Stats and trends are usually good indicators going into an NFL season, and I have for you a couple of trends I have been picking up on in the NFC for years now.
First, no defending Super Bowl champion has won a single playoff game the following season since the 2004 New England Patriots. Seven years and counting of playoff futility for defending champs tells me that the crosshairs are firmly on the champions come playoff time. It is possible that these teams tend to rest on their recent playoff success and find themselves stunned when they are losing in the playoffs the following year.
This being said, expect the 2012 New York Giants to be one and done in the playoffs this season and keep this trend going. Being the defending Super Bowl Champion is to tread perilous territory. Good luck Giants, but its doesn't look good for your repeat hopes this season.
Now for the team who will have the most disappointing season in the NFC in 2012.
The vaunted San Francisco 49ers.
Blasphemy you say? Well, expect the 49ers to follow a couple of downward trends this season.
One: Over the last few years the NFC has seen some talented preseason favorites fall completely on their faces. In 2010 we had the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings flame out in epic proportions and in 2011 the Chicago Bears and "Dream Team" Philadelphia Eagles completely stumbled all over themselves. When expectations are as high as they are for the 2012 Niners, you've better have the right people in place to keep your head out of your rear.
Enter Randy Moss. Moss is expected to be a veteran team leader and breakout star for the 49er offense in 2012. Wow, good luck with that Niner fans. You just picked up the one guy who makes T.O. and Ocho roll their eyes to take your franchise to the next level. Here's a guy, who when he last played in 2010, played for three different franchises in one season. Pouting and moaning his way through each stop, and when he last played in the Bay Area in '06 he embarrassed himself and the Oakland Raiders (that's a tough feat!).
Now, Moss is not the only new face on this team but he is symbolic of a culture shift in San Francisco. In adding Moss, Mario Manningham, and rookie LaMichael James to the offense, SF is looking to become a greater threat on offense. Unfortunately for SF, they also run the risk of getting away from what they do best and they will likely try to get "cute" on offense this season.
Obviously the Niners are wise to upgrade on offense this season after being on the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2011. The problem is that the pieces aren't likely to fit the way they believe. Taking a past his prime malcontent to mentor Michael Crabtree doesn't seem like a wise move. As a Saints fan, I was relieved Moss was not signed by the Saints after his workout in New Orleans. You then pick the shifty LaMichael James to complement Frank Gore in the running game when their offensive line is built for Gore's north/south style. The Niners may start to get away from what they do best.
The biggest upgrade needed for San Francisco on offense was at quarterback. They lost out on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and are now still stuck with Alex Smith. Look, against the Saints predictable defense Smith looked like Steve Young, but the following week he once again looked more like Steve Walsh. Alex Smith is who he is at this point in his career, at best he's a game manager and at worst he's a flat out liability. He's just not the guy you surround with "weapons" and expect to lead you to the next level.
The Niners defense is stellar thanks in part to their offensive philosophy, they pound the rock and milk the clock. In turn, the 49er defense has fresh legs and provides the offense with a short field in return. It's a cycle that benefited the Niners in 2011 and with better QB play they could be ready to take the next step. For Niner fans the Smith to Moss connection may sound like a dream. To me, this could make for an interesting season in the Bay. If they get away from their core philosophy, they could be facing far too many three and outs and their defense will spend far too much time on the field.
Two: The curse of the NFC Championship Game loser. Since 2001, the loser of the NFC Championship Game has failed to reach the playoffs the following season in 7 of 11 seasons. The only exception to this rule are the same franchise, the McNabb/Reid Philadelphia Eagles in '02,'03,'04, and '09. Every other team has finished .500 or worse.
'01 Vikings 5-11
'05 Falcons 8-8
'06 Panthers 8-8
'07 Saints 7-9
'08 Packers 6-10
'10 Vikings 6-10
'11 Bears 8-8
Although the 49ers are a media "expert" lock for at least another deep playoff run in 2012, the stats don't lie and they aren't in the Niners favor. Remember, in 2007 Saints fans thought upgrading from Fred Thomas to Jason David at cornerback was just the change that was needed to take them to the next level. Well, so much for that. I think the 49ers are looking at an 8-8 season full of finger-pointing and questioning of offseason moves that were made and not made. Finishing just one game ahead as NFC West Champs: the Seattle Seahawks. It should make for an interesting season out west, statistically speaking.