November 7, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFL Midseason Review: NFC
The Vikings looked like a team scrambling when they loss QB Teddy Bridgewater for the season, but the decision to trade for QB Sam Bradford turned out to be the right move. Bradford has played exceptionally well with good accuracy, leadership, and pocket presence. The running game has struggled after the loss of Adrian Peterson and has had to go back to the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, which has not been as effective as last season. The offensive line played decent, but injuries have led to some holes at all levels. The defense has been one of the top in the league led by a stout front 7 and athletic young playmakers, along with an active D-line. The secondary has really improved with Xavier Rhodes stepping up as a shutdown CB and improvement from Trae Waynes, while Terrance Newman shows he has something left in the tank. The Vikings are young upcoming team, led by a veteran QB in Sam Bradford who can play smart football, HC Mike Zimmer needs to continue his great coaching job and keep this team afloat.
The Packers were another team that many fans had at the top of the NFC and ready for a Super Bowl run, but injuries have hit the team and the defense has not played up to par. QB Aaron Rodgers continues to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league and has a lot of athletic versatile weapons at WR and TE, as well as his favorite target WR Jordy Nelson. The offensive line has played inconsistent, but has held their own at own, mostly pass blocking. The RB core has struggled behind a slimmed down, Eddie Lacy who is now out for the season and backup James Starks has struggled with injuries, as well. The defense has applied good pressure and made plays, but they are susceptible to the run and injuries in the secondary mostly to #1 CB Sam Shields, have made the passing defense a liability, as well. The Packers are too talented of a team to slide to far, but Aaron Rodgers can only do so much; expect Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews to step up, while holding people accountable.
The Lions have been a big surprise this year, as QB Matthew Stafford played consistently solid football with limited turnovers, despite not having Calvin Johnson due to retirement. Stafford and OC Jim Bob Cooter has proved that his system really is a good fit for the team. The running game was brining balance under Ameer Abdullah before a foot injury ended his season, but Theo Reddick has proved to be a decent dual threat back who can really make plays out of the backfield, but they still need a power back. Free agent WR Marvin Jones has been a pleasant surprise, as a consistent deep threat in this offense who appears to be the #1 WR with Golden Tate struggling at times. TE Eric Ebron continues to be inconsistent and injury prone, but he has made plays this season, but the team still wants to see more production. The offensive line has been much improved with the addition of rookie LT Taylor Decker, who has taken over the job since Day 1. The Lions defense has been much improved against the run with the defensive line really holding the point of attack, behind star DE Ezekiel Ansah and a deep D-line that provides a solid attack. The LB core has been productive behind star LB DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead. The secondary could use some improvement in the form of another CB opposite top CB Darius Slay who continues to prove that he is a top 10 CB in the league, despite not having much help opposite, but the safeties are good hitters and Glover Quin can do it all. The Lions are starting to build a good foundation and will be tough to beat with a solid passing attack and a tough defense, but they could still use some talent on both sides of the ball in a tough division.
The Bears came into the season looking like a team that would be much improved defensively, with decent offense led by a running back by committee approach; however things have not worked out due to injuries and some ineffectiveness. QB Jay Cutler has looked average at best and continues to be a turnover machine; however, veteran QB Brian Hoyer showed that the offense can be run turnover free, but injuries at WR have limited what he can do. The offensive line which was very weak in depth also suffered injuries and could use some real upgrades, outside of Kyle Long. The running game has excelled under rookie Jordan Howard who has proved to be a good dual threat with smooth running ability, power back Kadeem Carey has showed up at times, and Jeremy Langford is still a dual threat whenever he returns to health. Eddie Royal has been the best WR, due to injuries to Kevin White, again, and franchise WR Alshon Jeffrey in and out of the lineup. The front 7 was supposed to be the strong point on this team, but injuries to Pernell McPhee and Eddie Goldman have hurt the run defense and pass rush. An injury to #1 CB Kyle Fuller and average safety play has also led to a weak secondary. The Bears have a good coaching staff and veteran players, so they will be competitive, but a QB change and infusion of young players is needed.
