With the 2018 NFL season set to begin tonight, here are some quick predictions for each conference, going by division, now focusing on the NFC.
Of all the teams and all the quarterbacks, who would have thought that the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia Eagles would have outdueled the mighty New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. If you had the Eagles making the Super Bowl last year, let alone winning it, then you should open a fortune telling shop and rake in the cash.
With a stacked roster and breakout star quarterback Carson Wentz expected back at some point this year, the Eagles are one of the favorites to reach Super Bown LIII as the NFC representative. However, this isn’t the AFC, where the Patriots basically have an E-Z Pass to the conference title. The elder conference houses several strong championship contenders that will give Philly a run for their money.
Who will come out of this rugged NFC to reach “The Big Game”? Who knows, but it will be fun to predict who could.
NFC North: He’s back! Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a clean bill of health and a shiny new contract extension, which spells trouble for the rest of the division. The Pack will need the former league MVP at his best to win the division, as their defense (20th in defensive DVOA) wasn’t nearly good enough to keep them in the playoff hunt when Rodgers went down. With a loaded roster and a new quarterback, the Minnesota Vikings have a great chance to repeat as division champs, but a shaky offensive line could be their undoing. The Detroit Lions will do what they always do: gain a ton of yards, put up some points, struggle to run the ball, and lose a couple of close games. Watch out for the Bears though. They have a sneaky good roster — that just improved with the addition of Khalil Mack — so don’t be surprised if they win more games than you think. Ultimately, I think that Green Bay will get a full season of Rodgers and will retake the north crown.
Standings: Packers (10-6, wins Super Bowl), Vikings (10-6, loses in Wild Card round), Lions (8-8), Bears (6-10)
NFC South: There’s a good chance that this division won’t produce three playoff teams again. The Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers seem like the likeliest candidates to regress since they both slightly outperformed their Pythagorean projections (Carolina had 9.0 expected wins, Atlanta had 9.1). Both of those teams will remain in the hunt, but they probably won’t have the same amount of luck in close games — Carolina was 8-1 in games decided by eight points or less, Atlanta was 6-3. The New Orleans Saints seem like a safe bet to repeat as division champs. Their offense, led by Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara, will put up a ton of points and the defense is respectable enough to take some of the onus off of that group. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were probably going to finish last even if Jameis Winston hadn’t gotten suspended for groping an Uber driver. Now it’s basically a guarantee.
Standings: Saints (11-5, loses in the Divisional round), Falcons (9-7), Panthers (8-8), Bucs (4-12)
NFC East: The Eagles are the best team in this division –and will get even better when Wentz returns. However, don’t sleep on the Dallas Cowboys. Even though many people hope that they go 0-16, including this writer, they looked like a playoff team before injuries and Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension did them in. With Odell Beckham returning and the addition of Saquon Barkley, the New York Giants could also bounce back after a dismal 2017. After trading for Alex Smith, Washington has some stability at the quarterback position. They will hang around in the playoff hunt, but the quality of teams in the NFC will keep them on the outside looking in.
Standings: Eagles (12-4, loses in the Divisional round), Cowboys (9-7, loses in Wild Card round), Washington (7-9), Giants (5-11)
NFC West: There has been a changing of the guard out West. The Los Angeles Rams emerged as a surprise playoff team last year and are once again the favorites to win the division with the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, and Aquib Talib. The Seattle Seahawks barely resemble the team that went to consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013-14 seasons — especially in the secondary — but with Russell Wilson under center, they still have enough to compete for a Wild Card spot. Speaking of quarterbacks, the San Francisco 49ers hope that Jimmy Garoppolo replicates last year’s success over a full season. There will be some regression to the mean, but the Niners will surprise some people this year. The Arizona Cardinals went 8-8 last year, but they got a boost from their 6-1 record in games decided by eight or fewer points. They’re a prime candidate for regression, especially when Josh Rosen inevitably starts after Sam Bradford gets injured.
Standings: Rams (11-5, loses in the Conference Title game), Seahawks (9-7), 49ers (7-9), Cardinals (3-13)