Today, the Wall Street Flaneur predicts NFL divisional outcomes, and also sprinkles in city-specific stock quick-picks which we feel mimic the teams’ chances for success. If you missed part one covering the AFC, you can read that here.
Last year’s Flaneur picks were solid, highlighted by Wellpoint (Indianapolis Colts) and Google (San Francisco 49ers) making significant strides while Cliffs Natural Resources (Cleveland Browns) and Jacksonville Bancorp (Jacksonville Jaguars) fell well short of the competition. Welcome back NFL.
The Wall Street Flaneur’s 2nd Annual NFL Preview – NFC Edition
1. Green Bay Packers – 2012: 11-5, 1st place. Last year was another solid campaign led by the league’s best, most WR inferiority complex-inducing QB Aaron Rodgers. But an unsteady O-line and sporadically terrible defense led to their demise as witnessed by their thrashing at the hands of the 49ers in the playoffs. The Packers addressed their weaknesses head-on in the draft and are a lock for 9+ wins even with a very difficult schedule.
2. Detroit Lions – General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) The Lions are flying under the radar but have a great chance to be the NFC’s surprise team. A quality QB, the best WR in football, and young angry defenders will put the Lions in position to make a playoff run. GM’s future also looks bright. The Detroit automaker has posted a profit in 14 straight quarters, repaid its government loan ahead of schedule, and is expecting to top 5 million Chevrolets sold for the first time in company history. They’re also is the top seller in China, a good indicator of sustained success, much like the Lions’ odds to rise up the NFC ranks.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Target (NYSE: TGT) Has any single non-QB player ever lifted their team to success the way Adrian Peterson did last year? Yes he’s a machine, but the surrounding pieces simply don’t support a repeat of last year’s performance—don’t forget that head coach Leslie Frazier, who was supposed to be a sure thing, has just a 16-22 record so far. The Vikings are decent, just not as skilled as the Packers or Lions. Target has been a steady gainer since the recession depths and offers a good dividend, but we think the last month’s 11% drop is a sign of minimal growth going forward. Second quarter profits were down 13%, and the Minneapolis retailer faces very real challenges — weaker consumer spending reports and Amazon-esque online competition. Continued success will be tough to come by for the Vikings and Target.
4. Chicago Bears – 2012: 10-6, 3rd place. Same old story for Da Bears – shaky O-line but they have quality skill players in Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. It’s bad juju, however, to replace your head coach who brought sustained competency and a 10-6 record last year with an unproven rookie.
1. Dallas Cowboys – Texas Instruments (NASDAQ: TXN) Every year there seems to be too much hype surrounding the Cowboys, but this year somehow the noise has been quieter. Dallas has drafted wisely over the past few years to sure up past weaknesses and the over-criticized Tony Romo has proven to be an adept starting QB. If the O-line gels then this is the most complete team in the NFC East. Texas Instruments is a diversified semiconductor company which has also patiently built itself into a winner. The Dallas stalwart is somewhat old-fashioned in its approach, getting out of the riskier smartphone/tablet industry which has recently faced revenue declines to focus more on the automotive and industrial equipment industries which offer more dependable growth.
2. Philadelphia Eagles – 2012: 4-12, 4th place. The Eagles were a mess last year but preseason indications are that Chip Kelly’s wild offense works. Philadelphia has a boatload of talent and as long as they hand off to LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick doesn’t fumble every other possession away then they should get to the 8-10 win range.
3. New York Giants – 2012: 9-7, 2nd place. The Giants have a trustworthy head coach-QB tandem and excellent receivers, but they’ve been ravaged by offseason defections and preseason injuries to key players. At their best the Giants can compete with any team but they’re too inconsistent and unhealthy to trust with a division title.
4. Washington Redskins – The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO) Is Robert Griffin III the real life Willie Beamen from Any Given Sunday? A young, athletic, attention-loving, run-first-but-can-pass-too QB who clashes with his head coach? Last year was a miraculous turnaround based mostly on RGIII’s stellar rookie year, but they had the third worst pass defense in a passing-focused league, and their WRs are mediocre. While Washington did have the NFL’s best rushing attack last year, it’s a reach to expect RGIII to stay healthy throughout the year and avoid somewhat of a sophomore slump. The Washington Post has also seen a recent surge primarily based on the influx of one man, Jeff Bezos, but we’re selling high. The Post’s circulation and revenue both dropped over 30% in the past decade as the entire print industry continues to struggle in our increasingly digital world. They’ll fight for that inch, but we expect the Redskins and the Washington Post Company to settle back to Earth this year.
