Welcome to the first of APC's (hopefully) weekly installment of the NFC Playoff Preview. We'll cover the NFC teams, ranking them by their likelihood of making the playoffs based on record, remaining schedule, and overall performance. I've even got a few gratuitous TV/pop culture references, because that's never been done before. Starting after the jump:
1. New York Giants (6-1)
The Good: The defending champs are the class of the NFC right now. They're led by a strong defense that likes to get after the quarterback (26 sacks), a powerful running game (their top 3 RB's average 4.9 ypc, 6.2 ypc, and 5.7 ypc), and a competent passing game. Eli Manning isn't setting the standard for the QB position, but he is efficient (1,588 yards, 9 TD's, 4 INT's). The main strength of the G-Men's passing game is the ability to keep Eli upright (only 6 sacks on the year). There's nothing remarkably great or any glaring weaknesses on this squad, which is probably their biggest strength.
You know what? This team reminds me a lot of the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles. Solid team, few weaknesses, but a playmaker that had a bit of an attitude problem. Maybe it won't ruin the 2008 season, but 2009 for the Giants might end up like Philly's 2005. For Giants fans sakes, I hope that Plaxico straightens up soon.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: The Sopranos! A solid show throughout with loads of talent, they go out there and get it done in North Jersey, but there's the potential of an amiguous and ultimately disappointing ending.
2. Carolina Panthers (6-2)
The Good: Their defense seems to be back to what it used to be. Then again, they've played teams like San Diego and Chicago (before they got their act together), Atlanta, New Orleans, and Arizona (wildly inconsistent), and Kansas City (God awful). DeAngelo Williams is determined to frustrate fantasy owners by outperforming Jonathan Stewart this year, then completely suck next year when people pick him in the 3rd round. Jake Delhomme is making an example of how to come back from Tommy John surgery. Oh, and Steve Smith is back and avoiding punching poeple in the face. At least for the rest of this season.
The Bad: Prepare for an inordinate amount of "The Panthers are the NFC favorites!" over the next 3 weeks (bye week, @ Oakland, Detroit). After that, the schedule gets tougher with games against Atlanta, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Denver, New York Giants, and New Orleans. That is a tough schedule to end the season, especially when the team is competent in everything but excels at nothing. They're like the poor man's New York Giants, but I don't see this team finishing the season with any less than 6 losses.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: The Wire! This show is wildly underrated and a lot of people don't know about it. But it's one of the best shows out there, hands down.
3. Washington Redskins (6-2)
The Good: Clinton Portis is just shy of 1,000 yards. Jason Campbell has yet to throw an interception. Santana Moss is having one of those seasons that makes you wonder why you didn't take him in your fantasy football league. Antwaan Randle El is the playmaker everyone thought he should be. The defense is top-10 in most major categories. The 'Skins already have wins over division rivals Philly and Dallas.
The Bad: The team is in the NFC East. That is a tough division to play in, especially with another 3 division games later in the season. Jason Campbell is going to come crashing back to earth sooner or later. Santana Moss is headed for one of those stretches where you remember why you didn't take him in your fantasy football league. Oh, and Chris Cooley is kinda gross.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Friends! Sure, it's overrated by some, but they perform pretty well (and pay a hefty sum for their people to do so).
4. Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
The Good: Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and now Roy E. Williams are the skill-position starters on this offense. Talk about playmakers. This team is able to drop 35-40 points when everyone's healthy. The defense is able to hold it down against the run and get sacks. Expect a shootout whenever the Cowboys come to town.
The Bad: The team is not without its issues. Like the Redskins, they're in the NFC East. Brad Johnson is starting until Tony Romo's finger heals. Felix Jones and Terence Newman are out for the near future. Brad Johnson is starting until Tony Romo's finger heals. Adam "Pacman Jones" is suspended for another few weeks (at least). Brad Johnson is starting until Tony Romo's finger heals. T.O. and Roy Williams feel like they're headed for one of those historical clashes of egos. Brad Johnson is starting until Tony Romo's finger heals. Their defense simply cannot stop the pass. Did I mention Brad Johnson is starting?
