The NFC is chock full of quality teams that are looking to take the conference crown away from the 49ers. Each of the 16 teams in the NFC have made the playoffs at least once in the last ten seasons (yes even the Rams) The NFC is as wide open as they come, lets take a look at how I think it will shake out
Defending Champion: San Francisco
NFC EAST (in order of predicted finish)
2012 Record 10-6 (Lost NFC Wild Card to Seattle)
Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (4th Season 21-28, 175-131 overall in 19 seasons with LA Raiders, Denver and Washington.)
Passing Leader: Robert Griffin III 3200 Yards 20 TDs 5 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Alfred Morris 1613 Yds 13TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Pierre Garcon 44 REC 636 4 TDs
Defensive Stud: Ryan Kerrigan 8½ Sacks
Fast Fact: Griffin led all QB’s with 815 yards rushing
The Redskins rode the electric play of RGIII to an NFC East title but that was tempered with the the knee injury that led to so much speculation on if the 2nd year QB needs to corral his style. The Redskins are hoping that there wont be a sophomore slump for Alfred Morris who had team record 1613 yards rushing. With a solid defense losing few components it’s a good bet the Skins will be a tough team to deal with this year.
New York Giants
2012 Record 9-7 (Last Playoff Appearance 2011)
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (10th Season 91-64 , 163-128 in 18 seasons with Jax & NYG.)
Passing Leader: Eli Manning 3948 Yards 26 TDs 15 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Ahmad Bradshaw 1015 Yds 6TDs (returning leader) David Wilson 358 YDs 4 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Victor Cruz 86 REC 1092 YDS 10 TDs
Defensive Stud: Jason Pierre-Paul 6½ Sacks
Fast Fact: The G-Men became the 12th team to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl, the Giants have missed the playoffs the season after 3 of their 4 Super Bowl wins.
The G-Men are a hard team to figure out, they won 9 games and with a flourish hammering New Orleans, Green Bay and Philly down the stretch but they also got thrashed by the Bengals, Falcons and Ravens in that same span. Eli Manning continues to be his usual laconic middle of the road self and has a talented corps of receivers to throw to. David Wilson looks to step into the breech left by Ahmad Bradshaw. The defense is what leaves much to be desired. They gave up a bushel of points and let teams score at will. What team shows up? Pick a week and take your chances but this team has enough to stay in contention but I don’t think enough to garner a playoff spot.
2012 Record 9-7 (Last Playoff Appearance: 2009)
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (4th Season 21-19)
Passing Leader: Tony Romo 4903 Yards 28 TDs 19 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader DeMarco Murray 663 Yards 4 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Jason Witten 110 REC Dez Bryant 1382 Yards 12 TDs
Defensive Stud: DeMarcus Ware 12½ Sacks
Fast Fact: The Cowboys are the winningest team in the NFC since the merger (389-275)
Big D still comes up Little: The Pokes once again came up short down the stretch and fell short of a playoff berth and Tony Romo was the prime culprit. Close but no cigar, the Pokes have talent to spare on both sides of the ball. Romo has talent to be sure, he has talented receivers with the sppedy Dez Bryant and reliable vet Jason Witten to target. On the defense past the ultra talented DeMarcus Ware the Pokes still have some questions, the Pokes are their own worst enemy and it doesn’t help that the Skins and G-Men are better balanced. Despite all the media hype, the Pokes are no better than a .500 team
2012 Record 6-10 (Last Playoff Appearance: 2010)
Head Coach Chip Kelly (1st NFL Season)
Passing Leader Michael Vick 2362 Yards 12 TDs 10 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader LeSean McCoy 840 Yards 2 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Jeremy Maclin 857 Yards 7 TDs
Defensive Stud: Fletcher Cox 5½ Sacks
Fast Fact: The Eagles gave up a team record 444 points, the first time that the Eagles had ever given up more the 400 points in a season
A limited Flight plan for the Eagles: The Andy Reid era ended with a hideous 4-12 season questions on both sides of the ball and a directionless vibe. Chip Kelly late of the fast break offense in Oregon attempts to bring his style to the pros. In the preseason Michael Vick has thrived in the setup and despite the loss of Jeremy Maclin look to be moving in the right direction. The defense? Well that’s a whole different fix and the Eagles need a lot more than a gimmicky offensive setup to fix that. Small steps are needed to fix this team and in a deep NFC East small steps are not going to be enough this year.
