THE midway point of the season is a great spot to look back and project forward from. Those teams that had the ball bounce their way in the first 3-4 weeks of the league have fallen off the radar and a clear picture in the standings is starting to unfold. In the AFC, everyone is competing for second to the Patriots, but things are harder to decipher on the other side of the bracket. There are some clear cut NFC squads that are near the top of the food chain but the talent-rich conference has plenty of other contenders to keep your eye on as well.
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THROUGH half the season there are three NFC franchises who have recorded seven wins; the San Fransisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. Of the trio, the 49ers are the only team yet to drop a game, with their impressive win over Carolina on the weekend proving they belong in the conversation as the conference’s elite team. Some will argue that they aren’t as battle-tested as the Packers and/or Saints with San Fran’s opponents a combined 17-35 at the midway point of the year. However, the 49ers deserve credit for going undefeated thus far, with their defense and rushing attack leading the way.
WE will learn how authentic San Fransisco is in the month of November with a pair of games against Arizona that they should win with relative ease and two tougher tasks against the Seahawks and Packers at home. The Green Bay game especially will be worth tuning in to, especially if neither team will lose another game before that clash. This 2019 version of the Packers isn’t the one that we have been accustomed to in recent years and yet they have still been achieving a similar amount of success. Part of that reason is thanks to the quarterbacking god they have under center in Aaron Rodgers with their re-tooled defense excelling as well.
OVER the offseason Green Bay bucked their stereotypical approach and forked out the cash to land linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith who have combined for 15 sacks through eight games. Another defensive addition in Adrian Amos is currently second in the team for total tackles and those three fresh faces have helped breath some life into a Packers defense that is complimenting the other side of the ball. Offensively, Green Bay is still a top-10 offense in most categories, thanks to Aaron Jones dominance in the red zone on the ground and Rodgers’ brilliance despite their best receiver Davante Adams only appearing in four games so far this year.
OF course, throughout an NFL season, every team deals with injury issues and one could argue that the most significant injury through the first half of season 2019 affected Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The future HOFer went down in Week 2 against the Rams with a thumb problem, forcing the Saints to trust Teddy Bridgewater to keep them afloat. The most expensive backup in the league didn’t let them down though, chalking up the same number of interceptions as he did game-winning drives (2), helping NOLA surge to a 5-0 record without Brees.
NEW Orleans welcomed Brees back last weekend against the Cardinals, but they have far more impressive areas on their roster than backup quarterback. Still, like the Niners and Packers, they appear to be in a class of their own at the top of the conference. There are some other noteworthy contenders though.
ONE could argue Minnesota has been the hottest team in the last month and if Kirk Cousins is firing they’re a legit threat. The Cowboys and Eagles are locked in a battle for the NFC East crown and either could pop and surge into the postseason. Last year’s Super Bowl contenders are poised to chalk up more wins, especially now Jalen Ramsey is on their roster. Then finally, with a tougher schedule on the horizon for Seattle, Russell Wilson will need to continue trimming his MVP odds and emerge as the front runner for the award; a feat that’s going to be tough but not impossible.
WITH five of the top six teams in the league residing in the NFC we’re likely facing another month’s worth of games before the contenders really separate themselves from the pack. Until that time, there will be plenty of debate over who deserves the crown and in my opinion, one franchise is in the box seat. A now healthy QB 1 and perhaps the best defensive line in the entire league has this set up perfectly for the Saints.
SAN Fransisco definitely has the defense to go all the way and Aaron Rodgers is in the top handful of MVP candidates. However, when pitting the three quarterbacks against each other I can’t put Jimmy Garoppolo in the same conversation as the other two legends. Yet. Green Bay and New Orleans are tough to split, but a Packers defense that has given up at least 22 points in five straight contests still has things to work out.
SOME people will say the Saints have been the best team in the NFC for the last three years, but as we all know, that doesn’t always equate to postseason success. After two heartbreaking playoff losses, this could be third time lucky for NOLA if they can fight their way through the tougher NFC. That’s no easy if.
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