As the long offseason roared on, and as the hot takes that define the NFL poured in, writers from around the country (including this one) offered up their top teams of the NFL.
And while there were few things these very writers agreed on in their various predictions, most concurred on the solid foundation of the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers.
These three teams were by far the cream of the NFC, and one of the three stood a 95 percent chance of being picked to represent in the Super Bowl. Power rankings and prediction threads ate up these teams – and for very good reason.
The Panthers and Cardinals played in the NFC Championship game last season, and got better over the summer. The Seahawks have been a perennial contender for some time now, and are always near the top of the conference. It’s an easy pick to make, like betting on LeBron’s team to make the NBA Finals.
But then the regular season started. On Thursday night, the Panthers got more of the same treatment they received in the Super Bowl, being hammered from the very first drive against the defending champion Denver Broncos. Cam Newton got blitzed all night, taking hit after vicious hit as the Panthers’ offensive line crumbled.
Sure, Kelvin Benjamin looked great in his return. But that’s about the extent of the positives. The defense surrendered some easy looks to new Denver QB Trevor Siemian, and the offense was slow and ineffective throughout the night. Just like that, the defending NFC Champion found themselves down on the mat, a feat that took 15 weeks a season ago. The game ultimately came down to a shanked field goal, but it sure felt farther out of reach than that.
Cam Newton’s teammates have his back
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 13, 2016
Seattle didn’t fare much better, as they too faced a stiff defense. The only problem is that the Seahawks faced this at home, in the much-vaunted 12th Man. The Seahawks’ newfound running game struggled mightily, and so did Russell Wilson, who turned the ball over twice.
Ultimately, it took a last-minute touchdown and a stiff effort by the defense for the Seahawks to eke out a win over the unfancied Miami Dolphins.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 12, 2016
But things got much worse for offseason darling Arizona. The Cardinals have been the trendy pick to win it all this season, seemingly across the board. Those dreams hit a sudden roadblock on Sunday night, as the Cardinals met a team not featuring it’s top offensive weapon, nor it’s Hall of Fame quarterback.
Things got started early and often for New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who looked poised and experienced as he picked apart the Cardinals’ defense to the tune of 24 of 33 for 264 yards and no interceptions. The Cardinals played their part in keeping the Patriots in check, but the offense was ugly at times. Carson Palmer connected on two touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald, but went long drives struggling to get into rhythm.
The Cardinals’ hopes were dashed off the boot of Chandler Catanzaro as time expired. The snap was low, but the holder got it down and Catanzaro just couldn’t connect.
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) September 12, 2016
It was the perfect symbol for a rough weekend for the perceived elite of the NFC. Each team showed in magnified instances how glaring the holes they have are. For the Seahawks, it was a solo Russell Wilson, paired with a weak running game. For the Panthers, a horrible right-side offensive line that can’t get any push against top-level defensive pressure. And for the Cardinals, it was simply performing under the lights when they needed a play.
If the struggles of opening weekend are any indication, the NFC isn’t quite as strong at the top as we all have perceived. Or maybe it’s opening-week jitters, things that will be shored up within the next few weeks.
For the anointed kings of the NFL mountain, they certainly better hope it’s the latter.