NFL expert Richard Corbally previews the NFC divisions, and reveals who he thinks will make this year’s Super Bowl…
Strengths: Dak Prescott could become one of the best QBs in the league if he progresses from his sensational first season. Took some losses to the offensive line but still have one of the best O lines in the league. Dez Bryant is said to be healthier than last year, and with Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, Prescott will once again have plenty of talent to throw too.
Weaknesses: Ezekiel Elliot (Zeke) will be missing for the first six games due to suspension. If Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris can’t replace him to a reasonable level, they might struggle and Dak Prescott will be forced to carry the offence
The defence is still very limited and will give up plenty of points. Sean Lee and Jason Smith make up a decent line-backing core, but can decent be good enough if the offence can no longer chew up clock with Zeke?
Outlook: Missing Zeke for six games is huge, as they won a lot of very close games last season (largely due to Elliot running the clock down) which is not a recipe for long term success. I have a sneaking suspicion; they miss out on the playoff and will have a disappointing year. But make no mistake they are talented and I could be very wrong on this one.
Strengths: For all the criticism, the Redskins have taken over the off-season, they have brought back a pretty nice looking roster. Kirk Cousins is back on another one year deal and has been a top ten QB the last two years in the NFL in terms of yards and points scored.
There offensive line is unchanged from last season and continuity should help understanding from what is perhaps the most important part of any team.
Terrell Pryor is an intriguing prospect at receiver, while Jamison Crowder and Jordon Reed (if healthy) – mixed with potentially gifted rookie Josh Doctson – give this side a nice receiving crew.
On defence, Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland make up an excellent corner-back duo.
Weaknesses: Mason Foster, Ryan Kerrigan and Zach Foster are all solid players but in truth this pass rush has very little bite to it and it allows better QBs to slice and dice their way through the Redskins in bigger games. A running back duo of Mack Brown and Robert Kelly is perhaps the most nondescript in the league.
Outlook: This team has the potential to once again make the playoffs as it has continuity at a lot of key positions and with head coach Jay Gruden. Unfortunately, I just think Washington lacks a little something and so will probably miss out on the playoffs.
New York Giants
Strengths: Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shephard are a very formidable receiving core. The defence was one of the best in football last year with JPP and Olivier Vernon creating a nice pass rush. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were frisky in pass defence last season and should be again this year.
Weaknesses: This team looks great on paper until you look at their offensive line which has Erik Fowers at left tackle who seems physically incapable at stopping the pass rush. This does not help a confidence QB like Eli Manning who can kill a team if he gets into his own head and starts to throw interceptions.
Outlook: Bad offensive lines and turnovers turn good teams into bad ones. Many are picking them for the Super Bowl, but I simply don’t see it despite the clear talent in the roster.
Strengths: Perhaps the quietest off season for Philly in years and it may pay off as they have assembled what looks like a powerful squad. They have one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the league as GM Howie Roseman has rebuilt extremely well after the Chip Kelly debacle.
Fletcher Cox, Jordon Hicks and Brandon Graham are all ballers on the defensive front.
While Jason Brooks, Brandon Peters and Lane Johnson are three formidable men on the offensive line. Having a lack of play makers was possibly this sides biggest weakness last year, but with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith added to player’s like Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles makes this offense look quite dynamic.
The addition of Ronald Darby and second round pick Sidney Jones could go along way to shoring up the back-end of the defence.
Weaknesses: Carson Wentz could be a plus or a minus for this team. He showed some excellent signs as a rookie but also had some footwork issues and threw too many interceptions.
This team is excellent in my eyes, but an unproven QB can do a world of damage if he regresses to Blake Bortals in his second season rather than improving to a David Carr level.
Outlook: Nobody is taking about the Eagles, but their squad is too good to ignore in my eyes.
Strengths: This is still the exact same group of players which dominated every team they faced last year until mi-way through the Superbowl. With Matt Ryn at QB, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper as receiving options and the best running back duo in the league in Devontae Freeman and Tevon Coleman, how can this offence be stopped?
This young defence improved dramatically last season. Vic Beasley lead the league in sacks last season while Deion Jones was also impressive. Dontari Poe adds some real size to the defensive line and Keanu Neal had an impressive year at safety last season.
Weaknesses: Lost offensive guru Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers. This could have a negative influence on the offence (although as already stated it’s still the same group of players). Super Bowl hangover effected the Panthers last season and may hurt this team psychologically.
Outlook: This is the same team that got to the Super Bowl last year, and they still have the same head coach. Offence is also a more consistent year to year indicator than defence and that’s why they are my pick to go all the way back to the Super Bowl this year, but this time, lift the Lombardi trophy.
Strengths: Cam Newton has gotten a very fun piece to play with on his offence in Christian McCaffrey, who is a running back, who is also a superb receiver.
They still have plenty of talent on offence with Jonny Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin, while they will hope Devon Funchess can develop into a better receiver than he showed in his first year. Defensively this team is dominant with Luke Kuechley and Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson and the ageless Julius Peppers putting some serious pressure on the QB.
