Three Up, Three Down: NFC Version

Lee HeislerCorrespondent IMay 17, 2009

GREEN BAY - DECEMBER 7:  Quarterback Aaron Rodges #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes the ball during the game against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on December 7, 2008 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  ( Photo by: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

In part two of my “Three Up, Three Down” series, we’ll take a quick look at the NFC. To me, the NFC seems to be much more difficult to predict than the AFC, but I’ll give it a shot. Here are the six teams that I believe will have a different outcome this season than they had last season.

Three teams up


New Orleans Saints

The Saints came into 2008 with high expectations, only to finish the season at 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Injuries to Reggie Bush, Marquis Colston, Tracy Porter, Jeremy Shockey, and now ex-Saint Deuce McAllister derailed the Saints' “playoff train”.

This offseason, the Saints added a veteran playmaker and a highly touted cornerback to their much maligned secondary. Darren Sharper will provide leadership to the secondary, while Malcolm Jenkins will join Tracy Porter and Randall Gay in a much improved secondary. Another season in the Saints defense should also be very beneficial to Jonathan Vilma and the Saints defense as a whole.

These reasons along the healthy return of the previously listed injured players will be enough to propel the Saints to a playoff birth in 2009.

Seattle Seahawks

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The Seahawks had owned the NFC West up to last season. This season, they look to reclaim their crown as the kings of the NFC West.

The return of Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones would be enough to for the Seahawks to contend in the NFC West. But the additions of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Corey Redding, and first-round pick Aaron Curry could be enough to put the Seahawks back on top of the division.

Aaron Curry with Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill could be one of the best linebacking corps in the entire NFL.

Also, the promotion of Jim Mora Jr. could be exactly what the veteran Seahawks team needs. Sometimes, a change of head coach lights a fire under some players, creates competition, and changes the same voice and message that players have heard for numerous years.

These reasons lead me to believe that the Seahawks will make the playoffs and possibly replace the Arizona Cardinals at the top of the NFC West.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers had a good enough offense and a good enough secondary to make the playoffs last season, but a leaky front seven proved too much for the Packers to overcome. But now, in the second season of the Aaron Rodgers’ era, the Pack will be back.

During the offseason the Packers decided to switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment, and they brought in 3-4 guru, Dom Capers, to institute the change.

With their two first-round picks, the Packers gave Capers two much-needed pieces to succeed. B.J. Raji gives the D-line a much needed playmaker, and Clay Matthews gives them a versatile linebacker that should thrive in this system.

Last season, Aaron Rodgers was in his first season as a starter and played very well. Now with one season under his belt, Rodgers should progress even more and lead an explosive offense in an offensively challenged NFC North.

For these reasons, I believe the Packers and their improved defense will make the playoffs.

Three teams down


New York Giants

The Giants defended their Super Bowl championship by going 12-4, but the lack of a proven wide receiver, questions at safety, the loss of a running back, and changes in the coaching staff will be too much for the Giants to overcome in a loaded NFC East.

Eli Manning was at his best when he had Plaxico Burress dictating what coverages he’d see. The loss of Burress and having no other proven wide out will cause Manning and the Giants offense to struggle this season, as they did after the loss of Burress last season.

The Giants did draft Hakeem Nicks in the first round, but rarely does a rookie wideout make a huge impact.

The Giants also lost Derrick Ward in free agency. With Brandon Jacobs’ physical running style often causing him to suffer injuries, Ward will be missed.

After their most recent mini-camp, Giants new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan expressed concerns about the safety position.

The losses of James Butler and R.W. McQuarters leaves the Giants thin and without much experience at the position. Leaving only Kenny Phillips, former seventh round pick Michael Johnson, and former Texan C.C. Brown at the back end of the defense.

Finally, the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could be huge. Not until his promotion to coordinator did the Giants defense excel.

Even though they are a very talented team, these losses and playing in a loaded division will cause the Giants to miss the playoffs in 2009.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers used an ultra-physical style of football to win the NFC South last season and the NFC’s second seed in the playoffs. But this season, the Julius Peppers’ situation and Jake Delhomme’s sometimes awful play will not allow the Panthers to repeat their feats of the 2008 season.

There have not been a lot of changes for the Panthers this offseason, so how can I say that a team that played so well last season will fall so far?

Two reasons:

1. The Julius Peppers’ situation. Not only will the Panthers be missing one of the elite defensive ends in the game, but the way both he and the Panthers are handling this situation will be a distraction for the team all season.

2. Jake Delhomme. His play during the playoffs was horrendous. He too often has shown a tendency to have just terrible games. Every quarterback will have off games, but when he is off, he can single-handedly lose a game.

And he’s not getting any younger.

I believe that the Julius Peppers distraction and Delhomme’s mind-numbing inconsistency will cause the Panthers to miss the playoffs this season.

Atlanta Falcons

This was the hardest pick to make. Actually, it’s the one that I have the most doubts about making, but what leads me to say that the Falcons will not make the playoffs is their defense.

When a team uses six of their seven picks on defensive players you know they have issues there.

At best, their secondary is average, with the projected starters being: Von Hutchins, Chris Houston, Thomas DeCoud, and Erik Coleman.

The losses of team leader Keith Brooking, run stopping D-lineman Grady Jackson, versatile linebacker Michael Boley, and cornerback Domonique Foxworth can’t help things either.

The Falcons defense is the reason that I expect the Atlanta Falcons to miss the playoffs.