By: Travis Thayer (@TheTravisThayer)
1. Washington Redskins (10-6)
The NFC East is typically one of the toughest divisions in football. Each year, all four teams beat up on each other until one is left standing. This year’s sole survivor will be the Washington Redskins. Yes, RG3 is coming off an ACL tear, but he is ready for opening night against the Eagles. Also, back from injury is linebacker Brian Orakpo, who forms one of the leagues best pass rushes with fellow linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. If the Redskins sure up their defensive backfield, they could seriously challenge for the NFC championship.
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
The Dallas Cowboys are a bit of an enigma. They show flashes of brilliance one week, and the next they self-destruct. There is no doubt that the Cowboys have a lot of talent, but there aren’t a team that can be trusted to win in crunch time. The Cowboys have lost 6 of their last 7 elimination games, and it’s for that reason that they will again come up short in 2013.
3. New York Giants (8-8)
Eli Manning is an elite quarterback. He has not one, but two Super Bowl wins over Tom Brady, but there is no third Super Bowl in his near future. The Giants have two great pass rushers in Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, but those two alone can’t save the defense. The Giants lack the depth needed on defense to truly compete in the NFC.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11)
Andy Reid is out as Head Coach and Chip Kelly is in. Kelly promises to play at a lightning fast pace, and Michael Vick is the man at quarterback. Vick fits perfectly into Kelly’s offense, but the Eagles don’t have the overall talent to compete in the NFC.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Aaron Rodgers has lost his top target Greg Jennings, but don’t look for his production to suffer. Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones should offer Rodgers plenty of options, and rookie receiver Charles Johnson could be a second day draft steal.
2. Detroit Lions (10-6)
The Lions are as talented as the have ever been. The can score points in bunches, and they believe they can win. Calvin Johnson is unstoppable, and Reggie Bush has joined the backfield – so the offense should continue to thrive. If the new greatest show on turf can get some help from an improving defense, the Lions could have a shot to win the NFC North and get to the playoffs.
3. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)
Adrian Peterson was nine yards away from breaking the all-time single season rushing record. He will need to have another great season like last year in order for the Vikings to make a playoff push. Christian Ponder simply can’t compete with the Aaron Rodgers’ and Drew Brees’ of the world. Greg Jennings should help the cause, but at the end of the day the Vikings won’t go anywhere with Ponder at the helm.
4. Chicago Bears (8-8)
It is going to be weird seeing the Bears play without Brian Urlacher manning the middle of the field. His void left in the middle of the field will be hard to overcome, but the Bears have other concerns. The Bears have struggled to protect quarterback Jay Cutler since the first day he got to Chicago. Cutler has weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte, but if he can’t stay on his feet he can’t get them the ball. Therefore, the Bears will have a forgettable season.
1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Atlanta had the NFL’s best record last year, but failed to make the Super Bowl after a devastating loss in the NFC Championship. Is this the year Matt Ryan can lead his team to the big game, or will the Falcons continue to disappoint in big games. We know Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez are going to produce. If newly acquired running back Steven Jackson stays healthy, he could be exactly what the Falcons need to make a run and the Super Bowl.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Head Coach Sean Payton is back after serving a year suspension because of “Bounty Gate”, where the Saints defenders were paid to hurt players. Now that Payton is back, expect to see the Saints offense take off like they never missed a beat. Drew Brees is primed for a big year, and the Saints will put themselves right back in the playoff picture.
3. Carolina Panthers (8-8)
Carolina might have the best linebacker core in the NFL. Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis are as good as it gets. Behind those three men, the Panthers should have a good defense that will keep them in games. If Cam Newton can build off his second half of last season then the Panthers could be a surprise team in the NFC.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Everyone expects the Buccaneers to be a playoff contender this year because of the arrival of Darrelle Revis. The problem is, Darrelle Revis doesn’t play quarterback. Josh Freeman might be on a short leash at quarterback, and if he doesn’t play well – the Bucs won’t amount to anything in 2013.
1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
Last year’s NFC champs are in a great position to do it again. Colin Kaepernick is beginning his first full year as quarterback, and that should bode well for the Niners. The addition of Anquan Boldin should help sooth the loss of Michael Crabtree, and their running game will help as well. The Niners defense is arguably the best in the league, and they will be hungry after coming up short in last year’s Super Bowl.
2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Russell Wilson surprised us all last year. If he doesn’t fall into the sophomore slump then the Seahawks are going to be a Super Bowl contender. The Seahawks are one of the more complete teams in all of football, but they will only go as far as Wilson takes them.
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Who is ready to see Patrick Peterson on offense. The All-Pro cornerback has been rumored to play some offense, and if he does – I expect him to do big things. Peterson may be the most talented player in the league, and he could make the Cardinals offense very explosive. New quarterback Carson Palmer should give a little life to the offense, but his offensive line will need to be great in order for the Cards to have any success.
4. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
The Rams have added some playmakers to help young Sam Bradford at quarterback. Rookie wideouts and college teammates Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey give the Rams a couple of home run hitters, who can take it to the house in the blink of an eye. New tight end Jared Cook gives Bradford a big red zone target, and former first overall pick Jake Long joins the offensive line. The Rams have continued to get better in the short time Jeff Fisher has been coach. The only bad thing for the Rams is that they play in the same division as the 49ers and Seahawks.
Wildcard Round Divisional Round NFC Championship
Seahawks over Lions Redskins over Falcons 49ers over Redskins
Redskins over Packers 49ers over Seahawks
49ers over Texans