Football

NFL preview 2016: NFC Team-by-team breakdown

There will be more pressure on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson after the retirement of running back Marshawn Lynch.
There will be more pressure on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson after the retirement of running back Marshawn Lynch. AP

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS

2015: 4-12 (last in NFC East).

Coach: Jason Garrett (sixth season).

Additions: RB Ezekiel Elliott; QB Dak Prescott; RB Alfred Morris.

Subtractions: DE Greg Hardy; LB Rolando McClain (10-game suspension); DE DeMarcus Lawrence (four-game suspension); DE Randy Gregory (four-game suspension); QB Matt Cassel.

Outlook: A season removed from winning their 18th division title in 2014 by going 12-4, the Cowboys struggled as quarterback Tony Romo played in just four games after sustaining a broken collarbone. Now, Dallas will be without Romo for another extended period of time after he injured his back in a preseason game. With a suspect defense and a Romo-less offense at least early, Dallas could struggle to keep up in the east.

NEW YORK GIANTS

2015: 6-10 (third in NFC East).

Coach: Ben McAdoo (first season).

Additions: DE Olivier Vernon (Dolphins); DT Damon Harrison; CB Janoris Jenkins; DT Damon Harrison; WR Sterling Shepard; CB Eli Apple.

Subtractions: S Brandon Meriweather; CB Prince Amukamara; DE Robert Ayers; WR Rueben Randle; G Geoff Schwartz.

Outlook: After consecutive six-win seasons and missing the playoffs the past four, the Giants parted ways with two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin and replaced him with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. New York spent money this offseason, especially on its bottom-five defense, and could bounce back in a division without a true dominant team.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

2015: 7-9 (second in NFC East).

Coach: Doug Pederson (first season).

Additions: WR Dorial Green-Beckham; S Rodney McCleod; QB Carson Wentz; QB Chase Daniel; G Brandon Brooks; CB Leodis McKelvin; C Stefen Wisniewski.

Subtractions: LB Kiko Alonso (Dolphins); CB Byron Maxwell (Dolphins); RB DeMarco Murray; OT Dennis Kelly; S Walter Thurmond; QB Mark Sanchez.

Outlook: Chip Kelly had complete control of the Eagles’ football operations for one season, but the former Oregon coach was fired after missing the playoffs last season and moved on to the 49ers. The Eagles made plenty of moves in the offseason, trading away the likes of Murray, Alonso and Maxwell all while hiring Andy Reid disciple Pederson from Reid’s Chiefs. Look for an improved defense under new coordinator Jim Schwartz and a Philly run at the playoffs.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

2015: 9-7 (first in NFC East); lost to Green Bay 35-18 in wild-card game.

Coach: Jay Gruden (third season).

Additions: S David Bruton; WR Josh Doctson; CB Josh Norman; DE Kendall Reyes (Chargers).

Subtractions: QB Robert Griffin III; RB Alfred Morris; DT Terrance Knighton; S Dashon Goldson; DE Jason Hatcher; LB Junior Galette (Achilles; out for season).

Outlook: Thanks to a strong performance from quarterback Kirk “You like that?!?” Cousins, the Redskins surprisingly took the NFC East title and advanced to the playoffs as Griffin sat the bench before moving onto Cleveland. Washington has given Cousins plenty of receiver options and strengthened its defense in the draft and free agency. Although by no means are the Redskins the runaway favorites to repeat in the East, they are definitely trending upward.

NFC CENTRAL

CHICAGO BEARS

2015: 6-10 (fourth in NFC North).

Coach: John Fox (second season).

Additions: OL Amini Silatolu; OL Bobby Massie; OL Ted Larsen; LB Danny Trevathan; LB Jerrell Freeman; DL Akiem Hicks.

Subtractions: OL Matt Slauson; OL Vladimir Ducasse; TE Martellus Bennett; RB Matt Forte; S Antrel Rolle.

Outlook: The Bears had another mediocre season after bringing in Fox from the Broncos to replace Marc Trestman who lasted just two seasons. The Bears have won just 19 games over the past three seasons, and if Chicago hopes to make it back to the playoffs — they’ve been there just three times since 2005 and not since 2010 — Jay Cutler is going to have to continue to play as he did for much of last year under former QB coach Dowell Loggains, who was promoted to offensive coordinator after Adam Gase left for the Dolphins.

