NFL: The Best of the Worst. Bright Spots for Non-Playoff Teams Pt 4

Welcome to the first of our new features shining a light on sport from across the pond. MatchPint's first ever international correspondent, Pete Dombrosky, has cast his eye over the NFL's also-rans. This is Part four of four in an end of regular season round up. Head on over here to see Part Three. Enjoy.


Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)


Following the 2012 draft, ESPN ranked the Eagles No. 7 in their preseason power rankings. I know hindsight is 50/50, but rarely is it this hilarious. The Eagles were not fun to watch. The Eagles couldn’t protect their quarterback. The Eagles couldn’t stop an offense. They were a Mad Libs – the Eagles couldn’t _________. You name it, they couldn’t do it.


Ok, I know that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but this is a team that expected a lot more of themselves. Before the 2011 season, they signed Mike Vick to a six-year, $100 million contract because of his 2010 performance in which he passed for 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns against just six interceptions. But his numbers have declined and he’s gotten hurt in both years since he put his name on the dotted line. If it’s any consolation, he probably won’t be in Philly next season.


What Birds fans can look forward to is a bounce-back year from LeSean McCoy. He didn’t have a bad year – 840 yards on 200 carries – but he missed four games due to a concussion. And his backup rookie Bryce Brown should have the Eagles licking their lips. At times, he showed great explosiveness, speed and ability to make defenders miss. In weeks 11 and 12, he racked up a collective 347 yards and four touchdowns.


The Eagles aren’t nearly as bad as their record suggests, they just had a down year with a ton of injuries. It’ll be interesting to see who they choose as their new coach and just how he plans to turn this team back into contenders.


Detroit Lions (4-12)


Oh the Lions are woeful once more. After going 10-6 and making the playoffs in 2011, they followed it up by a performance right in line with the city of Detroit, i.e. crumbling and failing. A tease like 2011 really hurts for fans and right now they have to be wondering if that year was just an anomaly.


They couldn’t stop opponents in 2012, giving up an average of 27.3 points per game. On the offensive side of the ball, the ground game was hit or miss. Seven times they rushed for more than 100 yards, but only once did they have an individual rush for at least 100 (Mikel Leshoure). Joique Bell complemented Leshoure well as a goal line back, but neither of them was productive enough to hang a hat on.


Where we really must focus on the Lions is their passing game. It was a pleasure to watch and that was thanks to god-among-men wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He broke Jerry Rice’s 17-year-old record for receiving yards in a single season by piling up 1,964. He found the end zone only five times, but mentioning that is like saying a Krispy Kreme donut would be delicious enough to change your life if it wasn’t for the hole in the middle. As long as Johnson is in Detroit (which he probably will be for the rest of his career), every defense has to the take the Lions seriously.


Oakland Raiders (4-12)


I remember the time when the Oakland Raiders were the most intimidating team in the NFL. Well, actually I don’t because I’m only 25. But I do remember when they’d make the playoffs every year, if you count 2000-2002. In all honesty, I can only remember the Raiders being a team in the NFL twice: This season when they beat the Steelers and in 2002 when they lost in the Super Bowl. They just haven’t been relevant enough to notice much in my life time. They kept that immaterialstreak going this year after capturing only four wins, none against a team with a winning record.


But I can’t spend all day hating on the black and silver (although I wouldn’t mind doing so). There’s actually a lot to like about this year’s team. Yes, I said it. Take a look at the backfield from 2012 and it was generally productive. Darren McFadden missed time due to injury (yet again) but he wasn’t always a bust. In the 12 games he played, he managed to rush for more than 100 yards three times and he accumulated 707 yards. I can see you aren’t impressed, so let’s factor in fullback Marcel Reese. If you didn’t notice him, it’s probably because you live in Oakland and the game was blacked out. He had one 100-yard game (as a fullback) and he racked up 496 yards through the air. He was a quiet weapon that should get some more use next year.


Tight end Brandon Myers was the team’s leading receiver with 806 yards and when you have a tight end threat like him, you’ll eventually learn how to use him effectively in the red zone. And I won’t forget about Carson Palmer. Remember him? He threw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns without anyone noticing. And with pieces like Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Raiders should start to intimidate defensive backs in the near future.


Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)


Watching the Jaguars this season was like seeing a train wreck, car accident, plane crash and a nuclear meltdown, combined. Finding joy in the Jags’ season was incredibly taxing thanks to second-year garbage man – I mean quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Even though Gabbert started four more games than backup Chad Henne, Henne still passed for 422 yards and two more touchdowns. But before you get too high on Henne, know that he threw 11 interceptions to Gabbert’s six. My point: There was no joy under center in Jacksonville this season.


 It didn’t get any better in the back field. Franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew played in only six games while running for a pedestrian 414 yards and one touchdown before suffering a season-ending injury; backup Rashad Jennings (who also missed time for an injury) rushed for only 283 yards in 10 games (six starts); third stringer Jalen Parmele was next in line, rushing for 143 yards in 11 games (one start).


Although the season was 95 per cent despicable, the remaining 5 per cent was filled by the likes of Cecil Shorts and the eventual emergence of Justin Blackmon. Shorts put up the numbers of a receiver who actually had a competent quarterback throwing to him. He caught 55 balls for 979 yards and seven touchdowns. Former No. 5 overall pick Blackmon started off slowly, but eventually became a solid second-receiver, hauling in 64 catches for 865 yards and five touchdowns.


The near future looks blindingly dull for the Jaguars, but with Blackmon and Shorts continued success and a healthy Jones-Drew, the Jacksonville offense might at least offer some entertaining come Sundays.


Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)


I’ll describe the Kansas City Chiefs the same way I described the Jaguars, but in a town with better barbeque. It was a crushing season for KC, not only because of the putrid performance of the team, but also because of the tragic murder-suicide in which Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend then took his own life in front of general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel outside Arrowhead Stadium. It was a turn of events that would have devastated any NFL organization, but for it to happen to the hapless Chiefs made it all the more inexplicable.


If there was any good to come out of the shooting, it was that the Chiefs bonded together the following Sunday and produced their second win in 12 games, the final win of the season. At the time, Brady Quinn was the starting quarterback and I believe he earned a lot of respect when he gutted out the win verbalized his thoughts in the post-game press conference.


“We live in a society of social networks, and Twitter pages and Facebook … but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they may be revealing on a day-to-day basis.”


On the field, I’ll cite the performance of running back Jamaal Charles. He finished with a career-high 1,509 rushing yards and made the Pro Bowl one year after tearing his ACL. Without him, Kansas City might have gone 0-16.


Additionally, Andy Reid has signed on to coach in KC and it’s not just because of that barbeque. The team had five Pro Bowlers this season and that should serve as a solid base for Reid to take this team in the right direction.


Pete Dombrosky


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