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Each team’s biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season: NFC Edition

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It’s that time of year again in the NFL.

All 32 teams have now returned for training camp and with preseason games fast approaching, it won’t be long until the new season kicks off.

Let’s see how things are shaping up in 2013.

*NFC only

East

Dallas Cowboys

Is Tony Romo maturing as a leader in Dallas?

It seems like every summer is the same old story when it comes to Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Scratch golfer Romo spends his summer playing in Pro-am tournaments and attempting to qualify for PGA Tour events. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”

It appears as though Romo has decided to focus on football this summer instead. All reports coming out of Dallas are that he has been busy preparing for the new season and showed up for training camp in great shape. Perhaps his new six-year contract extension worth over $100 million has something to do with it?

Whatever the reason for this new turnaround, it is time for the 33-year-old to become a leader in Dallas.

If Romo can continue his recent success with wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys will be a dangerous team in the NFC this season.

New York Giants

What are the Giants going to do at running back?

It looks as though the Giants are going to use a running back by committee strategy this season on offense. The last time they tried this was back in 2008 when the team had a highly productive trio of Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. They combined for almost 2,500 rushing yards that season and it seems like Tom Coughlin and co. are looking to reproduce that production this year.

The only problem is that the running backs on the Giants roster in 2013 are nowhere near as good as the ones they had five years ago. Their current depth chart sees David Wilson as their starter with Andre Brown and Ryan Torain providing backup.

None of those players have shown any signs that they are capable of being an every-down back in the NFL.

If their running game fails to impress in the preseason, don’t be surprised to see the Giants dive into the free agent market and add a veteran running back like Michael Turner or Willis McGahee.

Philadelphia Eagles

Can head coach Chip Kelly translate his collegiate success into the pros?

New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has had an interesting few months. After drawing interest from numerous NFL teams this offseason, Kelly decided to decline all offers and return to Oregon. A week later, he changed his mind and signed a five-year $32.5 million contract with the Eagles.

Already one of the league’s highest paid coaches and with no experience of coaching in the NFL, the pressure is on the former head coach of the Oregon Ducks to produce in the pros. He was very successful during his four years at Oregon with a 46-7 record whilst running his infamous “blur offense.”

Kelly is now looking to implement this offense with the Eagles and although he has some terrific players at his disposal like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, he still needs to pick a quarterback to lead the team forward.

His former Pac 10 rival Pete Carroll has done a great job with the Seahawks, but question marks surrounding the Eagles quarterback situation may make it a tougher transition for Kelly in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

How healthy is RG3?

Robert Griffin III should never have continued to play in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Despite not being cleared to play by team doctors after sustaining an injury early on in the game, RG3 carried on playing and ended up re-injuring his right knee.

Seven months on from surgery on both his ACL and LCL, the Redskins quarterback is still recovering from injury and isn’t expected to play any part in the Redskins preseason games. He is back at practice but head coach Mike Shanahan is taking every precaution to ensure that he makes a full recovery.

This should serve as a warning to all NFL teams and in future when in a decision needs to be made regarding injury to your best player during a wildcard game, perhaps a different decision will be taken.

Despite the daily updates from Redskins training camp regarding the health of RG3, only time will tell if he will be ready for the season opener vs the Eagles on September 9th.

Tony Romo

Tony Romo

North

Chicago Bears

Can a former CFL head coach succeed in the NFL?

The Bears have moved on. After nine seasons and 150 games, Lovie Smith was fired and Marc Trestman was hired as the new head coach.

Trestman is a two-time championship winner and a former coach of the year so why was it a shock when he was hired by the Bears? Well that’s because those achievements didn’t come in the NFL or in college football and instead occurred when he was coaching the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.

The CFL isn’t a common place to go when searching for a new coach but that’s exactly where the Bears went. How this experiment works out is anybody’s guess. It could go well (see Bud Grant) or else it could go horribly wrong (see almost every other coach hired from the CFL).

Change has been a common theme for the Bears this offseason and although the decision to hire Trestman came as a surprise, a head coaching change was definitely needed in Chicago.

