NFL- NFC season preview
On Friday night the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys in the opening game for
the 2012-2013 NFL Season. A lot of teams have high aspirations and dare to dream big as they all have their eye on the Super Bowl next year in New Orleans, February 3rd 2013. This can be said for a lot of teams in the NFC as there are many high quality franchises in this conference. Here we will preview all the teams within the 4 divisions as well as their chances for the forthcoming season.
We start with the NFC East, probably one of if not the most competitive division in the NFL. The forthcoming season which includes two teams looking to re-establish themselves after falling short despite having high hopes last year, the other two include the current Super Bowl Champions and one with a new franchise QB drafted at number 2 overall.
The Redskins have endured tough times in the last two decades. Since 1992, the Redskins have made only three post season appearances and four seasons with a winning record but now they have Robert Griffin III at the Quarterback position as he looks to relight the hopes of a city. In a tough division with 3 other big post-season contenders the Redskins Mike Shanahan’s team are still likely to finish 4th in the division especially as RG3 doesn’t have many major receiving threats to his name besides free agency signing Pierre Garcon who looks to have a breakout season as well.
Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are strong outside Linebackers which offers Washington something on defense, RG3 will definitely bring a spark to the league like Cam Newton did in 2011 and this team has the potential to compete in future seasons but for this campaign it’ set to be a learning curve for RG3 and co.
Prediction: 6-10, 4th in the NFC East.
The 2011 NFL Season for the Eagles was a major disappointment, as they only managed to finish 8-8 and did not qualify for the play-offs. Last year the Eagles were the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” but by finishing with a record that saw them fail to make the play-offs Head Coach Andy Reid and his team have a lot to prove to the world.
Quarterback Michael Vick is the man holding the keys to this team’s success; he put up impressive numbers last season and has a strong as well as speedy receiver, most notable DeSean Jackson who also has a lot to prove following a big contract signing this off-season.
With that being said Vick is prone to injury, the bumps and bruises assisted to Philadelphia’s downfall last season and number 7 needs to do his best to carry on playing smart in order to remain healthy which will put the Eagles in contention to win the NFC East and set up a strong playoff run as the team look to win their first ever Super Bowl.
Prediction: 11-5, 1st in the NFC East
The Dallas Cowboys head in to the NFL 2012 Season with high hopes just like their fellow divisional rivals. It’s quarterback Tony Romo’s 6th year as the starting QB for the team as he looks to prove doubters wrong. The Cowboys finished 8-8 last year and were on the brink of the playoffs before losing on the final day of the regular season in New Jersey to the Giants 31-14 seeing them eliminated and New York through with the rest being history.
During this off season the Cowboys have improved their roster especially on defence with two big additions to the squad at Cornerback, Brandon Carr was signed in free agency and first round draft pick Maurice Claiborne has the potential to form a great partnership with Carr. If Claiborne can learn from Carr and they do more than just cover the opposing receivers it will give Dallas more opportunities to blitz and put pressure on the QB. If the pieces go in to place Dallas could make the playoffs and from there on it is anybody’s game.
Prediction: 9-7, tied for 2nd in the NFC East.
New York Giants
The New York Giants are probably the least talked about Super Bowl winning team ever. With Tebowmania going on just around the corner, see it was even mentioned here, the off-season for the Giants has gone by quietly. The defending Champions exited the playoffs at the first hurdle when they attempted to defend their title back in the 2008 season, after going 9-7 last season Tom Coughlin will hope to win the division again but with a better record.
This will be achieved if Big Blue stay injury free especially as Quarterback Eli Manning is getting better with each season as he establishes himself as one of the best around especially when it matters, in the playoffs he threw 9 touchdowns for 1219 yards with only one interception in the Giants 4 games. While Eli and co on offense are a good unit the Giants D is full of stars and no other shines brighter then Jason Pierre-Paul who had a monster season last year with 16.5 sacks, now that the sophomore has a better grasp at the mental and physical parts of playing in the national football league opposing teams better beware of this freakishly athletic defensive end.
If they make the playoffs the Giants have the potential to go all the way but with a tough division, teams gunning for them now that they are Champions and the fact of how difficult it is to win the Lombardi trophy back to back it is doubtful that New York will see another championship in this coming season.
Prediction: 9-7 tied for 2nd in the NFC East.
