NFL: Taking Stock at the Quarter-Mile in the NFC

With four weeks of the 2019 NFL season in the books, it’s time to take stock of how each team stands. For some, they are staring down the barrel of a bleak end to the year. For others, hope remains but the job isn’t done. This is how the NFC looks after one quarter of the season.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys looked to be the powerhouse of the NFC over the first three weeks. But with their stumble against a Drew Brees-less Saints, their mortality was laid bare. Their three wins were put in perspective, as they beat three teams who currently have 2 wins.

The Cowboys remain one of the teams to beat, and are grinding towards the playoffs. They’ll need to avoid the trap of leaning on Running Back Ezekiel Elliott too heavily, and trust in Quarterback Dak Prescott more. But by winning their close games and continuing to dominate the easier matchups, Dallas will cruise to the playoffs. This roster is well-built, and it would be surprising to see them stumble too much more.

New York Giants

After finally pulling the plug on QB Eli Manning, the Giants have secured two wins through Daniel Jones. However, they were late in taking the lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and had a walk in the park against the Washington Redskins. The rest of their schedule looks fairly tough too, minus games against the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Washington.

The Defence has allowed a lot of points, and just can’t compete against the better Offenses of the league. Jones has had success so far, but he also is yet to face a dynamic Defence, which he has in the next two weeks. Sticking with Jones will help the Giants determine where to focus next year, after finally improving the OL to be above average. 2019 isn’t their year, but there’s every chance they are competitive in 2020.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles were one of the favourites to make the playoffs before the season began, and now they’re in survival mode. They fell short against the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, leaving them 2-2. Despite suffering some injuries, the Eagles have very winnable games down the stretch if they can win 4 of their next 7.

The Defence is where the biggest issues are for the Eagles, including with injuries. They’ve given up 300+ passing yards in 3 of 4 games, making it difficult to survive shootouts. Getting leads early will take some of the pressure off the Defence, and they need to also consider controlling the clock more when they can. The Eagles have the tools to make a deep run, but health will be the big threat to their playoff aspirations.

Washington Redskins

Washington have yet to win a game, and seem to be getting worse with each week. QB Case Keenum has sustained injuries, and they don’t know what to do at the position. Rookie Dwayne Haskins wasn’t much better in Week 4, and RB Derrius Guice’s injury also impacted the potential of the Offense. If it wasn’t for the Miami Dolphins on their schedule, Washington may not win a game all season.

Adding fuel to the fire is the Head Coach situation, with Jay Gruden on the hot seat. While he has perhaps overachieved in previous years, unless Haskins takes the reins and gets rolling, Gruden’s time in Washington could be done. It’s a long time before this team looks to be in the playoff race, with no direction from ownership or the front office.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

With one of the league’s nastiest Defences, the Bears are starting to find their recipe to win. Although they were fortunate to escape the Denver game in Week 2, the Defence has taken over in every game they’ve played. All that’s standing in their way is the QB play they’ve gotten so far.

QB Mitchell Trubisky has been disappointing, and the RBs underutilised over four games. Backup Chase Daniel entered the game in Week 4, and is already being looked at as a potentially better option than Trubisky. If the Bears can either unlock Trubisky, who has the higher ceiling, or feel more comfortable with Daniel, then they will be a tough obstacle on the road to the Super Bowl. But that’s it – an obstacle, not a contender.

Detroit Lions

Detroit gave it their all against the Kansas City Chiefs, but came up short in their sole loss of the season. With a bye in Week 5, Detroit can recover from a tough game and start their game plans for divisional games in Weeks 6 and 7. With a lot of weapons on Offense, the question surrounding Detroit is what can their Defence offer?

The Lions are built to win shootouts, which rarely fares well for teams. The Offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, but the Defence needs to do a better job closing out games. They are in one of the league’s toughest divsions. As they encounter their first divisional matchups, they need to win these crucial games.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ secondary has looked good, but have given up a lot of yards on the ground since Week 1. With games against run-heavy teams in the Cowboys and Oakland Raiders on the horizon, the Packers may struggle to win games. They should escape, but may enter the halfway point of the season at 5-3 if they aren’t careful.

Where this team needs to improve is their own Offense. Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s system is slowly taking shape, but the Packers’ own run game is yet to have a strong week. Until they can take some pressure off QB Aaron Rodgers and soak up some clock, this team has a ceiling. A ceiling that prevents them from being among the league’s best.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have been underwhelming across the first four weeks. Although RB Dalvin Cook has been the centrepiece of the Offense, and has played well, the passing game leaves much to be desired. Throw in a Defence that spends too much time on the field, and this team has a lot of work to do to make the playoffs.

