Each and every Summer we approach a point in the off-season where the news slows down around the National Football League, and by this point you should know what that means…Predictions! The time is certainly ripe and prime to talk about teams on the rise and teams on the decline for the upcoming season. What better time than now? So as we draw closer to Training Camp, I will give you my 3 up and 3 down in the NFC. What a golden opportunity to take advantage of the June swoon.
NFC’s 3 Up:
1. New York Giants: They still have a formidable defensive line that can get to the QB in a hurry and the offensive line still remains intact, so why can’t they return to Super Bowl form? They added Antrel Rolle to a secondary that is one of the most talented in not only the NFC, but the entire NFL. Kenny Phillips will be back from injury, they added a pass-rushing menace in Jason Pierre-Paul from South Florida with their first round pick, and they have possess one of the most dynamic trios of wide receivers. Hakeem Nicks is a phenom, he’s a flat-out game-changer. Steve Smith is reliable. Mario Manningham has a knack for the big-play during big situations. The key will be getting Brandon Jacobs back on track. Ahmad Bradshaw will help ease the load. Finding a middle linebacker to replace Antonio Pierce is my only cause for concern. Despite those two issues, I got the Giants as my #1 team to shine in the NFC.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree. The big 3? The sky is the limit. S.F. improved their offensive line via Draft and they bring back a fierce defense that takes on the attitude of their coach Mike Singletary. Patrick Willis is the best linebacker in the game and he has his unit rapidly getting better. The key this year: settling unfinished business, sealing the deal, closing out games. They were in every game except for the Atlanta blowout at home. They took the NFC runner-ups down to the final play, it took a miracle, and they played Peyton’s squad as well as anyone did in the regular season at their place. Alex Smith has the keys to the offense and he has plenty of help in order for him to be successful. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them hosting a game come mid-January.
3. Dallas Cowboys: You could argue they have the best offense in the NFC next to New Orleans and Green Bay. They added the most gifted athlete in the Draft in Dez Bryant. He will pay dividends and allow those around him to excel even more, spreading things out more than ever. While the passing game gets all the love, pub, and attention keep in mind they have one of the best 1-2 punches on the ground. Felix Jones is your home run hitter and Marion Barber is the man in-between the tackles. Can you name a duo that’s better? With the best defensive player in the game and an intimidating pass rush there’s no wonder this team has such high expectations. With so much hype surrounding America’s Team you have to believe they have the best chance to dethrone New Orleans. Ball control and smart play-calling on offense is the only thing holding Romo and company back in Big D.
NFC’s 3 Down:
1. Atlanta Falcons: Let’s see, Matt Ryan came back down to earth, Michael Turner proved yet again it’s not smart to carry the ball more than 350 times in a season, and the defense is…just that, a defense, very average at best. Nothing impresses me about the Birds. Why should it? They have yet to find a viable pass catcher to go along with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Their secondary is relying upon Dunta Robinson to help turn them around. The big thing is John Abraham is not getting any younger and he cannot be your best pass rusher. What can you expect from him and the defensive line? I just don’t see this team getting any better and there’s a better chance we see the Matt Ryan from last year rather than the Matt Ryan from ’08. In general, what you see is what you get with Ryan and this underachieving team.
2. Chicago Bears: With one of the worst offensive lines I can think of, a lack of rushing attack, and a QB that tries/has to do too much because of a young, mediocre, inexperienced receiving group you can see why Da Bears are on the list. Can you see Mike Martz making matters worse for Cutler and crew? Possibly. The defense still shows the signs of yet another dismal year, especially when you consider the fact they are always playing short-handed. Will Julius Peppers make that much of a difference? Did he really do much to make Carolina a top defensive unit? Playing Green Bay and Minnesota twice doesn’t make matters any better. In essence, don’t be shocked if Detroit winds up ahead of the Windy City at the conclusion of the 2010 campaign. I see this team losing a handful of 31-28 type ball games.
3. Seattle Seahawks: This is a team with absolutely no identity on either side of the ball. They played it safe in the Draft and passed up on C.J. Spiller, which will turn out to be more of a monumental mistake than Pete Carroll would like to admit. T.J. Housmandzadeh is not a #1 option and Matt Hasselbeck is all but finished. Julius Jones, Justin Forsett, and a recovering Leon Washington? I don’t believe any defense will have trouble sleeping the night before. On defense you can’t really expect anyone other than Lofa Tatupu to show up on a consistent basis. Even his play is slipping. We welcome you to your 2010 Seattle Seahawks, where our slogan is: Expect the expected. Translation: Don’t expect much, it’s a “transition year”.