It’s pretty safe to say that the NFC reigns supreme at this juncture. The Seattle Seahawks are defending Super Bowl champions, and may not even be the best team in their division. All four NFC West squads have the potential to not only be playoff teams, but Super Bowl contenders as well. The NFC North boasts Green Bay, Detroit, and Chicago, all of whom will compete for playoff spots in 2014. The South features revamped Atlanta and Tampa Bay teams, while Carolina and New Orleans were both playoff squads in 2013. Finally, the NFC East is one of the most wide open divisions in the NFL, with the Philadelphia Eagles slightly ahead of the pack.
2013 was an usual season to say the least. The Green Bay Packers won the North division with a 8-7-1 record, even with quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing significant time with a broken collarbone. The Packers are the team to beat in this division, having won its crown each of the past three seasons.
The Chicago Bears will be the dark horse once again, not only in the division, but the NFC. Chicago has one of the best offenses in the league, led by quarterback Jay Cutler and wide out Brandon Marshall.
Then, don’t count out the team from the Motor City. The Detroit Lions sat at 7-5 heading into their final four games last season, but managed to falter in all four match-ups. Detroit’s final three opponents were non-playoff teams. I don’t expect the Lions to make the playoffs, but they are certainly talented enough to make it to the postseason.
It’s unfair to discount the Minnesota Vikings, but this team is seriously lacking. All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson isn’t enough to carry this team anymore, even though he will continue to put up staggering numbers en route to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.
The New Orleans Saints may have finished second in the division in 2013, but this is a revamped squad. The loss of Darren Sproles to the Eagles seemed insignificant after the addition of rookie receiver Brandin Cooks. The NFC South could prove to be one of the best divisions in football in 2014, despite the Panthers taking a step back.
Carolina won the division last year, behind one of the top defenses in the league and offense led by versatile quarterback Cam Newton. With Newton coming off of ankle surgery this offseason and the Panthers lacking depth at the receiver position though, it may be difficult for Carolina to duplicate their 2013 magic.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans may have reason to be optimistic in 2014. Lovie Smith is the new head coach in West Florida and the quarterback situation is perfect for his team. The Bucs acquired Josh McCown this offseason, and despite being 35 years old, the former Bears quarterback has the talent to lead this team for three to four years. Coach Smith has predicated his success in the past on strong defense, and the Bucs could have one of the best in 2014, especially with the addition of free agent corner Alterraun Verner.
The Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan will want to forget about 2013. This team is too talented offensively to have only won four games. Look for Atlanta to bounce back in 2014, but ultimately miss out on the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles managed to win one of the weakest divisions in the NFL in 2013, but look for the NFC East to be much more competitive in 2014. Coach Chip Kelly’s offense will be one year better, despite losing DeSean Jackson this offseason. The defense will be improved as well, with safety Malcolm Jenkins coming over from New Orleans.
Washington is one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL. They added DeSean Jackson this offseason, pairing him with another quality receiver in Pierre Garçon. The Redskins have an elite offense when quarterback Robert Griffin III is on his game. Like the rest of the division though, their defense was a question mark last season. They will need to clean that up in 2014 if they want to get back to the playoffs.
The New York Giants had a disappointing 2013 campaign. Eli Manning had the worst season of his career, throwing 27 interceptions. Although much of the blame had to have fallen on the shoulders of the offensive line, Manning and this offense must bounce back. New York went out and made some big moves on defense, adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback and Robert Ayers at defensive end. The Giants will be much improved from 2013.
Dallas is the only team that I don’t see making a splash this season. Tony Romo is coming off of a serious back injury, and this defense will be among the worst in the NFL for the second straight year. Romo will have to have a remarkable season for this team to even finish at their usual .500 mark.
The Seattle Seahawks were football’s best team in 2013 and are among the league’s best in 2014, but they’ll face some fierce competition on their way back to the Super Bowl. The NFC West is the best division in football, without question. Seattle has the tools necessary to repeat their remarkable 2013 campaign, but look out for the teams chasing them.
San Francisco has been to the NFC Championship game three years in a row, reaching the Super Bowl two seasons ago. One of these years they have to win it all, right? John Harbaugh is too good a coach to not win one. He has a talented young quarterback and a tremendous defense. The 49ers will be in the mix yet again in 2014, and their rivals up in Seattle will need to keep a close eye on them.
The Arizona Cardinals just missed out on the postseason in 2013, which is remarkable considering they won 10 games. Getting three teams into the playoffs from the same division is often unlikely, but the NFC West could do just that this year. Just like the rest of the division, the Cardinals have a phenomenal defense. The question will remain whether or not Carson Palmer can lead this team on a playoff run.
St. Louis is the wildcard in all of this. Everyone talks about Michael Sam making the team, which is a big story, but the Rams have a very good team. Their defense could be the best in the division and the league, led by Robert Quinn and Chris Long up front. Like the Cardinals, St. Louis will go as far as their quarterback takes them. Sam Bradford is entering his fifth season in the league, and he needs to take a big step in 2014 in order for this team to even think about making the playoffs.
Here are the six teams that I believe will qualify for the playoffs in 2014 from the NFC:
NFC Playoff Seedings
1 New Orleans
2 Green Bay
5 San Francisco
Teams Just Missing Out
New York Giants
Good, But Not Good Enough
Doomed From the Start