A campaign that ended with the first ever overtime Super Bowl victory encapsulates a 2016 to remember. It capped off a comeback story for the ages in the form of Tom Brady, it showcased an Atlanta Falcons outfit that thrilled the game and illustrated how engaging the sport can be when a great defence meets a scintillating attack.
Yet the clutch moments always come down to mental fortitude and on the big night in February, the Patriots had that in spades. So we now look back at the season as a whole and give out our report card for all 32 participants.
New England Patriots A+
Dominating their division to end at 14-2, all without their superstar quarterback for the opening 4 fixtures, it is near on impossible to fault the work of the Boston franchise. Their coach Bill Blichick kept the roster ticking over, overcame the loss of Rob Gronkowsi and powered through some hiccups against the Texans and Steelers to stare a 25-point deficit in the face during the decider and come home with a wet sail.
Miami Dolphins B+
Adam Gase inherited a roster with potential but not much more, requiring a lot of diligence to get them back to a competitive football team. Fast forward 16 matches and with a 10-6 record that included a 6-game winning streak no less, the Florida outfit has a lot to crow about moving into 2017.
Buffalo Bills D
The best thing about 2016 for the Buffalo Bills could be, and probably should be, the culling of head coach Rex Ryan. For all his capacity in the sport, the introduction of Sean McDermott can only be a positive for a side that competed manfully until they fell short of expectations at 7-9.
New York Jets D –
There is something inherently wrong with a club that hands Ryan Fitzpatrick a lucrative contract extension before he actually proves his worth. There are good names to work with at MetLife Stadium, but finding a coach who can build a team culture that under promises and over delivers is another topic altogether.
Kansas City Chiefs B+
That 18-16 Divisional Round defeat on home soil to the Pittsburgh Steelers was crushing. Not only because it arrived without conceding a touchdown, but it came off the back of an impressive 12-4 regular season that appeared as though it was building to something great. Still on January notice.
Oakland Raiders A
Prior to any mooted switch to Las Vegas, the identity of the Raiders on the field is there for all to see after their 2016 exploits. The season-ending injury sustained by quarterback Derek Carr was the stroke of misfortune that every outfit fears and that cannot overshadow their terrific 12-4 campaign. Much to look forward to for Raider Nation in 2017, wherever they choose to play.
Denver Broncos C
Talk about a Super Bowl hangover. Peyton Manning might not have been the football force he was but his sheer presence helped provide a calming influence that the folks in Colorado desperately lacked in 2016. The defensive strength is still there, but can they find the offensive weapons to complement that in 2017?
San Diego Chargers D
The Chargers never expect much and on that count they delivered this season to end 5-11. But among the carnage there was some terrific offensive performances that demonstrated some signs of improvement. Now the owners have cashed in their chips to Los Angeles, San Diego are left with nothing.
Pittsburgh Steelers A
A 6-2 home record against 5-3 on the road and it is evident that the Steelers remain a polished football team still hardened for January football. The injury to Ben Roethlisberger hurt matters and by the time he ran into the Patriots for AFC honours, the franchise fell short. Then again, so did everyone else attempting to topple the Patriots when it mattered.
Baltimore Ravens B –
Outside of the 21-14 November victory over the Steelers, there aren’t any major successes for the Ravens to flock about. Ending 8-8, Baltimore essentially ended on par to defeat the also-rans and get turned over by the better teams.
Cincinnati Bengals D –
Arguably the most disappointing franchise in the NFL. Boasting the likes of AJ Green, Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones and Andy Dalton, this is a Bengals team that should be looking at the Atlanta Falcons with envy. Going 6-9 in 2016, Cincinnati played well below what their talent should be delivering – a fact that should sit poorly with the administration and coaching staff who continue to get off Scott free.
Cleveland Browns F
1 win, 15 losses. At some point you have to wonder what value the Browns bring to the competition, outside of being the butt of everyone’s joke. The city of Cleveland deserves better and the general NFL viewer does as well.
Houston Texans B
The Texans are the furthest thing from an exciting football team, but their 7-1-0 home record on top of a defence that had the Patriots nervous indicates that Bill O’Brien has tools at his disposal. The quarterback role remains a major concern and if they can find some offensive weapons, they will muscle their way into most contests.
Tennessee Titans B+
Once more, not a very sexy team in a very unsexy division, the Titans transitioned from a laughing stock to a genuine football outfit in 2016. 23-year old quarterback Marcus Mariota threw 26-9 to go over 3,400 yards and with a roster that became more accustomed to trips on the road with a 4-4 away record, there is plenty for Titans fans to get excited about.
Indianapolis Colts C
There is something off with Chuck Pagano’s team and perhaps the speculation about his position should be going a step further. Having Andrew Luck is an asset that should not be wasted and if the Colts want to regain their title credentials, then some serious decisions have to be made at head office.
Jacksonville Jaguars F
It is harder to know what was more of a let down in 2016 – the Jaguars 2016 campaign to go 3-13 or the baby poo outfit they sported on Thursday Night Football against their divisional rivals in the Texans. Doug Marrone will be eyeing off the trade period as make or break because this is a roster in desperate need of talent and depth. Right now, they have short supply of either.
