Training camp is underway which means a fresh start for all 32 NFL teams. The big talk in the NFC is the quarterback competition in Carolina between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield but here are other NFC division storylines to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.
The NFC East was led by the Dallas Cowboys who finished with a 12-5 regular season record. The team traded star wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys now have to make up for the loss of Cooper and the ACL injury to Michael Gallup.
Gallup is the team’s clear number two receiver when healthy but will miss the start of the regular season. This leaves wide receivers James Washington and rookie Jalen Tolbert to fill his spot while out. Will running back Ezekiel Elliott have a great season or will Tony Pollard gain the starter role?
New York Giants
The New York Giants have a quarterback battle between Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor. It may seem like Jones’ job but a few bad games or a bad training camp and Taylor could be the starter. The team also released cornerback James Bradberry. The Giants cornerbacks, Cor’Dale Flott, Aaron Robinson, and Jarren Williams will be looked to fill the void Bradberry left.
The Giants made some good draft picks with defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal. The team looks for consistency out of running back Saquon Barkley. New head coach Brian Daboll will try to revive this team and have them make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Philadelphia Eagles made a major move by trading their first-round draft pick for star Tennessee Titans wide receiver AJ Brown. Adding James Bradberry and Haason Reddick was huge for their defense. The team has competition at the safety position between Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace. The Eagles look for third year quarterback Jalen Hurts to make some leaps with the offense that he has around him.
Also in the NFC East, the Commanders traded for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz. They lost starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to retirement. Commanders star defensive end Chase Young returns from an ACL injury.
The Commanders have a star wide receiver in Terry McLaurin but he will need help and Wentz will need more options than just McLaurin. The team has Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel as their next best options at receiver. Dyami Brown and Cam Sims may also get some targets during the season. The Commanders look for some consistency at the quarterback position.
Green Bay Packers
The NFC North was led by the Green Bay Packers and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who finished with a 13-4 record. The Packers took a major loss with the trading of star wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders. The Packers signed wide receiver Sammy Watkins and drafted wide receiver Christian Watson in the second round of the NFL draft.
The team still has veterans Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard to help Rodgers as well. Only time will tell the toll of losing Davante Adams will have. Always a threat while they have Aaron Rodgers to make a deep playoff run. The Packers have a good defense but now will have a new look offense.
During the offseason the Chicago Bears lost a lot and gained a little. For a breakdown, they lost three wide receivers, two quarterbacks, two defensive linemen, two offensive linemen, and one linebacker. And with those lost, was former All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack and former pro bowl wide receiver Allen Robinson.
The Bears ranked in the top 10 worst offensive lines last season. Teven Jenkins, Lucas Patrick, and Cody Whitehair will return as starters. They also have Ja’Tyre Carter, Julie’n Davenport, Dakota Dozier, Sam Mustipher, and Zachary Thomas to look for snaps on the starting line. The team seems to be in a rebuild and is looking for second year quarterback Justin Fields to make some strides this season. New head coach Matt Eberflus has his work cut out for him.
The Detroit Lions had a tough season last year, finishing with a 3-13-1 record but the team showed some positive signs. They drafted Aidan Hutchinson with the #2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Veteran quarterback Jared Goff also looks to lead a young offense and further prove himself. Second year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown had a great rookie season, and newly added DJ Chark and rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams are all in the receiving mix.
The team has Amani Oruwariye as a clear starter at the cornerback position but the other starter remains in question. Former top draft pick Jeff Okudah has good chances of being the starter but Jerry Jacobs playing well last season makes this an interesting position battle to watch throughout training camp.
The Minnesota Vikings Kirk Cousins had a great season, with 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. This was helped by wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who is coming into his third season. Star running back Dalvin Cook also had a great season, rushing for 1,100 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Cameron Dantzler seems like a lock to be a starting cornerback but future hall of famer Patrick Peterson has some competition for his starting role. Peterson’s toughest competition will come from rookie Andrew Booth Jr. The team finished with a disappointing 8-9 record and missed the playoffs. The Vikings now have first time head coach Kevin O’Connell to lead them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFC South was led by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had a 13-4 overall record. The Bucs star quarterback 44 year old Tom Brady helped lead the team to the second round of the NFL playoffs, where they eventually lost to the Los Angeles Rams 30 to 27. The Bucs notably lost defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to free agency and tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement.
Safety Jordan Whitehead signed with the New York Jets, leaving an opening at the position. Mike Edwards, Keanu Neal, and Logan Ryan are all options to fill the starting strong safety position. Tom Brady will be 45 years old entering the next season and after a brief retirement, he is returning for his 23rd NFL season. New head coach Todd Bowles will try to recapture the previous success of former coach Bruce Arians.
New Orleans Saints
After 15 seasons as the New Orleans Saints head coach, Sean Payton stepped away. This leaves the NFC South wide open. The team added wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Tyrann Mathieu, while drafting wide receiver Chris Olave. The team will have Jameis Winston back at starting quarterback after having a great start to the season with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions but his season ended with a knee injury during week 8.
The team lost starting left tackle Terron Armstead during free agency. The team drafted Trevor Penning to fill the position but if he’s not ready to start, then the more than likely starter will be James Hurst. The possible suspension of star running back Alvin Kamra is something to keep in mind.
The Carolina Panthers made a trade for quarterback Baker Mayfield in early July. The team now has a battle for the starting quarterback position between Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and third round draft pick Matt Corral. A clear starter will be made by week one but for now it is the waiting game. When healthy, the team has high expectations for themselves and their star running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Atlanta Falcons traded away long-term star quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. This is another reason the NFC South is wide open. The team signed veteran quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is in line to be the team’s starter. Mariota is also familiar with head coach Arthur Smith from their time together in Tennessee. It is notable that the Falcons drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round of the draft.
At this point in time there is no indication that Mariota and Ridder are in competition for the starting role. The team does have competition at the linebacker position with Troy Andersen, Rashaan Evans, and Nick Kwiatkoski. More snaps could be available if the team moves on from veteran Deion Jones. The team went 7-10 last season and looks to improve on that this upcoming season.
Los Angeles Rams
The top of the NFC West belonged to the Super Bowl LVI Champion Los Angeles Rams. The Rams finished with a 12-5 overall record. Quarterback Matthew Stafford made an impact in his first season with his new team. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp ended his historic season by becoming the Super Bowl MVP. The Rams lost Von Miller but added Bobby Wagner. The Rams also lost linebacker Ognonnia Okoronkwo to the Texans in free agency. The team will look for Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis to produce at linebacker. They also lost Robert Woods but added Allen Robinson. The team now looks to repeat and win the Super Bowl again.
The Arizona Cardinals finished second in the division with a 11-6 record. The Cardinals lost wide receiver Christian Kirk through free agency but did add wide receiver Marquise Brown through a trade. The team just gave star quarterback Kyler Murray a contract extension. The team’s biggest loss was defensive end Chandler Jones, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders. That loss now leaves his starting role open.
The competition in training camp will be between two newly drafted players, Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas, to try to gain some snaps in the absence of Jones. Also worth noting is the on-going hamstring injury to Marquise Brown and six game suspension of DeAndre Hopkins. This leaves the Cardinals somewhat short-handed at the wide receiver position at the moment.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers finished 3rd in the division but still had a good record of 10-7, earning a wildcard playoff spot. The team still has veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and second year quarterback Trey Lance. The team is moving on from Garoppolo and starting Lance at quarterback for the upcoming season.
The 49ers overachieved by defeating the number three seeded Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs, then defeated the number one seeded Green Bay Packers in the second round, before losing in the NFC Championship game to the Los Angeles Rams. Nick Bosa needs help in pass rushing on his opposite side. The position will be filled by Samson Ebukam or rookie Drake Jackson. The 49ers look to have another successful season and this time with a new starting quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks had a disappointing season, finishing last in the division with a 7-10 record. The team traded star quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Now, the team has Drew Lock and Geno Smith in competition for the starting quarterback role. Geno Smith has the slight edge because he played as a starter last season while Russell Wilson was injured. Lock has more potential than Smith does at this stage in their careers. Head coach Pete Carroll may have a tough decision to make before the season begins.