a consistent performer. I don’t know. I do know that RB Todd Gurley is the only star on this side of the ball for this team. Gurley is a great, tough runner and he is primed for another big year after a successful rookie campaign that saw him win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The Rams will have the ability to be in a lot of games because of their tough defense. I don’t know if this defense is as good as its reputation but it is still pretty decent. Everyone is going to talk about DT Aaron Donald who is probably the best defensive lineman in the game not named J.J. Watt. Donald will continue to be a terror this season along with DE Robert Quinn. At linebacker, Alec Ogletree is an amazing athlete who plays as physical as anyone at his position. I think it is interesting to see that the Rams moved Mark Barron from safety to linebacker. That might help them to be above average at covering tight ends. Barron may have flamed out as a safety but his physicality will help him at this new position. The Rams lost CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency but I didn’t think he was that good in the first place. The Rams choose to keep CB Trumaine Johnson who is just as average of a player as Jenkins but at a cheaper price. Jenkins and Johnson gamble a lot in the secondary. So, they may rack up interceptions but they also get beat a lot. This Rams secondary will get beat a lot in 2016. They are really thin at the safety position and I don’t think much of corners Johnson or Coty Sensabaugh. “They” wanted a NFL team in Los Angeles and “they” got it. The average Rams are the team that LA deserves. The ownership is clearly too busy counting new revenue to care if this team actually competes or not. They might even give Jeff Fisher another contract extension. Outside of Gurley and Donald, the entire situation with this football organization is a huge joke. But hey, it will be Lakers season soon and the Dodgers might make the playoffs. Prediction: 7-9

San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers have gone through a lot of changes since their most recent Super Bowl appearance. That team’s roster has been pretty much gutted and replaced with not much. San Francisco was just dealt a bad card where many players just left via free agency or through retirement. The 49ers organization is starting the climb back but I’m starting to believe that it will take awhile before they get back there. I understand that Jim Tomsula (the mic rula) wasn’t going to work out as head coach for this team. I believed that this team needed a NFL vet that would command respect while attracting free agents to this history-laced organization. Instead, they hired Chip Kelly who will do neither. QB Colin Kaepernick has been dragged through the media recently and not because of his protest of the national anthem. People will say that Kaepernick is washed up and not the same player he was when he was winning playoff games in Lambeau Field while leading his 49ers to the Super Bowl. Amazing. It’s amazing that many in the media are ignoring that his roster has been completely gutted since then and very few QB’s would see success in that situation. I’m not saying that makes up for Kaepernick’s failures but it definitely means something. Kaepernick is also coming off shoulder surgery, has recently changed up his diet and is looking a bit skinny. Coach Kelly actually alluded to this recently. This is the only way I could excuse starting Blaine Gabbert over him. Once Kaepernick is 100%, he should start immediately. Even if he does or doesn’t, he is in a no win situation with Chip Kelly in San Francisco. Kelly is not going to attract free agents to San Fran and I don’t trust him with building a team with “his guys”. I don’t know what held up the proposed trade in the offseason involving Kaepernick but he needs to find a way out of there. Denver would have been the perfect landing spot. But I digress. The passing game this season will not mean much for the 49ers as their WR core is extremely thin on talent. WR Torrey Smith is the clear-cut best option from a group of no names. RB Carlos Hyde was supposed to be a break out player last season but he kind of disappointed. I think Hyde is talented enough to bounce back in 2016 and this team will really need him to do so. I feel a lot better about the 49er defense than I do the offense. It will be interesting to see this Oregon led defensive line with 2nd year guy, Arik Armstead and rookie DeForest Buckner. The real standouts on this defense will be at the linebacker position. LB Ahmad Brooks is a dynamic pass rusher and LB NaVorro Bowman is still a run stopping missile. This defense has a pretty good mix at safety with Eric Reid and veteran Antoine Bethea. The Niners are really thin at corner where safety turned corner Jimmie Ward might be a full season starter this year. It is going to be a long climb back for this franchise but I don’t think Chip Kelly or Colin Kaepernick will be there long enough to see it. Prediction: 4-12

2016 NFL Draft Grades: NFC

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Is Ezekiel Elliott really worth a top 5 pick?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC EAST

