Final 2012 Regular-Season Grades for All 32 NFL Teams

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IDecember 31, 2012

Final 2012 Regular-Season Grades for All 32 NFL Teams

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    A total of 32 teams.

    Each with exactly 16 exams.

    For all but a dozen, it’s time for spring break.

    It’s the final full installment, at least for now, of the ABCs (and Ds and Fs) that you have either applauded and/or agreed with or the grades that you’ve felt haven’t been fair all season.

    But here’s a twist. For the first 16 weeks of the season, we presented you with grades based on a team’s game performance.

    This week, we are passing out final grades for the regular season based on the club’s 2012 performance.

    And we are taking many factors into account, from execution to expectation, from fast finishes to faster fades and from great performances to grating performances.

    So sit back and enjoy…we think.

    And one final note. For those who have chimed in all season via your much-appreciated comments and suggested that, every time your favorite team wins, they deserve an A+, and every time your preferred club loses they deserve an F-, well…

    All we can say is, we’ll C…

Arizona Cardinals: D+

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    Double ouch?

    For the second time in three seasons, the Arizona Cardinals are cellar-dwellers in the NFC West with a 5-11 record.

    But this time around, it probably hurts a little bit more.

    That’s because Ken Whisenhunt’s team opened the season 4-0, the franchise’s best start since 1974. But, the Cards won just once the rest of the season and wound up with almost as many starting quarterbacks (four) as wins (five).

    Arizona’s ground game was virtually non-existent, while the aforementioned quartet of quarterbacks in John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer combined for 11 touchdown passes and 27 turnovers while being sacked 58 times.

    If you are looking for a bright spot, inside linebacker Daryl Washington was a star on a very formidable defense, and Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson led the team with seven interceptions.

    Off an 8-8 season in which the team won seven of its last nine games, it was interesting to see the Cardinals pick up where they left off in 2011.

    Then again, perhaps, much more was expected following the team’s perfect September. And in a bottom-line league, this season’s performance was enough to cost both Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves their jobs.

Atlanta Falcons: A

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    Fair or unfair, for most, the Atlanta Falcons’ 13-3 finish (tied for the best record in the NFL) won’t mean much if head coach Mike Smith, quarterback Matt Ryan and the rest of the current regime don’t win a playoff game in January.

    And that figures to be a very interesting situation, considering that this club, despite its impressive record, still has some shortcomings when it comes to running the ball and stopping their opponents from doing the same.

    Only three teams in the league gained fewer yards on the ground than the Falcons, as running back Michael Turner rushed for fewer yards (800) than wideouts Roddy White (1,351) and Julio Jones (1,198) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (930) totaled receiving.

    Still, Ryan had his latest career year when it came to touchdown passes (32). But in numerous instances, Mike Nolan’s defense had its issues against the run, something that shouldn’t diminish the team’s accomplishments in 2012 but certainly something to keep an eye on.

    What was impressive was the fact that the Falcons gave up 31 total touchdowns while totaling 31 takeaways. And these Birds proved to be one of the more physical teams in the league.

    And perhaps, after suffering through postseason frustration in three of the four previous years, this is the Falcons’ time to shine.

Baltimore Ravens: B+

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    Sometimes, it’s forgotten that in terms of active streaks, no team has been to the playoffs more often the Baltimore Ravens.

    It’s been five seasons with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. And while the Ravens drop four of their last five games after a 9-2 start, the duo is a perfect 5-of-5 when it comes to reaching the postseason.

    But it still hasn’t resulted in a Super Bowl berth. In fact, in each of the previous four years, the Ravens ultimately lost to the team that would represent the AFC in the big game.

    Still, in this current era of getting hot at the right time, the Ravens have as good of a shot as any team. But in the past, when you could rely on their defense to make its share of big plays, it’s now Flacco, running back Ray Rice and the offense that carries the load.

    Still, the defensive cupboard isn’t bare, and with leader Ray Lewis expected back for the postseason, it will be interesting to see if the club can win at least one playoff game for the fifth straight year.

    But that certainty of seasons' past is certainly not what it was.

Buffalo Bills: D+

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    For more than a decade, we’ve heard that no one circles the wagons more than the Buffalo Bills. And given their past glory days, who is there to argue?

    But it may be time for the franchise to get a new mode of transportation, and with it, a new compass.

    For the fifth straight season, the Bills have finished dead last in the AFC East, and for the second straight year, it is with a 6-10 record.

