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The ceiling and the floor for every NFC team in 2017
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By this Friday, the offseason programs of every NFL team will be finished, and the league will be entering its roughly five-week-long summer dormancy period. The hay will be in the proverbial barn. What better time to assess where each club stands as the 2017 season approaches?
Here's a look at each team's ceiling and floor - in our estimation at least - meaning a best-case, worst-case scenario for every franchise's season. We'll start with the NFC this week, and save the AFC for next week.
A reminder: As always, your results may vary...
The floor: The quick-strike long-ball passing attack never makes a comeback in the desert as Palmer's game continues to let air escape from the balloon. Despite elite stars like Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson on offense, the Cardinals remain maddeningly inconsistent and see their Super Bowl window of contention close with a reality-inducing 7-9 mark. Read
Los Angeles Rams
The floor: Goff takes only baby steps in 2017, with McVay proving his youth and exuberance can only work so much magic with a franchise conditioned to losing. The Rams improve, but it's incremental and very difficult to see in year two of the return to Los Angeles. The new 3-4 defense suffers learning curve pains and the Rams struggle to a 5-11 mark. Read
San Francisco 49ers
The floor: Reality hit home as soon as the real games start and the Lynch-Shanny honeymoon ends with a thud. Brian Hoyer has limitations at quarterback, and the more he plays, the more they show up. The 49ers roster remains one of the least impressive in the league, but even at 3-13 in 2017, you can see signs of hope. Read
The floor: The locker room turbulence doesn't magically dissipate come September, Russell Wilson endures another injury-plagued season, and the Seahawks have to sweat it out all the way to season's end - beating visiting Arizona in Week 17 - just to go 9-7 and qualify for the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
The floor: There's a reason why no team since the 1971-72 Dolphins have lost a Super Bowl and then returned to win a ring the next year. It's a tough mental battle to get that close, have it almost within your grasp, and then lose it. Hangovers are real. Hangovers are no fun. And did we mention the rest of the NFC South all looks to be improved? Atlanta will have its moments and a new stadium to celebrate, but a step back to 8-8 territory is not out of the realm of possibility. Read
The floor: It kind of comes down to the Cam factor. And if he's not quite right, and his shaky offensive line again leaves him poorly protected, any thoughts of a championship restoration in Carolina suddenly look fanciful. Again, the rest of the division features no soft touches, and that means the Panthers have to earn every win. It won't be a repeat of last year's lost season, but 7-9 might kind of feel like it. Read
New Orleans Saints
The floor: At 32, maybe Peterson doesn't have another epic comeback in him. At 38, maybe Drew Brees starts to finally show some cracks in his game. The liability that is the Saints defense finds new and inventive ways to lose when the offense scores at least 20 points, and those three consecutive 7-9 finishes from 2014-16 represent a goal the 6-10 Saints can't quite reach in 2017. Read
Tampa Bay Bucs
The floor: Not to be too simplistic, but the Bucs this season will go as far as Winston takes them. He has enough weapons around him, and the defense is good enough to hold its own. Winston has to take care of the football and make big plays. If he slips back into some of his old, risky habits, the Bucs could disappoint and take a step back into 7-9 territory.
The floor: The schedule is challenging in the second half, and the Cowboys and their wunderkind of a quarterback won't sneak up on anyone this season, so another 13-3 is out of the question. Dallas last won back-to-back division titles in 1996-97 and there's always the tendency in Cowboys-land to over-rate their chances. If defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can't replicate his stellar work of last year, a step back on that side of the ball could be costly, and produce an 8-8 mishmash of a season in Big D. Read
New York Giants
The floor: We've all heard about good teams ruined by shaky offensive lines, so there's that potential downfall to consider with New York. When you add in that the NFC East plays the rugged AFC West this season, meaning games against Oakland, Kansas City and Denver (not to mention a test against NFC West champ Seattle), the Giants are going to have to bring their A game almost every week. If there's any “We've arrived'' sentiment in New York, things could snowball pretty rapidly and put Ben McAdoo's team in the position of fighting its way to 8-8 territory. Read
The floor: The Eagles can be confident that its front seven remains stout, but the situation at cornerback continues to be troublesome enough to inspire dread on a near-weekly basis. That weakness combined with a tougher schedule could leave Doug Pederson's team struggling to even match last year's up-and-down 7-9 ride. With a slew of game against legit playoff contenders, a regression to 6-10 is possible if the NFC East stays as bunched as we've come to expect. Read
The floor: Nothing of the sort actually transpires as explained above, and Washington flounders after an offseason that saw still no resolution in terms of Cousins' future, and the puzzling firing of successful and well-respected general manager Scot McCloughan. With the quality of opponents on tap, this is a team that could regress to a last-place 5-11 showing.
The floor: After going 3-13 last season, there's not a lot left to lose in Chicago. Three consecutive last-place finishes have drained much of the enthusiasm out of the one of the NFL's great markets, and head coach John Fox is not looking like the answer. If Glennon is a bust, and Trubisky isn't ready to take the field as a rookie, a 2-14 mark and next year's No. 1 draft pick could well be in play. Read
The floor: Detroit still feels like it's a few missing pieces away from really being a perennial NFC playoff contender, and the pass rush is one area that continues to lack enough impact. The Lions need to start better than last year's 1-3 getaway to stay close to Green Bay, and an opening slate of Arizona, at the Giants, and Atlanta poses a challenge and could pave the way for a 6-10 level disappointment in Motown. Read
Green Bay Packers
The floor: Should the Packers offensive line falter yet again, forcing Rodgers to take a pounding, well, we've seen how that movie turns out. And it doesn't involve a big confetti shower at the end of the last game of the season. The Packers have to have a semblance of a running game and some credible pass defense, too, or 9-7 mediocrity is within the scope of possibility. Read
The floor: Latavius Murray as a lead running back doesn't scare anyone. Nor does the idea of Bradford carrying this team with his passing arm. Even if the Vikings are better on offense, they need that same swarming Minnesota defense that dominated and carried the team to a 5-0 start last season to re-appear from day one. If not, the Vikings will lose ground for the second year in a row in a tight division and bottom out at 6-10 or so.