The Cowboys have been one of the biggest surprises with rookies QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott leading this team to victories with solid consistent play. Dak has play consistent mistake free football that this team hoped for and was hoping would translate into the regular season after a major injury to Tony Romo. 1st round pick Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Cowboys hoped as a true workhorse back who can do anything on the field and he has really been a consistent, patient runner behind the best O-line in the league. The defense was thought to be one of the worst in the league, as injuries and suspensions ripped at a promising front 7, but the Cowboys have really held their own against the run and the CBs have stepped up against the pass with the help of young FS Byron Jones behind them to cover ground. The Cowboys have a solid foundation to be build off of with good coaching in place, they finally seemed to have found their RB and QB of the future, behind a young O-line, and should be a problem in this division for a long time, as the young defense continues to grow.
The Giants have not played to their potential and were looking like the best team in the NFC East with the changes they made on defense and an offense that can put up points with the cbest of them. Eli Manning has been having his usual inconsistent season, but some problems have come from the offensive line struggles and the injuries at RB. The offensive line has had struggles at the tackle spots, but mostly at RT as expected. At RB lead back Rashad Jennings has struggled with injuries, while 3rd down back Shane Vereen is out for the season leading to a committee approach. The WR core has not produced as expected after a fast start by rookie Sterling Shepard and veteran Victor Cruz, but star WR Odell Beckham has struggled at times. The defensive line has held their own, but has not generated the consistent pass rush team expected, but the run stopping has been improved. The LB core is still in need of an infusion of talent or a sideline to sideline star, but their play has been better than expected. The secondary has held their own with solid play by free agent Janoris Jenkins and rookie FS Darian Thompson, alongside CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and SS Landon Collins, who can now play his more natural role as a hitter. The Giants have potential on offense to get it going again, but must stabilize the O-line, but the defense needs to play even better in a tough division.
The Eagles shocked everyone when they traded away starting QB Sam Bradford and decided to start rookie 1st round pick QB Carson Wentz, but it turned out to be the right idea. Wentz has been a calm presence in the pocket with a big arm, but doesn’t seem to have the weapons he needs outside. The RB core has been effective by committee with Ryan Matthews, Darren Sproles, Kejon Barner, and rookie Wendell Smallwood all getting carries and receptions, while making plays on special teams. The WR core has been lackluster outside of Jordan Matthews and the trade for Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t paid off yet. The TE core has been inconsistent while dealing with injuries, but has added to the offensive weapons at times. The offensive line has been inconsistent while dealing with injuries and really could use improvement. The defense has been effective under DC Jim Schwartz led by the D-line with DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham. The secondary has played better than expected led by SS Malcolm Jenkins who has been all over the field and a solid pickup in FS Rodney McLeod who has been a playmaker. The LB core has also been active in productive with solid physical play behind the D-line. The Eagles need Wentz to make better use of the weapons that he has and continue to rely on the run game and a strong defense; the growth of Wentz will be the key to the number of wins they can get.
The Redskins came into the season as a big unknown with QB Kirk Cousins betting on himself to have another season for a bigger pay day, RB Matt Jones taking over as the workhorse back, and a defense with talent, but a suspect D-line. Cousins has been inconsistent so far, but continues to prove that he is a good fit for this offense. The running game has struggled most of the season behind Jones, but the other playmakers have stepped up at times to give the team balance at times. The offensive line has struggled in the inside, as usual, but the tackles have held their own. The WR core has stepped up with Desean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, along with reliable TE Jordan Reed. The defense has struggled to stop the run with a veteran D-line, while the LB core continues to apply pressure, led by OLB Ryan Kerrigan. The addition of CB Josh Norman has been mixed results, as has been very inconsistent, Breeland hasn’t been much better on the other side, while the injury to Deangelo Hall hurt the safety play. The Redskins continue to be a team with a lot of fight in them, which is much needed in this division, but they still need to fix both sides in the trenches to take this team to the next level.
