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NFL midseason predictions: Opinions vary on NFC North, West

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We've reached a midpoint in the 2013 NFL campaign. How will the rest of the season play out? Our analysts provide their predictions, covering the major individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and picks for Championship Sunday/Super Bowl XLVIII.

Click here to glance back at our analysts' preseason predictions.

NFC EAST

Judy Battista: Dallas Cowboys. Somebody has to win this division.

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Gil Brandt: Cowboys. The injuries have me doubting, but I still think Dallas will take the division, simply because of the presence of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

Albert Breer: Cowboys. Is it possible the Dez Bryant fiasco was a good thing for Dallas? That maybe it's something they needed? That the competitiveness he displayed should be dialed up more often in Big D? Whether it is or it isn't, the Cowboys should outlast a mediocre lot in the East.

Bucky Brooks: Cowboys. The most consistent team in a maddeningly inconsistent division claims the title on the strength of a balanced yet explosive offense that finds its groove late in the season.

Jeff Darlington: Cowboys. After so many overcooked expectations in Dallas over the years, I wanted to see the Cowboys prove it before I picked them for a postseason berth. And while they've had their share of disappointment and drama to start the season, they're also playing the type of football, in a struggling division, that'll earn a spot in the playoffs.

Elliot Harrison: Cowboys. Dallas will be lucky to get to nine wins, but the thing is, eight wins should do it. The Cowboys probably will lose to the Saints, Giants, Packers and possibly the Redskins to finish 8-8.

Daniel Jeremiah: Cowboys. Dallas will emerge as the best of the worst division in the NFL. It might only take eight wins to lock up the East.

Kimberly Jones: Cowboys. They should be the first to eight wins in the NFC East.

Ian Rapoport: Cowboys. With this explosive offense, Dez Bryant and Tony Romo playing as well as they ever have ... surely they'll put it together at some point, right?

Adam Schein: Cowboys. Do I have to pick a winner? I picked Philly in the preseason, mainly because I didn't like anyone else. I still don't. First one to eight wins takes this division -- and then gets clubbed by the second-place team in the NFC West in the first round.

Michael Silver: Cowboys. I picked Dallas to win before the season. Big D has been a disappointment. But the rest of the division is a disaster.



NFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Green Bay Packers. His offensive teammates get hurt, and Aaron Rodgers is sharper than ever. That, combined with a running game, makes the Packers a threat again.

Gil Brandt: Detroit Lions. The Lions have a very good defensive line. Their secondary has been playing well, too. And you can't forget about Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Albert Breer: Packers. Last Sunday night's win in Minnesota showed how great Aaron Rodgers can be. With Greg Jennings on the other sideline, and Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley absent, the quarterback took over. In the regular season, having that element is enough to keep advancing.

Bucky Brooks: Packers. The emergence of Eddie Lacy makes the Packers' offense a nightmare to defend heading into the postseason.

Jeff Darlington: Packers. If Jay Cutler can get healthy enough to keep his team on track in Chicago, this could be an especially tough division to win, since the Lions are also surging. But the Packers' four-game win streak is worthy of respect.

Elliot Harrison: Packers. Green Bay can run the football now with Eddie Lacy, and will get healthier as the season progresses, particularly on defense. The Packers also have already beaten the Lions.

Daniel Jeremiah: Lions. The Lions have a friendly schedule in the second half of the season. I like their chances of catching Green Bay.

Kimberly Jones: Packers. Can't wait for the Thanksgiving matchup in Detroit.

Ian Rapoport: Chicago Bears. I know, I know -- they have a backup quarterback for the time being. But Josh McCown is a great system fit. Call it a hunch. My upset special.

Adam Schein: Packers. It's Aaron Rodgers' world, and even with major Packer injuries, we are still just living in it.

Michael Silver: Packers. I picked the Bears before the season, but here's one reason why: My 11-year-old son, a huge Packers fan (like his 14-year-old brother), tends to be a bit negative -- and his woe-is-Pack proclamations rubbed off. Then I watched Aaron Rodgers, and reality set in.



NFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: New Orleans Saints. With a vastly improved defense and Drew Brees' usual brilliance, this looks a lot like the team that won it all in 2009.

Gil Brandt: Saints. I think this one will come down to Sean Payton's will to win. It doesn't hurt that Drew Brees is playing out of this world.

Albert Breer: Saints. I have Andy Reid as my midseason Coach of the Year, but Sean Payton should be in the mix, too -- not just for his explosive offense, but finding a way, through hiring Rob Ryan, to fix a horrific defense. One potential killer: The possibility of Jimmy Graham's foot injury lingering.

Bucky Brooks: Saints. The attention typically shines on the Saints' offense, but Rob Ryan's masterful work with the defense makes New Orleans a serious Super Bowl contender.

Jeff Darlington: Saints. Sean Payton is proving his worth every week in New Orleans as he puts this team in an impressive spot one year after their immense struggles. Yes, Rob Ryan is doing a nice job with the defense, but let's be clear: Payton got them here. And Payton will get them to the playoffs, too.

Elliot Harrison: Saints. New Orleans is already two games up on Carolina, and more importantly, the defense is making a strong contribution. The Saints have allowed just 120 points through seven games (third fewest in the NFL).

Daniel Jeremiah: Saints. The Saints' defensive improvements have stolen the headlines, and the consistent brilliance of Drew Brees almost goes unnoticed.

Kimberly Jones: Saints. With the way Rob Ryan has the defense playing, the Saints are as dangerous as ever.

Ian Rapoport: Carolina Panthers. When you can't block a team up front, they're capable of anything. That's where Carolina is. And with Cam Newton playing efficiently, they are quite real.

Adam Schein: Saints. The offense is humming, the defense is outperforming all expectations.