1. Washington: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), CB, S, RB, OLB (3-4), C, NT) – WR wasn’t a need position for Washington entering this draft but they took Josh Doctson with their first selection. Doctson might prove to be a smart selection as the team might be preparing for life without DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon. Love the selection of Su’a Cravens who will play that “tweener” position of Safety/Linebacker. CB Kendall Fuller is a steal in the third round. Fuller has a great NFL pedigree and he probably should have been drafted sooner if there weren’t questions about his health. I feel like Washington missed out on opportunities to address the positions on the line of scrimmage. They needed offensive and defensive line help. Plus, I think they should have drafted someone to help with the pass rush. But their top three selections are pretty strong. Grade: B

2. New York Giants: (Team Needs: CB, LB (4-3), OT, WR, S) – CB Eli Apple will help this secondary that was the worst in football a season ago. But the Apple pick at 10th overall is a bit of a reach. I had Apple going closer to the second round. I absolutely love the second round pick of WR Sterling Shepard. Shepard is a speedster and a playmaker in the slot. He’ll do big things in this offense and he might help push Victor Cruz completely off the roster eventually. Safety Darian Thompson was another smart pick for the Giants. They need all the help they can find in the secondary. The fifth round selection of RB Paul Perkins was strange to me because the Giants backfield is already kinda loaded. The Giants didn’t draft for any offensive line help but they still did a decent job. Grade: B-

3. Philadelphia Eagles: (Team Needs: CB, RB, OG, LB) – Wow. I don’t have much positive things to say about this draft for the Eagles. You don’t trade up to the top of the draft for a QB especially when you already have money invested in your veteran starter and when you signed one of the top backups in free agency. I also have to mention that this was not a great draft for QBs. Carson Wentz will have the chance to prove that he is the QB for the future but coming out of a FCS school and with the QB situation in Philadelphia, he’ll have a long climb to the top. I like that they addressed the interior of their offensive line in the third round. But they should have taken a RB earlier. I think Jalen Mills in the seventh round could be a steal that will help out in the secondary. Grade: C-

4. Dallas Cowboys: (Team Needs: DE, DT, OLB (4-3), CB, S, QB, WR, RB) – Ezekiel Elliott might eventually be one the best RB’s in the league but in today’s NFL, you don’t take RB’s in the top five of the draft. Ever. If the Cowboys wanted to build towards being a contender, they needed to address their god-awful pass rush situation in the first or second round. They did neither. The Elliott will prove to be very important. The Cowboys should be able to unleash a power running game that will help the offense become very efficient and at the same time take the pressure off of their 36-year-old starting QB. But in terms of contending for championships, a power running game really isn’t that important. Having players at the line of scrimmage on defense is much more important. So in 2016, we could see a great Cowboys offense but we also could see a team that wont contend for a title without the players needed on defense on the line the scrimmage. In the second round, they took LB Jaylon Smith who is one of the best prospects in this draft. The problem with that pick is that Smith is coming off of a massive knee injury and will probably not suit up at all in 2016. I don’t think this Cowboys defense can afford to wait a year to get am impact player on that defense. I like that they thought that a LB was a need position but it would have been better if they took someone who could have helped them this season. DT Maliek Collins might be my favorite pick of the bunch as an inside pass rusher. I absolutely hated the Dak Prescott pick. I’ve seen Prescott play numerous times and I don’t see a future backup QB. I see someone who needs a ton of work as a passer and with a similar skill set as a Tim Tebow. He was the one QB I didn’t want Dallas to take. DE Charles Tapper might become a rotational guy, as a pass rusher but again, this position should have been focused on earlier in the draft. To end the draft, they took a TE who hasn’t played football in years. There are some qualities to this draft class for Dallas but there are just too many things that I don’t like. Grade: D

NFC NORTH

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Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is a pass rusher in a wide receiver’s body.

