The NFC East is full of playoff contenders.
And each one is loaded with players who will help the defending champion Atlanta Falcons make the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Here are the top contenders:Atlanta Falcons (6-1)The Falcons are a top-five seed with a 6-1 record and are tied for first place in the NFC.
The Falcons are riding a seven-game winning streak.
The team is also coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Falcons running back Tevin Coleman is in his first season with the team.
The veteran running back rushed for 1,541 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and he’s a key component of the offense.
Atlanta will have to overcome a number of injuries to key players including quarterback Matt Ryan (ankle), wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and wide receiver Roddy White (hamster).
The Falcons defense has played very well, ranking second in the league with a plus-27.3 DVOA, which ranks fourth in the NFL behind the Green Bay Packers (plus-28.4).
The Falcons also have a league-high four interceptions.
The defense is also tied for third in the AFL with eight sacks.
The top defensive player on the team is cornerback Jalen Collins (5.5 sacks), who will be a free agent after this season.
Atlanta is also getting healthy at safety.
The club has six players with at least 1,000 career snaps who have started at least three games.
The most recent player to make the roster is rookie safety Josh McNary, who was signed to replace injured safety T.J. Ward in Week 4.
Atlanta also has two of the league’s best linebackers in linebacker Anthony Barr (4.5 tackles for loss) and cornerback Ricardo Allen (3.5 interceptions).
The two are expected to be key components of the Falcons secondary.
Atlanta needs to win out in the second half to make it back to the NFC Championship game.
Atlanta has lost its past two games by a combined score of 17-10, including a 29-0 loss at Green Bay.
Atlanta has the NFL’s worst record, ranking last in the division and only a game behind the Seahawks.
The Lions have lost four of their past six games, including two straight.
Detroit Lions (5-2)The Lions are in their second season under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who has won four of his past five games.
Detroit’s defense has given up an average of 29.1 points per game.
The defensive backfield ranks third in yards allowed per game (306.5) and sixth in sacks (10).
Detroit has a pair of starters back at their position.
Right tackle Taylor Decker is back after missing the previous five games with a foot injury.
Decker was among the Lions top players last season.
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is also back after suffering a concussion in the Lions opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Lions need to be better against the run.
They allowed the NFL lead in rushing yards per game to the Green Lions last season at 7.7 yards per carry.
That number has decreased to 4.3 yards per attempt.
Detroit is allowing 3.3 rushing touchdowns per game this season and is fifth in the conference.
The team has had a solid start to the season, ranking first in the AFC in rushing (566.5 yards per season) and third in scoring defense (26.7 points per contest).
But the Lions haven’t been able to put together a winning season in any division.
The defense is coming off its first win in four weeks.
Detroit has allowed 10 rushing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns on the season.
That includes the NFL-high five in the last four games.
Detroit has been without defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is sidelined for the rest of the season after injuring his shoulder.
But he’s expected to return to the lineup in Week 5.
Detroit will be without a safety for the second straight game when it hosts the Los Angeles Rams.
Minnesota Vikings (5 -4)The Vikings are the defending NFC North champions after winning three of their last four.
The Vikings are coming off a bye week with a bye in Week 1 against the Packers.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5,749 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) is back to his old form after missing last season with a concussion.
The quarterback is one of the NFL top quarterbacks in terms of passing yards per passing attempt (9.2).
The Vikings defense is led by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (3 interceptions, 12 pass breakups) who has also been a key contributor for the defense.
Safety Harrison Smith (2.5 TFLs) is a key part of the unit.
The Vikings have won four straight, but are 1-6 in games decided by five points or less.
Minnesota’s defense needs to get healthy, as its two leading tacklers (Bridgewater and Smith) have missed time.