The NFC division champions are hoping for a repeat in 2014. Which NFL teams are their biggest challengers?
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly needed 17 weeks and a few breaks to win the NFC East in 2013 but his Philadelphia Eagles got it done. His offense should return mostly intact and some off-season moves added some help on defense. Philly is in good position to defend its crown barring injuries.
Challenger: New York Giants
Dallas was the primary opponent last year but Philadelphia must be wary of their old nemesis the New York Giants. After enduring a rough season last year, the G-Men spent big in free agency in order to upgrade. The offensive line got some much needed help for Eli Manning, as did the draft of Odell Beckham Jr. at receiver. Besides, under Tom Coughlin this team is never down long.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers
Riding a dominant defense and the many talents of Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers won their first NFL division title since 2008 with a 12-4 record. That same defense is back and so is Newton. Hopes are that he’ll have better weapons in the passing game this time, but either way the Panthers are expected to compete.
Challenger: New Orleans Saints
Carolina had to go through the New Orleans Saints to gain the NFC South last year and the same will be true in 2014. In fact it may be even harder. New Orleans spent the off-season upgrading their already talented roster. They added Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd on defense and speedy weapon Brandin Cooks on offense. It is a Super Bowl-caliber team that will test the very limits of the Panthers’ will.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers returned just in time to clinch the Green Bay Packers their third NFC North title in three years. Not that it mattered since they were bounced from the playoffs right away. However, after a pair of solid additions on defense and an influx of talent at receiver, the Pack are very much expected to repeat as champs for a fourth-straight time.
Challenger: Detroit Lions
The Chicago Bears are also a very real threat but if any team should be expected to surge ahead of the Packers in the NFL playoff chase, it’s the Detroit Lions. Their core of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh is at its peak. With solid complimentary pieces in place like Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Ezekiel Ansah this team by all rights should be favorites.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
The world champions have their core in place and most of it locked up long-term. There is no reason not to see the Seattle Seahawks as instant favorites to repeat in the NFC West given their blend of powerful defense and efficient offense. Everyone knows what Richard Sherman would say, but who is their biggest challenger?
Challenger: St. Louis Rams
Say what? How could the San Francisco 49ers not be the clear front-runner to unseat the Seahawks? That is just how much improved the St. Louis Rams have become. Their defense, particularly their pass rush, causes serious problems for Russell Wilson and his offense. To think its gotten better with Aaron Donald is important to note. Add in the fact the Rams will get back Sam Bradford who will have better protection and more weapons, St. Louis should be the surprise coup leader to the Seahawks’ crown.