1. Chicago Bears: (Team Needs: OLB (3-4), ILB, DE (3-4), CB, WR) – The Bears had the most solid of a draft out of anyone. Leonard Floyd could be the future pass rusher that this 3-4 defense needs. Cody Whitehair was one of the top guards in the draft and he’ll help this offensive line right away. I felt that DE Jonathan Bullard could have gone in the first round. The Bears were able to get him in round three. He will be a great interior defender against the run or the pass. LB Nick Kwiatkoski is a tough tackler who will help the middle of the defense. I also liked the selection of a couple of small school products. CB Deiondre’ Hall is a playmaker in the secondary and WR Daniel Braverman could have a future in the league as a slot receiver. The Bears pretty much hit all of their needs and drafted quality players. Grade: A

2. Minnesota Vikings: (Team Needs: WR, DE (4-3), LB, DT) – Minnesota really lucked out and maybe gotten the best receiver in the draft. Laquon Treadwell really legitimizes the WR core in Minnesota and will definitely help the progression of QB Teddy Bridgewater. I thought CB Mackensie Alexander was good enough to be a first rounder but Minnesota stopped his fall in the late second round. I thought that the Vikings needed to address the inside linebacker position and Kentrell Brothers will definitely help that department. There wont be a more interesting rookie than WR Moritz Boehringer from Germany. I think Minnesota missed out on addressing the DE position but they still did a solid job with this draft. Grade: B+

3. Detroit Lions: (Team Needs: WR, DE (4-3), DT, LB, S, CB) – The Lions were very conservative with this draft class. Addressing the offensive line is never a bad thing and Detroit did so with all three positions early in the draft. In the second round, they got a steal out of DT A’Shawn Robinson who will definitely help Detroit stop the run. There is a lot of buzz surrounding safety Miles Killebrew and it’s not just because of his awesome name. Killebrew is a heat-seeking missile as a tackler and he’ll definitely make his mark as a special teamer. Considering Calvin Johnson retired, I’m disappointed that they didn’t address the WR position. Also, Detroit didn’t look to draft an edge rusher to put across from Ziggy Ansah. Grade: B

4. Green Bay Packers: (Team Needs: WR, NT, DE (3-4), ILB, CB) – The Packers needed a B.J. Raji replacement and they made of gotten it in first round pick DT Kenny Clark. I like the second round pick of OT Jason Spriggs. He’ll provide some much needed depth on that offensive line. I don’t know if Blake Martinez is the middle linebacker the Packers need as a starter. I see Martinez more as a special teams contributor. The Packers pretty much hit most of their needs except for in the secondary. Nothing really jumps out about this draft class. I think Kenny Clark will be a good one though. Grade: C

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans Saints: (Team Needs: DE (4-3), DT, CB, OG, WR) – DT Sheldon Rankins is a huge disruptor and will be a great fit for the Saints. WR Michael Thomas should serve as an eventual replacement to Marques Colston. Thomas, much like Colston, is a big possession receiver that will be a nice complement to Brandin Cooks. Safety Vonn Bell is a pick that was needed once you consider how bad the Saints secondary has been. The Saints addressed all of their need areas on defense. Which is really their entire defense. I think they should of brought in some offensive line help. Grade: B

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Vernon Hargreaves will be a fan favorite in his hometown of Tampa Bay.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (Team Needs: OT, DE, LB (4-3), CB, S) – The Buccaneers got the kid they wanted all along in the first round in Tampa native, Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves might be the best “pure” corner in this draft. Tampa needed DE help but I’m not sure if they’ll get it out from Noah Spence. Spence is a dynamic pass rusher but he needs to get bigger to play in a 4-3. Everyone is criticizing Tampa decision to trade back up into the second round for a kicker. But kickers are not important until you need them. Roberto Aguayo will definitely get the opportunity to prove that he’s worth it. Tampa did a decent job at hitting all of their need areas. Grade: B-

3. Atlanta Falcons: (Team Needs: DE (4-3), WR, LB, TE, S) – Atlanta was dead last in the league again this past season in sacks. So, I can’t understand why they passed on Shaq Lawson for a safety. Keanu Neal is a good player but Atlanta had greater needs and the pick was a reach. I really like LB Deion Jones though. Jones has all the skills that a linebacker needs in a 4-3 defense. Atlanta waited until the seventh round to take a receiver and they released Roddy White earlier this offseason. TE Austin Hooper might prove to be a smart selection as the Falcons are still looking for that big TE target since Tony Gonzalez retired. Nothing too spectacular from this draft class though. Grade: C

