Playoff Predictions: 4 New Teams from the NFC

Nov 29, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Jeremy Chinn (21) celebrates his fumble return for a touchdown with safety Tre Boston (33) during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that always fascinated me about the NFL, was the perceived parity of the league. Even in 2 decades dominated by the New England Patriots, there were 12 other teams to win a Super Bowl. When you come from England, where the other football (soccer) is the undisputed number one sport. The idea of that many teams winning is incredible. During the same time period (2000-2021) only 6 different teams have won the English Premier League.

There’s also normally plenty of change in the teams that make the playoffs. Last season saw 7 new teams, who didn’t make the playoffs the year before. Obviously, that’s possibly slightly inflated due to 2 extra playoff spaces. But if you look back the year prior 5 teams made the 2019/20 playoffs, that didn’t make the 2018/19 playoffs. Over the years 5 new playoff teams seem about right, and with the 2 extra places maybe that goes up by one or 2. The wildcard places are always more unpredictable. So which teams have the best chance to break into the playoffs this season? I will run you through who I believe has the best chance, starting with the NFC.

Minnesota Vikings

Whether Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay or not, I still believe the Vikings can make the playoffs. Not just because Mike Zimmers Vikings always do on odd years either. Zimmer’s “worst-ever” defence had a disastrous year. Between postseason free agency departures, opt-outs, and injuries, the defence was decimated, especially by the latter part of the season. What had been a top 10 defence for the previous 5 seasons, was suddenly amongst the league’s worst.

The return of Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Michael Pierce, together with the free agency signings of Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Mackenzie Alexander, and Stephen Weatherley. This defence will almost be unrecognisable from last year. 

The high-profile draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball, with the Vikings trying to fix their Achilles heel. The Offensive Line has been the subject of much discussion, and quite frankly dismay amongst Vikings fans for some time. 1st and 3rd round picks Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis we’re a statement of intent by the Vikings front office. An O line comprised of 5 drafted players in the top 3 rounds of the draft, could potentially set the Vikings up for years, but the best years may be posted 2021 for the young group. A genuine WR3 is what this team needs to find most before the season begins in September.

Dallas Cowboys

The AFC East is improving, but it is still a weak division without an obvious elite team. The chances of a wild card team from the division feel slim, and it’s a bit of a crapshoot for who wins the division. A healthy Dak Prescott should make the Cowboys offense formidable again, with all the weapons he has at his disposal. Before his week 5 ankle injury Prescott was on course for a career season, racking up an incredible 1856 yards and 9 touchdowns in the 5 games he played. With an overall grade of 85.2 from PFF which would have ranking 8th among Quarterbacks if he’d carried on at that level of play.

The mission this season was to fix the defence. Taking defensive players with their first 6 draft picks showed their intent. Micah Parsons looks like a player who can have an immediate impact, if one or 2 others can too that will be a start. 

Most of the money spent this offseason went into signing up Prescott long term, but the Cowboys have managed to add some players to the defense. Keanu Neal is a good addition to the secondary, there have been depth pieces added to the front 7, but they could still use a starting right Defensive End. The defence doesn’t need to be great to take Dallas to the playoffs, it just needs to good. Then let Dak and co do the rest.

Carolina Panthers

There’s a new Quarterback in town, and I believe Sam Darnold can be a success in Carolina. One thing he will have to improve is his accuracy. His 21.9% uncatchable pass rate, is the 4th highest in the league since 2019. Darnold has an abundance of weapons around him starting with Christian McCaffret. Terrace Marshall was added in what was an excellent draft by the Panthers, to an already talented receiver unit. That saw David Moore added in free agency to the pair of DJ Moore and Robby Anderson.

The Panthers defence improved last season, and they will be hoping the addition of Jaycee Horn and Haason Reddick can continue that trend. With the Saints facing their first season post-Drew Brees, I like the Panthers chances of a wild card place.

San Francisco 49ers

No team better illustrates the playoff turnaround than San Francisco. From Super Bowl losers in 2019 to not even making the playoffs last season. Injuries to star players and playing in probably the strongest division in football right now didn’t help. Kyle Shanahan and the front office made a big move trading up to number 3 in this year’s draft. The one time the injury-plagued Jimmy Garoppolo managed to stay healthy in 2019, he led the 49ers into the Super Bowl. The trouble is, outside of that season Jimmy G has never managed more than 6 games in a season.

Trey Lance isn’t the ideal selection to take over immediately, with his lack of football in college. For now, Garoppolo is still in the Bay area, but whoever is quarterback will have a chance at the playoffs this season. If the 49ers can keep everyone healthy this year.