Weaknesses: Two major issues with this team. One is the question of how healthy Cam Newtons shoulder is and the other is has the offensive line improved enough to adequately protect Newton this season (which they could not do last year). They have also not looked as good at corner back since they let Josh Norman walk two seasons ago.
Outlook: This is the team who went 15-1 two seasons ago and with McCaffrey to add a new dynamic to their offence, there is absolutely no reason they shouldn’t make the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints
Strengths: Drew Breez is still effective at throwing the ball and Adrain Peterson is an interesting addition to the team which has some talent on offense. Along with Perterson there is Mark Ingrim in the back field while Willie Snead and Ted Ginn could be productive in the passing game (or they could also drop the majority of passes which come their way).
Weaknesses: Terron Armstead is a huge blow to the Saints offensive line. Ryan Ramczyk could be a key player for the Saints if they are to build a solid offence. The loss of Nick Fairly could be a difficult one to take for a team with a weak pass rush over the last number of seasons.
Relying on players like Breez and Peterson may be a recipe for disaster if the 2012 dream team is not the right answer for 2017.
Outlook: I thought about predicting this team to go to the playoffs, but with an average offensive line, a poor pass rush and a very competitive division, I think the Saints are destined to have the same record as they seem to every year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Strengths: This is a talented team both sides of the Ball. Jameis Winston, darling of this years hard knocks has had two good years and there is no reason he won’t continue to improve as a player.
Adding Desean Jackson to a receiving group with Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, means they have some seriously skilled playmakers at receiver.
Defensively, Gerald McCoy is a beast at defensive tackle, while Kwon Alexander and Levonte David add some more muscle to the pass rush.
Weaknesses: Winston has had a tendency to throw too many interceptions in the last number of years, which can kill any team, no matter how talented they are.
Doug Martin has been either very good or very bad at running back over the last four seasons, so its difficult to know if he is a strength or weakness to the team. Their back-end has not been particularly strong over the last few years, with teams able to pass for a lot of yards consistently against them.
Outlook: They seem to be most peoples off-season hype team with what is definitely a good overall roster. I just have a sneaking suspicion they are going to be a slight let down.
Green Bay Packers
Strengths: Rodgers is still a top three QB in the league and can win games out of nothing. TY Montgomery is a solid option at running back while the receiving core of Randell Cobb and Jordy Nelson should be helped out by Martellus Bennett at Tight End.
Their offensive line has two excellent tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga but their guard position is perhaps not as strong as it was in other years. Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark proved to be efficient run stoppers last season while HaHa Clinton-Dix and Quinten Rollins are two talented players on the back end.
Weaknesses: Last season the Packers receivers failed to get open and Rodgers always seemed to have to make miracle throws to keep drives alive.
This needs to improve and the play calling of head coach Mike McCarthy is still the biggest question mark over this team. Brent Hunley is also not good enough for the backup QB position and this may cause big problems if Rodgers has to miss any games at all.
Clay Matthews had a huge dip in form last season and can no longer be relied upon to be a difference maker on defence. A lack of a superstar on defence means this group looks average at times and may struggle against the best teams like the Falcons as they did last year.
Outlook: They will make the playoffs, but they need to improve upon needing Rodgers to bail them out of terrible situations like they have the last number of years. Mike McCarthy’s coaching has been uninspired over the last few seasons but he could prove me wrong with a Superbowl appearance, which they have the talent to achieve.
Strengths: Second pick of the 2017 draft Mitch Trubisky has looked talented in pre-season and it is probable he plays around half the season after Mike Glennon who is currently their starter proves himself to be not good enough for a starting job.
The biggest strength for this team is definitely their offensive line, with Josh Sitton and Cody Whitehair all being potential pro-Bowl stars. Jordan Howard could be a good running back if he gets enough touches of the football.
Watch out for Tarik Cohen who looked impressive in the preseason at running back and Leonard Floyd looks like he could be a special talent at line-backer.
Weaknesses: This team’s defence is not good to say the least. Not one player in any position on defence ranked in the top 30 for their position in the 2016 season. The reciver position is far from ideal for whatever QB is in the game for Chicago. Kevin White has yet to prove he was worth his first round pick and after him there is no stand out players what so ever.
Outlook: While all eyes will be on the QB in Chicago this is not their biggest issue as a shaky defence will leave them in trouble in many games of the season. GM Ryan Pace and Head coach John Fox also do not seem to be on the same page at the moment and it is hard to see Fox lasting the entire season considering they probably won’t win many games.
Strengths: This side has a very good defence as we saw last year. Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendrick’s are all supremely talented players in the front seven. Trae Waynes and Xaiver Rhodes are possibly the most underrated duo in the league at corner back.
Sam Bradford has a big year once again ahead of him. He needs to reach the playoffs with what looks like a talented squad on paper. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray could also be a nice on-two punch in the backfield, although much of this depends on their offensive line.
