by Ryan Meehan
Last year the National Football League ended on a very bizarre note: A head-scratching “WTF” play call made by Seattle coach Pete Carroll resulted in the New England Patriots being crowned champions just a week after they were accused of purposely deflating footballs in the AFC Championship game. As you probably remember, any NFL news that would soon follow would be in regards to this fiasco, and I got sick of it really fast.
Thankfully, there isn’t going to be any Patriots-related discussion in this piece. This central focus of this article is going to be on the National Football Conference, which in my opinion is much more competitive than its AFC counterpart. The Seattle Seahawks were able to repeat as NFC Champions last year after being down 19-7 to the Green Bay Packers with a little over five and half minutes left, but in the modern era of NFL free agency the idea of any team winning three straight conference championship victories in a row seems a little far-fetched. Although Seattle has a great team, the odds, stats and power rankings would suggest it’s unlikely that’s going to happen any time soon. So let’s dive into what might go down this year in the NFL team by team…Let’s begin with the NFC East…
2014 Record: 12-4
The reality of the 2014 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys is that they got screwed out of a call in the playoffs that would have allowed them to win the Green Bay game. But when your owner is Jerry Jones and you also only advanced to the game you got screwed in because another team got screwed the previous week, there isn’t going to be an overwhelming amount of available sympathy for your situation. The biggest notable off-season move by the Cowboys this year was actually a two-banger: They lost DeMarco Murray to the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, and they failed to draw Adrian Peterson away from the Minnesota Vikings…for now. The loss of Murray will be significant because DM was actually one of the few players in the league who could throw a decent block in the backfield. That extra half of a second of protection is now gone which could leave Romo on his back quite a bit this year, and even I’m impressed I got through the first half of that sentence without making a reference to gay porn. All joking set aside, if they can find somebody that can give Romo that extra half-second then it should be too difficult for the Cowboys to win this division easily. It won’t be because they deserve it, but it will earn them a home playoff game and that urgency could allow them to win a playoff game two years in a row.
Projected Finish: 10-6
2014 Record: 10-6
I’m not going to dance around this, the Eagles trading Nick Foles straight up for Sam Bradford was fucking stupid. Now they’re stuck with a guy who has a potential career ending injury around every corner. As mentioned in the last paragraph, they did pick up DeMarco Murray who was an offensive powerhouse last season. But really, Sam Bradford? I’m going to give you a list of a few players who were taken in that NFL draft: Ndamokung Suh, Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jason-Pierre Paul, Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Maurkice Pouncey, and Devin McCourty. You could make the argument that all of those players have already had at least one NFL season that was better than Bradford, even they were all drafted after him. But since Bradford has been hurt so often, how would we know if that would ever be the case? That’s the gamble the Eagles took, and I can almost guarantee you that come mid-November they are going to wish they had been able to make it work with Foles. One running back does not a team make, and that’s especially true in an off-season where they lost Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. I’m saying they finish .500 because you never know when Byron Maxwell is going to have a breakout year, but the Eagles could win only win four games this season and I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked. I’m not even going to waste time discussing Tim Tebow, who may have likely already been cut by the time this article goes to press.
Projected Finish: 8-8 at best
New York Giants
2014 Record: 6-10
As somebody who has been a New York Giants fan for over a quarter of a century, I can tell you that there have been several “stepping on a bear trap in a tennis court” moments where the incident in question is just mind-blowing with regards to how whatever happened ended up happening. The biggest story surrounding the New York Giants this off-season was of course how on Independence Day Jason Pierre-Paul blew off his right index finger – and fractured his thumb on the same hand – in a fireworks related accident. Seems like after a lackluster season last year it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but when one of your defensive ends pulls some shit like that, you have to seriously question the culture of that team and whether or not anyone at all is listening to a damn thing Tom Coughlin is saying. If they can’t get a long term deal done with Eli at the end of this season, this will be his last year as a Giant. And in 2016, it’s very possible this will look like a very different football team from the top down – because Tom won’t be here either. As for this coming year, it looks like more of the same below average play with momentary streaks of genius that won’t matter in the end.
