A funny thing happens when you look at the odds to make the NFC playoffs. There are way more playoff teams than playoff spots.
In the recent odds to make the NFC playoffs from Bovada, via OddsShark, nine teams are +150 (you’d be betting $100 to win $150) or better. A team set at +150 odds should feel it has a pretty good chance to make the playoffs. And the problem is, as everyone knows, there are only six spots.
Odds to make the NFC playoffs (@BovadaOfficial):
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) July 30, 2018
The NFC is as deep with playoff-quality teams as it has ever been. Philadelphia, Dallas, Minnesota, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams have what should be considered playoff-caliber rosters. San Francisco might be in that group too, if you buy into their late winning streak. I can’t even rule out teams like Detroit, Washington, Chicago or the New York Giants being much better this season. On top of that, there are no hopeless teams from No. 1 to 16 in the conference. The Arizona Cardinals are probably considered the worst in the conference, and they went 8-8 last season and get David Johnson back.
The NFC is absolutely, positively loaded.
The playoff races should be incredible. Every division has some intrigue, with the NFC South and NFC North having very compelling races. There are only two first-round byes to go around, and definitely more than two elite teams. When we look up in January, we’ll find that multiple playoff-worthy NFC teams didn’t make the postseason. With the preseason about to start we find it impossible to believe a team like the Eagles or Packers or Saints will miss the playoffs, but someone really good is getting left out. Even when the NFC was dominating the league in the 1980s and early 1990s, with powerhouse teams like the Redskins, Giants, 49ers and Cowboys, the conference never had eight or nine high-quality teams.
There are a few NFC teams that could put together a special season, too. Four of the top five teams on our first stab at the 2018 NFL Power Rankings are all in the NFC. This list could change a lot over the next few weeks, as players rise and fall during the preseason and the inevitable injuries hit. But here’s how the teams stack up as we head into the preseason (for an in-depth breakdown on each team, click on the team’s name for our full preview):
We don’t know what’s exactly going on with Josh Gordon’s absence from camp, but hopefully whatever he’s doing as par of his “overall health and treatment plan” allows him to get back soon. It’s just impossible to trust that everything will be fine after the last few years.
Andrew Luck says he feels no pain in camp, and that’s great. But after more than a year of unfulfilled optimism, let’s just wait to see him in games, shall we?
Sam Darnold’s short holdout won’t help his chances of starting Week 1, which seemed to be a decent bet for most of the summer. It would be strange if none of the five first-round picks start the season opener, but that seems to be possible.
The Cardinals seem decided on Sam Bradford as their quarterback to start the season, but why? We all know what Bradford is. Josh Rosen is one of the more polished rookie quarterbacks to come out in a while. It seems like it would make sense to admit Bradford was a desperate free-agent signing when the team didn’t have a quarterback on the roster, treat it as a sunk cost and move on with the future.
LeSean McCoy is in camp, at least for now, and the Bills seem fine with that despite serious accusations against him. From a football standpoint, the offense would be frighteningly bad if McCoy isn’t around.
We’re quick to forget about a player when he struggles as a rookie. When’s the last time you thought about John Ross? The ninth pick last year was invisible as a rookie, but reports from camp so far are positive. What a huge boost it would be for the Bengals to have Ross emerge this season. It’s not like he doesn’t have the talent.
All I know about this Roquan Smith holdout is it needs to end. This is over the remote possibility the Bears would take away guaranteed money if Smith gets suspended for an illegal hit under a new rule against lowering your head? I get that players’ rights are trampled all the time in the NFL, but this is insane. For both sides.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle Saquon Barkley’s preseason snaps. He’s clearly going to get a ton of touches in the regular season, and the Giants don’t want to wear him out in August. But as a rookie, he needs to play some.
Kenyan Drake’s role this preseason is worth watching. I think the Dolphins are foolish to not see if he can be a full-time back over this season, but Miami seems to want to find anyone else but Drake to be that guy. We’ll see if they give Drake the starter’s treatment in preseason.
The early training camp reports on former first-round pick Josh Doctson were glowing. He has talent but inconsistency has been a problem. Hopefully the shoulder injury he suffered on Wednesday isn’t a major setback.
