Pre-Training Camp NFL Power Rankings: NFC Edition

Pre-Training Camp NFL Power Rankings: NFC Edition
Wed 17th July 2019

The upcoming NFL season promises to be one of the most open in recent history, with anywhere between 10 and 15 teams seeming to have legitimate hopes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of Super Bowl LIV on Feb 2, 2020.

Last year’s winners the Patriots will be around the mark again – as will fellow contenders the Chiefs, Saints and Rams – but it’s at the other end of the league where the real intrigue is occurring. Perennial underachievers the Jets, Browns, Lions and Raiders have all made significant steps in the right direction, while the Colts, Bears and Chargers are all recovering from multiple years spent tucked away in the NFL wilderness 

With training camps opening across the league in two weeks’ time, now is the perfect time to take stock of the situation in both conferences.

After running a comb over the AFC last week, it’s time to turn our attention to the perpetually-deep NFC.

16. New York Giants

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If anyone has any clue what the Giants have been up to this offseason, we’re yet to hear it.

Effectively flipping Odell Beckham Jr (one of the most valuable players in football) for a rookie nose tackle (taken with the 17th pick in the draft) was one thing. Taking a quarterback from Duke – who most mock drafts had as a late first-round / early second-round selection at best – with the 7th overall pick was something else entirely.

Whatever is going on with the Giants doesn’t make a lot of sense. If those two draft selections are anything to go by though, 2019-20 is going to be a write-off in New York. Best case scenario is probably that Eli Manning continues to stink, leads the team to the number 1 pick in the draft and forces the coaching staff to give Daniel Jones a run under centre for the final few games to see what he can do. Otherwise it’s frankly hard to see the positives coming up for Big Blue.

Projected 2019 Record:

3-13

15. Arizona Cardinals

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Say what you want about the NFL’s draft system; the team with the number 1 pick usually has it for a reason. 

As good as Kyler Murray may end up being (or even how good he already is) it’s just a fact that the Cardinals aren’t a winning football team. Otherwise they wouldn’t have had the number 1 pick.

It’s also a fact that Murray is undersized at the position (traditionally a tough hurdle to overcome in the NFL), and that Arizona’s new head coach Kliff Kingsbury couldn’t manage better than a .500 record in the Big 12. 

There’s just nothing really to indicate that the Cardinals will be anything but terrible again this year. Win-now is not an option for them. Winning in the future might be, though, if they can get the house in order.

Projected 2019 Record:

4-12

14. Washington Redskins

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The Redskins had a very, very good draft night.

Snaring Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins with the 15th pick was arguably the steal of the draft, and Montez Sweat as an edge-rusher will be a fantastic addition as well.

However, the NFC East is strong, and there’s not a lot to write home about in the skill positions around Haskins and now-backup-QB Case Keenum. The less said about the internal issues surrounding Jay Gruden and owner Dan Snyder, the better. On paper Washington are a chance to improve on their 7-9 record from last year, but we just can’t see it happening.

Projected 2019 Record:

6-10

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Where most other teams in the hunt for new head coaches zagged towards first-timers, the Bucs zagged towards the experienced Bruce Arians.

We like the call. If anyone can get the most out of Jameis Winston, it’s going to be Arians and his up-tempo offense. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard are three supremely talented offensive weapons for Winston to work with. Oh, and they also have some sweet new helmets (pictured above).

The issue on the other side of the ball. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has to find a way to improve a defense that finished 27th in total defense last season, and then lost Kwon Alexander at inside linebacker. That’s going to be tough in the offensively-focused NFC South.

Projected 2019 Record:

6-10

12. Detroit Lions

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We all expected the 2018-19 version of the Lions to take a step forward under new head coach Matt Patricia; unfortunately, they did not.

A 6-10 record (the team’s worst since 2012) was (needless to say) not a good result. On paper, not much has changed since last year – Trey Flowers was a great (if slightly overpaid) get during free agency and number 8 draft pick tight end T.J. Hockenson should be able to contribute immediately, but overall the Lions are clearly still well-behind the Packers, Bears and Vikings in the NFC North.

The only reason we have them this high is due to our immense faith in Patricia’s abilities. This team has designs to become the NFC’s Patriots-lite, and if anyone can get them there it’s him. We still can’t see them as a playoff team, though. Yet.

