Who Scares Me: The State of the NFC Outside of Philly

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We’ve made it. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, have entered uncharted territory. The Eagles occupy the top spot in FootballOutsiders DVOA rankings. They have the best record in the NFL at 9–1 and are listed at 4/1 odds to win the Super Bowl.

Here’s the thing. We haven’t won a playoff game since 2008 (I know I was shocked too) which has naturally turned me into an eternal pessimist. So, despite the recent success, I’m still pessimistic to an extent. Let’s talk about it.

1. New Orleans Saints

Why They Scare Me: History simply. During the Sean Payton era, the Saints have played the Eagles twice in the playoffs. New Orleans beat Philadelphia 27–24 in the 2006 playoffs (although Reggie Bush lost) and they also won 26–24 in the 2013 playoffs. Both of these losses came at the hands of Sean Payton and Drew Brees and while both games were close, they’ve had our number. It goes without saying that Payton is an elite playcaller, Brees is an elite quarterback, and this is one of the most dynamic offenses that New Orleans has ever had. They’ve also done an impressive job revamping their defense over the course of a year. Last season they ranked 31st in defensive DVOA where they rank 8th this year. New Orleans has done an incredible job drafting studs on defense like Marcus Lattimore and defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins while also getting the most out of veterans like defensive end Alex Okafor and Manti Te’o.

Why They Don’t Scare Me: It’s hard to nitpick here because they do scare me, but I’ll make a case. The aforementioned Okafor has been ruled out for the season with an Achilles injury. He was their second best pass rusher outside of Cam Jordan and was doing a great job setting the edge and stopping the run this year as well. They need the support defending the run because they are allowing 115 yards rushing per game. That’s why I think Howie Roseman’s trade deadline deal to get Jay Ajayi looks like a stroke of genius.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Why They Scare Me: Defense wins championships, and Minnesota has a hell of a defense. Their pass rush is scary with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen combining for 15 sacks off the edge. Harrison Smith is arguably the best safety in the NFL, and the having guys like Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, and Linval Joseph doesn’t hurt. Minnesota has done an exceptional job protecting Case Keenum as well. The Vikings currently have the lowest adjusted sack rate in the NFL and have only conceded 10 sacks compared to 24 for Philadelphia. If you give a quarterback ample time to throw to elite (yes, I said elite) level receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, they are going to flourish.

Why They Don’t Scare Me: If someone who has never heard of football took a look at QB advanced stats for this season, they would come to the conclusion that Case Keenum is the best quarterback in the NFL not named Tom Brady. Keenum ranks 3rd in DYAR, 2nd in DVOA, and 2nd in QBR. He’s been incredible for Minnesota this season but as non-analytical as it is, Case Keenum just doesn’t scare me. Undrafted quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme have had success in the playoffs, but until I see Keenum do it he doesn’t scare me one ounce. 

3. Los Angeles Rams

Why They Scare Me: Sean McVay. In McVay’s three seasons as offensive coordinator in Washington, the Eagles went 1–5 against the Skins. This season without him, Philly has beaten Washington twice. He’s already one of the NFL’s premier play callers and has proven he can beat the Eagles. Also, Aaron Donald could be the best football player in the NFL which will scare me every time.

Why They Don’t Scare Me: Much like New Orleans suffering a brutal injury, the Rams lost Jared Goff’s favorite target Robert Woods for an extended period of time. Although Woods may not be done for the season, a lingering shoulder injury could limit LA’s passing offense. Speaking of their passing offense, Jared Goff hasn’t shined in a big spot yet. He posted a QBR of 31.2 against Seattle, 32.8 against Jacksonville, and 52.0 against Minnesota. Also similar to New Orleans, the Rams give up 123 rushing yards per game *cue the Howie Roseman praise*.

4. Atlanta Falcons

Why They Scare Me: Despite the regression, the Falcons offense still scares me. They currently rank 7th in offensive DVOA and although Matt Ryan isn’t playing at the MVP level he showed last year, he’s still a top five quarterback right now. If Steve Sarkisian finds out he has Julio Jones on his team they will become exponentially more scary.

Why They Don’t Scare Me: The Eagles did play Atlanta during Matt Ryan’s MVP season and he only posted a 49.5 QBR in a Falcons 24–15 loss. Atlanta’s offense has regressed while the Eagles defense has gotten a lot better. The Falcons are another team with a vulnerable run defense that Philly can expose *last bit of Roseman praise*. 

5. Carolina Panthers

Why They Scare Me: Even with Jason Peters, Carson Wentz was sacked three times when the Eagles played Carolina in Week 6. The Panthers rank fourth overall in adjusted sack rate. Outside of that, Cam Newton will always scare me.

Why They Don’t Scare Me: Honestly, the Panthers just don’t scare me much at all. Despite Cam’s talent and potential, he threw three interceptions in Week 6. In that game he targeted Kelvin Benjamin 13 times, completing 9 of them for 99 yards. Now Benjamin is in Buffalo. Dynamic rookie Curtis Samuel is out for the season with an ankle injury and I’m not worrying about former high school quarterback phenom Russell Shepard.

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