NFL Training Camp Preview: NFC Division Favorites

NFC East Favorite: Dallas Cowboys (+125)

The Cowboys may be the division favorite, but Dallas will have to prove it’s them, not Philadelphia, who is the team on the rise in the East. Dallas will miss some very familiar faces when players report today, perhaps none more prominent than their former elite wideout.

Amari Cooper was shipped to Cleveland in the offseason after four years and three-straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Big D. It will be CeeDee Lamb’s star set to shine out the loss of Cooper after a breakout 2021 campaign. The former 17th overall pick led the Cowboys with 1,102 receiving yards last year, which followed a successful rookie campaign when he just missed the 1,000-yard mark.

Michael Gallup will also be absent as camp begins. While he signed a $57.5 million deal to stay with the club, Gallup is on the mend after ACL surgery in February.

The offensive line did make huge strides last season to become the number one unit in football but gone are fixtures La’el Collins and Connor Williams. Rookie Tyler Smith will get the call on the left side and the aging starter Tyron Smith had some injury problems last year. Things could get ugly if the O-Line can’t protect Dak Prescott like they failed to do in 2020 when they were the 27th-ranked unit. The last thing Dallas needs is their franchise quarterback to go down again as he did in 2020.

Prescott’s protection and health are paramount with not-so-household names like Cooper Rush, Will Grier, and Ben DiNucci in the Cowboys quarterback club.

The Eagles and Cowboys have the closest odds of any NFC teams in the same division. With a revamped offense featuring receiver AJ Brown and a more-experienced Jalen Hurts, it’s Philly’s division to win and Dallas’ to lose.

Rest of AFC North Division Odds: Philadelphia Eagles (+185), Washington Commanders (+500), New York Giants (+700)

NFC North Favorite: Green Bay Packers (-170)

While the Green Bay Packers have certainly gotten worse after losing receivers Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the rest of the division didn’t get better enough, if it all. With 13 wins last season, the Packers won almost as many games as second-place Minnesota (8), and third-place Chicago won (6) combined.

It would be a miracle if Green Bay’s passing game came close to replicating its 2021 numbers. The Pack were fourth in the league in TD receptions (39), with Adams accounting for 11. Veterans Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb are decent role receivers, but without a true No. 1 elite weapon, Aaron Rodgers will have to make chicken salad out of…well, you know the rest.

If anyone can silence critics and doubters, it’s the polarizing, maybe-kinda sorta vaccinated Rodgers. He’s also shown time and again that he can carry receivers to greatness.

At 6’5″ out of North Dakota State, Christian Watson will be the first young gun in line to hope Rodgers can make him famous. Green Bay took Watson with the second pick of the second round at this year’s draft. The 23-year-old had 66.8 yards per game and seven scores in his senior and final year with the Bison in 2021. If minicamp is any indication, he will have his shot.

Maybe now more than ever, the Packers will have to rely on what was an already outstanding defense in 2021. Linebacker Quay Walker (22nd) and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (28th) are a pair of late first-round draft picks out of Georgia, ready to contribute. These two Bulldogs could make an immediate impact and will have many eyes on them at first practice on Wednesday. Clearly in need or receiving help, Packers brass went with this pair of college teammates, so it appears they are all-in on prioritizing defense now and in the post-Rodgers era.

Take it from the pair themselves.

Rest of NFC North Division Odds: Minnesota Vikings (+300), Detroit Lions (+850), Chicago Bears (+950)

NFC South Favorite: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-270)

No division favorite in the NFC is a better lock coming into training camp than the Bucs. Of course, all of Tampa’s odds got huge boosts when Tom Brady unretired in March.

Without the GOAT, Tampa opened at +2500 to win the Super Bowl, then jumped to +850, and now sits as the NFC’s favorite to win it all at +750. Only the Buffalo Bills have shorter odds at +650.

The Brady-led Bucs also jumped from +1150 to +320 as the top team to win the conference championship. The South was already weak enough for the Bucs to have a good chance at the division without the former Patriot.

