NFC East - Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
The main problem that the Cowboys face is staying healthy. Tony Romo's had a history of back problems, and another injury on MNF leaves me questioning whether he'll be able to finish the season. DeMarco Murray's on pace to have over 2,000 yards rushing and close to 500 more receiving, but he's yet to complete a season in the four years he's been in the NFL. If Romo and Murray can remain healthy for the duration of the season, I see no way the Eagles sneak this one from under them.
I just can't believe in the Eagles, who've won just two games by more than one score: a 34-17 win over the Jaguars in Week 1 after being down 17-0 and a 27-0 blowout of the Giants, their bitter rivals. Nick Foles has the 4th most interceptions of all QBs and hasn't resembled the same QB as last season (demonstrated with a QB rating of 80.7, ranking him near bottom of all starting QBs). They haven't been able to get LeSean Mccoy involved enough, as the talented RB's amassed 593 yards so far, as well as having as many TD's as he does fumbles (1). Ultimately this will be a tight race, but I envision the Cowboys winning their crucial week 15 meeting to just edge the Eagles out.
NFC West - Arizona Cardinals (12-4)
The Cardinals were supposed to be weaker after losing key defensive figures such as Darnell Dockett. Well, that hasn't happened - and Dockett's been enjoying himself even without seeing the field. It's potentially tough to figure out what makes the Cardinals so good, as they don't have a single individual that's the face of the franchise and the reason for the team's success.
Larry Fitzgerald was the closest thing before the season, but he's been largely ignored in parts of the season due to excellent performances from Michael Floyd and rookie John Brown. The Cardinals are close to a complete squad, and they've shown they can win even without key starters (regardless of all the defensive injuries Carson Palmer was out for a large chunk of the season). With a current record of 6-1, the division's their's to lose. It's probable that doesn't happen, as the Cardinals look to become the first team in history to ever appear in a home SuperBowl.
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NFC South - New Orleans Saints (9-7)
It was really tempting to give each team in this division a record under .500. The reason that doesn't happen is that regardless of previous performances, the Saints have enough potential on their roster to turn things around. While I'm not expecting a team from this division to actually win a playoff game, having at least one team with a winning record can be considered a success after the way the season's gone to this point.
Interestingly, I believe the key to the team's success this year doesn't lie with Drew Brees (a future HOF) but Mark Ingram - who's been considered a bust so far in his career. Brees isn't playing at the same high standard as fans are used to; while he's still performing at a respectable level, it's a big drop off from previous years, and he cost the Saints massively when he threw a game-ending interception against the Detroit Lions back in Week 6. On the other hand, Ingram returned from a broken hand by putting up a career high 172 rushing yards against the Green Bay Packers this week, leading to a comfortable 44-23 win for the Saints. The Saints need to realize that their franchise QB isn't quite as capable as in previous years and stop expecting him to do everything by himself - especially when he's got a talented RB to help him out.
NFC North - Detroit Lions (12-4)
Despite being without a huge number of faces on offense (most notably, of course, Calvin Johnson) the Lions found a way to struggle through to 6-2 heading into their bye week. It wasn't always pretty and they needed a large portion of luck, but they eventually got the job done against the Atlanta Falcons in London to win for a second straight week by just 1 point. The Lions made it to 6-2 while being banged up - so imagine what this team can do when healthy. The NFC North is like the new copy of Madden every year - you get excited at the start because things look different, but you soon realize that it's basically the same thing with just a few minor, unimportant changes. Every year the Lions look like they're valid contenders to put up a challenge for the division, but they always somehow manage to blow it spectacularly - usually in different ways. I might be stupid for putting my faith in the Lions once more, but I picture them winning an incredible Week 17 showdown against the Green Bay Packers to jump ahead of them and clinch the division.
Wildcard #1 - Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Just because the Lions win that division doesn't mean the Packers aren't still a top team with eyes towards the Superbowl. That loss against the Saints could prove costly, as they're a game behind the Lions with very similar schedules to play. Regardless of whether the Packers win the NFC North or not, the only way I see the Packers failing to make the playoffs at all is if the hamstring injury Aaron Rodgers suffered is more serious than first thought.
Wildcard #2 - Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
This one was incredibly tricky. We can rule out anyone from the NFC South getting this, as well as the Giants, Redskins, Vikings, Bears (probably) and Rams. That leaves 3 very strong teams fighting for just one playoff spot. I see them all potentially coming 10-6. However, with the 49ers having a tough schedule down the stretch (their last 3 are San Diego, Seattle and Arizona) I think it's more likely that they come 9-7. Which means it's down to the Seahawks and the Eagles. Tie-breaking procedures mean that the first way of deciding who gets the wildcard place is a head-to-head between the two teams. Seattle travel to Philadelphia in Week 14. I just don't see the current holders losing this one and not making the playoffs - especially with the supposed LOB going up against the unreliable Nick Foles. If the Seahawks don't start to hit the ground running soon, I'll be more than happy to change this. Until then, the Seahawks are my pick to take the #2 wildcard in the NFC.
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