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Scrubs! Good talent, great performances, and certainly entertaining, but you never ever know what's gonna happen next.
I've even taken the liberty of recasting Scrubs with an all-Cowboys cast: Tony Romo stars as J.D, the young central figure of the show who drives the unexpected plot lines more often than not. Terrell Owens plays Dr. Cox, the egomaniac who wants, nay, needs to be the center of attention. Marion Barber III plays Turk, the reliable buddy of J.D. and most consistent character of the bunch. Jason Witten plays Dr. Kelso, the old-fashioned and oft-forgotten character who delivers whenever the show gets stale. And the new addition, Roy Williams, plays Carla, the less talented, less funny, less everything of the show, even though s(he) thinks s(he)'s the bomb.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3)
The Good: Apparently, the 2002 Buccaneers have resurfaced. This defense is nasty, allowing only 15 points and 277 yards per game while getting 12 interceptions. Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn (Tampa's Prodigal Son) team up to form a solid running attack. Jeff Garcia plays efficiently when he's the starter. They already have wins against NFC contenders like Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, and Atlanta.
The Bad: Jon Gruden's quarterback fetish does not lend itself well to team chemistry. With 4 QB's on the active roster and the head-scratching decision to bench Garcia for Brian Griese, only to bring Garcia back when Griese got hurt, the offense seems to be without direction. They have no offensive playmakers; the Bucs get by on their decent run game and their monstrous defense. Which, as it turns out, you can win with. But all it takes is one bad game in January to result in a first-round exit.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: The West Wing! It's a solid show. It's not great, but it's solid, and you can win with it.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
The Good: Huh? Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White are doing what? Somehow, this offense scores points. Way more points than this Atlanta squad should be scoring. White especially has distinguished himself as a top WR. They have wins over the top two NFC North teams and likely wild card competitors. (Chicago and Green Bay)
The Bad: They are winless in their division. They cannot stop the pass. Their biggest wins came against Detroit and Kansas City (both are awful), and their wins against Green Bay and Chicago were by a combined 5 points. This team is riding a lucky streak, and I don't expect it to continue with games against Denver, Carolina, San Diego, and New Orleans (twice) in the coming weeks.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: King of the Hill! There are some good episodes that make you wonder "Why are they not one of the better shows out there?" Then you see some of their other episodes and that answers your question.
7. Green Bay Packers (4-3)
The Good: Aaron Rodgers is filling the shoes of his predecessor quite nicely. His 3:1 TD-INT ratio is one of the best in the NFL. Greg "Professor" Jennings is making his case for best reciever in the league. Charles Woodson (DPOY candidate) and Nick Collins are playing at high levels despite injury. They got a bye week exactly when they needed it.
The Bad: Injuries have decimated this team in the first half of the season. Losing Al Harris, Atari Bigby, and Cullen Jenkins, plus the debilitating injuries to A.J. Hawk and Ryan Pickett made the defense play at seemingly half-strength thus far. If they get healthy, this will help their chances greatly. And does anyone know what happened to Ryan Grant? He failed to break the century mark AND score a touchdown until week 7 against Indianapolis. A tough schedule upcoming with games against Tennessee, Minnesota, Chicago, New Orleans, and Carolina in the next 5 weeks.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Lost! One of my personal favorites, whatever you think should happen in Green Bay often never does, but the show succeeds despite the myriad of issues surrounding it. Mark my words, both of these will make more sense at the end of their run.
8. Chicago Bears (4-3)
The Good: Kyle "Admiral Neckbeard" Orton is playing way beyond his projections (1,669 yards, 10 TD's, 4 INT's). This is doubly remarkable because he was benched for Rex Grossman in seasons past and inducted into the Deadspin Hall of Fame. Athletes usually don't come back from that kind of adversity. Matt Forte is one of the best rookies in the conference and a workhorse (147 carries) to boot. The defense is solid against the run, largely thanks to efforts from top LB's Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The biggest threats on their remaining schedule are Tennessee and Green Bay (twice).
