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NFL | NFC preview and predictions

NFC North

Green Bay Packers: (Offence 71.03, Defense 70.44, Overall 70.74)Strengths: Aaron Rodgers. He is the heartbeat and the driver of everything good about the team right now. In saying this, their offensive line looks better than it has in a few years, which will hopefully keep Rodgers from getting injured. Their defence is a mixed bag. Players like Haha Clinton-Dix and Tramon Williams are very impressive in their back-end, while Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, and the ageing Clay Matthews can still generate pressure. On offence, the addition of Jimmey Graham at tight end should give Rodgers a good red-zone target. Weaknesses: If I am going to praise the Vikings coaching staff for how they handled adversity of injuries, the same cannot be said for the Packers. They were straight up unwatchable last year when Rodgers got injured, and we saw just how limited their overall talent was. The fact that I had to mention Clay Matthews and Jimmey Graham - who haven’t looked like themselves in at least two years - as some of the top talent on the team should tell you all you need to know. This side is lacking star power - apart from Rodgers and Mike McCarthy – and hasn’t been particularly innovative in ten years. Rodgers was critical off his receivers work ethic this off season and it might have been fair to also criticise the coaching. What other offense improvises as much as the Packers? Prediction: This team has been carried by Rodgers for years now, and he is so talented that he might do it again. Unfortunately for them, the NFC is completely loaded this year and so I don’t think they will make the playoffs. They could make me look stupid and go all the way, but I just can’t see it. 8-8.

Vikings: (Offence 67.82, Defence 76.69, Overall 72.25)Strengths: Mike Zimmer has done an excellent job at making this team one of the toughest teams in the league on defence, while consistently getting good play out of his QBs and offence, despite being dealt back to back years where his starting QB has left the field with an injury. Now, during this off season they have changed QB again, and Kirk Cousins to me has shown he can make every throw on the field. With Kyle Rudolph, Dalvon Cook, and Adam Thielan, they have a core group of consistent players at the skill position. On defence this team are monsters, with Lindval Joseph on the defensive line, and Harrison Smith at safety being truly transcendent players. Being carved open last year in the playoffs by Foles and the Eagles may leave a sour taste in their mouth, which might be a positive as this group will feel they have something still to prove. Weaknesses: The Achilles heel for this team is probably their offensive line. Last year, Case Keenum covered up how bad it was by both making lots of quick throws and improvising on the fly to avoid pressure. Cousins has never had a good O line, but last year he never really got going due to this. It’s really the only thing I dislike about the team as the rest of their players and coaches are great. But a bad offensive line makes everything in the NFL just so much harder. Prediction: This team for me is too talented not to win the division even if they have stiff competition. After getting to the NFC championship last year, now is as good a time as ever to go all the way. But I don’t think they will be quite able to that. 10-6.

Chicago Bears: (Offence 70.9, Defence 74.89, Overall 72.9)Strengths: Even if I did not kill the Raiders for the Kalil Mack trade, that does not mean I do not love this trade from a Bears perspective. The Monsters of the Midway have reclaimed their nickname, and just look at this defence, with Adrian Amos, Kyle Fuller, and Prince Amukamara at the backend, and now they have added rookie prospect Roquan Smith - and the best linebacker in football kalil Mack - to an already studded front seven. This team will be very hard to score against on that cold wet pitch in Soldier Field. On offence Matt Nagy comes straight from Kansas City, who have a fine tradition of creative offensive play. Trybisky will need help to turn his career around, but by adding Allen Robinson to the mix, and with Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel, this offence has some good receivers. Weaknesses: The big question mark on this team is second year QB Mitchell Trybisky, who was very average last year. Just because Jared Goff came good after a bad rookie season does not mean Trybisky will follow suit. Jordan Howard is somewhat overrated at running back and their offensive line is nothing special. But still it’s not a disaster by any stretch. Prediction: This might be a shock to many pundits but I think the Bears are going to the play-offs and can win this division. Expect a lot of play-action and RPOs on offence as they get tricky, while the defence get physical. 10-6.

Detroit Lions: (Offence 72.94, Defence 68.5, Overall 70.72)Strengths: Good QB, solid offensive line, and decent wide recievers. This should add up the Lions being able to score plenty of points this year. New Head Coach Matt Patricia comes with good pedigree, having worked under Bill Belichick for so long, and could instil a winning mentality to this perennially under achieving franchise. Weaknesses: This defence is bad. Ezekial Ansah and Darius Slay are good players but there is a lack of quality elsewhere. Quandre Diggs, Jarred Davis, and Christian Jones makes for a horrible group of linebackers, and probably the worst in the NFC. Also, even though I mentioned Matt Patricia’s potential upside as a coach above, he never really impressed me with the Patriots. He applied a bend-don’t-break strategy, which often gave other teams easy yards, and allowed opposition a lot of time in the pocket as they weren’t getting pressured. Prediction: This team will play in a lot of high scoring games with a good offence and bad defence. If they were in the AFC they might have an outside shot at the play-offs. But in the NFC they will face too many strong teams and it will probably end up another long year for the Lions. 6-10.