It’s hard to get a read on who the Vikings are after four games. They have two get-right games coming up against the Giants and Redskins. But in between them they face the Eagles and Lions. Should Minnesota put it together and reach halfway through the season above .500, they’ll be hopeful come December.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Although they sit last in the division at 1-3, the Falcons aren’t out of the contest. With winnable games against the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta can be 3-3 by the end of Week 6. Then, with no divisional games until the second half of their season, the Falcons control their won destiny if they can notch enough wins by Week 8.

Atlanta have been yo-yoing from week to week, making it hard to pick if they’re competitive or not. Their Offense has been moving the ball, but because of turnovers and not finding the end zone, haven’t put up the points they need to. The Defence has been mediocre, and needs to force more three-and-outs, if not turnovers. The season is salvageable, but Atlanta has a lot of work to be done before the midpoint.

Carolina Panthers

There probably aren’t too many people who would have predicted that the Panthers went 2-2 after 4 weeks without QB Cam Newton playing well. Yet with Newton’s ongoing injury concerns, backup QB Kyle Allen has managed to push Carolina to two consecutive wins. Paired with the best RB this season in Christian McCaffrey, and a strong Defence, the Panthers are sneakily hanging around after starting 0-2.

In fact, the Panthers have very winnable games with or without Newton at the helm. And, like the Falcons, the Panthers play most of their divisional games after Week 8. Getting Allen more comfortable at the helm, and improvements on Defence, and this team could emerge as the top of the division before all’s said and done.

New Orleans Saints

In what appears to be a phenomenon this season, the Saints are one of several teams surviving with a backup QB. With Drew Brees out injured for several weeks, backup Teddy Bridgewater has gone undefeated as starter to put the team at 3-1. While he hasn’t been particularly impressive, the Saints are finding other ways to win. Currently, this is through Defensive or Special Teams Touchdowns.

Yet New Orleans would have to be getting nervous, as they have escaped games, rather than won them. In what could be a potential shootout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints will rely heavily on their Defence once more. Bridgewater needs to be a game manager for a few weeks, If he takes the team to 5-3 by Week 8, that should give them a strong platform for Brees to return. Lots of ‘ifs,’ but if the Saints get all areas firing as they have been they’ll be in good shape. Not many teams will be able to surpass them come January.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are piecing together their Offense week by week. QB Jameis Winston is carrying the Offense, supported by an effective rushing attack. Should the Defence start to limit the points their opponents score, the Bucs will look more threatening.

The problem so far has been Tampa not closing out games where they have a lead. They allowed a large comeback by the Giants, and even Carolina stayed in it until the end in Week 2. Winston will need to continue putting up points and avoiding turnovers if the Bucs are to make it to Week 8 sitting at 4-4 or better. Opportunity presents itself to get divisional wins against backup QBs in the next two weeks, making the Buccaneers an unexpected playoff contender.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Still looking for their first win as Head Coach-QB pairing, Kliff Kingbsury and Kyler Murray have their work cut out for them. The roster holes continue to appear, and the transition from college to NFL is seemingly having an impact. Although not terrible, the Cardinals aren’t a competitive team in 2019.

With Offensive Line help needed, and a bolstering in the defensive front, Arizona has tough sledding ahead. Although a few players have had a nice game now amongst the four, the Cardinals are yet to fire on all cylinders. With their next three games against teams currently combined to be 3-12, the Cardinals could see progress soon.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams were winning ugly in Weeks 1-3, and it caught up to them in Week 4 with a loss to Tampa Bay. Although they have moved the ball fine on Offense, things weren’t clicking like they did last year. The Defence also has been out of sorts, and their shock loss could kick things into gear.

With a few divisional games in Weeks 5 and 6, the schedule softens up through late October and into November, as they face the remaining AFC North teams. The Rams also have their 6 divisional games to come, meaning their 3-1 standing places them nicely to return to the playoffs. But after coming up short last year, the Rams need to get everything sorted so that they are executing on game day before the postseason begins.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers remain undefeated after their three games, but now have a long way to go having had their bye. While they have a few friendlier matchups over the next several games, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals, the stretch could be tough for the 49ers to navigate. Getting to their final 6 games at anything above 7-3 could help them stumble into the playoffs.

The 49ers aren’t a favourite in the NFC yet because they have the Rams and Seattle Seahawks in their division. Throw in that they haven’t beaten anyone of note, and it’s hard to say San Francisco are at the pinnacle of the league. But if they can unlock the final few pieces of the Offense, there’s little reason to think this team can’t be winning games in January.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are 3-1, and shouldn’t regret their loss to the Saints. The Offense has looked better than it has for a while, and it’s the Defence that isn’t holding up their end. As the season progresses, the Defence will need to become more dominant and shut out opponents, if they are to handle tougher opponents.

The Seahawks have one of the tougher remaining schedules in the league. Throw in two other teams vying for top of the division, and Seattle need to deliver each week. They are more than capable of handling things, but can’t afford to let close games slip, and have been in too many close games already.

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