Randall the Handle
NFL Preview from Randall the Handle: NFC Forecast
Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons makes a catch in the third quarter against Jake Ryan #47 and LaDarius Gunter #36 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The NFC boasts a handful of teams — the Packers, the Falcons, the Seahawks and Cowboys — that are legitimate contenders. But do any of them stand any kind of a chance against the perennial powerhouse in New England?
Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl: 10-1
Likes: QB Aaron Rodgers is as good as it gets. The receiving trio of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams are dangerous, but all have recent history of injuries. Packers remain class of a mediocre division.
Yikes: Questions at running back where a converted receiver (Ty Montgomery) or fourth-round rookie (Jamaal Williams) will carry the load. Issue is only magnified after losing some key men on the offensive line.
Worth a bet? The NFC will have three or four legitimate contenders. If you think Seattle, Arizona, Atlanta or others don’t measure up to Green Bay, then maybe 5-1 is a sufficient return for you. It’s not enough for us.
Super Bowl: 25-1
Likes: Defence, defence and defence. S Harrison Smith is a daunting defender. Secondary is filled with Pro Bowl-calibre players. WR Stefon Diggs could be exciting if QB Sam Bradford can chuck him the ball.
Yikes: Instability on offensive line was issue a year ago. It was addressed, but changes appear to be lateral. Started 5-0 last year before finishing 3-8 the rest of the way. Bradford is a check down machine.
Worth a bet? A shortage of quality skill position players limits the Vikings and only a Green Bay collapse or a regression by the Lions will allow Minnesota to capture this division. Dream on. Double these odds and we’re still not interested.
Super Bowl: 50-1
Likes: The Lions were 6-2 from the middle point of 2015 season and 9-4 last year before QB Matthew Stafford suffered a finger injury. Detroit made playoffs a year ago despite rash of injuries throughout roster.
Yikes: Linebacker play has been atrocious and little has been done to improve this glaring issue. Running game needs to be more productive. Slowed by injury and inability, starting RB Ameer Abdullah has two rushing TDs in two seasons.
Worth a bet? Detroit is only NFC team to never play in Super Bowl. Expect that dubious distinction to continue. However, Stafford is a gamer and if the Packers were to slip somehow, Lions at 6-1 to take division is mildly intriguing.
Super Bowl: 100-1
Likes: One of best-kept secrets from 2016 is RB Jordan Howard. After replacing ineffective Jeremy Langford, Howard managed to run for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns on just 252 carries last year.
Yikes: Expected to be No. 1 receiver, Cameron Meredith suffered season-ending ACL tear. Some discord among management pertaining to quarterback when Bears traded up to get a QB after signing Mike Glennon.
Worth a bet? Bears are under construction. They are hoping QB Mitchell Trubisky will emerge as a franchise pivot at some point. Talent is sprinkled throughout roster but any major surprises are still premature.
Super Bowl: 12-1
Likes: QB Dak Prescott has proven to be a diamond in the rough, displaying both ability, poise and leadership. RB Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing. C Travis Frederick is a monster up front.
Yikes: OL Ronald Leary opting to play in Denver leaves a big dent in previously outstanding offensive line. Elliot’s suspension could prove costly. Poor pass rush is an issue as is departure of four secondary players.
Worth a bet? Dallas figures to be in the thick of things, but no longer a sleeper team. There is not much value backing the Cowboys at relatively short odds. A challenging first-place schedule is also a deterrent.
New York Giants
Super Bowl: 20-1
Likes: Quietly allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season. WR Odell Beckham is among league’s best and G-Men added quality WR Brandon Marshall to keep opposing pass defenders honest.
Yikes: We’ve seen a turnstile of running backs on this team recently, but the void still remains. Giants were 25th in total yards gained last year and other than Marshall, they didn’t do much to boost a lethargic offence.
Worth a bet? Without a decent offensive line, both the running and passing game suffer. The Giants didn’t address this issue properly and it’s going to affect them. It won’t affect us because we won’t be investing in them.
Super Bowl: 40-
Likes: Front office excelled this off-season, obtaining solid receivers for sophomore QB Carson Wentz and by boosting mediocre defence via draft. OT Lane Johnson (10-game suspension in 2016) makes huge difference to lineup.
Yikes: Cornerback position is an ongoing concern. Can RB LeGarrette Blount perform well outside of New England? Jury still out on sophomore Wentz after starting out hot last season, but finishing 30th in yards per attempt (6.23).
Worth a bet? As sleepers go, Eagles could provide best bang for your buck. Giants and Cowboys did not improve while Philly could be significantly stronger. If they take the division, 20-1 for NFC could provide some thrills.
Super Bowl: 50-1
Likes: Needing to improve a porous defence, Redskins stole DL Jonathan Allen at No. 17 in this year’s draft. Only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan threw for more yards than QB Kirk Cousins.
Yikes: Not good when your QB is upset that you franchised him in consecutive years. Both WRs DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are in new uniforms. Bet you can’t name a Washington running back.
Worth a bet? It’s tough to win in this league without defence. Redskins are working on it, but the drastic improvement required won’t happen overnight. Keep an eye on these guys for same time next year.
