Friday, January 4, 2013

Ode to the Fallen – 1st Annual NFL Year-End Review: NFC PT. 1

Why do I love football? Because in one game, just one game, these are some of the things we saw: A late comeback, a pulse pounding last minute drive, a game-winning field goal, the Packers drop to the 3 seed and lose the first round-bye, the 49ers get the 2 seed and first round bye, a guy become the 7th guy to rush for 2,000 yards, that same guy come just nine yards shy of the NFL rushing record, the Vikings make the playoffs and most importantly, THE BEARS MISS THE PLAYOFFS! All those things happened in ONE GAME! I love the NBA and I “like” MLB, (My team is the Chicago Cubs so I’ve been a little out on baseball lately.) but drama like that, only happens in the NFL. As the curtain closes on the 2012 NFL regular season, I’ll tell you the five biggest things I learned and I’ll give you my two-cents on each team. (Maybe more depending on the team of course. Jacksonville fans, it’s going to be two cents.)

  1.     .      You got NO CHANCE if you don’t have a QB. Think about all the teams that really sucked this year. Outside of a few teams (And one had to be MY TEAM) with a “decent” QB, you could point to a total dumpster fire at the QB position as the main reason for a large amount of the trouble those teams ran into during 2012. When you see the way Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III played this season, there’s no reason you can’t believe that your team can’t turn it around like that when you have the right guy pulling the trigger.
  2.             Coaching matters a lot more than we thought. With every game the Saints lost, the amount they had to pay Sean Payton went up about a million dollars. With coaches like Andy Reid, Norv Turner, and Romeo Crennel finding new ways to lose games, the value of quality coaching is more evident then ever. (That and the fact that 7 head coaches got fired on the Monday after the season ended. You’d think the NFL was Enron the way teams were handing people their walking papers.)
  3.             It’s becoming impossible to defend the middle of the field and play safety. With the NFL cracking down on hits to the head, it’s become almost a guaranteed flag if a guy gets hit too hard. Even when defenders led with their shoulders they were getting flagged this year. The referees clearly believe that if a guy gets hit hard and gets up slowly it’s a penalty, regardless if they can see what happened or not.
  4.           The NFL totally blew the whole “BountyGate” thing. They never had a shred of “real” evidence against the players and even the old Commissioner, couldn’t let that slide like they, the NFL, thought he would. I do find the irony of Paul Tagliabue coming back and letting MORE players off the hook very sweet. (He’s someone who was always called out for being too soft on the players.)
  5.             Real referees know what they’re doing. It’s the reason the Packers are playing this weekend. You just knew that game was coming back to haunt them.


Washington Redskins (10-6) Division Champions, Playoff Berth

He's got a reason to be happy, as the Skins are
back in the playoff for the first time since 1999.
Simply put, the Redskins were so fun to watch this year. From his opening game, RG3 has been the league’s most electric player and must-see TV every time the Washington offense took the field. Having one seven straight games going into the playoffs, they’re definitely one of the league’s hottest teams. I credit the Shanahans for having the good sense to build their team’s offense around its best player. The Redskins ate teams alive all year with that spread option and no one's quite figured out how to stop it. I’ll be really interested to see them in the playoffs.  It’s the first time since the 1940’s that a team’s going into the playoffs with two rookies as it’s leading passer and rusher. Not bad for a team that had it’s own coach call them toast a few weeks ago.

