End of Season Review: The NFC part 1.

End of Season Review: The NFC part 1.
Reading Time: 11 minutes.

We continue our review series with the 9 NFC teams who didn’t make the playoffs. It’s been a long, unpredictable season, with highs and lows for everyone. Here’s how the first crop of NFC teams got on.

Don’t forget to check out our AFC Review!

Philadelphia Eagles 4-11-1 D

In a poor division, the eagles finished stone dead last. They went 1-7 in the second half of the season, had a horrendous QB controversy midway through the season and the coach appeared to lose the locker room at the end of the season. That’s a lot of stuff, so let’s break it down;

4-11-1 (1-7 in the last 8). That record will not cut it in Philly, point, blank, period. Especially when the team who won the division finished 7-9. Philly are only a few years removed from winning a Superbowl and writing books about it. Pederson will have to get this sorted by next season otherwise he’s out.

The QB situation: Man, what a mess this was. Benching your franchise guy who you’ve committed to paying millions midway through the season is a huge call! Wentz was clearly unhappy with the situation and has made that very clear. Hurts didn’t exactly excel on his promotion to starter. The 2 players combined this season had a rating of 75.2, 54.7% pass completion, 22 TDs and 19 picks. The numbers between them were really close, Wentz had a better completion % and Jalen a slightly better rating but neither were anywhere near good enough. What happens with them this offseason is up for debate but whatever happens, improvements must be by both if Philly are to return to winning ways.

Hurts (L) took over as the starter from Wentz (R) in week 14. Who starts in 2021 will be one question dominating the off-season in Philadelphia. Image from skysports.com

Tanking or tactical? Plenty has been made of the decision to bench Jalen Hurts in the final quarter against Washington. I didn’t like the call, Sudfeld looked so far out of his depth it was a joke. There’s not a chance that guy is a competent NFL QB, so what Pederson was doing I have no clue. What I do know, is that players play to win and that call didn’t put them in a position to win and they let their head coach know that. Did he lose the locker room? Who knows, but it seems like it’ll be a tough one to recover from and it will be spoken about for a while.

The only real bright spot for Philly was their D-line, they had a great year, led by Fletcher Cox and Branden Graham, they managed to register 49 sacks on the year, which is pretty decent. Plenty to ponder for the Eagles this offseason but vast improvement is needed, quickly. -Jamie Edwards

Atlanta Falcons 4-12 D

Why don’t you ever see any Atlanta Falcons players walking their dogs? Because they can’t hold on to a lead. Yes, this season was peak Atlanta. Unstoppable at times, woeful at times. Ultimately, when it came to the fourth quarter with the game on the line… the Dirty Birds came up short. In the six games that the Falcons were either level or ahead of their opponents entering the final quarter, they lost them all. Finishing the season at the bottom of the NFC South with a 4-12 record, the Falcons lost by one score or less in a record equalling eight games this season.

Starting the season 0-5, cost Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff their jobs. Defensive Co-ordinater, Raheem Morris took over the Head Coach role on a temporary basis and had an instant impact starting 3-1. Sadly for Atlanta, they finished the season the way it started, 0-5. A streak which may have cost the Interim Head Coach the chance of landing the job permanently.

The Falcons have talent on both sides of the ball and courtesy of their poor 2020 record, currently hold the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This is the first time that Atlanta are picking in the top five since 2008 when they used that pick to select Quarterback Matt Ryan. The new General Manager and Head Coach will have a big decision ahead with regards Ryan’s future. The Falcons can opt out of the current Quarterbacks contract in 2022 so this may be the time for Atlanta to look at drafting Ryan’s successor. Atlanta have the third lowest amount of salary cap space going in to the 2021. Which will result in the majority of additional talent having to be added through the Draft. –Stuart Anderson

Carolina Panthers 5-11 C+

2020 was a fresh start of the Carolina Panthers. Both long term Head Coach Ron Rivera and face of the franchise Cam Newton moving on to pastures new. A bigger blow struck the heart of the Panther faithful as the beating heart of the Defense, and future Hall of Famer Luke Kuechly announced his retirement after eight outstanding seasons.

Taking over the reigns from Riverboat Ron was Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule. This was Rhule’s first crack at being a Head Coach in the NFL. Taking the snaps under centre was ex-Minnesota Viking Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He signed as Newton’s replacement on a three year deal after a couple of seasons in the NFC South as back-up to Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Star running back Christian McCaffrey signed a 4 year deal before the 2020 season, but injuries meant he only played 3 games. Image from Usatoday.com

The Panthers started the season 3-2 but then quickly hit the skids. Winning only one of their next nine match-ups, Carolina ended the season in 3rd place in the NFC South with a 5-11. Equalling Atlanta’s unwanted record of losing a total of eight games by one score or less.