Detroit Lions

Will Matthew Stafford put an end to his awful record against teams with a winning record?

The polite way of putting it is that Matthew Stafford does not have a good record against winning teams. In 25 games against teams with winning records, Stafford has won just once. That’s not exactly the type of record you want from your franchise quarterback.

It’s also not the type of return you would like to see from someone who was recently given a three-year $53 million contract extension. If Stafford doesn’t improve his record against winning teams, Donovan McNabb’s criticism could turn out to be correct.

The Lions are counting on Stafford to return to his 2011 form and lead them back to the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

How will the Packers offense perform in 2013?

The offense is going to look a little different this year in Green Bay without wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Driver has now retired from the NFL after fourteen seasons with the Packers. Jennings on the other hand has decided to do his best Brett Favre impression and join up with the Minnesota Vikings.

There are more than capable replacements in place with wide receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all set to contribute along with tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s the running game that should worry Packers fans.

There are several candidates at running back with veterans James Starks and Alex Green likely to compete with rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin for carries this season. Running the football has been a struggle in recent years at Lambeau Field and that looks likely to be the case again this season.

Aaron Rodgers may be an elite quarterback but the Packers running game needs to start offering some assistance on offense.

Minnesota Vikings

Why can’t the Vikings ever be consistent?

It’s usually very tough to predict what’s going to happen in Minnesota. The Vikings typically tend to finish either in last place in the division or else in the playoffs.

After winning just three games in his first full season in charge of the team in 2011, Leslie Frazier led them to the playoffs last year where they were defeated in the wildcard round by the Green Bay Packers. Now entering his third season as head coach and with a new stadium on the way, making the postseason will be the aim again for Frazier and the Vikings.

With the league’s best running back in the backfield and one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks passing the ball, anything can happen.

Minnesota fans won’t like this, but the Vikings are looking like hot favorites to finish in last place in the division once again.

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

South

Atlanta Falcons

How competitive will the NFC South be for the Falcons this year?

Matt Ryan won his first playoff game last season and the Falcons are willing to bet $100 million he will do so again this year. After signing that huge contract extension last week,  the expectations are high in Atlanta for Ryan and the Falcons.

With Sean Payton back coaching in New Orleans, the NFC South should be a much tougher division this season and the Falcons will need to be at their best to defend their title. With Matt Ryan at quarterback, another playoff berth will the very least they will expect.

Much like Andy Dalton with the Bengals, Matt Ryan seems to struggle when it comes to postseason play and the Falcons will be hoping that doesn’t continue in 2013. 

Carolina Panthers

Can Cam Newton and the Panthers make the playoffs?

It’s a been a slow transition in Carolina with Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera. Now entering year three and still without a winning season to show for their progress, it would be difficult to blame Panthers fans for getting impatient.

The Panthers had the tenth best defense last year in the NFL and with the addition of rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, that defense will be even better this year. On offense, they have one of the best rushing attacks in the league with the likes of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all capable of carrying the football.

The Panthers are on the right path to becoming a successful team and after winning five of their final six games in 2012, they will be looking to carry that form into 2013.

Cam Newton is still developing and although he is showing signs of improvement, the Panthers may have to settle for one final season of progress before they can call themselves a playoff team.

New Orleans Saints

Is the magic going to return to New Orleans now that Sean Payton is back?

Now that the bounty scandal is behind them, the Saints are back to business with head coach Sean Payton. Without question one of the best coaches in the league, Payton returns after missing the entire 2012 season due to suspension.

There aren’t many quarterbacks out there who have been as productive as Drew Brees has been in the last few seasons. The record-setting Brees has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his last 32 regular season games along with 89 touchdowns.

With Brees and Payton back together, the Saints will be back to normal in 2013.

Sean Payton didn’t forget how to coach during his year off and the Saints offense looks set to benefit from a re-energized and fully motivated head coach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What kind of season will the Bucs have with Josh Freeman at quarterback?

With 88 total turnovers in 57 career games, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is a turnover machine. He is coming off career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns but that didn’t stop the Bucs bringing in quarterback NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s draft.