2012 Record 11-5 (Lost to San Francisco in Divisional Round)
Head Coach Mike McCarthy (8th Season Record 80-42)
Passing Leader Aaron Rodgers 4295 Yards 39 TDs 8 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Alex Green 464 Yards
2012 Receiving Leader Randall Cobb
Defensive Stud Clay Matthews 13 Sacks
Fast Fact: Aaron Rodgers is the first QB to throw for over 4500 yards yet have 0 receivers with 1000 yards.
Team Capsule: As long as Aaron Rodgers on offense and Clay Matthews on defense continue in good health the Packers will continue to be the team to beat in the NFC North, though they have appeared to shore up what was considered a weak running game with the addition of rookie Eddie Lacy they still need dependable production from their receiving corps that seems to lose a key component each year. Nevertheless the production on both sides of the ball should be plenty to keep any challengers at a distance.
2012 Record 10-6 (Lost to Green Bay in Wild Card Round)
Head Coach Leslie Frazier (4th Season 16-23 Season)
Passing Leader Christian Ponder 2935 Yards 18 TDs 12 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Adrian Peterson 2097 Yards (NFL Leader) 12
2012 Receiving Leader Percy Harvin 677 Yards (Returning Leader Kyle Rudolph 493 Yards 9 TDs
Defensive Stud: Jared Allen 12 Sacks
Fast Fact: Peterson’s 2097 rushing yards were more than the team rushing totals of 22 NFL teams.
Team Capsule: Simply put, the Vikings rode the relentless rushing of NFL MVP Adrian Peterson to an unexpected playoff berth. Peterson feels that he can top the 2105 yards mark set by Eric Dickerson and if he stays healthy he could mount a serious challenge to that despite many a team stacking the box against him. With teams having zero respect for the throwing abilities of Christian Ponder, the burden may fall heavier on Peterson. Many pundits think its put up or shut up time for Ponder who put up pedestrian passing numbers, One isn’t expecting Ponder to be another Brett Favre but do just enough to keep defenses honest. If he can do that the Vikes will win their fair share of games as they have a decent enough defense to keep games close. If he can’t he might be looking over his shoulder at vet Matt Cassel.
2012 Record 10-6 (Last Playoff Appearance: 2010)
Head Coach Marc Trestman (1st NFL Season)
Passing Leader Jay Cutler 3033 Yards 19 TDs 14 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Matt Forte 1094 Yards 5 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Brandon Marshall 118 REC 1508 Yards 11 TDs
Defensive Stud Julius Peppers 11 Sacks
Fast Fact: The Bears have went 5-3 at home each of the last four seasons
Monsters of the Midway? The Bears ran off Lovie Smith in spite of his 84-66 record and finishing 10-6 last season, in his stead comes highly regarded long time offensive Marc Trestman and one has to wonder if he can get through to Jay Cutler. With a solid running game led by Matt Forte and a plethora of capable receivers highlighted by Brandon Marshall and underrated Alshon Jeffery the tools are there for a breakout. The retirement of Brian Urlacher only hurts in appearances as veteran Julius Peppers still lurts condor like on the defensive line.
2012 Record 4-12 (Last Playoff Appearance:2011)
Head Coach Jim Schwartz (5th Season 22-43)
Passing Leader Matthew Stafford 4967 Yards 20 TDs 17 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Mikael Leshoure 798 Yards 9 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Calvin Johnson 122 REC 1964 Yards (NFL Record)
Defensive Stud: Ndamukong Suh 8 Sacks
Fast Fact: The Lions attempted 740 passes in 2012 an NFL record, take out Shaun Hill’s 13 attempts and Matthew Stafford’s 727 attempts by himself still is 18 better than the old record set by the 1981 Minnesota Vikings
Back to the old kitty ways?: The Lions looked to be the breakthrough team, but after a 4-4 start blew a tire and lost their last eight games in a myriad of undisciplined ways. Matthew Stafford throws a bushel of passes and Calvin Johnson seems to be the focal point of his throws but one has to wonder if Reggie Bush can really be an every down back in the rugged NFC North. Ndomaking Suh will be get a whole lot more attention with the departure of Cliff Avril who led the team in sacks. So why am I down on the Lions? They just play way way to undisciplined and in this tight division playing undisciplined can cost you games you cant afford to drop.
