An early view of the NFC playoffs

3 08 2008

While the AFC might have the top teams in the NFL, the race for the six spots in the NFC playoffs could be more exciting than the Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal final Wimbledon match.

The NFC could play out just like the NBA’s Eastern Conference, with the Dallas Cowboys playing the role of the Boston Celtics and a bunch of other teams vying for spots two-through-six. Other than Dallas, there really isn’t a clear-cut favorite in the NFC, with the Brett Favre circus in Green Bay who knows what to predict for the Packers. The defending champion Giants didn’t really overly-impress during the 2007 regular season and it wouldn’t be a complete shock if they suffered from a “Super Bowl hangover.” In Seattle, the Seahawks should be the favorite in the NFC West, but I wouldn’t say they are the class of the Conference.

Lets take a look at the teams who should be the six participants in the NFC Playoffs in 2008 :

1. Dallas Cowboys– The Cowboys are as deep as any team in the NFL, led by quarterback Tony Romo and wideout Terrell Owens, the Dallas offense is as talented as any team in the league. They possess one of top pass-catching weapons at tight-end with Jason Witten and one of the toughest running backs in the league; Marion Barber III. Add Felix Jones to the mix and you have another weapon who should touch the ball 7-10 times per game and be a star in the return game.

On defense, the Boys have added the much maligned Adam “Pacman” Jones to the fold, teams with Terrence Newman and Roy Williams, the Dallas secondary is as talented as any in the game if it can stay on the field together. DeMarcus Ware is one of the most feared pass rushes in the game and provides plenty of pass rush for the Dallas defense that also added Zach Thomas to the fold this offseason.

Prediction : 14-2, Top Seed in the NFC (NFC East Champs)

2. New Orleans Saints– The Saints were the league’s darlings in 2006, however, they took a major step back last season due in large part to injury and inconsistent play.  This year, with a favorable schedule and more talent, the Saints are my pick in the NFC south race.

Their offense added tight end Jeremy Shockey to open up even more space for running back Reggie Bush, now in his third season, and wide-receiver Marques Colston.  Shockey should be a great option for quarterback Drew Brees, who excelled while teamed with Antonio Gates in 2005 in San Diego.  Getting Duece McAllister back should allow Bush to be more effective than he was last year when he was counted on to be “the guy,” a role he did not handle to well.

On defense, the Saints will need to play closer to the level they showed in 2006 more so than last year, where they were a bit lack-luster. First-round pick Sedrick Ellis could be a nice addition, but the real test will be how many plays they can make.  The linebacking core is smallish, but adding Johnathan Vilma might be the perfect risk for the Saints.  Vilma is coming off a major injury but moving back to the middle should rejuvenate his play.

Prediction : 12-4, second seed in the NFC (NFC South Champs)

3. Seattle Seahawks – Almost by default, the Seahawks are my pick for the third spot in the NFC.  Their home in the NFC west gives them a schedule advantage that should notch them 4-to-6 wins versus division foes.  Seattle added running back Julies Jones to replace Shawn Alexander who was a flop following his MVP season and injury plagued 2007.  Jones, who was a star as a rookie in Dallas, was supplanted as the lead back by Marion Barber and became expendable.  He could surprise if given the ball more in Seattle.  The wide-receiver position is a a question mark but signal-caller Matt Hasselback is still among the league’s best. 

Where the Seahawks should excel is on the defensive side of the ball. They have plenty of talent, lead by linebacker Lofa Tatupuand defensive end Patrick Kearney, who had a great year in 2007 with 14.5 sacks (best in the NFC).  The Seahawks are still the best team in the West, mainly beacuseof their defense.  A defense that they added to it in the draft with the addition of Lawrence Jackson, a solid end out of USC who could contribute right away and continue the tradition of USC players helping out the Seahawks (Tatupu, David Kirtman).

Prediction : 11-5, Third seed in the NFC (NFC West champs)

4. Green Bay Packers– The Packers are a tough team to predict.  At the time of this writing, Brett Favre as not shown up to camp (he will tomorrow at noon accorinding to Wendy Nix of ESPN), however, it is still not known if he will be the starting quarterback or if he will even be on the roster come Monday night September 8th.  With that said, the Packers are still the most talented team in the NFC North and should be able to hold off the Minnesota Vikings (unless they get Favre) and win the division. 

Aaron Rodgers is a question mark, he has never started an NFL game (and I don’t think he will get the chance to again this season), but has plenty of weapons to choose from.  Wide-receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are one of the better tandems in the NFL.  Donald Lee became a major threat at tight-end and running back Ryan Grant just got a new four year deal and was one of the best stories in the NFL last season.  He gave the Packers the running game they were lacking and was a major reason they made it all-the-way to the NFC title game.