Freeman is a former first-round pick but just like his fellow 2009 draftee Mark Sanchez, he is facing a make or break season this year. With back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC South, the Bucs may not be willing to wait much longer for the 25-year-old to produce.

Unless the Bucs want to finish in last place again, they need to seriously reconsider their quarterback situation.

If Josh Freeman lasts the entire year as the starter, it will be a football miracle in Tampa Bay.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton

West

Arizona Cardinals

Can a new head coach and a new quarterback work in Arizona?

With Ken Whisenhunt now gone, there’s a new era in Arizona with Bruce Arians taking over as head coach. Arians spend most of last season as the Indianapolis Colts interim head coach in the absence of Chuck Pagano due to his cancer treatment. The Colts had an impressive 9-3 record under Arians and he was even named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

Now starting his new job with the Cardinals, Arians takes over a team who have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. His first major move came when he decided to release quarterback Kevin Kolb and bring in veteran Carson Palmer to replace him.

Palmer arrived in a trade with the Oakland Raiders for a sixth round draft pick this year and a conditional pick in the 2014 draft. It will be Arian’s job to help Palmer improve his consistency and become a leader for the Cardinals.

Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last season but he is still a question mark moving forward for the franchise.

St. Louis Rams

Are the Rams about to be this year’s surprise team?

It seems to occur almost every year in the NFL with one team coming from nowhere to make the playoffs. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals even made it all the way to the super bowl despite having a 9-7 regular season record. Now if there is one team who can be a surprise in the league this year, it’s the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams have a healthy balance of youth and experience with veteran head coach Jeff Fisher and one of the youngest rosters football. With an impressive draft class this year including Tavon Austin and T.J. McDonald along with key free agent signings like Jake Long and Jared Cook, they are starting to look more and more like a potential playoff team.

If Sam Bradford can stay healthy and get some help from his teammates, the sky is the limit for this team.

You heard it here first, the Rams will make the playoffs this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Is wide receiver the only weakness in San Francisco?

The 49ers are the most talented team in football. Everywhere you look on this roster there are stars and with nine of their players voted to the All-Pro team last season, seven of those to the 1st team, another trip to the super bowl is what’s expected in San Francisco.

The standout question mark for this team is at the wide receiver position. With last year’s leading receiver Michael Crabtree expected to be on the sidelines for most of the season through injury, head coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking elsewhere for others to step up in Crabtree’s absence.

Looking at the current depth chart and with both Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined with injuries, the starting duo appears to be veteran Anquan Boldin and second-year player A.J. Jenkins. If former first-round pick Jenkins fails deliver or if free agent Boldin cannot adjust to a new system, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the offense could be in trouble.

There are plenty of options for the 49ers already but it couldn’t hurt them to add another piece to the puzzle with a free agent signing such as Brandon Llyod or Steve Breaston.

Seattle Seahawks

Will the Seahawks continue to dominate with their rushing attack?

The Seahawks rushing attack can take a lot of the credit for the team’s recent success. They were the 3rd best team in the NFL running the football last season and they have added some pieces this offseason to improve on that this year.

Despite already having an All-Pro running back in Marshawn Lynch along with a reliable backup with Robert Turbin, the Seahawks used their first pick in this year’s draft to select Texas A&M’s Christian Michael. With Lynch as the starter and Turbin filling in on 3rd downs and short yardage situations, Michael will serve as a change of pace back with his mix of speed and power.

With all these running backs plus a quarterback who isn’t afraid to run the football, the Seahawks rushing attack could rank even higher in 2013.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is certain to face the sophomore slump this season and so it’s a good thing he has a rushing attack like this one to help him out when it does.

Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford

So that was my breakdown of the NFC.

My AFC breakdown is available here https://mrnfl.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/each-teams-biggest-question-mark-heading-into-the-2013-season-afc-edition/

For more NFL updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

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Playoffs Preview- NFC Divisional Round

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Aaron Rodgers

After a typically dramatic wildcard weekend, the Playoffs continue this week with the divisional games just around the corner.

The first of two NFC divisional games takes place on Saturday night as the Green Bay Packers travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.

