As part of our two-part series, here are your NFC teams’ season reviews. Do you agree with our selections for each category? Make sure you follow us on Twitter and join in the conversation!
The good: Kyler Murray-DeAndre Hopkins connection. You can forgive most players when transitioning to a new team, especially at the wide receiver position. However, Nuk hit the ground running and despite having precious little offseason to build rapport and chemistry with K1, Hopkins was able to tie his career best in receptions and post his third-best season in terms of receiving yardage. While he would have liked to find the end zone more than six times this year, it bodes well that he and Kyler were able to produce those numbers straight out of the gate, which included one of the season highlights in the “Hail Murray”.
The bad: 2019 WR class. The Cardinals tried to support their #1 overall pick with weapons from the start. Andy Isabella (2nd round), Hakeem Butler (4th) and KeeSean Johnson (6th) were all wide receivers selected in the same draft. Outside of a few Isabella highlight plays, these WRs have struggled to be on the team, be on the field or catch the ball. Isabella leads the trio with 30 catches for 413 yards and 3 TDs in both seasons since being drafted… nothing to write home about. Hakeem Butler is no longer on the team and now finds himself pushing for a TE in Philadelphia, while you’d struggle to even remember who KeeSean Johnson is. Cards fans will be hoping for some magic third-year breakout, but with Kirk and Nuk established in the team, it’s hard to see Isabella or Johnson play any bigger role than they currently occupy in Glendale.
The ugly: Post bye-week results. Arizona were in a good position heading in to their Week 8 bye, sitting at 5-2 after their OT win against the Seahawks. However, on the ‘back nine’, they posted just three wins and slumped to 8-8 with a lacklustre performance in their final game against a John Wolford-led Rams, with Murray failing to overcome the injuries suffered.
The good: Calvin Ridley. In a season of few bright spots, Ridley was one of them. The third year WR out of Alabama (where else?) surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career on 90 receptions from 143 targets. Life after Julio is no longer a fear for Falcons fans.
The bad: The 2020 season. As previously mentioned above, the season was another disappointment. Since their heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl to the Patriots, the Falcons are 28-36. We saw the departure of Dan Quinn as the Head Coach, and he has since been replaced by Arthur Smith from the Titans coaching staff.
The ugly: The manner of losses. Atlanta were the butt of many a joke as they continued to lose big leads. The highlight? The famous ‘watermelon’ kick in Dallas in Week 2. Jumping out to a 20-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys came back to lead after the game clock hit double zero. That was bad enough, but the Falcons also lost in similar style against Chicago and Tampa Bay. In an already crappy 2020 for Falcons fans, it must constantly feel like Groundhog Day. No matter how big a lead they have in future, they’ll always be looking at the bookies’ odds to stick a token nugget on the eventuality that they will take another L.
The good: Promising first season under Matt Rhule. Many teams saw Carolina as a team that would struggle to make waves in 2020. Even though they had only five wins to their name, there is a lot of promise in this Panthers team. They were fast starters too, which is unusual for teams with upheaval to the levels Carolina experienced, going 3-2 through their first five games. Matt Rhule was able to get a lot of production out of Curtis Samuel, allow Mike Davis to be relevant after CMC was sidelined and their defensive exclusive draft class made a lot of plays.
The bad: The RB big contract paradox. It’s a well-documented and often-debated issue: the value of paying your running backs a fair whack in terms of salary cap percentage. Christian McCaffrey one of THE stars in the NFL signed a four-year extension at approximately $16m a year. He only played three games in 2020, having potentially suffere the effects of shouldering the load in his first three seasons (403 touches in 2019).
The ugly: Having to stick or twist at QB and the NFL Draft. Matt Rhule and David Tepper decided on bringing Teddy Bridgewater in on a two-year, team-friendly deal. While it worked to a certain extent, a decision needs to be made with the Panthers currently picking at #8 overall. The NFL Draft is a minefield at the best of times but the Panthers must decide on whether they allow Bridgewater to play out his contract, whether to wait for the QB to fall to them at 8 (it is a good year to do so) or to package a deal together to go up to #2, #3 or #4 to get a Wilson or a Fields rather than Trey Lance/Mac Jones, who will probably be there at #8.
The good: The first six games. The Bears were one of the trailblazers in the NFC, starting 5-1 thanks to a collective effort from Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles (see below). In hindsight, it was an easy-ish schedule (wins coming against four teams with a losing record plus the pre-bye Buccaneers) and it led many a Bear fan down the wrong path. They were able to capitalise on only needing eight wins to get into the playoffs this year and, along with the Saints, participate in the first game with Nickelodeon slime!
