The NFC has an abundance of talent throughout the divisions with Super Bowl aspirations everywhere. How does each team stack up currently and who’s making the playoffs in 2022-23?
The NFC (L)east?
In the past few seasons, the NFC East has been laughed at and looked at as by far the worst division in football. Heading into 2022-23, the East still holds that unfortunate title, however the gap is narrowing just a little bit. Year four is a make-or-break year for Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones. With a new head coach in offensive mastermind Brian Daboll, and a revamped front office, New York have made steps to improve and potentially take over the division again. Rookies such as Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal and Wan’Dale Robinson should help bolster the personnel a bit, and returning guys such as Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and Azeez Ojulari should help as well.
While the Washington Commanders had a successful 2020 season where they made the playoffs, last season was not exactly the same story, as their defense was not nearly as sharp, and the quarterback play of Taylor Heinicke was not good enough to overcome the 5.7 yards that the defense gave up on average, per play. The decision to not move forward with the gritty Heinicke and instead take a chance on former Eagles and Colts QB Carson Wentz to solve their offensive woes will be an interesting development throughout the first few weeks.
While it’s been a few years since the Eagles have truly been a contender in the NFC, they have done an excellent job staying in seasons, making late playoff efforts and actually being in the tournament more times than not. The Draft Day trade acquisition of A.J. Brown from Tennessee will help Jalen Hurts’ development immensely. The pairing of Brown and second year stud Devonta Smith has potential as a future Pro Bowl wide receiver duo in the NFL. For Philly, this season truly comes down to whether Hurts is the signal caller that can lead them to a championship, or if they need to reconsider things at their most important position after the year.
Finally, I’ll finish with last year’s division winner, the Dallas Cowboys. What a season for America’s team in 2021. Talk of the Super Bowl all season long, strong quarterback play by Dak Prescott, and an elite defense to boot. However, the pressure seemed to just be a little too much for Mike McCarthy’s side, as they lost in heartbreaking fashion in the wild card round against San Francisco. A year removed; Dallas is still the hardy favorite to win the division. With a healthy Prescott coming off a fantastic campaign in 2021, the Cowboys should be a lock for ten or more wins again in 2022.
The Champs Still Favored In The West?
After years of being considered the strongest division in all of football, the NFC West has taken a bit of a step back with the departure of former Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Seattle making the decision to move forward with Drew Lock as their guy is sort of hard to believe, and it is one that will undoubtedly land the former powerhouse in last place in the division in 2022.
As for the NFC runner ups the 49ers, questions still arise whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance will start for the team. The former star at North Dakota State was being groomed in his rookie season, but it was ultimately the veteran Garoppolo who took them to the NFC title game, although the offense was completely centered around the incredible emergence of Deebo Samuel.
Samuel, who hinted at departing the Bay area in the offseason, decided to stay, to the delight of 49er fans everywhere. It really depends on which QB the team trusts more to win games in the end, which will certainly be a storyline to watch throughout the season.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were embarrassed in the playoffs, and after such a strong start to the season, it was unfortunate to see because they proved they had the capability to hang with any team, beating the likes of both the Rams and Cowboys, however dropping games to Detroit and Carolina. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown coming over from Baltimore will help the offense, yes, but losing DeAndre Hopkins to suspension will be detrimental to the potential early success of the team. I believe if they can weather the storm and at least go .500 in Hopkins’ absence, they still have a good opportunity to make a run at the postseason.
As for the aforementioned Rams, coming off a Super Bowl title has Hollywood excited. Matt Stafford finally reached all of his goals in just his first season with LA, and the superstar emergence of Cooper Kupp was unexpected, but necessary for the team to reach the heights it did in 2021-22. I doubt there will be a Super Bowl hangover for last year’s champs, however losing Von Miller to Buffalo won’t help in their attempts to repeat. Regardless of that, the Rams are still star-studded, and they will no doubt be the favorites for the division, and perhaps the entire conference.
New Competition In The North
Even with the addition of second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, the Detroit Lions still have a ton of work to do in their hopes of becoming a competitive team again in this league. Jared Goff is not the answer at quarterback, and until they find who they are looking for at the QB position, you’ll still see Lions fans with garbage bags over their heads for years to come.
