This N’ That With Tony Mack: NFC Report Cards

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 10, 2004

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Last year at this time, we were praising the Cowboys and Panthers for their fast starts in their respective divisions. Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Take the Eagles for example.
Philly and Donovan McNabb were still struggling at this time last year. 12 months later, Philly appears to be the class of the NFC. But after their loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field, are looks deceiving?
What about the Michael Vick Experience in Atlanta? How much will losing Michael Strahan and Keith Washington effect Big Blue? Can anyone figure out either the Rams or Seahawks?
Lets take a peek.
TO and The Freak have done all that was asked of them at the beginning of the season and that’s why Philly sits atop the East. But with all the injuries (Westbrook, Andrews, etc.), do the Eagles have a finishing kick? A rematch with the Giants along with games against the Packers and the Rams will tell the tail. As of right now, the road to the NFC title goes through Philly. But the real question is: Can they reach Jacksonville?
The aforementioned injuries to Strahan and Washington are going to deal a serious blow to Big Blue’s playoff run. Despite a strong season by Tiki Barber, the offense has had their lapses this year. There are some in Jersey who’d like to see Eli Manning under center instead of Kurt Warner down the stretch. That’s probably asking too much for Archie’s boy. Until further notice, it’s wildcard or bust for New York.
I’m probably being generous with this grade considering how many times this team has been called stupid by its coach over the last few weeks. I’ll tell the Tuna what I said to a certain Raider coach last year at this time — if the team is stupid, then what does that make the coach? What do you expect when you mysteriously release a QB that leads you to the playoffs and replace him with Cousin Vinny?
The second time around for Joe Gibbs is slowly turning into a Greek tragedy. But because of who he is, you get the feeling that this year will be a mulligan. Clinton Portis has been okay, but we now know why Mark Brunell is out of Jacksonville. However, it’s not all Brunell’s fault. The defense has also been inconsistent as well. Losing LeVar Arrington didn’t help either. This is a spoiler year at best for the Skins.
Last year this time, the Vikings were looking at no less than a division title. We all know how that story ended. This year, they’ve been up and down and again the Packers are closely in their rearview mirror. The defense is still not anything to write home about and Ol’ Number 84 may be out longer than expected. For this team to make some noise, Daunte Culpepper must hold onto the ball and put this team on his back. If not, Mike Tice may be joining Dave Wannstedt on the sidelines.
Just when you think they’re down, the Pack seems to rise back. But suddenly Lambeau Field isn’t the automatic W for them anymore. Home losses to Chicago, the Giants, and Tennessee has made the Cheeseheads a bit vulnerable. That can all change if they reestablish themselves in the second half. Coming into the “Frozen Tundra”: The Vikings, Rams, LIons, and Jaguars. Time for the D to shape up or get shipped out.
The boys from Motown are similar to the Packers. They’ve finally licked their road phobia, now they have to establish Ford Field as a place visitors fear. Coach Mooch does have this team playing better, but they still appear to be on the outside looking in when talking about the playoffs. The second half will be better for them and they’ll have a share of upsets, but I think the postseason is still a year away.
Losing Rex Grossman and having to play Jonathan Quinn would be enough to make a man called Lovie a raving madman. Instead, he’s gotten some decent results from his third-string QB and his young defense has been adequate. This team is still a work in progress, but the seeds are slowly being planted. When you enherit a bad team, it takes time. If Lovie is given a fair chance, Da Bears will be a contender in about two years if not sooner.
So what if No. 7 hasn’t totally grasped the West Coast offense. He’s the best improv QB of all-time. Seriously, would you ask Charlie Parker to play the cello? I digress, but the talented Mr. Vick has and will be fine. What will keep Atlanta on top will be their defense. With Carolina all but out of it and Tampa and New Orleans still trying to find their way, the Falcs should be able to win this division.
We told you during our preview that Brad Johnson wouldn’t be able to hold to his job much longer. Although, I must admit I though it would be Chris Simms behind center and not Brian Griese. Either way, the Pewter People are starting to show some life on offense. Will it be enough to make a playoff push? They still have two meetings left with Atlanta and Carolina. A wild card could be in their future.
It’s becoming a broken record every year with the Saints. They start off lousy, make a late run at the playoffs, but come up just short. The only difference this year is that there probably wont be a playoff run this time. They’ll win some games by sneaking up on some folks, but not enough to make a run. Also, this time it’ll cost them their head coach. Jim Haslett was cool early on, but he’s probably on the way out.
I wanted to give Carolina an incomplete because of all the injuries, but that wouldn’t be fair to all the other teams that have suffered major ouches. It’s a shame because I really thought the Panthers would be a player this year, but it’s not meant to be. The Super Bowl loser jinx has been more potent than the SI jinx over the last few years. Just ask Al Davis and Da Raidahs.
This grade is pretty generous considering the roller coaster that the Birds have put their fans through. They seem to be handling the road thing pretty well, but the home meltdown against the Rams is still indelible in everyone’s mind. Can they overcome that and regroup to win this division and beyond? The rematch at St. Louis along with trips to the Metrodome and the Meadowlands (vs. the Jets) will say a lot about this team.
Yeah I know they beat the Seahawks, but being the only team to lose to the godawful Dolphins takes them down a peg or two. You know that they’ll be entertaining to watch at times (when Mike Martz doesn’t get cute), but as we always ask — CAN THEY STOP SOMEONE WHEN IT MATTERS?? The jury is still out on that one. Until then, even if they overtake Seattle for the West crown I dont see them going very far in the playoffs.
Much like Lovie Smith, Denny Green was inheriting a lousy club. While he’s been able to keep his QB upright, there’s still a lot of deadwood on this club. Wins against the Saints and Dolphins have given their fans (all 6 of you) reason for hope. But until they can start to attract some prominent players into the desert, 6-10 or 5-11 will be the norm for the next few seasons.
49ERS (F)
Welcome to hell, or 3Com Park whichever you prefer. For the second time in the last six seasons, the Niners are in deep doo-doo. This is what happens when you allow your starting QB and loudmouth, but productive WR to walk. The cubbard is so bare that even Mother Hubbard is saying “Damn!!!!” Until further notice, we’ll just look away because there’s definitely nothing to see there.