DETROIT LIONS

2015: 7-9 (third in NFC North).

Coach: Jim Caldwell (third season).

Additions: OL Taylor Decker; WR Marvin Jones; WR Anquan Boldin; DE Wallace Gilberry.

Subtractions: WR Calvin Johnson; WR Lance Moore; OL Manuel Ramirez; LB Stephen Tulloch; S James Ihedigbo; S Isa Abdul-Quddus.

Outlook: The Lions were rocked by the surprising retirement of receiver Calvin Johnson and hit the free agency market to try and find a few more weapons for quarterback Matt Stafford, who starts this season with Jim Bob Cooter as his offensive coordinator after a midseason change last year. The Lions are trying to be more physical, especially up front, and an improving offensive line should help Stafford in the rough-and-tumble NFC North. Are the Lions a playoff team as they were in 2014? Probably not, but they should be better than 2015.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

2015: 10-6 (second in NFC North); lost to Arizona 26-20 in divisional playoff.

Coach: Mike McCarthy (11th season).

Additions: TE Jared Cook; DL Kenny Clark.

Subtractions: WR James Jones; FB John Kuhn; CB Casey Hayward; LB Mike Neal.

Outlook: With the Vikings packing on the pounds up front, the Packers know they’re going to have their hands full within the division again this season. With Aaron Rodgers behind center and an offense that clicks, Green Bay expects to be in the hunt for another division title despite Minnesota’s improvements. Having a healthy Jordy Nelson back — the receiver plans to be ready to play in the opener on Sept. 11 after he was lost with an ACL tear — will only help Rodgers and the Pack.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

2015: 11-5 (first in NFC North); lost to Seattle 10-9 in a wild-card game.

Coach: Mike Zimmer (third season).

Additions: OL Alex Boone; S Emmanuel Lamur; OL Andre Smith; WR Laquon Treadwell.

Subtractions: WR Mike Wallace; CB Josh Robinson; S Robert Blanton.

Outlook: With what’s considered one of the best offensive lines in the division blocking in front of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are excited as they’re back indoors in a sparkling new downtown stadium after spending the past few seasons outside at the University of Minnesota. The Vikings took the division from Green Bay last year and are more than capable of doing it again — and going deep into the playoffs — this season.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS

2015: 8-8 (second in NFC South).

Coach: Dan Quinn (second season).

Additions: WR Mohamed Sanu; LB Courtney Upshaw; LB Deion Jones; S Keanu Neal; DL Derrick Shelby; LB Sean Weatherspoon.

Subtractions: WR/KR Devin Hester; WR Roddy White; WR Leonard Hankerson; LB Justin Durant.

Outlook: There was some optimism in Atlanta last season, especially after a 5-0 start and an upset of the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers. Yet most of last season will be remembered for losing seven of eight on the heels of that 5-0 start. The Falcons definitely have some offensive talent with receiver Julio Jones and back Devonta Freeman giving quarterback Matt Ryan some options. The Falcons’ defense was much improved under Quinn and with some help could get Atlanta back in the playoffs this season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

2014: 15-1 (first in NFC South, NFC champions); lost to Denver 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.

Coach: Ron Rivera (sixth season).

Additions: DL Paul Soliai; C Gino Gradkowski; DT Vernon Butler.

Subtractions: CB Josh Norman; WR Jerricho Cotchery; OL Amini Silatolu S Roman Harper; CB Charles Tillman; DE Jared Allen.

Outlook: The Panthers have won their division the past three seasons, and last season they didn’t do it with a losing record as was the case in 2014. No, far from it. The Cam Newton-paced Panthers were 14-0 before being upset by Atlanta 20-13 on Dec. 27. Two weeks prior, the Panthers smashed the Falcons 38-0. Although the Super Bowl loss to the Broncos was humbling, the Panthers are still the class of this division and Newton is only getting better. Carolina’s defense is strong, and it should win at least 10 games and win the South for a fourth consecutive season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

2015: 7-9 (third in NFC South).

Coach: Sean Payton (11th season).

Additions: TE Coby Fleener; WR Michael Thomas; DL Sheldon Rankins; DL Nick Fairley; LB Craig Robertson; LB James Laurinaitis.

Subtractions: TE Ben Watson; OL Jahri Evans; WR Marques Colston; CB Brandon Browner; DT Kevin Williams.