    However, after significant changes during the offseason, most notably on the defensive side of the ball, many felt there was a chance that Chan Gailey’s team could grab a playoff berth for the first time since 1999, ending the longest current drought in the league.

    It was never meant to be.

    The erratic Bills allowed 48 offensive touchdowns and a whopping 435 points. And it’s worth noting that while Gailey’s club gave up 88 points in their six wins, opponents averaged 34.7 points per game in the Bills’ 10 setbacks. All told, Buffalo surrendered at least 45 points on four occasions.

    While running back C.J. Spiller was at times electrifying, the inconsistent play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was shocking, as he was responsible for 22 of the team’s 34 turnovers.

    With Gailey given his walking papers, it figures to be another interesting offseason for a franchise that continues to tread water rather than make significant strides.

Carolina Panthers: C

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    Last season, the Carolina Panthers won four of their last six games to finish 6-10.

    In 2012, Ron Rivera’s team won its final four contests to finish 7-9 and in second place in the NFC South.

    Now, if the Panthers can only get the first three months of the season down pat, perhaps, they could one day be a playoff team again sooner than later.

    After a very shaky start, second-year quarterback Cam Newton finished strong. In the team’s final seven games (5-2), the Panthers signal-caller threw 11 touchdown passes and just two interceptions while rushing for 387 yards and four scores. All told, Newton wound up leading the team in rushing with 741 yards, four ahead of running back DeAngelo Williams (737).

    Meanwhile, Carolina’s defense seemed to make strides as the year wore on, and by season’s end, wound up 10th in the league in fewest yards allowed. Defensive ends Charles Johnson (12.5) and Greg Hardy (11.0) combined for 23.5 of the team’s 39 sacks. And standout rookie middle linebacker Luke Kuechly led the team in tackles.

    Yes, it was a season of peaks and valleys in Carolina. But perhaps, the third time will be the charm for Newton and this current group of Panthers.

Chicago Bears: B-

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    A 10-win season is usually the ticket to the NFL playoffs.

    Then again, a 3-5 finish, following a 7-1 start, isn’t usually a formula for success.

    And despite a winning record and a near-miss when it came to the postseason, the Lovie Smith Era has come to an end in the Windy City.

    A team that forced an NFL-best 44 turnovers while producing 41 sacks and scoring 42 total touchdowns should have fared better. But an offensive unit that managed only 31 touchdowns and a one-dimensional passing attack, perhaps, made it far too easy for the opposition.

    And while a somewhat sturdy defensive unit gave up the fifth-fewest yards in the league, the team’s dependency on turnovers came back to haunt it when it was all said and done.

    Quarterback Jay Cutler and wideout Brandon Marshall were reunited, and it felt so good for the most part. But while the latter hauled in 118 passes, Earl Bennett was second amongst the team’s wide receivers with just 29 catches.

    While Cutler threw for 19 scores, he also committed 18 of the club’s two dozen turnovers.

    Turnover. Seems like that could be the theme of the offseason in Chicago.

Cincinnati Bengals: A-

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    For a change, the Cincinnati Bengals wound up overcoming a sluggish start and now head into the playoffs on a bit of a roll.

    Dating back to 2005, Marvin Lewis’ team parlayed strong first halves in 2005, 2009 and 2011 into postseason appearances. But following a 3-5 start and riding a four-game losing streak, the Bengals enter the second season winners of three straight and seven of their last eight contests.

    The franchise is also making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 1981 and ’82 seasons.

    Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton settled down nicely after a so-so start, throwing 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions in his final eight games after serving up nearly as many interceptions (11) as scores (14) during the team’s 3-5 start.

    It was a second straight Pro Bowl season for wideout A.J. Green, while free-agent pickup BenJarvus Green-Ellis gave the ground game some needed stability.

    And lest we forget about a defensive unit that allowed just eight offensive touchdowns during the club’s 7-1 finish. Mike Zimmer’s group was led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who totaled 13 of the team’s 51 sacks.

    The franchise has not won a playoff game since defeating the Houston Oilers in the 1990 Wild Card Playoffs. But this is a dangerous team that’s playing its best football at the right time.

Cleveland Browns: C

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    Led by some young and up-and-coming talent, the Cleveland Browns certainly made some strides in 2012.

    Unfortunately, those strides weren’t always reflected on the scoreboard. And thanks to a season-ending three-game losing streak (which followed three straight wins), the Browns managed only five wins while losing at least 11 games for the fifth consecutive season.

