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Final 2011 NFC Seedings

All you astute readers out there probably figured that I’d write an NFC compliment to the AFC edition I wrote a couple of days ago. Gold star for you! With playoff talk & fired coaches being the norm, let’s talk a little about how we got to where we are in the NFC.


Highest Seed = #1 (Weeks 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
Lowest Seed = #5 (Week 5)

The Packers dominated from day 1, but there are a few things that sort of stick out about Green Bay. It would be superfluous to talk over and over again about how great the offense is. The bottom line is that for the most part the only team that can beat Green Bay is themselves. However, there are some key points to Green Bay that will be interesting to watch during the playoffs. There is a way to beat Green Bay even if it does seem difficult. The first is to not turn the ball over. Green Bay was +24 in TO margin this year which is simply ridiculous. There was only one game where Green Bay wasn’t the beneficiary of an opponent’s turnover. That game was Green Bay’s only loss when the Chiefs beat them 19-14! Another thing that has to happen is that Aaron Rodgers has to be off his game. Against KC, Rodgers completed just 48.6% of his passes! That was by far the lowest mark of his 2011 season. The next worse mark for Rodgers is completing 57% of his passes in a 46-16 blowout win over Oakland. It would be great too if Rodgers threw an interception or two while he was completing less than 50% of his passes, but I think most teams would settle for Rodgers not picking apart defenses with incredible precision. This means getting after Rodgers as well with a brutal pass rush. The last thing to do in order to beat Green Bay is to limit the amount of time Green Bay has on offense. This means running the football extremely well. Kansas City ran for the 3rd most rushing yards the Packers defense allowed in 2011. Minnesota earlier in the season rushed for 218 yards and nearly beat Green Bay before falling 33-27 in Minneapolis. The Bears rushed for 199 yards, but were -2 in TO margin & lost 35-21. Green Bay could be very susceptible to New Orleans & San Francisco given how those teams are winning. If regression to the mean regarding tunovers rears its ugly head in January, Green Bay could go home earlier than expected.


Highest Seed = #2 (Weeks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
Lowest Seed = #4 (Weeks 2, 3)

The 49ers were never in any trouble about making the playoffs and it’s almost a no-brainer that first year coach Jim Harbaugh will be named NFL Coach of the Year for the 2011 season! San Francisco’s Week 2 OT loss to Dallas prevented them from giving Green Bay a serious run as the season progressed. If SF wins that game then they are 10-0 heading into Baltimore on Thanksgiving night! That would have been even more epic! You really can’t complain about SF’s season, but they did have a couple of odd losses. The early home loss to Dallas was pretty bad in retrospect although nobody at that time knew what San Francisco had in store for the rest of the season. Losing in Baltimore to the Ravens is hardly cause for concern. The one glaring loss is the 21-19 loss to Arizona on December 11th. It put a ton of pressure on SF because it marked their 3rd loss which essentially put them even with the Saints. SF was going to win the tiebreaker due to conference record, but SF would have to win their last 3 games which included a home date against Pittsburgh on Monday night followed by a road game in Seattle with the Seahawks extremely motivated to play hard because they were in the playoff hunt. Hats off to the 49ers for beating Pittsburgh & then winning their last 2 games which were on the road to secure the #2 seed and a first round bye! Even if SF beats Arizona, they wind up 14-2 which is still good enough for only the 2nd seed which is what they have. The Cowboys & Ravens losses are OK. As an aside, Green Bay’s +24 in TO margin is #2 in the NFL. San Francisco is #1 in the NFL with a +28 TO margin! That’s insane. Over their last 5 games, SF didn’t turn the ball over a single time while forcing 12 turnovers themselves. SF has a bone crushing rush defense, but could be a tad better with their pass defense. They have a team that could test both GBP & NOS if they can ball control, get after the QB and keep that TO margin as healthy as it has been. Offensively the team is a playmaker or two away from being one of the most elite clubs, but they’ll make it interesting.


