While this was actually planned as a one-part AFC and NFC preview, this NFC breakdown eventually became so big to make it an effective doorstop when printed out.
In the interests of being such a nice guy, I split the entire NFL preview into THREE separate parts since it was the only real logical thing left to do.
Nah, I'm just kidding. It's only two parts. And yes, I'm aware that was a horrible joke.
Without further ado!
1. Bears (12-4)
2. Packers (8-8)
3. Vikings (7-9)
4. Lions (4-12)
Cutler is a GREAT quarterback with an absolute CANNON for an arm and he also now has one of the best all-around backs in the league behind him in Matt Forte—if not THE best all-around back, but we'll wait a bit longer to anoint him with that title.
Either the Bears are going run away with it or it is going to be an absolute, drag-em-out brawl, reminiscent of the AFC and NFC South over the past few years or so, with everyone in the seven- to nine-win range.
The Packers can really go either way. They had a solid draft and have some playmakers and potential stars on either side of the ball. Also, they now know that Aaron Rodgers is no bum, so that's always a good thing of course.
The Vikings quarterback situation is still pretty wide open as I highly doubt Sage Rosenfels will end up leading this team to the promised playoff land. Tarvaris Jackson, on the other hand, could go balls to the wall this offseason and forcefully take over the reins while being the QB everyone thought he could be.
He showed flashes of brilliance at the end of last year but let's not get ahead of ourselves shall we? Or we could, since it's only June. :(
Still though, with a stellar offensive line and arguably the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson, all the Vikings really need would be to not lose games on the defensive side of the ball, and also hope the receiving corps of Berrian, Harvin, and Rice can help carry a passing game that will be led by one of two quarterbacks—both of which are questionable signal callers in their own right.
As for the basement team—surprise, surprise! It's the Lions! At least they're heading in the right direction after throwing off an ill-intentioned team strategist and GM Matt Millen. Hopefully he's not on Football Night in America again this year as that would not make ANY sense at all, and probably cause half of Detroit to throw their televisions out their windows. We can't be having that, NBC!
Unless of course you ask him questions each week that center on how he'd run certain team into the ground. That would definitely have some good-time potential!
1. Falcons (11-5)
2. Panthers (10-6)
3. Saints (7-9)
4. Buccaneers (5-11)
The only real competition Falcons in the division (on paper of course) is the Panthers, and to a lesser extent, New Orleans. It just seems that the Panthers and the Falcons are on a higher tier than the Saints and the Buccaneers are. Atlanta's defense is relatively young, yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not going to perform well or possibly even flourish.
Barring injuries of course, and even if the Falcons defense takes a bit longer to mature than the team would have hoped, I still think Michael Turner, Jerrious Norwood, Matt Ryan and Roddy White would have been great enough by themselves to carry the team.
But then they went and got Tony Gonzalez? Although he may be approaching the twilight of his career, he's still going to draw some opposing defensive attention, and perhaps even cause us to see the Falcons offense of last year but in an even higher gear. Who were their tight ends last year? Justin Peelle? He might have been a capable blocker, but he wasn't much the focus of the opposing defenses game plans very often. And with good reason.
This is pretty much the same thing as last year, with the Falcons and Panthers running away with the season's race while the other two teams sulk deeper into the depths of despair and losing. You could practically flip-flop the Falcons and Panthers for that No. 1 spot that will probably take at LEAST eleven wins in order to be able to wear the crown.
I correctly predicted last August that DeAngelo Williams would break out during the upcoming season (much to the chagrin of some very loyal Jonathan Stewart owners) and although he did, they both ended up having great seasons.
So I'm absolutely NOT trying to suggest who WON the argument (I did, but I digress!). What I AM suggesting is that the pair are going to have another stellar year, and not JUST because DeAngelo is one year away from his contract year (which includes some pretty tasty incentive bonuses to work towards) and Stewart's toes finally function correctly.
If you didn't notice it last season, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have learned to feed off each other. They've both realized that they're too good to be replaced by the other and have accepted this fact while at the same time trying to competitively outdo each other every single game.
All they really need is for Delhomme to continue on and stay injury-free, and we've got is a Panthers team who's fully ready to take any and all comes for the NFC South title. Not to mention just THINKING about the Panthers vs. Falcons divisional race (at least from the outset of the season) already has me giggling like a little schoolgirl.
As for the other two teams, the Saints definitely have the talent and could explode at JUST the right time. If Reggie Bush's surgery went well, then they may be that dark horse candidate that everyone loves to pick come pre-season.
They're certainly an INTERESTING pick, that's for sure. By interesting, I don't mean that I'd bet money on them mind you. Just interesting, like "bet your buddy $20 they'll win at least eight games" interesting. I just got the shivers.
Last—and probably deservedly least—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers! I dunno, I just don't see them doing ANYTHING unless they somehow nab a veteran QB like Brett Favre or Michael Vick. Rookie Josh Freeman has some potential for sure, but he's no Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan. Although he does have a fairly strong offensive line to help with protection and join him on any credit card commercial deals he decides to film.
It's up in the air if he'll even be starting though, and I just don't see Byron Leftwich leading this team ANYWHERE but downtown-Charlie-Brown-into-the-ground.
This looks like it may be shaping up to be one of those classic, "Start the veteran until the season's practically gone and hopeless, then just throw in the rookie signal caller to learn the ropes, get roughed up for the rest of the season, and throw Peyton Manning early-in-his-career-type interception totals."
Then again, you never know. Freeman COULD be the next Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan—but I just don't think so.