2012 Record 13-3 (Lost NFC Championship to San Francisco)
Head Coach Mike Smith (6th Season 57-28, winningest Falcons coach)
Passing Leader Matt Ryan 4719 Yards 32 TDs 14 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Michael Turner 900 Yards 10 TDs
2012 Receiving Leaders Tony Gonzalez 93 REC, Roddy White 1351 Yards, Julio Jones 10 TDs
Fast Fact: In the teams first 41 seasons (1966-2007) the Falcons never had back to back winning seasons. Since 2008, the Falcons currently have the longest streak of winning seasons in the NFL at 5 and have made the playoffs in 4 of those seasons including the last 3 straight.
Can the Dirty Birds breakthrough? As their aforemention history would suggest, the Falcons have shed a checkered past to become an NFC playoff staple, the problem is they have all of one playoff win to show for the past four playoff appearances and that can only last a fan base for so long. Matty Ice continues to guide the offense with a steady hand and with TE Tony Gonzalez coming back for one more season he has a full compliment of targets. Add the dynamic running of Steven Jackson, the Falcons have the makings of an even more dangerous offense. The defense is skittish at times but capable, the Falcons are still strong enough to hold off what should be a renewed challenge by the Saints to stay in the NFC playoff picture.
2012 Record 7-9 (Last Playoff Appearance 2011)
Head Coach Sean Payton (7th Season 67-37)
Passing Leader Drew Brees 5177 Yards 43 TDs 19 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Mark Ingram 602 Yards 5TDs
2012 Receiving Leader: Jimmy Graham 85 REC Marques Colston 1154 YDS 10 TDs
Defensive Stud; Cameron Jordan 8 Sacks
Fast Fact: Drew Brees is the only NFL QB to throw for 5000 yards in a season twice
Paytons back will the Saints march back to the playoffs? All things relative the Saints held up pretty well in spite of the Bounty Gate scandal that put Sean Payton on the sidelines. Drew Brees continues to be one of the premiere passers in the NFL and has a top notch receiving corps led by the brilliant play of Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston. The running game? Spotty at best. The defense? Brees had to throw endlessly to keep up with the frightening amount of points the defense gave up, its hard to say if the defense will improve that much to push the Saints back into the playoff picture
2012 Record 7-9 (Last Playoff Appearance: 2008)
Head Coach Ron Rivera (3rd Season 13-19)
Passing Leader Cam Newton 3869 Yards 19 TDs 12 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Newton 741 Yards 8 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Steve Smith 73 REC 1174 Yards
Defensive Stud: Charles Johnson 12 Sacks
Fast Fact: Cam Newton is the only QB to throw for 3800+ Yards and rush for 700+ yards in back to back seasons
Panthers stuck in the middle? Cam Newton continues to be an electrifying presence at QB but given the sudden rise of younger QB’s like RGIII, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as well Newton’s contemporary Andy Dalton all being playoff QB’s while Newton has yet direct a winning season much less a playoff berth. With a skittish running game that beyond the scrambling of Newton is piecemeal with DeAngelo Williams at 30 looking like he might have lost a step. The defense is improving if uneven at times, but mediocrity will only get by so long and Newton is more the face of a team that is still really trying to find
2012 Record 7-9 (Playoff Result.Last Appearance)
Head Coach Greg Schiano (2nd Season 7-9)
Passing Leader Josh Freeman 4065 Yards 27 TDs (team record)17 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Doug Martin 1454 Yards 11 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Vincent Jackson 1354 Yards 8 TDs
Defensive Stud: Gerald McCoy 5 Sacks
Fast Fact: The Bucs have been clinically bad at times but they have only had one winless home season.
Bucs Start or stop here? The Bucs were a tough team to figure, they started 1-3, won 5 of their next 6 behind the brilliant running of rookie Doug Martin to get on the fringes of the playoff hunt, they then blew a tire and lost 5 in a row only upending a playoff bound and disinterested Falcon squad in the season finale. Josh Freeman was the definition of inconsistent though he threw for north of 4000 yards and 27 TDs both team records, he threw 17 picks and more than a few were under puzzling circumstances. The defense is inconsistent too, giving up 35 or more 3 times all losses. The unit as a whole should improve but the division is still too strong for them to make a move up
2012 Record 11-5 (Lost to Atlanta in Divisional Round)
Head Coach Pete Carroll (4th Season 27-25, 61-58 Overall in 7 seasons with NYJ, NE & SF)
Passing Leader: Russell Wilson 3118 26 TDs 10 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader: Marshawn Lynch 1590 Yards 11 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Sidney Rice 748 Yards 11 TDs
Defensive Studs: Chris Clemons 11 Sacks, Richard Sherman 8 INTs
Fast Fact: The Seahawks love their home digs, they are 56-24 at home since 2003, best in the NFC.
