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Inside the NFL | NFL season grinds on as NFC contenders start to emerge

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 06:11

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The quarterback controversy brewing in San Francisco between now-starter Colin Kaepernick (7) and Alex Smith is just one of the many issues facing the NFC’s best teams.

 

Don’t look now, but it is already Week 13 of the NFL season. With Thanksgiving football in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start getting ready for the NFL playoffs. So far, in 2012, the NFC has dominated the AFC, posting a 27-19 record in inter-conference play and boasting 11 teams with a record of 5-6 or better. 

It should be fun to watch the last five weeks of the regular season unfold, as each of these teams wrestles for the top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With that in mind, here are the top contenders in the NFC, and where they stand heading into the final stretch of the season. 

Atlanta Falcons, 10-1

Despite owning the best record in the conference, the Falcons have flown somewhat under the radar thus far in 2012. Behind quarterback Matt Ryan’s breakout season and the NFL’s best receiving core of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons own the NFL’s second-best passing offense, which has offset the sudden disappearance of starting running back Michael Turner. 

However, seven of the Falcon’s 10 wins have been by less than one touchdown, suggesting that they’ve had quite a bit of luck en route to their nearly undefeated record. Atlanta will need to reestablish its running game and continue making stops on defense in key situations or they might be looking at a quick exit in the playoffs. 

San Francisco 49ers, 8-2-1

The 49ers are among the first in NFL history to force a quarterback controversy upon themselves during a season in which they’re considered among the top contenders for the Super Bowl. Following starting quarterback Alex Smith’s Week 10 concussion, backup Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a thrashing of the Chicago Bears, connecting on 16-of-23 pass attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns. 

The week after the victory, coach Jim Harbaugh said that he wasn’t sure who would start as quarterback when Smith returned and would decide the starter on a week-by-week basis, and yesterday named Kaepernick the starter for this Sunday, leaving Smith upset. Even though San Francisco’s success is predicated on its stellar defense, a quarterback controversy is the last thing any team wants, especially with the playoffs looming.

Chicago Bears, 8-3

As has been the case for the past few years, the success of the Bears is tied to the health of starting quarterback Jay Cutler. When he’s healthy, the combination of his arm, running back Matt Forte, and a dominant defense can beat any team in the league. 

But if he’s injured, as he has been multiple times over the last several years, including this season, the Bears will have trouble making it past the first round. No matter what happens, Chicago must set its sights on acquiring help on the offensive line in the off season, as the line’s inconsistent play is behind all of Cutler’s various ailments and injuries.

New York Giants, 7-4

The Giants formula for success is clear: start the season off strong, stumble in November, and sneak into the playoffs as the struggling underdog that can be overlooked by its opponent. When they are playing well, the Giants seem unstoppable, but they seem to struggle to maintain a level of consistent play every game. That being said, no one would bet against Eli Manning with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

Green Bay Packers, 7-4 

Despite a multitude of injuries on both sides of the ball, the Packers stand at 7-4, just one game behind the Bears for first place in the NFC North division. Much of the team’s success can be attributed to last season’s MVP Aaron Rodgers, who is putting together another fantastic season.

Rodgers also leads the league with a 105.6 passer rating and has thrown for 28 touchdowns with a 66.5 completion percentage. But, after a big loss against the Giants in Week 12, it is clear that Green Bay must shore up the holes on its defense if it wants to make noise against the NFL’s best teams. 

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