Ryan Bradley continues his 2013 NFL preview. Today he turns his attention to the NFC.
The Dallas Cowboys have had trouble playing to their potential in recent years. It doesn’t help that Jerry Jones seems to have softened (there’s no way Jason Garrett would still be the coach if Jones was the Jones of old). Still, it’s been painfully obvious to everyone that the biggest weakness in Dallas is the offensive line. Statistically, Tony Romo is a top five quarterback, but he rarely gets the time in the pocket he needs if he is going to take the next step. His O-line is a house of cards. But the ‘Boys did little to fix that in the offseason. Regardless, if this team can stay healthy and play to the potential of guys like Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, there are big things ahead. That’s a big if, though.
Last year Dallas ended another disappointing season at 8-8. They’ll take a small step forward this year.
New York Giants
If past behavior is truly the best predictor of future success, the New York Giants could be in for a good year. Eli Manning has been consistently inconsistent during his career. If he has a great year one season he follows it with a subpar one the next. Last year, he was lukewarm, but I don’t see an upswing this year, especially with all the injuries stacking up in New York. Plus, their draft was all over the place, Tom Coughlin is incredibly overrated, and they play in a division that is improving quickly.
The Giants eked out a 9-7 season last year, but all signs point to a team on the decline.
The Philadelphia Eagles did their best to shake up the organization this year, parting with Andy Reid in favor of Oregon Ducks coach, Chip Kelly. The NFL is already psyching itself out wondering what Kelly’s system might look like. He could be the next generation version of Bill Bellichick. But Philadelphia was a weird place to try and make the jump to the NFL. By all accounts so far, he’s done a good job of changing the culture in the Eagles locker room (the Jets might want to take notes on how to go about this). The Eagles draft was solid, especially the second round pick of Stanford tight end, Zach Ertz. But I am baffled by the choice to draft Matt Barkley who will end up being the next Mark Sanchez who was the next Matt Leinart.
Following a 4-12 season, I think the Eagles will be happy with measured improvement. No one in their right mind should consider Kelly a failure after one season in Philadelphia, even if they don’t reach .500. Still, I think it’s attainable.
The NFL (and its fans and commentators) has grown quick to anoint new superstars and Robert Griffin III may face higher expectations than any second year player this season. Last year, it was Cam Newton’s lot in life and, still, the sophomore slump arrived. I don’t think RGIII will crash and burn the way Newton did, but I do think he has an uphill battle in front of him, and I maintain that Kirk Cousins will have a more successful NFL career when all is said and done.
After a 10-6 season last year, the Redskins are feeling the pressure to improve, but it’s going to be hard to do. Especially in the NFC East, which seems to be developing an almost crippling parity.
The Chicago Bears have always been a team with a strong identity, but that seems to be dissipating. Brian Urlacher is gone, Jay Cutler has grown into fodder for sports memes, and the 2013 schedule is pretty brutal, not to mention they’ve got a new head coach. Still, I liked their draft; Kyle Long and Jon Bostic will be solid players for a long time. But you still have the Cutler problem. He’s become known as a guy who doesn’t care about his team or the game of football. Whether it’s true, its a widespread (and spreading) perception. Not exactly what you want for your starting quarterback. And what happens if he should choose to give into his ennui? Well, let’s just say the backup situation is a disaster.
After a respectable 10-6, I have a feeling the wheels come off in 2013.
No one expected a losing season from the Detroit Lions last year, and as we go into the start of the 2013 season the storyline seems to be that last year was a fluke. But I’m not so sure it was. They have some good players, and Calvin Johnson is truly great, but they don’t seem poised to put it all together. Especially not playing in a division with the Packers. I liked the Reggie Bush signing in the offseason, but I think he’ll get lost.
The Lions going 4-12 last year was one of the more surprising story lines of the season, but people shouldn’t anticipate things will change that much.
Green Bay Packers
Like New England and Tom Brady, the Packers will always be in the Super Bowl conversation as long as Aaron Rodgers is at the helm, but they face a tough schedule and looming questions in some key areas of their game. They had a lot of draft picks, but the result was a mixed bag. Still, if their second round pick, Eddie Lacy, gets a chance to touch the ball he might just be one of the season’s breakouts.
The Packers finished 11-5 in 2012. They aren’t going to be unseated in an increasingly weak division.
Everyone knows the Vikings rode Adrian Peterson to the playoffs last year, and yet the Vikings continue to believe Christian Ponder is starting quarterback material. I respect Peterson’s confidence that he will have an even better season this year, but the rest of us remember who he plays for, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the underwhelming Matt Cassell take Ponder’s job during the season. Especially with how devastating the Viking’s schedule is this year.
Hopefully Minnesota enjoyed their 10-6 finish last year, this year they’ll be on the business end of .500.
Photo: AP/Rick Osentoski