1) New York Giants
There is a reason this is one of the toughest divisions too pick, because you can make a legit arguments for both them and “America’s team.” In the end, I have a hard time not picking the Giants despite their potentially crippling flaws on the offensive line. But if you put that aside for a minute — which I know is hard — the Brandon Marshall addition is big. Him, Sterling Shepard, and Odell Beckham makes for one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL. And while their running back group isn’t top-heavy, it is versatile.
But I’m really burying the lead by not mentioning the defense till now. That secondary, isn’t just good, I think it at worst is the third best secondary in the league. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and Eli Apple all together…are you kidding me? A) Everyone I just listed is an All-Pro player except Apple B) Apple still has a lot of growth left in the ‘Big Apple’ (sorry…I had to) but already proved he belongs in this elite group.
What really makes a championship defense is an elite secondary and defensive line in today’s NFL. Well, guess what? The Giants have both. Jason Pierre-Paul, offseason pickup Olivier Vernon, and the underrated Damon Harrison are going to shut down running games and force teams to be one dimensional throughout the season. When that happens, with their elite secondary…watch out. Only if they had an offensive line…
2) Dallas Cowboys
I literally came so close to picking the Cowboys, but couldn’t do it for two reasons: 1) They are the Cowboys 2) This division could come down to the last three weeks and the Giants have the clearly easier schedule. Let’s make one things clear, the Zeke Elliott suspension (if it holds) is going to hurt them. Call me crazy, but I don’t have in Alfred Morris. Meanwhile, their defense is going to lose them games. There is just no way around it. In order to see a drastic improvement, they are going to have to hope that their first, second, and third-round picks all come onto the scene in a big way.
I’ll stop their with the criticism because Dallas will still be a Wild Card team. I am concerned about sophomore slumps for both Elliott and Dak Prescott, but they have a good foundation to support them: one of the best offensive lines in the league. And while many continue to go around calling this Cowboys’ schedule things like “insanely tough,” I don’t buy into that. It certainly isn’t easy, but I think they have the potential to start hot and use that to carry them to a playoff berth.
3) Washington Redskins
This pick might surprise people, but I continue to say and believe in Kirk Cousins as a top-10 QB and he has a lot people to throw to: Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed. Plus, don’t forget that Washington has a homegrown, top-10 offensive line to protect their top-10 QB. Anytime you have that, good things are bound to happen.
However, they obviously aren’t higher for reasons: 1) A lack of a running game 2) A shaky defense at best outside a slightly above average secondary. I also don’t love instability at the quarterback position and Cousins’ contract status will likely be a topic of conversation throughout the season.
4) Philadelphia Eagles
People seem to forget that Carson Wentz struggled at the end of last year, and unfortunately for him, Philly made moves that won’t help his supporting cast. “Big” offseason acquisition and out-of-style running back, LeGarrette Blount, has struggled this preseason, leaving some to question whether or not he will make the team. Their other “big” pickups, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, would have been one of the league’s most dynamic combos…four years ago . Now, I like, don’t love Jeffery and am all the way out on Smith.
It isn’t like they have built a good defense for him either. The all important secondary in today’s NFL lacks talent, and their second-round draft pick (Sidney Jones) might be out of the season with an achilles injury. Watch out below.
1) Green Bay Packers
This is a bet one person and one person only: Aaron Rodgers. If it wasn’t for him, the Packers would be one of the worst teams in football. Other than a decent offensive line, it’s hard to find a whole lot I like. I mean they have a wide receiver as a running back and skill-lacking defense. If Rodgers has any sort of dip in his play, Green Bay could be in danger.
2) Detroit Lions
Trust me, I really wanted to put the Lions ahead of the Packers, but with their defense, I just can’t do it. Their defensive line and secondary are a mess and they used their first-round pick on a linebacker.
If you can somehow put that aside for a second, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and a solid offensive line will win them some games, but not enough to put them past the superhero that is Aaron Rodgers.