Highest Seed = #3 (Weeks 2, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
Lowest Seed = #8 (Week 3)

Maybe it doesn’t matter, but the Saints have a couple of horrible losses on the schedule. Their opening week loss to Green Bay was more than OK given how Green Bay played this season, but New Orleans has losses to the Rams (2-14) and the Bucs (4-12)! By all accounts the Saints should be 15-1. Oddly enough they’d still be the #2 seed because of the head-to-head loss to Green Bay, but they’d be home for the Wild Card round and would host a divisional game. This way they still get a home game, but it’s a wild card game and then they’ll have to play the divisional game and most likely the NFC Championship game on the road. That could get interesting because San Francisco can get cold in January and we all know what Green Bay, Wisconsin can be like in the dead of winter. Nobody is thinking about the Rams now or the Bucs, but I can guarantee you that Drew Brees & Sean Payton are. Sure they’d still have to beat Green Bay in Green Bay to win the NFC, but they most likely would be taking on San Francisco in the Superdome rather than the ancient Candlestick Park! At least we know the lights work in the Superdome! Nothing really stands about about New Orleans other than they look amazing and are the hottest team entering the playoffs being on an 8-game winning streak. In their last 10 games, the Saints have allowed 18.8ppg defensively! If the defense holds, there isn’t a defense on the planet that holds Drew Brees below 20 points. That’s game, set, and match! Here is something interesting though. Look at the seasons Aaron Rodgers & Drew Brees had this year:

Aaron Rodgers: 343 of 502 (68.3%) for 4,643 yards; 45TD; 6INT (Packers are 15-1; NFC North Champions; Best record in the NFL)
Drew Brees: 468 of 657 (71.%) for 5,476 yards, 46TD; 14INT (Saints are 13-3; NFC South Champions; 2nd best record in the NFL)

Most people think Rodgers is the runaway MVP this year, but Brees certainly makes a compelling case doesn’t he?


Highest Seed = #3 (Weeks 8, 9)
Lowest Seed = #13 (Week 1)

See what happens when you lose your first game of the season to the division rival Redskins!? Sort of an odd year when you look back on the Giants. They had a 4 game stretch from November 13th to December 4th that saw them lose 4 games, but none were horrible losses as the Giants lost to the Saints, Packers, Eagles & 49ers. Those 4 teams have a combined record of 49-15! What is weird is their other 3 losses. The  Giants got swept this year by the 5-11 Redskins and also dropped a home game to the Seahawks. If the Giants win those 3 games they finish 12-4 which amazingly enough would have still put them in the #4 seed so maybe those wins simply don’t mean as much!? The Giants play better than their record. Defensively it was difficult getting into a rhythm as guys like Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Prince Amukamara all battled injuries. The LB corps also took on some injuries during the season. Statistically the defense doesn’t look great, but we know that the Giants are a fantastic defensive team when healthy. Offensively this team is a nightmare as well when Brandon Jacobs & Ahmad Bradshaw are healthy. Eli Manning is also coming off the best season of his career. They don’t have an easy out in Atlanta this week, but New York might be the most equipped team to upend Green Bay. They certainly don’t mind the cold. Eli Manning doesn’t get shaken up. The Giants can ground & pound the ball. Most importantly, the pass rush is there. This isn’t a 9-7 squad. It’s more like a 12-4 team. Don’t let Washington & Seattle fool you! The Giants are out to make some noise.


Highest Seed = #5 (Weeks 14, 15, 17)
Lowest Seed = #14 (Weeks 1, 3)