Like their NFC counter parts over in the East the NFC North has teams full of talent making it very competitive. The NFC North hosts three teams out of the four who have a genuine shot to go deep in to the playoffs if they can make it past this tough division and maybe reach the Super Bowl.
Da Bears have added the pieces to a team that appeared to be Super Bowl contenders last season. In 2011 Chicago lined up 7-3 before Quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a fractured thumb and influential running back Matt Forte also was a victim to injury. The injuries led to a 5 game losing streak before they finished 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs but now it appears the Bears are ready to give their big division rivals the Green Bay Packers a run for their money.
Cutler put up potential MVP numbers last season throwing 13 touchdowns for 2319 yards and only 7 interceptions in the team’s first 10 games as he noticeably improved his game before getting injured and now that he has his old friend Brandon Marshall at wide receiver following his move from Miami the great partnership the two shared in Denver has been renewed. This familiarity adds to the other addition at receiver in the form of rookie Alshon Jeffrey who could have a break out year. With the likes of Cutler, Forte and now Marshall in the offense as well as having a defense which is still championship caliber and includes the likes of Julius Peppers if the Bears can make it in to the playoffs they could have a good run in the post-season.
Prediction: 9-7, 3rd in the NFC North.
The Detroit Lions finished 10-6 last season as they put past demons behind them to establish themselves as a future force in the NFL. The Lions made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999 before falling 45-28 to the Saints in the Wild Card game.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson pretty much hold all the hopes to a successful season for the Lions, both had very impressive campaigns in 2011 with Stafford becoming the one of only 4 NFL Quarterbacks to throw over 5,000 yards in a single season.
As well as the 5038 yards thrown by Stafford he put up an amazing 41 touchdowns with 16 interceptions thrown as the now 4th year QB proved he can mix it with the best. The Lions other main weapon is Megatron as he is widely known, he’s proved that he is one of if not the best in the league at his position with his unique skill set of size, hands, speed, strength and leaping ability. Now Megatron looks to back up the $132 million pound contract he earned by putting up equally good numbers as last season if not better, 1681 receiving yards with 16 touchdowns.
The offense will carry the Lions as the defence has not seen much change and had its weaknesses exposed at the tail-end of last season by the Packers and Saints but Ndamukong Suh is a beast for the D and can cause any offense troubles if he puts up the impressive numbers he’s shown in his short time in the NFL as the defensive tackle finished with 14 sacks in 2011. If everything goes to plan for this exciting young Lions team they could have another shot at the playoffs come January.
Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers went in to last season as defending champions, after the regular season finished they had the best record in the league as they ended up with a record of 15-1. Quarterback Aaron Rogers won the NFL MVP Award and produced one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history which won him the award, he threw 4643 yards in 15 games with saw him throw 45 touchdowns and only get picked off 6 times giving him the best passer rating in NFL history.
With a great defence adding to the impressive offense which now includes running back Cedric Benson who will offer the Packers something different on the ground making them dangerous not just in the air. But for that to happen the likes of rookie Linebacker Nick Perry need to step up as players like him look to help Green Bay improve on their only weakness from 2011 which was their lack of pass rush, if he can get at the Quarterback this will enable Clay Matthews to get free as well and assist plus do what he does best which is play overall great defence. If all goes well Green Bay have got a great chance of being Super Bowl champions come February.
Prediction: 12-4, 1st in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings are in one of if not the toughest division in the NFC. They line up against 3 teams that potentially all have a shot at the Super Bowl. The Vikes dream of reaching the Super Bowl but the big game has eluded them since the 70s and this is despite various playoff runs with the most recent being in 2009 regular season when they lost the NFC Championship game to the Saints.
At that time they had future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre leading them, now times have changed and second year Quarterback Christian Ponder looks to help the team improve on its 3-13 record from last year. He has good receiving weapons in WR Percy Harvin and Tight End Kyle Rudolph plus they have the return of Jerome Simpson to look forward too, once he is back at wide receiver this will give superstar running back Adrian Peterson the chance to light in up in the backfield and open up the offense. All in all this season is just another part of the rebuilding process for the Vikings.