The Falcons have shocked people with QB Matt Ryan, as a MVP candidate leading the top offense in the league, behind a solid two-man run game. QB Matt Ryan has played efficient football in his 2nd year under OC Kyle Shanahan really spreading the ball around, hitting throws all over the field. WR Julio Jones continues to prove that he is one of the best receivers in the league if not the best and WR Mohamed Sanu has really taking the pressure off him, along with late pickup Taylor Gabriel. TE Jacob Tamme has really become a reliable pass catcher in this offense and continues to be a consistent blocker. The running game is led by a solid mix of Devonta Freeman and 2nd year back Tevin Coleman who has really stepped up as dual threat that most teams aren’t ready for, which injuries stopped last season. The offensive line has played much better behind one of the best centers in the league in Alex Mack who was a key pickup at a problem position for many years. The defense has been much improved via free agency and young draft picks who have been flying around the field. The front 7 has a good mix of veterans and youth led by pass rusher OLB Victor Beasley who continues to get better and a feisty D-line. The secondary could use some improvement, as #1 CB Desmond Trufant tries to make his way as a household name with his shutdown ability, but he hasn’t had much help. The Falcons have an offense that can score with anyone and a young improving defense, they should run away with the NFC South, but need to prove themselves in the playoffs.
The Bucs started the season looking like they could be a team that could take the next step, but now they are looking more like a middling team continuing to find the find the right mix of players and chemistry. QB Jameis Winston looks a lot more comfortable in the pocket and seems ready to lead this team, once he can get some playmakers; a lot of people are making the Cam Newton growth comparison. RB Doug Martin has suffered through injuries again, as well as, back up Charles Sims, and journeyman back Jacquizz Rodgers appears to be the best of the bunch. The WR core has once again relied too much on Mike Evans, especially after the injury to Vincent Jackson, but TE Cameron Brate has been a pleasant surprise in the fall out of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The offensive line continues its growing pains, but the hope is that this unit can continue to get better or changes will be made. The front 7 has played well on defense led by star DT Gerald McCoy and OLB Lavonte David. The secondary has struggled, behind above-average CB play and poor safety play, but the hope is that 1st round pick Vernon Hargreaves will continue to grow, as a starting CB. The Bucs appear to be a pretty good offensive team, that still needs help on the back end defensively, but they will continue to be competitive and still need an infusion of young talent to go along with their core players.
The Saints have continued to look good on offense behind QB Drew Brees airing out the ball with a set of new weapons, but the defense continues to struggle no matter who the coach is due to injuries and ineffective play. Brees seems to be enjoying his plethora of weapons and the passing attack seems to be the only thing that can keep this team in games. RB Mark Ingram was having a good season, until the fumbles started; now Tim Hightower will cut into his carries. WR Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead continue to show a good connection with Brees while rookie Michael Thomas and huge WR Brandon Coleman bring depth and talent that Cooks and Snead don’t have. The TE experiment with Josh Hill and Coby Fleener continues to be inconsistent and a work in progress. The offensive line has played well despite injuries, due to the versatility and talent of the players. The defense continues to rely on star DE Cameron Jordan up front, 2nd year LB Stephone Anthony, and S Kenny Vaccaro. The rest of the defense needs to step up, especially with injuries at CB to a key weak area. The return of 1st round NT Sheldon Rankins from IR should help a poor run defense and he still made provide some push up front. The Saints have an offense that can win a shootout with anyone, but the defense seems to always put them in one and that’s not a recipe for winning football.
The Panthers have really struggled since the Super Bowl loss and need to right the ship, before it’s too late. QB Cam Newton has had to carry the team even more this season and teams have gotten to him and really beat him up so far. The offensive line has struggled mightily outside of C Ryan Kahlil and they need to get back to their power running blocking ways. The running back core has struggled with injuries to Jonathan Stewart, who paved the way last season while finally being healthy, but this season they have had to rely more on Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne. The WR core has been improved thanks to Kelvin Benjamin’s return, but someone else needs to step up just like last season, as TE Greg Olsen continues to be the favorite target. The defense continues to be stout against the run, despite a few hiccups in the road, but star MLB Luke Kuechly is still one of the best, if not the best in the league behind two quality DTs in Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson give them good versatility at LB, but DE is a position in need of more pass rush attack. The secondary has played horribly without star CB Josh Norman and the safety played has clearly declined. The Panthers have a good chance of getting the offense back on track behind Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart, but the secondary will need their young CBs to improve greatly if they want to win games in a division of big arm QBs.
