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The 2017 NFL season begins this week and the time for talking is almost at an end as all 32 teams gear up for the new campaign.
The NFC Conference has been extremely competitive over the last decade without the presence of one superpower dominating over the rest.
Two sides that have managed to put themselves as a permanent fixture in the playoffs are the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.
Pete Carroll’s men reached the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons, winning the crown once in 2013 and were denied on the goalline in 2014.
Green Bay have been on the cusp since their Super Bowl triumph in 2010, but have been thwarted in their attempts reach the Vince Lombardi trophy game, losing twice in the NFC Championship game.
The Atlanta Falcons staged a dramatic rise last season to win the NFC crown. Dan Quinn’s men are not going anywhere even after their collapse and defeat to the New England Patriots.
The Conference also features the Dallas Cowboys, who were the number one seed last term. However, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension could loom large for their fortunes.
The New York Giants have pedigree in the post-season, but Eli Manning’s powers appear to be on the wane.
It should be an enthralling race and a lot more interesting than the battle in the AFC, which appears to be incredible one-sided.
We’ll now break down the odds for the leading contenders to reach Super Bowl LII in Minnesota.
Since the arrival of Carroll in the 2010 season, the Seahawks have been contenders to reach the Super Bowl. However, since their defeat at the hands of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, Seattle have lost some of their vigour that brought them success.
Last season there were seeds of discontent on the roster, with members of the defense questioning the offense and the play of Russell Wilson. The team have since claimed those issues were overblown, but it could be a storyline to monitor over the course of the campaign.
The Seahawks’ secondary ‘The Legion of Boom’ remains one of the most dominant units in the NFL. Although concerns are beginning to emerge as Richard Sherman was reportedly available for trade in the off-season, while Earl Thomas will return from a serious injury.
However, the club have bolstered their front seven in a bid to ease the burden on those players. Sheldon Richardson has arrived from the New York Jets in a trade – handing Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard arguably the most potent defensive line in the NFL.
They should be able to generate pressure with relative ease with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark remaining at the peak of their powers. With Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright in the middle of the defense – they should be a top-five unit at the least.
Wilson has improved every season in the NFL. Now is the time that he has to take on more responsibility and put points on the board. He has the talent around in Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and CJ Prosise to enjoy a big season to guide the club to success in the NFC.
As a result, back the Seahawks at odds of 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18 with William Hill to win the Conference.
The story of Green Bay’s failure to reach the Super Bowl since the 2010 campaign has been all about their defense. Dom Capers has remained in his position as defensive coordinator, despite their issues on his side of the ball for a number of years, but the pressure is starting to tell on the organisation.
Aaron Rodgers admitted that he is nearing the end of his career, although he’s still only 33. However, the urgency for the Packers to capitalise on their window of having a Hall of Fame quarterback leading their offense has increased.
During the 2016 regular season the defense was carved up with ease, resulting in the club dropping to 4-6. Rodgers responded to elevate the performance of the offense to lead his side into the playoffs with six-straight wins.
Two more over the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, with further miracle throws from Rodgers, led them into the NFC Championship game. However, Capers and the defensive frailties emerged once again, leading to a demolition at the hands of the Falcons.
The secondary was the source of their downfall and although the Packers drafted Kevin King in the second round there should not be a dramatic improvement. The pass-rush could mitigate their issues as the addition of Ahmad Brooks will offset the loss of Julius Peppers in the off-season.
However, the fortunes of the club will rest on the shoulders of Rodgers once again and his ability to build a lead. He remains 1a and 1b with Tom Brady at the top of the NFL, and with the talent at his disposal he will guide his side into the post-season once again.
At odds of 5/1 6.00 +500 5.00 5.00 -0.20 with PaddyPower they are considered the favourites, but whether they are good enough top-to-bottom to contend with the Seahawks is another matter.
The Cowboys were one of the surprise packages of the NFL last season. The form of their two outstanding rookies quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Elliott drove the club to a 13-3 record and the number one seed in the Conference.
However, they ran into the Packers and Rodgers, who produced several clutch throws late in the game to defeat them at AT&T Stadium. The result extended their absence from the NFC Championship game into its 21st season, despite having secured the first seed twice in that time span.
The campaign provided hope for the future with the talented rookies leading the charge. Prescott performed so well he ousted Tony Romo from the starting job following his return from injury.
The maturity of the 22-year-old over the course of the season was fascinating to watch as he did not cower under pressure in games against quality opponents.
He led the Cowboys to a battling victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and brought them back against the Packers, only losing the contest to the brilliance of Rodgers.
Prescott’s development will take centre stage in the 2017 season due to Elliott’s suspension. If he can lead his team without the presence of the running back, who broke several records and led the league in rushing, the Cowboys will be on course for another strong season.
Defensively Dallas lost a few key players, mainly in their secondary. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has a challenge on his hands to get the unit playing well enough to support the offense.
Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones will have to have impressive seasons, while the defensive front will need to generate pressure. There’s not a great deal of talent, but Marinelli is an excellent coach and has done more with less.
Backing the Cowboys for value at 13/2 7.50 +650 6.50 6.50 -0.15 with Bovada Sportsbook could be a worthwhile punt.
Seattle Seahawks To Win NFC Conference
Odds: 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18
Green Bay Packers To Win NFC Conference
Odds: 5/1 6.00 +500 5.00 5.00 -0.20
Dallas Cowboys To Win NFC Conference
Odds: 13/2 7.50 +650 6.50 6.50 -0.15
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