3) Chicago Bears
I am not as low on the Bears as other people. Unlike a lot of people, I like Mitchell Trubisky. Of course he is going to go through growing pains, but he has a solid foundations around him starting with the offensive line. I know some people poke fun at the amount of times I mention the O line, but it can be such a comfort blanket for rookies. Plus, Jordan Howard has another year under his belt and Cameron Meredith is a nice target to throw to.
The real problem is on the other side of the ball, the defense will lose them games…a lot of games. Don’t expect any miracles in Chicago, especially with John Fox leading the group, but a step in the right direction should be expected.
4) Minnesota Vikings
This is simple, their quarterback situation sucks. I don’t care if it is Sam Bradford or somehow Teddy Bridgewater finds his way back, it has below avearge QB written all over it. If one of them somehow finds a way to gain traction, they have no one to throw to. Sorry, I am not buying in on Stefon Diggs. Even if he does have a productive season, there is no one behind him. Don’t forget the defense that finished the season in disappointing fashion which included Xavier Rhodes. New stadium, same underwhelming team.
1) Atlanta Falcons
The Super Bowl hangover will be real, but not real enough to knock them off the top of the division. Listen, I don’t love Matt Ryan either, but I love the talent around him. The Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman duo will produce again as the most dynamic running back combination in the league. Not to mention it isn’t too shabby to have Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
The concern for many people comes on the defensive side, and I completely get it, they are young and inexperienced. However, they are super fast and super skilled and I think that could be the future of defenses in this league.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston will have a bounce back year and it the second season for Dirk Koetter and his staff which is big for a first-time head coach. The addition of DeSean Jackson to the already solid core of Mike Evans and Cameron Brate will be big. However, their lack of a running game could be their ultimate downfall offensively.
Tampa Bay’s defense might be being overlooked. It seems to have the perfect fit of veterans (Brent Grimes) and young talent (Vernon Hargreaves). If that can all gel together, then Atlanta might have company.
3) Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton will be better, but not great. Just in case you were wondering, I don’t think Christian McCaffrey will be the savior of this offense in year one. And while their defensive line and linebacker groups have a ton of talent, their secondary is still trying to recover from the loss of Josh Norman. I will also remind you of what I said on a recent podcast:
4) New Orleans Saints
Sometimes a team gets stuck on a group of players and coaching that is past their prime for a year or two too long. Drew Brees is approaching that scary 40 number, general manager Mickey Loomis has been their since 2002, Sean Payton has been in ‘The Big Easy’ since 2006. It’s old, it’s stuck in a different time…kind of like that grandparent.
1) Seattle Seahawks
This is purely because of my faith in three things: Russell Wilson, their defense, and this terrible division. If it wasn’t for that, this team would be in trouble. The Seahawks offensive line has, and will continue to be one of the worst in the NFL. So bad it almost makes the Giants’ O line look good. As we have seen before, that can ruin Seattle’s season if Wilson gets banged up. Seahawks’ fans better pray to the injury gods.
2) Los Angeles Rams
I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s just those classic blue uniforms in that LA sun, but I like the Rams a lot more than most. Jared Goff has looked better this preseason and I think that will continue under a coach that actually wants him in Sean McVay. The second-year QB also now has targets to throw to in Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin.
Their defense, isn’t elite yet, but certainly can be if they secondary develops. LA is still several years away from experiencing true winning, but I think this could be a step in the right direction.
3) Arizona Cardinals
Talk about being stuck in the past, huh? The Cardinals make the Saints look youthful. I am off, and was never aboard, the Bruce Arians train, but hey, at least he has an old QB to coach in the rapidly declining Carson Palmer. This defense will keep them in games, but not win many. Other than David Johnson, I don’t have faith in a single part of this team.
4) San Francisco 49ers
I think it is pretty much a consensus that the 49ers are heading into the right direction, but they still can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel. They have no quarterback, a bad offensive line, and an inexperienced team.
-Article by Nick Friend
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