In this space on Tuesday, I took a look at how the teams of the AFC might sort themselves out by the end of the upcoming National Football League season.
I came to the conclusion that the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals will be division champions, while the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers will find their way into the playoffs with wild-card berths.
But what of their NFC counterparts?
The NFC boasts two popular Super Bowl picks in the Seahawks and Packers, plus there’s the Cowboys, whose fans are just passionate (delusional?) enough to believe that every year is their year.
But how will it all come together?
I think when January comes around, the NFC might look a little bit like this.
1. Seattle — Whatever the Seahawks ended up paying Russell Wilson, it wasn’t nearly enough. Wilson is already one of the top QBs in the league after just three seasons, and should have the Seahawks right in the thick of things again.
2. Arizona* — If Carson Palmer can stay healthy, the Cardinals are formidable. If there’s a repeat of last year, when seemingly every player that Arizona put at QB got hurt, it could be a long season.
3. St. Louis — Nick Foles is an upgrade over Sam Bradford, based solely on the fact that he can stay in the lineup. However, there’s too much turmoil surrounding the Rams, who don’t even know how much longer they’ll be in the Gateway City.
4. San Francisco — It’s hard to believe how far the 49ers have fallen in such a short span of time. Colin Kaepernick seems to have plateaued as a starting quarterback, and the Niners have been hit with a rash of retirements on defense.
1. Green Bay — The Packers are my Super Bowl pick in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers may be the best quarterback in the league, and now he’s got a new (old?) toy in veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, who’d love to walk off into the sunset with another championship.
2. Detroit — There’s no doubt that the loss of Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line hurts the Lions greatly. But there’s also no doubt that they have one of the league’s grittiest competitors in Matthew Stafford playing quarterback.
3. Minnesota — Teddy Bridgewater, who probably should have been drafted by the Browns instead of Johnny Manziel, is a star in the making. He’ll get a lot of help from the return of running back Adrian Peterson.
4. Chicago — Remember when Jay Cutler was supposed to be an elite quarterback? Now he’s just the second coming of Cade McNown or any of a number of mediocre-at-best quarterbacks to call Soldier Field home over the past several decades.
1. New Orleans — As long as Drew Brees is under center for the Saints, New Orleans is the best team in this division. The Saints might be the NFC’s answer to the Broncos — where the second round might be as far as they go.
2. Carolina* — Cam Newton should get the Panthers in the postseason for the third-consecutive year, though it will be hard to hold off the Saints for the division title. Another 7-8-1 record won’t be enough, though.
3. Atlanta — Matt Ryan continues to put up elite numbers, but he’s also going to be 30 years old when this season starts. Add in the fact that there’s a new head coach in town in Dan Quinn, and it could be a transition year for the Falcons.
4. Tampa Bay — It’s always tough for a rookie quarterback to grow accustomed to the NFL. It’s even tougher when you’re trying to do so with a truly terrible team. Jameis Winston has his work cut out for him with the Buccaneers.
1. Dallas — It’s now or never for Tony Romo and the Cowboys, whose window is closing rapidly even with Dez Bryant’s new contract. They’re always a trendy pick to go to the Super Bowl, thanks to their fanbase that has been desperate for a winner since the mid 1990s.
2. Philadelphia — The Eagles are an intriguing group, to say the least. How long will Sam Bradford have two healthy knees? If he can’t play, how long can Mark Sanchez avoid Butt Fumble Part II? Tim Tebow, anybody?
3. New York Giants — Eli Manning has been consistently inconsistent for several years. So, too, have the Giants. Expect more of the same this season: 9-7, 8-8 or 7-9 sounds about right.
4. Washington — It could be worse, though. This is Robert Griffin III’s last chance before he’ll become someone else’s reclamation project. The Redskins better keep Kirk Cousins happy if they have any hope of avoiding another last-place finish.
* — wild-card team
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. The last time the Cowboys were in the Super Bowl, he was in the sixth grade. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.