Thursday 17 August 2017 / 07:58 PM

Pop Quiz: NFC Report Card

Last week we took a look at how teams are stacking up against expectations in the AFC. Now it’s time to dissect the other half of the league.

If the season ended today the Carolina Panthers would finish at the #1 seed, with the Eagles, Cowboys, and the NFC Champion Seahawks all watching the playoffs from home.

Is it truly time for a changing of the guard or will the cream rise back to the top over the second half of the season?

Oh…and by “cream” I am referring to Seattle…the new Sam Bradford-led Eagles have looked far from elite and the Cowboys have yet to find a way to win with anyone other than Tony Romo under center.

NFC North

 

Green Bay Packers (6-1): A

 

 

Aaron Rodgers endured one of the worst games of his career this week as the Packers lost in emphatic fashion to the Broncos on national television but there’s little doubt that this team is one of the top 3 in the conference despite ranking #28 in total offense (332.1 YPG).

The Pack will get a crack at nabbing the top NFC slot next week when they take on the undefeated Carolina Panthers.

Minnesota Vikings (5-2): A+

 

 

Believe it or not, the Vikings have a legitimate shot at challenging Green Bay for the division title. Teddy Bridgewater may not be putting up huge numbers but he’s matured and shown enough improvements in judgment and rhythm to put notches in the win column.

Adrian Peterson is back. And while he may have yet to showcase his truly dominant form, third-best in the NFL (90.4 YPG) is still pretty damn good. The only worrisome stat revolving around ‘All Day’ is that he’s fumbled once for every rushing touchdown (3 of each).

But just like the Purple People Eaters of old, the Minnesota defense is shutting down opposing offensive units. The Vikings are giving up just 17.4 PPG, good for second-best in the NFL.

Chicago Bears (2-5): C

 

C might seem a bit high for a team with a record well below average but this is exactly what everyone expected out of Chicago so it’s hard to penalize them for being just as bad as we all thought they’d be.

It’s hard to believe Jay Cutler was once considered one of the league’s top future talents. Since coming to the Bears he’s brought Big Disappointment along to go with his Big Arm.

At least Matt Forte’s still good and the city serves up the best deep-dish pizza on the planet. All is not lost.

Detroit Lions (1-7): F

 

Remember when Detroit was known for a high-flying offense and dirty but effective defense?

Well…nobody has given up more points than the Lions (245) and the offensive unit is ranked #26 in the league.

While there’s no doubt Matthew Stafford still has an arm and holds the “ability” to put up big numbers in his back pocket, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever elevate to be a proven winner.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers (7-0): A+

 

There’s an old saying that good teams just find a way to win and this is exactly what’s going on right now in Carolina.

Forget about the last-second heroics needed to win against Seattle and Indy – all that matters is an undefeated record and a butt load of respect from the rest of the NFL.

In terms of wins and losses the NFC South is the best division in the conference by a long shot and the Panthers sit firmly at the top.

Atlanta Falcons (6-2): A-

 

 

Atlanta has lost 2 of their last 3 to slap a question mark on the team’s hot start but Dan Quinn’s Falcons are in a great position to return to the postseason for the first time since losing to the Niners in the NFC title game in 2012.

At the skill positions no team boast a better trio:

  • Matt Ryan #3 in passing (2,399 yards)
  • Devonta Freeman #1 in rushing (709)
  • Julio Jones #1 in receiving (892)

Freeman has the most rushing scores by a long shot with 9, while Jones has found the endzone 6 times, just one score off the lead (Larry Fitzgerald & Odell Beckham, 7).

New Orleans Saints (4-4): B

 

 

The importance of suiting up an elite quarterback in the NFL cannot be understated, as evidenced by Drew Brees’s ability to carry a mediocre team when he catches a hot hand.

After three straight wins the Saints are back in the playoff picture despite finding themselves in a new role as NFC South underdog.