Michael Silver: Saints. My preseason pick -- Atlanta -- will not be going back to the playoffs. On a positive note, Matt Ryan and friends will be a trendy wild-card pick for 2014.



NFC WEST

Judy Battista: Seattle Seahawks. They are the complete package, and Percy Harvin's return is on the horizon.

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Gil Brandt: Seahawks. They simply have outstanding players and depth, plus a knockout coaching staff.

Albert Breer: Seahawks. The Seahawks still have the best roster in football, and winning home-field advantage would give the NFC bracket a different complexion. But there still are variables here, the primary ones being how much the returns of Percy Harvin and Russell Okung upgrade a couple banged-up position groups.

Bucky Brooks: Seahawks. Percy Harvin will arrive in the nick of time to add some juice to an offense that desperately needs some sizzle in the passing game. With Harvin creating havoc on the perimeter, Marshawn Lynch finds more room to run between the tackles and becomes the force that keys the 'Hawks' run to the title.

Jeff Darlington: Seahawks. When the Seahawks realize they can ride Marshawn Lynch more than they have been ... and when they get Russell Okung back at left tackle ... and when Percy Harvin gets comfortable in the offense ... Wait, they're 7-1 without all of that? Oh, right. Carry on, Seahawks.

Elliot Harrison: Seahawks. Seattle is in the driver's seat with one loss and a win over the 49ers. Other than a trip to San Francisco, the remaining schedule doesn't pose too many challenges. The December meeting with the Saints is obviously a marquee matchup, but that game is in Seattle.

Daniel Jeremiah: Seahawks. Seattle has found a way to win on the road, albeit not always in the prettiest fashion. They do not lose at home.

Kimberly Jones: Seahawks. The way the Seahawks' defense is playing, they might not lose another game.

Ian Rapoport: San Francisco 49ers. With their return to good health, their run-game upswing and their overall toughness, I think they overtake the Seahawks.

Adam Schein: 49ers. I'm staying with my preseason pick. I don't think they've played their best ball yet.

Michael Silver: Seahawks. They own a one-game lead over the 49ers -- and they own the Niners.



NFC WILD CARD NO. 1

Judy Battista: San Francisco 49ers. They've righted themselves after a slow start and will be formidable again, especially if Aldon Smith returns.

Gil Brandt: 49ers. Like the Seahawks, the Niners also have a ton of talent. Jim Harbaugh is very demanding, but he gets this team to play hard.

Albert Breer: 49ers. Colin Kaepernick appears to have worked through some September growing pains, but could still use some help at the skill spots. So, as is the case with Seattle, the return of a couple injured guys -- in this case, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham -- could be pivotal.

Bucky Brooks: 49ers. Colin Kaepernick finds his groove in the second half of the season to keep the 49ers in the chase for the division crown.

Jeff Darlington: 49ers. Riding a five-game win streak, the 49ers have most certainly gotten their season back on track, which should make for a fun battle between Seattle and San Francisco for the division. Either team can pull it off -- I picked the Seahawks based on current record.

Elliot Harrison: 49ers. Beyond the Seahawks and Saints, San Francisco is better than any team in the NFC. The 49ers should finish with at least 11 wins.

Daniel Jeremiah: Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers is playing outstanding, but the pass defense is still a bit of a concern.


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Kimberly Jones: 49ers. They're playing great now, but are they elite after losing big to Seattle and Indy (at home)?

Ian Rapoport: Packers. Despite all those injuries to their receivers, the Packers have the one constant that transcends everything: Aaron Rodgers, who keeps making it work with guys you’ve never heard of. It'll be good enough.

Adam Schein: Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a great team, but I'm a little concerned about their offensive line.

Michael Silver: 49ers. I give Jim Harbaugh and his staff a lot of credit for weathering their early season storm, going back to basics and staying in the mix. They could peak by season's end -- and be very scary.



NFC WILD CARD NO. 2

Judy Battista: Detroit Lions. Hard to pick against them after Matthew Stafford's statement-making, game-winning drive against the Cowboys.

Gil Brandt: Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers is excellent, and coach Mike McCarthy is underrated. I wasn't a huge believer in this team initially, but the emergence of rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari (and the running game) changed my mind.

Albert Breer: Lions. Even during last year's disaster, there were moments when the Lions would get that scary look where the raw talent showed itself. We're seeing it more consistently now. And if Detroit gets in, because of the defensive line and Calvin Johnson, they're a tricky matchup for anyone.

Bucky Brooks: Carolina Panthers. After enduring a host of criticism about his game and body language, Cam Newton silences the doubters by putting together a series of MVP-like performances to help the Panthers claim the final spot in the postseason tournament.

Jeff Darlington: Panthers. Did Cam Newton's resurgence manage to save Ron Rivera's job as a head coach? There's still plenty of season left to dictate such matters, but if Newton can continue playing such poised football, he'll get his Panthers into a wild-card spot at the very least.

Elliot Harrison: Lions. Jay Cutler's injury should push the Lions into the wild-card driver's seat. Detroit already bested the Bears earlier this season, a win that could loom large in a tiebreaker scenario.

Daniel Jeremiah: San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco has gone back to its power running game and the result is a five-game win streak. This would be a very dangerous wild-card team.

Kimberly Jones: Lions. Stafford to Megatron. Lethal.

Ian Rapoport: Seattle Seahawks. Their offense has grown stagnant, but the wins keep piling up. That should tell us enough about Seattle, because the best teams keep winning while they work to find themselves again.

Adam Schein: Lions. Matthew Stafford has taken a gigantic step forward, and Stafford-to-Johnson could be enough of a deodorant to eradicate the stench of a bad defense.

Michael Silver: Lions. If the Lions face the Packers in the playoffs, the two teams could put up 100 points.

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