Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com presented our conference power rankings. The AFC was on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
This week in the NFC, the final week of the regular season, we celebrate the Saints – even though they didn’t get a top two seed in the postseason. We think they’re the team to beat.
1). New Orleans Saints
Although not the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Saints are playing like they are. The historic combination of Drew Brees (74.3 completion percentage) and Michael Thomas (149 receptions) makes them the team to beat, especially with the way Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook have been accessorizing. Brees threw 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions over the last four weeks. Good luck neutralizing him.
2). San Francisco 49ers
Consider how different life would have been for the 49ers had Dre Greenlaw not stood up Seahawks receiver Jacob Hollister at the goal line on the last play for the NFC West Championship Game last Sunday. Not only did the Niners avoid a cross-country trip to Philadelphia for the a Wild Card game, they earned the top seed by virtue of previous wins over the Packers and Saints. That’s why you play every play like it’s your last.
3). Green Bay Packers
The Packers seem fortunate to have earned the two seed because that guarantees at least one home game. And it appears as if the Packers are best equipped right now for the ground and kicking game that might be critical to win at Lambeau Field in the winter. Aaron Rodgers has been sailing his passes, which just makes Aaron Jones (19 rushing TDs) and kicker Mason Crosby all the more valuable.
4). Seattle Seahawks
We know the Seahawks are pissed off about what happened last week; the non-calls and disappointing ending. But its not like flying to Philadelphia is the end of the world for them. They’ve already beaten the Eagles on the road in Week 12. But here’s the thing: Only three teams have won three road games on the way to a Super Bowl – the 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers. The odds are against them.
5). Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak, although last week’s loss to the Bears was likely a byproduct of it being a meaningless game and Minnesota resting a number of their starters, including halfbacks Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. Still, it might be hard for them to restart the engine offensively in New Orleans, which you figure will be important since the Saints have averaged 40 points in the last four weeks.
6). Philadelphia Eagles
Despite how hard it was for them to wrap up the NFC East, history will look fondly on the Eagles for their capacity to figure out a way to compensate for an seemingly endless stream of injuries. They dug really deep last week against the Giants and came up with halfback Boston Scott, who was simply fantastic. Can they survive the Seahawks, now without guard Brandon Brooks and maybe halfback Miles Sanders and tight end Zach Ertz? Why not.
7). Los Angeles Rams
When things don’t go well, the first thing critics look at is how much did failure cost. Well, if you want to be picky by focusing in on just Brandin Cooks, Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and Jalen Ramsey, that’s a cap hit of $108.75 million. That’s a lot of money to pay guys who couldn’t get you into the postseason one year after winning the NFC Championship.
8). Dallas Cowboys
Here we are three days after the end of the regular season and Jason Garrett is still coach of the Cowboys. We’d been led to believe his dismissal would be the first order of business if Dallas didn’t make the playoffs. But the Cowboys are two meetings deep with Garrett without an apparent resolution and the Jones family is canceling radio appearances so they don’t have to talk about it. Garrett’s deal is up on Jan. 16. Stayed tuned.
9). Chicago Bears
Just because the Bears say they are committed to Mitchell Trubisky as their QB in 2020 doesn’t mean they were happy with their offense this season. The first thing they did was fire offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and three other assistants, even though head coach Matt Nagy called the plays. Does that seem fair? Regardless, it seems Trubisky and Nagy have one year left to get an offense that averaged 17.5 points moving.
10). Atlanta Falcons
It’s good to see there’s still room in the NFL for common sense. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank did not overreact to a 1-7 start. He stuck with head coach Dan Quinn and was rewarded with a 6-2 finish that ended happily with a pick six from Deion Jones on Sunday in Tampa Bay. The Falcons will be back in 2020. Now they just need to figure out how to reduce the sacks (48) Matt Ryan took this season.
11). Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So Jameis Winston leads the NFL with 5,109 yards passing, a franchise record (as were his 33 TD passes). But on the day after the season, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he’s confident the team could win with just about anyone else playing the position. That’s what throwing 30 interceptions can do. Winston put too much pressure on Tampa’s defense by playing so loosely with the ball. It’s doubtful he’ll be their QB moving forward.
12). Arizona Cardinals
In his first year running the “Air Raid” offense, rookie QB Kyler Murray did just fine. He threw for 3,722 yards and ran for another 544, joining Cam Newton as the only rookie QBs in league history to throw for at least 3,500 yards and rush for 500. The ultimate goal is to turn the Cardinals into Ravens West, an offense based on a strong ground game that showcases the skills of their young star. Can’t wait to see what Year Two brings.
13). Carolina Panthers
There’s no sense wasting time breaking down what went wrong. So let’s accentuate the positive: Christian McCaffrey ran for 1,387 yards and had 1,005 receiving to join Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999) in the 1,000-1,000 club. And his 2,392 yards from scrimmage were the third-most in history. You feel sorry for the guy.
14). New York Giants
Maybe it’s a little bit of a surprise the Giants fired Pat Shurmur, although the team was 9-23 during his two seasons. Perhaps general manager Dave Gettleman should have gone instead, especially after admitting he hasn’t done enough to help the situation. Still, in QB Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, the organization has two premier building blocks.
15). Detroit Lions
The Ford family announced before the Lions lost their ninth straight to end a 3-12-1 season that coach Matt Patricia would be back. So what else was there to do other than purge his staff of six assistants, all below the level of coordinator. The biggest problem the Lions had was not having Matthew Stafford for the final eight games. But now the focus is singularly on a coach who is 9-22-1 in two seasons.
16). Washington Redskins
We were all excited to see Urban Meyer hanging out with Alex Smith in owner Daniel Snyder’s box. It made you think maybe he’d be the guy to take over this problem-infested organization. But now we know it was a mirage. The Panthers tired of Ron Rivera, but the Redskins absolutely couldn’t wait to hire him – and add former NFL coach Jack Del Rio as the defensive coordinator. We bet this fails, like everything else Snyder touches.