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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

NFL NFC Breakdown

With the NFL just days away, and with our own football currently in the middle of an international break, this seems like a good time to get writing about the upcoming American Football season.

I was worried we wouldn't see any games played this season, but thankfully the labour dispute was resolved and the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints will be good to go on Thursday night.

I have decided to have a brief look at the two Conferences in different posts, just to get an idea of how teams are likely to play this season and I will post my ante-post picks on Thursday morning.

Where else to start but what was recently the most competitive Division in the NFL let alone the NFC. This year it doesn't seem to be the case with one team looking head and shoulders above their rivals.

Philadelphia Eagles: If you don't know what the Philadelphia Eagles have been doing this off-season, you need to get your head back in the NFL game. They have made some big plays in the free agency market as they get a team together that is geared for winning now and the SuperBowl is the aim.

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have come in to sure up the iffy Secondary from last season while Jason Babin is sure to help providing the burst to attack opposition QBs. The Defense may have to play aggressively to cover up the short comings that remain in the middle of the field, with the weakness being at Linebacker and Safety.

Michael Vick will be under a different sort of pressure this season with expectations vastly increased following his performances last season. The Eagles will be hoping he can steer clear of injury, something he is susceptible to with his style of play. Vince Young will be backing him up, while Ronnie Brown has come in from Miami to back up LeSean McCoy.

The Eagles look the team to beat in this Division.

New York Giants: I would have been favouring the New York Giants to be the closest team to the Eagles, but injuries have decimated the Defense during the pre-season. Eli Manning may be a SuperBowl winning QB, but I am not convinced with him and he seems a little too erratic in terms of performances for me.

The Giants could have a decent season if they avoid any further injuries, but the NFL is not that forgiving and I think they will fall away come November.

Dallas Cowboys: This is an interesting team that does not have the expectation of last season that crushed their Play Off hopes before the season got to November.

Tony Romo is back at QB and I expect Dez Bryant will improve on last years rookie performance. The biggest problem for the Cowboys last season was their suspect Secondary and they don't seem to have improved in that department.

However, Rob Ryan comes in as Defensive Co-Ordinator and I expect he will use enough variations and schemes to confuse the opposition enough that they cannot take full advantage of their shortcomings.

I expect the Cowboys will go close for a Wild Card spot at best.

Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan's rebuilding of this once proud franchise will continue this season and I expect things will not improve their 6-10 record from last season.

There are signs that things are on the way up for Redskins fans, but seeing either John Beck or Rex Grossman lead the Offense is enough to put anyone off. Donovan McNabb was traded to Minnesota so I don't really expect this team to be one to hang 30-40 points on teams.

The Defense is likely to keep the team in some games, but I think the Skins will find it tough in this Division to keep up with some high octane Offenses and they are destined to finish bottom of the East this season... However, things are at least beginning to look brighter for the future.

NFC North
Green Bay Packers: The SuperBowl Champions may not have made a lot of free agency moves, but they have got a lot of players back from injury and look more than capable of making another run for the big one. Aaron Rodgers is an exceptional QB and he has plenty of weapons on the Offensive side of the ball that I can see them putting up lots of points.

The Defense is still solid, although they did miss out bringing in Nnamdi Asomugha in the off-season. The Pack look an all round good team and I expect they will be participating in the postseason and they could go deep.

Chicago Bears: The Chicago Bears had a better season than expected last season but the reigning North Champions are not being touted as having the same impact this year. The Defense is now another year older, while doubts remain over the abilities of Jay Cutler to lead the team on the Offense.

The trade of Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers was a strange move, and they may be hoping the Mike Martz Offense can spark a revival in Roy Williams who came in after spending time with the Dallas Cowboys.

This is a tough Division and it may be hard for Lovie Smith's troop to make it back to the postseason.

Detroit Lions: For the first time in an absolute age, the Lions look like having a really bright future. The Defense has been upgraded again from last season, when they shut down the Packers in both Divisional matches, and they have a real chance to make some noise in the NFC IF they can keep Matt Stafford healthy.

