NFL

Parity Is Abundant In The NFC

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The NFL has falsely been known as the league of parity, as each of the 32 fan-bases have hope every offseason, only to see the usual suspects in the postseason.

2016 figures to be a little different as aside from a few teams- Cleveland, Tennessee, San Francisco and Chicago- you can make a legitimate case for anyone else to make a jump toward the postseason.

Since we already looked at the AFC, we’re now going to look at just how wide open the NFC is.

NFC East

The NFC East can see their winner go from worst to first for the second consecutive season, as the Dallas Cowboys’ 2015 campaign was derailed early by injuries to wide receiver Dez Bryant and then quarterback Tony Romo. Both will be back healthy in 2016, and the Cowboys used their miserable season to select one of the best running back prospects in years, in Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot. Dallas should be one of the most explosive offenses in football, and if they can find enough stops on defense, they can beat anyone.

The Washington Redskins are the defending division champs, and they return much of the same team as last year. Kirk Cousins broke out in the second half of the season and if he can put together a similar 2016 campaign, not only is he going to get paid, but the ‘Skins will most certainly be a contender in the NFC. Washington’s biggest acquisition was 2015 First-team All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who should bolster an underrated secondary.

The New York Giants might be the most improved team in the NFC (on paper) as they inked former Miami Dolphins pass rusher Olivier Vernon, as well as former St. Louis (we know they’re in L.A. now) Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and former Jets defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison. New York will be getting a healthy Victor Cruz back and if they can protect Eli Manning, they have just as good of a chance as anyone to win the East.

The Philadelphia Eagles went through a major offseason of change, as they fired head coach Chip Kelly and sent packing most of the players he acquired. Philly has a problem brewing at quarterback as Sam Bradford will eventually get replaced by rookie Carson Wentz, and everyone knows it. With that said, the last time that the Eagles made wholesale changes (including head coach), they won the division.

NFC North

The Minnesota Vikings are probably the least respected defending champion, but they shouldn’t be. The Vikes have a dominant defense, led by Everson Griffen, as well as the game’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. If Teddy Bridgewater is allowed to do more in the passing game, they will have more than a one-dimensional offense and with that defense, Minnesota doesn’t need to score all that much to win.

The Green Bay Packers are everyone’s NFC North pick as they have the best quarterback in football in Aaron Rodgers, and a healthy Jordy Nelson. The Packers defense won’t be great, but they don’t need to be with a high functioning offense.

Detroit finished last season as one of the league’s best teams and if they can carry that momentum over to 2016, they will most certainly be a tough out. The Lions will have to change the identity of their offense with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, but they still have Golden Tate and Marvin Jones on the outside. Ameer Abdullah should have a greater role on the offense and this could be the year that Matt Stafford finally lives up to his No. 1 overall billing.

NFC South

Although the Carolina Panthers have won the division for the past three seasons, a fourth-straight NFC South title is far from a given. The Panthers still have a lack of weaponry on the outside, and although running back Jonathan Stewart stayed healthy in 2015, the odds are against him repeating that feat. Carolina’s best defensive player from last season, cornerback Josh Norman, was let go in free agency and the team needs to find a replacement for him in the secondary.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a productive offseason and a solid draft, and with a full offseason of preparation for quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs offense should be much more productive. Defensively, the team added 12.5-sack guy Robert Ayers, formerly of the New York Giants, as well as cornerback Vernon Hargreaves with their first-round pick. If the Bucs have some injury luck, they have as good of a shot as anyone to win the division.

The New Orleans Saints have pretty much flown under the radar this offseason, but with Drew Brees at quarterback, they can win any game. They focused their draft on defense and should once again have a productive offense.

The Atlanta Falcons fortified their offensive line in free agency and with the three-headed monster of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, they should be able to put some points on the board. With that said, much of the Falcons success will depend on how quickly (or if) 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley can become an impact player on the edge.

NFC West

The Arizona Cardinals have been a legitimate contender ever since Bruce Arians arrived as head coach three years ago, but if they’re going to repeat as division champs it will be tougher than ever. The Cards season ended with a major thud as Carson Palmer was a turnover machine in the playoffs, and confidence about him as a big game player is wavering. Arians will have the team competing week in and week out, but the division is getting better.

The Seattle Seahawks are the Cardinals main competition, and following a solid draft and a healthy return of tight end Jimmy Graham, the ‘Hawks should be better. Sure, replacing Marshawn Lynch will be no easy task, but Thomas Rawls was actually more productive than him in 2015 before his season ended prematurely.

The Rams have moved to Los Angeles, and although they’ve been mediocre for the past several years (and horrible before then), there are reasons for optimism. In the past two years, the Rams drafted the Defensive Rookie of the Year in Aaron Donald, along with the Offensive Rookie of the Year in Todd Gurley. Add in the top pick in the draft in quarterback Jared Goff, and the Rams have a great young nucleus. Sure, there are major questions about whether Jeff Fisher can actually lead a team over .500 this decade, but he’s never had a legitimate franchise quarterback to work with since he arrived. Hopefully for the Rams, Goff will be that.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.