Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Three NFC Teams That May Have Turned the Corner
This year, expectations are high for several teams. The Giants will obviously look to repeat, and mainstays such as the Saints, 49ers and Packers will try to make it back to the top of the pile. There are several teams, though, who might just surpass all of them. These are three NFC teams that didn't even make the playoffs last year - but have a legitimate shot to win it all this year.
The Eagles become a bit of a media punching bag last season after Vince Young remarked that they were a Dream Team in the making. To an extent, this was actually true. The individual pieces were all there: The team had made stellar acquisitions in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Comartie, and they were adding their new weapons to an arsenal that already included LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. Michael Vick was also coming off of a very impressive 2010 campaign, although injuries ended up as an issue.
For the 2012 Eagles, the issue isn't talent. They have plenty of individual pieces. The goal will be to make those pieces work well together and actually resemble a team. McCoy is a great running back and Asomugha is a great corner, but the chemistry was missing on offense and defense. The team has a head coach with plenty of experience in Andy Reid, although the recent passing away of his son may impact his ability to stay focused and lead his team. If the Eagles find their center, they could be a team that nobody wants to play against.
It's almost not fair to have to mention the Bears in the context of teams that failed to make the 2011 playoffs. After all, they were 7-3 on November 20. Then, Jay Cutler went down for the season. Under the direction of reserves Josh McCown and Caleb Hanie, the Bears sputtered to an 8-8 finish and didn't make the postseason.
For this year's Bears, the story will be different. Not only have they brought back the players who were key to their strong start in 2011, but they've also upgraded in many areas. Matt Forte has been re-signed, and he won't have to carry the running game, either, as the Bears signed former Raiders running back Michael Bush to help with the workload. The team also traded for Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall, reuniting Jay Cutler with one of his favorite targets from his days in Denver. Barring any significant injuries, these Bears look poised to do some serious damage. If they don't win the division, it won't be for a lack of being an elite team - it will only be because they happen to play in the same division as the Packers.
As it turns out, the Eagles aren't the only NFC East team that was loaded with talent but under-performed in 2011. The Dallas Cowboys have a similar story: Swelling with talent, the team just never managed to find a groove last season. This year looks to be different. A major issue with last year's Cowboys is that the running game had question marks around it. It was the first season that the team tried to use Felix Jones as a feature back, and he proved that his size was too limiting for him to be relied on every down. Although Jones is an explosive runner who seems like he can pick up ten yards on any given play, the durability isn't there. This season, DeMarco Murray looks as though he'll carry most of the load. He's an impressive runner, and increased attention by the offense on him, as well as a developing Dez Bryant, should assure the team some more consistency. As long as Tony Romo holds up his end of the bargain, the Cowboys will once again be a competitive team in 2012.
What's really exciting to consider is that these aren't the only teams that could come out of nowhere this year. The Falcons made the playoffs last year, but at 10-6 actually had a down year. They have Super Bowl potential. If Cam Newton can improve at all on his rookie campaign, one has to believe that the Panthers might also be a surprise team in the conference. With so many talented rosters, NFC teams aren't going to be able to take a minute off if this year.
Take a look at my 2012 AFC surprise teams.
Posted by Don Phan at 11:32 AM