This is Part 2 of my ‘predictions for the upcoming NFL season.
Once again I randomised the order of all NFC teams and now have to try and come up with some reason as to why they would end up there. If you haven’t read the AFC part please do and if you have, here are the upcoming National Football Conference standings.
16. New York Giants
Well, this sucks. Some background: I adopted the G-men as my NFL team in the 2011 season. I had just finished my HSC and watching the NFL on Monday mornings when I was still waking up at the time I would for school made that summer particularly memorable.
I picked the Giants as my team as the AFL Giants were joining the next year and I thought it would make sense to adopt the NFL equivalent for my team there. It paid off that first season as they won the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much to cheer about since then.
The Daniel Jones draft pick is looking stranger each year. The front office has pulled out all the stops to get him a supporting cast worthy of a much stronger quarterback and Saquon Barkley is coming back from injury. If the Giants do come last in the NFC I can’t see Jones being in the league next season, especially with the Giants having the number one pick to choose someone with a far more impressive name in Spencer Rattler.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Ah the Cardinals, the NFC’s Bengals. Despite the franchise’s history, they’ve never had the popularity or cultural impact of their fellow founding teams, the Bears and the Packers. The lack of success with just two handfuls of playoff appearances and no championships since 1947 has meant that, for Arizona, they essentially make up the numbers in what is otherwise one of the best divisions in football.
The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers are all aiming for deep playoff runs this year. The Cardinals are still trying to build a decent roster around Kyler Murray, who did have a decent campaign last season. Unfortunately, while he avoided the second-year blues, the potency of the NFC West will cause the Cardinals to backslide this year.
14. Atlanta Falcons
The Arizona of the NFC South. I really like Matt Ryan as a quarterback, much like former Detroit QB Matt Stafford he has played much better than his team’s results would suggest; I guess the NFL doesn’t treat its Matts well.
The Falcons decided not to start again with a new QB this year and gave Ryan one more chance to lead them as far as he can. Even without Julio Jones, drafting Kyle Pitts alone is probably a worthy replacement between the threat he poses and the receptions he’ll have. Unfortunately, it’s not been his work on offence that has held Atlanta back.
Their defence last season gave up the fourth-most yards from scrimmage in the whole league. Worse is that they haven’t really done anything to address that side of the ball. Unless some unheralded names take huge strides forward, they will struggle to win any more games than last season.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Well, if the Giants can’t make the playoffs, at least Cowboys fans will be miserable too.
The hype around Dallas this season has become absurd, even for America’s Team. I can believe that Dak Prescott is an exciting talent who could lead a team into January football. However, he had a really bad injury last season that could heavily impact his mobility. Ezekiel Elliot also had a down season in 2020, rushing for the fewest yards of his career despite only missing one game.
And that’s the Cowboys’ strength. Their defence last season was bottom-ten in yards per game and fifth-worst by points conceded. They tried to address this through the draft but they have weaknesses in every part of their defence, particularly at linebacker.
Even if Prescott and Elliot can lead their offence to the end zone regularly, their defence will give up any leads they generate. I could see both starting to regret signing to stay in Arlington after this season.
12. Detroit Lions
The Lions will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season. And not entirely for trainwreck reasons like usual. They let their Pro Bowl quarterback Matthew Stafford go in a trade for former Ram Jared Goff. Goff is a good quarterback, but the one place the Lions weren’t weak was under centre.
Their defence last year was worst in points allowed, the only team to concede more than 500 points in the regular season. They were also the worst in yards allowed with over 6700. At least they got some extra picks out of the trade with LA. They’ll need as many as possible to rebuild some kind of defence.
With the NFC North being as tough as usual, maybe even tougher if Justin Fields catches fire in his debut season, I can’t see the Lions having any better of a season this time around.
11. Chicago Bears
Justin Fields is one of the most exciting things to happen to Chicago since the Blues Brothers. He is the Bears’ best chance to finally have a franchise quarterback lead them to a championship probably ever. However, he is still a rookie and, at the time of writing, not the starter.
Currently the Bears have decided to have Fields learn the playbook and the rhythm of the NFL game by sitting behind every Bills fan’s favourite Bengal, Andy Dalton. This will probably pay off in the long run. But this year it will cost the Bears a playoff appearance.