    Rookies such as running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon all had their moments. All told, the Browns scored 302 points, nearly 100 more than in 2011 (218).

    After going winless within the division the previous season, the team did manage wins over the playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals and rival Pittsburgh Steelers. But the negatives still outweighed the positives, and it appears change is inevitable in Cleveland once again.

    And that’s hardly a surprise for a franchise that’s a dismal 73-151 since returning to the NFL in 1999.

Dallas Cowboys: C

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    One of these years, the Dallas Cowboys will put together a consistent season from top to bottom.

    Still, Jason Garrett’s club had its chances to not only win the NFC East but secure a playoff berth with an 8-6 record and two games to play. But an overtime loss at home to the New Orleans Saints was followed by a tough 28-18 setback to the Washington Redskins, the latter in a winner-take-all contest for the division title.

    Hence, these Cowboys finished 8-8 for the second straight year and have now gone three straight seasons without reaching the playoffs.

    Quarterback Tony Romo served up three interceptions in the Week 17 loss to the Redskins but had been playing excellent football as of late before that performance. The lack of a ground game hurt most of the year, but wideout Dez Bryant came into his own while veteran Jason Witten set a record for receptions by a tight end in season.

    Inevitably, a battered Dallas defense, most notably at linebacker, was an issue, although Anthony Spencer had a big year. The additions of cornerback Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were positives.

    But, none of that helps when you give up over 200 yards rushing in the season finale. And it will be another offseason of what if’s in Big D.

Denver Broncos: A+

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    Off to a 2-3 start and with losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and New England Patriots, there were question marks on just how good these new-look Denver Broncos truly were.

    Apparently, it was just a matter of time as quarterback Peyton Manning would shake off the rust of a lost 2011 season and not only helped his new team win their final 11 regular-season games, the Broncos wound up tying the Falcons for the best record in the NFL, and like Atlanta, are the No. 1 seed in their respective conference.

    The veteran signal-caller set numerous franchise records, most notably 37 touchdown passes (the previous high was 27 by John Elway and Jake Plummer). Denver finished second in the league in points scored (481), quite a jump from the 303 points scored by the team in 2011.

    However, the Broncos defense, led by coordinator Jack Del Rio, deserves its share of credit as well, tying for the league lead with 52 sacks and holding seven of their last seven opponents to 17 points or less.

    John Fox certainly knows how to get a team to the Super Bowl in his second season with a club (see the Carolina Panthers in 2003). And it’s safe to say that it will take a big effort from some team to beat the Broncos in the playoffs in the Mile High City.

Detroit Lions: D

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    Off their first playoff appearance since 1999, the Detroit Lions hoped to pick up where they left off in 2011.

    Unfortunately for Jim Schwartz’s team, it did just that. But if you include their Wild Card Game loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Lions finished 5-7 after a 5-0 start a year ago.

    And thanks to a season-ending eight-game losing streak, including a 0-6 mark within the division, Detroit’s disappointing 4-12 finish put them six games behind the third-place Chicago Bears (as well as the second-place Minnesota Vikings) in the NFC North standings.

    It wasn’t as if there weren’t any positives. It was a record-setting season for Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson, he had 122 receptions and an unprecedented 1,964 receiving yards.

    Quarterback Matthew Stafford set a league mark with 727 pass attempts, and his 4,967 passing yards were second in the NFL in 2012. But the Lions signal-caller totaled just 20 touchdown passes and was picked off 17 times a season after throwing for 41 scores and 16 interceptions.

    Of course, not all the news was good. Shaky special teams play early in the season was followed by a season’s worth of defensive issues. Add in an ineffective running game (although running back Mikel Leshoure showed some promise) and a four-win season is hardly surprising.

    Now, the Lions’ brass must determine whether 2012 was a sign of things to come or rather a speed bump.

Green Bay Packers: A-

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    It seems every season we’re talking about the Green Bay Packers and overcoming major injuries.

    In 2012, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and company simply overcame a 2-3 start by winning nine of their last 11 games and capturing the NFC North for the second consecutive year.

    Try as they may, Mike McCarthy and company tried many ways to fix the Green Bay ground attack (see Cedric Benson). So on offense, it was once again up to Rodgers and the reigning league MVP delivered in a big way.

