NFC Preview

Robert Griffin III looking to make a play against the Eagles last November. The quarterback's right knee was surgically repaired earlier this year.
Robert Griffin III looking to make a play against the Eagles last November. The quarterback's right knee was surgically repaired earlier this year. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 06, 2013

In order of last season's finish

NFC East

Washington Redskins

Last season: 10-6, lost to the Seahawks in the wild-card round.

Coach: Mike Shanahan, 21-27, 4th season with Redskins, 167-125 overall in 19 seasons.

One more time. Alfred Morris would love to repeat his stellar rookie season of 1,613 rushing yards.

Outlook: Quarterback Robert Griffin III (20 TD passes, 5 interceptions last season) is coming off ACL surgery. Can he take all the pounding this season? The Skins, who open by hosting the Eagles on Monday night, may have to rely on their defense early on. It is led by 38-year-old linebacker London Fletcher, who had 139 tackles last season.

New York Giants

Coach: Tom Coughlin, 10th season with Giants, 151-121 overall in 17 seasons.

Last season: 9-7, missed the playoffs.

Helping Eli: Running back David Wilson will need to keep the pressure off quarterback Eli Manning and the passing game.

Outlook: The Giants need Victor Cruz (who has been hampered by a foot injury in the preseason) and Hakeem Nicks to stay healthy because of a lack of depth at receiver. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul is returning from back surgery. So, while the Giants have the ability to win the division, they have to show they can field a healthy, competitive team.

Dallas Cowboys

Last season: 8-8, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Jason Garrett, 21-19, 4th season.

Cashing in: Quarterback Tony Romo was rewarded with the richest contract in team history. Now he needs to deserve it.

Outlook: Receiver Dez Bryant (92 receptions, 1,382 yards, 12 TDs) is a game-changer, but Romo (19 interceptions) still makes too many ill-advised plays. DeMarcus Ware (111 career sacks) remains a menacing force. But, like the offense, the defense is too inconsistent. However, in the flawed NFC East, the Cowboys could still contend.

Eagles

Last season: 4-12, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Chip Kelly, first season.

Next in line: Second-year quarterback Nick Foles will take over if/when QB Michael Vick is injured.

Outlook: Kelly will bring an energized offense, and he hopes to revitalize the underachieving Vick. But the defense needs to improve. The Eagles allowed 27.8 points per game, tied for third worst in the NFL last season, and new defensive coordinator Billy Davis will have his hands full with this green unit.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

Last season: 11-5, lost to the 49ers in the divisional round.

Coach: Mike McCarthy, 74-38, 8th season.

Down and out. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times last season, and that can't happen again.

Outlook: Injuries have decimated the Packers at offensive tackle, so Rodgers, who had an NFL-best 108 passer rating, may be running for his life. But he's the reason the Packers could make a deep playoff run. Clay Matthews battled injuries and has to return to his dominating self to give the Packers a needed pass rush.

Minnesota Vikings

Last season: 10-6, lost to the Packers in the wild-card round.

Coach: Leslie Frazier, 16-22, 4th season.

Few big stops: The defense allowed 350 yards per game, which surprisingly was nearly seven more per game than the Eagles.

Outlook: Adrian Peterson (2,097 yards rushing, 12 TDs) carried the Vikings to a surprising playoff spot. In order to return, third-year quarterback Christian Ponder (81.2 passer rating) must step it up.

Chicago Bears

Last season: 10-6, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Marc Trestman, first season.

Setting the tone: The defense was third-best in the NFL in points per game allowed (17.3) and may still have to carry the Bears.

Outlook: Jay Cutler, who had a modest 81.3 passer rating, remains inconsistent, although he played behind one of the worst offensive lines, which looks to improve with first-round guard Kyle Long. He played for Chip Kelly at Oregon.

Detroit Lions

Last season: 4-12, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Jim Schwartz, 22-42, 5th season.

Back to form: It's time for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to return to the dominating form of his rookie season.

