Following on from yesterday’s post it is time to say farewell to the NFC half of the disappointed twenty.
I almost don’t where to being with this team. They had a 6-3 record going into week eleven but no team can survive two quarterbacks breaking their legs and they also lost both starting guards in two separate games as injuries wreaked havoc over their roster and 2018 campaign. However, this is a franchise that has also just fired a huge number of their front office staff whilst the coaching staff have never quite convinced. Meanwhile, fans are attending games in ever fewer numbers and the glory days on the field are now over a generation away. I’m really not sure what to expect this offseason, a team that claims Reuben Foster on waivers three days after a domestic violence arrest are capable of pretty much anything but it’s possible they could compete in NFC East next year yet I could equally see it all going wrong and I certainly have very little confidence in them for the upcoming off-season.
New York Giants
The Giants got themselves a possibly all-time great a running back in this year’s draft, but that didn’t exactly result in a huge turnaround for the team, which is why the pick was questioned back in April. There is still talk of Eli Manning coming back for another year, but whilst he’s a lot better than I would be, he doesn’t look like the player who was part of two Super Bowl wins. Until they truly face up to, and resolve, the quarterback situation for the future then I think there is a pretty severe limitation to what this franchise can achieve. They also have other areas of the roster to address and are not exactly flushed with cap-space either but at least GM Dave Gettleman has built a Super Bowl contender before. There were questions about his iteration of the Panthers, but they built around Cam Newton and right now I think the Giants need a quarterback they can build round before they can improve by much. The Giants’ fans will live in interesting times this off-season.
The Vikings went into the season’s final week needing a win to make it to the playoffs and so they can hope to compete next year, but the window might be closing for a talented team that were hoping that the addition of Kirk Cousins as their quarterback would put them over the top. This very much did not happen, but there were other issues as the offence sputtered this season. The defence may have only slipped a couple of places in DVOA by the end of the year, but you don’t expect a Mike Zimmer defence to ship twenty-seven points to a woeful Bills offence and there were other slip ups. I love Zimmer as a coach, but he has not been able to find an offensive co-ordinator or quarterback to work with long term and this is something the Vikings need to get right this offseason. Cousins isn’t going anywhere with his guaranteed contract and the Vikings have the least amount of cap space available going into next year of the teams who aren’t actually over the cap at the moment i.e. thirtieth in the league. The problem with that is the Vikings’ offensive line is still letting its skill players down and so I have to wonder whether the Vikings will be able to pull something together next season or if they are going to have similar problems again. They are not going to turn into a bad team overnight but I’m not sure how they get the answers they need on offence, which would be a concern if you a fan or attached to the team but I wouldn’t rule them out of improving either. It’s just not as easy to see as for certain other teams and they need to hire the right offensive coordinator and stick by them.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers fired one of the longest tenured coaches in the league this season, having hired a new GM in the offseason and so now we get even more change. On the face of it the Packers job is appealing given the tradition of the Packers and the presence of Aaron Rodgers. However enough people have speculated about Rodgers to make me wonder if there is something about the way he has been handled by the franchise and the stories of his attitude. More concerning is the fact that he is thirty-five, the expectations that come with this job will be huge yet the Packers are in the bottom half of the league for available cap space next season and Green Bay is not exactly a free-agency destination. This is the first season where a healthy enough Aaron Rodgers hasn’t got you into the playoffs, and with the right hires and roster moves I’m sure the Packers can be back in contention next season, but I’m not sure if it is the slam dunk that some might have you believe.
The coaching tree of Bill Belichick has not exactly prospered when they have left New England and Matt Partricia had a difficult first season. The offence was hobbled by injury at the skill positions, but long term offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter paid the price and Patricia will now get to hire his own coach to run the offence. However, it would not surprise me if there was very little room for Patricia to manoeuvre going forward as he was hired to take the team on and they went backwards from their 9-7 record of the 2017 season. If Patricia can step away from some of the Belichick inspired behaviours and find his own way then the team could rebound next season, but I would not exactly be surprised if the Lions have another difficult year and then Patricia should be very concerned about his job given how cut throat the world of NFL coaching has got in recent years.
