Football

NFC Preview: Can the Falcons Stay On Top?

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NFC North

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Green Bay Packers

Grade: B+

Record Prediction: 11-5

The Skinny: The Packers lost the heart and soul of their offensive line with G TJ Lang going to Detroit. However, they are still in great shape for this upcoming season. The Packers versatile offense will be tough to stop this year. Adding TE Martellus Bennett to the offense, just gives Aaron Rodgers more weapons to dominate with. My favourite offseason acquisition for the Packers was  defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. Francois will be able to add some experience on the line with the departure of Julius Peppers. If their offensive line performs, the Packers will have no trouble winning the division again.

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Detroit Lions

Grade: C+

Record Prediction: 9-7

The Skinny: The Lions added a lot of depth on defense this offseason. Drafting LB Jarrad Davis was a step in the right direction. The Florida product is very athletic and has the ability to be a great middle linebacker. They then paired Davis up with a fellow Gator in drafting CB Teez Tabor in the second round. Other notable signings were pass rusher Cornelius Washington and cornerback DJ Hayden. On the offensive side they should be even more successful than last year. Boldin is out the door, but a healthy Ameer Abdullah is back. This means the Lions can try to establish the run and have a more balanced offense. Look for WR Marvin Jones to have a big year, as he will be Stafford’s new number one target in the red zone as Anquan Boldin is gone.

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Minnesota Vikings

Grade: C

Record Prediction: 7-9

The Skinny: Even though Sam Bradford stepped in adequately for the injured Teddy Bridgewater last year, the Vikings offensive line sent them in a downward spiral. The Vikings went out and got LT Riley Reiff from a division foe, the Detroit Lions, and RT Mike Remmers. Except, they lost Andre Smith and Matt Khalil to free agency. With their lacklustre run game last year, the Vikings drafted the versatile RB Dalvin Cook and picked up RB Latavius Murray from Oakland. Which meant no more room for Adrian Peterson, so he got shipped off to Louisiana to play in a pass heavy offense with QB Drew Brees. Look for the same Vikings this year as last year; run heavy offense with Bradford throwing eight yard slants to WR Stefon Diggs.

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Chicago Bears

Grade: D+

Record Prediction: 4-12

The Skinny: The Bears come into this season in a sticky situation. After signing QB Mike Glennon to a big contract this offseason and drafting QB Mitchell Trubisky from Chapel Hill, they are in quite the pickle. Now, starting Glennon and giving the young Trubisky some time to learn will ideally be the smartest idea. However, how long will this strategy last this season? The only upside for the Bears this season is breakout running back Jordan Howard, who has a top five offensive line in front of him. With the loss of WR Alshon Jeffery and WR Eddie Royal, general manager Ryan Pace picked up WR Markus Wheaton, WR Kendall Wright and TE Dion Sims. Tight end Dion Sims, from the Dolphins, will add some firepower to this offense with Zach Miller on the way out. Sims was extremely efficient last year, showcasing a 74% catch rate.

NFC South

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Grade: B+

Record Prediction: 11-5

The Skinny: It is time for the Buccaneers to get back on top of the NFC South. Drafting TE OJ Howard and adding WR Desean Jackson gives them arguably the best receiving core in the NFL,  and definitely one of the top offenses in the league. Really the only piece they lost was QB Mike Glennon, which really has no effect on their offense because Famous Jameis will be leading this team. Winston has emerged into the leadership role and has taken it on quite well. Their defense, and especially their front seven, are very underrated. Gerald McCoy is a top defensive tackle, and edge rusher Robert Ayers had the fifth most quarterback pressures from the right side in the league last year. With LB Lavonte David in the middle, the Buccaneers could have one of the most balanced teams in the NFL.

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Atlanta Falcons

Grade: B-

Record Predcition: 10-6

The Skinny: After every surprise Superbowl run, teams tend to drop off. It happened to the Panthers last year, and I believe it will happen to the Falcons this year. Especially with OC Kyle Shanahan leaving for his first head coach job in San Francisco. QB Matt Ryan threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. These numbers were out of this world and it will be hard to repeat. The offense will still be great, but not as dominant. The Falcons did add some good weapons on defense through the draft and free agency. Picked up through free agency was the 330 pound DT Dontari Poe from Kansas City, and then edge rusher out of UCLA, Takkarist McKinley, was drafted in the first round. These guys will add some firepower to the Falcons pass rush, which was needed this off season.