Kellen Winslow Jr. should certainly help matters, though… if he doesn't break both his legs trying to jump in front of a taxi while trying to wave it down or something. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if I heard that story break on Sportscenter in a few minutes. Would you?
1. Cowboys (10-6)
2. Giants (9-7)
3. Eagles (9-7)
4. Redskins (8-8)
Out of all of the divisions that I do for my annual NFL previews, I ALWAYS completely whiff on the NFC East prognostication and they end up being the EXACT opposite of what I had predicted they would be. You may all now commence your future divisional bets on the Redskins if you so choose.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, just remain an enigma per usual. While Terrell Owens' departure will surely be felt, it probably isn't going to make THAT much of a difference considering how old he was getting and how often he dropped passes that hit him square in the hands.
I'm not saying the guy wasn't a game breaker and an occasional game changer or anything, but I AM saying that he's a diva who whines like a little biz-hotch when things don't go his way. And how quickly we've all forgotten about Roy Williams! His skills were overshadowed a bit with the arrival of Calvin "The Freak" Johnson, but from what I remember of him, he used to be pretty good.
All the Cowboys doom and gloom can stop. They're going to be fine. And even if they DON'T turn out okay this season, all that really means is that we can all rejoice and dance around, because who DOESN'T love to see the Cowboys lose, and then subsequently make fun of Cowboys fans immediately after? Exactly!
The Giants are still the Giants, sans Plaxico Burress, which to ME is a pretty big sans. He was their best receiver and played a HUGE role in their Super Bowl win. So there's that. It's up in the air as to how it's really going to affect them. I personally can't wait to see Brandon Jacobs pound the rock though—it's truly a joy to see him run the football and also run full-grown men flat over.
As for the Eagles, I just get the feeling that they're on the decline rather than on the up-and-up. Brian Westbrook is going to lose his magical powers sometime soon and I'm projecting that it least starts soon—but not necessarily soon enough for me to go and do something as stupid as pick a team that's so stacked to finish in last place.
While Jason Campbell hasn't certainly been the ideal starting QB—especially for a franchise like the Redskins, who have no problem with spending the equivalent of the gross national capita of a small country on an injury-prone role player—I for one have seen him show flashes of brilliance over the past few years. And even more so last season! He's certain not to take the Redskins' courtship of Jay Cutler lightly and with his contract up at the end of the season, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he had a monstrous, breakout year.
If all goes well (although judging from my previous NFC Beast predictions it will instead go horribly wrong) then I can honestly see the Redskins staking a claim for the NFC East crown. I really can. Most likely not going to happen, though.
But then again, history tells us that me trying to predict what unfolds in the NFC East has about the chance to come to fruition as if I had to predict what the exact temperature would be in Montpelier, VT next September.
1. Cardinals (10-6)
2. 49ers (8-8)
3. Seahawks (7-9)
4. Rams (4-12)
Now that the Seahawks marathon streak of winning the NFC West—which lasted what? 42 straight years in a row or something—has been broken, the NFC West is at least worth following now. Well, maybe not the Rams—but we can still hope can't we?
Hey, I wonder If Marc Bulger will be out of the concussion section of the St. Louis Hospital in time to start the season. What? Have the "Marc Bulger has a horrible offensive line jokes gets concussions and breaks his ribs all of the time" jokes been done to death? LIES! Some jokes just never get old!
The Cardinals look to be the juggernaut that will take the divisional crown this year, but as we all know, this is the NFL—and in the NFL, we're always a split second away from someone's MCL, ACL, TCL, ZCL or ABCDEFG getting torn apart or severed. One of those injuries to Fitzgerald and bam—we might start thinking someone else has a chance in the division. Maybe...
But for now, it's looking like the Cardinals got it on lockdown—unless Matt Hasselbeck bounces back and greedily snatches the crown back once again for the Seahawks. Knowing Matt Hasselbeck though, I wouldn't put that past him at all. He seems like a very greedy person.
The 49ers are definitely a wild card and a promising prospect for a deep sleeper pick if ONLY because Mike Singletary is the MAN! They need to fix the QB situation though because no matter how much heart and ferocity everyone else is playing with, that same heart and ferocity can't complete passes and throw for touchdowns. Surprising, I know, but trust me—it's true!
The Rams could potentially come out of nowhere and surprise everyone, but I'm convinced that Marc Bulger cannot and will not drop back to pass anymore without preparing himself for broken ribs, a broken hand, or just a good old concussion. Good job offensive line! Way to fail your job in such a RIDICULOUSLY pathetic way that you may have mentally scarred your poor QB for life.
Definitely a good two years at the office for you guys though—and by good, I mean absolutely, positively, horrifically, disgustingly bad. Good thing they brought in some new blood that hopefully understands that they're job is to PROTECT the QB, not let him become a weekly staple at the local emergency room every Sunday night.
I understand that sacks are unfortunately a part of the game, but the poor guy went through TWO years in a row where he wasn't just sacked often, but he was sacked by people who were very often no longer being held back by the lineman. AKA he got hit HARD when he got sacked.
I hope the offensive line is successfully patched up at long last and we can finally see the Marc Bulger of old. But I just highly, highly doubt it. I don't know why.
Translation: He's not coming anywhere NEAR my fantasy squad. Sorry, Marc. You burn me once? Shame's on your offensive line. You burn me twice? Shame's on your offensive line. You burn me THRICE?
Stay tuned for the AFC-focused Part Two, sometime in the next few days (hopefully)!