Analysis  

 

NFC ceiling/floor scenarios: Packers, Cardinals can climb high

Print

Ceiling ... You can be a U.S. Senator one day!

Floor ... Will you be moving out before you're 28?

The highs and lows of expectations -- they're all around. From our parents. From our employers. And, of course, we turn around and project the same on our favorite football teams. If everything breaks right, the Kansas City Chiefs will go 12-4. If everything breaks down -- that is, Justin Houston misses too much time and Jamaal Charles isn't himself -- maybe 7-9 is on the horizon. With the margin of victory so slim in today's NFL -- the realization of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's vision of parity -- a five-game swing is actually a pretty narrow range. And the cool thing? We can do this for every franchise, you and I.

Well, I did. Below you will find the hypotheticals -- the hot-dogs-and-apple-pie version as well as the doom-and-gloom scenario -- for every team in the NFL. Bear in mind, these scenarios include eventualities where everything either goes very right or very wrong. In other words, don't get upset at the mere mention of the possibility that the Packers could go 8-8. Much would have to go awry -- like the return of Brian Brohm. Yet, if you still have an issue with these narratives, @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let's get the dual-universe predictions going with a look at the NFC...

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS

Ceiling: 12-4. The defense stays afloat while it is without two of its better pass rushers (the suspended duo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory). Dak Prescott performs like he has in the preseason against real schemes, holding down the fort until Tony Romo returns. Either Ezekiel Elliott or Alfred Morris takes advantage of running behind the best offensive line in the business.

Floor: 6-10. I don't think this team will go 4-12 again, even with Romo set to miss more time. Last year, Dallas lost a bunch of close calls and also had receiver Dez Bryant go down. After what we've witnessed this preseason: Dak Prescott > Matt Cassel. That said, what if Prescott's preseason (78 percent completion rate, five TDs, zero picks, 137.8 passer rating) was a mirage? The depleted defense can't lose linebacker Sean Lee to injury again.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Ceiling: 11-5. Receiver Sterling Shepard proves to be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Veteran Victor Cruz produces like the 2012 version of Victor Cruz. The looks-good-in-the-showroom defense plays itself into being at least a top-15 unit. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins becomes one of the steals of free agency. Coach Ben McAdoo keeps the 'stache.

Floor: 5-11. The right side of the offensive line becomes more than a worry, causing the offense to get off to a pitiful start. Running backs Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa sputter. Ron Dayne comes out of retirement. Truthfully, I think the Giants will be closer to 11-5 than 5-11.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Ceiling: 10-6. Quarterback Sam Bradford plays lights-out football, running back Ryan Mathews stays healthy all season and Doug Pedersen proves more than ready to be a head coach. The offensive line performs consistently, providing the offense time to gel.

Floor: 4-12. The secondary can't hold the fort, with Malcolm Jenkins unable to play at such a high level again, and the pass rush isn't stout enough to compensate. Rookie QB Carson Wentz is forced to play before he's ready, with WRs dropping passes like it was 2015. That's 4-12, folks.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Ceiling: 12-4. The defending NFC East champs have everything go their way. Rookie receiver Josh Doctson contributes immediately. Undrafted rookie back Rob Kelley takes the next man up mentality to heart and runs with it. And the Josh Norman signing greatly improves Washington's defense.

Floor: 5-11. After a career year, QB Kirk Cousins takes a large step backward. Matt Jones fumbles consistently. Inside linebackers Will Compton and Mason Foster struggle on early downs, Su'a Cravens develops slowly, thus negating the newly improved secondary's effect on third.

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS

Ceiling: 10-6. The Bears get Chivas Regal play out of Jay Cutler. Receiver Kevin White puts up 800 yards and eight touchdowns. And most importantly, the slowly building defense receives a lift from rookie Leonard Floyd, moving from 20th in points allowed to the top 10.

Floor: 3-13. The bottom falls out with Cutler, who sorely misses free-agent defector Martellus Bennett (at least, as a target in the passing game). Second-year pro Jeremy Langford can't hold down a full workload at running back. Harold Jones-Quartey and Adrian Amos and whoever else don't turn out as Hall of Fame safeties ... or starter ilk.

DETROIT LIONS

Ceiling: 10-6. Golden Tate must catch 100 balls OR Marvin Jones must turn out to be the top signing in free agency. The light bulb comes on for running back Ameer Abdullah. Linebacker DeAndre Levy is healthy and Stephen Tulloch isn't missed.

Floor: 4-12. Matthew Stafford looks like a man devoid of the best wide receiver this side of Larry Fitzgerald. Pass rusher Ziggy Ansah fails to repeat his stellar 2015 campaign with no one up front picking up his All-Pro slack (Devin Taylor? Haloti Ngata? A'Shawn Robinson?).

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Ceiling: 14-2. While the defense frankly isn't good enough for the Packers to go 15-1 like they did in 2011, the offense is. Or it can be. Receiver Jordy Nelson puts up 1,400 yards and 14 TDs in his return from a season lost to injury. Running back Eddie Lacy keeps the weight and the tacklers off, balancing the offense.