The Falcons had a difficult season, with injuries up the spine of their defence wrecking their hopes early in the season and they actually battled back pretty well to finish 7-9. It was always going to be a hard job to follow Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator, but the offence has never quite been the same since he left and Steve Sarkisian has paid the price this off-season after two years of not quite putting it together. That said they still finished with a top ten offence by DVOA and Matt Ryan is thirty-three so whilst the Falcons window to get a championship has not closed, they need to get the new co-ordinator hire right if they are to make this a blip rather than the start of a downward trend. They also can’t have a defence that ranks thirty-first in the league by DVOA, but getting players back from injury and a good draft should solve that, but they really need their offence to fly again if you’ll forgive me the pun. I couldn’t help myself. Sorry…
This was one of the stranger falls from grace as the Panthers were 6-2 after week nine but then lost seven straight games before closing out with a win against a resting Saints team in week seventeen. Until his shoulder started to bother him the unlikely pairing of Cam Newton and sixty-six year old offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner was paying dividends in their first season together, ably assisted by Christian McCaffrey who totalled nearly two thousand yards of offence this season and might have hit it if Cam Newton had not been sat for the last couple of games. More worrying for this team is that the defence slipped from seventh in the league by DVOA to twenty-second. I’m not entirely sure what the off-season holds given that the Panthers have a new owner with a background in finance and analytics whilst the coaching staff have an avowedly old school feel and the team ranks twenty-eighth in terms of cap space for next season. I think a lot of this will be immaterial if Cam Newton can’t get his shoulder healthy and manage it so he’s healthy for all of next season. I know I like to say we’ll have to wait and see a lot, but with the Panthers I think that is especially true for the next fourteen months or so.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers got off to an entertaining start whilst Jameis Winston was suspended, but then things fell apart and head coach Dirk Koetter was let go after a 5-11 season. I’m more surprised that GM Jason Licht is staying and that the Bucs have committed to Winston for next season, but now whoever the new head coach is, he will have to buy into a roster that has threatened but never quite lived up to expectations and make it work. The Bucs are actually twenty-ninth in the league for cap space next year and with a new coach but no questioning of a regime who have failed to have a winning season then I’m not sure I can buy into a turnaround until I can actually see it. For context, the Buccaneers haven’t had a winning season since 2010 or back to back winning seasons since the 1999/2000 seasons. I take no pleasure in this, but I can’t look at this record and the previous four years of Jameis Winston and say yes, the Bucs are going to be fighting for the playoffs next season. As ever, I would be delighted to be proved wrong but I think there is more turbulence to come for this franchise unless they knock this coaching hire out the park.
The 49ers got their first bad piece of injury news in pre-season when running back Jerrick McKinnon, who came across from the Vikings in the off-season, was lost to IR with a knee injury and then quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season before the 49ers even made it through a quarter of the season. In fairness the season never really got going and that will be a worry, as will the performance of a defence that couldn’t get out of the twenties by DVOA and a team who were thirtieth in the league overall. You can’t really judge the direction of this franchise by this season but I would imagine that both head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch will be feeling a sense of urgency going into this offseason. I don’t think it is time to panic, but they could do with a good offseason and a definitive improvement to solidify their project in San Francisco or they might not get to complete it. The 49ers are at least in the top ten for cap space next season so they have room to manoeuvre and I wouldn’t necessarily bet against Lynch and Shanahan pulling it off but we’ll know a lot more by about week five of next season.
The first thing I want to say about the Cardinals disaster of a season is given the state of the roster, that GM Steve Keim had a five-week suspension from the team after pleading guilty to an extreme DUI charge in the summer, and that the Cardinals’ defence was top ten at points this season, it feels a little unfair to fire head coach Steve Wilks after one year. The offence had a rookie quarterback for lots of the season and a bad offensive line and there is a lot of work to do with this team. I will be interested to see who they go with for next season and how much room Keim will be given to manoeuvre, although he seemed to work very well with Bruce Arians so has some track record with the franchise. It could take more than one offseason to turn things round again though and clearly this is a franchise who now expect a certain level of success but I wonder if they will be able to achieve the results they expect if they don’t show some patience. There are certainly a number of coaches around the league who have demonstrated that in the right situation it is possible to turn things round quickly, but I’m not convinced that any coach doesn’t deserve more than a year unless there are serious problems in the locker room or behind the scenes and I’m not aware of anything like that in Arizona. This is a situation I’m going to watch closely but I wouldn’t like to predict right now what I think will happen next season.