The NFC figures to be much more competitive in 2016 as long as the top teams stay healthy throughout the regular season.
The Carolina Panthers ran away with the top seed last year at 15-1 en route to winning the NFC, and they are listed as +400 co-favorites (bet $100 to win $400) to successfully defend their conference crown with the Seattle Seahawks at online sportsbook Bovada.
The Panthers could be even better this year, at least on the offensive side of the ball. That’s because top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will be back on the field after missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Benjamin enjoyed a great rookie campaign the previous season and should be primed to again be the favorite target of reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton, who went to tight end Greg Olsen a lot more in his absence.
But Carolina is not the only top contender getting a key receiver back this year. The Seahawks will see the return of tight end Jimmy Graham while the Packers will have wide receiver Jordy Nelson back as well. Like Benjamin, both Graham and Nelson have been recovering from knee injuries and hope to be close to 100 percent by the time the season kicks off. Green Bay is the +450 third choice to win the conference and will likely need to take back the NFC North this season in order to make that happen.
The Packers saw their four-year reign atop the division end last year with the Minnesota Vikings winning it in a surprise. The Vikings are an intriguing team for bettors to watch because they have progressed nicely in the first two seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer. Minnesota is listed at +800 to win the NFC in what could be Adrian Peterson’s final year there, and the team is also opening its new stadium in a Week 2 Sunday Night Football matchup with Green Bay that could set an early tone for the two division rivals.
Three other interesting teams in the mix to win the conference this season are the Arizona Cardinals (+600), Dallas Cowboys (+900) and New York Giants (+1000).
Arizona won the NFC West over Seattle last year and finished with the second seed but got pummeled by Carolina 49-15 in the conference championship game. The Cardinals should be better defensively with the addition of Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots while the continued development of promising running back David Johnson should help out quarterback Carson Palmer offensively.
The NFC East battle is also one to watch between the Cowboys, Giants, Philadelphia Eagles (+3300) and defending division champion Washington Redskins (+2000). Dallas will need quarterback Tony Romo to stay healthy to have any shot even though rookie Dak Prescott has been impressive in the preseason.
Meanwhile, New York still has a lot of talent and may bounce back under first-year head coach Ben McAdoo. Washington won the NFC East last year with a 9-7 mark, finishing one game ahead of Philadelphia.