The bad: The in-season quarterback carousel. One of the debated topics coming into the season was who was going to play QB in Chicago in 2020. Nick Foles was signed to a ridiculous deal by Ryan Pace to compete with Trubisky when there were perhaps better options available. Conspiracy theorists such as myself believe it’s all because he didn’t want anyone usurping his #2 overall draft pick from the 2017 draft, especially as Pace gave up capital to go from #3 to #2, too.
The ugly: The QB conundrum. Ryan Pace, despite seemingly willing to die on the Mitch Trubisky hill last year, won’t be doing it this season. As it stands, Trubisky is a free agent, with Chicago not exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. This means Chicago are going to feature in all the articles relating to quarterback activity over the next few months. Matt Nagy remains at the helm and Ryan Pace probably doesn’t have many more cards to play from his self-dealt hand. That hand could have included the unhappy Deshaun Watson or Super Bowl winner and MVP Patrick Mahomes. That last sentence is probably the ugliest for Bears fans.
The good: CeeDee Lamb’s first season. In a tumultuous season in Dallas, and the NFC East, 1st round rookie WR CeeDee Lamb took to the NFL like a duck to water, or a lamb to whatever… I don’t know the metaphor that should be inserted here. Nevertheless, many wondered whether there would be enough production from Dak (and the unexpected long list of QBs that threw passes for Dallas since his injury) for all the mouths to be fed. The answer was “yes, there was” and Lamb helped himself to 935 yards and 5 TDs, including one of the touchdowns of the season against the Vikings.
The bad: The defence. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Dallas’ defence was worse than awful in 2020. Giving up almost 30 poinst per game, the defence saw a lot of yesteryear stars take a step back. DeMarcus Lawrence continues to underwhelm considering the contract he was given a few years ago, Jaylon Smith has disappeared and 2019 1st round pick Leighton Vander Esch struggled to stay on the field. At cornerback, 2020 2nd round pick Trevon Diggs went hot and cold in his first year, just showing the huge Byron Jones-sized hole that was left. As for the free agency additions, well, some didn’t even see the field (I’m talking to you Gerald McCoy).
The ugly: Dak Prescott’s season and future. Here’s a joke: What’s been around for over a year, everyone is sick of hearing about it and we all can’t wait for it to be over? No, not the coronavirus (a close secnd) but Dak Prescott’s contract situation. Dak played on the exclusive rights franchise tag in 2020, and we all saw the pitfalls of doing so. His season ended early in Week 5 with a broken ankle suffered against the Giants, leaving us pondering even more questions about what to do in 2021. I didn’t think that was even possible. The same regurgitation of articles and speculation will circle this offseason. It has to end at some time, right? If Dak once again gets tagged, he’ll net around $37m in 2021, which by my reckoning will all but end his future with Dallas (as a third tag will probably be in the $50m region).
The good: D’Andre Swift’s rookie season and the running game. It really was slim pickings for the Lions, and I felt bad for thinking about putting Matt Patricia’s departure in as a good thing (although, you know, it probably is). That being said, for a team that went 5-11 in 2020, to manufacture 17 rushing touchdowns by Swift, Peterson and Kerryon Johnson is not a bad effort. OC and end of season HC Darrell Bevel does enjoy pounding the rock, but rushing attempts usually correlate to positive gamescripts, something Detroit did not enjoy much of in 2020.
The bad: Kenny Golladay’s availability. Kenny G hits free agency this offseason. It doesn’t seem plausible that the Lions will look to tag him (tag and trade possible, but unlikely) considering they have just shipped off Matt Stafford (see below) to the Rams. Whether his injuries were more “exacerbated” by the team’s poor record/performances a la Joe Mixon and AJ Green in Cincy remains to be seen but ideally, Kenny Golladay would have wanted to post decent numbers to earn himself a bigger pay check and a wider net of teams.
The ugly: Matthew Stafford’s time in the Motor City: With Stafford now in pastures new in Los Angeles, you have to feel that Stafford, a truly gifted quarterback who has put it all on the line for his team since entering the league back in 2009, has been one of the most disappointing in terms of being able to achieve anything in the NFL. Three post-season games, all ending in defeat, means Stafford never even saw the Divisional Round in Detroit. His highlight reel is up there with many other stellar QBs in the league, but his achievements are not. Hopefully, he can put that right in a Rams jersey.
