I hate writing this column. For any sport. It sucks when a team that everyone had high expectations for doesn’t live up to them. It sucks even more when you’re a fan of that team. This past NFL season, we had about five teams that didn’t live up to the hype. Three reside in the same division, and two that played in tough divisions, but still didn’t perform accordingly.
The whole NFC South (Catastrophe):
This was truly a catastrophe. Any time a team wins a division with under 10 wins is embarrassing. The NFC South made that look good. Every team in the division finished with a sub .500 record, with the Panthers winning it at 7-8-1. Somehow, that team made the playoffs. Somehow, they beat my Cardinals. But, then again, Ryan Lindley was starting for Arizona. So the Panthers had that game won before they even took the field.
The talk about that game puts me in a bad mood.
The Panthers “playoff season” looked like a mess early. They started 2-2, and had quarterback Cam Newton out after having a surgery in the offseason. The defense wasn’t playing as we expected it to, which killed my fantasy team for weeks. In Week 6, Carolina tied with Cincinnati. That ended up sending the team into a six game losing streak. At this point, we knew that their division was a dumpster fire, and that whoever would win it would not be a serious contender.
The Panthers though closed out the year on a four game win streak, which landed them the 4th seed, obviously, in the NFC playoffs.
It doesn’t matter if the Panthers made the playoffs. You can’t consider this a good year. The Panthers weren’t challenged within their division. I’m not even sure they were the best team in that division.
Coming into next year, Carolina has to fix the defense. The struggles they had last year were shocking. Nobody saw it coming. If they can play like they did two years ago, then this might be better team next year. The offensive side needs some more weapons, mostly at wide receiver. Carolina has some good, young talent on that side of the ball. They have to develop it.
The New Orleans Saints just might be the biggest letdown of anyone in this column. I had them at 13-3 and winning the South! 13-3!
So what happened? Well, I’d hate to say it, but Drew Brees started to show the flashes of aging. He’s still a great QB, but the mobility and big plays weren’t there this season. New Orleans had the chance to win with their offense, but couldn’t do it due to Brees’ inabilities.
Their defense wasn’t anything special, as we expected coming into the year. That obviously didn’t help. New Orleans ended up at 7-9, which actually sounds a bit better than 7-8-1. The tie is what gave Carolina the advantage. I disagree with the way that works. Ties are so rare and stupid that they should hurt you more than a loss. This is football. Your supposed to score. Crazy stuff is supposed to happen. Let it.
Anyways, New Orleans’ start to the season is what killed them. Losses to Minnesota, Cleveland and Tampa Bay had them at 2-3 by Week 5. Turns out at the end of the year, they should have won those. A three game losing streak later in the year let us know that this wasn’t the team that we expected, and like Carolina, wasn’t playoff worthy. No matter what.
The problem for New Orleans coming into this offseason is they’re cap-strapped. Completely. They can’t do anything. Cutting guys is the only option. Cutting guys that they wouldn’t want to cut. For example Marques Colston. That’d be a big loss. It’s only one of the tough decisions New Orleans faces. It also shows how this might not be a different team next year.
The Falcons were a team I thought would bounce back, but the same issues persisted for them this past year. First, the offensive line was horrific, and couldn’t open any lanes for Steven Jackson. The oh-so familiar injury bug went around the team again, affecting their main wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. The offense was close to stagnant all year. It could literally do nothing.
Atlanta’s defense was also a disaster, as the defensive line couldn’t stop any one. It was a mess all around, and they should feel lucky they finished at 6-10. I knew that they could of had this type of season, but I really like Matt Ryan, and felt that he could command this team. As we saw, he needs help. That help wasn’t there.
As a result, the Falcons fired Mike Smith, whose job was already hanging on a string before the season. Smith might have been one of the worst coaches in the league. His decision making had always been bad, especially in crunch time. Atlanta has now replaced Smith with Dan Quinn. Quinn should be able to build the defense up, which he did masterfully in Seattle. That’s where he needs to start. The Falcons have talent on the offense. They need to stay healthy and now execute.
I don’t feel like talking about Tampa Bay. I’ll get to that come draft time.
San Francisco 49ers:
I’m gonna have to be careful with what I say here. I have lots of friends very upset with how this season ended for San Francisco. Let’s just say, it’s not what anyone expected.
Finishing at 8-8, the 49ers let many down. First, the offense could never get going in any game against any team. The weapons they had installed wouldn’t produce. It wasn’t all their fault, however. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have a good year at all. His play at QB was never like it used to be. We expect flash from Kaepernick. His struggles were due to his lack of mobility. His game is best when he’s out of the pocket. That option wasn’t presented this year, and it killed the team.
The 49ers also struggled on the defensive side due to injuries, suspensions and bad play. The defensive line had a rough start to the season. Aldon Smith was suspended, while Ray McDonald had legal issues. Justin Smith lost his touch, and eventually retired because of it.
San Francisco’s secondary had issues, as they lost multiple guys before the year began. All these issues combined for San Francisco, and it wasn’t long before we realized that this team wasn’t heading back up. Jim Harbaugh’s job started to come into question.
Honestly, I didn’t see this coming from San Francisco. I thought they’d be competing for a Super Bowl trip, as they had been in years past. The 49ers issues all collided at the same time. It costed Harbaugh his job; mutual parting of ways. Harbaugh obviously took the University of Michigan job.
With new coach Jim Tomsula, the 49ers have to get back to their old ways. Letting Kaepernick loose is the key. He’s better when you let him do it himself. You can’t contain him. That’s the defense’s job.
San Francisco also has to implement discipline. The suspensions killed them last year. It can’t happen again.
I think the change of locker room culture might hurt the 49ers a bit. Tomsula isn’t Harbaugh, who’s crazy and energetic. Tomsula may be sharp-nosed and tough. It’s gonna take some adjusting for this team. Especially for the younger guys.
I can’t say what San Francisco will be like next year. It’s too tough to evaluate now.
Forget disappointing. What happened to the Bears this past season is almost beyond words. It’s unbelievable how bad they were. Chicago went 5-11. Jay Cutler was a disaster. The defense was horrendous. Marc Trestman got fired. I’m literally laying it all out, because it was such a mess and such a surprise.
The Bears main problem was Jay Cutler. He threw 18 interceptions this past year. The offense didn’t help him, with Matt Forte having trouble running the ball and injuries hurting their receiving core. This isn’t what the Bears paid for. Cutler has a $126 million contract. That’s a lot of money. He’s hasn’t been worth it. At all.
I don’t know whether Cutler will be on the Bears roster come August, but if I’m other teams who are QB needy, who feel like with him (Cutler) they could make a playoff run, I’m calling. If I’m Buffalo, or even the Jets, I’m calling. I doubt Cutler’s stock can be lower than it is now.
He wasn’t the only issue for Chicago though. The defense, which wasn’t expected to be great, was horrible. Worse than I expected it to be. They couldn’t stop anyone in the secondary or up front. Overall, it was a mess. It took them out of games when it could have stepped up in relief for the offense.
The season costed Marc Trestman his job. Honestly, deservedly so. Trestman’s system on offense wasn’t flying with Cutler any longer. It was the right move, but it was also worth the shot for Chicago. Trestman’s stint can’t be looked at as a failure.
The Bears hired John Fox in replace of Trestman. This is a great hire. No matter who’s on the roster, Fox should be able to fix this team up. Chicago has a decision to make with Cutler. Fox should have a say. He’s the one who’ll be working with him.
I’m not sure how great Chicago will be next season, but within the next couple years, they should be back to contention.