By David Mullen
In a presidential election year, the winner of the NFC in 2020 season is open for debate. While it looks like a landslide victory in the AFC for the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFC could swing in a number of states.
The only certainty in the NFC East is that Washington will not represent the people. The team had their feathers ruffled by the use of the Redskins name after 83 years and changed to simply the Washington Football Team. They have had several powwows with the NFL brass over front office indiscretions.
It has been a tough year in Washington. The football team has a lot of problems as well.
Add the Giants to the mix. They hired Joe Judge as their new coach. If he married the famous reality TV magistrate, she would become Mrs. Judge Judy Judge. But despite having exciting running back Saquon Barkley and the beginnings of a decent offensive line, they hired Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator. Wait until the brutal New York media attends one of his press conferences. Like Washington, the Giants must approach the bench and admit that they are guilty of not being very good.
That leaves the division to Philadelphia Eagles and the local team based in Frisco, that plays in Arlington and calls themselves the Dallas Cowboys. With conference wins at a premium, anything less than 3-1 against New York and Washington would be a disappointment.
The Eagles must try to soar again behind highly paid quarterback Carson Wentz. They had the worst receiving corps in the league in 2019, used the NFL Draft to add wideouts and must hope that the proven 33-year old DeSean Jackson can return to form and stay off Twitter with antisemitic rants. But defense is the key in Philly and they are hoping the squad can take them to the playoffs.
The Cowboys finally have a new head coach and it is not Jerry “I am owner of the Dallas Cowboys” Jones. Mike McCarthy inherits a team full of talent on paper that are classic underachievers. For that team to finish 8-8 last season under Garrett was a disgrace, and even worse than the 1-15 1989 season when at least fans new that the team was rebuilding.
It has been 25 years since the Cowboys won the NFC Championship. Instead of constantly being in denial, maybe Jones will issue a uniform patch.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, for whatever reason, is still not signed to a long-term deal. Maybe Prescott or the Cowboys know something about the team and just aren’t talking. If the wide receiving group is as good as it appears and Ezekiel Elliott returns to his leading man role, the offense can be the best in the NFC.
Mike Nolan comes in as defensive coordinator to realign a corps depleted by injuries and free agent losses. And linebacker Sean Lee just made his annual trip to the injured list. Nolan has proven in the past that he is up for the task. The Cowboys offense will score a lot of points. Their defense must keep the opposition to fewer.
For the first time in years, the NFC South grabbed NFL offseason headlines. Primarily, they were about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing ex-Patriot Tom Brady and his tight end buddy Rob Gronkowski. Head coach Bruce Arians is no Bill Belicheck and promised to continue with his own offense. See how long it takes for Brady and Gronk to return to the plays that made New England famous.
While the Bucs are being handed a division title by NFL pundits, a key question remains unanswered. Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Under Sean Payton, a coach Jones let get away, is a brilliant motivator and field general. Quarterback Drew Brees still has Tabasco in his tank and engineers the passing game that includes Michael Thomas at wideout (a record 149 catches in 2019) and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield.
The Atlanta Falcons are lurking. The same team that has yet to recover from blowing a big lead to Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI could finally be ready to rebound. Quarterback Matt Ryan is rarely tossed into the mix of elite throwers, which is understandable since Brees and now Brady are in the same division. The first team offense are all number one draft picks. Watch out for the Falcons.
The once-proud Carolina Panthers are starting a new reign under ex-Baylor head coach Matt Rhule. They have the all-world, versatile tailback Christian McCaffrey and are looking to veteran signal caller Teddy Bridgewater to execute an LSU like offense under new coordinator Joe Brady. He’s no Tom Brady, and hopes of a .500 season is all that is on Carolina’s mind.
The NFC North has always been known as the “black and blue” division. This year, it could be simply blue, as in bleak.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in the middle of two well-publicized beefs in the offseason. He continues to disagree with second year head coach Matt LeFluer. Rogers is passing his way to the Hall of Fame. LeFluer played QB for the Omaha Beef of the National Indoor Football League. Rogers also sent longtime girlfriend Danika Patrick to Pit Row.
Once again, the Packers will try to do the most with the least. LeFluer wants a ball-control offense. Rodgers is at his best throwing downfield and improvising. To win the division, LeFluer must first win over Rodgers. It is not going to happen.
The Minnesota Vikings are good, but QB Kirk Cousins and his new $32 million per year contract are also under fire. And their defense has been rebuilt. In this division, the Vikings may be able to get away with a new look, as other teams just don’t provide much offense.
While every team starts the season undefeated, that is not how Chicago Bears fans feel opening the season once again with Mitchell — insert expletive here — Trubisky under center while one-time Super Bowl hero Nick Foles stands on the sidelines with headsets.
This sets up perfectly for the Detroit Lions, and it is about time. One of only four teams never to play in a Super Bowl (with Cleveland, Jacksonville and Houston), Detroit could find their way if quarterback Matthew Stafford from Highland Park can stay healthy and the Lions can find a defense.
The play of Seattle Seahawks will dictate if the NFC West is the best division the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers are already the conferences’ top team. The Los Angeles Rams are solid. Remember, those two teams are the last two NFC Champions. Add the Seahawks recent two NFC championships and the NFC West has represented the conference in four of the last seven Super Bowls.
The Niners, like the Chiefs, were comeback artists last season, winning five games by five points or less. That momentum usually doesn’t carry over season to season. The pressure is clearly on QB Jimmy Garoppolo, blamed in the Bay Area for a second half collapse against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Led by Nick Bosa, the Niners have an underrated defense.
More than any other team, closely edging the Saints, the Seahawks bring attitude. This season, they also brought in highly regarded safety Jamal Adams from the New York Jets for eyas (bird reference) of top draft picks. They still have quarterback Russell Wilson, a bit forgotten recently. Under cocky coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are vying to become pro football’s least liked team, wrestling the dubious title from the local team with the star on their helmets.
The Los Angeles Rams open new SoFi Stadium in beautiful downtown Inglewood this year with an old issue: can they protect QB Jared Goff? Well liked coach Sean McVay, another head coach that Jones could have hired instead of sticking with his red-headed regular, is an offense whiz. His defensive vision will now be tested.
The eyes of Arizona, Texas and the rest of the nation, will be on the Arizona Cardinals exciting quarterback Kyler Murray running an innovative offense designed by ex-Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals don’t have enough to put together a winning season yet, but they are the best fourth place team in the NFC.
When the votes are counted, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Detroit and Seattle will win their divisions, and Dallas, San Francisco and Atlanta will make the playoffs as Wild Card teams. Seattle will play Kansas City in Super Bowl LV in a battle of old AFC West teams. In the end, the band will play “Hail to the Chiefs” as they defend their World Championship. Fitting since it is a presidential election year after all.