NFC West

LA Rams: (Offence 71.39, Defence 76.45, Overall 73.92)Strengths: The prospect of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh lining up side by side must terrify any QB. Both have required double teams all throughout their careers, so will teams need seven offensive linemen to block the pass rush? They also might have the best backend in the league as Talib, Marcus Peter, John Johnson, and Lamarcus Joyner should be able to attack any hurried passes from QBs escaping the pass rush. Then offensively they have Tood Gurley, who is a beast at running back, and they have now added Bradin Cooks and Robert Woods (in his second season) to make this a superb receiving core. Their offensive line is also at least top six best in the league. And from what we saw in his first year, Sean McVay is a very impressive head coach and expert game planner. Weaknesses: Perhaps the Rams caught teams on the hop last year, and now that they have a bull’s-eye on their back, they will struggle somewhat. Their front seven is very average apart from Suh and Donald  (but with them it’s far from average). QB Jared Goff improved a lot last year, but perhaps he might not be just good enough to take them that next step. And if teams catch onto RPOs then maybe the shine comes of McVay, and we look at them differently. Prediction: Like the Seahawks, Patriots, and Broncos did in their off-season before they won the Super Bowl, the Rams have gone out and strengthened one of the strongest squads in the NFL. And with this in mind I think they can go all the way this year. 12-4 and Super Bowl LIII Champs.

Arizona Cardinals: (Offence 72.16, Defence 66.36, Overall 69.26)Strengths: Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones are truly great talents on defence. Rookie QB Josh Rosen should have a very bright future in the league, and will probably play for a lot of this season. New Head coach Steven Wilks did a good job with the Panthers defence and may get the best out of what is not a very talented group of players. Weaknesses: QB Sam Bradford never plays a full season, and he is stuck behind a revolving door of an offensive line. Larry Fitzgerald is superb but no team should be relying on 35-year-old receivers. On defence, Haason Reddick, Robert Nkemdiche, and Deone Buchannon are not good enough to play in the NFL. Prediction: This team could be good again in a few years and it has been a well run franchise. Josh Rosen at QB and Steve Wilks as coach have a lot of potential to do great things, but this year could be a long one as strong teams in the NFC just roll over them. 4-12.

Seattle Seahawks: (Offense 68.39, Defence 73.07, Overall 71.15)Strengths: This team is still strong, despite having lost some very good players in Richard Sherman and Cam Chancellor. The addition of DJ Flucker steadies the offensive line to a somewhat respectable level. As always, Russell Wilson will make up most of the offence as he runs around and makes defenders look like they are in a Benny Hill themed football gag. Doug Baldwin is quietly a monster at receiver for this team while Tyler Lockett is a good tight end. The heart of this team still lies on defence as Bobby Wagner, Dion Jordan, and KJ Wright are excellent athletes who can sprint all over the field. Weaknesses: The potential loss of Earl Thomas would be big, as their defensive number moves from 75 which is up with the best teams, down to 73 (or maybe lower) depending on who replaces them. Despite improving the offensive line, they still have bad players like Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi starting. Prediction: Coach Pete Carroll maybe right to freshen up his team as his mantra of competition does not lend itself to a bunch of veterans with legendary status. I wouldn’t fully rule them out of making the play-offs, as it remains a good overall team. But considering there are lots of other good teams in the NFC, im going to say they won’t make it. 8-8.

San Francisco 49ers: (Offence 72.55, Defence 70.37, Overall 71.46)Strengths: Get excited. It’s Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, and winning their last six games in a row last year showed just how good their offence can be. Joe Staley and Weston Richburg are solid on the O line, while Pierre Garcon and Marwuise Goodwin should be Garoppolo’s go to targets. On defence their back-end looks much better than last year with the addition of Richard Sherman, while Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert solidify a previously porous defence. Weaknesses: Defensively this side is not up to much up front. Solomon Thomas and Earl Micthell aren’t up to scratch. For as good as they were last year on offence, they do lack star players. Maybe like his mentor Tom Brady, Garappolo can make average players look great, but it’s not an easy task. Prediction: Most pundits are saying they still need another year to make the play-offs. Not me, however. Kyle Shanahan hasn’t even gotten started with his tricks for Jimmy G, and I think that is going to lead them to the playoff as a wild-card. 10-6. Richard Corbally

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