In December of 2020, the Panthers parted ways with long term serving General Manager Marty Hurney and will be making the 8th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. During the 2020 NFL Draft, the Panthers selected a Defensive player with every pick. Don’t expect a repeat performance from the Panthers in 2021 as they need to upgrade the Offensive Line and Tight End position. With a top 10 pick, could the Panthers be tempted to go for a Quarterback? -Stuart Anderson

Detroit Lions 5-11 C-

Another season of disappointment in Detroit, as the Lions finish the season with an NFC North worst record of 5-11, losing 6 of their last 7 games in the process.

The season began with many predicting a solid season for the Michigan based team. But it ended in typical Lions fashion ended up with disappointment and not meeting expectations. A bit of a staple for fans of the team in Honolulu Blue

The team struggled massively on defence. New acquisitions such as Desmond Trufont & Jamie Collins Sr failed to meet expectations. An outright inability to stop the run contributed to the defensive woes.

Some of their problems were likely in part (or perhaps largely) down to poor coaching. Matt Patricia had felt like a hot seat candidate from the season start, shortly after Thanksgiving both he and General Manager Bob Quinn found themselves out of a job. Conservative play calling and a stubborn approach to coaching the same style of football week in and week out just doesn’t lead to regular or sustained success in today’s NFL. Few will have been surprised to see them get the chop.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford ended the season with a number of injuries, but still managed to take the field for a meaningless Week 17 game against Minnesota. Could this have been a sign that he wanted to be out there for one last game for the Lions? Rumours suggest that Stafford wants out, and few could really blame him at this point.

There is however some reason for hope; the Lions will of course go into next season with a new Head Coach & GM duo. They have some good pieces on the roster with a top 15 pick to come in the 2022 draft. Much of the team’s future short term success may depend on whether or not we see Stafford return, and exactly who they turn to to fill the vacant staffing positions.

Time to put another disappointing season behind them, and once again start looking forward. – Dale Jones

Dallas Cowboys 6-10 C

Week 17 was the prefect synopsis of the Cowboys season. Thanks to being in the lowly NFC East a win against their rivals the Giants would’ve given the Cowboys a shot at making the post season. But in perfect “Cowboys 2020” style they stumbled in New York, ruling them out of a non-deserved chance at the playoffs.

The Cowboys season was derailed in week 5 when quarterback Dak Prescott fractured and dislocated his ankle, ouch. They also lost both starting tackles and tight end for most of the Season. Whoever was at QB was going to struggle. 0-4 after Prescott’s injury left the Cowboys at 2-7. The talk was who they were going to pick number 3 in the draft.

Andy Dalton(L), rookie Ben DeNucci and former AAF star Garrett Gilbert all played games in place of injured star Dak Prescott(R). Image from dallasnews.com

A 4-3 finish showed some promise but overall the season will be seen as a lost one. It was meant to be an exciting new chapter for the Cowboys. Experienced Superbowl winning head coach Mike McCarthy’s task was to turn perennial middle of the road underachievers into Superbowl contenders. There’s hope for next year with players returning from injury. But this year; McCarthy’s first season was the definition of a damp squib. -Bryan Dickie

San Francisco 49ers 6-10 C+

It’s been a tough old year for the Niners after the highs of last season. Once again, injuries have plagued what was shaping up to be a great season. Bosa, Ford, Samuel, Jimmy G, Sherman and Mostert, to name but a few, all missed significant periods of time this season. At one point early on, they had 40% of their salary cap on the IR. It’s tough enough to compete in the NFC, let alone the NFC west. Without injuries to have a closing record of 6-10 is a huge display of how elite Shanahan, Saleh and that coaching staff is! Kyle managed to drag his QBs to an average rating of 94 between the 3 of them over the course of the season, which with Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard for most of the season, is pretty impressive stuff.

They should obviously be looking for a return to the playoffs next season. But there are growing doubts around whether that’ll be with or without Jimmy G. He was mediocre at best this season and has not proven to be an elite winner during his time with the niners. They certainly win more with

him but it would appear that is more down to scheme and coaching rather than him being elite. A top end QB would push them in to the Seattle, Green Bay and Saints category, which is where they belong, so keep an eye on them this offseason.

Outside of QB, the other units performed well all season, even with pieces missing. They could maybe use another WR and they’ll have to replace Sherman as he seems set to leave as an UFA but with the guys they have coming back, they are set up to win now. A solid season for the Niners under tough circumstances, C+ seems like a fair grade. -Jamie Edwards

New York Giants 6-10 C+

Even with a 6-10 record, the Giants came close to a playoffs! If not for a Washington win over Philly in the final game of the season they would’ve made the postseason. They pushed hard down the back half of the season, going 5-3 in the final 8, which is a very respectable record and show promise heading into next season.

