Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will present our conference power rankings. The AFC will be on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
We begin our look at the NFC confident that the New Orleans Saints can move past the disappointment of last season’s conference championship loss.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints understand they should have been the ones representing the NFC in last season’s Super Bowl. But the time for consolation is over. From all appearances, the team’s resolve is at a higher level than ever and Drew Brees understands time is growing short. It’s New Orleans that has the best offense in the NFC and adding Jared Cook and Latavius Murray only makes it better.
Los Angeles Rams
Let’s be totally honest about this: The Rams let it slide over the last portion of the 2018 season. They seemed to be running on fumes, off the adrenaline generated during one of the most impressive starts any team has had in a long time. Remember how poorly they played in the Super Bowl, how inept the New England Patriots made them look offensively. We still think the Rams are good enough to do great things with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. But will it be sustainable?
Come on, we all knew Ezekiel Elliott would sign before the start of the season. He’s not as misguided as Le’Veon Bell was and Melvin Gordon is. And his arrival signals the beginning of big things for a team primed to control the NFC East and perhaps challenge the Saints for the conference title. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will work with head coach Jason Garrett to maximize production. And their defense is stellar. This could be their year.
No longer can they rely on Nick Foles to get them out of trouble. This is now Carson Wentz’s team, for better or worse. And if Wentz can stay healthy, the Eagles will battle it out with the Cowboys for the division title or a wildcard berth. Regardless, props to the offensive line for having the guts to bare all in ESPN’s The Body issue.
Green Bay Packers
Matt LaFleur has been the Packers coach for like an hour and he’s already irritated with the media. LaFleur mentioned that his new offense really wasn’t designed for a quarterback who calls a lot of audibles, which Aaron Rodgers does. So everyone assumed this might make Rodgers uncomfortable and that has led to an unrelenting stream of questions about it. This has angered LaFleur. Imagine his mood if the Chicago Bears beat them.
Usually when a team struggles you hear about an offense or defense experiencing problems. That’s not the case with the Bears. It’s been all about their placekicker since Cody Parkey’s missed field goal cost them a playoff win last season against the Eagles. Parkey was fired and no one is sure the situation has been solved. Perhaps everyone should be more concerned about QB Mitchell Trubisky’s continued development. The NFC Central will be a beast.
It’s no accident three NFC Central teams sit bumper-to-bumper in these power rankings. They are all capable of winning a divisional title. For the Vikings, the key will be QB Kirk Cousins, who probably underperformed last season in the minds of most of the team’s fans. Management has bolstered his line and Dalvin Cook is feeling better and that will help.
The Seahawks have made QB Russell Wilson a very rich man, which shows everyone how dedicated they are to make the core of their team happy and hopefully productive. But the problems with the defense were at times too much to overcome and that is likely why they traded for Jadeveon Clowney. That makes the unit exponentially better, which means the team should be the same.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are the Cleveland Browns of the NFC, a team mired for so long in the basement that it has to shield its eyes from the sunlight. But you can sense the organization beginning to right itself and with QB Jimmy Garoppolo back from his knee injury, San Francisco could compete for second place in the West. Watch rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, if he can stay healthy. And watch tight end George Kittle because he rocks.
Doesn’t it seem that the Falcons haven’t been the same since blowing that big lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI? Matt Ryan has done his part with the offense, but there’s something off-kilter here that we can’t put our finger on. Head coach Dan Quinn, a defensive specialist, is going to take a bigger role with a unit that was decimated with injuries last season. Maybe that will help make a difference.
New York Giants
We fear the 2019 season may devolve into an Eli Manning death march. The season hasn’t started yet and already the mavens are counting the downs until rookie Daniel Jones is given the ball. Is that any way to treat a two-time Super Bowl champ? Well, maybe it is. Manning bumped Hall of Famer Kurt Warner midway through the 2004 season to get his job. The Giants should just give the ball to Saquon Barkley and hope he makes everything better.
Training camp has been accented by the holdout of offensive tackle Trent Williams and coach Jay Gruden has had about enough with it all. Like the Los Angeles Chargers with halfback Melvin Gordon, the Redskins are prepared to move on without Williams, even though he’s one of the guys who can keep QB Case Keenum upright until the team decides to sack him for rookie Dwayne Haskins. Why should it matter? Who will catch the ball on this team?
We are afraid that coach Matt Patricia may soon become the latest lieutenant of Bill Belichick to fail as a head coach. Frankly, the book is still open on Mike Vrable in Tennessee and Bill O’Brien in Houston. Patricia’s mountain man look, combined with the pencil he always keeps over an ear, gives him the look of a log-splitter capable of designing a blue print for his own home. But can he coach? His future will depend on his defense, just like it did in New England.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The hiring of Bruce Arians to coach this team was inspired. The guy seems to know what he’s doing. But we believe this year will be devoted to identifying problems rather than solving them. And when we think about the Bucs, is anyone more problematic than QB Jameis Winston? Maybe Arians can get him to play with more consistency. If not, look for the team to make a move for another QB in 2020.
Kyler Murray is very gifted, but we’re still not sure he was worth the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. Kliff Kingsbury has an imagination, but guys like him often crash as NFL head coaches. What we’re trying to say is, the Cardinals should be a lot more entertaining than they were last season with Josh Rosen at QB and Steve Wilks as the coach. But we think they are a few years away from making any impact in the NFC. If Murray surprises us in a Russell Wilson kind of way, they might pass the Lions and Bucs in future power rankings.