I see Dalton going 3-6 or so across the first couple of months before being replaced by Fields and him getting them back to 7-10 or 8-9.
10. Minnesota Vikings
After getting to the NFC Championship Game in 2017 with Case Keenum of all people as their quarterback, the Vikings have been very hot and cold over the last three seasons. Kirk Cousins was supposed to be the missing piece that would get the Twin Cities to their first Super Bowl title. Instead, they have one playoff appearance for a controversial overtime win over the New Orleans Saints.
Last year was a quintessential Vikings season of hot and cold. Wins at Lambeau and Soldier Fields were compromised by home losses to Atlanta and Chicago. They did have a particularly tough schedule, but conceding the third-highest number of points by any Minnesota defence definitely undermined the offence’s achievement in scoring the third-highest number of points by any Minnesota team.
Unfortunately, while they have addressed their defence by picking up some new defensive ends and several new faces in the secondary, they have lost tight end Kyle Rudolph to the Giants. While that apparently won’t help the G-Men (sadly) it will hurt the Vikings. I can see them stagnating again this year. That Cousins contract is not paying off.
9. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were quite disappointing last season. After making it to their seventh Super Bowl in 2019, they came last in the NFC West last season with a 6-10 record. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missed most of the season with injuries. Luckily for San Fran, that meant they could pick up promising young quarterback Trey Lance in the draft.
It’s unclear whether Jimmy G will be anywhere close to the game manager he once was. Plus there’s talk around that he isn’t happy with the decision to pick his apparent replacement this past draft. This will cause the 49ers to drop too many games in the early part of the season before switching to Trey Lance around Week 10.
They’ll get close this year. But next year with a more experienced Lance calling the shots, they’ll get back to the playoffs.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
I suppose if they play the Giants and the Cowboys twice they have to get a decent number of wins. The Eagles have fallen a long way from the heights of their Super Bowl season. Neither of the starting quarterbacks from that year are still around in the city of brotherly love.
They were the last-place team in the worst division in the league with offence and defence both ranked in the bottom third.
The only way is up. They picked up an experienced quarterback in Joe Flacco and have a promising young play-caller in Jalen Hurts. Hopefully him getting benched in the last quarter of the last game last season doesn’t hamper his development.
I don’t see them making the playoffs. They’ll get a decent record thanks to their easier fixture, but they’ll just miss out on playoffs. I think Jalen Hurts will have a Josh Allen trajectory to his career with the third season being his breakout.
7. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have one of the most passionate fanbases in the NFL. This team gives New Orleans a lot to rally around when they play and they could use that right now. They may have lost Drew Brees to retirement, and that is a big loss, but they do have Jameis Winston ready to step into the QB role.
Winston has had his problems throwing the ball. However, his best is right up there with the best. He can get the Martyrs into another playoff series. Whether he’ll be able to stop the interceptions through the playoffs seems unlikely.
They still have Alvin Kamara to move the ball on the ground and a really strong secondary that gave up the fifth-fewest yards through the air while pulling in the equal most interceptions. If Jameis Winston can keep his interception total lower than what the Saints’ secondary is taking then a wild card spot is on the cards.
With the Bucs and another team to come in their division, I don’t see them getting past the first week of the postseason.
6. Los Angeles Rams
The relevant professional football team in Hollywood, the Rams have some promise after a bold off-season move. Picking up one of the most productive quarterbacks in league history in Matt Stafford would usually be a slam dunk. That they decided to swap out their quarterback after winning a playoff game proves they’re aiming for a championship now.
Considering their defence was the best in the league in total yards and total points conceded last season, it’s clear that the Rams think their offence is where they need to focus and that is very much a correct assumption. The Rams were in the bottom ten for points scored and total yards last season and Stafford can turn those stats right around.
Hopefully this year they’ll actually get to have people in the very expensive stadium they built. If they have a good enough run they could make it to a home Super Bowl like Tampa Bay did last year. However, I see the defence dropping off from the heights of last season and Stafford improving the offence a little but not enough to cover that.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I have a crazy, untested hypothesis that Tom Brady might be a pretty decent quarterback. I know the only evidence is that he’s won seven Super Bowls (five times as the Super Bowl MVP) and three NFL MVP awards but I think this is a really solid hunch. However, even the best have down years and this will be one for the Buccaneers.
