What is biggest strength for each NFC division leader?

Sep 24, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrates with wide receiver Michael Thomas (13), quarterback Drew Brees (9) and running back Mark Ingram (22) after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC is going to be fun to watch down the stretch. The Eagles are 8-1. The Vikings are 7-2. The Saints and Rams are 7-2. The Panthers and Seahawks have three losses each. These four division-leading teams combined have won 27 games in a row. I don’t know if it’s fair to call the conference top-heavy. I do know it’s fair to assume these are the best teams in the conference in some order. Today we’ll talk about the biggest strength for each team.


Converting in the red zone

It’s one thing to move the ball up and down the field on opponents. It’s another to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. This year the Eagles are the best team in the NFL at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They’re converting a ridiculous 72 percent. The NFL average is near 53 percent. Carson Wentz has the second-highest QB rating in these situations:

Wentz is making smart decisions. It helps to have options like Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. The Eagles have a top-10 offense and defense. As long as they keep converting in the red zone, they have an opportunity to go a long way this year. Wentz has shown he’ll protect the ball and make plays. There’s not much reason to think this will slow down as the season goes along.


Dynamic Duo

Minnesota’s run defense is excellent. That’ll go a long way toward playing late into January. What I think will help them this year more than ever is a dynamic duo at wide receiver. Considering the inevitable — Case Keenum coming back down to earth, or Teddy Bridgewater playing with rust — having two legitimate threats on the perimeter will help this offense put up points.

Adam Thielen has been a revelation. He’s tall, athletic and fast. He does a very good job of adjusting to the ball in the air but he’s also a good route runner. Stefon Diggs is a tremendous route runner who is probably a step or two faster than Thielen and take it to the house every time he touches it. Both are big-play threats who win with technique as well.

In the playoffs, or when it matters, teams need to convert on third down. Having two threats on the outside in a league where most teams don’t have two good corners means “advantage offense.” The Vikings have the best receiver duo in the league.


Rushing attack

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how the Saints’ pass defense has gone to another level. Right after they traded Adrian Peterson it was clear that their running game would take off. It happened against the Lions and hasn’t slowed down since. They just got back stud left tackle Terron Armstead as well, so the running game is hitting on all cylinders. For almost any rushing stat you look at, New Orleans is in the top five.

Last Sunday, Mark Ingram looked possessed. He was running over any and everyone. Not to be outdone, Alvin Kamara refused to go down on first contact. Look at some of the holes the line paved for both men, though.

This seems to be the case the last month. Drew Brees doesn’t have to throw the ball 50 times a game for the Saints to win. The Saints are playing good defense and running the football. Oh how the tables have turned.


Air raid?

The Rams have been very good at stopping the pass. Having Aaron Donald in the backfield consistently makes life a lot easier on the secondary. What I’ve been most impressed with is how they’ve been able to move the ball through the air. Only the Patriots have a better passing attack than the Rams this year. Nobody would believe you if you said that 10 weeks ago. Nobody. Not even Ram fans. Yet, here we are. I love what they’re doing. Misdirection and screens are a big part of it.

Ghost motion with the receiver — there’s nobody home to stop him. Jared Goff isn’t going to throw for 355 yards and three touchdowns every week, but it really does seem the Rams’ offense is that efficient. Goff is doing great on play action as well.

Robert Woods caught a bomb off a well-designed play-action route.

Goff is sixth in QB rating when pressured, third in QB rating on third downs. Goff is leaps and bounds better than he was a year ago. We thought Sammy Watkins would be his featured target but that hasn’t been the case. Goff has done a good job of spreading it around and letting his playmakers do the work. The Rams look for real. Their passing offense continues to carry them.

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