Projected Finish: 6-10
2014 Record: 4-12
Back in April – still soaked in disappointment from the 2014 campaign – the Redskins made quite the head-scratching move when they decided to pick up the fifth year option on Robert Griffin III’s contract, effectively retaining the rights to his services through 2016. I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that. How many more chances are you going to give to the guy? He’s hardly built for the sport of football, and usually after a couple of years that mirror the past two seasons he’s had – you can tell he simply isn’t structurally compatible with having success in the pro game. Jay Gruden is still in charge this year, and between him, Griffin and Snyder somebody’s going to have to compromise the vision of what this club’s supposed to look like and you know it isn’t gonna be Danny Boy. To make matters even worse, they lost linebacker Brian Orakpo to – of all franchises – the Tennessee Titans. In 2015, that’s generally a pretty solid warning that your team is fucked up beyond repair. If a guy would rather go play in Nissan Stadium in Tennessee than stick around to see what happens, either you have no idea what you are doing or Marcus Mariota is about to be the biggest star on the planet. I’m going bold on this one and saying that not only do the Redskins fail to improve and miss the postseason yet again, but that they also actually end up becoming one of the worst teams in football. I don’t think a fourteen loss season is too out of the question here at all.
Projected Finish: 2-14
Green Bay Packers
2014 Record: 12-4
For the Packers, their last memory of postseason football was obviously not a good one. It was particularly difficult to swallow because although most teams believe that when they lose a game like that the better team did in fact not win, in the case of the Packers they are probably right. For the first fifty minutes of that game, they dominated the Seahawks in the most difficult place to play in the NFL and then it all fell apart when it counted most. It was probably the most devastating loss in Aaron Rodgers’ career, and for a quarterback that doesn’t have as much confidence in his skill set it could do irreversible damage and set the team back several years. But because his skill set has made him a franchise quarterback that is likely to wind up becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he and the rest of the Green Bay Packers seem to be right at the top of the power rankings every year – regardless of whatever deficiencies they might have – and 2015 is no exception. The defense will struggle at times, but the thing that separates the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgerses from the Eli Mannings of the world is the fact that as long as the main guy is under center, everybody else knows that the fear of making a bad play and disrupting that balance could cost them their NFL livelihood. You don’t want to be the guy who costs Aaron Rodgers the game, and for that very reason I can only imagine that the loss of A.J. Hawk won’t affect the fact that Green Bay is the NFC’s version of the “Next man up” strategy which has made New England so successful. Packers have a huge year, and once again Rodgers puts up MVP numbers.
Projected Finish: 13-3
2014 Record: 11-5
It’s very difficult to understand where the Lions stand at any given time, because they are very unpredictable. But while last year Detroit could stop ISIS in the middle of the desert, losing Ndomakung Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason is going to make it very difficult to do the same to the rest of the division, let alone the rest of the league. They added Haloti Ngata, but his best years are behind him and it’s going to take a lot of work for that defense to gel without those two in the fold. Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson are both forces to be reckoned with at the wide receiver position, but I can’t help but think it would be a miracle if both of those guys finished the year without any injury problems. Speaking of injuries, I also have this very bizarre premonition that Matthew Stafford gets the short end of the stick at some point in the middle of the season and spends the rest of the year with a baseball cap on. I don’t have a really good feeling about Detroit this season, and if you’re a Lions fan neither should you. By early December the Lions logo is going to look a lot like ursa major, because they are about to take a “big dipper” in the standings this year.
Projected Finish: 6-10
2014 Record: 5-11
You know what happens when you have a roster full of overrated guys that don’t add up to more than a 7-9 team? You’re never going to believe this – wait for it – but you’re going to have another 7-9 team at best. This is what I’ve been saying about the Bears for a couple of years now, and go figure – I’ve been right. John Fox has recently proven he can post a winning record, but he’s had Peyton Manning at his disposal during that period and his prowess in the postseason has been anything but impressive. If Cutler continues to be the interception machine he’s proven in himself to be as of late, he’s hardly going to be the regular season quarterback that Fox has become so accustomed to working with. Matt Forte set the single season record for receptions by a running back last year, and in the prime of his career I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t continue to make him the focus of that offense. Sure Alshon Jefferey is really beginning to show legitimate signs of promise the more he takes the field, but is that going to make up for Brandon Marshall’s absence or will that burden fall on the shoulders of Eddie Royal? (He certainly has large shoulders, so I’m guessing it will…) But even with all of that, they aren’t that much better than they were this time last year…So will I be vindicated yet again with regards to the Bears and their less than average output? As Charles Barkley would say “I might be wrong, but I doubt it”.
