Monday, 7 January 2013

NFL End of Season Grades: NFC


Following on from my AFC gradings, let's take a look at how the NFC fared during a tumultuous 2012 campaign...


NFC EAST

Washington Redskins (10-6)
Going from 3-6 to a 7 game win streak to take the division is impressive, as have been the performances of rookies RG3 and Alfred Morris. In my pre-season predictions I had this division finishing the exact opposite from what it ended up as, and boy am I glad I was wrong as the Skins have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in quite some time. Despite their defence playing very poorly early on, Washington grab my highest grade because of their expert utilization of their draft picks and the fact they’ve smashed expectations out of the park, winning the division for the first time since 1999 and helping raise the bar for rookie seasons about 100ft. A+

New York Giants (9-7)
Whenever the reigning champs fail to reach the play-offs the next year it has to be labelled as a failure, but let’s remember their record at 9-7 is actually equal to 2011. Most of us knew that Eli, Cruz and co. are not the elite world beaters that the hype machine would have us believe, but instead rode a hot streak all the way. Had they won one more game this year they might have done it again, but inconsistency means they didn’t, and as such their year was a distinctly average one. C-

Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
8-8 is not a terrible season, but for the Cowboys it was one they will be all too familiar with – capped off with Romo putting in a classic clutch-less performance when it counted. Still, let’s not get carried away with writing the ‘Boys off. They still have a good defence, Romo is still an above average signal caller and perhaps the biggest success of this year was Dez Bryant blossoming into a somewhat mature but truly exceptional number 1 target (even playing with a broken finger). C+

Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
Philly were an epically disappointing team in 2012 – suffering early on from far too many turnovers and key injuries (especially on the O-line) the ‘dream-team’ quickly disintegrated, finishing the season rolling with the future prospects of Foyles and Bryce Brown. Their poor showing throughout the year cost a talented coach his job, and the Eagles look set for a painful rebuilding season in 2013. F

NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers (11-5)
A divisional win for the Pack, but by the narrowest of margins. They won’t argue with the end product, but some telling losses to the likes of SF and Indianapolis mar their season. We’ll let them off the hook for the Seattle ‘loss’, but last weekend’s defeat to the Vikings is not the best of launch pads into the post-season, especially when they’ll be facing off against, you’ve guessed it, Minnesota. B+

Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
The Vikings started hot but fell into a mid-season lull before AP decided to explode into action, almost single-handedly rocketing them into the post-season and himself a hair’s breadthfrom the record books. Their defence has also looked solid this year, with rookie safety Harrison Smith putting in a case for pro-bowl status in his very first year. All things considered, a highly successful campaign in a year where many thought their record would look more like 6-10. A

Chicago Bears (10-6)
The Bears made a mistake firing Lovie Smith, and it seems unduly harsh for his job to ride on how the Vikings-Packers game fell. They started strong, looking at one point like one of the elite in the league with a defence that could score at will, but collapsed under their own weight to miss out on the post-season by the narrowest of margins. Cutler to Marshall was one of the more successful QB-WR tandems of the season, but their perennially shaky O-line hampered them once again. They need to get less one-dimensional on offence to bounce back next season. B-

Detroit Lions (4-12)
To go from play-offs one year to 4-12 the next is shockingly poor, especially when you have the league’s best (maybe ever) receiver. There is no reason other than chronic under performance that the Lions should have fallen so hard, but like the Bears they need to cultivate a more balanced attack, not to mention work on their defensive struggles. They avoid an F grade because they had a lot of narrow losses, and because they have been very poor in recent years other than last season... but it was a close run thing. D-

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
A fantastic season for the Falcons and Matt Ryan really appears to be making that next step, in no small part due to having Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to throw to. Their defence has also been excellent, with a turnover hungry secondary backing up a solid front 7. To take over the NFC South the way they have is partly due to some very solid play, and partly a well-timed assault when their rivals were in disarray. There will continue to be play-off questions asked until they can get it done, but few teams have been as consistently impressive this year. A

Carolina Panthers (7-9)
The Panthers came into the year full of promise (there was even the infamous Kalil-circulated Super Bowl talk floating around) so it was a great disappointment that they started the season so flatly, finding themselves right amongst the bottom feeders until a very strong finish sees them at 7-9. They’ve done much to assuage their critics with their late rally, and will be hoping that it was just Cam’s sophomore slump that caused such an unpredicted run of bad form. C+

New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Few teams have suffered a more dramatic fall from grace than the 2012 Saints. Bounty-gate and the loss of Sean Payton were clearly going to have an impact, but I’m not sure many predicted just how devastating losing their iconic coach would be for the Saints. They started the season as one of the worst in the league, and whilst they’ve managed to drag themselves out of that status it is still very sobering stuff for a squad used to dominating more often than not. They’ll go into 2013 knowing that this division will only be getting tougher, and they’ll need to hope Payton can make up for lost time to get them back on top. C-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
The Buccs have had a much improved season from their dismal 2011 campaign, and can thank Greg Schiano, plus splashing out for some mostly successful FA pick-ups during the off-season, for that achievement. Add to that a highly successful draft in rookies Mark Barron and the sensational Doug Martin, and there’s every reason to be optimistic they can build on this year’s average campaign to push for the play-offs next year. They have been inconsistent at times, but it’s still been a very positive season. B

NFC WEST

San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
The 49ers entered the year as clear favourites to win the West, and haven’t disappointed (although it finished a hell of a lot closer than they’d have liked). Statement wins over the Packers and Patriots are undermined by a big loss to the Giants and lack of divisional form, but despite all that it’s been a great year. QB Kaepernick offers an entirely new dimension to their offense, and their defence should continue to dominate for years to come. A-

Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
The Hawks get credit on Wilson in three ways. Firstly they drafted him when other teams saw only height issues, secondly they gave him a legitimate chance to earn the starting job, and last but not least they put him in a system where he didn’t have to do too much too soon. 11-5 is an impressive season, but they did struggle to get wins against some weaker teams throughout their schedule. I toyed with giving the Hawks an A+, but for a team of their quality to earn the top grade a divisional win was a must, and they left it just too late to secure that. A

St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) 
The Rams have had an up and down year, with highs including wins over SF and Seattle, but on the other hand a lot of miserable losses to sub-par teams. Jeff Fisher has done a solid job with this team, and Bradford is holding his own, but they need to inject some more explosive talent to kick-start this team from a mediocre one to a squad that can launch a divisional challenge. B-

Arizona Cardinals (5-11) 
The Cardinals had a phenomenal start to the season seeing off the likes to New England and Seattle. Unfortunately it all went wrong around week 6 and the list of good things to say about them thereafter mainly resolves around some impressive defensive efforts despite a complete lack of anything approaching NFL standard at QB. Despite this disjointed year it was not a complete failure (as nobody really expected much from them going in), but to have a defence this good and only get 5 wins is a very poor show. D+

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