NFC preview time.
We looked at the AFC on Wednesday, and today it's time to breakdown the 16 teams in the NFC and get in all the postseason picks before Thursday's opener in Green Bay, (which means Football Night in America. Come on, you missed St. Tony Dungy. Admit it).
Here we go (and keep in mind that I managed to go 0-8 in picking division winners last year, which if you think about it is almost as impressive as going 8-for-8) ...
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
They are absolutely on the shortlist of teams that we look at as legitimate Super Bowl threats -- I'd put them in with the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Packers and Saints -- and are loaded with talent, but this is still a team with a questionable offensive line, an injury-prone starting quarterback and Vince Young waiting in the wings should what kind of seems like the inevitable happen to Michael Vick. If Vick stays healthy (understood that keeping the franchise QB is paramount all the teams I just listed as Super Bowl contenders, but Vick strikes me as easily the most likely to be injured in that group) the Eagles are a lock to win this division. But if he's out for four or five games the playoffs are no lock.
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
Tony Romo has as many runner-up finishes in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship as he does playoff wins (one). Let's be fair when it comes to Romo: He has put up some remarkable numbers (fourth all-time in passer rating, the best net yards per pass attempt in NFL history), but he will never get a seat at the table until he has a sustained playoff run. That's how it works with quarterbacks -- no one ever talks about Barry Sanders or Kellen Winslow or Jason Taylor never winning a Super Bowl -- and right now Romo is on the outside looking in when it comes to any serious discussion of the top QB's in the league.
3. New York Giants (8-8)
Tons of injuries on defense (five legitimate contributors have gone down during the preseason, the latest being Jonathan Goff, who tore his ACL on Monday) on top of an already shaky secondary? I think we're looking at the end of the Tom Coughlin era in New York (hello to Bill Cowher) and the beginning of the Tom Coughlin at CBS era (let's put him as part of the sixth team with Kevin Harlan and scramble to find the mute button).
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)
Just when I started to question my credibility for picking the Patriots to win 13 games this season, Joe Theismann comes along and reminds me that I've got a long way to go if I'm ever truly going to be a convert to The Church of Homerism:
“I think the Redskins can go double-digits,” Theismann told Mike Wise and Holden Kushner on 106.7 The Fan in Washington earlier this week. “I know there are people that don’t think they’ll win 8 games. I think this team can be a double-digit win football team. They’re not afraid of the Philadelphia Eagles. They’re not afraid of the Cowboys. They’re not afraid of the Giants. They’ll beat the Giants on Sunday afternoon.”
OK, is that a reach? Maybe. But give the former Mr. Cathy Lee Crosby this: The man is no homer when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks.
"Rex is unflappable,” Theismann said. “When Rex Grossman signed and came back, the way it was decided who was gonna be on the first team was by a coin flip. Kyle Shanahan basically brought a coin out and said OK, call it, heads or tails. And Beck wound up getting the start in practice over Rex. That’s how it turned out. It was a coin flip. Rex told me that, that it was a coin flip. … We have a couple quarterbacks that can play in Washington. There are places like Carolina, where they’d love to have one of our guys to be able to be the starter down there."
I'd like to think it might bother the folks at NFL Network to see one of their own dropping the We Bomb, but when you consider that they actually hired Theismann in the first place it's hard to imagine a lot of thought is going on in those offices.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Good news: I'm bringing back my not particularly well-read, not particularly well-received and not particularly well-written weekly picks column! Also this: I really, really sucked at making NFL picks all season, which hurts the quality of a picks column every time. But this is a new season, and I'm planning to make Stu Feiner proud. The picks column will run every Friday, so let me take the Packers (-4) over the Saints in the opener on Thursday night, which pretty much makes Saints 44, Packers 10 a certainty.
2. Detroit Lions (10-6)*
We saw it with the Chiefs and Buccaneers last year, the Bengals in 2009 and the Dolphins in 2008 -- it seems almost every year a team makes the jump from double-digit losses to double-digit wins. The Lions sure to seem to fit the profile, right? Young quarterback (though a major health concern), a pair of stars in Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, a solid finish in 2010 and a third year in Jim Schwartz's system. Again, assuming Stafford can stay on the field, Look for the Lions to make the postseason for the first time this century.
3. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times last season (most in the NFL) and the Bears ranked 22nd in rushing. Their best lineman (Olin Kreutz) is gone and J'Marcus Webb (who was awful at right tackle in 2010) moves to left tackle, with Gabe Carimi at right tackle and Roberto Garza replacing Kreutz. Throw in maybe the toughest schedule in the NFL this season (how about Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay for the first three games?) and this will be a lost season for the Bears.
4. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
I think Donovan McNabb -- soon to be 35, true, but just a season removed from a 92.9 passer rating and playing with Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin -- gives the Vikings a season of competent play under center, which was the opposite of Favre in 2010. But this is the best division in football -- if you buy into the Lions -- and someone has to finish last.
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
True, I'm picking them to lose Thursday, but look at the rest of the schedule for the Saints and find me three more losses:
Week 2: Home vs. Bears
Week 3: At Houston
Week 4: At Jacksonville
Week 5: At Carolina
Week 6: At Tampa
Week 7: Home Indy (remember, could be without Manning)
Week 8: At St. Louis
Week 9: Home Tampa
Week 10: At Atlanta
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Home Giants
Week 13: Home Detroit
Week 14: At Tennessee
Week 15: At Minnesota
Week 16: Home Atlanta
Week 17: Home Carolina
If you were to set the lines for each of those games right now -- which is dopey I understand -- the Saints would be underdogs in Week 10 against the Falcons in Atlanta. That's it.
2. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)*
In the Anyone Not Named Tom Brady Division, Matt Ryan was as good a pick as any for MVP last season, throwing for 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns against nine interceptions for a 13-3 team. Ryan -- and the Falcons offense -- will only be better this season, adding Julio Jones. The Patriots should lead the NFL in scoring again this season, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Falcons make a legitimate push at 500 points this year.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
One victory over a team with a winning record last year, and that was in Week 17 against a Saints team with nothing to play for (playoff seeding was already clinched, Chase Daniel came in for Drew Brees late in the game). It's not unusual for a young team to take a step back after a breakout season -- think the Patriots in 1995 -- and it wouldn't surprise me to see a humbled Tampa be that double-digit loss to double-digit win team again in 2012.
4. Carolina Panthers (2-14)
You know what? If Andrew Luck turns out to be what everyone tells us Andrew Luck is, the Panthers would absolutely take him first overall if they have the pick again. That's the beauty of the new CBA -- it's not perfect, but the Panthers can write off Cam Newton and his $22 million (the last No. 1 overall QB pick, Sam Bradford, signed for $50 million guaranteed) if they think Luck is even potentially a minor upgrade.
1. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
They'll score enough points -- Bradford has future All-Pro written all over him, Steven Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in six straight seasons and Mike Sims-Walker could be a legitimate No. 1 receiver -- to win this division but the defense isn't ready to compete against the NFC powers in the postseason.
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
Yup, this division is going to suck again this year. Call it a hunch, but I don't think the Belichick special on NFL Network is going to be preempted for a roundtable discussion on the Charlie Whitehurst/Tarvaris Jackson quarterback controversy.
3. Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
Kevin Kolb ($63 million contract -- or $21 million for each win in his career to date), is a complete coin flip. In three years he could be Scott Mitchell Redux as easily as he could be a top-10 quarterback (and let's remember this is a guy with a concussion history).
4. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
If Alex Smith had been the 81st pick of the 2005 NFL Draft I suspect he'd probably be in his third season as a backup quarterback in Kansas City or Jacksonville or wherever he could land. I keep reading this is really his last shot in San Francisco, and I suspect it wouldn't bother Jim Harbaugh -- secure in the first year of a $25 million contract -- at all to see Smith struggle. I wonder if Harbaugh would sign for a 4-12 season right now if it guaranteed him Andrew Luck.
Steelers over Ravens
Jets over Colts
Patriots over Jets
Steelers over Chargers
Patriots over Steelers
Lions over Eagles
Falcons over Rams
Saints over Lions
Packers over Falcons
Saints over Falcons
Patriots 31, Saints 28