Projected Finish: 6-10
2014 Record: 7-9
How did the Vikings finish this close to .500 last year? Let’s break it down: Their seven wins were against Chicago, the Redskins, Tampa Bay, the Jets, the Falcons, Carolina, and the Rams. They shit down the Panthers’ throat – and let’s get real Carolina shouldn’t have made the playoffs – so you could make the argument that St. Louis was pretty much the best team they beat. Not that you would have noticed or anything, seeing as how every piece of Vikings news seemed to center around how the manner in which Adrian Peterson was whipping one of his many kids. Speaking of which, I don’t play fantasy football so as far I’m concerned I’m done caring about all things Adrian Peterson until he gets traded to a perennial playoff contender. Until that day finally comes, I’m just going to assume that it’s none of my fucking business. Same thing goes for the rest of the Vikings altogether. Wow, this could be an awful division this year.
Projected Finish: 5-11
2014 Record: 12-4
So the Seahawks fell victim to one of the most boneheaded play calls in Super Bowl history, costing them what it appeared to be more than just their dignity at the time. But then they got receiver Jimmy Graham from the Saints, and were finally able to ink Russell Wilson to the multi-year deal they were looking for to keep him in Seattle. The main area of focus for the Seahawks is going to have to be a better, more discernible approach to the balance of their offense. This is going to be a challenge, seeing as how Neil and the gang over at Sportswithneil.,com were already calling for Darrell Bevell head long before Marshawn Lynch was wondering why he doesn’t have two Super Bowl rings instead of one. This is going to mean Wilson is going to have to become a permanent member of the elite quarterbacks club instead of just being comfortable as a game manager. He’s still got Doug Baldwin, now he has Graham, and the Seahawks stole a stud in Tyler Lockett out of Kansas State at the end of the second round of the draft. So since thanks to social media we all know he isn’t going to be knockin’ boots in the bedroom anymore, he had better be making connection on the practice field because there’s no excuses for him not getting the job done this year. Additionally, the rest of this division didn’t improve much at all so I see know reason why the Seahawks can’t repeat as NFC West champs. But how will they hold up in the postseason?
Projected Finish: 11-5
San Francisco 49ers
2014 Record: 8-8
Out of all 32 teams to preview, the 49ers have to be the most difficult to predict. On one hand I can’t help but think they have to be better than they were last year, but upon further examination it would be very easy to see why they won’t be. I recently heard a commentator on sports talk radio say something along the lines of “Well, you can’t expect Kaepernick to do everything”, and although that is true in the football world you have to understand why San Francisco fans have come to expect that when you consider the strength of the rosters they’d had lately. But this year’s roster looks much different as they lost Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Michael Crabtree, corners Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver, and of course running back Frank Gore. Even though Reggie Bush had a great year with Detroit last season, I don’t see that he’ll be able to make that rushing attack relevant unless Kaepernick is willing to risk his own neck to run the ball at least once every possession. Torrey Smith coming over from Baltimore was an excellent pickup, but the Niners aren’t going to be able to lean on the depth of their roster to win close games anymore. And regarding the aforementioned comment about Colin and his responsibilities, for $126 million it wouldn’t shock me if somewhere at the bottom of that contract there was a line next to an asterisk that read “May be expected to do everything”. They’ll be lucky to stay at .500, but that might be enough to get them into the postseason.
(Editor’s Note: As this piece was being compiled, news broke that the 49ers have just released Aldon Smith for his fifteenth consecutive DUI. Only half of the facts in that last sentence are true, but given the irresponsible behavior of many NFL players…don’t think it’s a little messed up that you had to Google which one was false?)
Projected Finish: 8-8
2014 Record: 11-5
Arizona came out of the gate on fire last year, winning nine out of their first ten games. When the season ended they lost a total of five, with each loss averaging out to be 16 points. Even when things were going great before Palmer busted his ACL again, you just got the feeling like their defense couldn’t save their lack of offensive production. Not surprising for a guy who was the best man at Matt Cassel’s wedding, but such was the case under center for the Cardinals last season. And much like last year, something just doesn’t seem right here. I’ve always believed that streaks can stretch across seasons, and if the way 2014 ended for Arizona is any indication that the beginning of 2015 may look similar to that stretch they are going to take a serious dive.
