The 2015 NFL season is drawing nearer by the day and how many of the 2014 NFC playoff teams will make a return trip to the 2015 NFL Playoffs?
Summer has just begun but the NFL odds for Week 1 of the regular season have already been up for quite a while, which is just a reminder that it is never too early to start looking at the NFL with the season now three months away.
So our focus right now is on the teams that made the NFL Playoffs last season as we examine their prospects of making a return trip to the 2015 NFL Playoffs this year. We took a look at the AFC last week, so now we are shifting our focus and presenting our views for the NFC.
Similar to our AFC picks, we are projecting three division winners from the NFC last season to repeat that role this year, and we also expect a wild card team from last season to return in that same role this season. Also similar to the AFC, we are predicting the fourth division winner from 2014 to miss the playoffs entirely in 2015, and also for one of last year’s wild card teams to miss the cut this time around.
Can you guess which teams are which? Well, without any further ado, here are our 2015 predictions for the six 2014 NFC playoff teams.
2014 NFC Playoff Teams
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are the two-time defending division champions and they have gone to the last two Super Bowls, although that last trip in February ended with a heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots thanks to the now famous interception from the one-yard line in the final minute. So can Seattle reach a third straight Super Bowl this season? We believe they can as this could be the team’s last hurrah with so many of their best players in their contract seasons, not the least of which is Russell Wilson. But just keeping our eyes on this year, one player not in a contract year is Marshawn Lynch, who the Seahawks wisely locked up for three years this off-season, and they may have solved their red zone problems by acquiring one of the best tight ends in football in Jimmy Graham from the Saints. And the Seattle defense is never a concern, especially if contract concerns propel the likes of Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner to play even better to maximize their values at the end of this season.
Prediction: In as NFC West Champions
Green Bay Packers: The Packers had the Seahawks on the ropes in the NFC Championship Game last year and were three minutes from the Super Bowl before a late collapse keyed by not recovering an onside kick resulted in Seattle forcing overtime and Green Bay eventually falling 28-22. Still, that was a team that finished 12-4 during the regular season while winning the North, and we see no reason for this year to be any different with basically the same team. That is because the Packers took care of business by resigning Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, John Kuhn, B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion, meaning that the only difference this year will be the additions of draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to give help to the secondary. And frankly, they may not have much to beat in the division with their biggest challenge quite possibly coming from the upstart Minnesota Vikings, who in reality may be a year away from being considered serious contenders.
Prediction: In as NFC North Champions
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys returned to the playoffs after a long absence last year and as NFC East Division Champions with a 12-4 record to boot! So did the Cowboys overachieve after so many seasons of 8-8 mediocrity or have they indeed turned a corner? Well, we tend to think the former, but that does not mean that they cannot repeat as champs at something like 10-6 or maybe 11-5 this year. Yes, Dallas lost the leading rusher in the NFL in DeMarco Murray in free agency, and to a division rival in the Philadelphia Eagles at that. However, owner Jerry Jones does not seem overly concerned with Joseph Randle currently topping the depth chart in the backfield, and the Cowboys just may have the best offensive line in football that could make even a mediocre running back look like Walter Payton. And something else that should help the Cowboys this year is facing the league’s 24th ranked schedule, a slate that had just a cumulative .467 winning percentage last season.
Prediction: In as NFC East Champions
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are the two-time defending NFC South Champions, which is a rarity in a division that had gone a decade without having a repeat winner. Keep in mind though that Carolina won the title with a 7-8-1 record last season, and in reality it is not inconceivable that the Panthers can go for “first to worst” this year with the Saints looking better on paper, the Falcons facing an easier schedule and the Buccaneers probably improved a bit. And even if the Panthers avoid the basement, we still do not see a return trip to the playoffs let alone a third straight division title. This team played terrible football over the first three months of last season before a furious finish in a terrible division and we do not see any real improvement in the off-season with the signing of free agents Ted Ginn, Michael Oher, and Jonathan Martin, none of whom figure to have huge impacts. And some questionable draft decisions such as trading up to take Devin Funchess and selecting Shaq Thompson early probably did not help the Carolina cause.
Prediction: Out of Playoffs
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals had the best record in the NFC at 9-1 when Carson Palmer was lost for the season last year, and regardless of your opinion of Palmer, there was a significant drop-off behind him on the depth chart and they were eventually passed by the Seattle Seahawks in the division and ousted by the Panthers in the wild card round of the playoffs with quarterback Ryan Lindley statistically having the worst performance in playoff history. Palmer is now back and presumably healthy, but apparently the oddsmakers were not impressed with the 11-5 record last year as they have posted an Arizona win total of 8½ this year. We are a bit more bullish on the Cardinals this year though as we foresee around a 10-6 record that would probably not be good enough to beat out Seattle in the NFC West but would be good enough for a return wild card playoff appearance. Granted the loss of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles hurts as he is now the head coach of the New York Jets, but Arizona has a chance to be even better defensively this year with the free agent additions of linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and LaMarr Woodley and defensive tackle Corey Peters.
Prediction: In as Wild Cards
Detroit Lions: If you are looking for the most likely poster children for regression this year, ladies and gentlemen we resent to you the 2015 Detroit Lions! The Lions finished at 11-5 last season to make the playoffs as a wild card while finishing just one game behind the Packers for the NFC North title. They did that despite the offense not living up to expectations, as the defense came from virtually nowhere to rank second in the NFL in total defense allowing just 301.8 yards per game and third in points against at 18.0 per contest. Do not look for a repeat from a defense that replaced Ndamukong Suh with Haloti Ngata, who appeared to have lost a step last year. And the backfield could be in flux with Reggie Bush departed with the 49ers and Joique Bell not yet in shape while recovering from Achilles and knee surgeries. Also, in an interesting tidbit that may be irrelevant but is a fun fact nonetheless, the Lions have not had consecutive winning seasons and playoff appearances since way back in 1993-95 under Coach Wayne Fontes.
Prediction: Out of Playoffs