New York Giants (9-7) Missed Playoffs

Hey, you know that really cool thing the Giants do every year where they “flip a switch”, get hot down the stretch and win the Super Bowl? Yeah, they didn’t do that this year. The Giants took that “wait till the playoffs” thing a bit too far this season. Eli didn’t look close to the Eli of last year. (Last year, he set an NFL record for the most 4th quarter touchdowns in a season and threw for almost 5,000 yards. If it weren’t for the “other” QBs in New York he would have gotten crushed. He should send Sanchez and Tebow a freaking thank you cards.) The pass rush wasn’t nearly as dominant as it’s been in the pass few seasons and they honestly looked like a team that thought a little too highly of themselves. Funny thing, I’m sure this season motivates them to greatness next season, so look out in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8) Missed Playoffs

This look says it all.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Cowboys play a season ending game that, if they win, gets them into the playoffs AND they lose said game. Let’s have an honest moment for a second; no one thought that the Cowboys were winning that game. It’s just not in their DNA. The Cowboys have been an accident waiting to happen all year long. (Pardon the pun because of thereal tragedy.) At the time of me writing this, they still have Tony Romo and Jason Garrett, and I don’t think either man gets them back to that Super Bowl level they want to be at. Their stadium always seems to be like a home game for the team they’re facing. Dez Bryant did finally play up to his potential though. He earned “warrior” status for playing the last few games with a broken finger. In the end, I’m not sure what the Cowboys need to do but they weren’t any closer to winning this year than they were last year. With Sean Payton getting locked up again by the Saints, I’m not sure there’s a “big” move to be made. I mean besides Jerry Jones stepping down and letting someone else run the team, but there's a better chance of me becoming the CEO of Apple than that happening.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) Missed Playoffs

You'll find a job, don't worry.
Damn, it seems like the Eagles should have been so much worst. Or at least they’re record should have been worst. Looking back at their schedule, they could have and SHOULD HAVE lost every game this season. Here are the winning scores of their four victories; 17-16 over Cleveland. (Needed a late TD to win.) 24-23 over Baltimore. (Needed another late TD to win.) 19-17 over the Giants. (Needed a late FG to win.) 23-21 over Jacksonville. (Needed a LAST PLAY OF THE GAME TD to win.) Four wins by a combined 6 points! Sadly, for all the “talent” they have I think they need a complete retooling of the roster. Anyone not named “McCoy” can get the hook if you ask me. All of the personal trouble he had to start the season aside, Andy Reid had to go. Sometimes you just need a new start and so does your team. This is the classic case of both parties needing a fresh start. Not sure who they get to take his place however. I’m sure he won’t be jobless very long and neither will his former QB Michael Vick because he’s out of Philly too. Vick was a turnover machine this year and I think we’re starting to see all of those hits finally take their toll on him. He can’t stay healthy, he doesn’t have the wheels he use to have, and he reads defenses about as well as a blind QB would. It’s going to be a long, long, offseason in Philly.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (11-5) Division Champions, Playoff Berth

This team looks scary good, lost to the Vikings not withstanding, and they honestly look primed for another championship run. Back in 2010, the Packers got healthy at the end of the season and rode that wave all the way to a Super Bowl. The defense is still super suspect and I don’t totally trust them to make a big stop when they need it. But the Packers do have the one thing on there team that no other team in the league has; Aaron “I can make any throw because I’m an alien and my arm isn’t from Earth” Rodgers. When you got the best QB in the league you always got a chance to win it all.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) Wildcard, Playoff Berth

The rotting stinking corpse known as the 2012 Vikings were dragged into the playoffs by Superman. I mean Adrian Peterson. It seems like science has finally reached the point where they really can rebuild you and make you better. Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards are second all-time and just 9 yards shy of the NFL record. All this, facing 8 to 9 man boxes and the opposing defenses’ complete and total knowledge that HE WAS GETTING THE BALL ON DAMN NEAR EVERYPLAY! That said, I don’t think the Vikings get past the Packers this weekend. Do you really think Christian Ponder wins a playoff game in Lambeau Field? (Only with the help of  “Christ” in his name that is.) Even though he’s been great all year and he was just great against them, I don’t see Peterson having another 200-yard day against Green Bay. Peterson may not have rush for the record but he ran the Vikings into the playoffs and he may have rushed himself into the league’s MVP award.

