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Assessing the NFC in a post-Aaronocalyptic world

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Looking at the standings is an easy way to assess how mish-mashed and jumbled the NFL is after six weeks. There are now no undefeated teams, and only three teams have fewer than two wins: The Giants (who just had a very convincing road win over the Broncos), Browns, and 49ers. Also, only two teams have fewer than two losses: The Chiefs (who just lost at home to the Steelers) and the Eagles (who’ve only lost to the Chiefs).

Focusing on the NFC, which is really the only thing that matters as far as the Seahawks are concerned, and it’s interesting to wonder how any team could be considered dominant or a strong favorite now that Aaron Rodgers — who I’ve become more and more convinced is the greatest football player of all-time — is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken collarbone.

Without Rodgers, I think the Packers (4-2) are among the worst teams in the conference. They were already 20th on defense and 19th on special teams by DVOA. When they drop from fourth on offense to, say, 25th with Brett Hundley, that’s when they’ll be playing about as well as the Bears (who were 28th, 17th, and 26th in those categories respectively).

As the playoff standings look today, the Eagles are the top seed at 5-1, while the Vikings rank second at 4-2 with a 4-1 record in conference that really boosts their tiebreakers. However, that only puts Minnesota two games ahead of Chicago, a team currently in 14th place. They are just 1.5 games ahead of 13th place Tampa Bay.

So in four weeks, absolutely everything could and probably will look different. And really, what teams should you fear in the NFC if you’re a Seattle fan? Or any fan, including ones who do have to worry (or maybe not worry) about the Seahawks?

Philadelphia is 5-1 but are not flawless. The two things that I probably look at more than anything when evaluating teams (though it is far more nuanced than what I’m about to say and there are many important factors I’m not mentioning) are quarterback play and pass defense. This is a passing league. Can you pass it and can you stop the pass? They go hand-in-hand, pretty much. Well, Carson Wentz is playing fantastically (13 TD, three INT, 99.6 rating) but is also just a second-year player. Russell Wilson was a second-year player when he won the Super Bowl, but he also had the number one defense on his side and I’d argue was a better quarterback in year two. He had a massively better rookie season than Wentz (meaning that we could believe his second year more) and I believe did more with less.

The Eagles defense is merely average. They ranked 14th in DVOA on defense going into their Week 6 win over the Panthers, and are 15th against the pass. They had a trio of picks on Cam Newton, but as I’ve said many times, Newton is not a good passer. Philly has an interesting test this week against Washington (a team that has a better defense and, potentially, a better quarterback) and then in three weeks Wentz gets a decent test against Denver. The big matchup comes on Sunday Night Football in Week 13 against the Seahawks, a game that happens in Seattle. Another advantage for the Hawks.

That’s the best team in the NFC? I think the Eagles are good and could definitely go to the Super Bowl, but that’s hardly a “best” team that looks dominant or that I’d be worried about another team in the conference beating in the playoffs.

Next up is Minnesota, a team currently shuffling Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and a potential return of Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. I think the likely scenario is that Bradford is starting by the end of the year and he really hasn’t played any better than Keenum. I can’t count on Bridgewater having any sort of impact after missing a year and a half. The Vikings defense has held opponents out of the end zone more often than not, but is 21st against the pass in DVOA. A win over Brett Hundley won’t change my opinion on that, and leads me to believe that Trae Waynes may not be good.

Carolina currently sits in the three seed and I’ve made my opinions known on Cam once again. The Panthers aren’t going to scare anyone with their passing (or their late-game passing decisions, are you kidding me with that final drive last Thursday?) and the run game is awful. Jonathan Stewart is at 2.9 YPC, which is better than the running back they took in the top 10, with Christian McCaffrey sitting at 2.7. The defense could be a bit above average, but has allowed 10 TDs and one interception to quarterbacks, who have a rating of 100 against Carolina’s defense so far.

By way of playing one more game than Seattle, the Rams have the four seed because of a .5 game lead in the NFC West, though they’d lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks right now. Los Angeles is 4-2, but I’d repeat what I said about Wentz, except that Carson Wentz still looks to be significantly more advanced than Jared Goff. Over the last three games, Goff is completing 51.9% of his passes with three touchdowns, two interceptions, 6.4 Y/A, and a rating of 73.7. This is not a quarterback to be feared and it’s clear that in games against top pass defenses (like the Seahawks or Jaguars), Goff has to be reigned in a ton as to not expose his potential penchant for making huge mistakes in big games. So they just lean on Todd Gurley then right? Well, yes, Gurley is a very good player, but then why is LA ranked just 22nd in rush offense DVOA?

I see the Rams having a talented defense and an interesting defense, but they have yet to make a push that leads me to believe they are a Super Bowl defense.

Green Bay is fifth and I have zero expectation that Hundley will get them to the playoffs, or even to eight wins.

Interestingly enough, New Orleans has climbed from 0-2 to the number two wild card as of right now. The Saints have won their last three games by a combined score of 106-51. They definitely have a championship quarterback, and their pass defense has pretty good results with seven interceptions and a rating allowed of 90.2. There’s been a huge difference with the addition of super-rookie Marshon Lattimore at cornerback, plus a potential breakout campaign from safety Kenny Vaccaro, and maybe a career-year for Cameron Jordan. The Saints could have the pieces for a championship run, but we still won’t mistake their defense (23rd in DVOA, 30th against the run) for being anything special. Much like in their 2009 season, they’ll have to rely on a consistent effort to force turnovers to make up for mistakes.

Next is Atlanta, a team doing too good of a job imitating a team that blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The Falcons offense is sputtering over the last two games and does seem to miss Kyle Shanahan more than they anticipated. Matt Ryan has six touchdowns and six interceptions after five games. I would still put Atlanta ahead of some of the teams already talked about, because I have more faith in Ryan than someone like Goff or Keenum, and the defense has talented players but a lack of results, but the version of the Falcons we’re seeing right now is not worrisome.

Washington is 3-2 and was ranked second in DVOA headed into Week 6. Kirk Cousins is playing really well again and the defense is having their best season in years, maybe. But wins over the Rams, Raiders, and a two-point victory of the 49ers this week, is not quite convincing enough. Let’s see how they perform against the Eagles next Monday, then they’ve got Dallas followed by a trip to Seattle.

After the Seahawks at 3-2, there are four three-loss teams: Detroit, Arizona, Dallas, and Tampa Bay.

I think the Bucs are just straight-up not good. It’s almost a hard team to watch because you know they should be a lot better. The Cowboys, much like Tampa, have a really bad defense. I can’t take them too seriously either. The Cards don’t have a victory of note and all of their losses were by considerable margins. They are close to being 1-5. Carson Palmer’s revival game can’t overshadow how terrible he’s looked for most of the year. The Lions just gave up 52 points, in large part because their offense is a constant mistake waiting to happen.

So, which teams in the NFC should we be worried about exactly? I’m honestly a little more intrigued by the teams in the middle — Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington — than I am by the teams up top. I can give the Eagles credit for maybe by the end of the year looking dominant (definitely not impossible), but I’m not there yet. The Seahawks don’t just have a lot of room to climb up, but they (and other NFC teams) might also have an easy path to get there.


Who is the best team in the NFC right now?

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