The NFC will be much harder to predict than the AFC. The NFC-East division is going to go down to the wire with the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all battling to play in January. The Green Bay Packers are also battling with those in the NFC-East to make sure that they get one of the wild card births in the NFC. All that being said, the Saints, Vikings, and Cardinals are all locks to win their divisions. It comes down to the three in the East and the Packers from the North. Let's take a look at where I predict everyone to end up:
#1 Seed - New Orleans Saints -The Saints are the clear favorite in the NFC. With the MVP-caliber season that Drew Brees is having, the Saints should have home field advantage all the way to the NFC-Championship, and they also could have a shot at making history by going 19-0 for the entire season. Looking at their remaining schedule; the Saints face Atlanta, Dallas in New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and then Carolina in Carolina. I do not see the Saints resting their players once they secure home field advantage. The New Orleans head coach, Sean Payton, is the type of guy that I think will want to make history. Drew Brees believes that this is the Saints destiny this year, and that they will go 16-0. I believe him. I think the Saints run through Atlanta this week, win a close one against the Cowboys and Tony Romo who is notorious for losing in December, beating up on the Bucs, and then a tough matchup on paper against a Panthers team that has given the Saints so much trouble in the past. However, if they are 15-0 entering the game against Carolina, I will bet the farm that they get the win and go 16-0. The Saints have so many weapons on offense: Brees, Thomas, Bell, Bush, Colston, Shockey, Meachem, and Henderson. They have 19 players on their offensive roster that have scored touchdowns this season. That is unheard of. Defensively, the Saints have upgraded drastically since last season, and Darren Sharper has been fantastic in the secondary. This team is for real, and they are extremely tough to beat when they are playing in New Orleans. The Saints are the clear favorite to win the NFC this season.
#2 Seed - Minnesota Vikings - Brett Farve played poorly last December with the Jets because he had an injured shoulder. This year will be different. I like that the Vikings have a tough home matchup against Cincinnati this weekend. This is a huge test for a team that hasn't been in too many tough games this season (@Pittsburgh L, Baltimore W, @ Arizona L). The key for the Vikings during the month of December is to ready their defense for the post season. The secondary must step their level of play and energy up to the highest degree possible. Jared Allen and the defensive line must get better pressure on the opposing quarterback, much better than they did against Arizona where Kurt Warner had all day to pass on the Vikings. Minnesota's offense is explosive and they have one of the best running backs in the game that not only has the ability to break loose every single run, but he is a great back to have to close out a game in the fourth quarter. I like Brad Childress as a head coach, and I believe his preparation for games is tremendous, due in large part to his teacher while he was in Philadelphia, Andy Reid. The Vikings have a tough end of the season facing Cincy, @ Carolina, @ Chicago, and closing out against the Giants where the Giants will most likely play their hearts out in order to make the playoffs. The Vikings will win at least two of their final four, I think they get three. They will rest their players against the Giants in Week 17, they cannot afford to lose Farve, Peterson, Harvin & Rice, or anyone on their defensive line. The Vikings will finish 13-3 and have home field during the divisional matchups.
#3 Seed - Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles love playing in December. McNabb plays better at the end of the season every year, Andy Reid is a tremendous coach and prepares his players very well for the games during the month of December. That being said, you have to love the Eagles remaining schedule where they travel to play the Giants this Sunday night, home the following two weeks against the 49ers and Broncos, and then travel to Dallas to close out the season. I like the Eagles to win their final four games, close out the season on a seven game I predict that the Eagles will end up playing the Giants in Philly for the wild card matchup, and then have to travel to Minnesota in the divisional round. The Eagles are a dangerous team to play once they reach the playoffs, so I am sure all the big dogs in the NFC will be routing against them the next four weeks. Eagles finish 12-4 and receive the #3 seed.
