NFC Review: 2013 Season

  • By: David John (Twitter: @SLifeDaveJohn)
  • Last Updated: January 29 2014, 15:26 GMT

David John reflects on the 2013 NFL season in the NFC with a team-by-team analysis and grade.

San Francisco almost made it to consecutive Super Bowls
San Francisco almost made it to consecutive Super Bowls

NFC South

Carolina (12-4)

The Panthers will have been hugely disappointed to get knocked out of the play-offs by the 49ers but the emotion of the occasion simply got the better of them. But that should not cast too big a shadow over a fantastic season beautifully coached by Ron Rivera with high-class efforts from quarterback Cam Newton and a fearsome defense littered with star performers. Grade A-

New Orleans (11-5)

The Saints had head coach Sean Payton back on the sidelines after a year-long ban as he and quarterback Drew Brees soon got back into their old routine of torching defensive backs. But while Brees started to show some weakness under pressure in the pocket, it was Rob Ryan's defense that stepped up and was ultimately the reason for their return to the play-offs. I hate to say it, but we may have seen the best of Brees and this could be a team that regresses in 2014. Grade B

Atlanta (4-12)

Hopes were high that the arrival of Steven Jackson at running back would be the final piece in the Super Bowl puzzle for the Falcons. But things did not play out as expected as injuries to key players took a toll - the shock was just how far the Dirty Birds fell from grace in what was, at times, a horror show. They are young enough and talented enough to bounce back but it will be a test of their fortitude. Grade F

Tampa Bay (4-12)

There was an inkling pre-season something was not quite right in Florida when quarterback Josh Freeman failed to show for the team photo as a very public split between head coach Greg Schiano and his team played out. It appeared Schiano had a full-scale revolt on his hands as players baulked at his disciplinarian methods and in that scenario, invariably it is the coach who is sacrificed. Not before Freeman was banished to the snowy wastes of Minnesota with the emergence of Mike Glennon in his place one of few bright spots. Lovie Smith is the new sheriff in town and he is an appealing appointment considering the talent on the roster. Grade D

NFC East

Philadelphia (10-6)

New head coach Chip Kelly arrived from the college coaching ranks to a big fanfare with his up-tempo offense that had everyone raving after week one. It came off the rails a little in mid-season but got back on track with quarterback Nick Foles rather than Michael Vick guiding the Eagles to the play-offs. They came up just shy in the wild card round but all-in-all this was a hugely positive start for Kelly with the development of Foles and an excellent all-round season from running back LeSean McCoy. Grade B

Dallas (8-8)

The Cowboys missed the post-season once more as they capitulated late in the campaign with three losses in their last four games. They were still alive right to the last game but could not claim a winner-take-all clash with Philadelphia so the finger-pointing began at the usual suspects. The guys at the top, head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, as usual took the brunt but there was a shocking defense that ranked last in the NFL as well. We wait to see with a sort of lurid fascination what owner and general manager Jerry Jones' next move will be. Grade D+

New York Giants (7-9)

The Giants hit rock bottom with six straight losses off the bat, rallied, then faded into total mediocrity in what was the worst season on record for head coach Tom Coughlin in the Big Apple and his quarterback Eli Manning. The latter tossed 27 interceptions to just 18 touchdowns as he tried to kick-start an offense that rarely gave him much help - equally he was at times downright careless with the football. Coughlin and Manning are due back in 2014 and it will be hoped new offensive co-ordinator Ben McAdoo can at least shake things up a bit. Grade D-

Washington (3-13)

It was all about quarterback Robert Griffin III in the nation's capital but 2013 was a little short of a horror story for the Redskins. RGIII looked a pale shadow of the 2012 pre-knee injury model as he limped his way through the opening games of the season in a bid to find some rhythm to his dynamic game. It never came and he spent the closing weeks on the bench behind Kirk Cousins with head coach Mike Shanahan deciding it was just not worth risking his sophomore superstar any longer on a lost cause. Shanahan's dismissal was inevitable and former Cincinnati offensive co-ordinator Jay Gruden has been handed a debut chance to get the most out of what remains a talented roster Grade E

NFC North

Green Bay (8-7-1)