Projected 2019 Record:

7-9

11. Carolina Panthers

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We’re officially reaching the point in the list where the remaining teams are legitimate playoff threats.

Make no mistake, the Carolina Panthers fit that bill. After the first half of last season they sat 6-2 and looked like Super Bowl contenders, but ended up slumping to a final tally of 7-9. Over the offseason they’ve shored up both the offensive and defensive lines with the free-agent signings of C Matt Paradis and DT Gerald McCoy, and then drafted athletic edge-rusher Brian Burns in the first round. 

Really though, Carolina’s prospects start and end with Cam Newton. The superstar QB has to find a way to stay healthy and return to his enigmatic best. The good sign for Panthers fans is that he is reportedly already throwing again, and if he can return to an MVP level there’s an outside chance the team can contend with Atlanta and New Orleans for NFC South supremacy.

Projected 2019 Record:

8-8

10. Atlanta Falcons

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Injuries to key players – Devonta Freeman, Deion Jones & Keanu Neal among them – cruelled the Falcons last year.

If they can find a way to stay healthy in 2019-20 there’s no way that they don’t improve their 7-9 record considerably. This is still a quality football team on both sides of the ball, despite the loss of Tevin Coleman to San Francisco. Freeman should be able to carry the run-load, and a pair of offensive lineman in the first round of the draft was a quick and easy way to shore up that dodgy offensive line.

While it’s never a good sign to see both offensive and defensive coordinators let go over a single offseason, it may end up being a blessing in disguise and the re-boot the franchise needs.

The offense can put up points, and the defense (if healthy) can do enough to carry the load.

Projected 2019 Record:

9-7

9. Seattle Seahawks

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This is a new era in Seattle; gone are the days of a running game and a legendary pass-defense; the Seahawks are all in on Russell Wilson.

With Wilson and Pete Carroll at the helm there’s no doubt Seattle will find a way to stay competitive, and almost certainly will sneak their way in to the playoffs. It’s just, outside of their talisman QB and coach there’s not a whole lot of talent on this roster.

Bobby Wagner is a star but he’s *only* a linebacker; Tyler Lockett is a handy offensive target but there’s almost no one else behind him and losing Frank Clark is a ginormous blow to the pass rush. If DE L.J. Collier and W.R. D.K. Metcalf don’t work out the speed of NFL football pretty quickly then the Seahawks look thin on both sides of the ball.

Projected 2019 Record:

9-7

8. Dallas Cowboys

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*Prepares for enormous backlash*

Here it is folks: the Cowboys just aren’t that good. Are they a playoff contender? Yes. Are they a bona fide Super Bowl contender? Hmmm… 

Dallas has one of the better defenses in the league (and will stay that way for the near future with the re-signing of Demarcus Lawrence) and their run game is up there as well. The key to their fortune lies with Dak Prescott in a contract year. If he can produce like a top 10 QB – with Amari Cooper catching long-balls – this team can be anything.

If Prescott plays like he did last year though then the ‘Boys are a fringe playoff team; good enough probably to squeak through to the post-season thanks to a weak NFC East, but nowhere near close to contending for it all. Other than adding some offensive line insurance through the draft with Connor McGovern, this team on paper isn’t really any better than the one that went 10-6 last year.

Projected 2019 Record:

10-6

7. San Francisco 49ers

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The time is now for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. The 49ers have had a horrendous run with injuries, but with Jimmy Garoppolo back healthy, an improved receiving corps and probably the best defensive front in the league in the league, the excuses are drying up.

After 2018-19 was decimated by injury, the 9ers were able to add Joey Bosa with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. He joins fellow draftee Dee Ford on a front also playing host to DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas – all former first-round picks. Kwon Alexander is also a big addition to the linebacking corps, and Tevin Coleman, Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel are all poised to make an immediate impact on offense this season.

We think the 49ers are poised to make the biggest jump this season. They’re a playoff-calibre team with the chance to do some real damage.

Projected 2019 Record:

10-6

6. Green Bay Packers

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2018-19 was an unmitigated disaster for the Packers; their lowest win total in a decade resulting in Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy being shown the door.

