By Jake Brown
The NFC East might be the best division in the NFL. This is the toughest division to pick a winner in because the Giants, Eagles, or Cowboys all have an opportunity to take this division. The Eagles finished the 2011 season hot and playing the way everyone thought they would before the season began. A full training camp this season was beneficial for the Eagles after the lockout last offseason. Michael Vick has DeSean Jackson back and healthy to go with the lethal rushing attack from LeSean McCoy. Despite a tough schedule this season, expect the Eagles to live up to the high expectations and win the division with an 11-5 record.
The defending Super Bowl Champion Giants will be sitting right behind the Eagles this season. Despite the loss of Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, Eli Manning is still behind center and has entered the elite quarterback status winning his second Super Bowl ring last season. The Giants schedule is rough this year. For that reason, expect the defending champs to finish with a 10-6 record and to win one of the Wild Card spots.
The Packers are the clear cut favorite to win the NFC North this year. Green Bay is coming off a 15-1 season that saw Aaron Rodgers put up ridiculous numbers. The Packers’ schedule is not bad at all this season. Expect them to run away with the division with a 13-3 record this season.
The Lions and Bears are both going to duel it out for second place in the division. Two Wild Card spots just is not enough this year in the NFC. There are too many good teams, but only two can get those spots. Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are back healthy and will do damage if they both can stay healthy. Going by the strength of schedule, expect the Bears to come out in second place in the division with a 10-6 record and taking the second Wild Card spot.
There are a lot of question marks in the NFC South this season. The Saints have lost Sean Payton for the season because of his suspension. Although they have a couple of guys out, their quarterback is still Drew Brees. They still are the favorites to win this division because of their explosive offense. Expect the Saints to take the NFC South with a 12-4 record.
While the Panthers and Buccaneers will be much improved this season, don’t expect them to contend just yet. They both are a year or two away from being a playoff contender. The Falcons, under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, will be a very good team with Matt Ryan under center. The problem is they have a tough schedule and the NFC is just too good this season. Expect the Falcons to just miss out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
The NFC West might be the worst division in the NFL this season besides the 49ers. The Rams were horrific last season and won’t see too much of an improvement. The Cardinals have a quarterback disaster. The Seahawks are starting a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson for a team with not much offensive firepower. The 49ers are clearly the best team in this division and one of the better teams in the NFL. San Francisco saw Alex Smith have a breakout season last year getting his squad to the NFC Championship. They have wide receiver weapons, an improved running game adding Brandon Jacobs, and a dominant defense. Expect the 49ers to cruise in the NFC West this year and finish with a 13-3 record tying the Packers.
The NFC is awfully good this season. Any one of the playoff teams can go on a run and get to the Super Bowl a la New York Giants last season. With that being said, the 49ers are the most dangerous team in every aspect. They have the rushing attack, a great receiving core, and a superb defense. The combination of the three will lead them to an NFC Championship this year. They will put up a fight with the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but come up just short to Tom Brady and company.