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NFC Tiers

The parody in the NFC has been an intriguing storyline to follow throughout the course of this season. The Green Bay Packers are currently the NFC’s #1 seed but were just 36 yards away from a potential upset at the hands of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars this past week. There are some clear contenders but there are no dominant teams. 

As Kyle Shanahan put it last year, “It definitely exists and it’s just random. It’s global warming. There’s a home-field advantage. It’s harder to play when you can’t hear. That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose. That’s just a fact. It’s harder to play on the road.”

In the past five Super Bowls, of the ten teams featured, seven were one-seeds and the other three were two-seeds in their respective conferences. 

However, this year that very well could change given the landscape of the NFC. Given the new playoff format, the 1-seed will become even more valuable as they’d be the only team that would have a bye week in the wild card weekend.

Despite this, I think there are six teams that are very capable of a potential NFC title run if everything falls into place. Here is a landscape of the NFC that takes some consideration into the near future past the 2020-2021 season. These are not power rankings but they’re tiers that have a hierarchy when considering the rest of the 2020 season, as well as how these teams are set up for the future past 2020:

Tier 1: Super Bowl Contenders

  • Green Bay Packers

Only 3 head coaches have started more promising than GB head coach Matt LaFleur’s in their first 25 games (20-5): George Seifert, Paul Brown, and Guy Chamberlin. LaFleur has helped re-establish the Packers as an NFC contender after their recent lull at the end of Mike McCarthy’s tenure. The Packers are out to redeem themselves after they were steamrolled in last year’s NFC title game. In 2020, the Packers still haven’t put those demons entirely to rest after being manhandled by Tampa Bay and Minnesota – under LaFleur and DC Mike Pettine, the Packers have struggled against downhill, zone-based teams that prioritize the run. But with Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay will always have a chance.

EPA: 6

  • New Orleans Saints:

Just like 2019, the Saints will have to go a few games without Drew Brees. Last season, the Saints didn’t miss a beat with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm who was 5-0 in his starts in New Orleans just a year ago. This will be Jameis Winston’s opportunity to showcase to the league and the Saints that he should be a starting quarterback in this league. Talent and ability has never been an issue for the former 1st overall, but he needs to be much smarter in regards to decision-making and show that he can be a leader. The Saints are always at the upper echelon of the NFC but the end is near for Drew Brees. This may just be his last season – New Orleans has lost their last three postseason games on the very last play. 

EPA: 5

  • Seattle Seahawks

We all know this team is severely flawed and it is finally starting to cost this team games. Seattle has now lost 3 of their last 4 thanks to an abysmal defense. At the start of the season, letting “Russ Cook” had taken the NFL by storm. Under Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson was limited within the confines of a run-first, defensively-minded football team that did not want to throw the ball down the field. As OC Brian Schottenheimer started to open up the offense, it seemed to be a winning formula early as Russell Wilson was lighting the league on fire. However, in the past month, it looks like he has been coming back down to earth as he’s now tied for the third most interceptions in the NFL with 10. I still like their chances with Russell Wilson under center for the postseason – he’s capable of winning any game single-handedly in the NFC.

EPA: 11

Tier 2: Capable of a Super Bowl Run

  • Arizona Cardinals

After defeating the Bills off the “Hail Murray,” the Cardinals have thrust themselves into first place in the gruesome NFC West. They enter a pivotal game Thursday night against the Seahawks and can create a little bit of separation while sweeping Russell Wilson in the process. With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, Kyler Murray has really emerged as one of the premier breakthrough players in 2020. He has cemented himself as a bonafide MVP candidate and is on pace to becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000+ and rush for 1,000+. Their +56 point differential ranks third in the NFC.

EPA: 14

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The metrics love this Bucs team – they’re as balanced as they come. They can run, pass, beat you up front and on the perimeter, and their defense has been very stout throughout the year. They are still working out the kinks with all the turnover they’ve experienced on their roster. Last Sunday was an encouraging step in the right direction pummeling Carolina after their embarrassing Sunday night performance versus New Orleans the week before. Although their skill players have garnered most of the publicity from the media this season, it’s been the men in the trenches, especially the offensive line from guys like Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, and Tristan Wirfs that elevated this team so quickly.

EPA: 1

  • Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are coming off their biggest win in the season over Seattle. It’s been the surprising rise of their defense that has hoisted this team back to fighting for an NFC West title. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey have played like the superstars that they are, but it’s been guys like Darious Williams and Leonard Floyd who have made this a much more complete defense. 4 of their 6 wins have come at the expense of the NFC East, Monday night will be a huge test to prove they are for real.

EPA: 3

Tier 3: Better Luck Next Year

  • San Francisco 49ers

Going into the season, the 49ers were a prominent candidate for regression. In the span of one season, San Fran went from picking second to being minutes away from winning the Lombardi Trophy. That just doesn’t happen; but their struggles this season go beyond the playing field. No team has been hit harder than the 9ers when it comes to the injury bug. The 49ers currently have 27 players injured, but remarkably, 21 of them are on injured reserve. The QB play has been inconsistent, and the trenches aren’t dominant like last season. The losses of DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have been too much to overcome. This team is still built nicely after 2020, but they need to get healthy and figure out a long-term solution at QB.

EPA: 17

  • Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have strung together a nice run under interim Raheem Morris. In their four games under Morris, the Falcons were just a last-second touchdown away from being 4-0 and looking like a completely revitalized defense under the former head coach. Talent has never been at the forefront of issues for Atlanta but they certainly haven’t looked the same since their devastating Super Bowl loss to New England in 2017. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones aren’t getting any younger; the window for contention is closing rapidly for this core. It’ll be interesting to see what owner Arthur Blank does in terms of front office and coaching decisions going into next year.

