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NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 1 edition


For those of you who are new here, we do a “Hierarchy/Obituary” post every week during the season, in which we kill off teams that have reached the point where they have almost no chance to make the playoffs. We then write their obituary and never speak of them in the Hierarchy again.¬†

Anyway, it’s my hackneyed sell-out spin on the more traditional “power rankings.” Got it? Cool. Let’s do this.

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16) Falcons (7-10 in 2021): This roster is awful. They have Kyle Pitts, and A.J. Terrell is a good corner. Otherwise… ūü§Ę.

On obvious passing downs, the way their defense is currently constructed, their front four is probably Lorenzo Carter, Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham (?), and rookie Arnold Ebiketie. That quartet had 6 combined (NFL) sacks in 2021.

I know some people believe Matt Ryan is cooked, but it’s impressive that he somehow won seven games with this team in 2021.¬†

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15) Bears (6-11 in 2021): The Bears’ offensive line looks like this heading into the season:

LT  LG  C  RG  RT 
Braxton Jones  Cody Whitehair  Lucas Patrick  Teven Jenkins  Larry Borom 

Braxton Jones is a fifth-round rookie out of Southern Utah that I actually liked as a developmental prospect, but to have to step right in and start at LT from Day 1 and block Nick Bosa? Yikes. The combination of Jones and Larry Borom at tackle cannot be settling to Justin Fields.¬†This is one of a handful of teams where I would rather have the Eagles’ second-string offensive line over their starters.

And then even when Fields does get protection, he’ll be throwing to a trio of receivers in Darnell Mooney,¬†Equanimeous St. Brown, and Byron Pringle. They’re not going to score many points.¬†

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14) Seahawks (7-10 in 2021): Previously, there were five teams with multiple first-round picks in 2023, which we’ll place in order of 2022 draft position:

  1. Lions
  2. Texans
  3. Seahawks
  4. Dolphins
  5. Eagles

There are now four teams with multiple first-round picks after the Dolphins were stripped of one of theirs for tampering. I think the team that benefits the most from that is Seattle, a team that will definitely be shopping for a new quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.

I respect their plan. They could have improved their quarterback situation in 2022 by trading for some mediocre guy like Baker Mayfield, and had a few more empty wins in 2022. Instead, they had a quarterback competition between Geno Smith and Drew Lock, eventually won by Smith. 

The Seahawks are going to lose a crapton of games in 2022, which should really be the goal, putting them in position for Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis, or whatever other 2023 quarterback prospect they like. But 2022 will be ugly. Prediction: When the Seahawks are basically eliminated from playoff contention in Week 12, there will be plenty of Seattle dorks who wear “12” jerseys who go mountain biking on Sunday instead of showing up to games.¬†

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13) Giants (4-13 in 2021): The Giants have been tabbed as a potential “surprise” team in the NFC this season. Uhhhh… OK.

If so, they would be a surprise to Giants GM Joe Schoen, who said, “It’s the hand we were dealt” in regard to the challenges that he has faced fixing the roster since taking over for Dave Gettleman. His full quote, via the Giants’ website:

“We like the guys that are here ‚Äď the 53 players that are on the roster. We’re working on the practice squad. Again, the situation that we’re in, I’m sure you guys will ask, but we’ll have to restructure something here going into next week. So, that’ll answer some of your salary cap questions. That’s something we’ll do. We’re still working through a couple different scenarios, so we’ll get where we need to get where we can get through the season. But the situation’s the situation. It’s the hand we were dealt, and we’re going to do the best we can with what we have. And again, that’s the waiver wire, the practice squad, whatever it may be, with what we can. We’re going to continue to try to compete and do the best we can.”

“The 2022 Giants:¬†We’re going to continue to try to compete and do the best we can.”

At least they’re realistic.

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12) Lions (3-13-1 in 2021): At the end of the first half in the Eagles’ win over the Lions a season ago, for some insane reason Dan Campbell decided to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Eagles’ 22 yard line with 13 seconds to play instead of kicking a field goal. They ran an empty-backfield play and Jared Goff was sacked by Milton Williams. Eagles ball, no points.

