In 2017, the Eagles proved to everyone that they are the class of the NFC, and possibly the entire league. This upcoming season, the Birds are going to try and do something that hasn’t been done since 2004, and that’s repeat as Super Bowl champions. Repeating isn’t a foregone conclusion by any means, but the Eagles have a very good shot at doing it. Their roster from last season is in-tact for the most part heading into 2018, not to mention all the starters who will be returning from injury. Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks will all be back. Aside from that, the Eagles also brought in free agents Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata to add to an already scary defensive line. From top to bottom, there’s no denying that the Eagles have the best roster in the NFL. Dominant line play on both sides of the ball, a franchise quarterback who has a plethora of weapons to spread the ball around to, and no glaring weakness at any position. This team is set up for the long-term; if any team has ever been built to repeat as champs, it’s this Eagles team.
But in saying all that, the Eagles will not have the luxury of being under the radar heading into 2018. There’s a target square on the back of this team now, and the underdog mantra that helped motivate them to their first Super Bowl championship is in the past. They’re going to get every team’s best shot, but I believe they’re up for the challenge. This team isn’t satisfied yet, they’re still hungry for another ring. Players have even said it, their goal is to repeat.
The Eagles shook the league up last season with their ‘out of nowhere’ championship run, and this offseason teams around the league reacted. Almost every NFC playoff team from last year has improved their rosters in some way shape or form. The Rams went on a free agent spending spree, the Vikings went out and got their franchise quarterback, the Falcons added wideout Calvin Ridley in the first round of the draft to put next to Julio Jones, and the list goes on. All of these teams have one common goal: get past the Eagles.
Entering 2018, the NFC is stacked with talented teams. There’s about 8 teams, not including the Eagles, that I believe have a real chance at making the playoffs this season. There are two tiers when evaluating the teams who are chasing the Eagles in the NFC. There are the obvious contenders like the ones I mentioned above; the Vikings, Falcons, Rams, Saints, and Packers. And then there are the dark horse teams who could potentially dethrone the Eagles, and those teams are; the Panthers, 49ers, and Seahawks. The Eagles have a better roster than any of these teams, but this is the NFL, anything can happen if a team gets hot at the right time. Let’s start by looking at the obvious contenders:
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the obvious choice amongst NFL pundits when picking a team that may surpass the Eagles this upcoming season. They added a plethora of weapons on both sides of the ball; Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Ndamakung Suh on defense, and Brandin Cooks on offense. These additions tightened the gap between the Rams and the Eagles, but the Birds are still a superior team. They’re better at quarterback, better along the offensive line, and better at head coach. Let’s be honest, Doug Pederson deserved to win the Coach of the Year last year over Sean McVay, I don’t even think it’s a debate. I wrote about that in my Rams-Eagles piece where I compared the two squads, if you want my thoughts on that you can read it here. The Eagles also beat the Rams during the regular season last year too, with their MVP quarterback going down in the process. Whether or not the Rams dethrone the Eagles really depends on how well all their free agent signings mesh with the rest of the team. They have good coaching on both sides of the ball, so getting those pieces acquainted shouldn’t be too difficult, but you never know.
New Orleans Saints
The team that should have been matched up against the Birds in the NFC Championship game should not be overlooked this upcoming season. The Saints had a historically great draft last year, getting three potential All-Pros in the process, and those players are only going to get better. Alvin Kamara, who won offensive rookie of the year, will pick up right where he left off and probably be even better. The one-two punch of Kamara and Mark Ingram is dangerous, and by far the best running back duo in the NFL. Individually, they tallied over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, meaning they amounted to over 3,000 yards together. That’s absolutely insane. To put that into perspective, the three headed monster of LeGarette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement only amounted to 1,759 total yards from scrimmage. The Saints offensive fire power doesn’t stop there either. Drew Brees is a future Hall of Famer and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, Michael Thomas is one of the best young receivers in the game, and their offensive line is stellar. Along with drafting Kamara, they also added corner and Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore, and safety Marcus Williams — both of whom played great all year. Not to mention they added the Eagles best corner from last season, Patrick Robinson, to hold down their nickel position. The Saints may have the best shot at surpassing the Eagles in 2018.
After reaching the Super Bowl the year prior, the Falcons had somewhat of a let down season. I expect them to be much better in 2018, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they inch past the Saints to win the NFC South. People often forget just how great the Falcons offense was in their Super Bowl season. Matt Ryan was the MVP of the league, no defense had an answer for Julio Jones, and their running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman was the best in the NFL that season. It’s a shame that they lost the Super Bowl the way that they did, infamously blowing a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady and company. That’s really all this team will be remembered for unfortunately. But, being two years removed from that ugly loss the Falcons will be a real threat in the NFC playoff race. They added rookie wide out Calvin Ridley to an already loaded receiving corps, and they’re bringing back nearly every starter from last year’s team. The Falcons are an easy team to overlook heading into 2018, but Matt Ryan and company should never be overlooked.