4. Carolina Panthers: (Team Needs: WR, OT, RB, DE, CB, S) – It’s hard to criticize Carolina’s draft because they were drafting at the bottom of each round. But they pretty much did their own thing and ignored some of their obvious need areas. Carolina has enough quality defensive tackles but they took another one in the first round. CB Josh Norman was shockingly let go weeks ago so, I understand if Carolina was going to draft a CB. But they drafted three of them when they could have addressed other needs. Just a very strange draft for the reigning NFC Champs. Grade: C-

NFC WEST 

1. Seattle Seahawks: (Team Needs: C, OG, OT, RB, DT, DE (4-3), LB) – I got to pat myself on the back again for correctly predicting Seattle’s first round pick. Germain Ifedi’s versatility will help the Seattle offensive line. DT Jarran Reed probably could have been a first rounder but Seattle was able to get him in the second round. Reed will prove to be a great pick for Seattle who needs some fresh body’s to replace those who they lost in free agency. Seattle loaded up at RB with the selections of C.J. Prosise in the third round and Alex Collins in the fifth. I like Nick Vannett as a TE prospect because of his great size. I’m glad Seattle understood how serious the situation is on their offensive line. They did a good job addressing that area. I think Seattle should have addressed the edge rusher and inside linebacker positions. But overall, they had a productive draft weekend. Grade: B+

2. San Francisco 49ers: (Team Needs: WR, RB, OT, ILB, OLB (3-4), DE (3-4), CB) – San Francisco had a boatload of picks and they made the most out of them. After taking an Oregon defensive tackle last season, they repeated the action this year. DeForest Buckner along with fellow Duck, Arik Armstead, will form a good duo on the 49ers defensive line. Trading back in for an offensive lineman is weird but so is Chip Kelly. Joshua Garnett was one of the top guards in the draft and the 49ers definitely need the help on the offensive line. I’m a fan of CB Rashard Robinson who is one of the most athletic corners in the draft. DE Ronald Blair is a quality pick in the fifth round. Blair is a big body who will fit well inside on the defensive line. I like the 49ers final pick because his name is “Prince Charles”. Grade: B-

USC v California

Jared Goff is Hollywood’s newest leading man.

3. Los Angeles Rams: (Team Needs: QB, WR, DE (4-3), LB, CB, S) – Considering what the Rams gave up to get to the top of the draft, they really couldn’t draft anyone of significance in the later rounds. But they still did okay. Jared Goff isn’t the best player in the draft but the Rams needed to take him number one because they have a talented roster and they’ve been a QB away from being contenders for a while now. Goff isn’t the top player in this draft but he is the best passer. TE Tyler Higbee probably would have gone before the fourth round if it wasn’t for some legal issues but he might be a guy that Goff can look to in the passing game early in his career. WR Pharoh Cooper is an underrated prospect that might have a chance at making the roster. The Rams should have done more to address their defense in this draft. Grade: C

4. Arizona Cardinals: (Team Needs: C, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), OT, CB) – Arizona’s draft was completely underwhelming. Maybe just because I don’t recognize a lot of the names. In the first round, they took a chance on DT Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche isnt a risk because of his on the field work but if he can just stay out of trouble, he’ll be a great player in this league. Nkemdiche probably should have gone in the top half of the draft. Arizona addressed the secondary with three picks in the draft and I believe that was needed. Guard Even Boehm might be a replacement to Jonathan Cooper who was traded away months ago. Grade: C-

NFL 2015: NFC West Preview

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Jeff Fisher maybe on the hot seat entering this 2015 season.

