I’ve finished previewing all the divisions but I wanted to try something different. I want to predict where I think each team in the conference finishes from one to six in the NFC. Which four teams will host playoff games and which two will be on the road as Wild Card teams. Let’s get to it. Enjoy.
How They Finish
1. Green Bay Packers– I think they get back to the consistent football we know they can play. Aaron Rodgers had a good 2015 season, but it wasn’t what we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Eddie Lacy will hopefully stay healthy and bring this offense some balance and coupled with Jordy Nelson returning, Aaron gets his go-to guy back. However, I’m very concerned because as a receiver, you have to be able plant your foot, pivot, press down and cut and he’s returning from a torn ACL. The defense has to play at a more consistent level and not just depend on turnovers to make plays. The Packers will play with a chip on their shoulder after a 10-6 season that saw them lose three divisional home games. The offensive line will have to do a much better job of protecting Rodgers up front.
Key Games: Week two at Minnesota, Week six vs Dallas, Week nine vs Indy, and week 14 vs Seattle.
2. Seattle Seahawks– Just because they didn’t get to the big game last season doesn’t mean that they aren’t a contender because they still are. Their goal will be to get back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons and their schedule in the beginning is relatively easy as they face only one playoff team in the first nine weeks of the season. The second half of the season will be a challenge to them as they face Carolina, Green Bay, New England and Arizona, four teams that all made the playoffs in 2015. The Green Bay game could determine some home-field advantage in the conference and you can say the same about their battle with Carolina in December.
Key Games: Week seven at Arizona, week ten at New England, week 13 vs Carolina, week 14 at Green Bay, and week 16 vs Arizona.
3. Carolina Panthers– They will be in the hunt for a first-round bye once again. It may be a bit challenging with Green Bay healthy and Seattle in the mix and as always Dallas, let’s not forget them! Kelvin Benjamin will be back and we all saw what Cam Newton did without his top receiver, let’s just imagine what he can do with him back in the mix. They may have lost Josh Norman, but there is a lot of depth on defense and with a defensive minded coach in Ron Rivera, they will still be considered as one of the best defenses in the league especially with Luke Kuechly patrolling the middle.
Key Games: Week one at Denver, Week three at Minnesota, Week six at New Orleans, Week eight vs Arizona, and Week 13 at Seattle.
4. Dallas Cowboys– Injuries plagued the Cowboys all last year. Dez Bryant broke his foot in week one and in week two, Tony Romo broke his collarbone. As I stated in my NFC East preview, the average football fan appreciates Tony Romo a lot more and I say that because when he went down, the Cowboys lost seven games in a row. He comes back, things look to be pointing up and he re-breaks the collarbone. When Romo and Dez are on the field at the same time, they are one of the very best tandems in the NFL. With that offensive line, a revamped running game with rookie Ezekiel Elliot and Romo having balance to lean on, this Cowboys team is dangerous. The one thing that will make or break them is their defense and they can be inconsistent at times.
Key Games: Week one vs NY Giants, Week two at Washington, Week five vs Cincinnati, Week six at Green Bay, Week 10 at Pittsburgh, Week 13 at Minnesota, and Week 14 at NY Giants.
5. Arizona Cardinals– Don’t let last year fool you. This is a good football team and they take after their coach. Bruce Arians has become one of the best coaches in the NFL today and each year he’s been there, they’ve won ten games and made the playoffs in all but one year. The offense is potent, the running attack is inside and out and the defense should be fun to watch with Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. If they can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the Arizona Cardinals and I say that because the last two seasons, they’ve suffered big injuries to Carson Palmer and Tyrann Mathieu. Their schedule includes the first half of the season on the national stage and the final portion of the year living out of a suitcase. Five road games in the Cardinals last seven games.
Key Games: Week one vs New England, Week seven vs Seattle, Week eight at Carolina, Week 11 at Minnesota, and Week 16 at Seattle.
6. New York Giants– If they close games out last season, we’re looking at a nine or ten win campaign for them. The key for the Giants this year will be to protect Eli Manning and show more balance on the offensive side of the ball. During the off-season, the top priority was to get the defense improved. They signed Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins and drafted Eli Apple from Ohio State along with resigning Jason Pierre-Paul to a one year deal. Consistency will also be big for the Giants. They have spurts of games where they look unbeatable and then turn around and struggle.
Key Games: Week one at Dallas, Week three at Minnesota, Week five at Green Bay, Week 13 at Pittsburgh, week 14 vs Dallas.
(3) Panthers defeat (6) Giants
(4) Cowboys defeat (5) Cardinals
(1) Packers defeat (4) Cowboys
(2) Seahawks defeat (3) Panthers
NFC Championship: I am predicting that we’ll see a rematch of an epic NFC title game that we saw in 2015. This time, though, the Green Bay Packers will have the home-field advantage and a trip to Houston will be on the line. I like the Packers to win the NFC for the first time since the 2010-11 season, the year they were the sixth seed and became only the third team in NFL history to win three straight playoff games on the road. The only difference is the Packers will have the top seed in the NFC and the road to Houston will travel through the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. I like Green Bay to represent the conference in Houston for Super Bowl 51