Prediction: 4-12, 4th in NFC North
The NFC south is a division full of excitement and controversy. This off-season saw one team given huge penalties after a bounty scandal while the other 3 look to put the pieces in to place to try and have a successful campaign in the upcoming season.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have had an off-season full of troubles as it was revealed that the team maintained a “pay for performance” program in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. This bounty scandal overshadowed the Saints Super Bowl win in 2009 and has put a chip on the teams shoulders as the likes of Head Coach Sean Payton received lengthy bans.
Payton misses out on the whole season whereas interim Head Coach Joe Vitt misses the first 6 games before returning. No matter what’s happened the Saints have one of the best Quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees, he threw for an NFL record of 5,476 passing yards last year which included an amazing 46 touchdown passes to only 14 interceptions.
With Brees’ outstanding ability and with him coming of one of the best seasons in his career the Saints will always be a threat, the offense are deep and talented at every position but Brees will still hope they remain healthy as New Orleans look to prove the world wrong by reaching the Super Bowl, which will be held in Louisiana, and attempt to restore some credibility to the franchise.
Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are another team in a transition period but by acquiring 2 of the top 3 free agents in the free agency period the $140 million dollars spent on three big names players show that Tampa Bay are hoping to get back to mixing it with the best. Along with Cornerback Eric Wright and Offensive Guard Carl Nicks being signed the other big name signing was Vincent Jackson who has made an immediate impact on and off the field.
Jackson’s skill set might allow 4th year QB Josh Freeman to develop further at his position. New Head Coach Greg Schiano is a true leader and has already started to change this Tampa Bay team as he looks to continue with “The Buccaneer Way”. Despite all the positives only so much can be done in so little time so Schiano may have to wait a bit before he sees his changes produce results on the field especially as the NFC South is a very competitive division.
Prediction: 5-11, 4th in NFC South
There’s lots of reason to be excited in Carolina and that comes down to one main… Cam Newton. Last season he was the man carrying all the expectation following the NFL Draft which saw him drafted as the number 1 overall pick by the Panthers. He lived up to the hype but not just in week 1 when he threw over 400 yards, breaking Peyton Manning’s old regular season opener rookie record, and two touchdown passes in a narrow loss to the Cardinals or in week 2 when he tore up the Green Bay Packers defence in another narrow loss, a game which saw Newton set a Franchise record 432 passing yards in a game, but Newton continued to impress throughout the whole season for the Panthers.
He finished with 21 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions with over 4000 passing yards all very impressive for a rookie QB, Newton also showed off his versatility during the season by rushing for a record 14 TD’s by a Quarterback. The Panthers may have finished 6-10 but they came 3rd and will continue to take greater strides this coming season as Ron Rivera’s team look to add good defense to an explosive offense which also includes running back DeAngelo Williams. Linebacker Jon Beason is the main man on defence who can help propel this team, providing he stays fit, in to a playoff spot despite being in a tough division. If all goes to plan Newton and co could be taking their new found belief to the post-season come 2013.
Prediction: 8-8, 3rd in NFC South.
The Atlanta Falcons are an impressive and well organised team. Sadly for the fans of the Falcons the team’s luck seems to only last in the regular season. Atlanta has been one of the best franchises in the last 4 years which is mainly down to Head Coach Mike Smith and Quarterback Matt Ryan but now the time has really come for the Falcons to move to the next level. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Falcons have recorded four consecutive winning seasons for the first time in their history and they lead the NFC in number of wins during that period with 43.
Mike Smith’s 43-21 regular-season record in that span is the fifth-best in the league but despite the impressive stats which include qualifying for the playoffs in 2008, 2010 and 2011 in all three of those seasons they lost in the first round. Matt Ryan and co need that playoff win, the team itself is well shaped to do so as they have improved in the off-season with the most notable signing being Asante Samuel at Cornerback.
Wide receiver Julio Jones showed last season that he has all the attributes to be one of the best in the league at his position, he led all rookies in touchdown receptions in 2011 with 8. This is his breakout year and if he achieves what is expected of him the Falcons offense will be dangerous as Matt Ryan will have a valuable wide receiving threat with Michael Turner able to do damage on the ground. The Falcons should be fine from September to December but come January will their skill turn in to luck as they look to move deeper in to the post-season.
Prediction: 11-5, 1st in NFC South.
Not that any division in the NFL is easy especially in today’s NFC but this is the weakest of the 4 divisions, one team has a legitimate Super Bowl shot while the rest battle against each other to try and cause them problems.
