NFL Midseason Outlook: NFC

With the NFL season half-finished, we have seen some great and not-so-great play around the league. With eight games remaining and the postseason chases heating up, I will share my top five teams in each conference. These teams are teams whom I perceive to be capable of more than just locking in a playoff spot, but very much capable of making a run to Miami for the Super Bowl. Without further ado, let’s kick off this two-part series in the NFC.

Top 5

5. Seattle Seahawks: Led by a Super Bowl–winning, MVP-caliber quarterback in Russell Wilson, and one of the best head coaches in Pete Carroll, you’d figure the Seahawks would be higher on this list, right? They also crack the top 5 because they play in front of a raucous CenturyLink Field, giving the Seahawks a tremendous advantage.

I like their roster, especially after acquiring Jadeveon Clowney from the Texans. However, contrary to expectations, pairing him with Ziggy Ansah and Quinton Jefferson among other Seahawks defenders has not made the Seahawks defense one of the best in the NFL. In fact, the Seahawks are 23rd in total defense, 27th in pass defense, 15th against the run, and 20th in scoring defense. The good news is that Seattle is tied for 6th in third-down defense and red zone defense.

I like the makeup of their team, and Seattle is a viable threat in the NFC. Their defense has been good in certain key situations, too; but if the Seahawks are going to play in the Super Bowl, they need their defense to be better than just “pretty good.” Especially since they play in the same division as the unbeaten 49ers and the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams.

4. Los Angeles Rams: A big reason why the Rams are at four is because of the inconsistency in their run game. In the previous two seasons, the Rams have been in the top ten in rushing yards per game (2017; 2018). Of course, having Todd Gurley lead the charge as one of the best running backs in the league helped.

So far this year, however, the Rams are just 21st in the NFL in rushing. While their inconsistency in the run game has not hurt their win-loss totals so far, it could dictate their fate in the playoffs.

The run is vital for the Rams. It not only gives them tremendous balance offensively, but it also sets up their play-action game, thus allowing head coach Sean McVay to utilize trick plays, and allowing him to be as creative as he wants with offensive schemes. It also does not put the entire game on the arm of Jared Goff. Goff is a really good quarterback, and he has moments when he takes over a game; but he is at his best when the Rams offense has balance.

Everything from roster to head coach is there for the Rams to repeat as NFC champs. If they are going to make another run at the Super Bowl, they need to be better and more consistent at running the football; otherwise it could be a short January.

3. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is healthy, and the Packers have improved tremendously on defense (11th in scoring defense this season vs 22nd in scoring defense in 2018). Green Bay has also made a slight improvement running the ball, as they are 18th in the league in rushing offense, compared to 22nd in rushing offense in 2018.

It may not be a dramatic improvement, but first year head coach Matt LaFleur has done a great job of not only implementing a more balanced offense, but LaFleur and Rodgers also seem to have great head coach and quarterback chemistry, and it is only going to get better.

If this Packers team can continue to play good defense and Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, I love this team’s chances to reach the Super Bowl and perhaps even win it, regardless of whether they are a 1 or a 2 seed in the NFC.

2. San Francisco 49ers: A lot of people have raised their eyebrows at the play of the 49ers this season. I, on the other hand, am not totally surprised by how good the 49ers are. Did I expect them to be 7–0? No, but I also felt if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo came back strong from tearing his ACL in 2018, which he has, then the 49ers would be a team to watch this season.

Under the brilliant coaching from Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are having a brilliant season so far. They are just 24th in the league in passing offense, though the trade for wide receiver Emanuel Sanders should be an added boost. The 49ers are 2nd in the league in rushing offense, which is not totally surprising when you factor in that their offense is a run-first system. Finally, the 49ers are 3rd in scoring offense, so they’re not only efficient as an offensive unit, they are also very explosive.

The 49ers boast the league’s number one total defense and number two scoring defense. When you see that the 49ers defense is almost on New England’s exact level, that is flat-out impressive.

As impressive as the 49ers have been so far, one grey area is their lack of playoff experience. January will be the first playoff run for Shanahan and Garoppolo together as head coach and starting quarterback. That’s something to watch for if they don’t get the number one seed and have to go to Green Bay or New Orleans. On the other hand, if the 49ers keep things rolling and the run to Miami goes through them, then they could be a favorite. San Francisco can be chilly in January, and the Saints are an indoor team, so the elements could affect their play. Having home field and the home crowd on their side against Aaron Rodgers would be more beneficial than having to play at Lambeau. 

1. New Orleans Saints: The Saints are the best team in the NFC, perhaps even the entire league. Drew Brees got hurt in Week 2, but Teddy Bridgewater has not only kept the Saints season intact, but the Saints have gone undefeated with Bridgewater under center.

The Saints did not miss a beat without their Hall of Fame quarterback, and now Brees is back. They have one of the best Coaches of all time in Sean Payton, they have a great home crowd and are extremely difficult to beat in the Superdome.

As good and as hungry as the Saints are this year, I believe their fate boils down to what seed they finish with. If the NFC playoffs run through the Superdome, I think the Saints will make maximum use of their home field advantage. On the other hand, if the Saints have to play at Green Bay or San Francisco, playing outdoor in the elements could dampen their odds of winning the NFC.

At the end of the day, the Saints are an indoor team; indoor teams don’t generally play well in the elements in January. But with these Saints, who knows what could happen?

What about the rest of the NFC?

The NFC is filled with good teams. Injuries or self-implosion, could alter the season as it winds down, but right now these five teams are the ones I trust to deliver the goods in January.

Philadelphia and Dallas have good teams, but have been so inconsistent that it is tough to gauge how good they are. Plus Dallas, like the Houston Texans, faces questions about whether Jason Garrett is the right coach to guide them to prosperity in January.

Minnesota? As good as they are, I do not trust Kirk Cousins to deliver when it counts.

Wrapping up

That does it for the NFC, but stay tuned as I dive into the top five teams from the AFC.

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