NFC CONFERENCE SEASON PREVIEW
This is the year of the Philly free-for-all. The league’s most creative coach has finally assembled his most varied and explosive roster on which to ride into battle. And while you won’t get complacency from Chip Kelly in press conferences, the evasive retorts suggest he already likes what he sees from this wholesale risk-prone experiment.
Let’s join the fun and hope that Sam Bradford can find his feet after a nightmare run on the surgeon’s table. There’s always something to fear from the death-or-glory propositions that are Tony Romo and Eli Manning (in Dallas and New York respectively) but both those sheriffs are policing one-horse towns these days. Washington may have solved their Robert Griffin riddle by benching him (RG3 had become the prime cause of heart attacks in the DC area). However, don’t tell me Kirk Cousins is their saviour.
Lambeau Field’s holy trinity of custodians – Aaron Rodgers, head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson – consistently put the Pack in the play-off mix, but this is the year their secure establishment could reap their richest harvest, even with Tom Clements now calling the plays. Clements is simply McCarthy’s satellite, he’s no rogue meteor.
A niggling injury to wide receiver Randall Cobb and a season-ender to Jordy Nelson means that their crack receiving corps isn’t at full strength yet. But the long arm of Rodgers’ law extends beyond any one go-to guy, while Eddie Lacy will invariably move the chains when his QB wants to hand off the pigskin.
Elsewhere, Chicago continue to live down to expectations with a progressively porous secondary. Minnesota are stuck for offensive flair; whereas Detroit, although blessed, never add up to the sum of their parts. One day the planets must align for Matt Stafford and Co but mankind may not be around to witness it.
This foursome all have an element of the awesome on their team-sheets. Yet regardless of how you cut the deck, New Orleans keep coming up trumps. The Saints’ Superdome offers one of the best hometown sanctuaries in the NFL, and after an anomalous 2014, its reputation should be restored in 2015.
Receiver Brandin Cooks appears ready to fulfil his promise (having missed the first six games of last term with a broken thumb) and his form bolsters an already intimidating offensive powerhouse under Drew Brees.
Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa Bay can all muster some D on occasion, but all look set to fall woefully short in the inter-divisional match-ups with New Orleans. So play it safe and securely with the Saints.
The home of the Super Bowl winners, if the betting markets are to be believed, but they’ve come up short in the final analysis in two of the past three seasons. The natural trouble with such a stacked division is that the attritional rivalries inherent to it can impede even the leading team in the wider war. Seattle and San Francisco have both been eloquent and recent cases in point.
Cam Newton has renegotiated a new deal and is happy. But Marshawn Lynch rarely is and can’t go on forever in any case, while Newton’s wide boys are still sub-optimal to my jaundiced eye. More value and attractive quotes are available on the Niners and St Louis Rams, but the percentage call has to be to go with Arizona.
The Cardinals remain assured on defense, but the return of Carson Palmer to full health means they have a legitimate shot at keeping pace with all but the best offenses. Bruce Arians‘ tactical nous will give his veteran QB every chance to make this a championship push on what could prove a profitable retirement tour.