After forecasting the AFC’s division winners for the 2019 NFL season, let’s dive into predictions for the NFC.
The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams have won their respective divisions in each of the past two seasons. The Dallas Cowboys look to repeat as division champions—something they haven’t done since winning five straight NFC East titles from 1992-96. Meanwhile, the reigning NFC North champion Chicago Bears seek back-to-back division titles for the first time since the 2005-06 seasons.
Let’s look at all four NFC divisions and determine which teams will finish in first place.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The NFC East will be a two-team race. The Washington Redskins and New York Giants lack the talent to stay in contention all season.
There has not been a repeat champion in the East since the Philadelphia Eagles won four consecutive titles from 2001-04. Expect that trend to continue as the Eagles maintain a deeper roster than the reigning division-champion Cowboys.
NFC East division winners since 2006 pic.twitter.com/CDHWh7MkKc
— America’s Team ✭ (@RoadToSix) May 4, 2019
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz enters the most pivotal season of his professional career. The 26-year-old has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the past two seasons—tearing his ACL in 2017 and hurting his back last year. Wentz’s backup, Nick Foles, led Philadelphia to its first-ever Super Bowl title and a trip to the divisional round over the past two postseasons, putting the pressure on Wentz to produce at a high level.
Wentz is an elite quarterback when healthy. He finished third in MVP voting in his sophomore season in 2017. In three seasons, Wentz has compiled 70 passing touchdowns against 28 interceptions. He played well last year before getting hurt, posting a career-best 102.2 passer rating.
The Eagles’ defense will bring the pressure up front. Star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a four-time Pro Bowler, gets to line up alongside free agent addition Malik Jackson, who the Eagles poached from the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. That duo, coupled with edge rushers Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, should make life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
Dallas is flushed with young talent on both sides of the ball. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper lead the playmaking group on offense, while Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones spearhead the defense.
Elliott is holding out from joining the team in pursuit of a new contract. He is expected to sit out the start of the season. Rookie Tony Pollard currently sits atop the running back depth chart.
Jerry Jones on Ezekiel Elliott: "I'm operating as though right now he's going to miss regular season games. My entire expectation for what we're putting together as a team right now would anticipate with him holding out … that he's going to miss games. I just accept that."
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 30, 2019
The Cowboys should compete for a wild-card spot, so long as Elliott returns at some point during the year.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings, a trendy preseason pick to reach the Super Bowl last year, missed the playoffs altogether with a middling 8-7-1 record.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins received plenty of flak. He didn’t have a bad year by any means—accumulating 4,298 passing yards for 30 TDs and 10 interceptions—but came up short in the biggest games. The club’s dreadful offensive line was to blame for some of the woes. The Vikings believe they addressed this glaring issue by drafting center Garrett Bradbury.
Receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both capable of collecting 1,000-yards again this season. The running game should be much improved with halfback Dalvin Cook another year removed from his ACL tear and third-round rookie Alexander Mattiso making a big impression on the coaching staff.
All-Pro safety Harrison Smith is the heart and sole of the defensive unit, which should fare better in 2019.
Elsewhere, the Chicago Bears remain one of the league’s elite teams because of their unmatched defense.
#Bears Defense… Wow.
QB RATING: 72.9 (1st)
COMP PERCENTAGE: 61.3% (3rd)
Y/A: 6.27 (1st)
Y/C: 10.22 (2nd)
20+ PLAYS: 46 (1st)
SACKS: 50 (T-3rd)
✅Stop The Run
YPG: 80.0 (1st)
YPC: 3.78 (4th)
10+ RUNS: 28 (1st)
TDs: 5 (1st)
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 31, 2018
Excelling at forcing turnovers, the Bears intercepted a league-high 27 passes—six more than the next closest team. Remarkably, they ran five of those interceptions back for touchdowns.
The offense remains a question mark. Can quarterback Mitchell Trubisky sustain his success from his sophomore season? Accuracy issues still plague the 25-year-old signal caller.
Running back Tarik Cohen should play a major role in the offense, as will rookie tailback David Montgomery.