The Packers spent a big chunk of the season without their best player in the most important position - quarterback Aaron Rodgers - after he suffered a fractured collar-bone in early November. He was back under centre just long enough to help win a week 17 decider at Chicago and book a place in the play-offs but their unlikely bid lasted one game as they were readily outclassed by the 49ers. Defensive linchpin Clay Matthews was also in and out of the starting line-up with injury among others so they actually deserve credit for getting as far as they did. The emergence of running back Eddie Lacy in his rookie year was a big positive so head coach Mike McCarthy will have everything crossed over the close season in the hope for some better luck in 2014 on the injury front. Grade B

Chicago (8-8)

Another seasons of ups and downs in Chi Town which saw the Bears miss out on the play-offs at the expense of the Packers on the final day. There was some good and some bad from head coach Marc Trestman in his first season and the organisation have decided to stick with quarterback Jay Cutler for the foreseeable future, his position seemingly under threat from Josh McCown with rumours of a potential trade abound. The deal should mean another big year for superstar receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey while there were the most positive signs for a while along the offensive line. The defense will improve for the return of Henry Melton at tackle but the secondary needs an injection of youth. Grade C

Detroit (7-9)

In a year when the division looked up for grabs, the Lions once again came up disappointingly short. A four-game slide to close the season meant the end of the road for head coach Jim Schwartz while quarterback Matthew Stafford dramatically lost his form during that period as the technical aspect of his throwing motion fell apart. Jim Caldwell takes the reins now and his good work with Joe Flacco when offensive co-ordinator in Baltimore for their Super Bowl run should help the strong-armed former Georgia Bulldog recapture his poise. Receiver Calvin Johnson remains the game's foremost player at the position when healthy although he was troubled by a knee injury down the stretch. The aggressive defensive tackle duo of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are brilliant exponents but loose cannons so one of Caldwell's key jobs will be to instill better team discipline. Grade D

Minnesota (5-10-1)

Leslie Frazier was another casualty during the head coaching cull and his demise can be put down to indecision at quarterback. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman (the latter all but thrown to the lions) all had a go and none could stamp their authority on the position as Frazier dithered over his best option. There was too much slack for stud running back Adrian Peterson to take up and his numbers dipped as he pushed himself through the pain barrier with a couple of injury issues not helping the situation. Peterson is till the right side of 30 but his body has taken a monumental pounding so new supremo Mike Zimmer needs to settle on a quarterback and take away some of the burden. One huge bright spot was rookie returner/receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who threatened to do something explosive every time he touched the football. Grade D

NFC West

Seattle (13-3)

The Seahawks run to the Super Bowl was founded on two things - a dominant home record and a frightening defense. The Pacific Northwest became the least popular place for any opposing team to visit in front of the much vaunted '12th Man' but that would count for little without the talent on the field. The defense in particular is packed with playmakers who pride themselves on physicality and aggression. There is better still to come from quarterback Russell Wilson as he matures and a group of receivers who may not be big names but kept on coming up with the big plays. Running back Marshawn Lynch's bruising style produced week in and week out as head coach Pete Carroll has a team built to contend for a number of years to come. Grade A

San Francisco (12-4)

If you cast an objective eye around the league, it is the 49ers who are perhaps the most rounded of the 32 teams. There are Pro Bowl-calibre players all over the field as they came within one red zone play of reaching consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Ultimately it was heartbreak again for Jim Harbaugh and his team but rest assured efforts will be redoubled in 2014 to get them over the hump and their hands on the game's ultimate prize. Grade A-

Arizona (10-6)

Winning 10 games usually guarantees football in January so the Cardinals have every right to feel somewhat aggrieved. But such is the depth of their division now that their record was only good enough for third place and perhaps asking them to beat both Seattle and San Francisco over the closing two weeks was a little too much although the latter game went down to the last play. But their win at the Seahawks was one of the performances of the season regardless and huge credit must go to head coach Bruce Arians. Carson Palmer managed to bring some stability at quarterback and they finally look like a team that has some belief in itself after years of mediocrity. Grade B

St Louis (7-9)

There was some hope in Missouri that this could be a breakout season at last for the Rams but question marks still remained over quarterback Sam Bradford before his season was ended by injury. There were wins over Indianapolis, Chicago and New Orleans in the second half of the season but this was a team plagued by inconsistency and 2014 will be a crucial year for both Bradford and head coach Jeff Fisher. Rookies Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy provided some highlight reel plays on offense while Robert Quinn was unplayable at times from the defensive end position so this is a team that has some talent in place to move forward. Grade C

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