The NFC is up for grabs going into Wild Card weekend. All six playoff teams are separated by only three games in the win column going into Saturday’s action. It is hard to predict which NFC team will find themselves present at Super Bowl 52. Competition will be tight with so much parity in the conference this season and injuries to top players such as Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz. Every team has qualities that can land them in Minnesota on February 4th and we’re discussing them all.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
After going 11-2 through their first 13 games the Eagles lost their starting QB, and MVP hopeful, Carson Wentz. Back-up Nick Foles managed to keep Philadelphia on top of the NFC in their final three games. To continue their success they will need to take what is the most balanced team in the NFL and excel in specific areas. Foles will need to make throws. It seems obvious, but with a top-three run game by yardage, Foles will have chances to make big plays. If he can connect on a few of them they will have a chance to beat defenses such as Minnesota. On the other side of the ball they will need to produce turnovers to give Foles more opportunities to be good. The hope is that won’t be an issue as Philly has 19 interceptions on the season, good for fourth best in the league.
Everything seems to be looking up for the future of the Eagles. You don’t hear that everyday when discussing Philadelphia sports. They acquired the excuse for failure this postseason when Wentz went down, so they should be playing care-free. Wentz will look to continue the beginning of a promising career when he returns next fall regardless of this year’s results.
Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
There are two certainties in Minnesota this Winter. One is snow. The other is a suffocating defense. Assuming Minnesota keeps up their play on their number one defense, the questions remain with the offense. QB Case Keenum has had a career season in the absence of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford. It has yet to be proven if he can perform in the playoffs with his newly found success. The true key to Minnesota’s playoff success is special teams. Close games are often decided by single digits and field goals. Kicker Kai Forbath has will need to be money. He has been inconsistent all year missing two kicks inside 40 yards and five PAT’s. If Forbath kicks well, then Minnesota should find themselves on the right side of close games.
Minnesota should be considered a favorite to make the Super Bowl. Their effective and young defense should have fans excited for the future. But there is a QB controversy to be addressed in the offseason and Keenum’s playoff performance could hold weight moving forward. Look for him to sink or swim these playoffs.
Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
The Rams are the most exciting team to enter the playoffs this season. They hold the league’s number one scoring offense and third best point differential. The 2017 Rams are the first team in NFL history to go from worst to first in league offense in only a year. The key to the Rams’ success has been, and will remain, their offensive line. They have been exceptional all year and if they continue to succeed so will Goff and Gurley. First-year coach Sean McVay will be able to dig into his bag of tricks for his high-flying offense if the O-line gives him the space. Gurley will be an MVP finalist this season and he will give any defense trouble this postseason. Don’t be surprised if McVay and company are in Minnesota come February 4th if their O-line holds strong.
There is little conflict or controversy in the foreseeable future for the Rams. They have improved immensely from last season. Whether the Rams find themselves in the Super Bowl or as a one-and-done This year has set the building blocks for the next great show to hit Los Angeles. The greatest show on turf should be excited for the future. Yet in the present the Rams are a threat to make the Super Bowl this year. That will remain the case if this cast stays together in the future.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans’ playoff success relies on one man, Drew Brees. They aren’t here without him and it never hurts to have a future hall of famer on your team. Brees’ new favorite target, rookie Alvin Kamara, will surely play a huge role in the success of the Saints this Winter. With 13 total touch downs Kamara is a true red zone threat. Brees has always spread the ball throughout his career. This will not change in the playoffs even though Kamara has been amazing. Brees will have to score when he has the chance for the Saints to make the Super Bowl. New Orleans’ ability to score fast can be a curse and a blessing. Brees will need to manage the clock whenever possible to give his defense rest throughout the playoffs.
This is a very important playoff push for the Saints. ‘Who Dat’ nation is not foreign to the Super Bowl as it is often held there and Brees has one of his own. However, they also know the Saints can be inconsistent year to year and with Brees aging, there’s no telling how many more successful years he has left. It is important for them maximize this opportunity to get back to the big game this season.
Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Cam Newton will need to be a leader if Carolina wants to succeed in the playoffs. I’m not referring to his questionable sense of fashion or troubles with the media. I’m specifically talking about on-field leadership. His mood and performance on the field fuels the offense and when Newton is rattled, so is the rest of the team. That means Newton needs to keep and even-keel composure throughout the playoffs and not be afraid to use assets such as rookie running back Christian McCaffery. Furthermore, if Ron Rivera and the coaching staff can appropriately manage the play calling and player usage then Carolina can make a run.
Coming off a difficult 2016 season Ron Rivera’s seat immediately warmed up entering this year. Making the playoffs gives Rivera a sigh of relief, but not certainty. A playoff run is imperative to Rivera’s future job security as it concerns the Panthers. The Panthers unfortunately are weak compared to their NFC competition and is likely to fold prior to the conference championship.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
Atlanta has been a totally different team despite bringing back most of their roster from last year. The Super Bowl loss hangover has seemed to take its toll on the Falcons this year. They have the talent to make a legitimate run this postseason. That talent just needs to step up. Matt Ryan has had a lack-luster season coming off an MVP performance in 2016. Most important to Atlanta’s success will be their role players on offense. Atlanta is most successful when players such as Sanu are able to play a big role in the offense. Look for him to have a big postseason if the Falcons advance.
Despite their low seed Atlanta has high playoff expectations. They are the most experienced NFC roster following their success last year and should use that to their advantage. This year’s outcome shouldn’t change Atlanta’s future plans. They will most likely continue with their core and be back in the playoff discussion next season.
Featured photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Nick Foles photo via phillymag.com
Todd Gurley photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Stats by pro-football-reference.com