We’re near the midway point of the 2012 NFL season.
So let’s go team-by-team in the NFC and analyze how each has performed so far this season, and how they look for the immediate future.
Atlanta Falcons: Record 7-0
The Falcons came off their bye and looked like the best team in the NFL.
Matt Ryan returned home to Philadelphia, and it was quite the homecoming. He threw three touchdowns and led the Falcons to six straight scoring drives to start the game in their 30-17 win.
They host the struggling Dallas Cowboys in week 9 looking for the franchise’s first 8-0 start in team history.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Record 3-4
The Bucs went into Minneapolis and put a beatdown on the Vikings on Thursday night. Rookie running back Doug Martin had his coming out party with 214 yards of offense on the ground and through the air, adding two touchdowns.
With Atlanta holding a four-game lead in the division, the wildcard looks like the only road to the post season for Tampa Bay. With the extra time off this week, a cross country trip to Oakland is a game the Bucs should win and get back to .500.
New Orleans Saints: Record 2-5
The Saints have their first interim head coach back on Joe Vitt. He finished serving his six-game suspension for his role in “bounty gate,” but his debut didn’t go well by any means. Peyton Manning and the Broncos had their way with the Saints historically bad defense, putting up 34 points and over 500 yards of offense.
The Saints are the first team in NFL history to surrender over 400 yards of offense in their first seven games. That trend could continue Monday night when they host the explosive weapons of the Philadelphia Eagles, who average close to 400 yards per game.
Carolina Panthers: Record 1-6
In Week 8, Cam Newton threw a costly interception and the Panthers defense couldn’t hold the Chicago Bears out of field goal range, thus allowing kicker Robbie Gould to boot the game-winning field goal.
The Panthers came into the season as the NFC’s sexy pick for the playoffs, but everything has fallen apart. Newton is in a sophomore slump, the defense is struggling in all phases, and now the general manager has been shown the door. Head coach Ron Rivera could be next to go.
New York Giants: Record 6-2
The Giants have started to find their rhythm with back-to-back wins within the division. Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career, and Hakeem Nicks is finally starting to get healthy.
Safety Stevie Brown has stepped in for the injured Kenny Phillips and has been a playmaker ever since. He finished Sunday’s game with two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Now the Steelers visit the Giants following Hurricane Sandy. It’ll be interesting to see how the storm affects Pittsburgh’s travel plans this week heading to New York.
Philadelphia Eagles: Record 3-4
It sure seems like the end of an era in Philly.
Andy Reid’s team looked confused and disengaged in their week seven loss to the undefeated Falcons. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had no answer for Atlanta’s offense, and now Michael Vick may be benched in favor of rookie Nick Foles.
Reid is searching for answers, and the Saints historically bad defense could be the answer. As long as the Eagles’ defense can slow down Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game, Philly has a chance. There could be a lot of fireworks next Monday night in the big easy.
Dallas Cowboys: Record 3-4
Dallas experienced the toughest loss of the season for perhaps any team last week. Dez Bryant thought he had caught the winning touchdown Sunday against the Giants, only to find out through review that his fingertips landed out of bounds.
Quarterback Tony Romo threw another four interceptions and now as a league leading 13. Heading into the Georgia Dome to battle the undefeated Falcons, things look to be slipping away for Jerry Jones’ boys.
Washington Redskins: Record 3-5
It might have been the Steelers’ terrible bumble bee throwback uniforms as much as the defense, but rookie sensation Robert Griffin III had his worst game in his young career. The real problem for Washington is their defense, which was torched by Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdowns.
Griffin will have a good opportunity to get back on track this week against the one-win Panthers and last year’s rookie phenom Cam Newton.
Chicago Bears: Record 6-1
The Bears struggled more on Sunday with the Panthers than many expected.
For the majority of the season Chicago’s defense has been dominant and Jay Cutler has been impressive, specifically with the chemistry he has with wide out Brandon Marshall.
The Bears should be able to keep their momentum going this week with a visit to Tennessee who has played terrible defense all year.
Minnesota Vikings: Record 5-3
The Vikings have been one of the pleasant surprises in 2012, jumping out to a 4-1 start. They’ve come back down to earth a bit as of late, however, and they were manhandled by the Buccaneers at home on Thursday night.
Adrian Peterson looks like his old self despite coming off major knee surgery, and second year quarterback Christian Ponder has taken a step forward this season.
Tough matchup for Minnesota this week as they travel to Seattle. It’ll be tough sledding in one of the loudest stadiums in the league. They need to play well to keep pace with the Bears and Packers within the division.
Green Bay Packers: Record 5-3
The Packers are starting to look like the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers has been playing like the reigning MVP the last view weeks and leads the league in passer rating. His receiving core is devastated with injuries, and his top wide out Greg Jennings will be out for awhile, which might have had something to do with the early struggles Sunday against the woeful Jaguars.
Green Bay hosts the struggling Cardinals in week nine. This could be a big day for the defense against Arizona’s 31st ranked offense.
Detroit Lions: Record 3-4
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was a non factor on Sunday, but Titus Young stepped up to make the game-winning play against Seattle. Johnson is going to have to shake all the double coverage he faces every week if the Lions are going to keep pace in a tough division.
The Lions have very little room for error the rest of the way. A date with the Jaguars in Jacksonville this week looks like a great opportunity to get on a roll heading into the second half of the season.
San Francisco 49ers: Record 6-2
Heading into their bye week following a dominant performance Monday night in Arizona, the 49ers are in great position to run away with the NFC West. The defense is as ferocious as it was in 2011, and the offense has played more consistently this year.
Head coach Jim Harbough has changed the culture in San Francisco. They’ll be playing for home field advantage the rest of the season.
Arizona Cardinals: Record 4-4
Arizona’s four straight wins to open the season seem like a distant memory.
Their defense was dominant to begin the year but has struggled as of late. The offense is second to last in the league in yards per game, they are still unsettled at quarterback, and they have no running game to speak of with injuries to their top two backs.
Things don’t get any easier for the Cardinals as they head to Lambeau Field this week for a date with the surging Packers.
Seattle Seahawks: Record 4-4
Seattle endured a tough loss on Sunday as they gave up a last minute touchdown to the Lions.
The Seahawks own the top-ranked defense in the league and have shut down some impressive offenses this year, including the Cowboys and Packers. But rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has struggled at times, and teams are loading up to slow down running back Marshawn Lynch.
Wilson will need play more consistently for the Seahawks to keep pace in the division as well as the conference.
St. Louis Rams: Record 3-5
Head Coach Jeff Fisher has brought a new attitude to St. Louis. His defense has improved greatly, specifically in the secondary with cornerback Cortland Finnegan (who came over from Tennessee in the offseason) and the drafting of rookies Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
Unfortunately, the offense has struggled to score points. Former 1st overall pick Sam Bradford hasn’t taken the leap in his development yet that many expected. In his defense, Bradford is working with his 3rd offensive coordinator since he entered the league just a few years ago.