Green Bay Packers
The good: Rodgers returns to MVP podium. After the 2020 draft, Aaron Rodgers must have thought to himself that there would be little chance of replicating the performance levels that saw him win his first MVP, especially with the Packers trading up to select Jordan Love. However, in the second year of Matt LaFleur’s system, the Packers returned to the NFC Champiosnhip Game, even hosting it this year, but again fell at the final hurdle. Rodgers fought off Josh Allen for his personal accolade, but I am sure he would have traded the trophy for a trip to Tampa.
The bad: Injuries. I’m clutching at straws a little bit here and there weren’t too many notches in the negative column except for the ugly below. However, a couple of injuries throughout the season, headlined by left tackle David Bakhtiari at the back end of the season, contributed to the Packers’ failure to get through their NFC title game with Tampa Bay. You could argue that Davante Adams’ injury in Weeks 3 and 4 cost him a visit to the 20 TD reception club alongside Jerry Rice (20) and Randy Moss (23).
The ugly: Falling at the final hurdle… again. Most fans and teams would snap your hand off if you said to them that they could have the chance to compete in back-to-back NFC Championship Games. However, the bigger the game, the harder the fall and now questions will be asked whether, despite getting so near yet so far in the last two seasons, the current set-up and assortment of players is right set to get Green Bay back to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams
The good: Aaron Donald. It’s pretty much a copy-and-paste job with #99 for the Rams enjoying another stellar season on his way to earning another Defensive Player of the Year crown. Donald added another 13.5 sacks this season, taking his career total to 85.5. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep up the production as he will hit his 30s before the 2021 season start.
The bad: Jared Goff and John Wolford switcharoo. You know things are rough at the quarterback position when the backup usurps the starter: ask any Chicago Bears fan. Jared Goff suffered a thumb injury at the business end of the season, prompting former AAF QB John Wolford to step in, take the reins and actually help to guide the Rams to the playoffs. This caused a media frenzy on trying to identify the Rams QB for their playoff game, leaving McVay very tight-lipped. In the end, it didn’t really matter either way.
The ugly: Future planning strategies. Many will see the trade of Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford as a great one. However, LA essentially paid to dump Goff’s salary, but they do get a more competent and talented QB to help get them back to another Super Bowl. However, with that trade, the Rams continue their love of trading 1st round picks. Funnily enough, that last 1st round pick the Rams made was for Jared Goff at #1 overall back in 2016. That trade saw them also trade away the 2017 Round 1 pick and have since made further moves, including the trade for Brandin Cooks. With this most recent trade, they are not scheduled to pick in the 1st round until 2024. The reason I have put this in the ugly section is that Rams fans must hate it when draft time comes around and also, you could argue that the plan isn’t working. All will be forgiven though if Stafford is the key that unlocks the Vince Lombardi trophy cabinet.
The good: Justin Jefferson. Only one place to go here. Justin Jefferson was on many people’s lists for Offensive Rookie of the Year. It wasn’t quite to be for Jefferson and he saw his namesake Herbert take that crown. However, Jefferson stole the hearts of many Minnesota fans and fantasy football GMs in 2020, with 1,400 receiving yards from 88 receptions. We also saw his “griddy dance” TD celebration seven times.
The bad: The defence. Not quite Dallas Cowboys levels here but for most parts of the season, the defence was about as stingy as Santa on Christmas morning. Like Dallas, the Vikings gave up almost 30 points per game and talking of Xmas, they were handed a 50 burger by the Saints while everyone was tucking in to their turkey. Long gone are the days of the Vikings defence of 2017.
The ugly: The kicking game. Dan Bailey, back in his Dallas days, was as automatic as they came but he was the complete opposite in Minnesota in 2020. Bailey made a paltry 68.2% of his kicks last season. The low point was the game in Week 13 against the Jaguars when the Vikings literally drove to the goal line to help Bailey make a successful field goal in OT to get the W.
New Orleans Saints
The good: Christmas Day feasting. The Saints and Vikings played a rare game on Christmas Day this year and while we were all gorging ourselves, Alvin Kamara feasted on the Minnesota defence. Week 17 usually throws a spanner in the works with some anomalies and Kamara helped himself to SIX RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS in a single game. He joined Gayle Sayers and Dub Jones as the only other players to find the end zone on six occasions. He totaled 155 yards on the ground and a relatively paltry 17 yards through the air to cap off one of the most dominant performances by an RB in a game.
The bad: Injuries. Sean Payton and the Saints had more than their fair share of injuries to key players this season. Drew Brees once against missed time, while his favourite target from 2019, Michael Thomas, also missed the back end of the regular season due to a high ankle sprain. But despite losing both of those, and other parts too, they were still able to generate touchdowns, points and wins with Taysom Hill, Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook. It was similar to last season when Teddy Bridgewater came in and was still able to go undefeated in his short stint at QB. Kudos to the coaching and preparation down in New Orleans.