To a degree the 10-6 season seems somewhat of a disappointment considering Atlanta finished 13-3 last season with the overall #1 seed in the NFC. It’s a little misleading to a degree. New Orleans could never really put it together after winning the Super Bowl which led to a lackluster regular season followed by a Wild Card loss to the sub-.500 Seahawks in Seattle! This year proved to be much different. New Orleans ran the ball efficiently all season long making life extremely tough for the Falcons as the Saints were virtually unbeatable with the rare exceptions when New Orleans beat themselves against vastly inferior teams. A healthy Saints team firing on all cylinders swept the Falcons in the regular season. You can’t necessarily damn the Falcons for this. Despite the worse record, the only bad loss was early on to the Bucs. You can also say the loss to the Texas in Houston after Matt Schaub went down was a bad loss too, but even if Atlanta goes 12-4, they can’t win the South. Given that they lost to New Orleans twice, Atlanta would have had to have gone at least 14-2 to win the division and secure the #2 seed in the NFC. It wasn’t going to happen. Whether they went 10-6 or 12-4, the Falcons were destined to be the #5 seed which is where they wound up. The big question now is whether Matt Ryan can make the leap and win a playoff game. The guy is still extremely young, but he’s 0-2 in playoff games so he’ll be looking for his first against the Giants in the Meadowlands. That isn’t a pass rush I’d like to face in seeking my first playoff win. Atlanta has massive weapons everywhere so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.


Highest Seed = #1 (Week 5)
Lowest Seed = #7 (Weeks 12, 13)

It got sort of dicey for the Lions when Detroit went on a brutal 2-5 skid in their middle 7 games. Luckily the Lions got off to a 5-0 start followed by a 3-1 finish to propel them by Bears, Cardinals, Eagles & Cowboys. It’s too easy to look at Detroit’s 5-0 start and then hammer them for going 5-6 to end the season. Those losses came against the 49ers (13-3), Falcons (10-6), Bears (8-8), Packers (15-1), Saints (13-3), & Packers again (15-1). That’s incredible! The combined record of those 6 opponents is 74-22 (.771) or the equivalent to a 12-4 team! Considering this was a team with absolutely no running game to speak of, that is quite an accomplishment. Note too that 3 of those losses were close meaning Detroit could have just as easily been 13-3, but you can’t forget that Detroit was 6-10 a year ago so a 4-game improvement and a playoff spot is definitely worth celebrating. I don’t think there was much Detroit could have done down the stretch. If they beat Atlanta during the regular season & wound up with the #5 seed then they’d be heading to New York. As it is they’ll head to New Orleans in a game that should be tougher, but it’s basically half dozen of one and 6 of the other. It’ll be interesting to see how Matt Stafford & the Detroit defense respond in the playoffs. With the defense healthy, it’s absolutely NASTY headed by the best defensive player in football in DT Ndamukong Suh. What hurts Detroit so badly is their lack of a running game. I’ve said it since the beginning of the year, but I think losing Mikel Leshoure was a bigger loss than people realize. Rookie WR Titus Young was outstanding while TE Brandon Pettigrew became a monster. Calvin Johnson speaks for himself. Throw in some play action with those receivers? Scary indeed! I’m very interested to see how Stafford does against the Saints on the road.


Highest Seed = #1 (Week 1)
Lowest Seed = #10 (Week 3)

It was all downhill for Chicago after Week 1! Talk about a lost season? The Bears were 7-3 with Jay Cutler as QB, but he was lost for the season after 10 games. Amazingly enough, the Bears had the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings left on the schedule after the 7-3 start! How could you not assume the Bears were in for a 12-4 season and easily the #5 seed in the NFC? Unfortunately Chicago found themselves in a similar situation as Indianapolis without a capable backup QB which led to them finishing the season 1-5 after such a promising start. The defense was starting to play extremely well in Cutler’s last few games which means everything was coming together. It’s interesting that through their first 10 games, the Bears scored 268 points (26.8ppg) which if that held steady over the course of the season would have put the Bears offense ranked 5th in the NFL in points scored! Yet OC Mike Martz was just fired by the Bears front office. Martz could only work with what he had. It definitely was working with Cutler & Matt Forte. It definitely wasn’t working with Caleb Hanie & Josh McCown. The Bears offensive line was also beat to hell. At the end of the day it’s almost impossible to speculate how the Bears wound up 8-8. Obviously Cutler’s injury was devastating, but calling any of the losses “bad” without Cutler under center seems strange. All you can really say is that a extremely promising season went by the wayside after 10 weeks.