Weaknesses: Their offensive line should be improved from last year, but it’s still not very good. There is also not much in the way of receivers on this team as Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell may be decent, but they struggled to get much separation for Bradford during last season.
Outlook: Mike Zimmer (who will hopefully wear an eye patch for his one bad eye and looks like a James Bond villain for the season) has a definite chance for a play-off run in what is a very tightly contested NFC. Whatever they can do this is another question.
Strengths: Matthew Stafford is still an exciting and talented QB, while players such as Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Ameer Abdullah give their offense some spice. Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder have lots of potential but both were disappointing last season. This potential needs to be fulfilled if the Lions are to be competitive this season
Weaknesses: Jim Caldwell is one of the most gutless coaches in the NFL and always coaches as if he is scared of losing rather than trying to win games.
The loss of Taylor Decker on the offensive line is not good and Matt Stafford could face a lot more pressure because of it. As per usual the Lions backend gives up a lot of big plays and points and Matt Stafford will be left flinging the ball in every direction trying to keep pace with the opposition.
Outlook: This team is boring because they seem to lack any conviction that they can beat good teams and although they are far from the worst team in the league, it’s hard to see another team who seem as far away from winning the Super Bowl as Detroit. This does not seem like a particularly promising year for the Lions.
Strengths: Probably the best defence in the game which has only gotten better with the addition of Sheldon Richardson in the past week
The Legion of Boom is still out in force with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor going to make it difficult for any QB to pass against them all season long. Russell Wilson looks like a possible dark horse for MVP at 20/1 with some bookmakers. He played most of last season hurt and is probably one of the five best QBs in the league.
Weaknesses: Their offensive line is probably their only weakness, but without a good one everything becomes harder on offence. Wilson spent most of last season hurt and that was not helped by some below average protection he was given
Thomas Rawls never quite looked like a top running back last season and the team may have to try many options again this year before they focus on any single individual.
Outlook: They are the best team in this division and should win it comfortably. Their main goal must be to get a play-off bye and hopefully home field advantage if they want to reach the Super Bowl again.
San Francisco 49ers
Strengths: Having last season’s offensive guru Kyle Shanahan as their new coach, the 49ers perhaps have a coach that they actually believe in, since Harbaugh left.
Defensively this team has some talent as the ageless Navarro bowman and Elvis Dumervil will get help in the pass rush from Ruban Foster and Soloman Thomas.
Carlos Hyde is a good running back, but could do with more help from the rest of his offense.
Weaknesses: Brain Hoyer cannot get you excited at QB even if his head coach is a top class play caller. Joe Stayley looks like their only competent member of their offensive line while this might be the weakest receiving group in the entire NFL with Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin the current two best options.
Outlook: It’s difficult to accurately judge this team right now as there are new pieces in place at every aspect of the team. They should be better on defence than offence which lacks talent, but Kyle Shanhan should be able to manufacture points with almost anybody on his offence. I think they should be improved on last year but there is just too many ifs in every part of their team for it to be a rip-roaring success.
Strengths: This team still has a lot of the same players that reached the NFC title game just two seasons ago. David Johnson is a joy to watch at running back while the receiving core is solid with Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown and John Brown giving them some great skill positions to work with.
Defensively this roster looks very strong.
Their secondary is contains Tyron Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Brandon Williams which is one of the strongest groups in the league at that position. Arians likes to blitz opponents at almost any chance he gets and players like Chandler Jones, Robert Nkemdiche and Deone Buchanan give Arians some nice pieces to play with.
Weaknesses: Carson Palmer is a below average NFL starter and is holding this highly talented team back. His offensive line is OK with Jared Valdeer and DJ Humphrise as the standouts, but it will probably not be the reason they either win or lose games this season. Some key players such as Tyron Mathieu are very injury prone which has cost them in recent years.
Outlook: This is still a talented quad so Bruce Arians has a chance to make to make a playoff run. However, I don’t think they will be able to get there as they miss narrowly miss out.
Strengths: This team has some extremely talented players such as Aaron Donald at defensive end and Todd Gurley at running back, both of whom are majorly exciting players to watch.
Weaknesses: Let’s not try to sugar coat it, Jared Goff was terrible last season. This does mean he has plenty of room to improve, but its not assured that the Rams have got their QB of the future yet. First time head coach Sean McVay did very well as Redskins offensive CO-ordinator but at only 30 years old, can he gather a locker room behind him?
Outlook: They have been run badly for the last number of seasons and a culture change of professionalism needs to be implemented after we saw how shoddily they were being run under Jeff Fischer on hard knocks and all or nothing. Whether the inexperienced Sean McVay can implement this culture change is difficult to know.
Falcons (12-4) Home Field Adavantage
Seahawks (11-5) First Round Bye
Panthers (10-6) Wild-card
Vikings (10-6) Wild-Card
Super Bowl Prediction:
Falcons defeat Steelers