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NFL midseason predictions: Cowboys, Saints to hit NFC playoffs

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  • By NFL.com
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At the halfway point of the 2014 NFL season, our analysts refresh their predictions on the winners of individual awards, playoff participants and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl XLIX outcomes.

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

NFC EAST

Judy Battista: Dallas Cowboys. It's amazing to even type this, although I'm still a little unsure about what we'll see from the defense when it faces the Eagles twice in a three-week span late in the year.

Brian Billick: Cowboys. They currently lead the division by half a game, but it will come down to the head-to-head matchups against the Eagles in Weeks 13 and 15.

Gil Brandt: Cowboys. As Tony Romo's health scare in Monday's loss to the Redskins showed, the Cowboys desperately need to keep their Big Three (Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant) on the field. Having an excellent kicker in Dan Bailey helps.

Bucky Brooks: Cowboys. Jason Garrett's blue-collar formula has fashioned the Cowboys into a budding powerhouse in the NFC.

Charley Casserly: Cowboys. Their offense is the most balanced in the NFL. The defense has been the biggest surprise in the NFL. They are improving every week. Anthony Spencer is getting healthier, and the return of Demarcus Lawrence could provide a pass-rushing boost in the second half.

Dave Dameshek: Philadelphia Eagles. Call me obstinate, but I still believe Chip Kelly will figure out how to run on Rod Marinelli's impressive D in the two teams' upcoming home-and-home.

Elliot Harrison: Eagles. Nick Foles starts playing better, the offensive line improves, and the Eagles overtake the Cowboys for the NFC East crown.

Adam Schein: Cowboys. Color me stunned. I thought Dallas would finish last. Now the Cowboys are arguably the most well-rounded team in the conference.

Michael Silver: Cowboys. I also picked them before the season. You can look it up!

 

NFC NORTH

Judy Battista: Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers told everybody to relax and -- despite Sunday's road setback -- I think he was right.

Brian Billick: Packers. The Lions are a nice story, but I just can't convince myself they're here at the end of the season. I'll go with Aaron Rodgers.

Gil Brandt: Packers. A key for the Packers: Five of their final eight games are at home, including the regular-season finale against Detroit. That said, they still need to find a way to stop the run.

Bucky Brooks: Packers. Packers fans will be able to relax after the team rebuffs the Lions' efforts to wrestle away the crown down the stretch.

Charley Casserly: Detroit Lions. The defense is legit, but health will be the key factor for this team. I am banking on Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush being more healthy than injured in the second half of the season.

Dave Dameshek: Packers. They're 0-2 in the NFL's two toughest road environments, but still the cream of this division's crop.

Elliot Harrison: Packers. Green Bay survives its sometimes-awful defense to take the division. A win over the Lions at Lambeau in Week 17 makes the difference.

Adam Schein: Packers. Green Bay takes the division (again) behind the best QB in the NFL.

Michael Silver: Packers. The Lions were 6-3 around this time last year; not saying I don't trust them, but ... well, I don't trust them.

 

NFC SOUTH

Judy Battista: New Orleans Saints. Does there have to be a winner of this division? OK, if you insist, I'll go with New Orleans. Because at least Drew Brees is still good.

Brian Billick: Saints. Drew Brees is better than Cam Newton.

Gil Brandt: Saints. With no one else in this division really playing well, the Saints should be able to reach the playoffs with nine wins.

Bucky Brooks: Saints. Mark Ingram's breakout campaign helps the Saints' offense regain the explosiveness that made it one of the most feared units in football for years.

Charley Casserly: Saints. Atlanta and Tampa Bay won't challenge for the playoffs. New Orleans is a better team than Carolina. Two of their four losses have occurred because of breakdowns in the secondary. I'm betting on them cleaning up those problems.

Dave Dameshek: Saints. Healthy Graham and Ingram = enough wins to take the lousy South.

Elliot Harrison: Saints. New Orleans wins the NFC South with 10 wins -- tops. Honestly, in this division, it probably won't take anywhere near that.

Adam Schein: Saints. Could the Saints win the division at 7-9?

Michael Silver: Atlanta Falcons. Hey, someone has to win this brutal division. It likely won't be my preseason pick, a.k.a. The Yucks.

 

NFC WEST

Judy Battista: Arizona Cardinals. Sure, why not? The Cards improved to 6-1 by holding on against the Eagles' offense. Carson Palmer is coming up with big, timely passes, the defense is fearless, and Bruce Arians is irresistible.

Brian Billick: Cardinals. I think the 49ers are a better team with more talent -- and when they get healthy, they will give the Cardinals a run for their money -- but it's hard to ignore Arizona's 6-1 record right now.

Gil Brandt: Cardinals. Here are two reasons to like the Cardinals' chances of hanging on down the stretch: They're well-coached by Bruce Arians and led by a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer.

Bucky Brooks: Cardinals. Credit Bruce Arians for holding the Cardinals together despite a host of personnel losses at key positions. With a D that ranks as one of the NFL's stingiest, the Cardinals are built to make a deep postseason run.

Charley Casserly: Cardinals. Todd Bowles is doing a masterful job on defense despite all of the attrition. And Bruce Arians is working his QB artistry with Carson Palmer.

Dave Dameshek: Cardinals. Arians is a wizard; Bowles is a magician. San Francisco and Seattle haven't played each other yet -- one will need to sweep the home-and-home to pose a threat to this one-loss gang.

Elliot Harrison: Cardinals. Arizona wins the NFC West and Bruce Arians earns his second AP Coach of the Year award in three seasons. Andre Ellington is the key.

Adam Schein: San Francisco 49ers. I got mocked for picking the Niners in the preseason. With NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis coming back, I will stay with it, barely ahead of Arizona.

Michael Silver: Seattle Seahawks. In the wake of the Percy Harvin trade, we've pulled off some scabs and revealed some ugliness. These guys are good enough to overcome it.

 

NFC WILD CARD 1

Judy Battista: Philadelphia Eagles. The defense is overperforming. The offense is underperforming. If they even get to level, the Eagles will have plenty of victories and could press the Cowboys in the division.

Brian Billick: Eagles. They're 5-2 and still haven't fully cranked up the running game. When they do, they could just as well win the division, let alone snag a wild-card bid.

Gil Brandt: Eagles. Chip Kelly's offense is top-notch. Still, the Eagles' defense must turn it up, especially in the takeaway department.

Bucky Brooks: Detroit Lions. Jim Caldwell has the team primed to make a legitimate run at the title behind a more efficient franchise QB and a suffocating defense.

Charley Casserly: San Francisco 49ers. They will get a lot healthier and, consequently, a lot better in the second half of the season.

Dave Dameshek: Dallas Cowboys. Brutalizing foes with that ground game oughta keep the Cowboys from a lengthy losing streak -- but I remain skeptical Big D's D can keep it up.

Elliot Harrison: Cowboys. Something is different about this team this year; I feel like the coaching staff has learned some things.

Adam Schein: Arizona Cardinals. Honestly, the Cards could win the division and end up with a bye. They are beyond legit.

Michael Silver: Cardinals. What these guys are doing without Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, John Abraham and others is flat-out amazing.

 

NFC WILD CARD 2

Judy Battista: San Francisco 49ers. They get a ton of defensive help back in the second half, and that helps them nudge past the Seahawks in a brutal wild-card race.

Brian Billick: 49ers. If and when they get fully healthy, they will be the best team in the NFC.

Gil Brandt: Detroit Lions. The Lions already have the NFL's best overall defense; now they just need to get receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush healthy.

Bucky Brooks: Seattle Seahawks. After looking nothing like the defending champs for much of the season, the 'Hawks will catch fire late to sneak into the postseason.

Charley Casserly: Green Bay Packers. I think it comes down to Green Bay and Philadelphia, who face off in Week 11. The Packers' passing game -- and the fact that the aforementioned showdown takes place in Lambeau -- gives them the tiebreaker edge.

Dave Dameshek: 49ers. Sorry, 12's, but Beast Mode's petulance is having a negative impact on the defending champs. The Niners' future is brighter, with the pending returns of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman.

Elliot Harrison: Seahawks. Seattle will have to hold off the 49ers and Lions, which is no small task. The difference here is the amount of trust we have in the quarterback -- and in the defense. #ArizonaWinstheNFCWest.

Adam Schein: Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have flaws, but they can take advantage of a soft schedule and great talent. Tough leaving out Seattle and Detroit!

Michael Silver: Lions. Calvin who? (No ... really ... he's still great, and hopefully he'll be back to help them.)

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