Dec 16, 2012; Toronto, Ontario, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice (18) catches a pass as Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (27) defends during the second half at the Rogers Centre. Canada; Seahawks beat the Bills 50-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

NFC Super Bowl Windows: Opening or Closing?

Time to take a look at how this year’s NFC also-rans are poised to do in the next couple of years…barring a franchise-changing gem:

Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks.

Washington Redskins: Opening Wide but slowly

With Robert Griffin III being the second overall choice as well as a massive trade to land him came huge expectations – ones that he exceeded in spades. Today’s top college QBs are not those of yesteryear. For one, they are no longer receiving the Sam Bradford-like $50 million contracts. It’s less than half of that now, but those lost picks are certainly real enough. The effects will be felt in their draft this year too since they were the picks that the ‘Skins had to deal away to jump the few spots they had to in order to land him.

Rookie QBs are paid less now…but more is demanded of them. Gone are the “rookie season-in-training” where they don’t take a snap and watch and learn on the sidelines for a year. 3 of the 4 “big QB” pickups made the playoffs – RG3 in Washington, Andrew Luck in Indy, and Russell Wilson in Seattle. Ryan Tannehill looked like he wanted to lift the Miami Dolphins up along with stingy defensive play, but that team isn’t quite balanced right just yet. They still showed improvement and were competitive even in most of the games they lost too. Only Brandon Weeden’s presence didn’t really help his team that much…but hey…it IS Cleveland we’re talking about there.

The Redskins also have Alfred Morris who set a franchise record for rushing yards. Not rookie rushing yards…rushing yards. They need to really improve their defense before they become a serious contender and their hands are going to be somewhat tied with their draft being shorthanded, but owner Dan Snyder can and will spend money on a big free agent as he’s done before with mixed results. He has been more restrained in doing so recently but the potential is out there.

Dec 16, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) attempts to make a catch against Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers: Open

Looking at this team’s offense, I see more talent than in any other roster at the WR-QB positions and that’s how this team scores – almost exclusively through the passing game. I do see a trend here, looking back at the AFC list as well, of teams with high-powered offenses and questionable defense. That certainly follows the overall trend in the NFL towards higher scoring and more passing, but I’d like to see this team have at least a HINT of a running threat. The running game will NOT go away in the NFL despite the emphasis on the pass. Why?

Simple. Successful teams (AKA New York Giants last year and both of the Super Bowl teams this year) use the run to slow down the pass rush. Green Bay doesn’t have one and it showed especially in the first half of the season when Uber-QB Aaron Rodgers was being hit, harassed, and sacked a lot more before Mike McCarthy adjusted. They need help on the offensive line and more help on the defense but the offense, when running smoothly, can and has carried this team in the past. I see no real reasons they can’t get back to it with the talent they have, but the margins are going to be very narrow with poor D.

Minnesota Vikings: Open for 3 years

Why 3 years? Because running backs hit their “career wall” at age 30, and Adrian Peterson is 27, that’s why. I still do not know why he wasn’t drafted even higher than he was coming out of Oklahoma, but I had had my eye on him since his freshman season. He was dominant there and then and still is here and now. He had a mind-bending 2,000+ rushing yards – the season following a week 17 ACL and MCL tear in 2010 – and the numbers say he won’t repeat that performance in 2013. Might he get 1,600 or even 1,800? Surely he could…but the point is he won’t add to it from where he is.

The Vikings are the anachronistic team of the bunch. They pound the rock and throw to set up the run. With Peterson, why would you NOT do that? Looking at Christian Ponder’s season, I’d run even without Peterson. Their line added Matt Kalil at the left tackle and he has proven to be a good young anchor on a line that still needs improvement. Heck, this team needs just about everything on paper OTHER than a star RB. They badly need WRs and CBs, help on both sides of the line, linebackers, you name it they can use the help. Adrian Peterson’s running and just enough defense to get in the way allowed this team to sneak into the playoffs, but a bona fide Super Bowl run is unlikely without help at a number of positions. Should they get that help in the next few years, they may be able to put together a season where they compete for the NFC championship. Without it they’ll be lucky to be playing in January in 2014.

Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (33) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons: Closing quicker than you might think

The Falcons are likely losing the top tight end of all time in Tony Gonzalez. Pounding RB Michael Turner was on the downside of his career in 2012 as the Falcons look for someone with similar talents – a “hammer” type back – to replace him as he ages. They do have Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones as a good basis for offense going forward, but the cracks in their running game are apparent now.

They also have trouble stopping the run against big, physical teams and aging DE John Abraham is their only real pass-rusher on an otherwise solid (if a bit vanilla) defense. The biggest hurdle is something completely out of their reach, and his name is Sean Payton. 2012 gave the Falcons a wide-open window as the Saints were sent into turmoil but they’ll be back in everyone’s faces in 2013 and that’s the Falcons’ division, of course. So the road itself will get harder.

Seattle Seahawks: Sky’s the limit

This was the team that was the least likely to be a playoff team on most people’s sheets – including mine – in the NFC before the 2012 season began. Needless to say, we’ve all been treated to the Russel Wilson saga, but this team wins games with defense. If Wilson can become a more consistent threat in the air in 2013, look OUT – they’ve already got the ground game in Beast Mode and the defense has both starting CBs measuring in over 6’2″ – perfect for covering today’s big WRs like Larry Fitzgerald or Brandon Marshall. A solid “D” makes Wilson’s path that of least resistance of any of the young QBs…more room for error if your D 3-and-outs the other team’s offense or doesn’t give up many big plays or points. If they can add some WR talent via free agency, the Seahawks can continue to make noise. They just won’t be sneaking up on anyone.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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