2017 NFC Outlook

Division Winners

1. Seattle Seahawks– Ever since 2014, nothing has really gone their way in the playoffs. There’s Super Bowl 49 (how could we forget it?), the following year, they fell down 31 points to Carolina and almost came back but fell short and last season, they were embarrassed in the playoffs by the eventual conference champion Atlanta Falcons. To some, their championship window is closed. In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast. As long as this team has Russell Wilson under center, they will win football games. I think this is the year where they want to let people know that they are still a contender and that championship window is closed. Health is a major key for the Seahawks and great play by the offensive line will also be something to watch. Remember in 2015 when Kam Chancellor missed those first two games because of contractual obligations? We talked about how important he was and how much of a difference he made when he got back on the field. The same could be said about Earl Thomas who was lost for the rest of the year with a broken leg and after that injury happened, the secondary struggled big time. Will the running game finally get it together? It truly hasn’t been the same since the days of beast mode.

Projected Record: 12-4, first in NFC West

Key Games: Week one at Green Bay, Week three at Tennessee, Week five at LA Rams, Week seven at NY Giants, Week ten at Arizona, Week 11 vs Atlanta, Week 14 at Jacksonville, Week 16 at Dallas, Week 17 vs Arizona.

2. Green Bay Packers– At one point, they were 4-6 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak last season. People threw the towel in on them and said they were done for. I’ll never say they’re done especially with Aaron Rodgers under center because he can singlehandedly win a football game by himself and he predicted they would run the table toward the end of the season in 2016 and they did just that. They finally got over the hump and beat the Giants in the Wild Card round, just got by Dallas the following week and ran out of gas in the NFC title game against the Falcons. The biggest signing of the offseason was Martellus Bennett who bounced around from playing with one elite quarterback to the other. They have the potential to reach the Super Bowl each year. The offense will handle its own, it’s the defense that still enters the year with a lot of questions and concerns. For them to potentially get back to the big game, the defense must vastly improve.

Projected Record: 11-5, first in NFC North.

Key Games: Week one vs Seattle, Week two at Atlanta, Week five at Dallas, Week six at Minnesota, Week 12 at Pittsburgh, Week 15 at Carolina, Week 16 vs Minnesota, Week 17 at Detroit.

3. Dallas Cowboys– This was the best team in the NFC from a record standpoint a year ago and they did it with two rookies at key positions. The loss in the playoffs to the Packers was extremely heartbreaking especially when you fight so hard to get yourself back into the game and lose by a field goal. I like the Cowboys to win the NFC East, but not in the same fashion that they did last year. With a full year of film out there, teams will be ready for both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They both may not have the same stellar seasons they did a year ago, but I see them still doing enough to lead the team to some victories.

Projected Record: 11-5, first in NFC East.

Key Games: Week one vs NY Giants, Week two at Denver, Week three at Arizona, Week Five vs Green Bay, Week eight at Washington, Week nine vs Kansas City, Week ten at Atlanta, Week 14 at NY Giants, Week 15 at Oakland, Week 16 vs Seattle.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– This is a team I’m really looking forward to seeing this year. Dirk Koetter had them playing with a lot of confidence and the Bucs had a nice off-season with the signing of DeSean Jackson and drafting O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama. I look for Jameis Winston to elevate his play and the guys around him along with a defense with playmakers all around starting with Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David, and Vernon Hargreaves. It could be a fun year in Tampa Bay this year. The tandem of Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson can become an elite duo in no time.

Projected Record: 10-6, first place in NFC South

Key Games: Week one at Miami, Week three at Minnesota, Week four vs NY Giants, Week five vs New England, Week six at Arizona, Week 12 at Atlanta, Week 13 at Green Bay, Week 15 vs Atlanta.

Wild Cards

5. New York Giants– For the first time since 2011, they were a playoff team and when they got there, they didn’t show up. After taking care of the defense last year, the Giants finally decided to add a few pieces to the offense. For years, I’ve been saying that the Giants need to have that second option for Eli Manning. It wasn’t Victor Cruz because he could never stay healthy. The Giants signed Brandon Marshall to a contract and he, Odell and Sterling Shepard could easily become the best receiving core in the league. If the defense picks up where they left off in 2016, they will be a playoff team once again. If the offense can be consistent and handle its business, good things will happen in East Rutherford.

Projected Record– 10-6, second in NFC East.

Key Games– Week one at Dallas, Week two vs Detroit, Week three at Philly, Week Four at Tampa Bay, Week six at Denver, Week Seven vs Seattle, Week 11 vs Kansas City, Week 13 at Oakland, Week 14 vs Dallas, Week 16 at Arizona.

6. Arizona Cardinals– After a year where they were one game away from advancing to the Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals regressed in 2016 and failed to make the postseason especially when the hype surrounding them was extremely high. Everything is in place for this team to succeed. They have a top five running back, nice receivers and a great defense with three standout defenders in Patrick Peterson who I feel is the best cornerback in the league, Tyrann Mathieu, and Chandler Jones. If he pans out, Haason Reddick will also be a star to come for years. The key for the Cardinals will be their offensive line. If Carson Palmer doesn’t get time, he’s done.

Projected Record: 10-6, second in NFC West.

Key Games– Week one at Detroit, Week three vs Dallas, Week six vs Tampa Bay, Week Ten vs Seattle, Week 11 at Houston, Week 16 vs NY Giants, Week 17 at Seattle.

Wild Card Round

(6) Cardinals defeat (3) Cowboys

(5) Giants defeat (4) Buccaneers

Divisional Round

(1) Seahawks defeat (6) Cardinals

(2) Packers defeat (5) Giants

NFC Championship: We couldn’t ask for a better matchup to determine who will advance to Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52 and these two teams know each other very well. The NFC will come down to the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks for the second time in four seasons. Eddie Lacy will get a shot to advance to the big game against the team who released him. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had much luck in Seattle and Russell Wilson has defeated the Packers each time he’s faced them in Seattle. If this conference title game is anything like what we saw in 2015, we are in for yet another classic. I like the Seattle Seahawks to win their fourth ever conference championship and advance to Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.