FanDuel has Atlanta’s win total at 4.5, the Panthers at 6.5, and the only quasi-threat to the Bucs, New Orleans, at 8.5.

So as it is every year until he really does retire, the top story today will be Brady reporting to camp, and the big story on Wednesday will be Brady at his first “comeback” practice.

Yes, there are holes to fill with Rob Gronkowski retiring for real, at least for now. Long-time Buc Cameron Brate and two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph provide a ton of experience as replacements at tight end. Both are past their prime and on the wrong side of 30, but how better to fool Father Time than with a ball from Brady.

Antonio Brown won’t be catching balls for Tampa or any other NFL team this camp. He also isn’t catching a record deal either, as it’s clear AB should stick to his day job, well, his old day job.

The O-Line is different but somewhat the same for Tom Terrific. Shaq Mason starts his career in Florida after protecting Brady for five years in New England.

Ndamukong Suh, who has only missed two regular-season games in his career, is without a contract after three years in Tampa. The 35-year-old is still out there as a free agent, but the Bucs are banking on another veteran to plug that hole. Former Bear Akiem Hicks will hold down the middle of the D-line.

Rest of NFC South Division Odds: New Orleans Saints (+400), Carolina Panthers  (+950),  Atlanta Falcons (+2500)

NFC West Favorite: Los Angeles Rams (+125)

Fresh off bringing the city their first Super Bowl since the Silver and Black won it all in 1984, the Raiders’ former franchise cousins are again set for the spotlight. The defending champion Rams welcomed players back on Saturday and jumped in with their first practice on Sunday. 

Gone are Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods – here is Allen Robinson. Robinson is coming off the worst full (ish) season of his career after suiting up for 12 games last year. The former Bear put up career-low averages in receiving yards (34.2/per game) and receptions (3.16/per game) and reached the end zone just once, also a personal worst.

In Robinson’s defense, Chicago was awful last year, and their quarterback situation was a mess. Justin Fields, Andy Dalton, and a small sprinkle of Nick Foles combined for the fourth-worst QB rating in the league, and the offense couldn’t move the ball through the air.

The sunny skies of LA come with last year’s fourth-best passing team after Matt Stafford and company put up nearly 5,000 yards through the air. Yes, Beckham and Woods factored in but so did the league’s top receiver. Robinson will line up across from Cooper Kupp, who led the league with a near-record of 1,947 receiving yards. Kupp missed Calvin Johnson’s single-season mark by just one good deep out (17 yards).

Robinson had a renaissance year just two years ago with a much less talented passer than Stafford, so if he can remain healthy, he should have a big year. The early first practice returns could make Rams fans forget about OBJ and Robert Woods.

The defense will look a little different as steadying veteran presence Von Miller shuffled off to Buffalo. Miller is the active career leader in sacks, and LA will miss him on the edge, but they do have a handful of pass rushers that appear poised to step up.

Daniel Hardy is the rookie lion to watch this camp to make a leap. He won’t replace Miller if he makes the team, but he’s an explosive pass rusher and brings that hungry get to the quarterback to feast type of energy.

Speaking of energy, don’t expect Aaron Donald to take any plays off after becoming the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history. After finishing third in last year’s Defensive Player of the Year voting, don’t be surprised to see Donald play with a chip on his shoulder while going for a second-straight ‘ship. Things are looking up when an eight-season vet shows up for the first day of work like AD did below.

Donald will have a new veteran elite defender, in former Seahawk Bobby Wagner, by his side. The talented middle linebacker has been a Pro Bowl selection for eight straight seasons but just turned 32. Wagner hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down with a career-best 170 total tackles last year in Seattle, but it’s bound to happen eventually. He’s had plenty of time to watch LA’s D live and in living color, thanks to 10 seasons as a division rival.

Rest of NFC West Division Odds: San Francisco 49ers (+200), Arizona Cardinals (+300), Seattle Seahawks (+1500)

Odds Courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook