Chris Simms' Final Regular Season NFL Team-by-Team Grades

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystJanuary 3, 2017

Chris Simms' Final Regular Season NFL Team-by-Team Grades

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    I avoided the paper stack in my locker like it was a bad final report card. 

    Because that’s exactly what it was. John Shoop, my quarterback coach with the Buccaneers back in the day, would drop off a collection of play sheets in our lockers with his handwritten thoughts scribbled over them. I knew what kind of end-of-year review awaited.

    And I was right. We concluded a 5-11 season with the worst kind of loss—the kind where I screwed up a wide-open throw and it cost us a chance to close out 2004 the right way. Sure enough, Shoop had that screw-up circled with so many notes I almost punched our locker room wall.

    I have a newfound level of respect for that man now that I’m the grader. It’s not just that he was honest enough to tell me the degree to which I sucked; Shoop actually went through every play to watch my flaws and make me a better player.

    I’ve applied that same work ethic to my end-of-season NFL grades at Bleacher Report, watching 16 games worth of film for every team in the league. Like Shoop, I’m going to tell it like it is.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Offense: Don’t be surprised if Scott Linehan gets another shot to be a head coach. After all, he’s teamed with Jason Garrett to coordinate the league’s most unique attack: a dink-and-dunk passing game led by Dak Prescott, coupled with Ezekiel Elliott runs that take an opposing team vertical. Of course, it sure helps to have the best offensive line since the Dallas dynasty at Linehan’s beck and call.

    Defense: We just witnessed what a fully healthy Sean Lee can bring to Big D’s defense. He’s the epitome of what coordinator Rod Marinelli stresses—yards are allowed, but low effort never is. Watching him fly to the football for 15 games was a treat, as was watching Marinelli mix and match his defensive front to great success. The only question now: Can his secondary hold up against guys such as Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers?

    Grade: A+

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Offense: Doug Pederson stuck to screens and short throws early in his tenure as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator. That’s the script he stuck to when he took the reins in Philadelphia; the Eagles offense could be predictably vanilla at times. The good news? Pederson’s football sensei, Andy Reid, is showing that dynamic players can break through a simple West Coast scheme in Kansas City this year. If that’s the future for Carson Wentz, the future is bright.

    Defense: A master chef is only as good as his ingredients. So new coordinator Jim Schwartz did what he could up front—particularly with Fletcher Cox (6.5 sacks) and Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) to enhance Philadelphia’s defensive flavor. But a bad bunch of cornerbacks ruined the whole meal. Players with elite speed like Odell Beckham Jr. and DeSean Jackson give Schwartz’s coverage five stars; Eagles fans would not recommend it on Yelp.

    Grade: C+

New York Giants

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    Offense: Ben McAdoo's big ole laminated play sheet might as well be a flash card. New York ran "11" personnel—one tight end, one back—almost exclusively in 2016. With the surprise of formation out the window, Eli Manning needed to rely heavily on quick releases. Enough of those went 80 yards to Odell Beckham Jr., but creativity is a problem for this side of the football.

    Defense: "Big Snacks" made the biggest difference in New York's defensive turnaround. Damon Harrison transitioned from a 0-technique/shade nose tackle to a more traditional 4-3 down lineman masterfully. He's the reason why Dallas should be scared you-know-what-less of a third showdown with this team. The ex-Jet wasn't overpowered whenever the 'Boys tried to pound Ezekiel Elliott. He's worth every penny of his big free-agent deal.

    Grade: A-

Washington Redskins

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    Offense: You know what was missing in Jay Gruden's offense? Alfred Morris. Washington had the line to run-block against anyone and a quarterback to keep eight defenders out of the box. Imagine if play action was a constant threat at Kirk Cousins' disposal. The team could've used a veteran like Morris; replacement Robert Kelley left something to be desired.

    Defense: General manager Scot McCloughan is building this side the exact opposite way he helped build the Jim Harbaugh-era 49ers. There, he inherited or acquired up-the-middle help first; think Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. His defensive foundation is on the perimeter in D.C. (Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith, Josh Norman, etc.). The 'Skins thrived on the big plays perimeter guys can make, but they didn't have the personnel to make a stop on 3rd-and-2. Adding big people is a must for McCloughan.