    One season after throwing 45 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions, the Pro Bowl performer “slumped” to a mere 39 scores while being picked off only eight times. With Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson amongst the wounded during the season, second-year pro Randall Cobb and veteran James Jones stepped to the forefront.

    Defensively, the team looked like they had cured what ailed them in 2011. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews missed some time but still racked up 13 of the team’s 47 sacks (up from 29 sacks in 2011). But the Pack also forced only 23 turnovers as the sustained absence of veteran safety Charles Woodson was certainly felt.

    Still, the Packers are back in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and remain as dangerous as any team in the league when it comes to grabbing another Lombardi trophy.

Houston Texans: B+

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    In some ways, the Houston Texans are hoping that there’s somewhat of a repeat of 2011 in their immediate future.

    After being the frontrunner for the conference’s best record for the majority of the season, Gary Kubiak’s lost three of its last four games to finish 12-4 (still a new franchise record for wins) and wind up the No. 3 seed in the AFC for the second straight year.

    And once again, the Texans will host the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

    But don’t forget that Houston dropped its last three games in 2011 and still won their first-ever postseason game before losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round.

    Let’s not paint the picture all gloom and doom, especially with a team featuring running back Arian Foster, wideout Andre Johnson and breakout defensive end J.J. Watt, who led the league with 20.5 sacks and batted more balls than some of the Astros.

    However, injuries to inside linebacker Brian Cushing and others eventually took their toll. The Texans allowed 188 points in their last seven games after giving up only 143 points in their first nine outings.

    More significantly, quarterback Matt Schaub has not looked like himself for roughly a month. And when it’s all said and done, he’ll be starting his first playoff game on Saturday.

    Texans fans are hoping it won’t be his last this January.

Indianapolis Colts: A+

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    Simply put, “Chuckstrong” says it all.

    After removing the general manager, the head coach, the record-setting quarterback (who missed all of 2011) and most of the roster, the Indianapolis Colts started from scratch after a 2-14 showing.

    They wound up finishing 2012 with a bang. And to say they had to overcome a few obstacles would be an understatement.

    With new head coach Chuck Pagano sidelined for most of the season (leukemia) and a roster loaded with rookies such as first overall pick Andrew Luck, the Colts turned a pair of wins into 11 victories, capping one of the great comeback stories in league annals with a playoff berth.

    More importantly, Pagano’s comeback itself is even more impressive, the coach returning to the sidelines for the season finale, a 28-16 win over the Houston Texans.

    Now, the Colts and their rookie-laden roster head to Baltimore, Pagano’s previous home before taking over in Indianapolis. And if his young players, along with veteran Reggie Wayne, can continue to step up, the magic will continue another week.

    And for those thinking Luck was a one-man show this season, keep in mind that the Colts scored 40 touchdowns in 2012, and 22 of them came from six members of this year’s draft class, led by wideout T.Y. Hilton (8) and Luck (5).

    What a season. What a story.

    “Chuckstrong” indeed…

Jacksonville Jaguars: F

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    There’s not much to say when a team not only sets a new franchise record for losses in a season but ties for the worst record in the NFL.

    In head coach Mike Mularkey’s debut season as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, the team closed 2012 with five straight losses and finished with a dreadful 2-14 mark.

    There were a lot of factors that contributed to the club’s dreadful showing, with the near season-long absence of running back Maurice Jones-Drew one of the leading causes.

    Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert did get off to a respectable start before going down, and Chad Henne had his moments. While rookie wideout Justin Blackmon put up respectable numbers, the star pass-catcher was Cecil Shorts, who averaged 17.9 yards per his 55 receptions and scored a team-high seven touchdowns.

    The biggest culprit was a defensive unit that fell off considerably from 2011. And with a pass rush that produced a mere 20 sacks, teams had their way with Mel Tucker’s unit for the vast majority of the season.

    Obviously, there’s nowhere to go but up after a two-win season. Of course, many were saying that after a 5-11 finish in 2011.

Kansas City Chiefs: F-

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    What happened?

    A year ago under interim head coach/now former head coach Romeo Crennel, the Kansas City Chiefs won two of their last three games and gave many hope that 2012 would be different for an injury-riddled team that finished 7-9 but just one game out of first place in the AFC West (won by the 8-8 Denver Broncos).

    Apparently it not meant to be, it was meant to be an F…as in failure.