Chicago Bears (10-6) Missed Playoffs

It's a sad day when 10-6 gets you fired.
At first glance you’d think, “How can you fire a guy that was 10-6?” But looking deeper you’ll find out that the Bears only made the playoffs three times in Lovie Smith's nine seasons and only once in the last six. Ouch! Now in an economy like this, I normally wouldn’t say a “brother” should lose his job, but with a track record like that, no way was Lovie coming back. You can only change offensive coordinators so many times. I still like the pieces that the Bears have on the offensive side of the ball but the defense showed their age down the stretch and Jay Cultler got banged up again. Strange thing is, this team was once 7-1 and looking like a clear-cut Super Bowl contender. That seems like a really long time ago now.

Detroit Lions (4-12) Missed Playoffs

I’m a Lions fan and a friend asked me, “Hey what’s wrong with the Lions this year?” I laughed and said, “Nothing, they’re just the f***ing Lions!” The great season of a year ago didn’t fool me. Jim Schwartz survived the "bloodbath" on Monday but I’m not sure he should have. The Lions are incredibly undisciplined and that’s always a coaching problem. Although he did break a major receiving record, Calvin Johnson had the greatest garbage time stats season of all time. (Total empty calories in my opinion. ’11 Stats: 96 Catches 1,681 Yards and 16 TDs = 10 wins. ’12 Stats: 122 Catches 1,964 Yards 5 TDs = 4 wins.) I’m still not totally sold on Matt Stafford. He seems like he has all the physical tools to be a franchise QB, but that “it” factor seems to be missing. The Lions also need to improve their rushing attack to gain some balance on offense and upgrades on the defensive side of the ball wouldn’t hurt either. Never has a team seemed so close but yet so far.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (13-3) Division Champions, Playoff Berth

This team could have gone 16-0 and I still would not have believed in them. Atlanta’s been crushed too many times in the postseason for me to think anything they do in the regular season matters. Matt Ryan had a career year leading a very powerful aerial attack and he’s a borderline MVP candidate but they’re offense ranks 29th in rushing. That’s a huge red flag going into the playoffs when you don’t have a QB named Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Michael Turner is a shell of a shell of himself. Their defense is in the top half of the BACK of the NFL. Never a “good” thing, but they did seem to make a lot of timely stops this season. In the end, a very nice season but we’ve heard it all before Atlanta. Go win a game in the “second-season” and I’ll start taking you more seriously.

Carolina Panthers (7-9) Missed Playoffs

The Panthers seemed like the same team they were a season ago. The record was close, 6-10 a year ago versus 7-9 and another four-game win streak to close out the year again. Like last year, it took the Panthers a whole season to figure out how to actually “win” games. After looking more like “Clark Kent” in the beginning of the season, Cam Newton seemed to get into a groove down the stretch, but it was a little too late. I’d like to see them add a weapon or two in the off-season. Maybe a receiver because Steve Smith is getting up there in age. The DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart dual backfield has “backfired” and their defense was only “okay”. Not bad or good but just “okay. That’s good enough to win games and I think their close but their “losing seven out of eight games during the middle of the season and then running off four victories to end the year” strategy doesn’t seem to be a winning formula. I know, crazy that that doesn’t work huh.

New Orleans Saints (7-9) Missed Playoffs

He changed his name to changed to Sean "Pay-Him".
This season has been like a bad dream that the Saints just couldn’t wake up from. “BountyGate” pretty much doomed them from the start. As I mentioned in the top-five things I learned, coaching is really important. No way you lose one of the best coaches in the league and still be a playoff team. There’s a reason those guys, NFL coaches that is, make more than any other coaches in any other sport. Two greatest examples of the importance of coaching; Sean Payton this year and Bill Belichick making Matt Cassel look like a Pro-Bowler back in 2008. To me, the Saints are fine. The defense was never that good and Brees just threw for 5,000 yards… again and 40 plus TDs… again. He’s the first and only guy to do that in back-to-back seasons. All the Saints need is their head coach back.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) Missed Playoffs

