The time of year is upon us for NFL previews! With the dawn of the 2015 NFL season fast approaching, let’s take a look at the 16 teams in the NFC.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are ready to fly under year 3 of Chip Kelly. As long as quarterback Sam Bradford stays healthy, the Eagles’ offense will be one of the league’s best, also boasting running backs DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews, and Darren Sproles. The defense isn’t quite as solid, but has improved from last year, particularly in the secondary. The Eagles look primed for a playoff run.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Jerry Jones’ Cowboys aren’t likely to have the run they surprisingly had last year, but the playoffs are still within reach. The league’s best offensive line provides ample time for Tony Romo, who boasts solid weapons in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams. The secondary is weak and the defensive line is suspect, meaning the Cowboys will have to win their games with the offense. Fortunately, that isn’t a problem for them.
3. New York Giants
With 2015 seeming like a make-or-break season for Big Blue, the pressure is on for everyone. Eli Manning has a wide assortment of skilled targets to throw to, and the running game has improved drastically over the years. But the questions surrounding the Giants’ defense could prove to be too much. The lack of a pass rush, questionable linebackers, and an injury-prone and thin secondary could be hard to overcome. If everything breaks right the Giants could make the playoffs, but Tom Coughlin’s crew is one injury away from disaster.
4. Washington Redskins
While the aforementioned three teams could finish in any order, it is pretty much a given that the Redskins will be bringing up the rear in the NFC East. Robert Griffin III needs a bounce back year, and he may not get it due to his spotty protection and top heavy receiving core (no one after DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon). The defense is slowly improving, but isn’t ready to take the Redskins anywhere yet.
1. Green Bay Packers
In a division without much threat, Green Bay will be able to win it quite easily. But what will the Packers do in the playoffs? The NFL’s finest quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is still in his prime and running back Eddie Lacy is still coming on. However, the injury to Jordy Nelson will hurt the offense. The defense is still stingy as ever, but Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Julius Peppers, and B.J. Raji aren’t getting any younger. The Packers have the tools to make one more Championship run.
2. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikes are trending upwards quite rapidly. There is talent at every position. Teddy Bridgewater looks to be the real deal at QB and Adrian Peterson is still one of the NFL’s best running backs. The receiving corps. is thin, but has some playmakers. Defensively, Minnesota has a fine defensive line anchored by Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, and linebackers Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr can hold down the fort. Young cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes will be shutdown CBs in time. The ship is sailing north for the Vikings.
3. Detroit Lions
One year after an 11-5 season and a near playoff win, why are the Lions projected out of the playoffs? Matthew Stafford can still throw to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate all day long. Well, the pieces the Lions lost were difficult to replace. Reggie Bush was a fine compliment back, but has left. On the defensive side, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were the game’s best DT combination. With all of these players gone, I just don’t think that the Lions can make the playoffs again.
4. Chicago Bears
“Da Bears” are still a couple of years away from competing. Jay Cutler is too inconsistent at QB, running back Matt Forte is 30, and star rookie wideout Kevin White is injured. The offensive line is still a mess. On the other side of the ball, the secondary is old, the line fails to generate significant pressure, and the linebackers are merely average. Chicago will miss the playoffs yet again.
1. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are fresh off of a disappointing 7-9, playoff-less campaign. But this team can bounce back big time in 2015. Drew Brees is still a great quarterback, Mark Ingram has finally found himself at the NFL level, and receivers Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston are a good 1-2 combination. An improved offensive line ices the offensive cake. On defense, the Saints overhauled one of football’s worst units in 2014. CB Brandon Browner and SS Kenny Vaccaro are a ball-hawking combo, and if DE Akiem Hicks can keep applying pressure, the Saints will be back in the playoffs.
2. Carolina Panthers
Carolina was able to win their second consecutive division in 2014 with just a 7-8-1 record. But it will be tougher to win in 2015. Cam Newton is inconsistent week to week, Jonathan Stewart is injury prone, and Kelvin Benjamin has already been lost for the season. Defensively, the Panthers are strong. Luke Kuechly is the league’s best linebacker, and Thomas Davis is also in the top 15. The line and secondary could use work, but are good enough. The Panthers just don’t have the offense to win another playoff spot in 2015.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Oh how far Atlanta has fallen from their stretch from 2010-2012 where they amassed a 36-12 record and blew numerous chances to advance to the Super Bowl. Now, Atlanta is barely recognizable. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White are still here, but the magic is fading. New coach Dan Quinn is a defensive specialist, but the squad he is inheriting was the league’s worst defense in 2014. Atlanta will need time to regain their division prominence.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What can be said about the 2014 Bucs? They were the league’s worst team, sporting a 2-14 record and limited upside. But Tampa Bay is starting over. Jameis Winston is their hand-picked QB of the future, and Doug Martin needs to bounce back at RB. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are good wide receivers for any rookie to start off with. The defense is young, and in time could be dangerous. But now is not that time for the Bucs, as one more cellar-dwelling season is in the cards.
1. Seattle Seahawks
If only Seattle had run the ball. The Seahawks’ inexcusable decision to pass only one yard shy of a second consecutive Championship could have deflated this team, but Pete Carroll is determined to get back to the big stage. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and new addition Jimmy Graham are the offensive cornerstones. The defense, however, is even better. The Legion of Boom is still largely intact, minus Byron Maxwell. Seattle can cruise through the regular season, but how will they respond in the postseason?
2. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals made it back to the postseason last year, but may have to fight to do so in 2015. Carson Palmer is a good QB, but his time is running out. As long as Andre Ellington can run the ball with attitude, the Redbirds will be fine offensively. But Ellington is coming off of a rough season, and there is little depth behind him. Defensively, corner Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu are some of the best at their positions. Arizona lacks a major pass rush, but could be just good enough to sneak into the playoffs.
3. St. Louis Rams
St. Louis has had a very rough go of things in these last 10 years. But the tides may be turning in time. New QB Nick Foles has potential, and running backs Todd Gurley and Tre Mason are a good tandem. Defensively, the Rams are stout. The pass rush features stars Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Aaron Donald, as well as acquisition Nick Fairley. Linebackers Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar are solid tacklers. The secondary is unproven, though. The Rams aren’t there yet, but could improve to .500.
4. San Francisco 49ers
After a rough ending to the Jim Harbaugh era, San Francisco rebuilt their team entirely. Gone are stalwarts Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, and Justin Smith. Also gone is young linebacker Chris Borland and wideout Michael Crabtree. The remaining pieces are young and hungry, but inexperienced. The same narrative applies for rookie coach Jim Tomsula. The Niners are a shell of their former selves, and seem likely for a last-place finish.
Projected Playoff Seeding:
- Seattle Seahawks
- Green Bay Packers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- New Orleans Saints
- Dallas Cowboys
- Arizona Cardinals
Just Missed: New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions