Scout NFL Roundtable: NFC Playoffs

Our NFL team experts weigh in on which NFC team they think will qualify for the playoffs this year that didn't make it in 2006. And they also make their prediction of which playoff team from last season is most likely to drop out of the race in 2007.

"Last year's NFC playoff teams were the Bears, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks, Cowboys and Giants. Which team that didn't make the playoffs last year is the most likely to make it this year ... and at which team's expense?"

That's the question we posed to our Scout NFL team experts. Twelve of them participated in this roundtable debate, and while the Giants were the overwhelming favorite to drop out of playoff contention, you might be surprised by some of the other choices who our experts think will be in -- and out -- of the NFC playoffs in 2007.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

The new team in the 2007 playoffs has to be the -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- Arizona Cardinals. 

Okay, I can't say it. Make it the Rams.

I thought about the Cardinals, but every time I pick them they fall flat. I think St. Louis has enough talent and a QB who can shred defenses in a system that he's capable of thriving in. With their running game and improved defense, I think the Rams get there.

There are a few teams from last year I can see falling short in 2007. The one that jumps out immediately is the Giants. With a coach on the hot seat who no one wants to listen to, a group of players with tongues loose enough to cause controversy at the drop of a dime and questions at major positions -- QB, RB, OL, DL -- I'd be very surprised if they break .500.

Doug Farrar,
Seattle Seahawks

I think the Giants are the "gimme" pick here – it's almost a question of who else would get booted from that list. I've been on the "Eli is Overrated" soapbox since he was folding under pressure back at Ole Miss, and now he doesn't have Tiki for those little halfback dump-offs anymore. Now, it's nothing but jump balls to Plax, right? Factor in several other personnel issues (such as the absence of anything resembling a left tackle) and the true horribleness of Tom Coughlin, and I think the G-Men could be looking at a very early draft pick for their next head coach in 2008.

It's entirely possible that as the Seahawks took advantage of a horrid NFC West in 2006, the 49ers could do the same in 2007. Of course, San Francisco's return to the playoffs would kick Seattle out as well, since there's no way that division has two playoff teams. I like what Mike Nolan and the front office have been doing over the last couple of years, and if their new receiver corps give Alex Smith a reliable set of targets, that's a team that could surprise. Look for improvement on the defensive side, as Nolan finally has the players in place to run his preferred 3-4 defense on a full-time basis.

Alain Poupart,
Miami Dolphins

David Carr and Jake Delhomme
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
It would seem the Giants are the most likely NFC playoff team to be on the outside looking in unless Eli Manning takes a major leap forward to carry an offense that no longer has do-it-all back Tiki Barber. 

Not happening. This is a team actually that might be lucky to win six games.

As for the team most likely to take the Giants' place, I think you have to go with Carolina because of a defense that has the potential to be among the best in the league. Jake Delhomme is coming off a brutal year, but the Panthers now have David Carr to turn to if things go awry on offense and you will see him pick up his game now that he's out of Houston.

Dan Leberfeld,
New York Jets

I think Seattle is going to miss the playoffs. Their offensive line has a number of questions marks, and I think they will miss wide receiver Darrell Jackson. Their tight end position is also a little shaky.

I think the Detroit Lions are going to shock people and make the playoffs this year. They had a terrific offseason. Their passing game is going to be almost unstoppable with Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey. This offseason Rod Marinelli got rid of some guys who weren't buying into the program. It looks like they are poised to do some good things this year.

Ken Palmer,
New York Giants

Don't laugh. This is going to be the year of the Cardinals. Not only are the Birds going to rise from the proverbial ashes and win the NFC West, but they're going to make a little noise in the playoffs as well. Yes, they had all the offensive weapons in place last season, but this season they'll be able to jell and put up some impressive numbers.

With Matt Leinart and Edgerrin James behind center and a stud receiving corps that includes Larry Fitzgerald, Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin, all the Cardinals needed was an offensive line. They went a long way toward solidifying their offensive front with the selection of former Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown with their first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. DT Alan Branch and LB Buster Davis were drafted to solidify the defense. Having one of the game's best up-and-coming kickers in Neil Rackers shouldn't hurt any either.

As for which team's spot they're going to take, that one's real easy. The Tiki- and left tackle-less Giants will be lucky to win six games this season, let alone contend for a postseason spot.

Tim Yotter,
Minnesota Vikings

With Tom Coughlin running point, it's hard to predict what sort of buy-in factor the players will have, and the New York Giants seem like a franchise that is ready to rebuild. It just might take the 2007 season for those in the organization to see it that way. Eli Manning still has doubters, and the prediction here is that he won't be able to overcome the loss of Tiki Barber at running back. Defenses will feel less compelled to respect the run, and they might never have to respect Manning's passing game if he doesn't emerge this year.

On the flip side, the candidates to replace the New York Giants in the playoffs are hardly inspiring or clear-cut, but San Francisco is an organization that looks to be on the rise. Alex Smith is still developing at quarterback, and it certainly helps him to have a productive back like Frank Gore to balance the attack. The big questions will be centered on the emergence of tight end Vernon Davis and the how effective wide receiver Ashley Lelie can be. Positive answers on those two fronts should put the 49ers in the playoffs.

Todd Korth,
Green Bay Packers

Look for the Green Bay Packers to return to the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2004. Under second-year head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers are coming off a four-game winning streak to end the 2006 season. Brett Favre has returned to lead an offense that has a solid line and Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver. 

The Packers' defense made big improvement over the second half of last season, and GM Ted Thompson bolstered the line by selecting DT Justin Harrell with the team's top pick in the recent NFL draft.

Dallas is the team that will not return to the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys will have to adapt to new coach Wade Phillips' schemes on offense and defense before they perform at a playoff level.

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

Anquan Boldin
(AP Photo/Matt York)
The obvious choice for which team won't be returning to the playoffs in 2007 is the New York Giants. The Giants lost what was arguably their best player in Tiki Barber and they have major question marks on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Giants secondary is a question mark, and their linebackers are unimpressive. The jury is still out on whether or not Eli Manning will take his game up to the next level. The Giants could be picking in the top five in next year's NFL Draft.

The team that will most likely replace them in the playoffs is a little more questionable. I've been fooled before with these guys, but I like them enough to get fooled again. My choice is the Arizona Cardinals. They have a fantastic set of skill players on offense in Leinart, Fitzgerald, Boldin, and James, and they used a first round pick on Levi Brown to shore up the offensive line. The Cards have a very underrated defense led by one of the best safeties that most people don't know -- Adrian Wilson. The stench of losing will no longer exist in Glendale as the Cards have hired Ken Whisenhunt as their new head coach -- a proven winner at the coordinator level.

Brad Keller,
Arizona Cardinals

While I feel that the NFC playoff picture will look significantly different in 2007, the team most likely to drop out is the New York Giants. With the retirement of Tiki Barber, the offense loses its anchor and Eli Manning's security blanket. Add in an aging defense, a lame duck staff, and a division that continues to improve, and you've got the Giants on the outside looking.

Since I refuse to get stuck on the Cardinals bandwagon once again this year, I am going to stay in the division and say that the Rams will be the most likely newcomer out of several new entrants to the postseason tournament from the NFC. Scott Linehan is building something special in St. Louis and should see real results in year two with a number of playmaking receivers, a workhorse back, a young and improving defense, and a green offensive line that started to get its sea legs towards the end of last season. The Seahawks will take a step back and the Cardinals and 49ers are still a year away. This is the year for the Rams.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers will be back in the NFC playoffs after a four-year hiatus, and this isn't a homer selection from someone who has covered the team for two decades. In year three of the Mike Nolan reclamation project, the shrewd moves and calculated patience of the Nolan regime is building a winner, and the Niners -- after another offseason talent upgrade that has brought in as many as eight new starters -- will creep to the top in a tightly-packed NFC West. The 49ers were a bad, then mediocre team that overachieved in the win column during Nolan's first two seasons, but this year their record will reflect a good young team that is arriving on schedule.

In a three-way tie of 9-7 teams atop the NFC West, the 49ers and Seahawks advance to the postseason ahead of the Cardinals based on tie-breakers, with one of them bumping the free-falling New York Giants from the NFC's playoff derby. The Giants had a nice little window of opportunity the past few seasons with Tiki Barber's career-finishing flourish, but they weren't really a playoff-worthy team when the postseason rolled around last year.  Life without a franchise back will stagnate their offense while their aging defense that was barely hanging on at the end last season sets the stage for a 2007 unraveling.

Matthew Postins,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The team that will drop out is an easy choice -- the New York Giants. This team has such a small margin for error with the retirement of running back Tiki Barber. And there are questions galore. Can Eli Manning take the heat? Will Tom Coughlin be a distraction? Can Brandon Jacobs carry the rushing load? Can Amani Toomer, at 33, still be effective? Is Michael Strahan on the downhill slide?

There are three good candidates to take their spot, but I give the nod to St. Louis. The Rams have a future MVP in Steven Jackson, one of the league's most accurate quarterbacks in Marc Bulger and a still-solid receiving tandem of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They added Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael in the offseason and the line is young and emerging. The selection of Adam Carriker should help defensive coordinator Jim Haslett solve the Rams' inefficiency in run defense last year.

Denis Savage,
Oakland Raiders

The New York Giants didn't deserve to make the playoffs last year, and they won't come close to sniffing the postseason in 2007. The indecisiveness of Eli Manning and his desire to throw jump balls to Plaxico Burress are a detriment, but not having the locker room leadership of Tiki Barber to calm the likes of Jeremy Shockey and the other vocal members of the squad will be the ultimate reason for their demise.

A new coach and a new attitude makes the Arizona Cardinals a team to fear. It has been the popular choice for years, producing zero "told you so" comments from the writing world.  While everyone else jumps off this bandwagon, I am hopping on. Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grim will be a formidable tandem atop the coaching ranks, and there was finally an emphasis placed on the offensive line. They have some great young players, and this is the season that everything comes together for their run to the postseason.

Scout NFL Network Top Stories