By Matt Rosenfeld
The NFL season is 11 weeks old, and I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached the home stretch of the year. A lot has changed since week one, and it is clear that the NFC is up for grabs.
The prohibitive favorites in the conference and defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, look terribly inconsistent this year. Not that being 6-4 through 10 games is bad, but Seattle certainly doesn’t look head and shoulders better than the conference. That fact alone has thrown the entire NFC hierarchy on its head.
Currently, there are seven teams sitting at .500 or better. The Cardinals are alone at the top at 9-1, proving to be the biggest shock of the year. With an incredible defense, Arizona has risen to elite status. But at the same time, the Cardinals lost their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, to a torn ACL. I’m sorry, but I don’t see Drew Stanton leading a team to the Super Bowl, no matter how well the defense plays.
The other two NFC West teams, the aforementioned Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, both sit at 6-4. These two west coast teams’ defenses are playing up to their lofty expectations, sitting at third and fourth in total defense, respectively. The reason I don’t see either of them reaching the Super Bowl, however, is on the other side of the ball.
The Seahawks have been very unreliable on offense this season. While they sit at 10th in the league with 26 points per game, Seattle has shown the ability to lay an egg here and there. In two of their wins, against the Panthers and Giants, the Seahawks offense has looked less than stellar versus below average defenses. Even though Seattle scored 38 points in the game against the Giants, it was more a result of the Giants’ ineptitude than the Se- ahawks superiority. New York had plenty of chances, but a better team would have taken advantage sooner.
The 49ers have also been too in- consistent for me to think they’ll reach Super Bowl XLIX in Glen- dale, Arizona. To be frank, I don’t think Colin Kaepernick has gotten much better since his rookie season when he almost did win the Super Bowl. The Niners rank in the lower half of the league in total offense and points per game, and seem to have gotten worse as the season has progressed. The Niners and Seahawks still have two games against each other this year, and those two games will tell us a lot about each team.
The NFC East’s two leaders, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, are both sitting pretty at 7-3. The Eagles, who I worried would win the conference at the beginning of the season, had their starting quarterback Nick Foles break his collarbone earlier this month. As we all know, former Jet Mark Sanchez took over and is 1-1 in that role, most recently losing to the Packers 53-20 this past Sunday. Even with the possibility of Foles returning at the start or during the playoffs, that instability at quarterback makes the Eagles too risky a pick to win the conference.
The Cowboys are an interesting team because they seem to have all the pieces to make it to Glendale. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray lead a fearsome offense that can score against anybody. I would not be shocked if we see Dallas as one of the two teams with a bye in the first round of the playoffs. But, before I feel confident enough to pick them in the postseason, I need to see Romo and company prove it to me. Romo is 1-3 in his career in the play- offs, and that scares me, even with all the talent he has around him. I don’t know why, but I just feel like Dallas will find a way to lose.
Finally, we get to the NFC North, which has the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both at 7-3, and that’s where we find my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. No, it’s not the sur- prisingly solid Detroit Lions — it’s the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. For starters, we know the Packers have been there and done that. Head coach Mike McCarthy was leading them in 2010 when they won their last Super Bowl, and this year they are looking as good as anybody. Green Bay leads the league in turnover margin, with 14 more takeaways than giveaways, and Aaron Rodgers seems to be the league MVP at this point in the sea- son. Jordy Nelson has made a leap, becoming one of the best receivers in the league, and Eddie Lacy gives the Packers a big ol’ running back to pound the ball with.
I know a whole lot can change before we get to Super Bowl XLIX, but in the crowded NFC playoff picture, give me Green Bay to emerge from the pack.
Matt Rosenfeld is the Sports Editor for The Fordham Ram.