Their defense is another solid group that with-or-without Brett Favre makes this team a strong contender in the NFC.  AJ HawkandNick Barnett are both strong linebackers, while Aaron Kampmanis the leader on the defensive line.  The secondary is solid with Charles Woodsenand Al Harris both playmakers, who are getting up there in age.  Much like Seattle, their defense is good enough to win them their division and could allow them to make a long run in the NFC playoffs.

Prediction : 11-5, Fourth seed, (NFC North champs)

5. New York Giants – The defending champs proved that defense still wins championships and down the stretch theirs was unmatched.  Getting to the quarterback has now become the blue-print for many teams after watching the G-Men get after Tom Brady all night long in route to the Super Bowl victory. 

However, their offense made strides as the season went on and quarterback Eli Manning grew up right before our eyes.  The running game found a key contributor in Ahmad Bradshaw and will again depend on Brandon Jacobs to wear down opposing defenses.  Losing Jeremey Shockey shouldn’t be a problem, they team certainly adapted to playing without him over the years.  Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomerare a solid duo and will get more help this season from Steve Smith and Super Bowl hero David Tyree. 

The loss of Michael Strahan will be felt, but this team was loaded across the front and should be able to get to the quarterbackonce again with Osi Umenyoria, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka all able to wreack havoc in opposing back-fields.  Antonio Pierce is an underrated MIKE linebacker and the secondary has solid veteran players but can be beat and is certainly the weak spot on defense.

Prediction :11-5, fifth seed in the NFC

6. Philadelphia Eagles– The Eagles are an interesting team. Quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook asked for more playmakers this offseason.  The team responded by adding defensive players Asante Samuel and Chris Clemons.  Both are thought of as playmakers, but on the wrong-side of the ball.  The offense added running back Lorenzo Booker, who was rarely used by the 1-15 Miami Dolphins last season, but looks like he will be a big part of the Eagle offense.  If McNabb is healthy he could be a great weapon that the Eagles were lacking lack season.  From all reports, he looks like there are no effects from the ACL injury that he suffered two seasons ago and that hampered his ability to make plays the first 12 games last season.

The story for the Birds has been off-the-field (as usual).  Offensive guard Shawn Andrews has mysteriously been a no show at training camp.  Lito Sheppard hired agent Drew Rosenhaus and wanted to be traded or given a new contract once the team signed Samuel.  Then there is Brain Westbrook, thought to be one of the top players in the NFL, who now wants to be paid like it and his contract situation has been a hot topic at Lehigh.

With that said, the Eagles are still pretty talented and have a solid enough defense to get into the NFC field.  Trent Cole is an underrated end, BrodrickBunkley and Mike Patterson, both former first round picks, add bulk to the middle of the front four.  The linebackingcore should be solid but is inexperienced, with new-starting middle man Stewert Bradley surronded by Chris Gocong and Omar Gathier.  The secondary might be the best in the league if they all stay on the field.  Brain Dawkins might be in the final season of his hall-of-fame career.  Sheppard and Samuel also have Sheldon Brown, who is a solid corner.  Quinten Mikel takes over as the full-time strong safety after taking over last season at both safety spots last year due to injury.

One of the biggest additions could be rookie return man DeShawn Jackson.  The Eagles missed the playoffs by one game last year and lost a game simply beacuse they could not field a punt in a week one loss to the Packers.  Jackson could be the key to getting them back to the playoffs.  He and some guy named McNabb.

Prediction : 11-5, Sixth in the NFC

The rest

Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings are a hot pick by many because of runningback Adrian Peterson.  The thought here is he gets hurt and Tavarious Jackson isn’t good enough to get to them the playoffs alone.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Bucs have a good defense, but lack playmakersonoffense.  They lost a home playoff game last season and with the Panthers and Saints improved they miss the post-season this year.

Carolina Panthers– Getting back Jake Delhome should be a huge lift, but the Panthers still are a few pieces away from being a playoff team.

Washington Redskins– A playoff team a year ago, the Skins didn’t do enough this offseason to get back there this season.

Arizona Cardinals– Every year it seems like its time for the Cardinals to make the playoffs, but there isn’t a whole lot of buzz surrounding the Cards this season.  They have plenty of talent at the skill positions but haven’t been able to get it all together.

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3 responses

3 08 2008
Michael DeLuca

I think you may only be off by one team! I’d take the Giants out of there and put the Vikings in. Good teams win in the trenches and the Vikings, with the addition of Jared Allen, may well have both the best offensive and defensive lines in football.

3 08 2008
Michael Gill

I love the addition of Allen and the Vikes D is solid, but other then Peterson, they have no playmakers on offense. But as stated in the article, really team 2 through 6 is wide open in the NFC, I definitly cant rule them out.

10 08 2008
Paul Febry

Take out the Saints and put in the Vikings! (even if AP gets hurt, Chester Taylor will get them there).

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