    The Chiefs will be picking first in the 2013 NFL draft, thanks to a 2-14 record that saw the team commit 37 turnovers, tied for the most in the league. Kansas City totaled just 211 points, the worst mark in the league, and was limited to 17 or fewer points in a dozen games.

    Quarterbacks Matt Cassel (19) and Brady Quinn (8) combined for 27 of the team’s 37 miscues.

    One very bright spot was running back Jamaal Charles, who ran for 1,509 yards after missing the final 14 games of 2011 with a knee injury.

    Defensively, Kansas City ranked 27th against the run, ironic because that was also the number of sacks that the defense produced. And when you combine that with just 13 takeaways, also tied for the worst mark in the league, it adds up to the possibility of a long season.

    And when the Chiefs take the field in 2013, they’ll have their third different sideline leader in as many years.

Miami Dolphins: C+

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    It wasn’t that long ago that the Miami Dolphins were the talk of the NFL. In 2008, first-time head coach Tony Sparano was part of the reason that the team bounced back from a 1-15 finish to capture the AFC East with an 11-5 mark.

    And while these Dolphins were blanked by the New England Patriots, 28-0, in Sunday’s season finale to wrap up a fourth straight losing season, perhaps they’re a little closer to be in the playoff discussion than most would care to admit.

    Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill would throw more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (12) this season. But he also looked better as the season wore on, and it’s apparent that the franchise made a solid move in April.

    Running back Reggie Bush fell short of 1,000 yards rushing, but the Miami ground game also showed some promise, while Brian Hartline emerged as a reliable receiver.

    The Dolphins defense also opened some eyes once again as defensive end Cameron Wake totaled 15 of the team’s 42 sacks. But more big plays were needed as Miami totaled a mere 16 takeaways.

    It’s safe to say that head coach Joe Philbin and the organization has something going in South Florida. The key will be showing that the team can take a few more steps forward in 2013.

Minnesota Vikings: A

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    Perhaps, the initials A.P. should stand for Absolutely Perfect.

    Because, thanks to 199 yards rushing on Sunday in a 37-34 win over the Green Bay Packers, running back Adrian Peterson helped transform a Minnesota Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 2011 to a 10-win team in 2012 headed to the playoffs.

    And when you consider that Peterson, who finished with the second-most rushing yards in a season in NFL history (2,097) was carried off the field in Washington last December in Week 16 with a horrible knee injury, it makes this season’s performance even more impressive.

    Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder took a back seat to Peterson for most of the season as he struggled with consistency, although he and the team missed injured wideout Percy Harvin.

    On the other side of the ball, Minnesota surrendered 100 fewer points than they had in 2011, and a pass rush that produced 50 sacks last season came right back with 44 sacks. Still, a Vikings team that gave up a league-high 34 touchdown passes a year ago was only slightly improved (28) in 2012.

    More importantly, head coach Leslie Frazier and company have at least one more week to work on getting better as they head to Lambeau Field for the Wild Card playoffs. And we’ll see if Peterson and company can continue this magical roll of sorts.

New England Patriots: A

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    Here we go again. And for the New England Patriots, that figures to be a very good thing.

    After splitting their first six games, only a Week 15 loss to the 49ers prevented the defending AFC champions from running that table as Bill Belichick’s club won a fourth consecutive AFC East title.

    Led by prolific quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 34 scores and only eight interceptions, the Patriots totaled a league-high 557 points, the third-highest single-season total in NFL annals. The league’s top-ranked offense was a bit more balance than in recent seasons as Stevan Ridley (1,263 yards) helped the Pats finish seventh in the NFL in rushing.

    On the defensive side of the ball, Belichick’s club still had its issues against the pass, as only three teams in the league gave up more yards through the air while New England defenders have up 27 scores though the air.

    Still, the Pats had more than enough firepower for the opposition, even with Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski sidelined for several weeks. Wideout Wes Welker became the first player in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes in five different seasons.

    And thanks to a team that forced 41 turnovers, second most in the league, the Patriots finished first in the NFL in turnover differential (+25) for the second time in three seasons.

    Now, let’s see if Brady, Belichick and company can parlay another big year into a sixth Super Bowl appearance in a dozen seasons.

New Orleans Saints: C+

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    With a playoff appearance in 2012, the New Orleans Saints could have set a franchise record with a fourth straight trip to the postseason.

    But thanks to an unprecedented offseason, and despite a strong midseason surge, the Cajuns couldn’t overcome a dreadful 0-4 start and finished with six fewer wins (7-9) than they did in 2011 (13-3).