The same can be said for Chicago, who believe they found their franchise guy in Justin Fields, but have surrounded him with absolutely nothing. Many have tabbed the “Monsters of the Midway” as a potential bottom five team this season, and I agree. It will be important for Darnell Mooney to have a breakout type campaign, but it won’t be easy, as Fields will be constantly swamped by defenders with how lowly the offensive line has become in the Windy City.
Before last season, I was not sure if Minnesota was ready to take the leap into the postseason just yet, and I truly don’t have much faith in Kirk Cousins in all honesty. Until Minny finds a new signal caller, this division still belongs to the two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, even without Devante Adams. However, the offensive trio of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook could very well carry the Vikings back into the dance in 2022-23, as long as they all stay healthy.
Finally for Green Bay, the addition of Sammy Watkins came unexpectedly, and in my opinion, he could be a very solid fit. Even though Rodgers has constantly argued with his front office to draft him more offensive weapons, the Packers have won 39 games in the regular season in just the past three seasons, and I would be nothing short of astonished if they didn’t cruise to another division title in 2022. Minnesota, yet much improved, will be competing for a wild card berth throughout the season, not the division.
Tom Broke The Hearts Of NFC South Fans Everywhere
After Tom Brady made his decision to retire from the sport of football in February of 2022, the NFC South looked, well, wide open. The Saints were excited because of their defense and the potential the team had with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, along with their new coach Dennis Allen taking over the reins after Sean Payton retired.
Carolina had reason to believe they had a chance now with the ensuing return of Christian McCaffrey and the wide receiver duo of D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. As long as Sam Darnold could channel his USC days just a little bit, Panther nation was stirring. It still seemed like a longshot for Atlanta, but there was certainly a buzz in the city, because they had a chance to land Deshaun Watson, and the pairing of him and Kyle Pitts could be something special. It truly seemed like everything was falling into place for the three teams that had been looking up to Tampa Bay for the last two seasons.
That was, however, until a month later, Brady made an announcement saying his time to retire was not now, and that he was in fact returning to the Buccaneers for his twenty-third season. And suddenly, the excitement that the three other teams had, was gone. New Orleans realized they didn’t have a quarterback that could be competitive enough to challenge Tampa. Carolina traded for Baker Mayfield and now aren’t even sure who will be under center in 2022. Watson chose to play in Cleveland instead of joining forces with Pitts in Atlanta, and the Bucs are still the Bucs, coming back for another chance at the Lombardi in 2022.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-3)
After a thirteen win 2021, I believe Brady and his Bucs will steamroll the NFC in his year 23 season. Even with the recent retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the return of Chris Godwin and an improved defense will land Tampa at the top of the conference in 2022.
2. Los Angeles Rams (13-4)
The reigning Super Bowl champs are coming back in 2022 with a purpose, and I believe this will be the best season of Matt Stafford’s career. Just barely losing out to Tampa for the top seed and that illustrious first round bye, the Rams won’t have any problems winning their division in 2022.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-5)
Perhaps a bit of a surprise, but I do not have Green Bay winning thirteen games in 2022, even though they have in each of the past three seasons. The departure of Devante Adams will certainly make a difference in how dominant the Packer offense is, but it won’t have any effect on their division title hopes. The Pack will be back in the hunt in 2022.
4. Dallas Cowboys (11-6)
I know it’s a bit monotonous to have the same four division winners win again a year later, but I truly believe with how elite this Cowboy defense has become and the fantastic quarterback play of Dak Prescott, there isn’t a scenario that Dallas doesn’t have a home playoff game in 2022.
5. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)
I was impressed by the success of San Fran in the postseason last year. Two gutsy wins on the road, in hostile environments, and even a chance to play for the Lombardi with a near win against LA in the title game. This team, although almost losing their best player in Deebo Samuel, did not, and will have most of their key pieces back from a season ago. The rematch in Dallas will be must watch TV.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6-1)
Obviously, this is a make or break type season for Jalen Hurts. General manager Howie Roseman went out and traded for star wideout A.J. Brown on draft night, and the pairing of him and DeVonta Smith could produce over two thousand receiving yards. It truly comes down to the play of their quarterback.
7. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)
The Vikings?? Yes, I believe Minnesota will be back in the dance in 2022-23. This is a solid roster from top to bottom. As long as Kirk Cousins keeps the ball out of harms way, the offensive trio of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook will be enough to carry this roster to ten wins and a playoff date with the LA Rams. Watch for Minnesota to make some noise this year in the North.