Floor: 8-8. Barring something terrible, it is very hard to see this Green Bay team posting a losing record. (We're mostly avoiding the QB injury outcome.) Aaron Rodgers has to have his worst season. Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan are wholly ineffective inside. Youngsters Damarious Randall and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix take a step backward.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Ceiling: 10-6. Teddy Bridgewater's disastrous injury -- the quarterback was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after suffering a dislocated knee and torn ACL at practice on Tuesday -- limits this ceiling quite a bit. If backup Shaun Hill ends up being the starter in Bridgewater's place, the Vikings' best-case record will be 10-6, even if absolutely everything else goes right for them -- like rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell becoming a top-flight red-zone target and Adrian Peterson avoiding a late-career slow-down.

Floor: 6-10. Peterson hits the Shaun Alexander/Larry Johnson Wall. Jerick McKinnon proves to be a career backup. Losing Bridgewater plays out exactly how you'd expect it to. The top-five defense posts not one, not two, but a string of paltry showings.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Eagles in exchange for a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a fourth-rounder in 2018 on Saturday.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS

Ceiling: 11-5. Matt Ryan moves past being a good player to the premier status he was prematurely awarded after three years in the league. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman form one of the top 1-2 punches in the league, assisting the defense with ball control.

Floor: 4-12. Seeing the same swing for the Falcons as the Bucs, although I feel Atlanta will finish behind its rival. Dwight Freeney feels his age (36) ... meaning there's no pass rush. Again. Youngster Keanu Neal's success is thwarted by his preseason knee injury. Mohamed Sanu? WR3.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ceiling: 14-2. Mike Shula retains his play-calling magic with Cam Newton running point. Jonathan Stewart = healthy. Sans Josh Norman and facing a relatively tough schedule, the Panthers' best hope is to be 14-2. Remember, in 2015, Carolina played the weak AFC South and NFC East.

Floor: 9-7. The division is not strong enough to knock the Panthers down to .500. But if the kids in the secondary struggle to fill the Norman void -- and the edge rush isn't there again -- Carolina could lose much more often in 2016. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin starting slowly after missing 2015 with a torn ACL would turn bad quickly.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Ceiling: 10-6. Cameron Jordan doesn't end up having to singularly provide the pass rush. Stephone Anthony comes into his own at linebacker, receiving more than just tutelage from James Laurinaitis. Mark Ingram rushes for 1,200 yards, providing time on the bench for the Saints' dog-tired defense.

Floor: 5-11. Speaking of Ingram, Drew Brees needs help. In the 5-11 scenario, 37-year-old QB hits the career wall, leaving even more in the defense's hands. Tight end Coby Fleener is on-again, off-again, like he was for much of his career in Indy. Still, Brees and New Orleans are too good at home to only win three games.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Ceiling: 11-5. A lot would have to happen here, starting with Jameis Winston continuing his progression in Year 2 to a point that would make him a top-15 quarterback. The Bucs must get something from the TE position, and Robert Ayers would provide 10 sacks in his first year in Tampa.

Floor: 4-12. Dirk Koetter struggles in his transition to head coach. Doug Martin resembles the 2013 and '14 Doug Martin, not the 2015 vintage. Veteran pass catcher Vincent Jackson shows his age, with Mike Evans struggling with a basic function of being a wide receiver: catching the football. Honestly, I think the Bucs go 8-8.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Ceiling: 15-1. Arizona is certainly a Super Bowl contender, but in order to hit 15 wins, the Cardinals have to sweep Seattle, because they go on the road to Carolina and Minnesota. Honey Badger will have to return better than ever. The secondary is already thin. Chandler Jones proves to be good for more than 10 sacks.

Floor: 9-7. Much would go south here, especially considering Bruce Arians went 11-5 with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley starting games in 2014. Running back David Johnson would falter carrying the load. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald would get old, fast. Carson Palmer? Think of the picks and fumbles in the NFC title game.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Ceiling: 9-7. A lot of people feel the Rams are almost there, but with a small draft haul (because of the deal for Jared Goff), nine wins is as far as we can go. Goff would have to unseat Case Keenum and play viably, with the WRs all playing over their heads, especially Tavon Austin.

Floor: 4-12. The floor is higher than the 49ers', based on overall talent. It would be quite tough for L.A. to finish this low, especially with its D-line. Reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley would seriously regress in this scenario, with the new-look secondary faltering sans Janoris Jenkins (and with T.J. McDonald a question mark).

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Ceiling: 9-7. For the Niners to win nine games, Colin Kaepernick would have to take over for Blaine Gabbert early in the season. Not the 2014-15 Kaepernick mind you, but the version who won the 2013 wild-card game at Lambeau. If Gabbert starts all 16, I don't see the 49ers' ceiling being higher than .500. Receiver Torrey Smith produces, while the young DEs overachieve.

Floor: 3-13. There is too much talent on this team for the Niners to do worse than 3-13 or, truthfully, be anywhere close to that bad. Still, if running back Carlos Hyde is ineffective, linebacker NaVorro Bowman has a setback with that knee, and the secondary performs even worse than it did last year ...

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Ceiling: 14-2. Seattle still has the capability to finish as the top seed in the NFC. Three things would most likely happen: 1) Running backs Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael would provide a prolific 1-2 punch. 2) The offensive line would shock everyone. 3) Rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed would contribute immediately.

Floor: 9-7. Last year, plenty went wrong with the Seahawks, but they still finished 10-6. In the floor scenario, Russell Wilson can't put the team on his back for long spurts, plays are forced to Jimmy Graham repeatedly and former left tackle Russell Okung is badly missed (by Wilson).

Click here to see ceiling/floor scenarios for each AFC team.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop