Welcome, patient readers! As I’m sure you’re painfully aware, it’s been two long months since the first installment of this series (The Snowball Report: 2012 AFC). As they say, “Poop happens.” Also, “It’s better to sue than jockey.”
Yeah, don’t ask me. Ask this guy.
Anyway, in case you’ve forgotten, the point here is to identify that one team from each division which shouldn’t bother coming out of the tunnel in 2012, because they haven’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell of making the post-season. Frankly, the AFC edition of this was much easier than the NFC — there’s only one division on this side of the aisle where the choice is obvious. I’m speaking, naturally, of the…
2011 Results: 49ers (13-3); Cardinals (8-8); Seahawks (7-9); Rams (2-14)
2012 Offseason Grades: 49ers (A-); Cardinals (C-); Seahawks (B-); Rams (A-)
Do we really need to spend a lot of time, here? In certain corners of the internet, the 49ers are the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Seahawks, while not locks for a playoff berth, can enter the 2012 season with high hopes — assuming the Seahawks resolve their QB situation quickly, and Kevin Kolb gets over his little snit. (Aww… your team thought about going after Peyton Manning? Who didn’t? Get over yourself.)
So, that leaves the poor Rams. Seriously… in 2002, coming off two Super Bowls in the previous three years, a wunderkind under center, and an offensive genius stalking the sidelines, who woulda thunk St. Louis would have a grand total of one playoff win in the next 10 years? It’s sad, really.
There is hope for the future. Jeff Fisher is awesome (as part of the ’85 Bears, he couldn’t be otherwise) and there’s still reason to think Sam Bradford could soon be among the top ten (twenty?) in the league. Nevertheless, don’t talk to me about playoffs. The NFC West Snowball is the St. Louis Rams.
2011 Results: Saints (13-3); Falcons (10-6); Panthers (6-10); Buccaneers (4-12)
2012 Offseason Grades: Saints (D-); Falcons (C+); Panthers (B); Buccaneeers (A)
For me, the story in this division is clear: can the Falcons get over the hump and knock the Saints off the top? Smart money says not yet, but it will be interesting to watch.
I’m thinking neither Carolina nor Tampa have much to look forward to this year — to get a wild card berth, they’ll have to get past either the Falcons or Saints AND hope every other contending team in the NFC slips on the soap while showering. Ain’t gonna happen. But there can be only one snowball…
The Bucs have a young team, with a leaner, meaner Josh Freeman under center and a new head coach. It’s a volatile situation, which means the upside could be huge (unlikely as that may be). On the other hand, USA Today’s summary of the Panthers’ offseason begins with the words, “If the doctors and trainers come through…” Not exactly a vote of confidence. The NFC South Snowball is the Carolina Panthers.
2011 Results: Giants (9-7); Eagles (8-8); Cowboys (8-8); Redskins (5-11)
2012 Offseason Grades: Giants (A); Eagles (B+); Cowboys (A-); Redskins (B)
Let’s see. Giants win the Super Bowl, then spend the next six months getting better. The Eagles have shored up their defense. The Redskins bet the farm on RG3 (man, I’m already sick of THAT acronym) while picking up a number of better-than-average free agents.
That leaves the Cowboys. “America’s Team”. Jerry Jones’ plaything. The raison d’etre for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Whatever.
Fact is, they’re the NFC version of the Raiders. Flashy owner who loves to play head coach/GM (someone buy the man a copy of Madden ’13 already) and loads of grade-B talent, yet never able to really gel and make the dynamite go boom. In my opinion, they’d be better off promoting Kyle Orton to starter right now — it’s gonna happen by week 6 anyway. I don’t see them making the playoffs. On the other hand, there are others with more obstacles to overcome. The NFC East Snowball is the Washington Redskins.
2011 Results: Packers (15-1); Lions (10-6); Bears (8-8); Vikings (3-13)
2012 Offseason Grades: Packers (B+); Lions (B-); Bears (B); Vikings (B)
And so we come to the hardest pick of all.
I can create a realistic scenario in which any of these teams (except maybe the Vikings) could win the division. And the Vikings, despite their poor 2011 record, are worthy of wild card consideration. Christian Ponder showed flashes of, if not brilliance, then at least competence, and the addition of Jerome Simpson should help considerably.
There’s really no reason to talk about the Packers (ever), and the Lions are no fluke. But it’s the Bears who give me the most excitement coming into 2012. They were in pretty good position in late November; 7-3 and tied for second in the division with three consecutive games looming against the weak AFC West. Unfortunately, Cutler’s injury on an interception return in the win against the Chargers (along with loss of Matt Forte) spelled doom. Assuming Cutler is back to pre-injury form, and there’s no reason to think he’s not, the addition of Brandon Marshall means the Pack and Lions should be looking over their shoulders all season.
Thus, by default (although I’m not as confident in this as I am with some others), the NFC North Snowball is the Minnesota Vikings.
 As before, I’m using grades assigned by USA Today. Because reasons.