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New Orleans Saints

Grade: C

Record Prediction: 8-8

The Skinny: The Saints were extremely active this off season. They picked up two linebackers to address their depth at the position. Signing LB Manti T’eo from the Chargers and LB AJ Klein from the Panthers. These guys will definitely help the leaky defense we have seen from the Saints in the past. Not to mention, the Saints drafted the top cover corner in the draft, Marshon Lattimore. The Ohio State product could have an immediate impact in this defense. Their backfield situation is what I like to call a “New Orleans Jambalaya”, a little bit of everything. You’ve got chicken, sausage, shrimp, vegetables, sauce and many other things in a jambalaya. In the New Orleans backfield you have, Mark Ingram, the veteran Adrian Peterson, the young elusive Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee, and maybe even Travaris Cadet. Three guys that have their own particular style, which will help lower Drew Brees’ workload. 8-8 is my middle for the Saints this year, but I really cannot see them going past 9-7.

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Carolina Panthers

Grade: C-

Record Prediction: 7-9

The Skinny: The Panthers finally added some weapons on their offense. Carolina drafted Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel with their first two picks. Two very similar players; shifty, quick and crazy fast. This will help SuperCam control the offense a little better, along with making their offense more versatile. With wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr and Philly Brown departing from Carolina, Devin Funchess steps in as the second wide receiver behind Kelvin Benjamin. Newton now has his two top receivers over 6”4’, which is scary. The Panthers will improve this season, but not by much. It will take them at least another year to become an elite level offense.

NFC East

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New York Giants

Grade: B+

Record Prediction: 10-6

The Skinny: Brandon Marshall was the best free agent move this offseason. The Giants now have Odell, 5”11’ 198 lbs, and Marshall, 6”5’ 232 lbs  on the other side. Two players with great hands who have similar playing styles, but way different body types. If Paul Perkins emerges as a solid running back, this team could have the best offense in the NFL. On the defensive side, the Giants looked to gain some pass rush through the draft with picks used on Dalvin Tomlinson and Avery Moss. According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants have the top rated secondary coming into the season. This bodes well for the Giants considering they are in a pass heavy division with Wentz, Cousins and Prescott. When Eli Manning has options in his vision he thrives. Giants own the NFC East this  year.

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Philadelphia Eagles

Grade: B-

Record Prediction: 9–7

The Skinny: This B- is correlated with the difficulty of their schedule. This goes hand in hand as to why all the records in this division are lower than expected. So the Eagles, a top offensive line and a great defensive line. Why isn’t their predicted record higher? Easy, they have the worst secondary in football. Drafting Sidney Jones was a step in the right direction, but his achilles injury might halt him from playing at all this season. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod at safety will not cut it. Jenkins plays slower and older than 29 , and McLeod has missed 52 tackles in his last four seasons. Trading for DB Ronald Darby from the Bills was a great move, and they only gave up WR Jordan Matthews. Their offense has picked up some much needed firepower; WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith, RB Legarette Blount, and RB Donnel Pumphrey. The NCAA’s 2016 leading rusher will be a spark plug in this offense. If Wentz and Jeffery build some chemistry, this offense will be great.

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Dallas Cowboys

Grade: C+

Record Prediction: 9-7

The Skinny: This year for the Cowboys will be interesting. It is hard to say that they are going to be as good as last year. So, I am going to say they are going to be much worse because of three reasons. Number one, Dak was the third most efficient quarterback in the league last year, according to FootballOutsiders.com. Only behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, the two quarterbacks that played in the Superbowl. For Dak to repeat that will be very hard. A great young quarterback but something I cannot see him repeating. Number two, all of Ezekiel Elliot’s off field antics. For now a six game suspension, but who knows what will happen after it being appealed. However, the young running back has one great season behind the best offensive line in the game and he thinks he’s superman. Except when he comes back from his suspension he is going to be just as good, even better than last season right? Wrong. Cowboys lost offensive linemen Doug Free and Ronald Leary in free agency this offseason. They did pick up Jonathan Cooper, but La’el Collins is moving to right tackle and is having trouble with his hands. Number three, Jerry Jones is way more involved now that they are winning football games and making the playoffs. Jerry Jones is a partier and likes to take risks, this is mainly why the Cowboys have the most suspended team in the last four seasons. Maybe he is the reason Zeke has a rockstar mentality right now, who knows. All this being said, when Jerry Jones is involved and in Jason Garrett’s ear, it is not good for the Cowboys.