The second game is on Sunday in Atlanta as Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks tackle Matt Ryan and the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Mike McCarthy

Keys to the Game

When the Packers have the ball…

Aldon Smith

Aaron Rodgers vs 49ers Pass Rush

  • The 49ers boast one of the toughest defenses in the NFL led by star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman. However, it’s one of the Niners other starting linebackers that will provide the biggest test for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and that is pass rusher Aldon Smith.
  • Smith had an outstanding 19.5 sacks in the regular season and is one of the most feared pass rushers in the league coming off the edge. Rodgers will be under pressure from Smith and the rest of the 49ers pass rush throughout the game and faces his biggest test of the year on the road in San Francisco.

When the 49ers have the ball…

Frank Gore

Frank Gore and 49ers Running Game vs Packers Run Defense

  • Whilst the 49ers passing attack has been inconsistent this season, their running game has remained one of the best units in the league led by starting running back Frank Gore. Gore rushed for over 1,000 yards again this campaign and he is also helped out by backups Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James along with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
  • The Packers defense is still a work-in-progress vs the run and rank as the 17th best team in the league. How Clay matthews and co. handle Frank Gore and the 49ers running game will be key to the outcome of this one.

Prediction

Clay Matthews

The Packers are coming off an impressive wildcard victory against their division rivals Minnesota Vikings and this will be a huge game in particular for their quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the team that passed on him in the 2005 Draft.

The 49ers are coming off a first-round bye and have the added pressure of having Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback with Kaepernick starting his first ever Playoff game.

In this contrast of quarterbacks between Packers starter Aaron Rodgers and 49ers backup Alex Smith, I think Rodgers proves yet again that the 49ers made the wrong decision.

Packers 28 49ers 19

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Russell Wilson

Keys to the Game

When the Seahawks have the ball…

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch and Seahawks Running Game vs Falcons Run Defense

  • Just like the 49ers in their game, the Seahawks offense will likely lean on their rushing attack led by their Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch. Lynch rushed for a career-high 1,590 yards this season en route to helping the Seahawks to the league’s third best ground game averaging over 160 yards per game.
  • The Falcons defense ranks in the mid-twenties in terms of NFL rankings for both passing and rushing yards allowed per game but surprisingly, they only allow 18 points per game which is the fifth best in the league. Their run defense will set out to put the pressure on Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in this one by shutting down Marshan Lynch and their running game.  

When the Falcons have the ball…

Julio Jones

Falcons Wide Receivers vs Seahawks Secondary

  • This is a key matchup in this game with two of the league’s best units going head-to-head with the Falcons wide receivers vs the Seahawks secondary. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez will also be a target for quarterback Matt Ryan in the passing game.
  • Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones both had over 1,000 receiving yards this season with Jones in particluar emerging as a reliable weapon for the Falcons offense. The Pro Bowler will likely be covered by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman with Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas also being a key player for the Seahawks secondary.

Prediction

Matt Ryan

The Seahawks pulled off an upset last week in a win over RG3 and the Redskins on the road in Washington and they face another tough test this week on the road in Atlanta.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons may have lost their last regular season game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the number one seed appear to be favorites at home in this one.

I picked the Seahawks to lose last week and I’m doing the same again this time around.

Seahawks 17 Falcons 20

Mike Smith

So those are your previews and predictions.

For more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Playoffs Preview- NFC Wildcard Round

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Aaron Rodgers

The NFC Playoffs kick off tomorrow with the first of two wildcard games as the Minnesota Vikings travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers.

The second wildcard game takes place on Sunday with an exciting game in store as rookie sensation Robert Griffin III leads his Washington Redskins at home vs fellow rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the travelling Seattle Seahawks.

Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Christian Ponder

Keys to the Game

When the Vikings have the ball…

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson vs Packers Defense

  • Adrian Peterson is coming off the best statistical year of his career and this is all after coming back from an ACL and MCL injury. Peterson came up just nine yards short of setting a new NFL record for rushing yards in a season after he ran for 2,097 yards. Eric Dickerson kept his record from 1984 in tact.
  • The Packers defense ranked 17th best in the league in 2012 vs the run after giving up 118.5 yards per game. The odds are that #28 runs for more than that in this game as the Vikings look to ease the pressure on quarterback Christian Ponder.

