This weekend is the very first weekend of the NFL season as Art Monk, and Darrell Green get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, along with four others, and the first preseason game of the year will be held on Sunday. The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins will face off in Canton, Ohio at 8 PM ET. I thought it was finally time to complete my “Early” previews. I did the AFC by Division, but the NFC will be all together in one article.
Winner of Division: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have the best RB duo in the game, and a very tough offensive line to go along with it. This Division is very weak compared to last year with the questions surrounding the quarterbacks in Green Bay, and Chicago. As of right now, the Packers will be finishing third behind the offense-less Bears, and run-happy Vikings.
- Tarvaris Jackson throws for more yards than all three of Chicago's quarterbacks combined.
- Brett Favre is not in a Packer uniform come September 4th.
Questions to be answered:
Once again, I bring up the Favre saga, but a few others include Jon Kitna's Lions, and Chicago's entire roster. I already established that the Vikings will win the North, but can Kitna follow through on his offseason ramblings (told the press he hopes to lead Detroit to a 10-win season). Chicago lost their top two wide receivers in Muhsin Muhammad, and Bernard Berrian, and cut running back Cedric Benson, as well. Rex Grossman doesn't quite have the leadership skills to lead this team to the playoffs on his own, so who will step up?
Bottom Line: This is the second-weakest NFC Division behind the NFC West. Minnesota, despite lack of a solid quarterback, may run away with this division if Aaron Rodgers doesn't live up to Packer Nation's expectations. Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
Winner of Division: Dallas Cowboys
I am like every other football whiz out there who doesn't believe the New York Giants can repeat. Yes, I have gained confidence in Eli Manning's abilities, and leadership, but he lost several key players on both sides of the ball, and Tony Romo's 'Boys are looking mighty hungry. Romo led Dallas to a 13-3 regular season record in 2007, look for him to match that performance this season. Owner Jerry Jones dealt running back Julius Jones, but drafted the young Felix Jones to fill in for Marion Barber every once in a while. You obviously can't count out Donovan McNabb's Eagles, who are looking pretty healthy at this point, and the Washington Redskins. Washington added Pro Bowl DE Jason Taylor, and added depth on offense in this year’s draft.
- Donovan McNabb stays healthy and leads the Eagles to a Wild Card berth, knocking off the defending champions in the process.
- All four teams finish over .500.
Questions to be answered:
I believe McNabb will manage to finally stay healthy for all 16 games, but that is never a given. He has been battling injuries for the last several years, and anything can happen. The Eagles fate rides on the throwing arm of McNabb, and Philadelphia's results will vary according to how he does this season. In D.C. the big question still involves Jason Campbell: can he take his game to the next level and lead the 'Skins to the playoffs? That question has yet to be answered.
Bottom Line: Unlike the NFC North, this division is very strong, and may be considered the toughest in the entire NFL. Therefore, it may be tough to decide a winner in August, and this may be the last division clinched this season. We'll just have to wait, and find out.
Winner of Division: Carolina Panthers
It is Carolina's year... to win the division. Every year, it seems like there's a new division winner in the South, and the tradition will continue this season. Jake Delhomme seems to have made a remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery, and the return of Muhsin Muhammad may mean a big year for Carolina's passing offense. The running game has made a fresh start too, it seems. The departure of DeShaun Foster brought in Jonathan Stewart, the rookie out of Oregon. Stewart will be a nice complement to DeAngelo Williams, who is expected to have a solid season. The loss of Dan Morgan will be a big blow, but I don't expect the defense to miss a beat with Julius Peppers hunting down quarterbacks.
- New Orleans' Reggie Bush continues to be a draft bust, failing to reach 1,000 total yards for the Saints. But, newcomer Jeremy Shockey is named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
- Jake Delhomme accompanies Shockey on the NFC Pro Bowl roster, as Jeff Garcia proves he is past his prime for the Bucs.
Questions to be answered:
Obviously, Delhomme isn't guaranteed to make a strong comeback. So although I believe he will be back as strong as ever, anything can happen, and he still needs to prove himself to everyone. And, the questions surrounding Jeff Garcia, and whether Brett Favre will be a Buc or not, still loom as training camp gets underway. Even more questions loom around New Orleans. Will Drew Brees continue his Pro Bowl career, and can Deuce McAllister return to his normal form? And there's always questions surrounding New Orleans' defense. I have failed to even mention the Atlanta Falcons. Will Matt Ryan, rookie out of Boston College, be the starter come week 1? Who knows? I guess we'll have to wait this one out.
Bottom Line: Carolina, in my book, is the team to beat. Not the defending Division Champion Tampa Bay Bucs... the Panthers from Carolina. I feel the Bucs have too many questions surrounding their offense. There is no need for 4-5 different quarterbacks, and "Cadillac" Williams has been battling injuries that last year or so. He may not be able to carry the load of 16 games this year. Earnest Graham is going to have to be on top of his game this season, just like last year.
Winner of Division: Seattle Seahawks
I jumped on Arizona's bandwagon last year, thinking they would run away with the Division with Matt Leinart under center. I was off by a long-shot, and don't feel the need to go off on a limb this season as well. Leinart, just like his USC teammate Reggie Bush, has yet to prove himself to NFL teams that he is the guy in Arizona. So, I'm gonna stick with the more popular pick in Matt Hasselbeck's 'Hawks. With the Shaun Alexander era over, and the Mike Holmgren era nearly wrapped up, looks like the Seahawks are looking for a fresh start. They added former Cowboy Julius Jones to their backfield, and of course their defense is always stellar. Looks like Seattle is still the team to beat in the West.
- Matt Leinart, not surprisingly, struggles at the helm for Arizona, and fails to capture even a Wild Card spot.
- Julius Jones puts Hasselbeck, and the entire 'Hawks defense on his back, and leads them to the division title.
Questions to be answered:
I am still really puzzled, and confused as to why Alex Smith is still the guy in San Fran. If he doesn't throw more TD's than INT's this year, his job security is really going to be on the line. Can Frank Gore break 1,500 for the Niners? Well, whether he does or not, he really NEEDS to. I am really not sure how the Rams will fare this year. Their line is beat up still, and it seems a majority of their receivers are past their prime. The success of the offense all comes down to Steven Jackson, and how well the O-line protects Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger.
Bottom Line: This Division, as usual, is weak. Once again, it will probably be decided at around week 14 or 15. Seattle will win a solid 11 games, and run away with this division. Sorry for all you bandwagoners out there, but the Arizona Cardinals are going to disappoint once again this year. Neither of the two Wild Card spots will be coming from the division. As a matter of fact, they may both come from the East.