Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who is For Real in the NFC?

The Detroit Lions are one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the NFC, but the silver and honolulu blue barely escaped against the winless Vikings in OT last week. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles, who many thought were the best team in the NFC prior to the start of the season hands-down, have been a huge disappointment.

So who is the real team to beat in the NFC?

Well, that's pretty easy to answer, since the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers have stormed to the three consecutive victories, including a thriller against the Saints in week 1. Speaking of the Saints, they look pretty strong too, but a closer look reveals that both the Saints and the Packers struggle mightily on the defensive side of the ball. Nobody has given up more passing yards per game in the NFC than the Green Bay Packers, and they are second behind only the hapless Vikings at stopping opponents on 3rd down.

While there may be no denying that Green Bay is good -- damn good in fact -- I think it's a little premature to anoint a team that is consistently allowing 400 yards per game as a shoe-in to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The same goes for the Saints, who are equally dynamic on the offensive side of the ball, but also equally anemic on D. Only the Rams have allowed more points per game than New Orleans 29.3.

There's an old saying in football: Defense wins championships. Now, I don't know if that's true anymore in this souped-up pass-happy era, but teams like the Packers and the Saints are not leaving their offense any margin for error by being so pedestrian on defense. Therefore it's not hard to picture either team getting knocked off of their pedestal in the near future.

The fact of the matter is, there are about 7 viable Super Bowl candidates in the NFC.

Here are some teams that could make it, and why:

1. New York Giants: Why is nobody talking about the Giants this year? And why is nobody mentioning Eli Manning when they have a discussion about the top 5 QB's in the game right now? Eli was magnificent against the Eagles in a week 3 trouncing, and if you don't believe me, consult his 145 quarterback rating. At 2-1, the G-Men are looking good, and with Mario Manningham and Osi Umenyiora coming back soon, they could be even better.

2. Dallas Cowboys: What a remarkable change in fortune it has been for Tony Romo in the last three weeks. He's gone from choking goat to gritty gamer, and he's done it at a time when his banged-up squad needed him more than ever. Dallas could very easily be 0-3 with Romo on the IR right now, but because of Romo's desire to prove everybody who piled on him after week one wrong, he's got his team at the top of the NFC East as they head into a huge showdown with Detroit. Dallas is the only NFC team that gives up less than 300 yards per game, and if Romo can get healthy again they promise to be formidable on both sides of the ball all season long.

3. Philadelphia Eagles: Just because they've started slowly, and Vick has been treated like a rag doll by opposing defensive lines, doesn't mean that the Eagles aren't one of the best teams in the NFC. They've got playmakers on both sides of the ball, and when Vick gets himself right, they should hit stride and rise to somewhere around the type of the conference.

4. New Orleans Saints: As we've mentioned, there offense is beyond awesome. If they're D can hold tough in the red zone, and they can develop a road identity, they could be an 12-win team.

5. Detroit Lions: The fact that the Lions have the best defense in the NFC against the pass is definitely reason to get excited. Whether or not they can continue at this level is another question entirely. Their only quality win this season was on the road in Tampa Bay, but they'll get there chance for another in Dallas on Sunday. If they succeed there, they could supplant the Bears as the team most likely to challenge the Packers in the NFC north.

The Best of the Rest:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They are always in close games, and they tend to win more of them than they lose -- what's not to like about that?

2. Atlanta Falcons: A big disappointment thus far, the Falcons need to give Matt Ryan more time to set up and do his thing in the pocket. Ryan has been sacked 13 times already in three games, and only two teams in the NFC (Seattle and Chicago) have allowed more.

3. Chicago Bears: Same problem in Chicago as they have in Atlanta. Cutler is getting killed by opposing D-lines.

Notice how I did not mention any of the NFC West teams? Did I forget that division? No. It is just plain horrible. Sorry.