Can San Francisco retain their crown as NFC champions? There is plenty of opposition on their heels (Image | Getty)

If you’ve had a check of TAP since yesterday evening you’ll have seen the first part of Josh Mott’s team-by-team breakdown of the 2012-13 NFL season. Josh returns today, completing his travails with a thorough breakdown of the NFL’s NFC (National Football Conference) competitors and outlining just why he believes this will be one of the closest NFL seasons in memory.

Tonight: previewing the NFC

East

The NFC East is the marquee division of the NFL with four auspicious teams in four of the biggest football markets. The Philadelphia Eagles will look to capitalize on their wealth of talent and gain a playoff berth after missing out so narrowly last season. The secret will be keeping QB Michael Vick healthy, as with him the Eagles offense will be tough to stop. Vick, however, has only played all sixteen games in one of his last five seasons so keeping him upright is going to be a real challenge. The offensive line holds the key to the Eagles’ postseason hopes.

Eli Manning and Tony Romo both have injury histories but hold the keys to two of the NFL’s most famous franchises (Image | AP)

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo must be sick and tired of being seen as a second tier QB solely because of his abysmal playoff record (one win in four games). People have even begun to question the Cowboys’ position of ‘America’s team’ after a lackluster decade from the sport’s most iconic team. Dallas has a shutdown defense this season and will look to Romo to utilize all his talent and take them to the playoffs, which will be no mean feat in this division.

It will be difficult for the New York Giants to replicate the Super Bowl success of last year with the strong opposition they will face this season. Their glaring injury issues – and it is only just week one – don’t help much. Still, get Eli Manning to the postseason and he is sure to do truly amazing things, so the Giants have half a chance.

The Washington Redskins may have finally turned it around. For so long they have been the big-spending, poorly-run organization who could never put it down on the field. Now behind dynamic rookie QB Robert Griffin III the Redskins should start to build a team that the capitol city can be proud of. This, unfortunately, is still a couple of years away but expect the Redskins to show glimmers of brilliance throughout the season.

The NFC East is extremely problematic to predict because any one of three teams could win the division. It is now or never for the Eagles. We would anticipate that they somewhat stem the disappointment of the City of Brotherly Love with an 11-5 record. The Cowboys will be right on their heels with 10-6, as will the Giants with 9-7. The Redskins will begin to rebuild with a respectable 7-9.

South

The Atlanta Falcons have are quietly building something down in the Georgia Dome with Matt Ryan looking to step up into the exclusive club of elite quarterbacks in the NFL. The Falcons have deep threats and a running game that is ready to go. Defensively, the Falcons are also improved by one of the most impressive secondaries in the league. Look out for the vengeful Falcons come January because they feel they have something to prove.

In his first year in the NFL, Cam Newton exemplified the changing nature of the league. How will he fare this time around? (Image | connecticutsportslaw.com)

Cam Newton took the league by storm last season proving that a running QB can work in the NFL. This year the Carolina Panthers will build on Newton’s gigantic talent and create an offense in the image of this new, passing NFL. Questions remain defensively but, like New England, the Panthers will be forced to outscore their rivals with their robust attacking game.

Even after the suspensions implemented after the New Orleans Saints’ ‘bounty-gate’, they still promise to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch. Drew Brees will be motivated to outdo his passing yard record of 5,476 this season; he probably will not succeed but he will definitely be fun to watch.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to restructure this year and with new coach Greg Schiano, they will look to do the simple things; get QB Josh Freeman to stop throwing quite so many interceptions and also protect him in the pocket. The Buccaneers, though, are two or three years from competing with the big guns of the NFC South.

The Falcons should mop up this division with Ryan having a career year, leading to an imposing 12-4 record. The Panthers will finish with a respectable 8-8, an improvement on last year’s 6-10 record. The Saints will finish 7-9 and the Bucs an NFL-low 2-14.

West

Once again, the NFC will be dominated by the San Francisco 49ers who will easily retain the title as well as home field advantage for the playoffs. Their defense is just nasty and Justin Smith… words do not do justice to this physical machine. On offense, Randy Moss will provide Alex Smith with a deep threat that will add to an offensive catalogue that will cement the 49ers as Super Bowl contenders.

Having been abysmal for a while now but with a young team – and one of the most respected head coaches in Jim Fisher on the sideline – the St Louis Rams should come on leaps and bounds from last season. Look for this to be the season where Sam Bradford replicates some of his college impressiveness and lead the Rams to their first winning season since 2003.

How much will Seahawks fans get to enjoy the site of NFL legend Terrell Owens suiting up on their flanks? (Image | AP)

The Seattle Seahawks, with their offseason quarterback debate and their Terrell Owens sideshow, could be deceived as a team with no promise. Reality is quite the contrary; rookie QB Russell Wilson is explosive in the same vain that Newton is and he will certainly produce some offensive fireworks. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinal will need to sort out the mess they have created at quarterback while the defense tries to master the 3-4 formation. If all comes together the Cardinals should impress, but don’t hold your breath yet.

The 49ers’ years of rebuilding are finally paying off and evidence of this will be their 14-2 record. The Rams will finish 9-7 looking to build for the future. The Seahawks will conclude with a record of 5-11 and the Cardinals round of a division of ups and downs at 4-12.

North

The NFC North represents the NFL’s level of competition, which sports leagues around the world strive for. A case could be made for three of the four teams to reach the Super Bowl and there is undoubtedly a chance that both of the NFC wildcards could come from this division. The Green Bay Packers have the best football player on the planet in their ranks. Aaron Rodgers is the complete quarterback and if he continues like he has been going then he is going to the Hall of Fame. The Packers have offense in bags but it is their defense that brings up questions. There pass defense is just lousy. Ranked last in the NFL last year the defense, will need to step up if the Packers are to repeat their heroics of 2010.

Poor Detroit have the most depressing playoff record of any team in the NFL. The Lions have not won a playoff game since 1957 – that’s right, 1957. Nine years before Super Bowls began. This season the dynamic duo of QB Mathew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson will develop into the best QB-WR partnership since Manning and Harrison. The Lions have a young team which is ready to bring the Lombardi trophy back to a city that deserves a celebration.

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will look forward to renewing their old rivalry, currently as two of the power teams in the NFC (Image | Getty)

The Chicago Bears have got pace to burn. Their wide out core will strike fear into the most hardened of secondaries. However, the wide outs will only come into play if the Bears leaky offensive line can protect QB Jay Cutler from being crushed. Anyone of the Packers, Lions or Bears could win this division and all three will need injuries to go in their favor to do so.

You have to feel for the Minnesota Vikings, having to play six games against their division opposition. That’s six loses straight away. Their hope lies in an amazing return by superstar running back Adrian Peterson who, if fully fit, can change the flow of a game on any given Sunday.

The NFC North will be bitterly fought right the way through to week 17. The Packers have the talent to come out on top with a 13-3 record, only losing to the Bears and Lions. The Lions will bomb their way to 12-4 with Chicago just behind them at 11-5. Minnesota will be pleased with a 5-11 record given the beatdown they will receive from their division rivals.

Josh’s predictions

NFC playoff teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers

Wild Cards: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears

NFC Champions: San Francisco

Super Bowl: San Francisco 24 Houston Texans 18

So there you have it, TAP’s preview to the NFL season. Don’t expect everything that has been said to come true as predicting the NFL is like trying to predict how Clint Eastwood is going to give a Republican convention speech; it will be strange, and funny, and certainly something we will be talking about for several months to come.

Have your say | Tweet the author | @JoshMott8

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