 

The aging signal-caller will look to prove he’s still good enough to will his squad to the postseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4): B+

 

 

Three out of the past four seasons the Bucs have won 4 games or less. With just under half of the schedule complete they’ve already notched more victories than they did in all of 2014 (2).

Tampa has not won a playoff game since hoisting the Super Bowl crown in 2002 (they lost in the Wild Card round to the Redskins in 2005 and then again to the Giants in 2007), but there’s finally reason for hope in central Florida.

 

Doug Martin is playing well again (87.4 YPG) and Jameis Winston is playing very well for a rookie.

NFC East

New York Giants (4-4): B

 

 

Probably should go with a B- here but first place is first place.

Eli Manning has shown flashes of brilliance and Odell Beckham is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns – but you still have to wonder how far a streaky QB and stud WR can take you without much outside support?

 

Hmm…probably .500 football.

Washington Redskins (3-4): B-

 

 

So far rolling with Kirk Cousins as the all-out guy is yielding mixed results.

He staged an improbable 24-point comeback and made a t-shirt about it to sell on his website, but other than that a 9:8 touchdown to interception ratio is hardly something to write home about.

But hey, I expected Washington to be in the cellar by this point so half a game back of the division lead is a pretty sweet place to be.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4): C-

 

 

Chip Kelly’s high-flying offense was meant to be the catalyst for Sam Bradford’s glorious comeback season.

Instead Bradford has put up just 9 TDs to 10 INTs with a Rating of 76.4.

And their other “big time” acquisition, last year’s rushing champ DeMarco Murray?

He’s ranked 25th in the league while averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.

While half a season isn’t enough to determine whether or not he was indeed a “product of his O-line” we have seen enough of Murray in a Philly uniform to recognize that dude ain’t Shady McCoy.

With rumors flying that the Titans might make a move to nab Chip Kelly to pair with Marcus Mariota you’d have to start to wonder if the Eagles might just let Tennessee have him.

Dallas Cowboys (2-5): D

 

 

Losing Dez and Romo was huge – in a bad way.

But football is the ultimate team sport and so dropping five in a row because you’re down a couple guys is unacceptable for a squad that was expected to make a deep run into the postseason.

I feel bad for the Cowboys falling on hard times injury-wise but good teams find a way to win under adversity and they’re just not getting it done.

Fortunately for Tony Romo this division may very well go to a (9-7) team, making it very possible for Dallas to improve their grade and sneak into the playoffs with a bit of a run over the second half of the season.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (6-2): A

 

 

Arizona fields the fourth-best defense to pair with the NFL’s #3 offense. And at 32.9 PPG, only the Patriots are better (35.6).

All signs point to a changing of the guard in the NFC West just as long as the Cardinals can split with the Seahawks and keep Carson Palmer upright.

And how about signing CJ2K out of the garbage bin? What a brilliant move that was.

St. Louis Rams (4-3): A-

 

 

The Rams are fourth-best in scoring defense at just 17.9 PPG but Todd Gurley has everyone talking about the O.

Top defense. Killer run game. This formula’s long been a staple of the NFC West.

Seattle Seahawks (4-4): C+

 

 

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades so we’re not giving the Hawks any credit whatsoever for being competitive to the end in all 8 of this season’s contests.

Championship teams don’t blow 4th-quarter leads week after week after week and I’m not convinced that Pete Carroll has righted the ship in Seattle just yet.

Yes, this same club rattled off 9 of 10 wins last year following another slow (3-3) start but this is a feat easier said than accomplished.

San Francisco 49ers (2-6): D

 

 

It wasn’t long ago that Colin Kaepernick’s play style was seen as the “future of the position” – but now that defensive coordinators have mostly solved the read-option #7 has steadily seen his effectiveness diminish.

With a bloated contract that the Niners specifically set up with an eye to get out of, don’t be surprised if Kaep’s benching turns into a job search at the end of this season.

 

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Michael Airhart

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