EPA: 21

  • Minnesota Vikings

After a miserable 1-5 start, there was a lot of talk surrounding Minnesota blowing all their core that made the divisional round in the NFC playoffs last season. The deadline came and went for Minnesota as they held tight and it has paid off in the short-term. They’ve now won three straight and have Dallas, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Chicago in four of their next five games. A 1-5 start may be too much to overcome for a wildcard berth, but this team isn’t that far away from being a serious contender in the NFC next season. With Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back in the mix next year, this defense should get back to one of the stout defenses in the NFC.

EPA: 10

  • Chicago Bears

The Bears have been looking for a spark offensively and inserted offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as the play caller last Monday Night versus Minnesota. Their offense looked even worse totaling for a pitiful 149 yards. They’ve now lost four straight going into their bye and stand at .500. The Bears may just have the most daunting QB situation in all of football; however, their defense has proven it will keep them in just about any game they play this season. If they can figure out a solution at QB while patching up their offensive line, this team can be scary come 2021.

EPA: 19

Tier 4: Headed in the Right Direction

  • Carolina Panthers

What Matt Rhule has been able to do in Carolina is nothing short of outstanding. Although they aren’t seeing the wins, the Panthers are building an identity and culture. Rhule and Carolina’s front office were the first organization in the common draft era to have at least 7 picks and make every selection on one side of the football. Rhule, a defensive-minded coach, has seen remarkable contributions from Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Yetur Gross-Matos, and even day 3 selection, Bravvion Roy has come along nicely. We haven’t even talked about what offensive guru Joe Brady has been able to do on offense. I expect Brady to be a head coach very soon; it’ll be intriguing to monitor how Carolina handles their QB situation past 2020.

EPA: 18

  • New York Giants

Joe Judge made headlines when he elected to let go of Marc Colombo from his staff. Nevertheless, Judge and his coaching staff completely outcoached Philadelphia this past week and they are within striking distance to take a lead in the NFC East. Daniel Jones has progressed nicely ever since their Monday night thriller against Tampa Bay in week 8. Jones received a lot of scrutiny for two inexcusable interceptions that played a hand in Tampa pulling out the win; since then, Jones hasn’t turned the ball over and is playing efficient football. The defense has been sound while the offensive line has steadily improved. 

EPA: 28

  • Washington Football Team

Washington hasn’t had much luck in terms of wins in 2020. After a promising upset win over Philadelphia in week 1, Washington has lost 7 of their last 8. However, there are plenty of positive signs for the Football Team moving forward and it starts with head coach Ron Rivera. Riverboat Ron has had some hardships in his personal life but has just finished receiving cancer treatment while trying to aid this roster in the right direction. The defensive line is reminiscent of what the 49ers built going to the Super Bowl in 2019; they’ve amassed a ton of high draft capital and when healthy, have produced at a high level. Terry McLaurin has all the makings of a true game-breaker in this league; Washington is surely eyeing one of the top four QBs (Lawrence, Fields, Wilson, Lance) going into the 2021 NFL draft. If they can figure out a signal caller and the offensive line; this team will immediately compete in the dreadful NFC East and make some noise around the league.

EPA: 25

Tier 5: Purgatory – In Need of a Front Office/Roster Overhaul

  • Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are coming off their worst performance of the year. Post bye week, the Eagles look unprepared, and were outplayed and outcoached in every facet of the game. Carson Wentz’s lucrative extension in 2019 has the Eagles tied up to their disappointing franchise QB through 2024. Ever since the Super Bowl title in 2017, this team has been on a slow decline and it has culminated into a really frustrating 2020 season. The defense is old and overpaid; the offense lacks any real play-making and is also aging in critical spots across the offensive line. The Eagles have not drafted well for the past half-decade and have minimal young players to get excited; Philadelphia needs to take a step back this offseason and reevaluate where they’re at as a franchise.

EPA: 24

  • Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys may just be the most disappointing team in all of the NFL this season. With Dak Prescott under the helm, they started out 1-3 but could’ve easily fell to 0-4 thanks to the miracle helicopter onside kick to get past Atlanta. Since Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys haven’t been remotely competitive. Over the past few seasons, the Cowboys have signed Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Jaylon Smith, Amari Cooper, and Demarcus Lawrence to absolutely massive contracts. They still haven’t locked up the one player who is seemingly worth a huge contract and that’s Dak Prescott. There have been reports that the Cowboys players are already fed up with Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan; this is a team filled with overpaid and entitled players. The one constant that can be attributed to Dallas’s perpetual disappointment is Jerry Jones. Jones has been over-controlling as a GM and spokesman of the franchise since their dominance in the 90s. With Jones at the helm, it hasn’t been America’s Team; it’s been America’s Disappointment.

EPA: 30

  • Detroit Lions

Don’t let their record fool you, the Lions are on their way to falling short of the playoffs once again in 2020. The Lions had thought that they set a precedent of excellence and inability to become complacent when they let go of Jim Caldwell in 2017. Caldwell had finished with a record of 36-28 (.5625 %), and made the postseason twice in four seasons. Lions GM Bob Quinn decided to cut ties and go with his buddy from New England, Matt Patricia. Since his arrival, Patricia has boasted a 13-27-1 record and is wasting away the career of aging, franchise QB Matthew Stafford. This team has promising talent on both sides of the ball and has drafted well in certain spots over the past few seasons. The recent emergence of D’Andre Swift is a perfect encapsulation of what is holding back the Lions and it falls on Patricia. The 2nd round choice from Georgia made his first career start and finished with 149 total yards; throughout the season, Swift had taken a backseat to a 35 year-old Adrian Peterson who was signed 7 days before the first game. The Lions need to let go of Patricia and Quinn while Stafford can still play. 

EPA: 29

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