Highest Seed = #6 (Week 1)
Lowest Seed = #16 (Week 8)

Like Chicago, the high mark for Arizona was Week 1 and then it went all downhill until it didn’t. The Cardinals had a similar season to Miami although the 1-6 start didn’t cost Ken Whisenhunt his job the way it did for Tony Sporano. To a certain degree, Arizona was the biggest victim of San Francisco’s success. Remember that last year Seattle won the West with a 7-9 record! Going 8-8 would have been an improvement for the West champion, but the 49ers went crazy going 13-3 which meant to win the West, a foe would have had to have put up an elite record rivaling Green Bay. That didn’t happen for Arizona. In retrospect this was somewhat of a lost season for the Cardinals. The first few weeks of the season saw Arizona drop games to the Redskins & Vikings. If the Cardinals win those games then they are sitting at 10-6 which would have given them the #5 and bumped Detroit out of the playoff all together. Five of the 8 losses were close meaning Arizona could make an argument that they are fairly close to being a 13 win team which is insane considering the awful the QB situation was in Arizona all season long. The Cardinals were awful defensively, but the QB position is terrible which is unfortunate as the Cardinals have some solid skill position players. Chris Wells really came into his own this season while Larry Fitzgerald continued being Larry Fitzgerald. Throw in Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, Jeff King, Todd Heap & LaRod Stephens-Howling and the Cardinals should have been better offensively than they showed. It’s pure speculation and it has never really came up, but if the Indianapolis Colts did decide to go in a different direction, can you imagine what could happen if Manning is 100% healthy throwing ball to Larry Fitzgerald?


Highest Seed = #5 (Week 1)
Lowest Seed = #13 (Weeks 4, 5)

Where to start? A couple of thoughts. First I think Philadelphia needs to evaluate if Michael Vick really is a Super Bowl winning QB. Throughout history, the most QBs playing in the NFL at any one time that are Super Bowl winners is between 5-7 with an average of about. If you include Peyton Manning in the list then right now Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees are Super Bowl champion QBs. There is your 6 players. That number could increase to 7, but the only team I think with a shot at winning a championship with a new QB is Baltimore and I’m not entirely sure Joe Flacco is going to step up and be that guy. At least not yet. That simply doesn’t leave room for Vick. The other oddity about Vick is that look at the ages of those QBs when they won their first Super Bowl. Big Ben was 23. Tom Brady was 24. Peyton Manning was 30. Aaron Rodgers was 27. Eli Manning was 26 and Drew Brees was 30. Vick will be 32-33 next year and he completed less than 60% of his passes this season. Sure he’s a running threat but that ability is going to decrease with each passing year. Philly has to ask themselves if Vick can get them a Lombardi Trophy the way Donovan McNabb couldn’t. Vick also misses games every season and clearly Vince Young isn’t the answer as backup QB. This is a similar situation the Jets are facing with the reality that Mark Sanchez isn’t exactly the Sanchise! On the other hand, 5 of Philadelphia 8 losses were close ones meaning the Eagles could have just as easily been 13-3. They were -14 in TO margin which ranked 30th in the league! Clearly even Lady Luck had no affection for the Eagles. Also keep in mind that Philadelphia was 5-1 against the NFC East, the best mark in the division. In retrospect losses the Bills, Cardinals & Seahawks should have been wins which would have made the Eagles 11-5 and the NFC East champions. Sometimes luck simply doesn’t fall for you. How else can you explain Philadelphia? The Vick situation is interesting though. How much more can Philly get out of him?


Highest Seed = #2 (Week 3)
Lowest Seed = #10 (Weeks 6, 8, 17)