Outlook: The Lions have a chance to improve, but quarterback Matthew Stafford (20 TDs, 17 interceptions) must cut down on his mistakes. The addition of running back Reggie Bush should help the offense, but pass defense remains a major concern.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Last season: 13-3, lost to the 49ers in the conference championship.

Coach: Mike Smith, 56-24, 6th season.

Help on the ground: Running back Steven Jackson, formerly with the Rams, could take some of the heat off quarterback Matt Ryan.

Outlook: Ryan, a graduate of Penn Charter, has guided the Falcons to the postseason four of his five seasons but has just one win to show for it. The offense, with third-year receiver Julio Jones (79 receptions, 1,198 yards, 10 TDs) will have to do the heavy lifting since the defense still has holes.

Carolina Panthers

Last season: 7-9, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Ron Rivera, 13-19, 3d season.

Run, Cam, run: The offensive line is still in need of a makeover as the Panthers offense scored just one TD in the first three preseason games.

Outlook: Second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL with 164 tackles and is one of the NFL's rising stars. The offense revolves around quarterback Cam Newton, who played much better later in the season, especially when he threw for two TDs and ran for two others in a 30-22 win over the Eagles.

New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9, missed the playffs.

Coach: Sean Payton, 62-34, 7th season.

Hard job: New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan may need to work miracles in the Big Easy.

Outlook: Payton is back from his one-year suspension, and it should make all the difference. Without Payton, quarterback Drew Brees (19 interceptions) looked mortal. With the two reunited, this could be a playoff team if the defense, which allowed an NFL-worst 440 yards per game last season, can stop anybody.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 7-9, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Greg Schiano, 7-9, 2d season.

Slow rush: The Bucs had 27 sacks last season, third-lowest in the NFL.

Outlook: The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis, if he's healthy, should strengthen the secondary. Quarterback Josh Freeman completed just 54.8 percent of his passes last season, and he needs a bounce-back year to complement a running game led by second-year back Doug Martin. He rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Last season: 11-4-1, lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 24-7-1, 3d season.

Air Boldin: Wide receiver Anquan Boldin is likely to shift the passing game into even higher gear.

Outlook: With Colin Kaepernick in his first full year as starting quarterback, the Niners have a good shot to take the final step. One weakness is at wide receiver, which means tight end Vernon Davis (548 yards, 5 TDs) should have an expanded role.

Seattle Seahawks

Last season: 11-5, lost to the Falcons in the divisional round.

Coach: Pete Carroll, 25-23, 4th season with the Seahawks, 58-54 overall in seven seasons.

On the road: With five trips to the Eastern time zone, Seattle will travel 28,238 miles this season, second behind the 49ers' 32,948.

Outlook: With second-year quarterback Russell Wilson (26 TD passes, 10 interceptions, 100 passer rating), the Seahawks are considered a Super Bowl contender. However, they have suffered many preseason injuries on the defensive line and are thin at receiver, with former Viking Percy Harvin having undergone hip surgery.

St. Louis Rams

Last season: 7-8-1, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Jeff Fisher, 7-8-1, 2d season with the Rams, 149-128-1 overall in 18 seasons.

Need more: The offense must do better than last season's average of 18.7 points per game.

Outlook: Rookie slot receiver Tavon Austin could vie to be rookie of the year, and quarterback Sam Bradford (82.6 passer rating) must take his game up. The defense is underrated with players such as Chris Long (111/2 sacks).

Arizona Cardinals

Last season: 5-11, missed the playoffs.

Coach: Bruce Arians, first season with the Cardinals.

Stepping in: Arians, a former coach at Temple, was the 2012 NFL coach of the year after going 9-3 as interim coach for the Colts.

Outlook: Arians will try to energize a Cardinals team that has had trouble protecting the passer and then had guard Jonathan Cooper, the team's first-round pick, suffer a broken leg in the preseason. Carson Palmer, freed from Oakland, will try to energize an offense that features one of the NFL's best players, Larry Fitzgerald (77 career TD receptions).

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