By Liam Swiggs
As the NFL season heads towards the business end, the league has been set alight with thrilling victories, heartbreaking defeats, and unexpected twists. Right now is the perfect vantage point to reflect on the journey of each NFL team as they navigate the arduous path towards the coveted playoffs. In this comprehensive review, we delve into the triumphs and tribulations of every team, analysing key players, strategic shifts, and defining moments - looking forward to each team's potential run towards Super Bowl LVIII.
Today we have a look at the National Football Conference:
Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
Despite some ungainly victories, the Eagles are once again the top franchise in the NFL. Although their week one victory over the Patriots was tight and the Commanders forced them to overtime, the Eagles are a remarkably well-prepared team that is obviously not playing its best football. They have defeated some top tier opponents, finishing off the Chiefs, Vikings, Cowboys, and Dolphins in some highly convincing performances as well as defeating the Buffalo Bills with a sweaty overtime win. That was one of the most epic regular season NFL games of all time, so many are tipping Philly to go deep into the finals yet again looking to avenge their three point Super Bowl defeat to the Chiefs at the start of the year.
Dallas Cowboys (9-3)
Is 2023 the return of America's Team? They certainly are racking up a lot of points with four 35+ games on offence - but the Cowboys haven't proven themselves quite yet. Their record is red hot when playing teams below a 50 percent winning margin, but they are yet to notch up a win against any of the big name opponents. This squad needs to prove they can win major games before the playoffs arrive to run into the postseason with some much needed confidence.
New York Giants (4-8)
By New York standards, this was a pleasant break heading into the round 13 bye, but there are still things to work out before the season ends. To start, the Giants must choose between Tyrod Taylor, who has returned off injured reserve, and Tommy Devito at quarterback. The offensive line's efficiency is another. The squad has improved since Left Tackle Andrew Thomas returned, but there hasn't been much of an offensive spark, and Devito is still getting nailed roughly every five plays. A sombre year for the New York Giant's faithful, as their playoffs hopes are now but a distant dream they had during the pre-season.
Washington Commanders (4-9)
Commanders quarterback Sam Howell went from being an arguably solid component for rebuilding the franchise to giving a three pick-sixes (intercepted pass resulting in a touchdown for the defensive team) over as many games, all of which were defeats. The Commanders have dropped to a lowly 1-5 at home throughout that time, and Howell has only logged one touchdown throw. Regardless of the personnel surrounding him, Howell needs to dramatically cut down on the amount of mistakes he's making in big moments or it might be his last season in the NFL. His capacity for making huge plays, his durability, and his agility are all really strong points in his game but it's simply not enough. That doesn't excuse Washington's terrible O-line or defence, which has put Howell in a number of extremely difficult situations, but if something doesn't change we could see them entering another rebuild before the last one has even finished.
Detroit Lions (9-3)
Believe it or not: The Detroit Lions are serious contenders. Setting the tone for the season with a week one victory over defending champions the Chiefs, Detroit has only gotten better. The offence's potential was demonstrated in the Week 10 thriller with a victory over the Chargers, they have a finishing schedule that ought to offer them an easy run into the NFL playoffs - just three of their final six games are against teams who are above a 50 percent winning ratio for the year - so expect the Lions to provide some more upsets and run deep into the playoffs this season.
Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
Before their bye week, the Vikings had lost two straight games and may have decided to switch quarterbacks. Their postseason drive will be difficult because they play the Raiders at the conclusion of the season, the revitalised Bengals, two games against the Lions, and a game against the hot-streak Packers. They are a close-game unit once more this season; most of their games have ended in a score of eight points or fewer. Although the defence has been doing an outstanding job far, the offensive line will determine how far Minnesota can go this season.
Green Bay Packers (6-6)
With Green Bay's stunning victory over Kansas City, their season has completely changed, and with a highly favourable calendar remaining, it suddenly appears that the Packers will make the playoffs. Green Bay is building a run behind Jordan Love's breakthrough season and a defence that is producing crucial plays without two of their top stars. The narrative is largely told by the turnovers. Call it good fortune or hard work - the turnover ratio was negative four in the first nine games. Three games later - it's sitting at plus one... the Packers are back!
Chicago Bears (4-8)
The club that appeared absolutely lost in September put forth a good effort against a strong Minnesota outfit in Week 12. The three mainstays of the team, GM Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus, and QB Justin Fields, have been fighting relentlessly. Fields' recuperation from injuries took longer than anticipated, but it paid off in the team's victory over the Vikings, despite the close call with two turnovers in the fourth quarter. After acquiring and prudently extending Montez Sweat, who has only played four games, the defensive end is currently second on the roster in sacks. If they can't string something together quickly thoughts will turn towards a rebuild for the 2024-25 season.