Dirk Koetter shot down any notion that Ryan Griffin could start at quarterback during Jameis WInston’s suspension, saying it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick’s job. Still, it’s worth watching in the preseason if Griffin can play so well he makes it an issue.
J.J. Watt is full-go in training camp, and all accounts are that he looks great. It would be great for the entire NFL if he’s back to his prime form.
The player who has gotten the most praise in Seahawks camp so far is running back Chris Carson. Maybe it’s Pete Carroll pumping up a player, which he has done plenty in the past, but it just makes the first-round pick of running back Rashaad Penny even stranger.
So, so many jokes about the report that Jon Gruden was showing his players game film from 1976.
Rookie running back Royce Freeman looked good early in camp, and that’s great news. Devontae Booker will still be in the mix to play, but Freeman might provide more upside if he shows he’s ready in all areas of the game.
Didn’t expect Jimmy Garoppolo going on a date with a “movie” star (ahem) to become a big deal, but here we are. Welcome to life in the spotlight.
The breakdown of playing time in the Lions backfield is a bit of a mystery, and makes the Lions’ preseason games worth watching. The Lions probably didn’t move up to draft Kerryon Johnson if they didn’t plan to feature him, but there are a lot of guys who fill different roles.
The Tennessean singled out slot receiver Taywan Taylor as a player who is shining early in camp. If Corey Davis has a big year, Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are their reliable selves and Taylor breaks out, Marcus Mariota might have a huge season.
Lamar Jackson might be the most interesting player to watch this month. He won’t start the season, unless Joe Flacco gets hurt, but a great preseason will stick in everyone’s mind if Flacco struggles to start the season.
Offensive tackle Daryl Williams suffered a knee injury. Cornerback Ross Cockrell broke his leg. Training camp is necessary, but injuries are unavoidable.
Few teams have as much uncertainty in their pass-catching ranks as the Cowboys. Not only are we going to find out who will play receiver for them this month, they need to figure out who their tight end is too. There are some major questions for a team with this much potential.
All eyes will be on Patrick Mahomes, but safety Eric Berry’s return is crucial as well. The defense struggled after he tore his Achilles in last season’s opener, and the defense might be pretty bad this season if he doesn’t rebound.
The team got the Julio Jones situation settled quickly, so that won’t be a problem once the season starts. The Raiders (Khalil Mack) and Rams (Aaron Donald) could take a pointer there.
At this point, if the Chargers make it through the preseason without another major injury, I’d be shocked. They really might be cursed.
Inside linebacker Jake Ryan isn’t a household name, but he’s a solid player especially against the run. He suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the problem isn’t necessarily that he’s irreplaceable, but that the Packers don’t have a lot of depth to fill his spot.
It’s worth noting that last season, after holding out, Le’Veon Bell got off to a slow start. Through two games he had just 119 yards on 37 carries (3.2 average) and seven catches for 19 yards. Through five games he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry before heating up. That doesn’t mean he’ll start slow again this season, but it’s certainly a possibility.
Leonard Fournette wasn’t great as a rookie. He was fine, but the perception would have been much different had he not crept past the 1,000-yard mark (he finished at 1,040). He clearly has the talent to do more. He trimmed down to 223 pounds, his lightest weight since high school, and that’s a great sign heading into his second season.
Rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith is the player getting all the buzz early in Saints camp. Everything changes when games start, but the Saints have done a great job finding receivers through the years. If Smith is the real deal, a great offense becomes even better.
The Eagles aren’t really talking about what their timetable is for Carson Wentz, but everyone seems impressed so far in his recovery from knee surgery. Rest assured, there will be no lack of coverage for every step of Wentz’s return.
The more I think about what the Patriots have on offense, what holes need to be filled and who Tom Brady has trust in, the more I believe Chris Hogan is about to have a monster season.
If the Rams don’t pay Aaron Donald what he’s worth, especially after giving extensions to Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley when those issues weren’t pressing, they are potentially screwing up a great chance at a championship season. Just pay the man. Don’t overthink it.
I’ll probably be on an island with the Vikings at No. 1, but that’s fine. I like all the pieces they have and the moves they made this offseason. I don’t think Kirk Cousins is an MVP, but I think he’s good. I believe he’s better than Case Keenum. Is he overpaid? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a top 10 or 12 quarterback. He’s a great addition for a team that was loaded before adding him.
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