Look for the Bears to post double-digit wins this season and reach the playoffs—but fall just shy of repeating as division champions.
Aaron Rodgers gives the Green Bay Packers a fighting chance to win the North. However, Rodgers has struggled to maintain his health in recent seasons and there is no guarantee he will gel with new head coach Matt LaFleur.
Free agent signee Za’Darius Smith is being counted on to fortify the pass rush. The 18th ranked defense from a season ago also added Adrian Amos, snatching the safety in free agency from the Bears.
Green Bay can stay in the playoff race if Rodgers plays all 16 games. But the Bears and Vikings are more well-rounded clubs.
As for the Detroit Lions, it’s tough to see them going from worst-to-first in arguably the toughest division in football. The defense is criminally underrated, but the offense—which is beleaguered by its line—still has far too many issues for Matthew Stafford to overcome.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
The South features two MVPs (Matt Ryan and Cam Newton) and an all-time great QB and former Super Bowl MVP in Drew Brees.
Brees is still a top-five quarterback, while running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas are among the five best at their respective positions.
The Saints’ defense slipped last year after finishing in the top-10 in 2017. They reloaded in the offseason, signing DT Malcom Brown, DE Mario Edwards Jr. and nabbing Florida safety Chauncey Garner-Johnson in the fourth round of the draft.
The Saints look like the best team in the NFC.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons hope to bounce back after finishing 7-9 last year. They have one of the league’s scariest passing attacks, which features Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Their deep running back group is also a force to be reckoned with. Atlanta revamped its offense line in the offseason, and the defense can’t be as woeful as it was a season ago when it was wrecked by countless injuries.
The Falcons could find themselves back in the postseason, but remain a step behind the Saints.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers should also compete for a wild-card spot. The Panthers retooled their defense, with the additions of DT Gerald McCoy, DE Bruce Irvin and rookie linebacker Brian Burns.
Christian McCaffrey is fresh off a breakout campaign—producing 1,965 yards from scrimmage with 13 touchdowns in 2018. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel could be the next Panthers’ player to exceed expectations.
Early reports indicate Newton is fully healed after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder. He had an injury scare when he sprained his foot in an exhibition contest against the New England Patriots. But the Panthers are confident Newton will be ready for Week 1.
Ron Rivera: “There’s no doubt in my mind” that Cam Newton will be ready for Week 1.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) August 27, 2019
Newton hasn’t been a dominant quarterback since his MVP campaign in 2015. He must play at an elite level for the Panthers to make the playoffs.
Bruce Arians came out of retirement to take over the coaching duties for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The two-time Coach of the Year could endure a challenging first season back in the league.
It’s a prove-it year for Jameis Winston, the turnover-prone quarterback who is running out of chances with the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2015.
The defense gets a new look with former New York Jets coach Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator. But the talent is still lacking on that side of the ball.
The Bucs last made the postseason in 2007, but it’s hard to imagine them ending their playoff drought this season.
NFC West: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are looking to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. They looked well-equipped to repeat in the West after adding Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the offseason to enhance their talented defense.
Sean McVay has proven to be one of the best coaches in football. He should keep the Jared Goff-led offense—which gets Cooper Kupp back after the WR tore his ACL a season ago—dynamic and unpredictable.
Pete Carroll demonstrated again why he is a top-tier coach after leading the Seahawks to an unexpected playoff berth last season. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sensational in 2018, which was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the franchise. The o-line is still middle of the road however, and the team lacks playmakers on offense. The Seahawks could regress in 2019.
The 49ers won just four games last year, but much of their struggles can be attributed to the season-ending ACL tear to QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The defense was the major problem, however, and general manager John Lynch augmented that unit by drafting Nick Bosa second overall and trading for Dee Ford.
San Francisco should be a competitive team this season, but the playoffs seem unlikely.
The Arizona Cardinals, led by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, have their work cut out for them. The offense should be fun to watch and the defense has playmakers, but there are still too many holes on the roster. They won’t be the worst team in football again, but will finish under .500.