    Grade: B

Buffalo Bills

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    Offense: The early-season switch from Greg Roman to future head coach Anthony Lynn did wonders for the running attack. It did not rub off in the same magical way for Tyrod Taylor. Buffalo's QB1 still struggled to look over defenses and make over-the-middle throws. Opponents could just sit in zone and wait for the long stuff; either Taylor launched a deep throw or took off himself. Maybe that's a product of Sammy Watkins' season-long injury struggles, or maybe that's just Taylor being a limited thrower.

    Defense: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams were two run-stuffing ships in the night. It felt like neither was 100 percent healthy/available at the same time, and Rex Ryan's defense suffered for it. Buffalo needed to bring more bodies to stop the run, leaving man corners like Stephon Gilmore exposed on even more remote islands. Plug the combined 633 pounds of Dareus and Williams back in there and that overcompensation never needs to happen.

    Grade: C+

Miami Dolphins

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    Offense: Two home games redefined what Adam Gase's inaugural season was going to be about. They happened back-to-back against Pittsburgh and Buffalo. With a fully heathy and functional line, Gase's offense steamrolled both with 418 combined Jay Ajayi rushing yards over that two-week time frame. In doing so, it became a team in Gase's image; the former Broncos and Bears assistant always sought the kind of stable rushing attack that could break up his three-step-and-throw passing game. He has it right when he needs it most: a Wild Card Game with a reserve quarterback in Ryan Tannehill's usual spot.

    Defense: Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe thought his team got away with highway robbery when it shipped Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso down south. Not so fast, my Eagles-loving friend. Both former Philadelphians played a huge role in coordinator Vance Joseph's defense. Maxwell shook off a rusty start to recapture some of what made him such an attractive free agent to his former team in the first place. And Alonso single-handedly won a game in San Diego when he pick-sixed Philip Rivers. Not a bad haul to move five picks back in the first round.

    Grade: B+

New York Jets

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    Offense: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s turnover problem was a symptom of a larger issue—the five blockers in front of him. D’Brickashaw Ferguson was never truly replaced. And when he was injured, center Nick Mangold could not be replaced. That left Fitzpatrick (and the Jets running game) scrambling for answers without two crucial blockers from 2015. Coordinator Chan Gailey’s response: Pass first, ask questions later.

    Defense: General manager Mike Maccagnan might take a do-over with Damon Harrison. "Snacks" swapped New York teams and now anchors a playoff club’s defensive line; Maccagnan was left with three former first-round picks (Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson) but no one to eat up blocks. It ate them up down the stretch, as Gang Green surrendered an average of 143 rushing over Weeks 13-16.

    Grade: F

New England Patriots

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    Offense: Lose Tom Brady, throw in Jimmy Garoppolo. Lose Jimmy G, throw in Jacoby Brissett. Gain and lose Rob Gronkowski, still churn out wins like no other franchise this century. Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan were seamlessly incorporated as deep threats, as was Martellus Bennett as Tom Brady’s big over-the-middle target. And oh yeah, New England morphed itself into a power-running team once the weather got cold and steamrolled teams. When Josh McDaniels takes his next head coaching gig, he’ll put this season at the top of his resume.

    Defense: I liken the Jamie Collins trade to what I experienced my rookie year with Keyshawn Johnson. Both Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick weren’t afraid to send a message using the biggest, baddest dude in the locker room. And that message was received in New England loud and clear just as Belichick started using more zone coverages. The result: Defenders playing like their jobs depended on it within a coverage scheme better suited to their skills.

    Grade: A+

Chicago Bears

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    Offense: Gale Sayers. Walter Payton. Matt Forte. And now, Jordan Howard. They’ve been playing football in Chicago since 1920, and no rookie has ever amassed as many rushing yards as the one Chicago grabbed in the fifth round. Better still: Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was unafraid to give Howard the kind of touches he deserved as the season wore on. That’s one shining bright spot in an otherwise depressing offensive year marred with injuries, drops and turnovers.

    Defense: Statistically speaking, Vic Fangio’s second season coordinating Chicago’s defense wasn’t much different than his first. But it doesn’t feel that way, does it? Perhaps that’s because rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd might be the NFC North’s best quarterback hunter. Or that he played so well in tandem with Akiem Hicks and Pernell McPhee. Up next? Finding one player in the secondary who can do for Chicago’s pass coverage what Floyd did for its pass rush. Despite the Bears’ surprisingly impressive coverage ranking (seventh in pass defense), there’s no one there who can stop Aaron Rodgers in crunch time.

    Grade: C-

Detroit Lions

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    Offense: Jim Bob Cooter isn't tied to any job openings, and I don't understand it. All Detroit's play-caller did was expertly transition his passing game to new heights in the post-Megatron era (four receivers had at least 500 yards). And he did it all without Ameer Abdullah, who was slated for big things but shut down early in 2016. Cooter got the most from a young line featuring a rookie left tackle in Taylor Decker. And oh yeah, Matthew Stafford was unbelievable in late-game situations. What more could you ask for in a head coaching candidate?

    Defense: Another year, another defensive diamond in the rough dug up in Detroit. This year's find? Kerry Hyder, a career journeyman before finding his niche in coordinator Teryl Austin's multiple fronts. He's yet another overlooked player on the Lions' misfit unit (Devin Taylor, Nevin Lawson, Rafael Bush come to mind). It's these kind of contributors who helped Austin piece together a playoff berth despite absences from stars such as Ezekiel Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Haloti Ngata.

    Grade: A-

Green Bay Packers

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    Offense: I'll say it until the cows that produce Wisconsin's cheese come home. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback I've ever seen, hands down period. Forget the six-game winning streak he basically called like Babe Ruth. His early-season work—the kind of throws he made when Green Bay was losing and its receivers could hardly separate—is what amazes me. And remember: Rodgers' running game still consists of whatever a converted receiver and a journeyman can piece together, plus his own masterful runs outside the pocket. Through all that, No. 12 still threw more touchdowns than any other QB.

    Defense: Sam Shields' early-season injury sent a ripple through the defense. Suddenly, Green Bay's cornerback depth chart had to take one huge and ill-prepared step forward. Young guys like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins weren't ready, and they were not healthy enough to handle the responsibility. Credit coordinator Don Capers for holding the secondary together long enough for reinforcements to arrive. He's their defensive MVP.

    Grade: A-

Minnesota Vikings

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    Offense: First Matt Kalil. Then Andre Smith. And then Alex Boone. The only thing about this offense that was more reliable than Sam Bradford checkdowns was offensive line injuries. Bradford was abused in long stretches throughout 2016. And the reserves who subbed in could not open running lanes with any kind of reliability.

    Defense: Minnesota’s defense ground some of the top quarterbacks to a pulp with a simple enough formula: a relentless pass rush combined with a full array of coverages. Then the bye week hit and Mike Zimmer couldn’t get both parts to work in concert as seamlessly again. When the coverage was good, Everson Griffen and Co. went cold as pass-rushers, and vice versa. Zimmer’s answer to this wasn’t conventional. He rarely disguised how many of his defenders were dropping, even as the season slipped away. Big days for elite coverage-readers were almost guaranteed at the end of the year.

    Grade: C-

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Offense: I wasn’t sold on Ken Zampese entering the season, and I’m still not sold exiting it. Hue Jackson’s play-calling successor struggled in the two metrics that define an offensive coordinator: big plays and red-zone efficiency. The latter was a problem in particular; Andy Dalton himself should be good enough to score points inside the 20 at a better clip than 53 percent. That’s almost 12 full percentage points down from last year’s breakout season and explains so much of what ailed the Bengals.

    Defense: Even in a down year, Marvin Lewis needs to be applauded for his work in the secondary. It’s one of the NFL’s best groups again and never failed to impress in my tape study. This year’s star pupil is Dre Kirkpatrick, who finally made the jump from disappointing Alabama product to big-time CB1—just in time for free agency. In a division with biannual Antonio Brown meetings, Cincinnati better do its best to retain him.