The ugly: Drew Brees – will he/won’t he retire? At time of writing, we are still unsure whether Father Time has defeated Drew Brees and whether he’ll be joining us for the 2021 season. You’ll notice that if you search Drew Brees on Twitter/social media, there is a lot of fun poking relating to Drew Brees’ arm strength and power. There are split allegiances in New Orleans and in the NFL social community as to whether it’s in Drew’s best interests to play next season. I hope that it’s a decision that he chats with Sean Payton about and they come to a joint decision as the last two seasons’ injuries are not helping the team, possibly even hindering them looking far enough forward into the future.
New York Giants
The good: Joe Judge/Patrick Graham. There isn’t too much to draw a positive spin on if you are a Giants fan from the 2020 season. Not that you were expecting to contest a Super Bowl so if you can clutch at any straws, it’s that the players seemed to buy in to Joe Judge’s ethos and culture. His Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham got his name out there with the way his defence played this season, ending up surprisingly as a top 10 scoring defence. If the offence wasn’t the second-worst points scorers in the division, they may have well seen a playoff game this season.
The bad: The offence. Now to that offence. Ranked 31st in terms of points scored, they once again fought injuries. Saquon Barkley’s draft day and his rookie season seem like distant memories, as do any game where all of their receiving targets were all able to take the field. Expect the Giants to bolster their WR room in the draft and free agency.
The ugly: The turf monster grabs Daniel Jones. One of the highlights of the year saw the Giants quarterback Daniel Jones get swallowed up by the turf monster. In front of a primetime audience on Thursday Night Football, Daniel Jones caught all of the Eagles’ defensive players off guard on a designed run, as he tucked the ball and ran for paydirt. However, as you can see below, his legs were moving at a different speed than his mind and the invisible turf monster did the rest.
The good: Jalen Hurts’ promise. I’m not going to lie, I nearly typed “literally none” or “you tell me and I’ll put it in here” for the Eagles because the season was an absolute abomination (this is supposed to be the good segment). I nearly plumped for Boston Scott’s last minute TD to beat the Giants in Week 7 but I thought I’d try and project some optimism at a time where there isn’t too much in the City of Brotherly Love. Hurts showed flashes this season when Carson Wentz was benched. The 2nd round pick from last year’s NFL Draft splits opinion on whether he is the future of the franchise, especially with the Eagles sitting at #6 overall in the 2022 draft . That’s about as good as I can get. Sorry.
The bad: Drafting receivers. Let’s face it, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson simply cannot pick a successful wide receiver in April. Jalen Reagor was this year’s 1st round selection and the Eagles tripled down later on with Quez Watkins and John Hightower. They combined for 669 yards and 2 TDs on the season. 2019 WR pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside somehow managed to have a worse year than his rookie season totaling just four catches and his only TD came from a teammate’s fumble. Their draft selections over the past few years are the main reason why they are in their current state but those wide receiver selections are something else.
The ugly: Carson Wentz. Again, plenty to choose from but quarterbacks get all of the love when they are winning, so they have to take the falls too. Wentz looked the smallest of shadows of himself compared to his Super Bowl winning season and the year where the MVP crown was robbed from him due to injury. However in 2020, he accounted for 15 interceptions, took 50 sacks and completed 57.4% of his passes. That is #NotGreatBob. The aftermath is that the fractured relationship between Wentz and HC Doug Pederson saw both of them walk through the exit door to pastures new. Can Wentz be fixed by teaming up with old OC Frank Reich in Indy? Will Doug Pederson end up with another HC gig in the future? Time will tell.
San Francisco 49ers
The good: Jimmy Garoppolo’s revenge win against the Patriots. I went a bit left field here as there were a few bright spots for a 49ers team that went 6-10 in 2020. It’s always to go back to your old stomping ground and pick up a win, but the 49ers’ 33-6 demolition of the Patriots in Foxboro’ in Week 7 must have been pretty sweet. Unfortuantely for the handsome QB, he was unable to throw a passing TD, as the ground work was all done… on the ground by Jeff Wilson. But those are the games you enjoy just that little bit more.
The bad: The humilation from the Dolphins. The 49ers succumbed to some Fitzmagic from the Dolphins in Week 5 and it was the Dolphins’ defence that also outshone a usually elite San Fran defence. Jimmy G threw two interceptions inside the final minute of the first half, handing the Dolphins a 30-7 lead at the half and that was the game done.