The Seahawks continue to be one of the top teams in the league with their solid defense, coaching, and ability to play smart football. QB Russell Wilson continues to play smart football spreading the ball or using his feet when needed, despite dealing with multiple injuries. RB Christian Michael has been surprisingly leading the way, showing his potential that the team bragged about when they drafted him, while the rookie backs have had time to develop and Thomas Rawls hasn’t been able to stay healthy either. The offensive line continues to struggle, but hold its own especially while run blocking; they should only get better. The WR core has been inconsistent, as usual, but TE Jimmy Graham has finally shown up and played through injuries to be a top receiver again. The defense continues to be one of the top in the league led by Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Michael Bennett. They have been susceptible to the run at times, but the return of SS Kam Chancellor will shore up some holes. The Seahawks are winning and still haven’t played their best football, they are still one of the top teams in the NFC and a team no one will want to see In the playoffs.
The Cardinals came into the season looking like Super Bowl hopefuls or at least one of the top teams in the NFC, but that has not been the case. QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been very accurate so far and has struggled to find anyone other than Larry Fitzgerald. RB David Johnson has really turned into a household name and proved that he is one of the top dual threats in the league; killing any chance of a committee approach. Fitzgerald continues to prove he has a lot left in the tank in one could be his last season, but the other WRs continue to struggle. The offensive line has really struggled this season, but will be even worst with an injury to their best lineman LT Jared Veldheer. The defense has not played to their potential and has really struggled in the secondary without a real #2 CB opposite star CB Patrick Peterson and a lack of depth with some talent leaving at safety in the offseason. An injury to Tyrann Mathieu also doesn’t help and this team will now need some young players to step up. The Cardinals need to get their passing attack going rely more on their front 7 until their secondary is healthy, but that’s easier said than done, but they do have talent and solid coaching.
The Rams were off to a good start which surprised everyone, but they have since leveled out and are more of the midlevel team that everyone expected. The Rams gave away a lot for #1 overall pick QB Jared Goff and have yet to unleash him. QB Case Keenum has played safe football and has done the best he can with mediocre weapons while having nice chemistry with WR Kenny Britt and a good deep ball to Brian Quick, but the offense is predictable. RB Todd Gurley has struggled to find running lanes with teams playing in the box and has had to show some of his dual threat abilities to get open. The offensive line has struggled and needs replacements at RT and at guard. Tavon Austin was supposed to be a focal point of the offense and has yet to really get involved, while rookie Pharoh Cooper has yet to make his mark, as well, as a playmaker. The young defense has held up well, led by the defensive line and star DT Aaron Donald who has been considered pound for pound one of the best in the league with a relentless motor and good athleticism for his size. The secondary has held up well behind Trumaine Johnson leading the way after surprisingly receiving the franchise tag, but the team could use another CB to take the pressure off of him and the safety position could use another playmaker, despite Mark Barron operating as an OLB/S. The Rams are clearly in rebuilding/transition mode and it is time to let Jared Goff endure his growing pains, while the team continues to find the young pieces that will stick around; they may have something in the making if they can get a top WR, fix the O-line, and find a CB, as well as add depth on the defense.
The 49ers were already facing an uphill battle, but fans were interested to see what HC Chip Kelly could bring to the team with QB Colin Kaepernick, but Kelly decided to go with QB Blaine Gabbert instead. Gabbert continued his mediocre play, as he has most of his career, eventually leading to the change to Kaepernick who has tried to make plays, but there is a lack of playmakers on this team. Injuries to RB Carlos Hyde has hurt the unit at times, as Shaun Draughn and Mike Davis are more complementary backs, but Hyde has run with good power and relentlessness when he is healthy. The offensive line continues to struggle, as they have to shuffle players due to injury and ineffectiveness, with LT Joe Staley as the main bright spot. The WR core has played horribly, with slot WR Jeremy Kerley as the only bright spot, as a late addition to the team. TE Vance McDonald showed good chemistry with Blaine Gabbert, but has yet to establish himself as a consistent thereat. The 49ers was playing tough defense, despite obvious holes in the front 7, but an injury to star ILB NaVorro Bowman has opened up the run defense for everyone. Huge, athletic DE’s DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead will be problems for years to come. The secondary has played well behind safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid who do a good job in coverage and as hitters, while veteran CB Trumaine Brock has had a good season. The 49ers need to find a QB to build around, fix their offensive line, and add some young playmakers at LB and CB; it will continue to be a tough season until the defense improves and passing attack.