    Grade: C

Cleveland Browns

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    Offense: The Browns’ superfan tracking all Cleveland’s quarterbacks needs another jersey to ruin. This season, coach Hue Jackson sent out seven—seven!—more passers, including Robert Griffin III, a converted then temporarily unconverted receiver (Terrelle Pryor) and a guy who’s nickname is "Clipboard Jesus." The sooner Jackson can end that sad cycle, the earlier Cleveland creeps out of the AFC North basement.

    Defense: I stand by my words before this season ever began: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a master hole-plugger, but he’s not a miracle worker. Cleveland’s defense was the biggest culprit in its 0-14 start; Horton’s front seven featured several uninitiated rookies (Carl Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah), and the best option in his back four was a declining Joe Haden. But next season figures to be better with another rookie influx and, potentially, the return of Jamie Collins after he was acquired in a midseason trade.

    Grade: D-

Baltimore Ravens

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    Offense: Baltimore had its best rushing Week 16. That doesn't fit with what we've learned from all the successful run-first, run-second and run-third offenses John Harbaugh has used during his tenure there. It doesn't fit with the Ravens' personnel, either. Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis are two of the meanest blockers around. But even a midseason coordinator change couldn't stop Joe Flacco's sky-high passing-attempts number. Harbaugh better have this group back to playing "Ravens Football" soon.

    Defense: S-L-O-W. What's that spell? Baltimore's secondary is still trying to figure that out. For the second straight season, the Ravens were outraced in pass defense. Coordinator Dean Pees could only do so much with Jimmy Smith in and out of the lineup, and some of that involved starting (yes, starting) known coverage liability Shareece Wright. Free-agent add-on Eric Weddle wasn't much faster in coverage or play diagnosis.

    Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Offense: Nothing compared to watching Le'Veon Bell slice up defenses on the ground over the season's last six weeks. Consider Bell only hit the 20-carry mark twice in his six previous games. He averaged 26 carries a contest over his final six. And while we're doing math, Bell also averaged (averaged!) 157 all-purpose yards a game. Pittsburgh's a playoff team because he took his game to another level down the stretch.

    Defense: Pittsburgh's offense transitioned from finesse to power in the middle of the season. So did the defense. Coordinator Keith Butler was able to mount a second-half surge on the backs of three young players: Bud Dupree, Sean Davis and Artie Burns. Dupree led the AFC in sacks in December, while Davis and Burns solidified not just the league's most improved pass defense, but also one that's set up for this level of play for the next generation of Steelers fans.

    Grade: A-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Offense: Jameis Winston doesn't come to mind when formulating a list of mobile quarterbacks. Truth is, he should headline that list. Winston's ability to evade pressure took Tampa Bay's offense from something solid to something spectacular. It wasn't just the 25-yard Madden-esque backward drop Winston pulled off against the Bears, either. The former Heisman winner made subtler moves to climb his pocket (usually to avoid edge pressure surrendered by tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson) and find clean throwing lanes.

    Defense: Give me the linebacking tandem of Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David over any 4-3 guys in the game. Right now, there isn't a one-two punch capable of A) running sideline-to-sideline to track ball-carriers down while B) lining up over a tight end or in zone coverage over the middle and making a quarterback think twice about throwing one their way. Tampa's 'backers haven't been this great since my time down there.

    Grade: B+

Atlanta Falcons

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    Offense: Kyle Shanahan is about to make some team very happy because he made Matt Ryan very happy. Atlanta's quarterback is coming off an elite season, in part because Shanahan knows how to leverage formation and players to his advantage. Case in point: Atlanta's Week 6 game in Seattle this season. Shanahan drew up plays to force Richard Sherman to commit to one receiver and then attacked the space behind him for big gains. It's that creativity Ryan will miss most when (it's probably when) his offensive coordinator leaves town.

