Unlike the AFC, where the New England Patriots are the heavy favorite, the race for the NFC Championship has several viable contenders. The Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons all should be very good teams, but not one of them is without significant weaknesses.
Then there are teams like the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, who are no slouches either.
Which squad will emerge from a crowded field to be the NFC’s Super Bowl representative? Let’s discuss the top contenders’ chances and then bring up some potential dark horses with longer odds who may be smart plays. We will make some NFC Championship predictions and picks. Every team listed also has their best odds to win the division from the top USA sports betting firms.
As this preview continues, keep in mind that NFC winners from the past 10 years have had an average ranking of 5.6 in points scored, but just 11.5 in points allowed. The champion has more frequently been an offensive juggernaut than a defensive one.
NFC Championship Favorites
Seattle Seahawks (best odds +500 at Intertops)
The Seahawks’ current core members are no strangers to making the Super Bowl. Seattle made the big game in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, winning in the first year. That experience will be important.
More relevant to Seattle’s chances at winning the NFC is its dominant defense. A unit that many already expected to be the best in the NFL acquired defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to shore up an area that might have been the team’s only weakness on defense.
On offense, the issue of a poor offensive line continues to be the only scary thing about trusting this team. Quarterback Russell Wilson has played every game of his career so far, but who knows how long that streak could last behind his porous line.
Green Bay Packers (+500 at Intertops)
The Packers’ tradition in recent years has been to rely on its elite offense and hope its average to mediocre defense doesn’t mess up too much. It’s worked pretty well – Green Bay has won its division five times in six years using that approach. In that span, its offense has ranked in the top four in points four times, and the defense has never been in the top 10 in points allowed.
Once again, the prospect of Green Bay’s defense being its undoing is very real. Since 2012, the team has allowed an average of 33.8 points per contest in its six playoff losses.
Without a potent pass rush, can the Packers give the likes of Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Cam Newton enough trouble in the passing game?
Atlanta Falcons (+650 at Intertops)
The Falcons will be hard-pressed to avoid a regression to the mean on offense in 2017. Without ace offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at the controls, I believe Atlanta will be more of a top-five offense than the flat-out best offense in the NFL, like they were in 2016. And will the offensive line enjoy the stability it did a year ago? All five starters avoided injury and played all 16 games for the squad.
Defensively, there are still issues with a group that ranked 27th in points allowed a year ago. While a shored up run defense should solve some of them, it’s a difficult unit to trust, much like Green Bay’s defense.
NFC Championship Dark Horses
Arizona Cardinals (+1650 at 5Dimes)
In 2015, the Cardinals dominated the NFL. They won 13 games and had a fantastic point differential of plus-176 that ranked second league-wide.
Last season, they finished just 7-8-1, with a terrible special teams at the forefront of their problems. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson replaces Chandler Catanzaro, who made just nine of his 14 field goals in the team’s eight losses and one tie. He also missed three extra-point chances in those contests. The Cards also had terrible injury luck.
Arizona is in a tough position to win the NFC West because of the Seahawks, but having two potential punching bags in the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers gives the team a good opportunity to attain a strong record. Plus, there’s always the chance Seattle’s leaky offensive line causes more problems for Russell Wilson and possibly causes an injury for him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1750 at Bookmaker)
The Buccaneers are the Tennessee Titans of the NFC – both squads are young clubs who appear on the fast track from futility to contention due to great quarterback prospects (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, respectively) and a bunch of other raw talents on both sides of the ball.
If the Falcons suffer any sort of hangover from their Super Bowl loss, which has happened before to those teams, the Bucs will be right there to compete for the division crown. There’s a decent chance Tampa’s deep passing attack becomes elite and the offense as a whole ranks near the top of the league if Doug Martin comes back strong from his three-game suspension to start the season.
Our Preview’s NFC Championship Picks & Betting Predictions
The Seahawks (+500 with Intertops) have a great chance to win the NFC and are the recommended bet for this preview. Of the three top contenders, the Seahawks have the potency on both ends of the ball that seems more trustworthy in playoff scenarios. While their offense won’t be great, Russell Wilson and Co. are still solid.
In the end, they are more dependable in the event of a potential NFC Championship matchup against the Packers or Falcons. Seattle’s dominant defense should be able to stop the Packers’ and Falcons’ vaunted attacks better than their leaky defenses will be able to stop the Seahawks’ offense.
Arizona has been a top-tier team very recently, and it has a good mix of savvy veterans and young stars to be a dark horse candidate for the NFC Championship. They odds are against them winning the NFC West with the Seahawks in front of them, but they can still go far as a Wild Card. The Cardinals (+1650 at 5Dimes) are also an excellent bet.