If the Lions had converted the first down without scoring a touchdown, then what exactly was the benefit? They’d turn an already easy field goal attempt into a slightly easier one?

I don’t want to hold one insane decision against the guy for life, but, I mean, any 12-year-old playing Madden wouldn’t make that mistake. Campbell is tied for the second-best odds to win NFL Coach of the Year honors in 2022, and it’s because morons are impressed by speeches like this:¬†

Am I taking crazy pills or was pretty much everything he said from the 1:09 mark on pretty much just complete nonsense? Look at the 2:20 mark, with Jared Goff sitting there with a pen and an empty notepad, lol. 

The Lions are young, and they may very well play hard for their head coach, but will they play smart?

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11) Panthers (5-12 in 2021): You can squint and make a case that the Panthers could sneak in as a wild card team if a lot of things go right for them in 2022. Mayfield is certainly an upgrade over Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffery is returning to the lineup, and they have some decent receivers in D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson. Defensively, they have some guys who can get to the quarterback, and they have a trio of uber-athletic corners in Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and C.J. Henderson.

Of course, getting wrecked in the first-round of the playoffs is their ceiling, and that outcome will only keep Matt Rhule in place for another year, which probably isn’t ideal.

The offensive line remains a major concern.

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10) Commanders (7-10 in 2021):¬†The Commanders are being led by a mentally soft quarterback and a dumbass defensive coordinator who called January 6 a “dustup,” while their owner spent the entirety of the summer dodging subpoenas on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

They lost their best offensive lineman in free agency, and their best defensive player is still recovering from a torn ACL. Otherwise, they have holes at several positions (notably linebacker), they lost depth along their previous stacked defensive line, and they might be without a starting safety for a while.

And yet, we still only have them as the seventh-worst team in this absolutely horrendous NFC. 

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9) Cardinals (11-6 in 2021): The Cardinals’ offense is old. They have five projected Week 1 starters who are at least 30 years of age or older:

WR A.J. Green: 34.1
C Rodney Hudson: 33.2
RT Kelvin Beachum: 33.2
LG Justin Pugh: 32.0
TE Zach Ertz: 31.8

Add in the suspended DeAndre Hopkins (30.2), and they have six.

It’s a poorly kept secret around the NFL that Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t exactly sold on Kyler Murray. Fitzgerald, of course, was a consummate pro for 17 NFL seasons, while Murray had to have a homework clause put into his contract (that was hilariously taken out after public ridicule).¬†

Take this with an appropriate grain of salt, as it is not coming directly from Fitzgerald himself, but former NFL WR Greg Jennings went on the Colin Cowherd show and said this of Fitzgerald and Murray in March (via sportscasting.com): 

You can’t pay him. [The Cardinals] created this problem. And my good friend Larry Fitzgerald, he loves the organization, and, obviously, everyone there loves him. But I remember sitting down and talking to him and asking him bout Kyler. And he said one of the things that he felt was that they rolled out the red carpet too soon. Too soon for a young guy. They gave him everything that he wanted. Anything. He had free reign, and it started to show in his personality and the way he carried himself. When you do that, when you make that decision early, you set yourself up to fail.

That actually sounds like a certain quarterback who used to play in Philadelphia, but I digress.

If Murray can’t stop playing “Call of Duty,” that’s not going to fly with a half dozen 30-somethings in the starting lineup.

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8) Vikings (8-9 in 2021): Kirk Cousins is my “prime meridian” quarterback, so it’s only fitting that his team serves as roughly the dividing line between the top half and bottom halves of the NFC.¬†

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7) Saints (9-8 in 2021): The Saints made three significant trades this offseason. Two were with the Eagles, and one was with the Commanders. Here’s a roundup of what the Saints gave up in those three trades, and what they got in return:

 Saints gave up Saints received 
18th overall pick, 2022  11th overall pick, 2022 (Chris Olave) 
First-round pick, 2023  19th overall pick, 2022 (Trevor Penning)  
 Second-round pick, 2024 Sixth-round pick, 2022 (Jordan Jackson) 
Third-round pick, 2022  Fifth-round pick, 2023 
Third-round pick, 2022¬† The lesser of the Eagles’ sixth-round picks, 2024¬†
Fourth-round pick, 2022   
Seventh-round pick, 2022   
Seventh-round pick, 2025   
DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson   

My analysis: Sean Payton and Drew Brees masked a bad front office over the last 15 years, and this team is eventually going to fall hard.