    Defense: Any doubters left will get an up-close-and-personal view of the NFL's most improved defense this postseason. That's right—Dan Quinn's guys are winning with speed and elite pursuit to the football, a trait that sounds awfully similar to the defense Quinn first molded up in Seattle. Even the parts are similar: a hard-hitting and versatile safety (Keanu Neal, Kam Chancellor), a super athletic middle linebacker (Deion Jones, Bobby Wagner) and a guy with elite edge speed (Vic Beasley, Cliff Avril). Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

    Grade: A

Carolina Panthers

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    Offense: A poor offensive line? No help at receiver? It sounds like the preseason scouting report for the NFC champion Panthers. This version is the worst version of that team—a group that saw Cam Newton evolve into a transcendent talent and forgot what got them to the big game last year. The run game must be stressed in 2017.

    Defense: Carolina’s defense died by a thousand paper cuts this year. The first cut was indeed the deepest: Josh Norman left a gaping cornerback hole that no amount of draft capital could fill. Luke Kuechly’s loss was felt in a similar way in the season’s latter stages. But those two events might’ve been tolerable if the Panthers' supposed scary front four showed up to start the season. It took eight or nine weeks for Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei to play to their potential.

    Grade: C-

New Orleans Saints

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    Offense: Jimmy Graham, out. Revamped offensive line, in. New Orleans finally got the blockers it was seeking when it dealt its top touchdown-maker to the Pacific Northwest. Better still, it opened the doors for an even more dangerous receiver trio to do all the end-zone traveling. Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Michael Thomas made one dangerous trio in 2016, and they're all under 25 years old.

    Defense: Two roster reinforcements made New Orleans' defensive line an under-the-radar force. The first was signing Paul Kruger off the Browns' scrap heap; the veteran proved he could still set an edge. The second: getting first-round pick Sheldon Rankins back from a broken leg suffered in the preseason. He's a cornerstone kind of player for a unit that hasn't had many of late.

    Grade: C

Indianapolis Colts

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    Offense: One day, the NFL could look much like a professional flag-football league. But until the day contact and blocking is legislated out of the sport, offenses like the Colts' won't work. There has to be another element than just Andrew Luck dropping back to throw 36.3 times a game (his season attempts average). It'd only benefit one of the youngest lines in football to move forward in blocking instead of always dropping back to pass protect, too.

    Defense: The same question I asked about the Colts heading into the season plagued them coming out of it: Where's the pass rush? The answer was Erik Walden, the ex-Packer who tallied 11 sacks despite averaging 2.6 a season over his previous eight NFL years. That's called an anomaly, folks. And with second-leading sack-master Robert Mathis hanging 'em up, that anomaly needs to be addressed early in Indy's offseason.

    Grade: C+

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Offense: You get a jump ball! You get a jump ball! Everyone gets a jump ball! The Jaguars were the Oprah Christmas Giveaway of the NFL. Allen Robinson disappeared against any secondary with an inch of talent because Jacksonville only used him on one route—the back-shoulder fade. It takes a quarterback with a sense of timing to hit those throws. Blake Bortles is not that quarterback.

    Defense: If the Jaguars are rebuilding, the cement foundation has already been set. There are playmakers at every level—Dante Fowler Jr. and Malik Jackson up front, Telvin Smith in the middle and Jalen Ramsey behind. This defense has a chance to get even better with free-agent capital and a top draft pick. Something tells me 2017 will be its coming-out party.

    Grade: D

Houston Texans

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    Offense: Where is Brian Hoyer when you need him? Houston might've clinched a first-round playoff bye with a veteran passer who kept turnovers low. Instead, the Texans got Brock Osweiler (16 picks). Coach Bill O'Brien had to dumb his offense down to its grade-school equivalent (tight ends over the middle, Brock!) to move the football whatsoever. That is, until, O'Brien pulled the plug on the $72 million mistake and subbed in Tom Savage in Week 15. Took him long enough.

    Defense: Houston lost the best defender in football and replaced him with the most physical defender in football. Think about it: Most teams would buckle if they lost a talent like Justin James Watt. Houston just let Jadeveon Clowney try his hand at playing the defensive centerpiece. He didn't disappoint; the former No. 1 overall pick flashed the run-stuffing potential that had scouts drooling before the 2014 NFL draft. He notched six sacks with 11 tackles for loss when Houston needed him most.