Projected Finish: 7-9
St. Louis Rams
2014 Record: 6-10
Although the NFC West is a tough division to play in, I’d advise against anyone making smart-ass comments about the Rams biting it. Out of all of the sub .500 teams that seem to be at the bottoms of their respective foursomes, proceed with caution when gambling against St. Louis. Their only off-season loss worth mentioning was running back Zac Stacy, but that’s hardly going to kill their bottom line. They picked up Nick Fairley from the Lions, and of course the big offseason trade was shipping Sam Bradford to Philly for Nick Foles. I consider that to be an upgrade at the quarterback position, but who’s gonna block for him? If – and that’s a very big if – the Rams can protect him, don’t be surprised if they finish 9-7 this year. I wouldn’t put money on it, but like I said as a rule I wouldn’t advise ever gambling on or against St. Louis in general. They’re consistently the most inconsistent team in the NFL, but they have the most solid defensive line in the league.
Projected Finish: 9-7
2014 Record: 6-10
I don’t know much about new Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, but I have to say that when you think about it for all of the new head coaches in the NFL this guy has to be walking into the best offensive situation possible outside of Denver. Conversely, Atlanta finished last in the league defensively in 2014 so there is some work to do there. But Matt Ryan has looked very good in the training camp clips I’ve seen so far, and I have to trust that after missing the playoffs twice in a row to follow up hosting the conference championship game he doesn’t have anywhere to go but up. And even if you don’t like the guy, you have to admit he has a much higher ceiling than a lot of the other quarterbacks around the NFL. They got rid of several defensive starters, but I think in this instance addition by subtraction is going to be the result of those moves. I absolutely cannot believe that I am doing this, but I am picking the Falcons to win this division and have a great year – by the numbers. They won’t get much further, but somebody’s got to walk away with this shit-show.
Projected Finish: 11-5
2014 Record: 7-8-1
It seems only fair to save the worst for last, and the best of the worst for the first of the last. If your brain hasn’t yet exploded after reading that last sentence, meet Carolina. The Panthers really did luck out last year due to the laughable NFC South that assured us a team with a losing record would make the playoffs. Cam Newton is already making headlines, throwing haymakers in practice and inking a long-term deal that will keep him in Charlotte for some time. But the Panthers also made sure to make re-sign tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis to stick around as well, which if nothing else will distract the team’s fans from the unfortunate reality that running back DeAngelo Williams is gone. There are truckloads of journalists that are suggesting that since Carolina won this division last year, they are the favorite to win it again. But I don’t come in the back of trucks unless I’m at a rest stop, so back to Averageville they go.
Projected Finish: 6-10
New Orleans Saints
2014 Record: 7-9
Drew Brees is the New Orleans Saints. He’s the face of the franchise, and he helped rebuild a community that so desperately needed it in their darkest hour. Pardon the dark water analogy here, but at some point even the Statue of Liberty gets sick of the smell of the Hudson River. I believe this is the year it’s all going to go downhill in New Orleans. Not only did the Saints lose tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills, they also didn’t replace those guys with anybody of real value. Given that Brees is used to throwing for over 350 yards in single games, this is going to change their game plan tremendously. Perhaps the strategy here is for them to become more of a running team that operates at a slower pace, but if that was the case replacing Pierre Thomas with C.J. Spiller better be worth it and I’m pretty sure it won’t. I think this is the year where Drew Brees finally lets his frustrations get the best of him in a post-game press conference and I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Sean Payton loses his gig altogether. The beginning of the end for the Saints starts in September, and they might be destined for the same slide that franchise suffered in the early eighties.
Projected Finish: 5-11
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 Record: 2-14
Just when you thought this garbage fire couldn’t get any funnier, Jameis “CrabLegs” Winston has come to town and will start for Lovie Smith. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence, but ever since Super Bowl 37, not a lot has fallen into place for the Buccaneers. They continue to be at the bottom of the pile at the end of every season, raking early draft picks at every turn. Tampa has to be realistic about their future: It’s at least a five-year plan, but it’s looking like it will be the slowest five-year plan in NFL history. Their roster is full of nobodies, which is quite fitting because that’s exactly who’s interested in going down there to play for a coach that will likely be fired by week fourteen. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of footage of Winston facing Marcus Mariota after their less than impressive week one showdown, but I’m concerned with results and I’m guessing the result of this season is going to be the eighth straight one where they don’t make the postseason.
Projected Finish: 3-13
Thursday we’ll take a look at the AFC, and how that conference will shape up. Until then, thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.