Super Dreams for the Seahawks? Russell Wilson wasn’t even projected to be the starter this time last year but he took the reigns and guided the team to a raucous run to a playoff win and a near upset of the Falcons in the divisional round, with the irrepressible Marshawn Lynch to keep defenses honest Wilson will use his talents to get the Hawks rolling nicely. An big play ballhawking defense has upgraded its pass rush with the addition of Cliff Avril. Im thinking that the Niners/Seahawks games will be some of the best games of the year, this time the Hawks get the upper hand
2012 Record 11-4-1 (Lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl 47)
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (3rd Season 27-9-1)
Passing Leader Colin Kaepernick 1814 Yards 10 TDs 3 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Frank Gore 1214 Yards 8 TDs
2012 Receiving Leader Michael Crabtree 85 REC 1102 Yards 9 TDs
Defensive Stud: Aldon Smith 19½ Sacks
Fast Fact: Jim Harbaugh’s 27-9-1 record is solid but not the best two year record for a rookie head coach in the NFL its not even his teams record George Seifert went 28-4 in his first two seasons as the Niners head man in 1989-90
Niners now the hunted: Colin Kaepernick captured the imagination of the football world with his high-wire play, Coach Harbaugh hemmed and hawed back and forth before settling on Kaepernick and riding his play to a string of exciting wins. The Niners look like they could return to their glory days but Im not so sure that Kaepernick and company wont take a step back especially with the loss of Michael Crabtree for the season. This is still a playoff team to be sure, but I cant see them repeating what they did in 2012.
2012 Record 7-8-1 (Playoff Result.Last Appearance)
Head Coach Jeff Fisher (2nd Season 7-8-1, 18th Season 154-134-1 Overall)
Passing Leader Sam Bradford 3702 Yards 21 TDs 13 INTs
2012 Rushing Leader Steven Jackson 1042 Yards 4TDs (returning leader Daryl Richardson 475 Yards)
2012 Receiving Leader Danny Amendola 63 REC 667 Yards 3 TDs (returning leader 42 REC 698 Yards)
Defensive Stud: Chris Long 11½ Sacks
Fast Fact: The Rams have the longest playoff drought in the NFC having not been in the postseason since 2004
Rams stuck in place: The Rams made a vast improvement from a 2-14 disaster but the problem is that the two teams ahead of them are way way ahead of the curve. Sam Bradford is the QB and many wonder if he will ever take the next step or will he just another mid-level QB, the offense is going to depend on him even more with the defection of stud RB Steven Jackson to the Falcons. Beyond the studly play of Chris Long the defense is still a mess with the tendency to get shredded by better offenses. They are better than the Cards but still have a long way to go to even get back to the semi-playoff status of 2010.
2012 Record 5-11 (Last Playoff )
Head Coach Bruce Arians (1st Season in Arizona, 9-3 in 2012 as IND interim coach-NFL Coach of the Year)
Passing Leader; Kevin Kolb 1169 Yards 8 TDs 3 INTs:
2012 Rushing Leader: LaRod Stephens-Howling 356 Yards 4 TDs,
2012 Receiving Leader: Larry Fitzgerald 71 REC 798 Yards 4 TDs
Defensive Studs: Daryl Washington 9 Sacks, Patrick Peterson 7 INTs
Fast Fact: Ken Whisenhunt got the gate at seasons end despite being the Cards all time winningest coach but the 11 losses last year also made him the Cards losingest coach too.
Team Capsule: The Cards started fast with a 4-0 then after a flat 17-3 primetime loss to the Rams, just found new and exciting ways to lose every week reaching its nadir with a humiliating 58-0 destruction by the Seahawks. The team has been, ummmm reshuffled and Bruce Arians who guided a young Colts team to a sparkling record in spite of their coaches absence, takes the reigns. Aside from the long suffering Larry Fitzgerald there are few stars here. Carson Palmer shuffles in as the de facto starter but his arm may be long past any good for this team. The magical run of 2008 and the raucous playoff shootouts in 2009 are getting more and more distant in the rearview and there doesn’t look to be any playoff oasises anywhere in sight here.
2013 Playoff Predictions
4 Green Bay
5 San Francisco
Wild Card Round
Minnesota defeats Washington
San Francisco Defeats Green Bay
San Francisco defeats Atlanta
Seattle defeats Minnesota
Seattle defeats San Francisco
Super Bowl 48
Denver defeats Seattle
NFL Picks start on Thursday..until next post fellow sports fans!