We continue with our NFC eye test predictions.
9. New Orleans Saints
Some people might think this team is ranked too high, but they have managed to win seven games in each of the last three seasons. Sean Payton is not the problem, and Drew Brees is still a top quarterback, but the defense keeps this team from getting over the hump.
Even with the loss of Brandin Cooks, the Saints still have some nice targets. Michael Thomas is coming off a monster rookie season, and looks to be a legit number one target for years to come. Ted Ginn Jr can be effective if he can keep his eye on the ball, and Willie Snead is good for a few big plays here and there. Even Coby Fleener has turned into a reliable option at tight end.
Not only do they have the super talented Mark Ingram in the backfield, but New Orleans brought in Adrian Peterson, and drafted Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee. While AP is a little out of his prime, he is still very elusive and looks to be in great shape. This three headed monster of a backfield could take some pressure off Brees if they can stay healthy.
Brees and this Saints offense should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard, especially with their talented offensive line. Terrod Armstead is ahead of schedule after shoulder surgery, and we know Max Unger, Zach Strief, and Larry Warford are skilled vets.
The loss of Nick Fairley puts this already abysmal defense in an even deeper hole. Defensive end Cam Jordan is still there, and hopefully 2016 first round pick defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins can slide right in as a starter.
This could arguably be the worst linebacker and secondary core in the league. Manti Te’o needs his fake girlfriend back because that is the last time he was actually good at football. There’s not much to expect from the rest, and as far as the secondary goes, this team allowed more passing yards than anyone in the league last year.
After reading about this defense, you would think this team wouldn’t win more than three games, but soon to be Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, still has the abilities to carry the load. They won’t get into the playoffs, but the offense is too good to not win at least seven or eight games.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Let’s be honest, the window for this team to make a run has closed. Bruce Arians is still an awesome coach, but Carson Palmer is so washed up. After three straight double digit win seasons, the Cardinals fell to 7-8-1. In the 13 games Palmer played in, he threw 18 interceptions. I used to love this guy at USC, and in Cincinnati, but that was eons ago.
David Johnson is clearly one of the best, if not, the best running back this game has to offer. D.J Humphries and Jared Veldheer are switching sides on the line, so let’s see if that helps Johnson get even better. Larry Fitzgerald has yet to lose a step, but father time is undefeated. So if he goes down or looks a bit slower, can Arizona trust John or Jaron Brown to step up? Probably not.
With Calais Campbell now in Jacksonville, the Cardinals have one of the worst defensive lines in football. Arizona fans better hope former first round pick, Robert Nkemdiche, can fill Campbell’s shoes.
Now to the fun part of Arizona. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden combined for 23.5 sacks last year. Haason Riddck on the inside could be problem for offenses, and former Bengal Karlos Dansby is one of the most reliable players in the game.
The return of the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu, when healthy, is in the arguement for best defensive player in the league. His mentor, Patrick Peterson, continues to play at an elite level. The loss of Tony Jefferson stings a bit, but Antoine Bethea is a nice replacement.
This team has shown in the past they are capable of big things, but besides David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, it is hard to trust the offense with 37-year-old Carson Palmer running the show. This is an eight-win team.
7. Dallas Cowboys
This team is not missing the playoffs just because Ezekiel Elliot is going to be suspended. The fact of the matter is this, Dak Prescott is overrated. Not counting the last game of the regular season, since he barely played, Prescott had eight games in which he either did not throw for a touchdown, or threw for one. He’s just not that good, and this year, he will get exposed.
Whether Elliot gets suspended or not, the running game will not falter. The offensive line is still top notch, and Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris both can still move. Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are a good receiving core, and Jason Witten still looks like good ol’ Jason Witten.
However, Dallas’ defensive line is awful. Randy Gregory needs serious help, as he will most likely never suit up again. As far as the linebackers, Sean Lee is obviously a monster, and Anthony Hitchens can play, but will Jaylon Smith ever be the same player after his devastating injury?
Did anyone lose more secondary players than the Cowboys? Brandon Carr? Ravens. Barry Church? Jaguars. Morris Claiborne? Jets. J.J Wilcox? Bucs. A lot of question marks on this side of the field.
Dak is overrated, and the defense is bad. Dallas will fall back to Earth and go back to being a .500 team.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Super Bowl hangover is coming straight for Atlanta. Now I don’t think they will miss the playoffs, but I don’t see the Falcons winning the division this year.
What we saw of Matt Ryan last year is the best we will ever see of him. Before last season, Ryan and the Falcons had three straight seasons of eight wins or less. He’s also had double digit interception seasons in seven of his nine years. Ryan has only had two 30+ passing touchdown seasons. He’s good, but Matt Ryan is no superstar.
Ryan is extremely blessed that he has Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in his backfield, as well as an elite offensive line led by Alex Mack. It must be nice to throw the ball to Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. No wonder this was the number one offense a year ago.
The defensive line is rather weak, but the linebacker core, led by the young studs Vic Beasley and Deion Jones, is among the best in the league. Don’t sleep on Duke Riley making an immediate impact as well.
Desmond Trufant and Keanu Neal lead a solid secondary, but let’s not forget that this team’s defense, last year, was among the worst in points allowed (27th) and yards allowed (25th).
The defense isn’t great, and Matt Ryan will go back to being Matt Ryan. However, the offense is so talented that they will muster off 9-10 wins.
5. Minnesota Vikings
The Teddy Bridgewater injury is incredibly sad, but let’s not sleep on Sam Bradford. In fifteen games last year, Bradford went for 20 touchdowns to only five interceptions. He is still only 29 years of age. Injuries have plagued most of his career, but this season could be Bradford’s best.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have turned into extremely dependable receivers, and Kyle Rudolph racked up seven touchdowns last season. The backfield is packed with some sneaky talent. Dalvin Cook looks to be the guy, and could be a true sleeper, after falling to the second round. The other backs, Latavius Murray, and Jerick McKinnon, have shown that they can excel at this level.
The reason this team is ranked so high is because of their defense. Good luck to opposing offenses with Everson Griffin, Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph manning the line for Minnesota.
Chad Greenway’s retirement hurts the linebacker core, but Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks should be just fine.
Safety Harrison Smith, when healthy, is as elite as they come, and Xavier Rhodes is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection.
Bradford is poised to have a great year with his offensive weapons, and the defense will continue to be among the best. The Vikings will win 10 games and get back in the playoffs, and, thankfully, Blair Walsh won’t be there to blow it this time.
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