The Notebook takes a broad overview look at each team in the NFC…
Washington: Are the Redskins now the team to beat in the NFC East? As unlikely as it might have seemed, the turmoil in their three rivals is contrasted by a newfound calm at Redskin Park. A tough defense doesn’t hurt either, but how long can Rex Grossman play without blowing up a game or two by himself?
Philadelphia: Look at the bright side. At least the Eagles have only played one divisional game in their disastrous 1-4 start, so there’s still time to rebound. But they need to get LeSean McCoy running the ball consistently and Andy Reid has always been sporadic in his commitment to the run. At least the city of Philadelphia has the Phillies to fall back on…wait, never mind.
NY Giants: Another team that needs to be more consistent on the ground. The Giants pass rush is back, as Juan Pierre-St. Paul has provided depth for a still-banged up Justin Tuck. The problem is that Eli Manning is too inconsistent, and the weather in New York too unpredictable to build an offense on the pass alone.
Dallas: The much-publicized woes of Tony Romo are a big problem for Dallas, but don’t overlook the issues at running back. Felix Jones’ immense talent is matched only by his ability to break down, lending credence to the belief some of us had that he is best suited to be a change-of-pace back.
Washington isn’t a great team, but with the other three teams lacking consistency in the running game they remain the default favorite until we see a change elsewhere.
Green Bay: I won’t waste anyone’s time by going on about how this is far and away the team to beat. The point now is to poke holes in the Packers so we can figure out how they might actually be beaten. The pass defense is a concern right now, with Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins out, and the offensive line is banged up at the tackles and played poorly on Sunday night.
Detroit: With Monday’s win over Chicago, Detroit is now a legitimate elite team, having shown they can deal with the spotlight and a veteran opponent and still take care of business. The Lions’ running game needs to improve, but they’ve got home games with San Francisco and Atlanta ahead, so a 7-0 start is in sight.
Chicago: The Bears aren’t going anywhere with the kind of offensive line they have. Jay Cutler has no time to get the ball downfield and no receivers to target even if he did. That last year was a mirage is becoming apparent with each passing week.
Minnesota: I stand by the preseason prognosis that it would be a long year in the Twin Cities, but at least the pass rush showed signs of life last week in a thrashing of Arizona. If the Vikes can get after the quarterback and run it with Adrian Peterson they can at least beat other bad teams.
This division is all about Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day. That’s when Green Bay goes to Detroit and the Lions make the return visit to Lambeau Field for the season finale.
New Orleans: They’ve still got some work to do defensively, but the Saints haven’t lost since that Opening Night defeat in Green Bay, and they’ve got Marques Colston back healthy at wideout. The big concern right now has to be that Drew Brees is still throwing interceptions—he’s not blowing up games, but he is being picked just enough to cost this team a division title and playoff position.
Tampa Bay: I like the Bucs and see them heading for the playoffs, but my preseason pick of an NFC South title is looking overly optimistic. They’re still doing with blue smoke and mirrors right now and the collapse in San Francisco last week was inexcusable. Tampa’s made the step to contender. Now they need to take the next step to a mature consistency.
Atlanta: It’s shaping up to be a long year for the Falcons, as they aren’t playing cohesive offensive football and they aren’t getting the consistent play from the defensive ends they desperately need. John Abraham was hurt last week against Green Bay, but even prior to that, he and Ray Edwards had not been a factor since Week 1 in Chicago.
Carolina: They’re only 1-4, but Cam Newton has made them one of the most exciting teams out there. The Panthers didn’t have bad players, even last year when they went 1-15. What they lacked was a playmaker that could make the difference between winning and losing, and head coach John Fox had lost the team. Now they’ve got the playmaker, they’ve got a new direction and they just need to translate these close exciting games into wins. Also remember, they’ve put games with Green Bay and New Orleans behind them already, so keep an eye on the Panthers.
New Orleans is a solid, but not overwhelming favorite in this South right now. The Saints are steady, while the Falcons are flailing and the Bucs looking not ready for prime-time.
San Francisco: Maybe all Alex Smith needed was to play in the right system. In his seventh year after being the #1 overall draft choice, the 49er quarterback is finally playing consistent, mistake-free football and his team is an unlikely 4-1.
Seattle: They’ve managed to sneak out a couple wins, including a stunner last week in the Meadowlands when the Giants collapsed, but it’s still tough to see where they’ll do that on a consistent basis. In the short-term, they need corner Marcus Trufant back in the lineup.
Arizona: Another NFC West team getting some positive work at quarterback with Kevin Kolb showing that maybe the Eagles should’ve stuck with him. Arizona’s got plenty of problems in pass protection and throughout the entire defense, but they’ve got some hope for the future now.
St. Louis: Their opening day loss to Philadelphia proved to be a matchup between the league’s two most disappointing teams. The Rams might not a 10-11 win team, but there is absolutely no reason for them to be foundering at 0-4…or 0-5 if you count Sunday’s game in Green Bay.
It doesn’t take a lot to win this division, and San Francisco’s newfound energy has to put them at the top of the list.
Overall, the Notebook picked Green Bay at the start of the season and there’s obviously no reason to change course now. We would have to say New Orleans is looking like the #2 team, with that September 8 shootout in Lambeau settling homefield advantage in the playoffs when all is said and done.