The Freak looked at the pretenders and contenders in the AFC last week, and now it’s the NFC’s turn.
Evidence from last week shows things can change in a hurry in the NFL, especially when you talk about injuries. You saw how many starting quarterbacks were hurt, with the most serious injury to Ben Roethlisberger. If he’s out for a period of time it will impact the Steelers’ chances this season.
So, with that in mind, here are the contenders in the NFC, provided there are no significant injuries:
The best thing that could have happened to the Atlanta Falcons was to lose last week. They will no longer have to deal with the pressures and distractions of the talk of an undefeated season. If they can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they will be tough to beat, but if they have to go on the road away from their nest, they will have trouble getting to the Super Bowl.
As long as the Bears keep playing defence the way they are now, Chicago will be tough to beat in January’s cold weather. However, they need to do a better job of protecting Jay Cutler, and if they can score 20 points a game to go with that defence they may be heading straight to New Orleans
The 49ers are another solid team defensively. In fact, the 49ers and Bears are almost duplicates of each other. They both play great defence and hope your offence can manage the game and score a few points. San Fran is well coached, but like the Bears are not a great come-from-behind team unlike some of the other contenders who can score in a hurry.
The Packers and Aaron Rodgers can score points, but their defence once again is average at best. Furthermore, their offensive line gives up too many sacks. Green Bay needs to be more committed to the running game, or Rodgers won’t make it through the season. With no ARod there goes the Pack's chance at the Super Bowl.
If you watched the Giants the last two games, you have to be saying they are not a contender, but this team always seems to rise to the occasion when the chips are down and their backs are to the wall. One thing for sure, no one wants to face this team in the playoffs. The Giants know how to win, especially on the road.
The Cowboys and Tony Romo will find some way to mess up their playoff run, or will this be the season? They have a soft schedule, but they are a soft team in big spots.
Seattle would be a definite contender if they could play all its games at home, but we know that’s not possible. Also, don’t like a rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) on the road in a big game.
Minnesota just doesn’t have enough firepower and consistency on offence to make any noise.
Tampa could put a scare into the NFC as its offence is currently firing on all cylinders, but its defence is still a big question mark.
The Saints are making a charge, but without a head coach it’s too difficult to win on a consistent basis. What a story this would be - the Saints with no coach, the Bounty Scandal, 0-4 start and playing at home in the Super Bowl!
Stat of the week
Four starting quarterbacks – Cutler, Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Mike Vick – were knocked out of games last week.
Pet peeve of the week
With automatic booth replay of all touchdowns, how did the officials miss Trindon Holliday’s apparent 76-yard punt return touchdown for Denver?
It was obvious from the replay that he stupidly crossed the goal-line without the ball.
Coach Parcells’ quote of the week:
“There are two things in New York, euphoria and disaster.”
The sure thing
Houston looked like a definite favourite for the Super Bowl with a tough road win over the Bears. They are an even bigger favourite to destroy Jacksonville. Chances are the Texans will be a little flat, but will still beat the Jags by two touchdowns.
The Browns make the trek down to Big D in a game the Cowboys need with the Giants on a bye. Cleveland makes it a game, but return to the “Dog Pound’ with another loss.
The Falcons fly south to take on the hometown Cardinals in the “Battle of the Birds.” The Freak believes there will be some “Angry Birds” in Arizona, and they are not of the Cardinal variety. Take Atlanta over Arizona.
Don’t mortgage the house picks
Who would have thought this Colts and Patriots’ game would be such a big game when the season started? Indy’s Andrew Luck looks like he may be the next Tom Brady, but his time isn’t on Sunday. Brady will show the young Luck that he still has the goods. Pats win a close game.
The Bears brought in and paid backup quarterback Jason Campbell a pile of money for these games when Jay Cutler is out. This game with the 49ers will be as physical of a game that you will see this year in the NFL. In a low scoring game, Chicago’s Matt Forte breaks a long one in the fourth quarter as the Bears win on the road.
Eli Manning has struggled the last three weeks, and hopefully he will go to Denver and watch big brother Peyton play the Chargers. The elder Manning will carve up the Chargers’ secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey. The Broncos win another game, and control the AFC West.
In any divisional game, the records don’t matter, and you know the hate will be on between Tampa Bay and Carolina.
The Panthers have not played a solid game all season, and with their talent on offence at some point it has to come together. The Freak has a feeling the Bucs won’t show up this week, and Cam Newton and the Panthers will make them pay for this lack of intensity. Carolina upsets the Bucs.
Last week: 5-for-7.
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.