Every year a team comes from nowhere to contend for a division title or a playoff spot. Right on queue, the 2017 NFL season appears chalk full of teams, who have made a habit out of missing the playoffs for years, ready to make a realistic run at a postseason berth. Whether they’re all contenders or just pretenders, don’t be shocked to see some unfamiliar faces playing meaningful football in December and January.
On the contrary, the cream of the crop will look very familiar to everyone. The best teams in the NFC from a year ago look poised to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy this upcoming season.
Here are my thoughts on how the 2017 season might shake out in the NFC:
Eagles 10-6: Maybe this is a little premature, but Carson Wentz has weapons around him that should make this offense potent. The run game, the offensive line, and the defensive front set the Eagles a notch above the rest of a very wide open NFC East division.
Giants 9-7: Don’t put a ton of stock in the preseason, but it’d be hard not to notice the Giants lackluster offensive output through the 4 games. Landon Collins is a stud at safety and Odell Beckham is outstanding at wide receiver, but there’s little else that stands apart on this roster.
Cowboys 7-9: No Zeke, yes Zeke. Who knows. What I do know is this Cowboys offensive line has some real questions to answer. And can Dak produce again? Too many unknowns for my liking.
Redskins 5-11: The dysfunction between Kirk Cousins and the Redskins front office is something to keep in mind as this season plays out– will it impact Cousins or the team? I like the potential rushing attack in Washington with Rob Kelley and rookie Sam Perrine. But the exodus of two 1,000-yard receivers in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in the offseason won’t help.
Packers 11-5: Aaron Rodgers will be in the running for another MVP when the season ends. The offense can’t be matched in the North. The defense has to be better for the Pack to challenge for a Super Bowl.
Vikings 8-8: There are things to like with Minnesota. Dalvin Cook is a fascinating addition and Stephon Diggs seems like a legit number one wideout. Sam Bradford has to stay healthy for this all to work.
Lions 7-9: Yes, GM Bob Quinn added to the offensive line. But there’s still no hammer coming out of the backfield. On the other side of the ball, the Lions needed another edge rusher opposite Ziggy Ansah. Not to mention the linebacking crew is thin. I don’t know how this defense puts pressure on opposing QBs.
Bears 2-14: There’s a lot of talk about the Jets and Bears maybe going winless. There’s a reason people are having that conversation.
Falcons 11-5: Could the Super Bowl hangover affect Atlanta? No question. But they are full of a lot of talented players at many different positions. Tampa Bay is the sexy pick, but I’ll stick with what I know Atlanta can be.
Buccaneers 10-6: The Bucs are a fun, exciting, happy bunch. Led by James Winston, who’s primed for a big year, Tampa Bay still has to answer questions about their defense and their rushing attack. I’m not certain either is good enough to dethrone the reigning conference champs in the South.
Saints 7-9: The Saints seem stuck in no-man’s land. They’re not a playoff team but they’re not awful either. Would love to see Drew Brees put a run together, but I can’t see New Orleans being consistent enough on defense.
Panthers 7-9: I love what Carolina did in the draft. The offense has firepower and speed. But watch Cam Newton closely — will that surgically-repaired shoulder hold up? And can the defense return to it’s form from 2015?
Seahawks 10-6: The defense is still good enough in Seattle, and Russell Wilson is a proven winner. The pieces that have held the Seahawks back in the past are back again in 2017 — the O-line and the run game.
Cardinals 8-8: I was prepared to pick 11 wins for the Cardinals. But let’s not forget that age is not a quarterback’s friend. Players like Tom Brady are the exception to the rule — even Peyton Manning missed time for poor play during his final season en route to the Super Bowl. Forty is not kind to QBs. I won’t believe Carson Palmer can beat the “age curse” until he does it.
Rams 5-11: The defense is good. Maybe Jared Goff takes a big step forward. Even still, the ceiling is pretty low for the Rams in ’17.
49ers 3-13: Another offseason, another host of changes for the Niners. It looks like GM John Lynch has a plan and knows what he wants to do. But the roster isn’t good enough right now — no QB and a very young club. The future, finally, looks promising for San Fran fans.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.