The Vikings have one of the most sound rosters in all of football, and now they have their franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins. Personally, I don’t think Cousins was worth the absurd amount of money that he was signed for this offseason (3 years, $84 million) but he is a clear upgrade over Case Keenum or Sam Bradford. Their number one defense from last year is returning almost all their starters, along with adding defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to the mix. The Vikings also have one of the best secondaries in the league with two first team all-pros, Harrison Smith at safety and Xavier Rhodes at corner. On paper, this team is probably the second or third best team in the conference, but, on paper, the NFC Championship game should’ve been competitive as well. This team will definitely be in the playoff race once again, but it won’t be as easy of a road as last season was. Aaron Rodgers returning from injury is huge blow to their ability to repeat as division-champs and the Bears have a young team on the rise as well. The NFC North will be no cake walk, and it’ll be interesting to see which teams make it out into the post season.
Green Bay Packers
The last of the obvious contenders in the NFC has to be the Packers, and for the most part it’s solely because of Aaron Rodgers. Like the Falcons team from 2016, people often forget how special that year was for Aaron Rodgers. He basically carried that team to the NFC Championship game, beating the number one seeded Cowboys in the process. It was weird not watching Aaron Rodgers tear up defenses last year, but I’m sure he’ll pick up right where he left off this upcoming season. Losing Jordy Nelson is definitely going to hurt the Packers offense, but adding tight end Jimmy Graham should make up for some of the lost production. Their defense is the real question mark, as it has been for the past few years. The addition of Muhammad Wilkerson will definitely bolster their front 7, but that was the only significant signing they made on the defensive side of the ball. They brought back cornerback Tramon Williams from the Cradinals, who was on the Packers Super Bowl championship team in 2010. They also drafted cornerback Jaire Alexander in the first round of this year’s draft, so their secondary should be slightly improved as well. This team’s success lies on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers, that was evident last season when he went down with a broken collarbone. If he’s able to return to the MVP caliber play we saw two seasons ago, the Packers will be right in the thick of things come January.
Dark Horse NFC Contenders:
The Panthers are the only playoff team from last season that I have in my dark horse NFC contenders list. Like the Packers, this team’s success really depends on how well their quarterback, Cam Newton, plays. He had a pretty average season last year, tossing just 22 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He hasn’t really been an elite quarterback since his MVP performance back in 2015 when he led his team to 15-1 record and a Super Bowl birth. He also doesn’t have the greatest group of weapons around him either, which is why his numbers have dipped the last two seasons. Adding wide out D.J. Moore in the first round of this year’s draft will help with that; he could be a sleeper to win offensive rookie of the year. I like the free agent addition of C.J. Anderson as well. He brings depth to the backfield and will be a nice compliment to McCaffery’s style of running. Their defense will most likely be their strength once again, well, at least their front 7 will be. Their secondary has a lot of question marks. They added cornerback Ross Cockrell and safety Da’Norris Searcy in free agency, and they’ll both start most likely. But, they aren’t world beaters from those positions by any means. I honestly don’t see this team getting to the playoffs this year, their division is too loaded and they just have too many question marks across the board. The only reason I have them on this list is because Cam is a wildcard. When he’s on his game, he’s the best dual threat quarterback in the league. But, when he’s off his game, he’s a below average quarterback at best.
San Francisco 49ers
Everyone knows the story of last years 49ers team by now. They had a measly 1-10 record before starting Jimmy Garapolo at quarterback, and then they proceeded to win the rest of their games finishing 6-10. There’s a lot of buzz coming out of the bay area and for good reason. Jimmy G looked like the real deal in the final five games that he started for the Niners, orchestrating Kyle Shanahan’s offense with ease. They don’t have many big-name weapons around their quarterback though, which may end up being cause for concern. But, they do have a very solid offensive line which is more valuable to a franchise quarterback in my opinion. I love their first-round selection of offensive tackle, Mike McGlinchey, too, he’s a tank and will be mauling opposing defensive ends for years to come. Their defense also got some much-needed veteran leadership when they brought in free agent cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman’s coming off a devastating achilles injury and is questionable for the start of the season, but he seems confident that he’ll contribute a lot in 2018. They also have a few young pieces along their front-7 that have the potential to pop, Reuben Foster and DeForest Buckner being the most notable. This is a very young team in San Francisco, but if they play up to their potential they will easily be in the playoffs come January.
A lot of people see the Seahawks as a rebuilding team, but as long as Russel Wilson is under center and Pete Carrol is on the sideline they’re a contender in my eyes. Their offensive line is still a huge question mark, and their front office didn’t really do anything to address that situation. They also lost tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency and he was one of their biggest weapons. They were able to add Ed Dickson to take Graham’s spot and they just recently acquired wide out Brandon Marshall. Marshall didn’t have a good year at all last season, but that Giants team was laughable from top to bottom; nothing worked out for them last year. I hope he does well in Seattle so that our last memory of him isn’t that debacle in New York. The Seahawks defense should still be viable next season even though they lost some key pieces. Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson all left in free agency. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will still be a force from the safety positions and Bobby Wagner will still be anchoring the defense from the middle linebacker position. Other than that, there’s a lot of unknowns surrounding this defense. They almost made the playoffs last season and something just tells me that they won’t miss the playoffs for two years in a row, that’s just not something the Seahawks are accustomed to doing.