My preview of this season’s NFC

The 2018 NFL season is finally here.  Let’s see if my crystal ball is a little clearer than last year when I correctly had the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl, but not to the surprising Philadelphia Eagles.  Since it was the NFC that tripped me up last year, let me start with my analysis of that conference, the one that most observers view as the stronger one.

Let’s begin in the East where the Eagles should once again show themselves to be the class. Their roster is as talented as any in the league, although they must face some questions as to the health of both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.  Neither appears to be 100% at this time.  Second place in the division will be a battle between the Cowboys and the Giants, but neither has much better than mediocre talent outside of a prima donna or two.  The Redskins have already been ravaged by injury at their offensive skill positions and again must outscore teams due to their porous defense.  So, due to Philadelphia’s superior talent, I look for them to garner another divisional title but I do not expect another 13-3 record as their out-of-division opponents include the Jaguars, Texans, Vikings, Falcons, and Saints.

 In the North, Minnesota has one major question:  Will Kirk Cousins be the team’s answer at quarterback?  Already possessing what may be the league’s best defense and with offensive weapons like Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs at wideout and second-year running back Dalvin Cook returning from injury, the Vikings have a championship caliber roster.  The Packers are led by the NFL’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, but questions abound almost everywhere else.  The acquisition of former Saint Jimmy Graham along with Devante Adams and Randall Cobb should provide Rodgers with reliable targets but Green Bay hasn’t had a consistent running game in a long time.  Defensively the Packers can rush the passer, but are otherwise underwhelming.  Chicago’s recent trade for Khalil Mack gives them a potentially devastating front seven as they appear to be building a powerful defense.  They may be a couple of years away however because, outside of running back Jordan Howard, they don’t have a lot of weapons around their promising young QB, Mitch Trubisky.  The Detroit Lions have historically been a franchise that takes one step forward with a playoff berth then two steps back with baffling personnel moves. Minnesota shouldn’t have a lot of trouble winning this division and will definitely be among the NFC’s Super Bowl contenders.

Out West it seems like the Rams signed or traded for every available player this offseason.  While they added some huge names to their roster, many of those players also come with huge baggage and poor reputations.  Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley are among the league’s best at their positions and have impressive young talents in quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay.  As to San Francisco already being a contender, don’t count me among those believers quite yet.  Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo did some impressive things last season, but teams have had an entire offseason to study that film and I’m still looking at the lack of talent at other positions. The Arizona Cardinals do have some imposing talent littered throughout its squad and are just praying for some adequate QB play from free agent Sam Bradford.  What is more likely is they’ll be casting their lot with first-round draft pick Josh Rosen once Bradford suffers his regularly scheduled season-ending injury.  Quarterback play is the least of the Seahawks’ worries.  Russell Wilson is as good as they come, but an intimidating roster that made strong Super Bowl runs from 2012-2016 has been gutted and not adequately replaced.  I believe the Rams could still run away from the division early and are a legitimate Super Bowl threat.  Arizona is my NFC dark horse to make a playoff push and could compete with Green Bay and Carolina for the second wild card spot.

 Viewed by many as the NFL's most talented division, the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers are all thought to be viable contenders in the NFC South.  Atlanta has Super Bowl talent at the skill positions on offense for quarterback Matt Ryan.  Carolina added running back C.J. Anderson and deep threat Torrey Smith in free agency, plus impressive wideout D.J. Moore in an effort to give Cam Newton a better supporting cast.  Tampa Bay has the talent in some areas to match up with their division rivals if they play up to their potential.  Quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first part of the year, there are questions about the running game and offensive line as well as in their defensive secondary — so I’m picking another last place finish. New Orleans has arguably the conference's best quarterback, one of the league's best offensive lines, and dynamic playmakers in Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, although the latter will be suspended for the season's first four games. And the Saints young and rapidly improving defense may wind up being one of the league's best this season. The Saints are deep, aggressive, and focused on avenging last season's heartbreaking playoff loss at Minnesota.  I look for New Orleans to do just that and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February.

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Glen Walker is the former manager of a Las Vegas sports book and a member of ‘The Gang That Beat Las Vegas.’

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