    Quarterback Drew Brees continued to rack up big numbers, throwing for 5,000-plus yards for an unprecedented second straight season and the third time in five years. And with a league-high 43 scoring passes, the prolific one became the first player to notch 40-plus touchdown passes in consecutive campaigns.

    But not only did Steve Spagnuolo’s defense finished last in the NFL in yards allowed, it set a new league mark by surrendering 7,042 total yards. And only the Tennessee Titans (471) gave up more points than the Saints (454).

    The good news for the team is that head coach Sean Payton, suspended for the entire 2012 season, will be back in 2013. But there are certainly some hard decisions to come in the Big Easy.

New York Giants: C+

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    In 2010, the New York Giants finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs.

    A year later, Tom Coughlin’s team fashioned a 9-7 record, thanks to wins in their final two games, scored 394 points while allowing 400, good enough to be a springboard to a win in Super Bowl XLVI.

    This season, déjà vu turned into deja won’t. Once again, New York finished 9-7 and actually outscored the opposition by 85 points (429-344). For the 14th time ever, the team that won the Super Bowl will not be going back to the playoffs the following season.

    While quarterback Eli Manning had his usual ups and downs, this was as much about a Giants’ defensive unit that gave up the second-most yards in the league. And New York’s fabled pass rush produced only 33 sacks, down 15 sacks (48) from 2011.

    Perry Fewell’s unit was in the bottom fourth of the NFL in terms of both rushing (25th) and passing yards allowed (28th). And it may have been much worse if Coughlin’s club hadn’t forced 35 turnovers, the third-highest total in the league.

    So for a Giants team many felt could just turn the switch at will, perhaps leaving that button in the "on" position would be a recommended move.

New York Jets: D-

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    The D could easily stand for debacle.

    Of course, disappointment, disjointed and disorganized could apply depending on your interpretation of the New York Jets 6-10 finish in 2012. And you can add dismissed to the "D" list as executive vice president/general manager Mike Tannenbaum was let go on Monday.

    Only two teams in the league gained fewer yards per game and only four clubs scoffed fewer points. And when you consider that 83 of the Jets’ 281 points came in wins over the Buffalo Bills (48) and Indianapolis Colts (35), the total picture is a little more dreadful.

    Much maligned quarterback Mark Sanchez was sat down for one game and then forced back into the starting lineup in the season finale after Greg McElroy was unavailable, making the much-discussed trade for Tim Tebow a moot point all season.

    All quarterback controversies aside, Sanchez would commit 26 turnovers for the second straight season. Only this time around, he threw half as many touchdown passes (13) than in 2011 (26).

    While the defense was respectable, Rex Ryan's club also finished a disappointing 26th vs. the run, totaled only 30 sacks and came up with only 23 takeaways.

    Still, things may have been better if star cornerback Darrelle Revis and big-play wideout Santonio Holmes didn’t miss the vast majority of the year. But it’s hard to say just how much better.

    Call it a…dilemma.

Oakland Raiders: D+

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    The Silver and Black in Oakland continues to be replaced by Doom and Gloom.

    For the 10th consecutive year, the Oakland Raiders did not field a winning football team, thanks to a 4-12 record. And for the eighth time since 2003, the franchise lost at least 11 games.

    Newest head coach Dennis Allen, previously the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, came to Oakland hoping to fix that side of the football and this unit got somewhat better as the year wore on.

    But a year after surrendering 31 touchdown passes, second-most in the NFL, Oakland defenders gave up 28 scores through the air. And a lack of big plays by Allen’s team (the Raiders forced only 19 turnovers) proved to be a detriment as well.

    On the other side of the ball, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer threw 22 touchdown passes but committed 19 turnovers. Tight end Brandon Myers led the team in receiving while wideouts Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey combined for a dozen touchdown receptions.

    Still, the injury bug continued to make a home in running back Darren McFadden, as his limited availability was a major reason the team finished 28th in the league in rushing.

    The new front-office regime in Oakland begins its second season in 2013. Let’s see what general manager Reggie McKenzie has in store for the future.

Philadelphia Eagles: F+

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    In 1999, Andy Reid took over a Philadelphia Eagles football team that had finished with three wins the previous season. The Birds improved to 5-11 during his debut campaign.

    What followed was a bevy of playoff appearances, including four straight berths in the NFC title game from 2001-04 (another in 2008) and a Super Bowl XXXIX appearance.