At one point this season I really, really liked the Bucs. They had the whole “new coach comes from college and turns the team around in one year” thing going for them with Greg Schiano. (Think Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers last season.) At one point, they were 6-4, riding a four-game winning streak, Josh Freeman was looking like a Pro Bowler and then the wheels came off. They lost five of their last 6 games and looked really bad doing it. (They lost 41-0 to the Saints. They couldn’t score a point against the worst defense in the league. 10 friends and I can score a field goal on the Saints.) They have some really nice pieces on offense and they have the number one defense against the run but they were dead last against the past. When Aqib Talib was traded it was only a matter of time until their secondary fell completely apart. Sure that up in the draft and I think we’re looking at a playoff team next season.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) Division Champions, Playoff Berth

The 49ers may have punched their ticket to the Super Bowl when they moved Colin Kaepernick into the starting QB spot. God love Alex Smith but he’s just not going to get the 49ers over the hump and they knew it. It takes some balls to move the QB with the 3rd highest QB rating in the league at the time out of the starting lineup but I really think it was the best move. Kaepernick makes you have to fear the 49ers offense a lot more than you would with Smith pulling the trigger. They have a top-five defense in all the key stats. (4th against the pass and the run and 2nd in points allowed.) That same defense did get “boat raced” by both Seattle and New England in back-to-back games at the end of the year but I still like them a lot. Not having to go to Seattle or Green Bay to win a playoff game really helps them and the taste of losing last year’s NFC Championship game still has to be motivating them.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) Wildcard, Playoff Berth

Wilson and the Seahawks look ready to roll.
I really, really want to have the guts to say that the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl. I love their defense. 6th against the pass, 10th against the rush and 1st in points allowed. They can run the ball. 3rd in rushing and Lynch finished 3rd in rushing in the league. I love their QB. Russell Wilson, not Luck or RG3, finished with the most passing TDs for rookie QB. Seattle was in every game this season and they didn’t get blown out all year. The only, and I mean ONLY, reason I’m not picking them is they have to go on the road to win the Super Bowl as a wildcard team. That home-field advantage in Seattle is crazy. It’s almost college like. If they were at home they’d win it all or at least get there. I love their team and I LOVE Russell Wilson, but no way I’m picking a rookie QB to lead a wildcard team to the Super Bowl. I do think he can lead them past the Redskins. Both teams run a similar style of offense but I give the edge to the Seahawks because they have a better defense.

St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) Missed Playoffs

The Rams looked “okay” this season. A lot better than last year that’s for sure. I really like how they responded to Jeff Fisher as their head coach. He took a team that was at the back of the NFL last year and moved them into the middle of the pack. (18th in passing, 19th in rushing, 15th against the pass and run.) But all I’ll say is click on this link and read the first paragraph about RG3 and the Rams.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11) Missed Playoffs

This team authored some of the worst, no, THE WORST quarterbacking I’ve ever seen at ANY level of football in my life. I really felt like I was going to see Larry Fitzgerald snap and start choking the QBs in the huddle at some point this season. They were the second worst team I saw all year long. (And yes, the Lions lost to them, snapping their nine-game losing streak. I need to stop now before I start ranting about the Lions again. UGH! I HATE THE LIONS!) I’m not totally sure Ken Whisenhunt should have been fired because he’s a good coach that's been saddled with really bad quarterbacks. You got to remember, when he had Kurt Warner the Cards made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons including a run to the Super Bowl.  Mind you, a Super Bowl that they almost won. He led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl! (RE READ THAT LAST SENTENCE.) I like a few of their pieces on defense, especially Patrick Peterson but they need a complete retooling on the offensive side of the ball. Dead last in rushing and 28th in passing. I mean they need so many new parts on the offensive side of the ball it’s almost comical and a new QB is number one on that "needs list". Check the top of this post. NO QB… NO CHANCE IN HELL… PERIOD.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe and share the blog. Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below. Follow me on twitter @ParisLay. Until next time... Enjoy the View!

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