1. Atlanta Falcons – 2012: 13-3, 1st place. The Falcons have made the playoffs three years in a row, have the best receiving tandem in football with Julio Jones and Roddy White, and barely missed a trip to the Superbowl last year. Their defense is suspect but their rock solid offense should carry them to another divisional title against inferior competition.
2. New Orleans Saints – 2012: 7-9, 3rd place. There may not be a more two-faced team in the NFL. The Saints offense has been on fire since QB Drew Brees took over but last year their defense gave up the most yards in the history on the NFL. Coach Sean Payton’s return from his Bountygate suspension should be enough to lift them into playoff contention but some semblance of a defense is required for a deep run.
3. Carolina Panthers – Family Dollar Stores (NYSE: FDO) The Panthers are difficult to gauge; a 5-11 record is just as feasible as 11-5. The have strong pieces, most notably a top-tier front seven on defense led by LB Luke Kuechly, but they have a questionable O-line and an overrated RB stable. If Cam Newton continues to grow and the Panthers learn how to close out games then they can contend for the divisional crown, but there are simply too many question marks to trust them. Just like the Panthers have misallocated cap space in RBs, Family Dollar will likely struggle for similar reasons. As the economy kicks back into gear Family Dollar will feel the pain of overexpansion and having too much asset allocation tied up in inventory. This is a cash strapped company with a monstrous increase in short-term debt over the past year. Both Charlotte franchises are in a pinch until their finances are in better order.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2012: 7-9, 4th place. It’s damn near impossible to succeed in the NFL with weak QB play and that’s exactly what the Bucs got in the second half of last year when Josh Freeman took a turn for the worse. They have some good young pieces but too much trust has been put into Darrelle Revis’ healing knee to revamp the NFL’s worst pass defense.
1. Seattle Seahawks – Craft Brewers Alliance (NASDAQ: BREW) The Seahawks are the league’s most complete team. They’ve drafted exceptionally well and have practically no holes in their defense. Russell Wilson’s numbers were great as a rookie but watching him play was even more impressive; he’s in total control of the offense, has the coolness of Aaron Rodgers, and improved as the season progressed. The Seahawks also have the NFL’s best home field advantage and can be inked in to go at least 7-1 in Seattle. Craft Brew Alliance has tapped into the beer renaissance and its stock price has reaped the rewards as a 90% YTD. Even the government is backing the craft beer movement, looking to pass the Craft Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act which would significantly reduce the excise tax on small cap brewers like BREW and Boston Beer Company. Beer is recession-proof and Seattle’s Craft Brew Alliance and Seahawks have yet to see their potential highs.
2. San Francisco 49ers – 2012: 11-4-1, 1st place, NFC champions. The Superbowl Curse is real; we don’t expect the 49ers to miss the playoffs but it will be tough to repeat in a stacked NFC. They have many strengths – head coach, mobile and accurate young QB, best LB core in the league – but they’re thin at WR and they play against Craft Brew Alliance twice. This is a great team though and the 49ers will be among the NFC elite once again.
3. St. Louis Rams – 2012: 7-8-1, 3rd place. Head coach Jeff Fisher has morphed the Rams from finesse to toughness. They went 4-1-1 last year in a stacked NFC West and added stud LT Jake Long, but with a tough schedule and chronic defensive issues the Rams will have to grow leaps and bounds to make the playoffs. It’s possible but not probable.
4. Arizona Cardinals – 2012: 5-11, 4th place. The Cardinals are quite similar to the Rams in that they play tough as hell and will upset some favorites, but it will be challenging to string it together for a full year. They’ve done well by drafting LSU cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in consecutive years; we’re just not sold on QB Carson Palmer. He puts up numbers late in games when his team is already way behind and does a great statue impersonation but the Cardinals need fast starts to beat the Seahawks and 49ers.
Superbowl pick – Craft Brewers Alliance (Seahawks) over Omnicare (Bengals)
Disclosure: As of the time of publishing, the author holds no positions in the stocks mentioned herein and does not intend to hold any position in the next 72 hours.
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