Just like 2016, the NFC will be wide open this season and there are a few teams in the hunt.
Anyone who manages to draw a playoff spot has a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, so let’s examine which teams I think will qualify in January.
The NFC East should be one of the most competitive divisions in football once again. Last year, everything went right for the Dallas Cowboys and their rookies, as they were able to earn the top spot in the conference. With Elliot suspended to start the year and defensive question marks, I see a 10-win season and a wildcard spot for Dallas.
While the Cowboys take the wildcard, I see Eli Manning and the New York Giants squeaking out a division title. The addition of Brandon Marshall along with Odell Beckham Jr. to assist an effective defense should be good for 11 wins if all goes well.
The Green Bay Packers should once again feature the most dominant squad in the NFC North. The only question for Aaron Rodgers is if he can finally get over the hump and head back to the Super Bowl. While I don’t quite see that happening, there’s no doubt he will win his division again. Unlike 2016, expect the Packers to be the only team that qualifies for the postseason out of the North.
The NFC South has been one of the most effective divisions in football over the last two seasons. They have seen two different teams win the conference and advance to a Super Bowl only to fall just short. The Falcons held that title last year and had their first championship secured before Tom Brady and the New England Patriots stole it away from them.
In 2015, the Carolina Panthers fell to a deadly Denver Bronco defense in the big game. I expect Cam Newton and Carolina to get back to form and reclaim the top spot in the division while Matt Ryan experiences the same Super Bowl hangover that the Panthers did last year. Also expect Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to compete for a wildcard spot.
Lastly, we have the NFC West. Just like 2016, there’s only one team you really need to know out of this division: the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle has qualified for the playoffs each of the last five seasons and that streak won’t end now. In fact, I see Seattle coming away with home field advantage for the first time since 2014, when they won the conference and faced off with New England in Super Bowl 49.
The top seed will smile on Seattle once more. I see Russell Wilson leading the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl and a chance to claim the team’s second Lombardi. The key defensive stars are there and they have been the most effective squad in the conference at accumulating new talent on a consistent basis.