Football is finally here! Thursday was the start of the regular season, when the Philadelphia Eagles began their title defense against the Atlanta Falcons. Now that we got a glimpse of both teams, it's time to analyze all the other teams in this conference. As of right now, the Eagles, Saints, Vikings, and Packers seem to be the favorite to contend for a playoff spot, based on their performances last season.
Lucky for us football fans, the NFL is rarely predicted accurately and several unforeseen factors could impact a team's projection. Just ask the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are coming off a disappointing year due to an early injury to QB, Aaron Rodgers. They must now adjust to not having Packers fan favorite, WR, Jordy Nelson. The addition of TE, Jimmy Graham and several rookie receivers look to help fill that void. As of now, it is too early to predict their success but all provide a successful collegiate resume. On the other side of the ball, the Packers added a key player to their defensive line. DE, Muhammed Wikerson was added via free agency to help support DE, Mike Daniels. It will be interesting to see how this defense plays with aging players and new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. A change in defensive coordinators may be the spark the defense needs.
On paper, the Vikings seem to be the most complete team in this division. They have a great defense, great receiving corp and now a good running game with 2nd year RB, Dalvin Cook returning from injury. The highlight of the Vikings offseason, came when they signed former Redskins QB, Kirk Cousins. Pairing Cousins with new offensive coordinator, John DeFillippo, should greatly improve their offense by providing an explosive element, which he helped bring from his time in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see if Cousins can elevate his game in a way we haven't seen before and lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl 53.
Despite a 9-7 record, the Lions front office chose to search for a new head coach. Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia was hired to help lead the Lions into the postseason. Hopes are, a change in coaching philosophy can help QB, Matt Stafford take the next step in his career. Although the Lions bring a similar roster to last year, this team is hoping to achieve some success in the running game. The addition of LeGarrette Blount and rookie, Kerryon Johnson should bring a different element to the Lions non-existent backfield.
Out of all the teams in the NFC North, the Bears will display the most different offensive roster. The Bears spent this offseason not only signing key free agents, WR, Allen Robinson, WR, Taylor Gabriel, and TE, Trey Burton but also hired an entirely new coaching staff. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy was hired to bring his offensive philosophy to groom QB, Mitch Trubisky into the franchise quarterback. Most recently, the Bears front office created much excitement amongst the fan base, when they surprisingly traded/signed for DE/OLB Khalil Mack last weekend. Adding such a talented player will surely improve the success of this team going forward. The Bears could be a year or two away from competing for a division title.
NFC North Champion: Minnesota Vikings
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were one play away from reaching the NFC Championship game. I am one, who can say was surprised by the Saints success last season. The Saints have a talented offense in QB, Drew Brees, RBs, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and WRs Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith. Together with an effective pass rush, the Saints provide a respectable defense. One key element was Marshon Lattimore's ball hawking skills, which helped create a ton of turnovers. This year, the Saints are expected to continue their success and improve on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Saints added polished route runner WR, Cameron Meredith and on defense they drafted 1st round pick, DE, Marcus Davenport.
With QB, Matt Ryan and WR, Julio Jones, it is hard to count out the Atlanta Falcons. Not to mention they added, one of the most polished route runners via the draft, in WR, Calvin Ridley. The offense looks to continue their success, with most starters returning. The Falcons will go as far as their defense can take them. If the Falcons defense can prevent a shootout, chances of winning the division seem favorable.
The Carolina Panthers are looking to regain the division throne. QB, Cam Newton has new offensive pieces around him and must build chemistry with his new WRs, Torrey Smith and DJ Moore. Like the Falcons, the Panthers success, depends on the effectiveness of the defense. The bad news is the Panthers have one of the oldest defensive rosters in the league. It will be interesting to see how both sides gel this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are the most mysterious team in this division. You never know what you're going to get out of QB, Jameis Winston. This team's success is based on the success of the QB position. To add insult to injury, Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the season and must depend on QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead them. The Bucs will also have to adjust to a new backfield, with rookie RB, Ronalds Jones III leading the group. Consistency is key for this Buccaneers team.
NFC South Champion: New Orleans Saints
The Cowboys will put forth a new offense this coming season. Their decision to waive WR, Dez Bryant, resulted in adding new WRs, Allen Turns, Tavon Austin, and Michael Gallup. Another loss which brings concern, is the loss of TE, Jason Witten. The Cowboys must adjust to the addition of new receivers and hope they can build chemistry quickly. One x-factor for season success, will be the consistency of the offensive line. It will be interesting to see how the 0-line performs without center, Travis Frederick in the starting lineup and whether that will impact RB, Ezekiel Elliott's success.
Thursday showcased a sluggish Eagles offense. It's hard to imagine this Eagles offense struggling, as most starters from last season have returned. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense remains to be the strength of the team. Their defense consistently generated pressure and created turnovers. If the offense gets back to form, their team will become as strong as last season. The success of the team will come down to how well QB, Nick Foles plays, as he will be leading the offense during QB, Carson Wentz's recovery.
New York Giants
The Giants committed to WR, Odell Beckham, making him the highest paid receiver in the league. Their success depends on QB, Eli Manning's ability to lead the offense. The last several of years, Manning has become a turnover machine. New York hopes to have resolved recent offensive struggles, by hiring new head coach, Pat Shurmur. Since his hiring, Shurmur has brought in offensive tackles, Nate Solder and Will Hernandez. These additions look to provide Manning with better pass protection. Another way they have helped Manning is by the addition of RB, Saquon Barkley. This gives the Giants a dynamic running game, which has not been seen since the days of RB, Tiki Barber.
The Redskins come into this season with a new veteran quarterback. The Redskins decision not to resign Cousins resulted in the decision to trade for QB, Alex Smith. This gives the Redskins an experienced quarterback to lead the offense. Smith does not provide flashy play but he effectively plays the position by not turning the ball over. This may be a blessing for this Washington team, as it had been used to Cousin's gun slinging mentality. Unfortunately, not all is good for the Redskins, as they experienced a huge loss in the first game of the preseason. Rookie RB, Derrius Guice was lost for the year when he tore his ACL. The Redskins quickly signed veteran RB, Adrian Peterson to help fill the void. If Peterson returns to old form, this offense could be surprisingly good.
NFC East Champion: Philadelphia Eagles
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were the most active team this offseason. They acquired defensive pro bowl cornerbacks, Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters. These additions help solidified their secondary with the loss of CB, Trumaine Johnson. The defensive line became another strength by adding free agent, Ndamokung Suh after his release in Miami. Their defense seems like an NFC pro bowl roster given the star power. Offesively, the Rams look to build on last season's success. One way to ensure this happens, is to add WR, Brandin Cooks. The Rams traded away their first round pick to acquire Cooks, which brings another vertical playmaker. Adding Cooks will open up opportunities for WRs, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Mix it all together with RB, Todd Gurley II and you have a potent offense.
It is sad to say, the "Legion of Boom" no longer exists. Given S, Kam Chancellor's recent retirement and CB Richard Sherman decision to sign with rival, San Francisco, this leaves S, Earl Thomas to man the secondary. The loss of such players could become the weakness of this team. Seattle has also struggled with it's running game, since Marshawn Lynch's departure. Hopes are adding rookie RB, Rashaad Penny ignites the running game. Given Penny's ability to run and catch, this gives QB, Russell Wilson another weapon to utilize.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners were rejuvenated last season, when QB, Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted into the starting lineup. Garoppolo finished the season 5-0 as a starter. With a young defensive core in place, the focus becomes on the offense. At the moment, the Niners have experienced some bad luck, as free agent RB, Jerick McKinnon was lost for the year with a torn acl. Garoppolo must now lead the offense with a weaker running back group and last season's WRs, Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin. The good thing is Garoppolo did show good chemistry with these receivers and now turn to rookie WR, Dante Pettis for support.
A change in head coach and quarterback is where the Cardinals start 2018. Former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks was hired to rebuild this franchise. With QB, Carson Palmer retiring, the Cardinals now rely on veteran QB, Sam Bradford. Given his recent injury struggles, the Cardinals have rookie QB, Josh Rosen waiting in the wings. The best news for this team, is the return of RB, David Johnson. In years prior, Johnson has provided dynamic offense based on his running and catching ability. The Cardinals receiving group is a question mark based on the lack of options after WR, Larry Fitzgerald. Adding a dynamic college playmaker like WR, Christian Kirk, might be a start.
NFC West Champion: Los Angeles Rams
Could this be the year an NFL team wins back to back Super Bowls? Well the Philadelphia Eagles look to be that team, while the rest of the NFL looks to dethrone the NFL Champs. Now that several teams have retooled their rosters, the NFC looks to become the stronger conference. We are in store for a season, full of surprises.
NFL fans rejoice, football has returned!