Super Bowl: 12-1
Likes: WR Julio Jones capable of repeating mind-blowing 2016 season. QB Matt Ryan is reigning MVP. Falcons have new state-of-the-art home stadium. In just two years, coach Dan Quinn has clearly changed the underachieving culture in Atlanta.
Yikes: Despite a successful 2016 campaign, the Falcons’ defence surrendered the sixth-most points and eighth-most yards in the league. While an explosive offensive can offset that, it’s a difficult task to maintain.
Worth a bet? Sorry, but you missed the boat last year when Falcons were 20-1 to win this conference. They were 40-1 to win the Super Bowl. Anyone that was wise enough to have the latter ticket is still hurting.
Super Bowl: 25-1
Likes: If you watched rookie RB Christian McCaffrey (yes, son of Ed) in college, you know how good this youngster can be. A healthy Luke Kuechly is a force to be reckoned with. Early schedule is favourable.
Yikes: Cam Newton is hurting. He will have taken just two pre-season snaps prior to opener. Even if he’s out there, how healthy is he? Even if he’s healthy, are his throwing skills adequate enough to succeed in this passing league?
Worth a bet? Missing the playoffs after appearing in Super Bowl rarely is a confidence builder, but that’s what happened to Panthers last season. This division is on the rise and Carolina could be looking at it from the bottom up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Super Bowl: 40-1
Likes: Added some much-needed weapons for progressing third-year QB Jameis Winston, including WR DeSean Jackson. Tampa’s defence is loaded with exceptional players, led by DT Gerald McCoy.
Yikes: Winston needs to be more consistent. QB has mobility, but O-line must provide better protection. RB Doug Martin is suspended for first four games. Are Bucs cursed as Hard Knocks- featured team?
Worth a bet? Two years running, an NFC South team has gone to the Super Bowl at hefty odds (Carolina 50-1 in 2015, Atlanta 40-1 in 2016). Bucs are balanced on both sides of ball. As long shots go, this could be the best of them.
New Orleans Saints
Conference: 25 -1
Super Bowl: 50-1
Likes: QB Drew Brees, now 38, has led the league in passing yards in each of past three years and five of previous seven. Drafted a top-rated cornerback in Marshon Lattimore. Offensive front four are solid.
Yikes: 2016 saw defence allow league-high 273 yards per game passing and 454 points, second-most only to 49ers. Traded best receiver, Brandin Cooks, to the Pats. TE Coby Fleener is a bust.
Worth a bet? Somehow, there is belief that the Saints are better than they’ve shown. Don’t fall for it. Sean Payton’s club has now finished 7-9 in four of the past five seasons. Division is tough. Saints aren’t.
Super Bowl: 10-1
Likes: Dynamic playmakers littered throughout roster. Cardinals are only team that pose a threat in soft NFC West. Stud DB Earl Thomas appears to be in great form after breaking leg last December.
Yikes: QB Russell Wilson should sue team for lack of support up front. Wilson ran for his life on passing downs last year and few personnel changes were made to shore up front line. Fragile receiving group.
Worth a bet? There is no value to be found here. Seahawks can advance deep into playoffs, but their offensive-line inadequacies are a valid concern. And defence gave up 36 points to Falcons in post-season last year.
Super Bowl: 25-1
Likes: “Shutdown corner” is an overused term in the NFL, but if there truly is such a thing, Patrick Peterson is the man. RB David Johnson can do it all. No team has better blitzing packages than Bruce Arians’ squad.
Yikes: Do QB Carson Palmer (turns 38 this season) and future Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald (34) have enough left in their tanks? Defence took a hit when DE Calais Campbell shuffled off to Jacksonville.
Worth a bet? There is a quiet confidence emanating out of Arizona this season. Like all teams not named Patriots, there are areas of concern, but the NFC is wide open and if vets can stay healthy (big if), a Super Bowl run could occur.
Los Angeles Rams
Super Bowl: 125-1
Likes: Jeff Fisher has left the building. New helmets are nicer than old ones. Outstanding defensive club (however, star DL Aaron Donald holding out). Exciting WR Sammy Watkins comes over from Buffalo.
Yikes: Still young and raw, QB Jared Goff was simply awful last year and a weak offensive line doesn’t help matters. Team accumulated a league-low 4203 offensive yards in 2016, 700+ yards lower than second-fewest 49ers.
Worth a bet? This offence is light years away from being NFL calibre. While L.A.’s defence is formidable, it is on the field far too often. New coach should help improve things but it’s going to take time, certainly beyond this season.
San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl: 200-1
Likes: Offensively innovative Kyle Shanahan comes over from Atlanta to replace a useless Chip Kelly as head coach. WR Pierre Garcon should aid an extremely inept receiving unit from last season.
Yikes: Journeyman QB Brian Hoyer will have some moments, but is strictly a stop gap measure until next season. Just two wins a year ago were both against the abysmal Rams. Home field is hardly home.
Worth a bet? The Niners remain in transition, but GM John Lynch seems to be a man with a plan. Unfortunately, plans take time to unfold and 2017 is too soon to expect winning results.
(Odds courtesy of oddsshark.com)