The Bad: Greg Olsen is their leading reciever with 296 yards. One could argue that the Bears like to spread the ball around. I argue that their recievers just plain suck. Their CB corps is hurting, with Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman, and Danieal Manning all dealing with injuries. This might be contributing to the team's 29th ranked pass defense. Kyle Orton seems to be reborn, but by the law of averages, I think that he'll come crashing back to reality as well.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia! You hear about the premise of this show, and you think to yourself "This is never gonna work." Then you watch the show and you realize "Holy crap, this just might work!"
9. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)
The Good: Kurt Warner is airing it out like crazy. Larry Fitzgerald is still a stud, Anquan Boldin has recovered from that vicious hit he took a few weeks ago, and Steve Breaston is starting to come into his own as well. Tim Hightower is the goal-line vulture everyone playing fantasy football hates with only 133 yards but 6 touchdowns, all in the redzone. All these things contribute to 28.6 points per game (1st in NFL) and 369.3 yards per game (5th in NFL). They are in the same division as San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis.
The Bad: Unless they're in the red zone, they cannot run the football. Their longest run of the season was 30 yards, and that was by Anquan Boldin on an end-around. Kurt Warner has thrown 6 interceptions, been sacked 15 times, and lost 4 fumbles. He is not gonna be able to be effective in January against a good defense. Their defense is blech, giving up over 24 points and nearly 320 yards per game. Much like the Cowboys, expect a shootout whenever the Cardinals play, except the Cards aren't as good.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Stargate SG-1! There's lots of fancy special effects! Alien invaders! Super cool time travelling things! What else is there? Don't ask.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3)
The Good: Brian Westbrook is, when healthy, an absolute beast (8 offensive touchdowns). Donovan McNabb in enjoying a nice renaissance (1,829 yards, 8 TD's, 3 INT's), and DeSean Jackson fills the playmaker role at reciever quite nicely when he's not fumbling on the half-yard line. The offense and defense are both in the top-10 in most major categories. The defense is showing a renewed vigor in attacking the quarterback with 23 sacks and 8 interceptions.
The Bad: They destroyed St. Louis, then lost to Dallas in a shootout. They soundly beat Pittsburgh, then lost to Chicago and Washington. They destroyed San Francisco, then needed help from the officials to beat Atlanta. The schedule hasn't been kind to the Iggles, but they haven't been consistent, either. With four divisional games remaining (including 2 against the Giants), the Eagles are going to need to find that consistency to gain ground in the playoff race.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Family Guy! There's some great bits in the show. Everybody loves it, says it's the best show ever. But then you realize that the show doesn't have a lot going for it, there's no substance, and it gets left by the wayside.
11. New Orleans Saints (4-4)
The Good: Drew Brees is going after Dan Marino's passing yardage record. He's scarily efficient, completing nearly 70% of his passes and 2.5:1 TD-INT ratio. Needless to say, the Saints are first in the league in passing yards. It helps that he's getting good protection, with an offensive line only allowing 7 sacks on the year. Reggie Bush (8 total TD's) also (finally) showed off his playmaking ability on Monday Night against Minnesota with 2 return TD's.
The Bad: Reggie Bush is out for the forseeable future with a tear in the meniscus. Deuce McAllister is on the decline. The run game is ranked 28th in the league. The defense doesn't play any, as they're in the bottom-third in most major categories. If you can stop Drew Brees (which few teams have proven themselves able to do), you can stop this team. Unless the NFL gets to them first: Will Smith and Deuce McAllister were both revealed to have taken something that might get them in trouble.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: How I Met Your Mother! This show has one good thing going for it, and that's Neil Patrick Harris. The rest is weak and will be the show's downfall.
12. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)
The Good: Gus Frerotte replaced Tavaris Jackson in week 3, and they haven't looked back since. (When you're going from bad to mediocre at the QB position, it seems like a bigger jump than it really is.) Bernard Berrian appeared out of nowhere after Frerotte took the reigns, as he's averaging 18.5 yards per catch. Adrian Peterson has been limited, but is still the threat that makes opposing defenses lose a little bit of sleep. Antoine Winfield is getting it done on defense when the team needs it the most.
The Bad: E.J. Henderson is out for the year with a foot injury. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were indicted in that whole water pill thing last week and face suspension. Gus Frerotte is still Gus Frerotte, and the fans and Brad Childress have, shall we say, a tenuous relationship.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: House! This show is only good when Hugh Laurie goes on a rant and eventually figures out the mystery illness. If the star's not carrying the show, the show isn't going anywhere.
13. St. Louis Rams (2-5)
The Good: Scott Linehan's out, Jim Haslett is in. Trent Green's out, Marc Bulger's in. Stephen Jackson is coming back. Donnie Avery is coming out. Oshiomogho Atwoge is quietly becoming a playmaker at safety. They're still in the NFC West.
The Bad: This team is in the bottom-6 at nearly everything. They can't score points, they can't get yards, they can't defend, and their best RB is battling a quad injury. They're not nearly as bad as they were projected to be, but they're not good either.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: The Commander In Chief! Remember this Geena Davis-driven West Wing knockoff that made a huge deal about the first woman president? It was hyped up like crazy. But it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.
14. Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
The Good: Um..."Charlie Frye is one of the top-10 third stringers in the NFL." And Julius Jones sometimes moonlights as an effective running back.
The Bad: Just about everything. Matt Hasselbeck's hurt, almost all of their recievers are hurt, their defense is shameful, and Mike Holmgren doesn't know what to do.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Star Trek! It used to be good, didn't it? What happened? The "Voyager" spin-off happened, that's what.
15. San Francisco 49ers (2-6)
The Good: Frank Gore is carrying fantasy teams across the land. Patrick Willis continues developing into a top-5 LB. Isaac Bruce is the ageless wonder at WR. Mike Singletary, who long has deserved a head coaching gig, finally got one last week when Mike Nolan and his fancy suits were fired.
The Bad: J.T. O'Sullivan gets sacked way too much and gives up the football way too easily (17 turnovers on the year). Vernon Davis is one of the bigger busts in recent memory. Mike Singletary is going to kill someone. The team gives up more points than everybody (except the next team on this list.)
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Anything on MTV! You know it's horrible programming. Pimp My Ride, My Super Sweet 16, or whatever else they have on that godforsaken channel, it's ugly. But you'll get sucked in by something.
16. Detroit Lions (0-7)
The Good: MATT MILLEN IS GONE. I cannot stress this enough. Calvin "Megatron" Johnson is one of the NFC's top recievers. Kevin Smith is a developing talent at running back. Rod Marinelli isn't quitting yet.
The Bad: Too much to list, but I'll try anyways: last in scoring defense, last in yards allowed, next-to-last in rushing yards. Jon Kitna was put on IR for less than clear reasons, and his replacement (Dan Orlovsky) made one of the dumber mistakes in recent memory. I feel bad for Calvin Johnson. I see him putting up crazy stats while the team underachieves, getting tantalizingly close to breaking major records, then retiring after his 8th season when he's still in his prime.
TV Show They Remind Me Of: Cops! Let's face it, unless you enjoy carnage or you have family on the show that week, you're not watching this show.
If the playoffs started today, here's how they'd look. Any questions? Consult the tiebreaking procedures:
Division - Team (seed - ranking by record)
NFC East - New York Giants (1 - 1)
NFC West - Arizona Cardinals (4 - 6)
NFC North - Chicago Bears (3 - 5)
NFC South - Carolina Panthers (2 - 2)
Wild Card - Washington Redskins (5 - 3)
Wild Card - Dallas Cowboys (6 - 4)