You can give a pass for the Giants in the first half of the season, with a new head coach, new OC, no offseason or training Camp and covid obstacles to overcome, it was always going to be a rocky start. I have some sympathy for them for the way they missed out on the playoffs but in the same breath, teams have to take care of their own business, relying on other teams to help you get in is never the answer. The fact of it is, the Giants lost a few ugly games this season the should’ve been wins and that cost them at the end. Shooting vailed shots at Philly won’t get them in the playoffs.

With that being said, for them to reach the playoffs next year, Daniel Jones has to take a step up. An 80.4 rating, 11 TDs and 10 INTs won’t get it done. He needs to stand up and become the guy. He has weapons outside with Shepard, Slayton and Engram all having good seasons and with the return of Saquon next year, he needs to step up. Gettlemen needs to strengthen that O-line and maybe add one more WR in the draft but that’s an easy-ish fix.

The overwhelming positive for the Giants was the emergence of Leonard Williams and James Bradberry as key defensive pieces to build around for the future. Williams registered 11.5 sacks on the year and caused teams problems all season long. Bradberry was great on the back end, leading the team with 3 INTs and playing well all year. If they can continue to build around those 2 and the rest of the core; Martinez, Ryan and Peppers, and sure up those offensive pieces, they could be a real handful next season. -Jamie Edwards

Minnesota Vikings 7-9 C-

Before the campaign even began the Vikings were dealt with the massive blow that star defensive end Danielle Hunter would miss at least the first few games after being placed on IR (however Hunter missed the entire campaign, something that we predicted back in September ). A disastrous start to the regular season saw the team lose 5 of their first 6 games, before what looked to be a promising mid-season turnaround.

In truth the Minnesota outfit had dug themselves too big of a hole to get out of, and another downturn in results in the last few games of the season (meaningless win against the Lions in Week 17 aside) meant that the Vikings ended the season on the outside of the extended playoff spots.

The negatives were plain to see, a poor defence that had seen massive upheaval from the season before, particularly in the case of new, young and inexperienced starters struggling to hit the ground running. Whilst it wasn’t a surprise to see the likes of Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes depart due to declining performances, it was perhaps too much to expect rookies to come in and immediately match the level of output.

The shining light of the season though has to be potential Offensive Rookie of The Year Justin Jefferson. Who surely surpassed even the most wildest of expectations. The former LSU wideout ended the season with exactly 1,400 receiving yards, breaking the existing record for the most receiving yards for a rookie in the Super Bowl era (not forgetting of course shortly before that breaking the record of Hall of Famer Randy Moss’s record for Vikings rookie receiving yards of 1,313 back in 1998.)

Concern after trading away Stefon Diggs was quickly put to bed after Rookie Justin Jefferson’s record breaking first season. Image from fox8live.com

Dalvin Cook still looks to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. Adam Thielen ended the year with almost 1,000 yards and 14 TD. Kirk Cousins once again frustrates but flashes brilliance at times and the Vikings do have some good pieces in place. A full off-season for the new look defence with Mike Zimmer, a return to fitness of Danielle Hunter and the sights will surely be set on playoff contention for next year. -Dale Jones

Arizona Cardinals 8-8 B-

Cardinals fans are probably disappointed with the way their 2020 campaign panned out. A couple of tough losses to divisional rivals in weeks 16 and 17 saw their playoff hopes snatched out of their hands – as they finished the regular season 3rd in the NFC West with an 8-8 record. Despite coming up short, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. Kyler Murray took significant steps forward as he grew into the leader of this dynamic Arizona offence. If he continues on this trajectory, there’s a promising future for the former number one overall pick. His ability to move the chains through the air and on the ground makes him a versatile threat against any defence. 

Speaking of defences, Arizona’s showed their potential in 2020. They finished 13th in yards allowed per game, just better than average, and did a good job of ending their opponents drives as well – finishing 13th in opponent’s third down conversions per game. However, I’m sure this team isn’t satisfied with their 2020 season and will want to improve next year. A strong, defense-focused draft should help this unit to naturally develop and grow together. In turn it’ll make Kliff Kingsbury’s job a little easier on the offensive end. Arizona averaged only a +2.7 point differential this year which means they kept games close. A lot of their wins came from heroic efforts from the likes of DeAndre Hopkins or Murray.

A stronger defence should allow things to flow a lot smoother next season. They’ll need to perform better in the NFC West in 2021 if they want to develop into a strong playoff contender. A 2-4 record against their rivals isn’t enough to take control of the division. -Owen Widdowson

Keep an eye out for our review of the remaining teams as we move through the playoffs

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