    But the franchise is still looking for its first NFL title since 1960. And apparently, they will be looking for a new head coach as well, as the Birds turned a 3-1 start into a 4-12 mark, the worst such record during Reid’s tenure in the City of Brotherly Love.

    The last two seasons were particularly frustrating, considering the influx of talent on both sides of the ball. But a 12-20 record over the last two years was more of a nightmare than a dream and was far from any dynasty. And questionable decisions throughout proved to be damning.

    A season after committing the second-most turnovers in the league (38), the Eagles were consistent in coughing up the football 37 times. Injuries to quarterback Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy didn’t help but neither did a defensive unit that was far too generous and continued to wilt in the fourth quarter.

    For the first time in more than a decade, it will be start-over time in Philadelphia. And while patience will be needed, it may not necessarily be exercised.

Pittsburgh Steelers: C-

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    Arguably the league leader in continuity, there was nothing of the kind by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012.

    A season-ending 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns halted a three-game losing streak and ensured that head coach Mike Tomlin would not finish with his first-ever losing season. But after consecutive 12-4 campaigns and a pair of playoff appearances, the Steelers won just as many games as they lost and were on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

    Injuries played one part in the Steelers’ erratic season, as standouts such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu missed their share of time.

    The offensive line had more lineup changes than a pickup softball game while Dick LeBeau’s defensive unit, despite giving up the fewest yards in the league, continued to have issues when it came to making the big play.

    Perhaps two losses, both at home, epitomized the team’s frustrating showing. Pittsburgh dropped identical 13-10 decisions to both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, and in both contests, the defense did not allow a touchdown.

    All told, it was a rare off-year for the Black and Gold, who would list being black and blue as one of their many issues in 2012.

St. Louis Rams: B+

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    Lost in the much-deserved credit, all the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings have garnered was the play off the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and the work done by their head coach.

    After a year away from the sidelines in the NFL, Jeff Fisher would transform a two-win team into a scrappy 7-8-1 squad which did not lose a game within the division until the final Sunday of the season.

    While these Rams were far from perfect, they did make their presence felt. 

    Fisher’s team tied for the league lead with 52 sacks while third-year quarterback Sam Bradford bounced back from an injury-shortened 2011 to throw for 21 scores and just 13 interceptions.

    And with running back Steven Jackson topping the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the eight straight year, St. Louis scored more than 100 more points (299) than they did the previous year (193).

    Still, Fisher’s team was just 3-7 outside of the NFC West. And a lot more work has to be done if the club is to post its first winning season since 2003.

    But you have to start somewhere and a five-win improvement is far from shabby.

San Diego Chargers: C

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    The San Diego Chargers have become far less super with each passing season.

    After capturing four straight AFC West titles from 2006-09, the Bolts have missed the playoffs three consecutive years. A 9-7 finish in 2010 digressed to 8-8 one season later, and the 7-9 mark this season by Norv Turner’s club marked the first losing campaign by the franchise since finishing 4-12 in 2003.

    While Turner has absorbed his share of criticism over the years, it was another rough season for quarterback Philip Rivers, who played better down the stretch this season but did give up the football 22 times in 16 games.

    Dating back to the start of 2001, Rivers is 15-17 as starter, throwing for 53 scores while committing 47 turnovers in those 32 contests.

    While the San Diego defense looked better at times in 2012, Chargers defenders still gave up 28 touchdown passes, compared to picking off just 14 passes.

    And while the Bolts managed a combined four wins over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, they were outscored 65-23 in their last six quarters vs. the Denver Broncos after owning a 24-0 halftime lead over the eventual AFC West champions on a Monday night in October.

    Once again, it was far too many losses for the once very-talented Chargers, who not only let Turner but general manager A.J. Smith as well on Monday.

    And we’ll soon see what other kind of losses there will be for the franchise this upcoming offseason.

San Francisco 49ers: A-

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    Yes, Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers own the NFC’s second-best record at 11-4-1 and will have two weeks to savor a second straight division title and postseason berth.

    However, this is not the same Niners team that opened the season in a lot of ways. And given their performance down the stretch on both sides of the football, those guaranteeing this team will end their season in New Orleans may be hesitating a bit.

    The 49ers wrapped up the NFC West with a 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But in splitting road games with the New England Patriots (41-34 win) and Seattle Seahawks (42-13 loss) the previous two weeks, the usually staunch San Francisco defense was taken apart by two of the hotter quarterbacks in the league.

