Predictions by Division: NFC

Just like the AFC, the NFC provided us with plenty of shockers in 2010:

The Chicago Bears won the NFC North and made it to the NFC Championship game. The Minnesota Vikings, fresh off of a Championship Sunday appearance of their own, flopped-big time. A 7-9 team not only made the playoffs, but won its division. (It should come as no surprise, though, that the division in question is the NFC West)

Just as I mentioned in my last article, it’s virtually impossible to predict the entire NFL season completely. The unexpected happens, whether it comes in the form of breakouts, slumps, or injuries.

Still, I’ll be bold enough to make the following predictions. This time around, I’ll be discussing the teams of the NFC.

Playoff teams in bold.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles – 11-5

Dallas Cowboys – 9-7

New York Giants – 6-10

Washington Redskins – 4-12

Division Notes: Call it hype if you want, but I don’t really see a better team in this division than Philadelphia. The addition of Ronnie Brown adds even more depth to this already-potent offense, and on defense, the Eagles boast perhaps the best cornerback trio-yes, trio-in modern NFL history. This will make it tough for any team in the division to pass on Philadelphia, although the Cowboys, who will have Tony Romo back from a season-ending broken collarbone, will certainly try.

The Giants lost a lot of experience on their offensive line. That, combined with their myriad injury issues, could make this season tough going for Eli Manning and company in what looks to be Tom Coughlin’s swan song in New York. The Washington Redskins, who lack a true, bona-fide starting NFL quarterback, didn’t get much better over the shortened offseason. That should keep them in the basement in 2011.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – 13-3

Minnesota Vikings – 10-6

Chicago Bears – 8-8

Detroit Lions – 5-11

Division Notes: Consider, if you will, the fact that the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last year with many key starters-including running back Ryan Grant-on injured reserve. Although early games against the likes of New Orleans and Atlanta could go either way, the Packers should look as scary as they did at the end of last year’s run.

The Vikings should bounce back with Brett Favre retired. Although Donovan McNabb may not be a long-term solution for this team, you can be sure that he’s got something left in the tank. I expect the Bears to take a step back from their success of a year ago, partially because of the fact that their first three opponents-New Orleans, Atlanta, and Green Bay-could send them to an 0-3 start.

The Lions are doing all the right things to climb back into contention, but these are the Lions we’re talking about-they’ll improve their win total by one this year, and anything more than that will be a pleasant surprise.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints – 14-2

Atlanta Falcons – 13-3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 7-9

Carolina Panthers – 2-14

Division Notes: Make no mistake about the fact that this division could go either way between the Saints or the Falcons. Both teams have become super powers in the NFC over the past couple of years. I gave the edge to New Orleans, though, because I expect Drew Brees to bounce back from a less-than-stellar year and lead this hungry team back from its opening-round exit at the hands of Seattle in the 2010 Wild Card round.

Meanwhile, Matt Ryan will continue to make strides in his development, and the Falcons will continue to pummel opponents on both sides of the ball. The Bucs are headed for a step backwards after an impressive 2010. They’ll be tested a lot more this season with a tougher schedule, and, although they’ll beat the teams they should beat, they’ll lose some tough ones to the elite teams of the conference.

To round out a division chock-full of quarterback storylines, it looks like another long year in Carolina. Rookie Cam Newton, though he shows promise, is far from polished under center. The Panthers may have to live and die with his growing pains in 2011.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams – 8-8

San Francisco 49ers – 7-9

Seattle Seahawks – 6-10

Arizona Cardinals – 5-11

Division Notes: Yes, I’m serious; this division may not produce a winning team for the second consecutive year. For all of you who think a team that is .500 or worse should make the playoffs, I invite you to begin your lobbying now.

Well, someone has to win this division, so I’ll give it to the team with the most pieces in place. Sam Bradford had one of the best rookie years for a quarterback in recent memory, and the Rams, in truth, aren’t a bad team. They just aren’t ready to compete with the big dogs of the league yet, whom they’ll see plenty of in the first eight weeks of the season. The 49ers will go back to Alex Smith this season in his make-or-break season. The talent is there on both sides of the ball, however, so they could surprise. The Seahawks and Cardinals will win and lose some close ones, but will ultimately get beaten up by tough opponents from the AFC North and NFC East.

Thanks for reading again, and feel free to leave comments. I’ll see you next time, where I’ll make some postseason predictions.

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