NFC Playoff Picture: Which 6 NFC Teams Will Make the Postseason in 2011-2012?
The draft has come to an end. With its conclusion comes a league-wide shakeup of speculation, disappointment and, in some cases, renewed hope. While some teams have put themselves into the playoff picture, others have taken themselves out of the discussion entirely.
What does the revised NFC playoff picture look like post-draft, you ask?
Let us take a look at the six NFC teams that I have making the postseason in the 2011-2012 season—first, though, three teams that did not make my list, but could make a splash this year.
3 Sleeper Teams That Could Make an Impact in 2011-2012
Although the following teams didn't make my top six, here are the three NFC sleeper teams that I think could make a splash this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a young offense that features improving quarterback Josh Freeman and undrafted sensation Legarrette Blount, as well as a vastly improved defensive line that picked up both Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, the Buccaneers could make a splash.
The downside? They play in a talented NFC South that features both the Falcons and the Saints.
Yet another young, improving quarterback leads the Lions in Matthew Stafford. The Lions drafted defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who, along with Ndamukong Suh, will wreak havoc on offensive lines this season. If Stafford, Calvin Johnson and co. can consistently put points on the board, look for the Lions to make a playoff push in 2011-2012.
New York Giants
Hardly a sleeper, right? The Giants nearly made the postseason in 2010-2011 with a 10-6 record. The Giants bring a talented team to the field, featuring a balanced offensive attack coupled with a defense that ranked seventh in the league in yards allowed. With first-round pick Prince Amukamara coming in at corner, look for the Giants to contend in a talented NFC East.
Now, let us take a look at the six NFC teams that I have qualifying for the postseason in 2011-2012.
6. New Orleans Saints
Having brought glory back to a previously downtrodden New Orleans with a Super Bowl victory in the 2009-2010 season, the Saints made the playoffs with a wild-card berth last season—only to be promptly bounced from the playoffs in a remarkable upset by the Seattle Seahawks.
With Drew Brees at the reigns, ever-dangerous receiver Marquis Colston, newly-drafted Mark Ingram and a strong offensive line, one can't help but put New Orleans in the playoffs once again—albeit with a wild-card berth.
5. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears won the NFC North in the 2010-2011 season in typical Bears fashion—relentless defense coupled with timely, although inconsistent, offensive contributions.
Ranking 21st and 30th in points scored and yards per game, respectively, the Bears will look to refine their play-calling strategies in 2011-2012 in order to tailor them for the benefit of gunslinging quarterback Jay Cutler.
With that said, Cutler will begin working extensively with Lovie Smith and crew in order to cut down his interceptions, which have notoriously been high for the past two seasons, in which he threw 42 interceptions, while amassing 50 touchdowns.
The Bears drafted 6-7, 314 pound tackle Gabe Carimi out of Wisconsin in order to better protect Cutler in the upcoming season.
Assuming Cutler can manage the offense in a more efficient manner in 2011-2012, look for the Bears to make a big splash in the postseason.
4. St. Louis Rams
As a lifelong San Francisco 49'ers fan, it pains me to pick the Rams to win the NFC West.
After leading the Rams to a 7-9 record in the 2010-2011 campaign, Bradford, Steven Jackson and co. are primed to make the postseason in 2011-2012.
Having added defensive end Robert Quinn out of North Carolina with the 14th overall pick as well as receivers Greg Salas and Austin Pettis and various defensive players in the later rounds of the draft, the Rams look vastly improved on both sides of the ball.
Whether by default or force, I've got the Rams coming out of the NFC West.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles draft yielded added protection for Vick in tackle Danny Watkins, as well as a duo of talented cornerbacks in Jalquawn Jarret and Curtis Marsh. When the smoke had cleared from 2011's draft, Philadelphia also emerged with the NCAA's most accurate kicker of all time, Alex Henery.
With an electric offensive attack that features Vick, receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as well as running back Lesean Mccoy, coupled with improved pass defense, one would be hard-pressed to pick against the Eagles in the 2011-2012 season.
2. Atlanta Falcons
The team that emerged with the NFL's best record in the 2010-2011 season will have to settle with No. 2 this time.
Although the Falcons gave up a slew of picks in years to come in order to acquire receiver Julio Jones, their team looks as solid as ever for the time being.
With Matt Ryan calling the signals in Atlanta, running back Michael Turner pounding defenses and a new weapon at Ryan's disposal in Julio Jones, the Falcons will likely put up big numbers on offense this season.
Tight end Tony Gonzales and a talented offensive line complete what could be the NFC's most consistent offense in 2011-2012.
Couple the Atlanta offense with a defense that ranked 5th in the NFL in points allowed with just 18 per game—the Falcons are the real deal.
1. Green Bay Packers
This can't come as a surprise to anybody. How can one pick against the Packers to come out of the NFC North?
Clay Matthews anchors a defense that ranked third in the NFL in 2010; the big story, though, pertains to the significant improvements the Packers made on the offensive side of the ball in the draft.
Four of Green Bay's first five picks were offensive players, in tackle Derek Sherrod, receiver Randall Cobb, running back Alex Green and tight end D.J. Williams, respectively.
Sherrod provides added protection for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and increases the depth of an offensive line that is already the envy of the league. Cobb adds yet another explosive weapon to Green Bay's arsenal, while Green and Williams increase the depth at their respective positions and look to be role-players in their rookie seasons.
Since winning the Super Bowl in the 2010-2011 season, the Packers have only improved. It's difficult to pick against Green Bay in the forthcoming season, especially with Aaron Rodgers at the helm of a vastly improved offense.