By: Elias McMillan

Seattle Seahawks – After suffering a tough loss in last year’s Super Bowl, Seattle will have a lot of the same successful elements from a season ago. But they have also added a few pieces that may make them look even better on paper this year. The most dramatic change takes place at the TE position, as the Seahawks were able to swing a trade for Pro Bowler, Jimmy Graham. Graham is a dynamic pass catcher and he’ll provide QB Russell Wilson with a top talent receiver that he has never had in Seattle. Unfortunately, in order to land Graham, Seattle had to part with their starting center. Seattle didn’t have a great offensive line a year ago and they might be worst in that unit this season. Wilson’s mobility can make up for the lack of talent on the offensive line but all that running around might take a toll later in the season. Seattle got a huge lift in free agency, as they were able to resign RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has shown no signs of slowing down and this season he’ll be paired with another great back who was casted off from Buffalo, Fred Jackson. Seattle’s receivers are still the most average group of receivers in the league but lookout for rookie Tyler Lockett who could rise fast as a slot receiver and a return man. Seattle will continue to be great on defense this season. They get a great pass rush from their defensive line led by Cliff Avril, Mchael Bennett and Bruce Irvin. Rookie DE Frank Clark will continue the tradition of great pass rushers on this defense and will be great this season in a reserve role on third downs. The middle of the defense will continue to be anchored by LB Bobby Wagner who is one of the most underrated defenders in the league. It might be hard for Seattle at the beginning of the season without safety Kam Chancellor who is holding out but once he returns, Seattle’s secondary maybe even better than it was last season. They loss CB Byron Maxwell in free agency but he was mainly great when QB’s wanted to avoid CB Richard Sherman. CB Cary Williams has had some rough seasons but physically, he is an upgrade from Maxwell and he could excel with the amount of attention he’ll get playing opposite of Sherman. Sherman still has the rep of being the premiere shutdown corner in the league but safety Earl Thomas is the real leader of this secondary. Thomas has some injury concerns but as long as he can stay on the field, Seattle’s secondary will be able to perform up to standard. Seattle has a set formula for success and I think it will work for them again this season. If they can hit their stride late in the season again, they’ll have a decent chance at returning to the Super Bowl for the third straight season. Prediction: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona surprised everyone last season and almost won this division. The driving force on this team is their head coach, Bruce Arians, and their hard-nosed philosophy on defense. Arizona will hopefully carry over last season’s success into this season in order to compete with Seattle for the division. What would really help would be if QB Carson Palmer can stay healthy this season. Arizona’s QB situation was a mess when Palmer went down last year so his health will be vital to the team’s success on offense. Arizona need better play out of their offensive line this season. They spent a top draft pick this year on OT D.J. Humphries and former first round pick, OG Jonathan Cooper, is going to need to stay healthy if he wants to stay in Arizona for the long term. Starting RB Andre Ellington also has injury issues but Arizona has a better insurance plan this season with bringing in veteran Chris Johnson to help spell him. Arizona returns a great WR core led by all pro Larry Fitzgerald. WR Michael Floyd is a solid second receiving option and WR John Brown is a star slot receiver in this league after an impressive rookie season. Arizona has a good defense but for them to win the division, they’re going to need to have Palmer and Ellington for 16 games. Thinking of the defense, the Cardinals may have lost some pieces from a season ago but they’ll be tough again this season. DE Calais Campbell is the leader of the defensive line and he can affect the game as a pass rusher or a run defender. Arizona will be counting on a couple of rookies this season for them to continue to be successful at stopping the run. That might be a costly experiment. They do have serviceable players at middle linebacker in Sean Weatherspoon and Kevin Minter. In the offseason, they allowed CB Antonio Cromartie walk away via free agency and that might be a plus for the secondary. CB Patrick Peterson is one of the best corners in the game and now Arizona will have a more physical presensce opposite of him in Jerraud Powers. Arizona also have a decent pair of young safeties in Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon. The defense should be tough once again and that will keep Arizona in a lot of ball games this season. The key will be if the leaders on offense can be healthy for 16 games in order to get the team to return to the post season. Prediction: 9-7

