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September 08, 2015

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 0

Eagles NFL
090915SamBradford Matt Rourke/AP

If Sam Bradford can stay healthy, the Eagles are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

If you look at the hierarchy of the NFC a year ago, it was somewhat of a six team race, plus whoever won the NFC South. Excluding the NFC South, there were six playoff-worthy teams, and only five spots. Obviously, the Eagles were the odd man out. Here's a look at how we see the NFC heading into 2015.


16) Redskins

The Redskins had the worst point differential in the NFC in 2014, the worst point differential in the NFC in 2013, the worst turnover differential in the NFC over the last two years combined, they gave up the most touchdowns in the NFL both in 2014 and 2013, they have almost no good young players, and their special teams units are always awful. Off the field, they benched their maybe-concussed quarterback and the GM's wife started #FelateGate.

Other than that, everything is fine.

Buccaneers helmet
15) Buccaneers

Think the Eagles have concerns along their offensive line? The Bucs are starting a pair of rookies along their OL, both of whom looked very much like rookies during the preseason. Jameis Winston will get an up-close look at NFL pass rushers this season.

14) Bears

The Bears are so bad that one of their free agent signings this offseason is already scouting college quarterbacks. During the Ohio State - Viginia Tech game Monday night, WR Eddie Royal tweeted that the Bears could use one of Ohio State's quarterbacks. He quickly deleted the tweet, but not before someone screen-grabbed it:

13) Giants

The Giants' defense is trash. To begin, in 2014, they couldn't stop the run. They allowed an NFL-worst 4.9 yards per carry, an NFL second-worst 17 runs of 20+ yards, a fourth-worst 112 rushing first downs allowed, and a third-worst 135.1 yards per game. Meanwhile, with Jason Pierre-Paul out of the lineup seemingly indefinitely, their projected starting front four had a combined 14 sacks in 2014, or a half-sack less than Connor Barwin. There will be points scored in the Meadowlands this year.

12) Falcons

The Falcons' defense is trash. In 2014, the Falcons allowed a league-worst 8.2 yards per pass attempt, a league-worst 279.9 passing yards per game, a second-worst 39.6 percent first down conversion rate per pass attempt, and they were second to last in the NFL with a measly 22 sacks, or the same number of sacks as the Chiefs' Justin Houston. While they turned over a big portion of their defense and hired former Seahawks DC Dan Quinn to fix the D, all the Falcons defensive linemen combined had 8.5 sacks last season.

11) 49ers

Anthony Davis, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Chris Borland all retired. The Niners also lost Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree, Chris Culliver, Frank Gore, Perrish Cox, and Dan Skuta in free agency. They also released train-wreck Aldon Smith. The Niners will look nothing like the team that has been a regular in the postseason over the last half-decade, and they probably won't be good.

10) Rams

For the fourth consecutive year, the Rams have the youngest team in the NFL, which is great, as long as some of those young guys can play. However, all that youth hasn't meant squat, as the Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003. Perpetually young and crappy.

Panthers helmet
9) Panthers

Cam Newton's rushing numbers go down a little every year, and his passing numbers stay roughly the same. I love Newton's skill set, but when is he going to evolve?

Cam Newton TD/INT QB Rating Rush yards Rush TD 
 201121/17 84.5 706 14 
 201219/12 86.2 741 
 201324/13 88.8 585 
 201418/12 82.1 539 

8) Vikings

The Vikings have a very intriguing roster, especially with the return of Adrian Peterson. However, last year they had seven wins, all of which came against bad teams.

 Opponent the Vikes beatHow many wins did that team have? 
Rams, Week 1 
 Falcons, Week 4
 Bucs, Week 8
Redskins, Week 9 
 Panthers, Week 13
 Jets, Week 14
 Bears, Week 17

In other words, the teams the Vikings beat last year averaged 4.86 wins.

Minnesota has Teddy Bridgewater's progression to look forward to, but they still have a long way to go.

7) Saints

The Saints forced the fewest number of turnovers in the NFC in 2015. The NFC average for forced turnovers in 2014 was 25 per team. When you're forcing a half turnover per game less than the conference average, you're going to have a tough time winning games.

Team Turnovers forced Team Turnovers forced 
Cowboys 31 Cardinals 25 
 49ers29  Rams25 
 Eagles28  Buccaneers25 
 Falcons28  Seahawks24 
 Packers27  Bears24 
 Lions27  Vikings19 
 Giants26  Redskins19 
 Panthers26  Saints17 

There are two ways to look at the Saints in 2015, in terms of turnovers:

• On the one hand, some turnovers are luck. A ball carrier can be holding the ball sloppily and it gets punched out, or a crappy opposing QB can throw you a gift INT.

• On the other hand, forcing turnovers is a skill. Are you getting pressure on the opposing QB, and forcing him into poor throws? Do you have big hitters? Ball hawks?

For the 2014 Saints, it was probably a mix of the two, but I would expect their forced turnover output to come up in 2015. And it better, because it looks like Drew Brees is beginning to drop off from the elite player he was.

6) Cardinals

The Cardinals just feel wildly overrated. In 2014, despite a 9-1 start and an 11-5 finish, they were ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' efficiency rankings. To be fair, they lost Carson Palmer for the season, which kick-started their decline. Still, there isn't one thing the Cardinals do really well. Last year they weren't in the top 10 in any of the four basic team stats: Passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense, rushing defense. However, they were bottom four in rushing offense and passing defense.

The Cards will also have to prove they can survive without Todd Bowles, who left to be the head coach of the Jets.

5) Lions

While I feel the Cardinals are overrated, I think the Lions are comically underrated. A few weeks ago, gambling sites had the Lions at 40/1 to win the Super Bowl, which was in the back half of the league. That's ridiculous. The Lions do an outstanding job of stopping the run, and even with the loss of Ndamukong Suh, I don't expect that to change. Meanwhile, offensively, the Lions have an outstanding WR duo in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. This is a very dangerous under-the-radar team.

Cowboys helmet
4) Cowboys

There's a belief that anyone and their grandmother can run behind the Cowboys' offense line. Give the Cowboys' coaching staff a boatload of credit for recognizing their deficiencies a year ago and masking them. Since Jason Garrett became the head coach, the Cowboys had an extremely lopsided run:pass ratio. In 2014, they changed course drastically:

Year % of plays that were runs NFL Rank 
 201233.84% 31st 
 201335.11% 29th 
 201449.64% 3rd 

And it worked for them. Behind a great run-blocking offensive line, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing yards by a margin of almost 500 yards. They controlled the ball, ate clock, converted third downs (47.3 percent, 2nd best in the NFL), and kept their suspect defense off the field. Defensively, while not a particularly accomplished bunch, the Cowboys led the NFC with 31 forced turnovers (as noted above).

But it all started with that incredibly effective run game.

Can Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, and Christine Michael be as effective as Murray? We'll see.

3) Eagles

The Eagles look like they may have a great rushing attack, numbers/variety in the passing game, elite talent at LT-C-RT, a very good rush D, pass rushers in numbers, and the best special teams units in the NFL. Obviously, a lot depends on how well Sam Bradford plays, and whether or not he can stay healthy, but this is a Super Bowl contender.

2) Packers

The Packers' roster as a whole really isn't all that impressive. However, as long as they employ the most valuable football player on Earth, they're going to be Super Bowl contenders every year. If Aaron Rodgers retired today, he would hold the following all-time NFL records:

  1. Highest career passer rating (106.0).
  2. Most TD passes per games started (2.194)
  3. Best career TD-INT ratio (3.96:1)
  4. Best career passing yards–interception ratio (501.37:1)
  5. Best career completion–interception ratio (39.39:1)
  6. Lowest percentage passes had intercepted career (minimum 1,500 attempts): 1.64 (57 INTs, 3,475 attempts)

1) Seahawks

The Seahawks are "old-school awesome." They play great defense and run the crap out of the ball, a style that has historically been very effective. There's concern that Kam Chancellor's holdout is going to torpedo their season. Nonsense. They're still going to give up a low number of points with their incredible team speed on defense, and they'll do enough damage on the ground to win games. With a once again weak NFC West, the Seahawks should cruise to a division title.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski