Well that was a fun offseason. Two NFC West teams had the top two picks in the 2019 Draft and it looks like they could have a better year, but they will have to contend with the other two teams, both of whom made the playoffs last year. The rest of the NFC looks to be more vulnerable than the NFC West, but nothing is guaranteed. It’s time for the six picks for who will make the playoffs this season, why they’ll be the ones to not just get in, but why they’re better than the rest of their division. So here goes.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
Let’s start with an easy one. The Washington Redskins are an absolute mess (with reports of almost 50 employees who’ve left since this was published) and the New York Giants are thin on both offense and defense, so that leaves the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas however, has contract issues with key pieces on their offense, with Ezekiel Elliott, their franchise running-back looking more likely he’ll hold out for the season. Regardless if Elliott returns, defenses will know how to defend Amari Cooper more, even with Jason Witten coming out of retirement. As a matter of fact, Cooper is also in a standoff with both Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
The Eagles may have more stability with Nick Foles gone and Carson Wentz coming back to prove he really can play a full season. The defense was pretty good last year, even after tiring on long drives by Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense. Wentz will need to spread the ball around more, but the Eagles look to be in the best shape in this division.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
Word is that Atlanta may have issues retaining key pass rusher Vic Beasley for the 2020 season, but that will be after this year. As for the 2019 season, the Falcons are ready to make their mark in the South and have a great year. Last year the Falcons had bad luck with injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball as they went 7-9. Quarterback Matt Ryan was the main reason for those seven wins, but one has to wonder how better they would’ve been if the defense was say, even 75% healthy.
The Falcons are a logical pick to win the NFC South because the other three teams don’t look as if they’re either strong enough or have answers to key questions or issues. Tampa Bay has a new coach and this will be Jameis Winston’s most important year, especially with a defense that is poor in defending and tackling. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s upper body injury will be tested early especially when he’s hit or tries to throw, and the Panthers failed to get a win after being demolished by Pittsburgh with Newton starting in the middle of last season. As for New Orleans, they sputtered offensively even before the controversial no-call in the conference championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. Drew Brees looked like he hit 40, and there could be a drop-off in defensive play for the Saints after being close to perfect last season. The Falcons have a fresh defense, a top tier quarterback and a head coach who’s more than ready to provide answers to questions asked. Expect them to stand out this season.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
There’s already anger and plenty of booing by Bears fans reading this expecting that their team should be first in a lot of predictions. Problem is, the Bears are vulnerable with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leaving to become head coach in Denver, and there’s plenty of film on the Bears from last season for the league to break down and pick apart. The Bears had a shot last season and failed to win a playoff game. It’s understandable that almost all the key players had either not won or didn’t go to a playoff game before that, but it’s important to take away considering who’s in their division. While the Lions are already having issues in preseason, and Kirk Cousins is the classic choke that the Vikings are stuck paying, we should expect that the Green Bay Packers will use every bit of wiggle room that they can.
While both the Packers and Bears will be in the spotlight on September 5th, every football fan who follows the game knows that it’s the second game, which will be in Lambeau Field, that could matter more. Green Bay hired an offensive head coach who is not like Mike McCarthy, meaning he will have a fresh scheme, play sheet, and better ideas on how to attack the Bears defense. The Packers defense will probably be refreshed since they’ve been more active with additions and made sure to tune up key positions. The Bears secondary looks less certain than even Green Bay’s weakest links. Also, the Packers don’t have to wonder if their kicker will hold them back, at least for now.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers.
By far and away the best division in the NFC, every team here reached the Super Bowl within a ten year mark after the Los Angeles Rams won the conference last year. However, those Rams lost a good amount of their defense and offensive line this offseason while Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona all gained key pieces on both sides of the ball. Seattle by far and away is the best team to not just take the Rams head-on (they lost both games to L.A. by a combined seven points), but they have the advantage on their division rivals San Francisco (losing their first game to them last year after sweeping them four years straight in overtime and committing over 20 penalties) and Arizona (who have a rookie head coach and quarterback who has never played in the pacific northwest). Seattle’s defensive front will be their weakest link, especially in the first half of the year, but fortunately for them that should be the easiest part of their schedule. Most people know though Seattle likes to heat up in the second half of the year, especially with the offense on a roll and the defense gelling together. Not to mention, Seattle has one of the best home advantages in the 21st century.
The Los Angeles Rams should not be taken lightly even with Jared Goff struggling in the Super Bowl last year and Todd Gurley not fully healthy yet. Sean McVay is one of the top head coaches in the league, and the architect of the team, general manager Les Snead knows how to replace those lost spots. Every team they play this year though, especially their division, will be giving them their best every week, and while the Rams will probably make the playoffs, they will take more dents and not be like they were last year. That’s what happens to teams who lose the Super Bowl (unless you’re New England).
Finally, the San Francisco 49ers do deserve respect, especially if Nick Bosa and Jimmy Garappolo stay healthy year-round. Kyle Shanahan’s squad has shown they can hang against quality opponents (except for a few teams) and hang close most of those games. Injuries have been a big issue though during those two years, and it’s now or never for general manager John Lynch on down. Fortunately for San Francisco, there aren’t a lot of teams left in the NFC that make me wonder if they’ll get to the playoffs barring a certain number of issues arise elsewhere. A team that competes and plays hard in every game while keeping the score close usually finds a way to sneak into the playoffs, even if they struggle against two of their three division rivals.