In the NFC:
7. The Chicago Bears
High point: The Bears began the season 7-1. but perhaps the biggest positive of the season was the rediscovery of the Cutler to Marshall connection. The QB/WR duo were reunited in Chicago this season and proved that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Low point: In what had to be the biggest off-season surprise so far, head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday after nine seasons in Chicago – including a Super Bowl appearance, multiple playoff appearances, and a 10-6 season this year. However, this is usually what happens when a new GM is hired and doesn’t get to choose his head coach: he fires the coach the first chance he gets. Unfortunate, but true.
8. The New York Giants
High point: The big win against the Packers coming off their bye week in Week 12. It seemed like it was all systems go for the reigning Super Bowl champs, however…
Low point: You can only hope for a thrilling Eli Manning 4th quarter victory so often. And the Giants needed one too many this year. A surprisingly disappointing season for last year’s Super Bowl champs, but the Giants will be just fine. Couglin’s got it all under control.
9. The Dallas Cowboys
High point: The unlikely win against the Giants in Week 1. It seemed like they were firing on all cylinders, primed for an excellent season.
Low point: I’m going with the 29-24 loss to the Giants in October on this one. The Cowboys fought back and overcame a 23-0 deficit…and then lost the game. It was basically the story of the season for the Boys in Blue.
10. The St. Louis Rams
High point: If I were a Rams fan, I would feel great about this season. The Rams, under new head coach Jeff Fisher, finished 4-1-1 (4 wins, 1 loss, 1 tie) in their division this season. For a team that finished 7-9 on the season, that’s not too shabby.
Low point: The overseas obliteration by the Patriots. It’s one thing to lose; it’s quite another when you have to think about it for hours on end on a flight home from Europe. Salt in the wound.
11. The Carolina Panthers
High point: The fortification of Cam Newton. He had a rough initiation to his second year as a starting QB but seemed to emerge stronger and better for it, winning 4 of their last 5 games.
Low point: The pre-season Super Bowl guarantee. Just say no to theatrics and promises.
12. The New Orleans Saints
High point: I really think the high point for the Saints this year isn’t a single moment; it was a collective decision to fight, not fold. The Saints were up against Everest this season with all of the suspensions and circus of Bounty Gate, but they gave it their best shot every week. I’d bet Drew Brees and his heart and passion had a lot to do with that.
Low point: Having the entire country wonder whether the Saints would even win a single game this season after a seemingly hopeless 0-4 start. And, it has to be mentioned: the suspensions. The ones that stuck and the ones that didn’t but still lingered over the whole season. They played through it as well as anyone could have hoped for, but it was still a major distraction.
13. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
High point: The emergence of rookie running back Doug Martin. His breakout 251-yard game in Week 9 was unreal. (Although the nickname “muscle hamster” might be a person low point for Martin.)
Low point: The way the Week 7 game against the Saints ended, with the enforcement of the illegal touching of a forward pass penalty. It felt like such a let-down after a riveting, hard-fought game.
14. The Arizona Cardinals
High point: The 4-0 start.
Low point: The rest of the season.
15. The Detroit Lions
High point: Calvin Johnson breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record. He deserved that record as a player and as a person.
Low point: There were a lot of heartbreaking losses for the Lions this season. (Not that I’m complaining; I’m a Packers fan after all.) But if I were on the sidelines, I think the most soul-crushing would have been the Thanksgiving day loss to the Texans, in large part due to the enforcement of the crazy challenge flag rules.
16. The Philadelphia Eagles
High point: Winning 3 of their first 4 games, which seemed like a good sign for the Eagles, despite the fact that they were winning in improbable, by-the-skin-of-their-teeth sorts of ways.
Low point: Losing 11 of their next 12 games, which seemed to expose the flaws that were hinted at during the less-than-convincing wins at the beginning of the season. Head coach Andy Reid was fired on Monday after 14 seasons with the team. He’s already interviewing for new head coaching jobs, and he’ll no doubt bring new life into whichever job he chooses. He’s a class act.
Good work, everyone! We made it through both conferences in one day! Woo hoo!!!
Tomorrow, we’ll look ahead to Wildcard Weekend and chat about the teams headed to the playoffs. See you then!