Outlook: New Orleans went 7-9 for the second season in a row and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2013 despite strong play from quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints had a defense that was awful at times last season, but with a little improvement there — the defensive line and linebacker positions were bolstered through the draft and free agency — New Orleans could be back back competing in the division with Carolina and Atlanta.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

2015: 6-10 (fourth in NFC South).

Coach: Dirk Koetter (first season).

Additions: OL J.R. Sweezy; DE Robert Ayers; CB Brent Grimes; LB Daryl Smith; CB Josh Robinson; CB Vernon Hargeaves; K Roberto Aguayo.

Subtractions: OL Logan Mankins; CB Sterling Moore; LB Bruce Carter, DT Da’Quan Bowers; CB Mike Jenkins.

Outlook: After improving by four games — granted, the Bucs went 2-14 in 2014 — Tampa Bay cleaned out its coaching staff and fired Lovie Smith after two seasons. With former Heisman winner Jameis Winston having a strong rookie season under coordinator-turned-new-coach Dirk Koetter, the Bucs believed they should have had a better showing on defense than they did. Tampa Bay might be improved this season — and it could score more with former FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo taken in the second round — but it probably isn’t close to challenging the Panthers.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS

2015: 13-3 (first in NFC West); lost to Panthers 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

Coach: Bruce Arians (fourth season).

Additions: DL Chandler Jones; OL Evan Mathis; S Tyvon Branch; DL Robert Nkemdiche.

Subtractions: LB Dwight Freeney; S Rashad Johnson; OT Bobby Massie; OL Jonathan Cooper; CB Jerraud Powers.

Outlook: The Cardinals have been one of the top teams in the NFC the past two seasons, winning 24 games and advancing to the NFC title game last year. Arians and his crew have created quite the organization out in the desert, and the Cardinals expect to compete for a Super Bowl berth again this year. The Cardinals already had a pretty impressive team, kept it together and added some nice pieces. Should be enough to hold off Seattle again.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

2015: 7-9 (third in NFC West).

Coach: Jeff Fisher (fifth season).

Additions: QB Jared Goff (No. 1 draft pick overall); DL Dominique Easley; DL Quinton Coples; CB Coty Sensabaugh.

Subtractions: DL Nick Fairley; S Rodney McLeod; CB Janoris Jenkins; TE Jared Cook; DL Chris Long.

Outlook: The Rams are back home — no, they didn’t move to Cleveland — in Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis. Expectations might not be all that high in Southern California this season as many are just happy to have live NFL football back in Hollywood. That’s a good thing. Fisher was caught on camera during “Hard Knocks” saying he’s not going “7-9 or 8-8,” but the Rams haven’t had a winning season since going 12-4 in 2003. The Rams haven’t even been 8-8 since 2006, so that might be a good place to start.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2015: 5-11 (fourth in NFC West).

Coach: Chip Kelly (first season).

Additions: QB Christian Ponder; OL Zane Beadles; WR Eric Rogers.

Subtractions: QB Thaddeus Lewis (Achilles, out for season); WR Anquan Boldin; OL Alex Boone; RB Reggie Bush.

Outlook: The 49ers hope to put the disasters of the past two seasons — which included stringing along former coach Jim Harbaugh then going with Jim Tomsula — behind them this season. It won’t be easy, not in this division. Kelly comes in after a rough final season in Philadelphia and turned a bad Philadelphia offense he inherited into one of the league’s best in his first season there. With Blaine Gabbert apparently running the show, can Kelly match that magic out West?

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

2015: 10-6 (second in NFC West); lost to Carolina 31-24 in divisional playoff.

Coach: Pete Carroll (seventh season).

Additions: TE Brandon Williams (Dolphins); OL Bradley Sowell; OL J’Marcus Webb; DE Chris Clemons; OL Germain Ifedi.

Subtractions: RB Marshawn Lynch; LB Bruce Irvin; OT Russell Okung; OL J.R. Sweezy; OL Alvin Bailey.

Outlook: Despite losing Lynch to retirement, the Seahawks still have an impressive roster. But after the seasons they had, perhaps some of the fear other teams had in playing them is fading. That’s a mistake. Seattle is still capable of winning 13 games, and its games with Arizona should be must-watch football again this season. Seattle rolls into the season with talent on both sides of the line, and as long as the Seahawks stay healthy, they should compete for another trip to the Super Bowl.

— GEORGE RICHARDS

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