Predicting the NFC Playoff Picture Following Free Agency

Jan 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) during the first half in the NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has surpassed two weeks of free agency. Many teams took advantage of free agency this year as they built their team into playoff contenders. Some teams started a rebuild during free agency and lost key players.

With the new CBA, each conference will now be sending one extra team to the playoffs. Here are the seven teams from the NFC that could make the playoffs in 2020 after their free agency moves.

San Francisco 49ers: 11-5

The 49ers traded away defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick. They would also lose out on Emmanuel Sanders to the New Orleans Saints. However, the team is still very talented. They still have their running backs in Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. Their receivers are young and can be further addressed in the draft. The 49ers have kept most of their defense intact and will only get better through the draft. Going into a tough NFC division, they may not win as many games but should still be the favorite out of the NFC.

New Orleans Saints: 11-5

The team brought back Drew Brees for one last run at a Super Bowl. They added another receiver in Emmanuel Sanders to complement Michael Thomas on the other end of the field. Their offense is basically the same as last year, as they will be heavily involving Thomas and their do-it-all running back, Alvin Kamara. The team needed to improve the secondary and they did so by adding Safety Malcolm Jenkins. The team also decided to keep utility player Taysom Hill, who will now receive more playing time at the backup quarterback position as well as keep his usual role with the Saints.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-6

Tampa Bay made some big moves this free agency. They added star quarterback Tom Brady to pair with an elite receiving core in Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin. They also brought in offensive limeman Joe Haeg from the Indianapolis Colts and re-signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a one-year deal to help solidify the defensive line. The Buccaneers went 7-9 last year with Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions, but with Brady at the helm, the team can only see an improvement. Brady protects the ball at a very high rate. With even half the turnovers Winston had last season, this Tampa Bay team could pose a threat in the NFC by hitting double-digit wins.

Green Bay Packers: 10-6

Aaron Rodgers can never be discounted to lead a team to the playoffs. The Packers still have their offensive weapons in Davante Adams and Aaron Jones to help Rodgers but also added speedy receiver Devin Funchess, who should help the Packers out on big plays. This team will also be under head coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme for the second year, which should spell improvement and a better understanding of the offense. The only downside of this Green Bay team is that they lost both linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell to the New York Giants, as well as other defensive standouts; Green Bay was already struggling with their defense in the 2019 season. Although the Packers might lack a strong defense, the offense should be enough to carry them into the playoffs. 

Chicago Bears: 9-7

It really doesn’t matter who the starting quarterback will be for the Chicago Bears. Whether they continue with Mitchell Trubisky or go with newly-acquired Nick Foles, either quarterback will have a bounce-back year from their disappointing 2019 campaigns. Both quarterbacks have something to prove in order to keep their dreams alive in the NFL. The Bears have the best defense in the league, at least on paper. And even though they missed out on the playoffs last season, they decided to bolster the defense even more by adding defensive end Robert Quinn. This move will fill the last hole in the defense. Every position on the Bears’ defense is now filled with a very talented player. For the offense, the only moves that they made were the signing of tight end Jimmy Graham and lineman Germain Ifedi. Those were not big moves but give depth at the positions in order to help whoever the quarterback may be. Although the team is weak in the receiver category, there is still time to fill that position through trades and the draft. A bounce-back year for the Bears, 2020 will be similar to 2018. 

Seattle Seahawks: 10-6

Russell Wilson can lead a mediocre team to the playoffs. However, Wilson was given some protection this off-season. The team signed linemen Brandon Shell, B.J. Finney and Cedric Ogbuehi, giving Wilson better depth in the linemen positions. These moves allow him to feel more protected when throwing the ball, which in turn could be crucial to bigger plays downfield. Although the team has yet to find out whether or not Jadeveon Clowney will be returning, the defense is still set to have a good year. If Clowney does return to Seattle, the team will be in a good position to pressure opposing quarterbacks. If he does not return, Seattle will find it tougher to reach the quarterback but could still manage to get the offense off the field. Wilson will lead this team to the playoffs and receiver D.K. Metcalf will have another breakout year alongside him. This duo will be unstoppable in the upcoming year … especially after the team added help on the offensive line.

Minnesota Vikings: 9-7

This team is a fringe playoff team. They lost many defensive players in Trae Waynes, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly, Jayron Kearse, Andrew Sendejo, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackensie Alexander. Although not many were full-time starters, losing that many depth players will hurt a team’s season. The Vikings last year boasted one of the better all-around rosters due to their depth, but now that they lost half of their depth on the defense, they could see some regression. However, if the team can stay healthy all season long, they will be just fine. They still have an incredible linebacker core and a defensive line that can get to the quarterback. The team also traded away star player Stefon Diggs for a handful of draft picks. Still, the Vikings have a decent receiving core. With the draft picks that they received from Buffalo, they could draft another receiver to replace Diggs in the long run. 

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