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6) Cowboys (12-5 in 2021): The Cowboys’ likely starting offense:

QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ezekiel Elliott
WR: CeeDee Lamb
WR: Michael Gallup (eventually)
WR: Jalen Tolbert?
TE: Dalton Schultz
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Tyler Smith
C: Tyler Biadasz
RG: Zack Martin
RT: Terence Steele

This is the worst supporting cast that Prescott has had in his professional career, by far. 

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5) 49ers (10-7 in 2021): The 2021 49ers won two playoff games in spite of bad quarterback play from Jimmy Garoppolo, and nearly got to the Super Bowl if not for a dropped Jaquiski Tartt INT.

A probably unanswerable question is what the Niners’ 2021 season would have looked like if they had just played Trey Lance all season and let him learn on the job. Could he have guided San Francisco to the 10-7 record they had with Jimmy G? And if so, would they still have won the two playoff games in which their defense was dominant?

Regardless of what the Niners’ 2021 might have been otherwise, it’s hard to argue that Lance would probably be in a better position to succeed in 2022 if he had gotten more experience in 2021.¬†

Bringing Garoppolo back on an adjusted one-year deal makes sense in some ways, as they’ll have one of the best backups in the NFL, and outright releasing him wouldn’t do them much good. But it’s also a “half measure” commitment to Lance, and potentially creates a situation in which players might feel like the team has a better chance of winning with the popular Garoppolo should Lance stub his toe along the way.

Great roster (QB aside), tough team, questions galore.

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4) Eagles (9-8 in 2021): The Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, one of their best wide receiving corps in team history, a potential breakout top-five type of tight end, and the reigning No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL. The question is whether the guy running the show, Jalen Hurts, can get the most out of his surrounding cast.

Defensively, the Eagles have a deep and talented defensive line with diversified skill sets, a linebacker group that for the first time in years may not be a liability, one of the better cornerback trios in the NFL, and a safety tandem that is now promising with the addition of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The question is whether the guy running the show, Jonathan Gannon, can get the most out of his compelling cast.

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3) Packers (13-4 in 2021): The Packers have a very good defense, and, you know, Aaron Rodgers. Pencil them in for 12-plus wins again, even without Davante Adams. 

Their last 11 seasons have ended in losses, though, and none of them have come in the Super Bowl.

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2) Buccaneers (13-4 in 2021): The interior of the Buccaneers’ offensive line in 2021 vs. 2022:

 Bucs iOL 2021  2022 
LG  Ali Marpet  Luke Goedeke 
C  Ryan Jensen  Robert Hansey 
RG  Alex Cappa  Shaq Mason 

Marpet retired, Jensen suffered a knee injury that will keep him out a while, and Cappa signed with the Bengals in free agency. The Bucs will have offensive line continuity concerns, and the loss of Jensen is particularly troubling.

Jensen and Jason Kelce are probably the two best centers in the NFL, but they’re very different. Kelce, as you know, is an athletic phenom who can do things on the perimeter and down the field that no other center in the league can do. Jensen is a big, tough, physical center at 6’4, 319, who does not retreat in pass protection. He engages with defenders close to the line of scrimmage, giving Tom Brady breathing room to pick defenses apart from clean pockets. A quick sampling:

Tom Brady becomes human when you can pressure him up the middle, right in his face.

The Bucs’ defense should continue to be very good, but there are plenty of question marks on their previously elite offense.¬†

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1) Rams (12-5 in 2021, ūüŹÜ):¬†The Rams’ 2022 opponents had a combined record of 164-125 (0.567) last season, which gives them the hardest schedule in the NFL.¬†Or if you prefer your strength of schedule analytics to be based off of Vegas win-loss projections,¬†it’s the second-hardest schedule in the NFL, and still the hardest schedule in the NFC.

This roster is still pretty loaded, but they’re going to get maximum effort from every team they face this season. The last repeat NFL champions were the Patri*ts, in 2003 and 2004, and they had to cheat to do it.


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