I don’t understand it at all. As an unabashed COWBOYS HOMER, even I can’t rationalize anything about this season. Dallas essentially threw 5 games away. The early season losses to Jets, Lions & Patriots were ridiculous. Dallas is simply better on paper than those teams and played well enough to win every single one of those games. The last season gaffes to the Cardinals and Giants were even more ridiculous. Those 5 games could have put Dallas at 13-3 and potentially in line for the #2 seed in the NFC! Remember that Dallas had the Head-to-Head tiebreaker over the 49ers! What’s amazing is the complete meltdown by Dallas in their last 5 games. The 20-19 win over Miami on Thanksgiving should have been galvanizing. That win put Dallas at 7-4. That was a game up on the Giants and 3 games up on both Philadelphia & Washington. At that point, you had to think Philly was out of it with only 5 games left. Dallas still had to play New York twice and even a split would have given Dallas the division title as they were already up on New York by a game. Dallas should have lost to Miami by all intents & purposes, but they managed to survive. That should have built up some confidence and thinking they might be a team of destiny. Instead, they drop 4 of their last 5 and even fall behind the Eagles! CRAZY! They finished just 2-4 in the division with both wins coming against the Redskins! I don’t know. The defense wasn’t as good as expected under Rob Ryan. Tony Romo can’t quite get over the hump. Maybe Jason Garrett isn’t the guy for the job. Ridiculous. Those last 5 games just ridiculous.


Highest Seed = #7 (Week 15)
Lowest Seed = #16 (Weeks 1, 2)

Admit it! You were pulling for Pete Carroll at the end of the season to somehow get Seattle back into the playoffs! Oddly enough Seattle’s season comes down to their Week 7 loss to Cleveland 6-3 after they came off a bye week. At that point the Seahawks weren’t tearing the league up, but they were 2-3 coming off a win against the Giants & a bye. If they would have beaten the Browns, then they come back home to play the Bengals in another winnable game. That could have made them 4-3 after 7 games. Instead, they lose a demoralizing game to Cleveland, fly back home & come out flat against Cincinnati & get blitzed. Instead of potentially being 4-3 after 7 games, they are 2-5 and in the tank! The Seahawks would go 5-2 in their next 7 games which included a loss to the Redskins! If they had gone 4-3 after 7 then the 5-2 mark would have placed them at 9-5 with 2 games to go. That record would have placed them right there with Atlanta & Detroit. Seattle loses their last 2 games by a combined 5 points. They win those 2 games then their record could have just as easily been 11-5. Don’t blow games to the Browns, Bengals & Redskins and they are 10-6 anyway. Seattle was beat up pretty bad. They didn’t have Aaron Curry & Marcus Trufant for most of the season yet they posted a top-10 defense! It was somewhat of a wasted effort. I think the season turned on the Cleveland loss, but this season also underscores the need for a franchise QB. Seattle doesn’t have one in Tavaris Jackson and unfortunately for Carroll, he’s a good enough coach to get his team to play well in order to avoid a top-5 draft pick. USC’s Matt Barkley isn’t coming out, but Carroll wasn’t going to reunite with his former recruit unless Seattle traded up. Keep in mind that Seattle won the division last year with the same record.


Highest Seed = #12 (Weeks 1, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
Lowest Seed = #16 (Weeks 10, 11)

Not a horrible season to build on. Cameron Newton looks like he might actually be a legitimate NFL QB breaking stereotypical molds of Michael Vick, Vince Young and Jemarcus Russell. He’s big & can run, but Newton isn’t a bad passer. He’s got a big arm and he completed 60% of his passes this season as a rookie which to me is impressive considering guys like Matt Ryan & Mark Sanchez are having problems completing that many passes. Carolina had a great offense, but arguably the worst defense in the entire NFL! There really isn’t a rhyme or reason as to how the Panthers got to where they are. They aren’t a very good football team so they are going to lose quite a few games. What is interesting is that Carolina was 2-8 in their first10 games but 4-2 in their last 6. That’s some improvement even if those wins came against inferior opponents. Carolina did manage to upset the Houston Texans in Week 15. I want to point out just how big a factor DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart are to this offense. Yes Cam Newton gives this team an entirely different dimension, but Stewart & Williams combined to rush for 1,600 yards & 11TD while averaging 5.4ypc! That’s nuts! Newton benefited from having an outstanding running game & it can’t be overstated. If those guys stick around while Newton improves, then getting a defense makes Carolina scary.


Highest Seed = #1 (Week 2)
Lowest Seed = #13 (Weeks 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

Like Seattle and even Arizona, the Redskins have massive QB problems. If the NFL is teaching us anything, it’s that you need a franchise QB to win. Unfortunately there are only about 14 or so of those players not including rookies outside of Cam Newton. Washington simply doesn’t have much. They are primarily a young team, but they need that franchise QB to build the team around. With Tony Romo, Michael Vick & Eli Manning as QBs within your own division, throwing out Rex Grossman, Donovan McNabb & John Beck isn’t going to get it done. Washington has been dealing with QB issues for almost 20 years now. They need to get that issue resolved. Unfortunately they might not get it done this season. Right now Washington has the #6 pick in the draft which means they could be in line for Robert Griffin, but if they pass on him for a conventional pocket passer then the likely candidate is Landry Jones who doesn’t merit that high of a pick. What would be ideal for Washington is Matt Barkley, but Barkley is headed back to USC meaning Washington might suck for another year.


Highest Seed = #3 (Weeks 3, 6)
Lowest Seed = #14 (Weeks 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

What happened? Professional sports is a fickle lot. Just last year Raheem Morris was though to be an up & coming young head coach in the NFL. A year later he’s fired after a 4-12 season. Tampa was no where near as good as the 10-6 team they purported to be last season. This year they had a much more difficult schedule and it showed. None of their losses were that horrible. They lost to Jacksonville which they probably shouldn’t have. They also lost to Carolina twice, but the Panthers were actually pretty decent by year’s end. Even if they split with Carolina & beat the Jaguars they finish 6-10 which would be better than last place in the South, but the NFC South isn’t an easy division. Tampa actually got out to an impressive 4-2 start after 6 weeks which had them as high as a #3 seed, but then they lost a close 24-18 game to the Bears before the schedule got to them. Coming off bye Tampa played New Orleans, Houston & Green Bay which gave them 4 straight losses. For whatever reason Tampa simply couldn’t stop the slide & they ended the season on a 10-game losing streak! Only 3 of the 12 losses were “close” so Tampa really was a horrible team. Tampa will be an interesting team to watch next year. They’ll get a weaker schedule although the South is going to be brutal.


Highest Seed = #10 (Week 1)
Lowest Seed = #15 (Weeks 3, 4, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

The Vikings came out of the gates losing 4 straight & 6 of their first 7. Their season really never turned on anything because their season never really got on track. It is interesting to note that Minnesota lost 9, YES I SAID NINE, games by 7 points or less. If you are looking for a best case scenario record then Minnesota’s best case record was 12-4! The Vikings actually lost their first 4 games by a combined 19 points! If Minnesota starts 4-0 they win their 5th to get to 5-0! They lost their next two games to the Bears & Packers before beating Carolina before their bye week. Who knows? If they finish the first half of the season at 6-2 then obviously Donovan McNabb has a much longer shelf life, but the Vikings also put themselves into position to make the playoffs. All in all it was a lost season which essentially turned on their first 4 games which were close loses and thus unlucky. Even with all this, Minnesota’s defense was absolutely brutal outside of Jared Allen. Adrian Peterson missed a quarter of the season. The QB situation was dicey. The only real receiver they had was Percy Harvin. The Vikings apparently are committed to Christian Ponder and I think that’s an interesting choice. I really liked Ponder at Florida St., so it’ll be interesting to see if he can grow into an legitimate starting NFL QB.

#16 ST. LOUIS RAMS 2-14

Highest Seed = #15 (Weeks 1, 2, 8, 10, 11)
Lowest Seed = #16 (Weeks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

Remember way back before the start of the year when the Rams were a sexy pick to win the NFC West? That didn’t workout so well! The Rams simply got off to a brutal start. They lost their first 6 games with 5 of them being blowouts. Like Minnesota, the season never turned on a single game because the Rams season never really got going. More concerning in my opinion is that the Rams got rid of a pretty good HC in Steve Spagnuolo and now there are significant questions regarding QB Sam Bradford. Bradford missed 6 games this year and in the 10 games he played, Bradford looked pretty bad. Now there is talk of the impossibility of trading Bradford. The Rams aren’t getting rid of him, but the speculation of trading him is incredible! There is still some interesting players on the Rams and this is an extremely young team so we’ll see going forward. They should win more than 2 games next season.


January 5, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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