The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are great football teams. They are atop the NFC, probably are the 2 best teams in the whole NFL. I’m sure Denver would argue for the #2 spot, but I might stick with SF.
After Seattle and SF, the NFC is wide open.
I’m an optimistic Eagles fan, but the Eagles aren’t on the same level as the Big 2. They have proven to be winners in multiple seasons and have had postseason success. The Eagles had a good first season under Chip Kelly, but have to take the next step before they can enter the conversation about being in the same class as the big boys.
The Eagles went 10-6 while playing in a poor division. While it was fun to see them win, we need to be realistic as we assess just how good this team is. Let’s compare the Eagles to some other NFC teams.
Saints – This is an odd team. They were awful in 2012 due to suspensions and the controversy, but bounced back to go 11-5. The defense jumped from historically bad to #4 overall. I have total faith in Drew Brees, but I do wonder if the defense will maintain that level of play. The Saints proved to be better on the field last year by winning the playoff game, but I think the Eagles are on the same level.
Panthers – They had a breakthrough season last year, going 12-4 and winning the NFC South. Cam Newton had a strong showing and the defense was 2nd in the NFL. The question here is whether they can maintain that success. The Panthers have major holes at OL and WR. I have no idea if this team was a fluke or simply emerged.
Cowboys – Kyle Orton played so well in the season finale, but then remembered he was Kyle Orton at the last minute and threw the ball right to Brandon Boykin to hand the NFC East to the Eagles. Glorious moment. But also scary that Orton almost led Dallas to a win there. If Tony Romo is healthy, Dallas is a good team. The guy is good for some epic meltdowns, but also has some huge games. The Denver game was amazing. I just don’t know that Dallas did enough to fix an awful defense.
Giants – They seemed awful last year, but look at the standings and they somehow went 7-9. They made changes in personnel and the offensive staff. If the OL can block and Eli quits throwing the ball to the other team, the Giants could be right back in the playoff hunt. You do wonder if Eli had a bad year or simply went over the cliff and isn’t coming back. Just because his brother is a freak doesn’t mean that Eli is one.
Skins – A major mystery team. RG3 is healthy and should be more focused. He now has a great vertical threat in DeSean Jackson. But the OL still has issues. And the defense is hardly intimidating, aside from the OLBs. Jay Gruden is now the coach and I don’t get the feeling he’s the man you want arguing with Dan Snyder on key issues. I wouldn’t be shocked if this team went 11-5 or 5-11. Really curious to see how they play this year. Critical time for RG3.
Packers – They struggled with Aaron Rodgers hurt last year, but this is still a very talented team. With everyone healthy, you can make a strong case for them as the #3 team in the NFC.
Bears – They started 2013 6-4, but then faded down the stretch and finished 8-8. The Eagles destroyed them in December, winning 54-11. The Bears have some really good players here and there, but the overall team doesn’t scare me. They’ve got some real age on the defense.
Cardinals – Good team, but boy do they have some bad luck. Playing in the same division with SF and SEA means they have a huge challenge with trying to make the playoffs. The Cards went 10-6 last year and missed out. Bruce Arians has them headed in the right direction.
Rams – “My kingdom for a QB…”. Sam Bradford was the #1 overall pick several years back. He has not played to that level and this might be his final chance. St. Louis is building a strong roster and has some great individuals, but until Bradford takes the next step, they’ll be more of a nuisance than a contender.
As I look at things, it seems that SF and SEA are on a whole other level from the rest of the NFC. After them, the Eagles, Packers and Saints are the teams I would have grouped together. The big difference in those teams is Rodgers/Brees vs Foles. The Saints and Packers have proven QBs who could be headed to the Hall of Fame. Nick Foles is still a mystery. He won’t go 27 TDs/2 INTs this year, but he doesn’t have to be that perfect. We simply need to see him play at a high level and show that he is the real deal. History is full of players who had one good season. The challenge for Foles is to show that he is a legitimately good QB and not the product of a fluke season.
One of the things we’ll find out this year is how much more talent the Eagles need. I expect the returning players to execute better since they know the scheme better this time around, but that could prove to be an incremental jump. We might find out that the Eagles still need a couple of key players before they can challenge the elite teams.
Chip Kelly turned the Eagles into winners in 2013. But Kelly didn’t come here to go 10-6. He wants to build a great team that can win it all. 2014 will give us some big hints in where this team is and where it needs to go.