5 Rising NFC Teams That Could Win Their Division or Make a Playoff Run
Although the NFC has won three out of the last four Super Bowls, the AFC had won five of the previous six prior to that. The NFL seems to be immersed within a transition of conference power. This thankfully has nothing to do with the "L" word and everything to do with playing football. With AFC stalwarts Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the back halves of their prime, the stage has been set for football's next era.
The NFL's fastest rising teams seem to mostly reside in the National Football Conference adding to the established winners already within the conference. Here is a look at five teams in the NFC that are on the rise and could compete for a division title, playoff spot, or possibly make a Super Bowl run in 2011.
1. The Detroit Lions
Throw away the notion that you can pencil the Detroit Lions out of the NFC playoff race every year. This is a different animal. Once the NFL lockout comes to a welcomed end, the 2011 NFL season looks bright for the Lions. Detroit is looking to improve upon their 6-10 record as Mathew Stafford returns from his second injury in subsequent years during his first two years in the league.
With their starting quarterback in Stafford able to take advantage of the lockout to get healthy, the Detroit Lions look to show that they can contend this year. They have quietly drafted guys with vast amount of potential and made effective trades at the skills positions in the last few years.
The two main contributors on the offensive side of the ball from 2010 were Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.
Quite easily the best draft pick for the Detroit Lions since Hall of Fame Inductee Barry Sanders, Ndamukong Suh instantaneously bolstered their defensive line last year. His rookie season will no doubt make quarterbacks in the NFC North get rid of the pigskin just a little bit quicker than usual.
The star defensive tackle looks to improve upon his pro-bowl season and change the mentality in his locker room to a winning mentality while he’s at it. The Lions front office intelligently identified their new defensive strength and built around it providing a wing-man for Suh with the first round draft pick of Nick Fairley the All-American defensive tackle from the Auburn Tigers.
2. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers established that they have a foundation for success in the NFL during the 2010 season: a starting quarterback and a good head coach. Raheem Morris took over the reigns to the pirate ship from their former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden. Morris has crafted an intimate locker room and proven that he connects with his players in more than just football.
The Bucs might have found a valuable treasure in their new starting quarterback Josh Freeman. The 6’6, 248lb. former Kansas State Wildcat came as a surprise pick to many around the league when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their 17th pick two years ago in the NFL draft on the quarterback.
In his second year Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns, 3,451 yards, and just 6 interceptions. Those are stout numbers for a second year starter. Add in the performance from rookie running back LeGarrette Blount, who proved to be worth the gamble, the surprise wide receiver Mike Williams, and the injury-resurgent tight end Kellen Winslow and the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense will be drawing people’s attention across the league.
The Bucs defense has its strengths and weaknesses. Their defensive unit ended the year in the top ten in points allowed and passing yards allowed. Two pretty important categories to excel in when you face Matt Ryan and Drew Brees twice a year. Their front office clearly thought their 28th ranked rushing yards allowed needed some attention drafting two defensive ends and a linebacker in the first three rounds of this years draft.
3. The Chicago Bears
If ugly could be used as a verb (e.g. the Chicago Bears 'uglied' it up on the field) it would perfectly describe what the Chicago Bears did to earn an NFC Championship berth in 2010. The Bears did take home some silverware from that game, the ugliest NFC Championship game performance in the last decade. Jay Cutler? Abysmal. Todd Collins? Primeval. Caleb Hanie? Inspirational? Almost…
Horrible offense aside, the Chicago Bears historically have not been defined by their offense. Running backs, linebackers, and comical music videos have been the staple of the Chicago Bears throughout the years. The Bears defense kept them alive in the NFC Championship game last season time and time again. Brian Urlacher still remains the heart and soul of their defensive unit. Julius Peppers added extra pressure off the edges last year and should improve in his second season with the team.
The Chicago Bears can boast about having the most dangerous kick returner in NFL history in Devin Hester. A whole offseason with no one to coach should have freed up some time for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to draw up some new plays to get the playmaker more involved in the offense.
Mike Martz could be the one hiding in the shadows next season as the reason why the Chicago Bears look to make a return trip to the NFC Championship game.
4. The Atlanta Falcons
Where do you start with the Atlanta Falcons? Top 10 quarterback? Check. 1,000-yard rusher? Check. 1,000-yard receiver? Check. The Falcons proved last year they are a ball club that, baring injury, can light up the scoreboard. That includes in the winning column as well going 13-3 last season.
Atlanta added to their offensive prowess aggressively moving up from the 27th pick for the shock draft pick of the first round in drafting the Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth pick. Two immensely talented, complementing wide receivers, a future hall of fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez, and a stud running back in Michael Turner should provide Matt Ryan with a plethora of options in 2011.
Their defense may have forgot that a playoff loss means you do not play the next week during last season’s divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, but they had a good year otherwise. With play-makers like Dunta Robinson, John Abraham, and Curtis Lofton leading the way, the Falcons defense fed off their explosive offense helping the team stay undefeated at home during the regular season.
If they can maintain that kind of dominance at home, the Falcons could make a deep run in the 2011 season.
5. The Team That Acquires Kevin Kolb
The majority of NFL pundits believe the Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals deal has all but been signed. Not so fast. Nothing is a done deal until you sign the dotted line. Kolb reportedly has been looking at real estate in the Phoenix area and working out with Larry Fitzgerald, which does seem to indicate the imminent move.
The Philadelphia Eagles brass has to love the rumors flying around the league about the deal. Maybe the deal will get done, but do not rule out a last gasp offer from another team that could change the Eagles’ mind. The Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins have been interested in the Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback for awhile.
If either Arizona or Seattle lands Kevin Kolb, they will automatically become the favorite to win the putrid NFC West division. The Seahawks proved last year that regular season records are hearsay in the playoffs when they knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints with a 7-9 regular season record.