St. Louis Rams – This will be a key year for head coach Jeff Fisher. The Rams have the talent to at least qualify for the post season this year but the defense must live up to expectations and the offense has to find its consistency. The Rams franchise is surrounded by a lot of uncertainty so another disappointing season might mean the end of Jeff Fisher and maybe the end of the franchise in St. Louis. On offense, the Rams finally decided to end Sam Bradford’s time with the franchise. Bradford’s story with injuries became unchanging so Fisher pulled the trigger to send him to Philadelphia for Nick Foles. Foles had a couple of great months at QB in Philly but he hasn’t proven to be a sure thing in this league and even if he is able to reach his ceiling this season in St. Louis, I don’t think he is as talented as Bradford. But the Rams are just counting on him to stay healthy and keep the passing game afloat. The Rams have a great young receiving core led by Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. WR Kenny Britt is the veteran leader of the receiver group and he’ll provide Foles with the big target that he prefers. The Rams need consistency in the running game this season. Last year, RB Tre Mason showed some promise but many people in the franchise are hoping that this year’s first round pick, Todd Gurley, can become a superstar in their backfield. The Rams would be better served if both backs can stay healthy and they can use them as a tandem. On defense, St. Louis is ridiculously stacked on the defensive line. DE’s Robert Quinn and Chris Long are top-notch pass rushers and run defenders. Inside, DT’s Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers are among the best penetrators in the game. They also added DT Nick Fairley in the offseason to help stuff the run. The Rams should be very tough to run against and opposing QB’s will dread passing on third downs. St. Louis also has a pair of athletic linebackers. LB Alec Ogletree is an active playmaker and LB James Laurinaitis fits the mold perfectly as the middle LB on this defense. St. Louis doesn’t have a great secondary but with that front seven, it truly shouldn’t matter. The Rams struggle with finding consistency from their starting safeties. CB Janoris Jenkins is a risk taker but has great ball skills and has a knack for returning interceptions for touchdowns. The QB position maybe a question mark but on paper, this Rams team should be the second best team in this division on paper. If this team under performs again, there might be a lot of changes on this roster and coaching staff going into 2016. Prediction: 8-8

San Francisco 49ers – No one had a harder offseason than the 49ers. Not only did they lose their head coach for a college job, they lost almost every valuable veteran on defense and even a couple on offense. This year’s 49ers team will be young on defense but they’ll also be noticeability less talented at a lot of areas. On offense, I think they’ll be hurt by the departure of starting guard Mike Iupati. This 49ers team has been known for their power running game but their offensive line took a noticeable hit in the offseason. RB Frank Gore is gone too but at least it appears that they have a replacement lined up. I think RB Carlos Hyde will be set up to have a breakout season this year as the offense will lean heavily on this young back. Having Reggie Bush as a backup won’t be bad either as he will be trying to prove that he has plenty left in the tank. You also cant forget about QB Colin Kaepernick who will continue to provide the big play ability on offense this season. Two seasoned veterans will lead the WR core: the reliable Anquan Boldin and a newcomer from Baltimore, Torrey Smith. Slot receiver Bruce Ellington will probably get more touches this year too as he will be a valuable piece for this offense and on special teams as a returner. The defense this year will be a shell of its former self especially on the defensive line and at the LB position. After losing a couple of valuable veterans on the defensive line, rookie DE Arik Armstead will probably have to play early on in his first season. The LB core has been completely ripped to shreds due to retirements and suspensions. Some good news though: LB NaVorro Bowman is back and healthy and he should be a front-runner for comeback player of the year. The 49er secondary will continue to play their physical brand of football but the bad play from the front seven will probably affect them negatively. I do like their group of safeties. Antoine Bethea is a physical tackler and Eric Reid has a nose for the football. The 49ers are clearly rebuilding but they have some young pieces that they will be able to keep going forward from this season. It should be interesting to see how the offense will try to make up for the shortcomings on defense. But this team clearly wont contend this season. Prediction: 4-12

NFL 2014: NFC West Preview

Shaun Hill

QB Shaun Hill might the difference between the Rams making the playoffs this season or not.

By: Elias McMillan

San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers have been victim to so many close calls in the playoffs in recent years. This years 49ers squad hopes to flip the script as they are reloaded and ready to compete for a championship. Unfortunately, the Niners have repeatedly shot them selves in the foot already this season and they may be slowed by injures and suspensions. QB Colin Kaepernick is the young leader of the 49ers offense who is coming off a successful first season as the full time starter under center. Kaepernick’s playmaking ability makes him a dangerous offensive weapon through the air or the ground. In the backfield, RB Frank Gore has arguably been the most consistent player at that position in the entire league. The 49ers will be planning to use Gore again to control the clock and close out games in the 2nd half. Rookie RB Carlos Hyde might be used some this year too as he has been turning some heads in the preseason. The 49ers are very solid at WR again this year. WR Michael Crabtree is better than “mediocre” and WR Anquan Boldin is a reliable third down option. The real star of this 49ers passing game is TE Vernon Davis who can still take over games by winning most one-on-one matchups with LBs or safeties. The real glue of the 49ers offense is the offensive line, which is among the leagues best. The San Francisco defense has received a lot of headlines in the offseason and this isnt a good thing. The defensive line will be hurting for the start of the season as they will be without pass rushing specialist DE Aldon Smith and maybe key DE Ray McDonald due to suspension. Veteran DE Justin Smith is still there but after him, the defensive line is looking really thin. The LB position will be suffering as well as LB NaVorro Bowman will start the season on the PUP list meaning that he will miss at least 6 games. They will still be able to get great play from all-pro LB Patrick Willis and LB Ahmad Brooks but they will need other younger guys to step up in Bowman’s absence. In the secondary, the 49ers are thin at CB but they are really deep at the safety position. Eric Reid had a decent rookie season last year and they drafted safety Jimmie Ward this past April. Ward is a small school prospect but his big playmaking ability will demand playing time. They also brought in safety Antoine Bethea who is coming off many productive seasons in Indy. With a high number of injures and suspensions already, I think the 49ers will struggle at times this season but they are still loaded with talent. They might be a team that will get stronger as the season goes on which might help them to get back into the big game in February. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC West Champs)