    While second-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick has brought an added dimension to the team’s attack, he has also made some crucial mistakes at times. And with the defense a little out of sorts the last few weeks (much of that due to the absence of star defensive tackle Justin Smith), Harbaugh’s squad has looked a bit shaky in December.

    Still, only two teams in the NFL surrendered fewer yards, and only the Seahawks gave up fewer points this season. And the return of a healthy Smith (along with one of the league’s best ground attacks) could mean the return of the kind of defense that is capable of leading a team to a championship.

    Stay tuned.

Seattle Seahawks: A+

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    Head coach Pete Carroll’s third season with the Seattle Seahawks proved to be quite the charm.

    It certainly didn’t appear that the club was on the verge of anything special when the club was sitting with a 6-5 record after 11 games. And when you consider Carroll’s first two seasons with the franchise resulted in consecutive 7-9 finishes, it wasn’t out of the question to figure there could be more of the same.

    But an overtime win at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears was the first of five straight wins to close the season, many of those of the lopsided variety. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson tied the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie in a season (26), while Pro Bowl runner Marshawn Lynch ran for 100-plus yards 10 times in 2012.

    But the steady force all season was the Seattle defense as Carroll’s club allowed a league-low 245 points. And these Seahawks were competitive on a weekly basis when you consider that, even in defeat, this was a formidable club as all five or their losses were by seven or fewer points.

    It’s safe to say that this club has all the ingredients to go deep in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C+

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    When the smoke's finally cleared this season, it was a season of big promise as well as huge disappointment for these new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    In head coach Greg Schiano’s debut campaign, the team improved three games in the win column, and it ended the season with a 22-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, handing the NFC South champions their lone home loss of 2012.

    However, the Buccaneers also opened the season 6-4, and the win over the Falcons actually put an end to a five-game losing streak that took the improved team out of the playoff picture.

    It was a bounce-back season for quarterback Josh Freeman to a point as he threw 10 more touchdown passes (27) as interceptions (17). But nine of those picks came in the final three games.

    Rookie running back Doug Martin rolled up 1,926 yards from scrimmage and led the team with 12 touchdowns, while the receiving combo of wideouts Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams grabbed 17 scoring receptions.

    But while the Tampa defense made significant strides against the run, their pass defense was the culprit in numerous games in which Schiano’s team blew double-digit leads.

    It was mostly positives, but that late-season skid does leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Tennessee Titans: D+

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    After just missing out on the playoffs in 2011, the Tennessee Titans swung and missed for the most part in 2012.

    Mike Munchak’s squad finished 6-10, three fewer wins than during his debut campaign the previous year. Second-year quarterback Jake Locker had his good and bad moments in his first year as the main starter, while former Pro Bowl runner Chris Johnson was up and down, despite finishing with 1,243 yards on the ground.

    And it’s worth noting that the Titans scored 194 points in their six wins, while totaling only 136 points in 10 losses this season.

    But it was the other side of the ball that had more than its share of issues as the Titans allowed a league-high and franchise-record 471 points (topping the previous high of 460 set by the then-Houston Oilers in 1983). And that had to be quite shocking, considering these Titans allowed just 317 points the previous season.

    Munchak’s club surrendered 55 touchdowns, with 47 of those coming at the expense of Jerry Gray’s defensive unit.

    Unfortunately, it was a big step backward for a team that now hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008.

Washington Redskins: A-

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    Did anyone see this coming after a 3-6 start?

    Hail no.

    Led in part by their rookie backfield combination in quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, the Washington Redskins won their final seven games and captured the NFC East for the first time since 1999.

    Mike Shanahan’s wound up leading the league in rushing yardage. And when you combine that with an NFL-low 14 turnovers, it adds up to the ‘Skins winning at least 10 games for the first time since 2005.

    The Washington defense, due to its share of key injuries, wasn’t up to snuff this season, although ageless linebacker London Fletcher played great football down the stretch. But consider that Shanahan’s team scored 436 points, up from 288 points in 2011, and the once-stagnant Redskins offense was tough to deal with on a weekly basis.

    Even more impressive is the fact that the team finished 5-1 vs. their NFC East rivals this season, quite a turnaround from a 4-14 divisional mark from 2009-11.

    It was a job well done for a franchise that hasn’t had a lot of success as of late.