Their offseason, though, has been excellent. Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage Jr. immediately turn a mediocre defense in to one of the league’s best. The offense – if Rodgers can stay healthy – will of course be good enough to win games behind one of the greatest QBs to ever walk the earth, and Jimmy Graham and highly-touted young tailback Aaron Jones are all the weapons Rodgers needs.

Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur has been given a huge amount of responsibility, but this team is talented enough to go all the way regardless of his performance with the clipboard (despite what they showed last year).

Projected 2019 Record:

11-5

5. Minnesota Vikings

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We get the nay-saying about the Vikings – Kirk Cousins is their QB after-all – but we love what they’re building in Minnesota.

Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen are indisputably the best receiving duo in the league; the offensive line is much-improved thanks to spending a first round pick on a centre; the secondary is quality and the pass-rush is top-tier.

The problem (and it’s an obvious one) is that Cousins is guaranteed $56 million over the next two years. That’s a huge issue. His contract has hamstrung the Vikings, and at this point they have no other option but to ride it out. Can Cousins take them to the playoffs? Yes. Does he have the potential to be a Super Bowl winning QB? Look, probably not. But he might go close.

Projected 2019 Record

11-5

4. Philadelphia Eagles
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The Birds made the ballsy call not to franchise tag Nick Foles and allowing him to walk to Jacksonville. The implication is obvious; all their eggs are now in the Carson Wentz basket.

Wentz hasn’t completed either of the last two seasons, making that an extremely risky proposition. The health of their starting QB is clearly Philadelphia’s main concern, but without Jordan Hicks their linebacking corps also starts to look a little thin and losing Michael Bennett hurts their defensive line.

That said, the Eagles have more than enough talent to make another run. Malik Jackson was a quality free-agent get, their draft selections were shrewd and they are deep on both sides of the ball. If Wentz can play 16 games this team WILL be in the playoffs and are as much of a threat as any other team in the league.

Projected 2019 Record:

12-4

3. Chicago Bears

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The heartbreak of the Double-Doink last season will sit in the guts of Chicago fans for years to come, but 2019-20 should give the Bears a decent shot at redemption.

Mitch Trubisky is the key; if he can take another step forward at the QB position, this team is going to be hard to beat. The Bears maintained the status quo over the offseason. They lost safety Adrian Amos but replaced him with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and traded tailback Jordan Howard but replaced him with draftee David Montgomery (who may even be an upgrade).

Overall the Bears had a great draft and should (repeat, SHOULD) improve from last year. Nothing is ever certain though, and young teams can often regress in their sophomore campaigns. We don’t see it happening in Chicago, though.

Projected 2019 Record:

12-4

2. Los Angeles Rams

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Last year’s Super Bowl losers are unlucky to miss out on top spot, but it’s for good reason.

Todd Gurley’s ongoing knee issues are a serious concern (especially given the absence of C.J. Anderson’s insurance); Ndamukong Suh is a big loss on the defensive line and allowing guard Rodger Saffold to leave without any clear replacement may end up coming back to bite them on the offensive side of the ball.

Whether Jarred Goff is in the upper-echelon of QBs capable of producing year-in year-out is also a cause for some discomfort.

All that said, the Rams are clearly in the top 2 teams in the NFC. Sean McVay has already proven his coaching prowess and Memphis tailback Darrell Henderson was a huge steal on the second day of the draft.

Anything less than another Super Bowl appearance would be a disappointment in LA.

Projected 2019 Record:

13-3

1. New Orleans Saints

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There are two teams sitting clear on top of the NFC going in to this season; New Orleans is the better of the two.

The Saints are essentially running it back after just falling short in the NFC title game last season. They’ve lost tailback Mark Ingram and center Max Unger, but replaced them with Latavius Murray, Nick Easton and rookie Erik McCoy.

The WR corps is (again) probably sub-par, but Drew Brees doesn’t need much to throw to and TE Jared Cook is a more than handy addition. Sophomore star DE Marcus Davenport is going to continue to improve, Marcus Lattimore is a bona fide leader in the secondary and overall this could well be the most talented team in the NFL.

Super Bowl or bust must be the goal in New Orleans.

Projected 2019 Record:

14-2

Written and produced for Sportstips.com by Eddie Dadds

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