When the Packers have the ball…

Greg Jennings

Aaron Rodgers and Packers Passing Attack vs Vikings Secondary

  • Aaron Rodgers may not have hit the same heights as he did in 2011 but 2012 was still a success for the Packers quarterback. Rodgers again threw for 4,000 yards whilst having a 67.2% completion percentage and a 108.0 quarterback rating.
  • The Vikings defense is better suited to stopping the run as they give up over 240 yards per game through the air. The Vikes will look to Jared Allen and the rest of their pass rushers to get after Aaron Rodgers and ease the pressure on the secondary.

Prediction

Clay Matthews III

The Vikings have flown slightly under the radar this year and surprised many by reaching the postseason over teams like the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

As for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, they were my Super Bowl pick before the season began but they had a number of poor performances on the way to an 11-5 record.

In this battle between two division rivals, I see the Packers coming out on top.

Vikings 24 Packers 31

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins

Russell Wilson

Keys to the Game

When the Seahawks have the ball…

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch and Seahawks Running Game vs Redskins Front Seven

  • Marshawn Lynch has had a tremendous year for the Seahawks leading them to the third ranked rushing attack in the league. Lynch ran for 1,590 yards in 2012 and 11 touchdowns with rookies combining for an added 843 yards on the ground.
  • Luckily for the Redskins, their defense is one of the best in the league vs the run after allowing just over 95 per game in the regular season. This defense is led by their front seven including standout players like London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan.

When the Redskins have the ball…

Alfred Morris

Robert Griffin III vs Seahawks Defense

  • Robert Griffin III has been spectacular this season for the Redskins both passing and running the football. Griffin had over 4,000 total yards in the regular season along with 27 total touchdowns whilst his fellow rookie Alfred Morris helped out with over 1,600 yards in the backfield.
  • These two rookies helped the Redskins to the number 1 ranked rushing attack in football with almost 170 yards per game. RG3 is certainly one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the Playoffs and Seahawks defenders like Bobby Wagner and Chris Clemons will be keeping taps on the Baylor star throughout the game.

Prediction

London Fletcher

The Seahawks have surpassed all expectations this season by reaching the Playoffs and much of the credit goes to quarterback Russell Wilson who had a solid rookie campaign.

Wilson’s fellow rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III had an amazing year with the Redskins and led them to their first division title since 1999.

In this battle of rookie quarterbacks, it’s RG3 and the Redskins who are my choice to win the game.

Seahawks 13 Redskins 20

Robert Griffin III

So those are your previews and predictions.

For all NFL fans it is now time to get ready for postseason football as the Playoffs are back.

Follow @PodgeOH

Week 9 Scores- Late Games

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Russell Wilson

Tonight’s late games have just finished and so here are the scores:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 42 Oakland Raiders 32

Minnesota Vikings 20 Seattle Seahawks 30

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 New York Giants 20

Dallas Cowboys 13 Atlanta Falcons 19

Tomorrow’s Monday Night Football matchup sees the 3-4 Philadelphia Eagles travel to New Orleans to take on the 2-5 Saints.

A full preview of that game will be posted tomorrow.

Highlights from all this week’s games are available here http://www.nfl.com/videos

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

November 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

Week 3 Scores- Late Games

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Matt Ryan

Tonight’s late games have just finished and so here are the scores:

Philadelphia Eagles 6 Arizona Cardinals 27

Atlanta Falcons 27 San Diego Chargers 3

 Houston Texans 31 Denver Broncos 25

Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Oakland Raiders 34

Ray Lewis

There is one more live game on tv tonight with the New England Patriots vs the Baltimore Ravens from 1:20 a.m. on Channel 4.

Aaron Rodgers

Tomorrow’s Monday Night Football matchup should make for a great game with Aaron Rodgers taking his Green Bay Packers on the road against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

A full preview of that game will be posted tomorrow.

Highlights from tonight’s games in Week 3 can be found here- http://www.nfl.com/videos

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

September 24, 2012 at 12:03 am