It seems for the better part of the decade, the NFC has featured a top team with no clear-cut weaknesses ready to roll their way into the Super Bowl. For much of the decade it was the Seahawks, last year it was the Cardinals and Panthers, and this year the overwhelming expectation was that those three would again dominate the standings.
But with the Cardinals and Panthers spiralling downwards, the NFC got busted wide open and also lacks any clear Super Bowl favorite, with each team featuring large holes at one position or another that has led to their losses.
In the NFC North, for example, the Minnesota Vikings looked to be favorites in the first five weeks of the season, but have since seen their offense fall off a cliff and moved them down to contending for a wild card spot with the Green Bay Packers, who most recently came to life, but still sport a streaky defense and pretty bad receivers for Aaron Rodgers to throw to.
— Minnesota Vikings (@MVikingsNews) December 3, 2016
Meanwhile, their division leader, the Lions, have patchwork defense and finds itself in monster holes to open games and has to rebound for the final quarter, which is far from a recipe for success in the postseason. They’ve also faced the easiest schedule in the NFC to this point.
The NFC South is even worse, with two inconsistent teams vying for their playoff positioning. The Buccaneers are the hotter team, winners of five straight – but they’re the definition of average, with a middling offense and a defense that ranks in the bottom third of the league. They certainly won’t be scaring teams in the postseason.
And the Falcons are the models of inconsistency as a franchise over the last few years. After opening the season with a large division lead, they’ve seen in crumble down into a tie as they flip between winning and losing. The offense is great, with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones providing a passing attack that can light up at will. But the defense is just bad, in the bottom-five of the league in almost every category. The Falcons are getting by on turnovers – which ranks them in the top five in the NFL – but that’s not something to hang your hat on.
#MattyIce❄️ is up for the FedEx Air & Ground Player of The Week!
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 13, 2016
The NFC East features the top team record-wise, and maybe the deepest division all-around. But the teams in it aren’t knockouts. The Cowboys are an impressive 11-2, but their offense has struggled mightily over the last few weeks as rookie Dak Prescott has come back down to earth, evident in the struggles against the Giants, Steelers and Vikings in the last few weeks. Sure, the Cowboys are finding ways to win, but Dak is showing his weaknesses as defenses get more tape on him.
Their top challengers in the Redskins and Giants are sitting with holes as well. The Giants offense has been streaky, with Eli Manning going throw patches of good and horrible play, and the defense has only recently come to form before losing Jason Pierre-Paul. The Redskins are streaky and bad on defense, especially on the back end, and don’t look like the type of team that can find success in the postseason.
Which brings us to the Seahawks, who’ve long been thought as the heir apparent to the Cardinal- and Panthers-less NFC. But their offense has been bad in at least half of their games, and the defense looked lost and despondent in their first game without Earl Thomas. It doesn’t show signs of getting much better.
Seattle Seahawks S Earl Thomas has no chance of returning this season after suffering a broken left leg (tibia) against the Panthers. pic.twitter.com/6ztCqs5ej3
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 5, 2016
Now this isn’t to say that the NFC is going to be weak or boring; if anything, this just makes things more interesting. But if you’re looking to pencil in a favorite to go face the Patriots or Chiefs in February, you’re in for a crazy next couple of months.