Dallas Cowboys A
The freakish 34-31 defeat to the Green Bay Packers was a bitter pill to swallow for the Cowboys, but the 13-3 season was a solid 10 steps forward in the right direction. Losing Tony Romo would have killed most franchises, only to see Dak Prescott take the NFL by storm and with Ezekiel Elliott to boot, Dallas have 2017 set in their sights.
New York Giants B
With Eddie Lacy a potential target for free agency, Ben McAdoo and the Giants will be aiming to be more than spoilers in 2017. Their 11-5 record catapulted the team into NFC Wildcard territory, only to be blown away without as much of a whimper against the Packers. Eli Manning doesn’t have much longer to add another championship ring and this franchise will be curious to watch in the off season.
Washington Redskins C
The Washington Redskins were true to form this season, showing glimpses of brilliance, losing their cool and essentially ending up where they started. Going 8-7-1 conveys a franchise treading water to threaten a promising future but never really delivering the goods.
Philadelphia Eagles C+
Doug Pederson used 2016 as a development platform and the Eagles needed it. They now have a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz with a full season of NFL football behind him and off the back of a 7-9 season, the hardcore faithful at Lincoln Financial Field can rest assured in the knowledge the team has a plan.
Seattle Seahawks B –
It would be easy to focus on the 36-20 hammering the Seahawks received at Atlanta and believe that the Legion of Boom era is over. Pete Carroll has a tenancy to let his players express themselves and while that has worked for a period, maybe they need to be reigned in a bit. 10-5-1 is a decent season for any team, and they will be back as a contender in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals C –
With many pundits (including some of our own from In The Pocket) believed that the Cardinals were destined for Super Bowl glory in 2016, their 7-8-1 standing in the NFC West said otherwise. Carson Palmer is not doing a Tom Brady to age gracefully, barely holding onto his standing as fellow veteran Larry Fitzgerald leads a dysfunctional roster that needs an injection of youth and enthusiasm.
Los Angeles Rams D –
224 points in 16 games is as dull as they come. St. Louis might well be glad to get rid of the Rams as their divorce with coach Jeff Fisher became ugly and bitter. 4-12 outlines that the side has nothing to work with offensively, but are capable of strangling the life out of a game defensively.
San Francisco 49ers F
CEO Jed York continues to be the pain in the backside of all 49ers fans as the boss hires and fires his way from one disaster to the next. Coach Chip Kelly packed his bags following a 2-14 season that now paves the way for Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to pick up the pieces. If he can get the fans at Levi’s Stadium coming through the gates and seeing a competitive team again, he is a miracle worker.
Green Bay Packers B+
What started as a nightmare ended up being a beautiful dream for the Packers fans, seeing Aaron Rodgers throw and spiral his way to greatness. Were it not for a slow and indifferent start, their 10-6 would have been far better to enjoy home advantage where it really counted. If their QB plays half as well in 2017, Green Bay can expect big things.
Detroit Lions B
“You can’t trust the Lions man, they’re the Lions!” exclaims In the Pocket’s Steve Salisbury. When push came to shove, that statement was on the mark as Detroit’s 9-7 would culminate in a 26-6 thumping at the hands of the Seahawks. Jim Caldwell’s team could go one of three ways next season but whatever the result, that are a fascinating club to watch.
Minnesota Vikings C+
The Vikings are good, very good on their day. Beyond this though, their ability to outscore teams without Adrian Peterson is limited and even with their star man on hand, they become predictable. 8-8 is a break even campaign that falls short of what the fans in freezing Minnesota hope and expect.
Chicago Bears F
Yikes. The 3-13 Chicago Bears are personified by their quarterback Jay Cutler – short moments of talent but bereft of ideas, confidence and a clear plan. They need someone to spike the football and showcase some leadership – a task that John Fox and the rest of the team will be searching for desperately.
Atlanta Falcons A
So close and yet so far. Unlike the Carolina Panthers loss to the Broncos in SB50, there is still much to hold dear about the Falcons despite giving up a 25-point lead to the Patriots. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones set absurd numbers and with the backing of a Rise Up crowd that lifted them to another gear, what really is to stop Atlanta from going again? It will all be between the ears in 2017, needing to overcome the mental and emotional pain.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers B+
The smiling assassin Jameis Winston put some fun back into the Bucs in 2016, indicating that he can lead Tampa Bay to great things. Dirk Koetter oversaw 9 wins for a side that threatened to bottom out by beating the Falcons, Chiefs and Seahawks all against the odds.
New Orleans Saints C+
The margins are tight in this league, to the point where one defeat and a bit of bad luck can alter a 9-7 to become a 7-9 – a scenario that played out for the Saints. Wins over the Seahawks and Panthers papered over the cracks of a side that is running off the talent of Drew Brees and not much else.
Carolina Panthers D –
Throw 2016 in the bin and start again for the Panthers. A team that looked bulletproof in 2015 didn’t even get out of first gear in 2016. Quarterback Cam Newtown complained and whinged his way through a forgettable season and Ron Rivera will have to tap into that magic by whatever means possible because a 6-10 campaign for this roster is poor.