The ugly: Injuries. This was yet another team that suffered with key injuries. Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle and the majority of their running backs were missing for large portions of the season and this was replicated on defence too with Nick Bosa, Kwon Alexander, Richard Sherman and Dee Ford, to name just a few, all missed time. This left the 49ers playing with their arms behind their backs all season. Their 6-10 record was admirable in the circumstances but it remains to be seen if the momentum from reaching the Super Bowl in 2019 can be rekindled and replicated.
The good: Two 1,000-yard receivers. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are an excellent duo to have. DK seems to have grown immensely in his first few seasons in the NFL and is certainly not a one-trick pony, he can chase down defenders too! The duo had their ups and downs during the season but when they went big, they went big. Lockett had a huge Week 6 against Arizona, going for 200 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Metcalf, selected to his first Pro Bowl in his second year, went bananas the week after against San Francisco with 161 yards and 2 TDs. DK was able to post eight 100-yard receiving games and 10 games with a touchdown, which is great momentum to take into 2021. Honourable mention: Jason Myers – 100% FG made.
The bad: The loss against the Giants. In a loss that no one saw coming, the Giants walked into CenturyLink Field and stifled Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, defeating them 17-12. Just five points were scored in the first half (all by Seattle) but the Giants defence had their number all game and Alfred Morris piled on two touchdowns as a nice blast from the past.
The ugly: Pass defence. Far gone are the days of the Legion of Boom and in 2020, you could just throw on the Seahawks. They gave up the second-most yards through the air (4,560) and took the field collectively for the most snaps. They were actually outside the top 10 in terms of rush yardage given up; their ranking in terms of sacks was also pretty good but Seattle will look to vastly improve on this heading into next year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The good: First Super Bowl win since 2002. The move for Tom Brady and some of his pals paid off. In the biggest headline move in the last offseason, the Buccaneers prized Tom away from New England and it worked to perfection. Demolishing the reigning champions in their home stadium was music to the ears of Bucs fans. It was a team effort too, with the defence capturing their best levels of performance when it mattered most, having travelled to Green Bay for the NFC title game.
The bad: Early season form. It wasn’t all straightforward for the Buccaneers though, as they did suffer some low points early on. This includes a 38-3 ass-kicking by the Saints on Monday Night Football in Week 9, on the same field on which they eventually won the Super Bowl. It seems as if all that was needed was their Week 13 bye as they were pretty much perfect from that point on.
The ugly: The messy Super Bowl parade. Tom Brady and alcoholic beverages do not mix well. One of the lighter moments from the season was seeing Tom Brady get escorted to god knows where to take a timeout. He poked fun at himself later on Twitter saying that they were avocado shots. He was able to complete a successful pass of the Lombardi Tophy from his boat to his teammates’ boat, however ill-advised it was. For a guy who is approaching his mid-40s, to play at the levels he has, especially this season, his body must have been a temple with regards to guilty pleasures so it’s good to see him have a bit of fun. Not fun though was the other messy instance on the parade as Chris Godwin lost his phone after teammate Scotty Miller dropped it in the water. He needed a helping hand from Mike Evans’ Instagram to contact Verizon to help him get a new one.
Washington Football Team
The good: Alex Smith retaking the field. Alex Smith was by far the most appropriate recipient to ever be crowned the Comeback Player of the Year. His efforts were all worth it as he and the team claimed an NFC East crown and the team put up a sterling effort against the eventual Super Bowl winners in the Wild Card round. It’s a shame Smith wasn’t able to play a pivotal part in the offseason adventures, but we recommend going to watch the story on ESPN’s documentary. Honourable mention: Ron Rivera winning the cancer battle off the field.
The bad: The limitations of the offence. It’s probably a bit harsh considering the heroics of Mr Smith, but you have to think that Washington are only a QB away from being a real dark horse contender for the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay were there for the taking in the Wild Card round and while I’m not saying that Heinicke wasn’t good or Alex Smith would have won the game if 100% healthy, the cat would have been put among the pigeons had an average-to-decent QB was signal-calling for the team. There is an interesting decision to be made by Washington in this offseason about the quarterback situation.
The ugly: The defence. I’m going to use ugly in a positive way here. This defensive line, crowned by Chase Young this year, is mean. A top 5 defence in a plethora of categories is exactly what Super-Bowl-winning defences look like. As mentioned above, the offence has a few things to work on but they have a fabulous opportunity to capitalise on the youth on the defence and the line in particular, which has seen heavy draft capital investment over the past few years. Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Jon Allen and DaRon Payne were all selected in the 1st rounds of the last four years of the NFL Draft. They have been moulded together and are a perfect blend on that front line.