The final two weeks of the 2017 NFL Regular Season are upon us. Although teams haven’t filled every seed in the NFC Playoffs, it’s apparent who the Top 4 teams are. Well, it’s at least apparent to me. Below, I’ve listed my Top 4 NFC Playoff teams. I’ve also listed my top NFC Wildcard team.
Keep in mind that these are my rankings.
2017 NFC Playoffs Preview
1. Minnesota Vikings
Offense: The Minnesota Vikings lost both their starting quarterback and starting running back early in the season. Surprisingly, the Vikings still have one of the better offenses in the NFL. Minnesota ranks in the Top 10 in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, and points per. The Vikings average an excellent 367.6 total yards per game. Minnesota rushed for 121.3 yards per. They pass for 246.4 yards per. The Vikings score 24.5 points per game.
Defense: Based on total yards allowed per game, Minnesota’s defense ranks second in the NFL. The Vikings D allows 284 total yards per game. Minnesota’s defense is so effective that it ranks third versus the pass and second versus the rush. Opponents average 198.6 passing yards per game. Opponents average 85.3 rushing yards per. The Vikings only allow 17.3 points per game. That ranks second in the NFL.
Bottom Line: Minnesota is the most complete team in the NFC. The reason I write that is because unlike Philadelphia, New Orleans, and the L.A. Rams, the Vikings mustn’t make too many changes in their defensive strategy to hold opponents under 20 points per game. That give Minnesota a huge advantage over it’s NFC Playoff rivals.
Minnesota’s defense isn’t the only reason I’ve got the Vikings number one on my NFC Playoff rankings. Minnesota has discovered the secret to an incredible rushing attack. Find a great quarterback. The Vikings lost Sam Bradford after Week 1. It took Case Keenum a few games to get comfortable. Once he did, he took off.
Keenum’s QB rating is 98.9. That’s not going to win him the NFL MVP. He doesn’t care. Since Week 8, Keenum’s TD to INT ratio has blown up to a Tom Brady-like 15 to 5. He’s recorded a triple-digit QB rating in 5 of the Vikings last 6 games. Case Keenum is the reason I believe the Vikings can win the NFC.
2. New Orleans Saints
Offense: New Orleans offense ranks first in total yards per game. The Saints amass 401.5 yards per game. New Orleans rushes for 135 yards. The Saints pass for 266.4 yards. New Orleans averages 28.6 points per.
Defense: The Saints defense ranks tenth in points allowed per game. Opponents average 20.6 points per against the Saints defense. Opponents pass for an average of 213.4 per. They rush for an average of 115 per. The Saints allow 328.4 total yards per game.
Bottom Line: As always, New Orleans has one of the top offenses in the NFL. This season the Saints’ offense is slightly different, though. New Orleans entire offensive game plan revolves around rushing the football. The Saints send two running backs to the Pro-Bowl this season, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. No team has done that in at least 41 years.
Before Week 16’s super important battle against the rival Atlanta Falcons, Ingram has rushed for 1,045 yards. His per rush average is 5.1. Kamara has rushed for 652 yards. Kamara’s per rush average is 6.6. Both Ingram and Kamara aren’t just bulldozing running backs. They can also both catch the football. Kamara has a ridiculous 68 catches this season with 2 games left to play. Ingram has caught 51 passes.
Because the Saints’ rushing attack is so effective, QB Drew Brees doesn’t have to carry the Saints in every game. Brees, a surefire hall of fame quarterback, completes 71% of his passes. His QB rating is 104. He’s recorded 7 triple-digit QB ratings in the last 8 Saints games.
Also, the Saints defense is pretty good. So, you’ve got a good defense, a hall of fame QB, arguably the best rushing attack in the NFL, and a Super Bowl winning coach in Sean Payton? What’s not to like?
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Offense: The Eagles average 386.9 yards per game. 246.4 of those yards are via the pass. 140.5 of those yards are via the rush. Philadelphia averages over 31 points per. Philly ranks third in total yards per, eighth in passing yards per, second in rushing yards per, and second in points per.
Defense: Philadelphia’s defense only allows 309.2 total yards per game. That ranks sixth in the NFL. Philly ranks first versus the rush. Opponents rush for 71.5 yards per. The Eagles rank eighth in points allowed per game. Opponents score 19.9 points per against the Eagles D.