    Grade: B+

Tennessee Titans

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    Offense: One underrated signing after the 2015 season? Center Ben Jones. Tennessee pried him away from rival Houston to spearhead its new power-run game. Jones isn't an All-Pro blocker, but he has an All-Pro's brain. He was the one calling out run fits and run blitzes at the line of scrimmage, not Marcus Mariota. And while we're on the topic, Mariota really evolved as a pro-style passer. Think the team's new cerebral center had anything to do with that smooth transition?

    Defense: I haven't figured out if the 2016 Titans had a great defense or just a great coordinator. It's a tough call, considering what Dick LeBeau did in his previous career stop in Pittsburgh. This defense held a peaking Chiefs passing game to 163 yards. That same group gave up 325 passing yards to a Blake Bortles-led team the following week. My guess: LeBeau is great, and Tennessee needs more personnel help, particularly in the secondary. It can find it with two top-18 picks in the upcoming draft.

    Grade: B+

San Francisco 49ers

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    Offense: The Niners stood by Colin Kaepernick through all his off-field controversy in the early part of the year. Why wouldn’t they give Kaepernick (or any other QB) that same support on the field? Ex-general manager Trent Baalke assembled the most nondescript group of pass-catchers I’ve seen in some time. Then he asked those guys like Jeremy Kerley, Quinton Patton and Rod Streater to win their routes in a division with Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman and Trumaine Johnson. Does that make sense to you?

    Defense: San Francisco’s defense was akin to the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns in that it didn’t exist, seemingly on purpose. Surrendering 165.9 rushing yards per game is inexcusable. The next 49ers regime needs to grind this offseason and surround DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead with actual NFL starters.

    Grade: D-

Arizona Cardinals

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    Offense: Bill Belichick was right before his Week 1 showdown with the Cardinals. David Johnson isn't Marshall Faulk; he's more versatile and dynamic than the Rams' Hall of Famer was at the height of his playing career. Johnson did things on film that would blow the average fantasy football player's mind. Case in point: I saw the second-year running back line up (not flexed out, line up) as an X-receiver on a 12-yard out route, one of the hardest throws to hit. Carson Palmer never looked in another direction and completed it. In a down year for Bruce Arians' offense, Johnson was one hell of a silver lining.

    Defense: Arizona debuted the NFL's first break-but-don't-bend defense in 2016. Here's what I mean: Patrick Peterson and Co. were excellent at keeping opponents to low-yardage output. Place that No. 2-overall-ranked group in the red zone and it dipped to No. 19 in the league. I point to a second level that needed bigger space-eaters to succeed (where were you, first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche?) Opponents knew they could run on this team a little bit.

    Grade: C

Los Angeles Rams

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    Offense: When the Rams made their jump to acquire Jared Goff, it was under the premise they’d complete their backfield for the next decade or so. It looks like that was a false premise; Todd Gurley regressed so far from his Rookie of the Year status that he was unrecognizable on film all season. Gurley quickly became just a straight-ahead ball-carrier with no patience or vision for opening holes. You know who else had that problem? Trent Richardson.

    Defense: One NFL contact I’ve made told me the Rams could have the league’s best defense—if Gregg Williams didn’t complicate things. Williams is the notorious quarterback-hunter, but his complex twists and stunts and blitzes aren’t helping. L.A.’s next defensive coordinator needs to simply rush four (Aaron Donald and three others) and not muddy the rest up.

    Grade: F

Seattle Seahawks

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    Offense: You know Seattle's rushing game is bad when it misses a rookie who made one career start. But C.J. Prosise looked that good in a big win up in New England. He would've been the perfect extra option for Russell Wilson out of the backfield; despite all the Seahawks' amassed talent, the offense still lacks some sizzle. Prosise landed on injured reserve the next week—around the same time Bevell's offense regressed right back to "let's hope Wilson makes a guy miss" mode.

    Defense: Was this the Seahawks defense that came into MetLife Stadium and whipped Peyton Manning? No. Was this defense still better than 90 percent of what the league has to offer? You better believe it. Even after losing Earl Thomas, I'll take Seattle's defense in a do-or-die situation. Particularly if that means Michael Bennett, this unit's top ass-kicker, is fully healthy and available. He wasn't for stretches, and Seattle's defense struggled for it.