#4 Seed - Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals have their division locked up. The 49ers will make a valiant effort, especially with a possible upset against Arizona this week, but the Cardinals have too much offense to lose to the Rams or the Lions. I think the Cardinals will rest their main players in Week 17 against Green Bay, which will clearly help the Packers assure themselves a spot in the post season. The Cardinals are a hot team right now, and beating the Vikings with ease last week opened up the eyes of the NFL nation and allowed everyone to see that the Cardinals are back and are ready to get back to the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner is having a fabulous season, falling in the top ten in almost every offensive category (QB rating, completion percentage, total passing yards, passing yard per game, and touchdowns). How Warner goes is how this team will go. They must utilize Tim Hightower and Chris Wells in the ground attack in order to keep away from being one-dimensional with the pass. The Cardinals won the NFC last season and almost won the Super Bowl, let's not forget that ladies and gentlemen. This team is for real and they will be a tough matchup for the Saints if they are able to win their wild card matchup against Green Bay.
#5 Seed - Green Bay Packers - The Packers are on fire right now. They are peaking at the right point of the season, Aaron Rodgers has played superb behind center in all but one game this season (@ Tampa Bay) and the offensive line is staying healthy and developing a good bit of chemistry. The Packers have a challenging remaining schedule as they have to travel to face Chicago this week, take on the desperate Steelers, the Seahawks in Week 16, and then they finish the season against the Cardinals (a game that I believe we'll see Matt Leinart and not much Warner). The Packers have the makings of a very good football team. Their defense allows the fewest total yards per game in the NFL, they are 4th against the run, 3rd against the pass, and they lead the NFL in turnover margin (+26). Clearly the defense is extremely formidable in Green Bay. What do they have to do to make a run in the playoffs? They have to protect the football and limit the turnovers. If they can win the turnover battle in the playoffs like they have been in the regular season, they will give themselves the best opportunity to win a ball game. I really like Aaron Rodgers, to me he is a very good Jay Cutler. I think Arizona vs. Green Bay in the wild card round would be an absolute shootout that would come down to whoever has the ball last. Packers finish 11-5 and receive the #5 Seed.
#6 Seed - New York Giants - The Giants have been up and down this season. They won five straight games against opponents that are currently a combined 19-40. Then they lost four straight games against teams that are currently a combined 37-11. After a bye week, they are currently 2-3 against teams that are a combined 22-14. So, if you get the idea here, the Giants beat the bad teams and struggle against the good ones. With that, looking at their upcoming schedule; the Giants face the Eagles (8-4), the Redskins (3-9), the Panthers (5-7), and the Vikings (10-2). So you should anticipate the Giants going 2-4 in December, but I think they will get a third win against Minnesota as the Vikings should be resting their stars for at least half of that game. I think the Giants "A" team should be able to beat the Viking "B" team with Tarvaris Jackson behind center. The Giants have to get back to being the bruiser, not the one getting bruised. It all starts with Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs must play physical, hard-nosed football and run right up the gut getting big chunks of yards. Eli Manning plays 1,000 times better when the Giants are winning the battle up front and are running the ball effectively. I think the Giants get it done the last three weeks of the season, and they sneak into the playoffs thanks to another Cowboys December fallout.
-NFC TEAMS THAT HAVE A CHANCE, BUT I THINK WILL FALL SHORT:
-Dallas Cowboys - It is well documented how much the Cowboys and Tony Romo struggle in December. In his career, Tony Romo has a September QB rating of 100.3, an October QB rating of 93, a November rating of 111, and then a December rating of 76. That is a huge drop in a QB rating, and whether it is nerves or just bad luck, Romo struggles significantly during the final month of the NFL season. Looking at who he has to play against this December to try and defy the odds; the Cowboys face the Chargers (9-3) this week, the Saints (12-0) in New Orleans, the Redskins (3-8) in Washington (where he is 1-2 in his career with a 70.2 QB rating), and then against the Eagles (8-4) to finish the regular season. Last year the Cowboys went to Philly in Week 17 in a must win game to make the playoffs and they got trounced on 44-6 with Romo having 3 turnovers. This year it will be the same situation except the game will be in Dallas. Dallas has to win two out of their next three in order to have hope in that game against the Eagles. I don't believe they will beat either San Diego or New Orleans, I think the Cowboys finish 9-7, at best, and miss the playoffs once again. Wade Phillips gets the axe the following week and look for either Jason Garrett, Mike Shanahan, or possibly Bill Cowher to get the nod. Cowboys come up short again and miss the playoffs.
-No one else in the NFC comes into play for the playoff picture in my opinion. The Falcons will be out after this week, the Panther/Seahawks/49ers won't have enough either.