Bottom Line: Most NFL analysts believe the Philadelphia Eagles are the team to beat in the NFC. NFL odds makers as well as NFL bettors differ with that assessment. Bettors have Philly as the third favored team to win the NFC.
The Eagles are without starting QB Carson Wentz. Although Nick Foles looked great in Week 15 versus the New York Giants, let’s not kid ourselves. The Giants aren’t close to being as good of a football team as Minnesota, New Orleans, and the L.A. Rams. Foles could take a big step back right when the postseason starts. Heck, he could take a step back in Week 16 versus the Oakland Raiders. He could take a step back in Week 17 versus the Dallas Cowboys. It’s just tough to see Nick Foles suddenly becoming Carson Wentz.
That’s not the only reason many NFL bettors are against the Eagles winning the NFC. The real reason bettors don’t like the Eagles is because massive holes have suddenly shown up in Philly’s defense. On Dec. 3, the Eagles gave up 24 points to the Seattle Seahawks. The very next week, Philly’s D allowed the Rams to score 35 points. The week after, and most alarmingly, the Eagles defense gave up 29 points to the New York Giants.
Philadelphia’s defense must play spectacular for Nick Foles to lead the team to the Super Bowl. I don’t think it happens.
4. L.A. Rams
Offense: The Rams have the highest scoring offense in the NFL. L.A. averages 31.3 points per game. The Rams rank tenth in total yards per game with 366.5 per. LAR rushes for 123.9 yards per. That ranks seventh.
Defense: LAR’s defense ranks twelfth overall in yards allowed per game. The Rams allow 328.9 total yards per. 120.8 of those total yards arrive via the rush. 208.1 of the total yards are via the pass. Opponents average 19.4 points per game on average against the Rams’ defense.
Bottom Line: Some believe that the 2017 L.A. Rams is the greatest turnaround story in NFL history. I’m not so sure. Most of those who believe that are resting their cases on L.A.’s stunning 42 to 7 defeat of the Seattle Seahawks. I dug deep into that game. What I found is that the Rams rushed for 255 yards. When was the last time the Seahawks allowed any team to rush for that many yards?
I believe the discrepancy in points was more about Seattle just not having it that day than the Rams suddenly becoming the best team in the NFL. In Week 14, Philadelphia beat L.A. 43 to 35. That loss, as well as the 7 to 24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, means that the Rams are probably a year away from challenging for the NFC Championship.
Top NFC Wildcard Team
5. Dallas Cowboys
Offense: The Cowboys average 377.7 total yards per game. Dallas passes for 201.1 yards per. The Boys rush for 136.6 yards per. Dallas scores an average of 24 points per game.
Defense: The Cowboys defense gives up an average of 22.2 points per game. Dallas allows opponents to acquire 338 total yards per.
Bottom Line: There’s a big chance that the Dallas Cowboys don’t even make it to the NFC Playoffs. If Dallas beats the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, or New Orleans Saints must lose their final 2 games. Also, Detroit must lose at least once. Mathematically, the Cowboys only have a 10.9% chance of making it to the playoffs. But, this is the NFL where all sorts of things can happen.
Atlanta battles the Saints in the Super Dome this Sunday. Then, they take on the Carolina Panthers for what should be a wildcard spot. There’s a good chance Atlanta loses their next two games. Detroit only must lose once. Detroit is at Cincinnati in Week 16. In Week 17, they battle Green Bay at home. Cincinnati should be a victory. But, if Green Bay starts Aaron Rodgers, which they might just to keep the Lions out of the playoffs, Detroit should lose at least once.
Can the Cowboys beat Seattle in Week 16 and then beat Philly in Week 17? Absolutely, they can. RB Ezekiel Elliott returns in Week 16. He could demolish Seattle’s defense the way Todd Gurley did in Week 15. Philadelphia could have homefield advantage sewn up before Week 17. In that case, they’ll rest their starters. Even if they don’t rest their starters, the Cowboys’ offense should have no trouble moving the ball against Philadelphia’s defense.
It could happen. If Dallas does make the postseason, they could win the NFC. Dallas’ defense is good again now that LB Sean Lee is healthy. Dallas’ offense becomes one of the best units in the NFL with Ezekiel Elliott returning in Week 16.