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Washington Redskins

Grade: C-

Record Prediction: 6-10

The Skinny: For starters, the Redskins have the seventh hardest schedule in the NFL this season. They did however, sign one of the most intriguing free agents this offseason, Terrelle Pryor. The Redskins lost WR Pierre Garcon and WR Desean Jackson in free agency, but now have the opportunity to let young WR Ryan Grant and WR Josh Doctson to emerge. Gruden will be able to come up with a lot of creativity with this receiving core, just like he did in Cincinnati with AJ Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Hopefully for the Redskins they can find a run game this season with their newest addition Samaje Perine from Oklahoma, who they drafted in the fourth round. What I suggest the Redskins do this season is spend all of their time making a contract that Kirk Cousins can sign, because the NFC East is just not a division the Redskins have a chance at winning this year. Moreover, if the Redskins do not sign Kirk Cousins next year, they will need to find a quarterback and fast because the quarterback position is thinner than ever.

NFC West

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Seattle Seahawks

Grade: B

Record Prediction: 10-6

The Skinny: The Seahawks should not have a very difficult time winning this division this year. Seattle clearly wanted to improve this offseason, because they made a lot of movement. For a team that has dominated the run game in the past, last season was a disappointment. They ranked 25th in the league in rushing. So, it is pretty clear that they missed Marshawn Lynch. Say no more, because Eddie Lacy is here. Will he solve the problem entirely? No, but it definitely will help their power run game. Thomas Rawls is impressing from camp and pre season, and will help Lacy carry the load. Their main problem is offensive line, which ranks dead last in the NFL coming into the 2017 campaign. Don’t be too afraid Seahawks fans, because the defense is in better shape now than it has ever been. With addition of Michigan State defensive lineman, Malik McDowell, they have more firepower in their front seven then ever before. Especially after trading for DT Sheldon Richardson. Not to mention, there proven secondary that boasts the likes of Richard Sherman and freshly paid Kam Chancellor, who are both healthy!

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Arizona Cardinals

Grade: C+

Record Prediction: 9-7

The Skinny: This is one team that lost a lot of important players, but also added a lot of key ones as well. Haason Reddick was my favourite defensive lineman in the draft (other than Myles Garrett). He is unbelievably athletic, had a great combine and will be able to fit into Bruce Arians’ system very well. Other key parts added on defense were, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Karlos Dansby, S Antoine Bethea, and rookie safety out of Washington, Budda Baker. David Johnson will lead this offense again this season with his running style like no other. Some good news for the receiving core, John Brown put on some weight this off season and is looking great. Carson Palmer will just need to utilize his targets properly. Palmer’s QBR in 2015 was 82.2, and in 2016 it was 58.9. I know he is getting older, but Palmer has the ability to be elite.

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Los Angeles Rams

Grade: C-

Record Prediction: 6-10

The Skinny: Head Coach Sean McVay will make a world of difference this year. McVay has started praising Todd Gurley and camp just started. Moreover, Gurley feels like he and McVay are building chemistry already. Sean McVay pretty much saved Kirk Cousins career while he was in Washington, so why can’t he start Jared Goff’s? The Rams front office built a nice offensive line in front of Jared Goff, with some solid veterans like Andrew Whitworth. They also snagged Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins who both have the ability to be a great receiver in the NFL. Bills also drafted Divison I-A FCS receiving leader Cooper Kupp out of Eastern Washington. Kupp could be a huge surprise this year. The 24-year-old from Yuikma, Washington had over 100 catches in his last three college seasons. Kupp and the Rams will look to surprise a lot of people this year.

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San Francisco 49ers

Grade: D

Record Prediction: 3-13

The Skinny: Kyle Shanahan will whip this team into shape, but he will need time. Their defense is headed in the right direction by drafting DE Solomon Thomas and LB Reuben Foster in the first round this year. One thing that is needed in San Francisco badly is a quarterback. Without a top tier quarterback, they are going to be stuck. Carlos Hyde is there only positive player on the offensive end. Even after having to battle for the starting job with RB Tim Hightower, who  has just been cut. Acquisitions need to happen this year or in the near future. In a way, this could be a good learning season for a young head coach and general manager. Develop your defense this year and take the losing season, and then make moves next off season to improve your offense. That is in the 49ers best interest this year.

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