Stafford looks like a quality QB in the making, but his first 2 seasons have been decimated by injury. He showed enough promise in the games he did play to suggest the Lions have a good future to look forward to, especially with Calvin Johnson as one of the top WRs in the game.

I see an improvement for the squad this season, but whether that is good enough to get a Wild Card spot is yet to be determined and could rest on Stafford's injury issues.

Minnesota Vikings: A turbulent 2010 for the Vikings shows no real sign of improvement this season in my opinion. Donovan McNabb looks like a QB that doesn't have a lot left in the tank, while Sidney Rice has moved on to Seattle.

The Defense is a year older and there will be a lot of pressure on Adrian Peterson to keep the team driving forward.

The Vikings were built to 'win now' when bringing in Brett Favre in 2009, and that window has now closed with a transitional season in the offing.

Atlanta Falcons: The Atlanta Falcons' deficiencies were shown up by the Packers in the Play Offs last season and it will be interesting to see how they bounce back. The team won a lot of close games and that means a slight change in fortune could see them taking several steps back.

There is a lot of talent in the team from QB Matt Ryan to WR Roddy White to DE John Abraham. However, Michael Turner may just have lost a half-step this season at RB, and I think the Falcons will do well to repeat as the NFC South Champions, let alone finishing as the Number 1 seed in the NFC.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints managed to reach the postseason last year as the defending SuperBowl Champions, but a shocking defeat to the Seattle Seahawks kind of summed up their season.

They have made a few moves in the off-season, releasing Reggie Bush and bringing in Darren Sproles to freshen up the RB position, while signing Olin Kreutz and Shaun Rodgers look like good moves.

The team was blighted by inconsistent performances last season, but I think they will win the South this year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccs were the surprise package of the NFC last season and they were a little unfortunate to miss the postseason as they are in the toughest Division in the Conference (in my opinion).

However, they are a young team and I think they are still a little short of making a splash, and I actually feel they may have a drop off in performance as Defensive Co-Ordinators will have a better feel of what to expect.

Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera is putting together the Panthers and all eyes will be on Number 1 Draft Pick Cam Newton- I think he has the potential to be a top QB, but his lack of playing time in College along with the long lockout means it will be tough for him this year.

We can expect a lot of running from this team, but it is hard to imagine they will score enough points to win a lot of games... In saying that, I expect them to improve a little from last year although not enough to move out of the basement in this Division.

Seattle Seahawks: Seattle managed to win this Division with a losing record last year and then reached the Divisional Round of the Play Offs after stunning the Saints in the Wild Card Round.

It is hard to get excited about a team that has Tavaris Jackson as the starting QB, although he will at least have the benefit of playing with Sidney Rice, his team-mate from Minnesota.

Will they improve on their 7-9 record? I don't think so this year as the Division looks to be a little better now the St Louis Rams are a year older and Arizona Cardinals have a QB.

St Louis Rams: I am expecting some good things from the Rams this season, especially if Sam Bradford plays like he did last season.

Steve Spagnuola has already got the Defensive unit playing well and I think they are the best team in the Division, although it will be interesting to see how they play with a lot more expectations on their shoulders.

They came close to winning the Division last year, and I think they will this year.

Arizona Cardinals: I liked the move to bring in Kevin Kolb, even at what looks like a high price on first glance, because he gives this team at least a chance of winning, something John Skelton and Derek Anderson did not.

The signing also persuaded Larry Fitzgerald to stay in the desert and I think they will be much improved from last year. However, they have lost some key players like Steve Breaston on the Offense and the Defense is a definite weak point.

This team needs to be going in the right direction if Ken Whisenhunt is still in a job in January.

San Francisco 49ers: It's so hard to feel confident in this squad when they continue to use Alex Smith as their QB- Smith has been given numerous chances over the years since being drafted as the Number 1 Pick overall, and he hasn't been helped by a number of different Offensive schemes to learn in that time, but he looks far too inconsistent to build a team around.

The Defense is a tough unit, but they can only do so much to keep the 49ers in games.

Jim Harbaugh will need time to turn the team around after a decade of decadence- I expect they will look good in a few games but still fail to reach 0.500 for the season.

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
NFC West: St Louis Rams

Wild Cards: Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys

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