    Grade: B+

Denver Broncos

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    Offense: Don't blame a missed Super Bowl repeat chance on Peyton Manning's successor. Trevor Siemian played well beyond the Manning-Osweiler rotation of 2015, after all. No, this one falls squarely on two parties: offensive line play and Gary Kubiak's offense. The former sapped Siemian of any comparable running game and adequate protection versus Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Justin Houston. The latter sapped him of any creativity in play design that might've been helpful for a first-year quarterback. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention all the possessions Siemian lost out on because of a special teams blunder.

    Defense: General manager John Elway shouldn't hire any candidate who refuses to retain Wade Phillips, because Denver's pass defense actually improved from last season. No, really; the most dominant part of this team's Super Bowl 50 run was even more dominant in terms of air yards allowed. The difference? Last season's squad somehow always found a way to turn takeaways into touchdowns. This season's version couldn't help the offense out as often in, you know, doing its job.

    Grade: B

San Diego Chargers

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    Offense: There’s no one person to blame for Philip Rivers’ high interception count (21). You can start with Rivers himself, who threw about 10 real head-scratchers. Just make sure you mention the dwindling receiving corps (think Keenan Allen could’ve helped Rivers out?), the shoddy offensive line play (right tackle Joe Barksdale will have Khalil Mack nightmares all offseason) and last but not least, Mike McCoy’s pass-happy attitude. He might still have a job if he ran Melvin Gordon a little more in the red zone.

    Defense: Here’s a line from my preseason power rankings: "The normal fan on the street couldn’t name (the Chargers’) front seven if you spotted them six." I was wrong—and not just because Joey Bosa (10.5 sacks) emerged as a serious Defensive Rookie of the Year option. I overlooked the impact of new addition Brandon Mebane and the development of guys like Denzel Perryman, Korey Toomer and Jatavis Brown. And I didn’t give enough credit to Melvin Ingram, who’s about to get P-A-I-D to rush passers after his year opposite Bosa. My bad, Chargers fans. Take solace in the fact your defense (especially run defense) is one of the league’s arrow-up groups, when healthy.

    Grade: D+

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Offense: When I said this Chiefs offense was better than any of Andy Reid's past projects, I meant it. Those early-00s Eagles teams were gritty and tough but never had a top-tier guy (the brief Terrell Owens era excluded). Reid has two such talents these days; Travis Kelce is encroaching on Gronk territory with his ability to route-run and make jaw-dropping catches. And Tyreek Hill can outrun anyone in football not named Odell Beckham Jr. Both guys are perfect for Alex Smith, who can't/won't throw far down the field but never needed to with Kelce and Hill's after-the-catch abilities.

    Defense: Follow me in any format here at Bleacher Report and you know who my favorite safety is. Ron Parker might not get the headlines of a Marcus Peters or Eric Berry. Trust me when I say he has just as noticeable an impact on film. Parker's amazing range helped cover when Berry packed the box to run-stuff or Peters was caught on a double-move. And his versatility—coming down in the box to cover Emmanuel Sanders as a slot corner, for instance—helped the Chiefs match any formation without the need to substitute. I had to give him an end-of-year shoutout here.

    Grade: A

Oakland Raiders

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    Offense: You look at all the pass-catching talent—the Amari Coopers and Michael Crabtrees—and expect to see the 1990s-era Buffalo Bills. Then you line up from guys like Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson and get punched in the teeth. This Raiders offense was a power-running unit masquerading as a pass-first one. Impressively still, coordinator Bill Musgrave really stressed only two plays: A counter play with Osemele or another guard pulling, plus a straight man-on-man dive up the gut. They were just that skilled in executing them. And that execution will come in handy with Derek Carr sidelined. 

    Defense: Khalil Mack had a slow start. Cornerback and safety play trailed off. And linebackers were pushed around. It's easy to forget how mediocre Oakland's defense was over the first half of the season. I think coach Jack Del Rio took the play-calling reins after the bye, showed a little variety in coverage and redefined how big a jump his team would make in his second season there. It helped when Mack started rushing passers like Mack could, and when Bruce Irvin joined him on the other side.

    Grade: A-

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