The NFC has had a revolving door of contenders over the past few seasons. A new team seems to come out of nowhere every year to take on the AFC champion, usually the Patriots. This year will be no exception, although several teams could land in the big game after the NFL playoffs.
With so many teams vying for the trophy, however, one may be scarier to face than the rest.
The NFC contenders
Several teams have decent odds to win the conference. The 49ers had an incredible season after years of mediocrity. Jimmy Garoppolo is back and healthy. The defensive unit led by veteran Richard Sherman and rookie Nick Bosa made them a threat in nearly every game.
However, the 49ers did finish the season with all three of their losses in the final weeks of the year. This could be a concern going into the postseason.
The Saints showed they could take punches this season, especially when Drew Brees went down after a hot start. Many expected the team to crumble under Teddy Bridgewater’s arm. To New Orleans’ surprise, he’s had a comeback season and led the Saints to a three-way tie atop the NFC.
Other teams, like the Minnesota Vikings, had good years but face glaring weaknesses this offseason. The Seahawks looked great, but after losing several key players to injury, Russell Wilson would likely need a historic run.
A dark horse like Philadelphia could theoretically sneak into the big game again, but the team was unable to put together consistent play all season. With all of these teams considered, one may hold the key to the title: the Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers’ leadership
After two subpar seasons, including the injury-shortened 2017 campaign, Aaron Rodgers was back this year. Under new head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers ran a more economical offense than in years past, which may have preserved Rodgers. The QB threw for 4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns, and only four interceptions.
Rodgers has a killer instinct that can lift the Packers over opponents by sheer willpower. With the keys to the franchise, he is still one of the scariest quarterbacks even in his mid-thirties. The fact that he did not have to overexert himself to get a 13-3 record should scare anybody.
The rest of the Green Bay Packers
What makes the Packers scary in the NFC is that while the other teams had success, Green Bay showed they could get out of tough situations and win games. In the playoffs, it is far more likely to be a close and gritty game than a blowout. A team that’s faced adversity and hard-fought games is more likely to be ready for these games.
Some may point to the team’s reliance on Aaron Jones on offense — a fair concern. There are deeper offenses in the NFL than the Packers, but this shouldn’t make people complacent. Jamaal Williams showed an ability to play with his big-league teammates as his role grew. And Rodgers is the type of leader who can find a diamond in the rough.
Finally, we have the defense. There have been concerns about inconsistency throughout the season, which could make or break the team. At its best, the defense has kept teams out of the end zone, but they’ve struggled. However, by slowing the game down on both ends, the Packers make this less of a liability than teams may think.
Nobody will have an easy path to the Super Bowl, but the Packers have the right combination of style, experience, and grit to make it through the other teams and come out the other side alive.