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NFL Buy or Sell: Investing in Each NFC Team's Playoff Hopes

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IJune 10, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18:  An Arizona Cardinals fan holds up a sign following the NFC championship game between the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles on January 18, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Six teams from each conference make the playoffs each year, and about half of them miss out the following year.

Last season, only five playoff participants, and only one from the NFC, were also in the playoffs in 2007.

I'm taking a look around the NFL and gauging each team's playoff hopes.  Today, I'm judging the NFC.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

2008 Result: 9-7, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 14th in points, 26th in yards

Defensive ranks: 16th in points, 21st in yards

Biggest offseason gain: QB Jay Cutler, obviously.

Biggest offseason loss: The draft picks traded away to get Cutler included two first round selections and a third round selection.

Buyer Beware: Cutler doesn't have nearly the weapons in Chicago as he had in Denver.  RB Matt Forte led the Bears in receptions last year.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Detroit Lions

2008 Result: 0-16, worst. Record. Ever.

Offensive ranks: 27th in points, 30th in yards

Defensive ranks: Last in points, last in yards

Biggest offseason gain: QB Matthew Stafford

Biggest offseason loss: CB Leigh Bodden

Buyer Beware: There is nowhere to go but up for this franchise, but it will be a long time before they are playoff-worthy. Don't expect Stafford to have a rookie season like Matt Ryan's or Joe Flacco's. Their successes were aberrations in a league that's generally cruel to rookie quarterbacks.

Buy or Sell: SELL

Green Bay Packers

2008 Result: 6-10, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: Fifth in points, eighth in yards

Defensive ranks: 22nd in points, 20th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is converting the Packers from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 look.

Biggest offseason loss: DT Colin Cole.  While just an average starter, Cole's girth would have allowed him to sufficiently hold down the nose tackle spot while rookie B.J. Raji prepares for life in the NFL.

Buyer Beware: Just because some of the elite defenses like New England and Pittsburgh run a 3-4, that doesn't mean that it will work immediately for all teams.  I expect the transition for the Packers' defense to take a full year because they are relying on two rookies, Raji and Clay Matthews, to assume major roles.

Buy or Sell: SELL, but watch out for 2010.

Minnesota Vikings

2008 Result: 10-6, division champs, lost in wild card round

Offensive ranks: 12th in points, 17th in yards

Defensive ranks: 13th in points, sixth in yards

Biggest offseason gain: WR Percy Harvin.  Of course, we all know that another person's name could be in this spot soon.

Biggest offseason loss: C Matt Birk

Buyer Beware: RB Adrian Peterson is a workhorse back with a punishing running style. He may not be able to make it through the season without missing a game or two or more.

Buy or Sell: BUY

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

2008 Result: 11-5, lost in wild card round

Offensive ranks: 10th in points, sixth in yards

Defensive ranks: 11th in points, 24th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: TE Tony Gonzalez

Biggest offseason loss: A collection of five defensive veterans, including linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley.

Buyer Beware: The Falcons have never had consecutive winning seasons.  The defense has a lot of room for improvement with the loss of five major contributors.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Carolina Panthers

2008 Result: 12-4, division champs, lost in divisional round

Offensive ranks: Seventh in points, 10th in yards

Defensive ranks: 12th in points, 18th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: DE Everette Brown

Biggest offseason loss: Now that CB Ken Lucas is gone, who is Steve Smith going to punch and be forgiven by in an effort to unite the team?

Buyer Beware: No rest for the weary down the stretch thanks to a Week Four bye.  They have three straight December games against the Patriots, Vikings, and Giants.

Buy or Sell: BUY

New Orleans Saints

2008 Result: 8-8, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: First in points, first in yards

Defensive ranks: 26th in points, 23rd in yards

Biggest offseason gain: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  Williams should have a more immediate impact in New Orleans than Capers will in Green Bay because he is not changing alignments. Williams promises an attacking scheme instead of the "bend but don't break" method the Saints have been used to.

Biggest offseason loss: RB Deuce McAllister is an icon in New Orleans, and his leadership will be missed.

Buyer Beware: A comparison of the offensive and defensive rankings sums up the Saints' problems over the past two seasons.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2008 Result: 9-7, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 19th in points, 14th in yards

Defensive ranks: 10th in points, ninth in yards

Biggest offseason gain: QB Byron Leftwich helps to ease Josh Freeman's transition into the NFL.

Biggest offseason loss: Tampa Bay lost a slew of veterans on both sides of the ball including LB Derrick Brooks and RB Warrick Dunn.

Buyer Beware: After gutting the roster, the Bucs are going to struggle in a such a strong division.

Buy or Sell: SELL

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

2008 Result: 9-7, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 18th in points, 13th in yards

Defensive ranks: 20th in points, eighth in yards

Biggest offseason gain: LB Keith Brooking brings leadership to a sometimes combustible locker room.

Biggest offseason loss: The Cowboys will miss Terrell Owens' touchdowns, but they won't miss his drops or the hoopla surrounding him.  I will go with LB Greg Ellis and the 20.5 sacks he's had over the past two seasons.

Buyer Beware: The Cowboys are 5-8 in December over the past three seasons.  Their last five games (four in December and one in January) are against teams who were all at or above .500 last year.

Buy or Sell: BUY

New York Giants

2008 Result: 12-4, division champs, lost in divisional round

Offensive ranks: Third in points, seventh in yards

Defensive ranks: Fifth in points, fifth in yards

Biggest offseason gain: The addition of LB Chris Canty, along with Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark, gives the Giants a very formidable trio of linebackers.

Biggest offseason loss: Not that they had any choice, but they will miss WR Plaxico Burress' big-play ability.

Buyer Beware: In addition to Burress, RB Derrick Ward is gone.  Ward had more than 1,000 yards last year and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Philadelphia Eagles

2008 Result: 9-6-1, lost in conference championship game

Offensive ranks: Sixth in points, ninth in yards

Defensive ranks: Fourth in points, third in yards

Biggest offseason gain: WR Jeremy Maclin.

Biggest offseason loss: We don't know if defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will miss any games as he battles cancer, so, until further notice, I'm going with S Brian Dawkins.

Buyer Beware: As recent surgery shows, RB Brian Westbrook often plays hurt and banged up. His presence is vital to the success of the this offense.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Washington Redskins

2008 Result: 8-8, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 28th in points, 19th in yards

Defensive ranks: Sixth in points, fourth in yards

Biggest offseason gain: $100 million man and DT Albert Haynesworth.

Biggest offseason loss: G Pete Kendall started every game over the past two seasons.

Buyer Beware: After starting the season 6-2, the Redskins finished 2008 on a 2-6 slide.

Buy or Sell: SELL

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

2008 Result: 9-7, division champs, lost Super Bowl

Offensive ranks: Fourth in points, fourth in yards

Defensive ranks: 28th in points, 19th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: Re-signing QB Kurt Warner

Biggest offseason loss: J.J. Arrington is a force as a kick returner.  He is pivotal in the battle for field position.

Buyer Beware: The Cardinals made the playoffs because they won one of the worst divisions in recent memory and then got hot enough to get to the Super Bowl.

Buy or Sell: SELL

San Francisco 49ers

2008 Result: 7-9, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 22nd in points, 23rd in yards

Defensive ranks: 23rd in points, 13th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: WR Michael Crabtree was the highest-rated player in many draft boards.

Biggest offseason loss: WR Bryant Johnson could have been a good No. 3 receiver for either Shaun Hill or Alex Smith.

Buyer Beware: RB Frank Gore has been injury-prone since his days at the University of Miami.  San Francisco needs him in order to be successful.

Buy or Sell: BUY

Seattle Seahawks

2008 Result: 4-12, missed playoffs

Offensive ranks: 25th in points, 28th in yards

Defensive ranks: 25th in points, 30th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Biggest offseason loss: DT Rocky Bernard.

Buyer Beware: I don't trust QB Matt Hasselbeck's back to hold up through a full 16-game season.

Buy or Sell: SELL

St. Louis Rams

2008 Result: 2-14, picked No. 2 overall for the second straight year.

Offensive ranks: 31st in points, 27th in yards

Defensive ranks: 31st in points, 28th in yards

Biggest offseason gain: Jason Smith gives the Rams a franchise left tackle for the next decade.

Biggest offseason loss: When you go 2-14 and look as bad as the Lions, you don't have much to lose. However, they will miss WR Torry Holt.

Buyer Beware: There are so many holes on this team that it will take at least two seasons before they make the playoffs.

Buy or Sell: SELL

Conclusion

There are nine NFC teams that I feel have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.  I expect the division races in the East and South to come down to the wire.  Five teams will be fighting for two wild card berths.

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