Handicapping the NFC
With five weeks remaining in the NFL's regular season, it's time to take a look at how each respective team stacks up against the competition. The rankings below reflect where each team stands today. Taken into consideration are the relative health and trends of each team.
As expected, things in the NFC are bunching up like undies on a nervous-nelly (???). It's also not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the tiebreaker rules - I have a feeling several will be called into play to determine the playoff teams from the conference.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (8-2-1)
The 49ers were a very solid team with Alex Smith at quarterback. They are flat out a dangerous team with Colin Kapernick at quarterback. Kapernick is just the type of player that defensive coordinators hate to plan for. When chased out of the pocket, the second-year quarterback is elusive, makes quality decisions, and is accurate when he chooses to throw the ball. Oh - and the 49ers are allowing a league-best 14.1 points per game.
NEW YORK GIANTS (7-4)
Look out - here they come! Don't be surprised if the Giants run the table this season and end up 12-4. The team was challenged by Head Coach, Tom Coughlin after back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Bengals. Then came the bye week, and then came a 38-10 win over the Packers. What makes the Giants so tough? They can beat teams with the run, the pass, and with defense.
ATLANTA FALCONS (10-1)
No "elite" team in the NFL is more beatable than the Atlanta Falcons. Seven of Atlanta's ten wins have been by 7 points or less this season. I think they will finish the season 12-4 and, while they will have home field advantage for some (if not all) of the playoffs, they will not be considered a "hot" team heading into the post-season. .
GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-4)
The two biggest issues facing the Packers are health and the offensive line. I'm impressed the Packers were able to build a five-game winning streak without starters such as Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson and Bryan Bulaga. While the Packers might be able to beat the lesser teams in the league without pro-bowl talent, they will not be able to do so against the better teams in the conference. The good news is the Packers should start getting players back for week 13. The bad news is that right tackle Bryan Bulaga will not be one of those players.
CHICAGO BEARS (8-3)
They beat bad teams, and lose to good teams. It's that simple for the Bears. I know they beat a 7-4 Colts team, but that was in week one...the Colts were still working out training camp kinks at that point. No team in the league has been more reliant on turnovers than the Bears. The problem for the Bears is that better teams turn the ball over less than non-playoff teams. And for the Bears improved passing attack? They rank 32nd in the league in passing yards.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-5)
This will be an interesting final four weeks for the Seahawks. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are facing 4-game suspensions for violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy. In Browner and Sherman, the Seahawks have, in my mind, the best starting cornerback tandem in the league...and it's not even close. Without them, the Seahawks will not make the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-5)
The Bucs had a four-game winning streak snapped by the Falcons in week 11. Did you know the Bucs are averaging more points per game than the New Orleans Saints? Quietly, they have developed a potent offense behind quarterback Josh Freeman and rookie running back Doug Martin. Three of their final five games are against the Broncos, Saints and Falcons. If the Bucs make the playoffs, they will have earned it.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (5-6)
As their record would suggest, the Redskins are a hot and cold team. Robert Griffin has been marvelous at quarterback this season and is the reason the Redskins are still in the hunt for a playoff slot. The team averages over 160 yards per game on the ground - only the 49ers average more. The problem with the Redskins is their defense allows over 300 yards per game through the air.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-6)
This is still a team that should scare others...at least on offense they should. the reason the Saints are 5-6 is because they rank 30th in the league in passing yards allowed, 32nd in rushing yards allowed, and Head Coach Sean Payton is watching games on a television set instead of on the sidelines.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-5)
Can they run the ball? Yes. Can they rush the passer? Yes. Can they beat teams through the air? Not without Percy Harvin. The Vikings have one impressive win to their credit this season - week three against the 49ers. Christian Ponder's play has steadily declined ever since. Ponder has shown some signs of improvement from year one to two, but he has also had quarterback ratings of 35.5 and 37.3 in losses this season.
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-6)
If Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were physically able to get that perma-smirk off his face, you'd see that he is terrified of having to play RG3 twice a year for the next decade or so.
ST LOUIS RAMS (4-6-1)
One thing is for certain. Under Head Coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams are far more professional than a year ago. I think they lack the depth to beat playoff teams on a consistent basis, but the future is bright in St. Louis. Remember - they traded the number 2 pick in the 2012 draft to Washington for three first round picks and a second round pick.
DETROIT LIONS (4-7)
After their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Texans, the Lions season essentially came to an end. The Lions are a classic example of how a lack of discipline can hurt teams...I mean look at the roster...it's loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Four of the Lions final five games will be against playoff teams (as of today), and my guess is that Ndamukong Suh will be missing from two of those games after booting Texans quarterback matt Schaub in the stones on Thanksgiving.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-7)
Here's all you need to know about the Eagles season: Their last win was on September 30th. The Philadelphia Phillies last win was October 1st.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-8)
Quick! Name the Cardinals starting quarterback in their week 12 loss to the Rams. If you said Ryan Lindley, you would be correct. Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Lindley represent the absolute worst quarterback trio in the NFL. The Cardinals haven't won a game since week 4.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-8)
Cam Newton is not used to losing, and it shows. His attitude is that of a whiny-brat who's used to getting what he wants, and isn't sure how to act when it doesn't. Next up for the Panthers is a Monday night game against the Eagles, followed by another road test at Kansas City. If they don' win one of these games, my guess is that Carolina will finish the season, and be on the clock for the first pick in the 2013 draft.