Seattle Seahawks – Seattle will probably a Super Bowl hangover in 2014. I’m not automatically dismissing them from contention already but I’m just saying that defending champions almost always have tough time in recent years. Good thing for Seattle is that they are loaded with great players who know their roles and that great home field advantage. Out of all the young QB’s in the NFL, Russell Wilson is far from being the best talent wise but he might just be the smartest of the bunch. Wilson rarely makes mistakes and can produce big time plays during crucial times of a game. The running game helps Wilson and offense a lot and they are led by “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch. Lynch will continue to provide the tough running between the tackles but quicker backs, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, balance the backfield out nicely. Leading up last years Super Bowl, Cris Carter was right when he said that Seattle doesn’t have a “true #1 receiver”. But the fact is that they don’t really need one. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse seem to always show up when called upon. Also, don’t write off WR Percy Harvin who can hurt defenses as a receiver, runner, and on special teams as a returner. One weakest to this offense is the offensive line. When teams are able to get to Russell Wilson, the offense can have long days. The defense might off lost some pieces from a season ago but they were still deep enough at some positions where they wont miss a beat going into this season. This defense is led by its pass rush that can attack offenses from the interior and the outside edges. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Brandon Mebane round out a unit that can stuff the run and attack opposing QBs. The LB core is led by Bobby Wagner and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. Wagner and Smith are stout run defenders who also do their share in pass coverage. But when you think of this Seattle defense, most people immediately think of the Legion of Boom aka the secondary. CB Richard Sherman talks a lot but most of it is warranted. He is the best cover corner in football right now but unfortunately for him, that title seems to change hands every one to two seasons. Also, the league will be cracking down on the physical play that this Seattle secondary seemingly got away with last season. Seattle wont have CB Brandon Browner this season and they’ll be hurt by that absence. But they’ll still have one of the top duos at safety in the game. Safety Kam Chancellor is the enforcer in the middle of the secondary making big plays in coverage and big hits that most receivers remember and try to avoid later. Chancellor is the tone setter for this secondary. A true playmaker is what Seattle has at the other safety. Earl Thomas flies from sideline to sideline every week while making plays for this defense. He is so talented that Seattle is actually going to allow him to return kicks this season. Once again this season, the NFC West will come down to Seattle and San Francisco. Seattle could very well repeat as division champs if they can overcome being the hunted and learn to handle their own success. This team follows the personality of their head coach Pete Carroll who seems like a “happy go lucky” guy when things are going his way. It will interesting to see how Carroll and his team reacts to adversity this season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