There are a number of older players flocking to the retirement village of Raymond James Stadium, in pursuit of that one last job. That leaves Tampa particularly vulnerable to injuries and this will hamper their chance of repeating this year.
They’ll recharge though, and pick up some more pieces to make a new charge for the Lombardi Trophy. Brady will bring a handful of trophies to Florida before he retires sometime around the start of the Black Hole Era of the universe.
4. Washington Football Team
The still-not-permanently renamed Washington Football Team has a few things going for it. They aren’t saddled with one of the worst names possible anymore, they have a defence that gave up the second-fewest yards in the entire league last season, they play in the currently weakest division in the NFL and they have a touch of the FitzMagic to look forward to under centre.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the type of journeyman that you love to see is still around. He’s one good throw away from 35,000 career yards through the air but has never made it to the playoffs and has just two seasons with more wins than losses. At his best he can drag his team over the line, at his worst he can cost a good team the win.
This year will be the year that Fitzmagic finally makes it to the postseason. He’s even got a back-up with some of that Vince McMahon-endorsed XFL je ne sais quoi in Taylor Heinicke. Maybe they can announce their new name in front of a home crowd in the playoffs.
3. Seattle Seahawks
I actually really like the Seahawks. They have a loud, passionate fanbase, an entertaining style of play and a quarterback that seems to be a genuinely nice person even if he is a New York Yankee. I’m never annoyed to see them competing in the playoffs year after year, something all the more impressive considering their division.
Wilson is coming off a career-best year in passing completion and touchdown totals. However, he had an absolutely terrible playoff game against the Rams, barely cracking 40 per cent completion on his throws. That game and the fact that he still has never received a vote for NFL MVP will fire him up to lead the Seahawks to an all-time high season offensively.
Their defence will hold them back from getting back to the Super Bowl. They had only a middling level of play from their defence last season and I don’t see how the moves they’ve made can make up for the loss of Shaquill Griffin in the secondary. Seattle will go close this year, but won’t quite make it.
2. Carolina Panthers
Get ready for Darnold’s Day. To say former number three pick Sam Darnold struggled when leading the New York Jets would be understating it. Jets head coach Adam Gase was not helpful for his development and was the best firing the Jets ever made. However, with a new head coach with experience in rebuilding terrible college teams in Matt Rhule, Darnold will live up to his potential.
He’s often been compared to last year’s MVP Aaron Rodgers as a gunslinger and while I doubt he will reach those heights, he will reach a very high standard for the Panthers. He has a much better ground game option in running back Christian McCaffrey, plus a better receiving corps and a stronger offensive line to give him better options and time when throwing.
Their defence is very young. That could lead to shootouts and upset defeats but their enthusiasm will carry them a long way. They lack the experience to reach the Super Bowl, and the randomiser has accounted for that, but they’ll be a threat for a few years now.
1. Green Bay Packers
The franchise that tried to kill the golden goose twice. Just because they were lucky enough to replace all-time great Brett Favre with all-time great Aaron Rodgers, the Packers thought they could do it again with future all-time great (?) Jordan Love. Audacity clearly isn’t lacking in rural Wisconsin.
After a messy offseason where Rodgers nearly walked out on the franchise, it looks, for now, that he will be the quarterback for another year at Lambeau Field. Considering he was MVP last season, this is a good sign for Green Bay.
Also a potentially positive sign is that the instate basketball franchise in Milwaukee broke their 40-year championship drought giving Rodgers a championship in that sport as one of the co-owners. Maybe he’ll use that to inspire the team to an even more impressive season.
That will be difficult since their offence was the highest scoring, fifth-highest on yards per play and gave up the fewest turnovers. Their defence was also in the top-ten for total yards conceded. All this points to the Packers will once again be playing football deep into January.
The Super Bowl
With both the AFC and NFC now covered, we have our match-up for the World Championship of American Football. Personally I favour the Dutch; I think their twin tight end formation will have defences unable to keep up. In the less important Super Bowl match-up of Houston vs Green Bay, I have to stick with the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers will win another Lombardi trophy for the team Lombardi ran for so long and then will jump ship to wherever he feels like it.
So that’s the NFL season to come. What are your thoughts? Personally, I’m excited for kickoff at 10:20 am Friday Sydney time.