San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff transformed this team 49ers team in to an NFL heavyweight in 2011. Harbaugh’s Midas touch took the team within a few plays of the Super Bowl last season and now that expectations are sky-high the big game is the target for San Francisco.
Harbaugh’s lucky to have one of the NFL’s most talented rosters, the 49ers defense is Super Bowl caliber as it gets at all types of offenses with physicality and tenacity. Offense is where the questions lie and Quarterback Alex Smith is the main man trying to put those questions to bed, he’s been through up and downs in his NFL career as the former number 1 overall pick endured shoulder problems as well as many people doubting his ability. Smith contributed to the 49ers successful season in 2011 with by throwing 17 touchdowns for only 5 interceptions whilst passing over 3000 yards, his best season to date.
In the playoffs he threw 5 touchdowns, 2 in the narrow 20-17 loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship game and 3 in the memorable win over the Saints in which he threw the winning pass with 9 seconds remaining. This 49ers team only weakness was their lack of depth at receiver but that has been fixed this off-season with the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins. Smith now has the weapons he needs to improve and to be on par with the teams D, they also have a good running game with the likes of Gore and Jacobs in the backfield. If Smith takes care of the ball and the team plays how everyone knows they can, especially the coach, then the 49ers could go a step further and reach the Super Bowl come February.
Prediction: 12-4, 1st in the NFC West.
The Cards have endured many troubled years in the NFL and have the longest active championship drought in the league. Since that Super Bowl in the 2008-2009 season Arizona have gone back to losing ways, following former Quarterback Kurt Warner’s retirement they signed former Eagle Kevin Kolb to a big money contract but so far that hasn’t paid off. Following Kolb’s injury halfway through last season Jon Skelton emerged and led the team to 5-2 in his time as Cardinals starting QB.
Skelton has been chosen as the starting QB for the opening game against the Seahawks, if the third year man can continue to improve and get the ball to the talented Larry Fitzgerald then the underrated defense of the Cardinals could help this football team win games as the likes of Left Tackle Levi Brown return to the D making them stronger. The defense is playoff ready but with an unpredictable offense it’s doubtful the Cards will pull of any surprises as they can at least hope to try and sneak in to the post-season as a wildcard.
Prediction: 5-11, 4th in the NFC West.
Seattle had its second successive 7-9 season in the NFC West last season. The difference this time being that they missed out on the playoffs, it was in 2010 where the Seahawks became the first team to reach the post-season with a losing record and the first team to win a playoff game with a losing record. The teams troubles lay on offense, with no franchise QB standing out for Seattle the battle for the starting jobs being contested between third round pick Russell Wilson and free agency acquisition Matt Flynn.
Following intense competition between the two during pre-season Head Coach Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson will be the starting QB for week 1, Wilson’s athleticism and burst adds another dimension to the offense. Running back Marshawn Lynch is the main man for the offense though and has had two great seasons in a row for Seattle. He rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of the team’s last 9 games in 2011 and he’ll need to do the likes of this all season long for the Seahawks to have a chance of reaching the playoffs. The defense is physical up front and has some great players in the secondary, it isn’t far behind the 49ers D and will always give the Seahawks a chance at winning games so if the offense can get something going maybe this team can get a wildcard spot.
Prediction: 8-8, 2nd in the NFC West.
St. Louis Rams
Following a 2-14 season in 2011 and just missing out on the playoffs the year before St. Louis is a tough place to be at the moment. The Rams lost their best wide receiver Brandon Lloyd so Quarterback Sam Bradford has less weapons in his offense. This team is still in a rebuilding era and has even had rumors about it being relocated which wasn’t helped by the 3 year deal to play games in London.
The saving grace for the Rams is that Jeff Fisher is the new Head Coach, he is great and has brought optimism on and off the field already. He has a QB with lots of potential in Bradford and despite having a tough task in getting this team back to winning ways they will make improvements under his leadership, Bradford himself will also improve and if he manages to have an injury free season with some protection from his O-line this team may get some need found belief if they start winning some football games especially in a division where they could have a shot at sneaking in to a wildcard position.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in the NFC West.
The NFC proves to bring us a very close season within the conference, it will be tough for all teams involved but it will also bring a lot of excitement for fans of the NFL. The road to Louisiana begins this Thursday night, let the games begin.
Skye Pank, NFL correspondent