St. Louis Rams – The Rams were able to rebound from a bad start to the 2013 season and finish at a strong 7-9 record. St. Louis should be ready in 2014 to take that next step and contend for a playoff spot. Their defense should keep them in a lot of game this season. The question will be if the offense can have its self figured out where it can perform consistently through the season. QB Sam Bradford was having a decent year a season ago before tearing his ACL in Week 7. Bradford was getting ready to have a breakout season this year before tearing his other ACL in the preseason. Where does that leave the Rams offense? Backup now starting QB Shaun Hill might hold the key of if this team can make the post season. Hill has actually been a journeyman back up in this league for so long that is actually played in the NFL Europe league. My point is that Hill is up there in age and has a lot of experience in this league. Hill would be the feel good story of the league if he can somehow have some success this season and people will start making the Kurt Warner comparisons immediately. Whats going to help Hill is an offensive line that didn’t give up a lot of sacks last season and they might of gotten better with second overall pick, tackle Greg Robinson. In the backfield, RB Zac Stacy emerged last season as a rookie and almost had a 1,000-yard season. Stacy could possibly have a bigger role in the offense this season as the full time starter and because of the QB situation. The Rams have very quietly built a very solid WR core. WR Tavon Austin is playmaker, who can make a difference as a receiver and a returner. WR Kenny Britt had a lost season in 2013 as a Titan but he could bounce back this season as he is the veteran of the WR core and has been a leader of the group in the preseason. In order to compete in this division, you must be strong defensively and the Rams have done a great job building up this unit. The defensive line could be flat out scary in 2014. DE Robert Quinn terrorized QB’s last year as he led the NFL in sacks. On the opposite side of the line, DE Chris Long is other guy who can make a difference as a pass rusher and a run stopper. In the interior of the defensive line, DT Michael Brockers is coming off a strong season and he’ll be teamed with rookie DT Aaron Donald who solidified himself as the top interior pass rusher in this year’s draft. The the LB position, James Laurinaitis is the leader of the group but also look out for Alec Ogletree who showed great promise as a rookie last season. Ogletree is probably the more athletic LB on this defense and he can do damage against the run and in coverage. The key to the Rams defense is the front seven because the secondary isnt really that great. CB Janoris Jenkins is a chippy player who can make plays once the ball is in his hands. The Rams have high hopes for rookie CB Lamarcus Joyner to turn into a contributor this season. The Rams are weak at the safety position as starter T.J. McDonald is great in the box against the run but suffers in pass coverage. With a talented young defense and playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, St. Louis should be able to make the post season for the first time under head coach Jeff Fisher. But the key will be if they can get enough from the QB position and the passing game. I had the Rams in the playoffs before the Bradford injury and I’m backing off that prediction now that he is out. But if Shaun Hill can be effective, the Rams could be a surprising team to watch this season. Prediction: 8-8

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals surprisingly won 10 games last season. Even more surprising, they still couldn’t get into the playoffs. Coming off that success, Arizona should be really keying on taking care of business in their own division to make the playoffs in 2014. But it is going to be tougher for them this season as they are already missing some key players. On offense, QB Carson Palmer showed last season that he can still win ball games in this league. Palmer needs to continue to stay healthy and cut down on the turnovers to have repeat success in 2014. The Cardinals will have a new starting RB this season. RB Andre Ellington will have his first shot at the starting job this season. Ellington has impressed in camp with his blazing speed and he could prove to be an under the radar contributor this season. At WR, Larry Fitzgerald returns after a season where he didn’t top 1,000 yards but was able to score 10 TDs. Young WR Michael Floyd led the team in receiving yards last season and he’ll be planning to visit the end zone more often this season. Arizona brought in WR Ted Ginn Jr to help on special teams as a returner. Two things I don’t like about this Cardinals offense: they don’t have a stand out at TE and the offensive line is very inconsistent. Guard Jonathan Cooper was lost for his entire rookie season because of injury and the Cardinals are hoping that he can be a contributor up front this season. A large reason why the Cardinals were able to win 10 games last season was their defense. The Cardinals defensive line will be hurting this season as they already lost DE Darnell Dockett due to injury. They still have pass rush specialist DE Calais Campbell and maybe rookie DE Kareem Martin from North Carolina can step up into a starting role. The run defense took another hit in the off-season as LB Daryl Washington was suspended. Arizona will be hoping that LB Kevin Minter and veteran LB Larry Foote can help fill the void left by Washington. For outside rushers, Arizona was happy to get great production out from OLB John Abraham last season as he led the team in sacks. Arizona might have the best secondary in the division, even better than Seattle’s. All-pro CB Patrick Peterson will be teamed this season with CB Antonio Cromartie who still has plenty left in the tank. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is a playmaker that should strive in his first full season as a starter. Also be on the lookout for rookie safety Deone Bucannon to be a guy that can play in the box and become a difference maker in run defense. The Cardinals are still very talented in this deep division. The injuries on defense might hurt them a bit but if the offense can perform better they might be able to top .500 again this year. Prediction: 7-9