Atlanta Falcons (6-6)
The clear positive news is that the Falcons are now leading the NFC South. Unfortunately, the team's attack stagnated against the Jets. You can derive everything you need to understand about the Falcons' scoring problems from the fact that the Jets turned over the ball three times, yet they still had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the game. Atlanta is struggling to find the end zone, they haven't scored more than 28 points this season. Can Atlanta keep scraping by? It's doubtful based on its recent defeats to struggling outfits like Arizona, Tennessee, and Washington. Only time will tell if 2024 will bring playoff football for the Falcons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Even with their offensive and defensive weapons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still seem like a squad that needs to be overhauled. This team's basic foundation is built upon some huge names with Evans, Godwin, and Wirfs on offence alongside David, Barret, Winfield Jr, Davis, and Vea on defence, but they lack an established quarterback. Baker Mayfield isn't their guy and it is really beginning to show in the post-Tom Brady era. They could sign a quarterback in free agency or purposely drop games and tank for one in the draft. Although making a strong playoff run looks exceedingly difficult, the knockout stages are still possible given just how awful the rest of the teams within their division are.
New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Sunday was a fascinating example of the relationship between Saints rookie quarterback Derek Carr and New Orleans, who continues to get accustomed to playing for such a passionate city. Carr got off to a poor start, and even though Johnson mishandled a pass leading to an interception, Carr was jeered by the Saints faithful. Then he began to ramp it up, completing 15 straight passes in the second quarter to help ignite a third-quarter comeback. But it wasn't to be and the fans screamed even harder when Carr fumbled after a dodgy snap. Forced to leave the contest just a couple moments later, back up QB Winston presented the Saints a late shot to win, but ultimately came up short. Once the team's unquestionably true strength, the Saints' defence has recently been in jeopardy. If they don't producer a modern day miracle and win the remainder of their games - it'll be a lengthy off-season for the boys in black and gold.
Carolina Panthers (1-11)
Carolina was the very first NFL team to have been knocked out from playoff contention with a 1 - 11 record. The Panthers' offensive woes have continued throughout the course of the year - but Carolina still appears to have a strong and apparent investment in its rookie quarterback - sticking by him regardless of the results. The Panthers ought to concentrate on improving Bryce Young's performances and confidence for the final stretch of the season in the hopes that 2024 will be his breakthrough year. With matchups remaining against the resurgent Packers. Jaguars and all three NFC South opponents, Carolina may try to play the spoiler in the closing stages of the season. In the absence of a projected first-round draft selection for 2024, there's no reason for them not to go all out in these final five games.
San Francisco 49ers (9-3)
Last year, the 49ers' defence-which leads the league in interceptions-was already formidable. Right now? They're horrifying. They handed the Philly Eagles, the best team the league has seen in years, a resounding 41-19 thumping. The fact that this team's defence may not even be its strongest suit is what scares everyone the most. With a score in 17 successive games, Christian McCaffrey matched the league record for the most outings where a player has scored a touchdown. The offence is at the top of the table for touchdowns scored this year, led by a quarterback who isn't even halfway through his first full season yet. If the 49ers can keep up this momentum they could see themselves in the Super Bowl this year.
Los Angeles Rams (6-6)
With Sunday's victory over the Browns, the unpredictable season took a turn for the better. The Rams are presently even at 6-6 after three straight victories. This team's season hasn't been simple at all. With Puka Nacua, Kyren Williams, and Demarcus Robinson making important offensive contributions late in the season, the Rams are now in an advantageous position to make the playoffs even with tough road games against Baltimore and San Francisco yet to come. The next few weeks will give us a better outlook on whether they will get another shot at glory.
Seattle Seahawks (6-6)
So far this season, the Seahawks have won quite a number of close games, including one against the Detroit Lions that ended in overtime. They haven't been competing up to their previous season's standards, even though they have lost four games by six points or less. The year had a fantastic start, but the last month has seen four losses and just one win. Perhaps they aren't an organisation that will make the playoffs this year, but as long as they are competing, Seattle is still in with a chance.
Arizona Cardinals (3-10)
No one thought the Cardinals would easily cruise into their bye week after defeating Pittsburgh in a big game, but that is exactly what happened. Jonathan Gannon has to be commended for the effort he has gotten out of this team during the season despite their struggles. With such a young roster at Arizona, losing six games in a row in the middle of the season would shatter any team's morale. On a brighter note - quarterback Kyler Murray may be onto something big if he stays with the Cardinals the next season. Trey McBride is one of Murray's most reliable weapons on offence, playing an essential part in the 99-yard, game-winning touchdown drive over Pittsburgh. It's back to the drawing board for Arizona as they stare down the barrel of a lengthy off season.
Tomorrow: The AFC teams