Commentary

Bears, Eagles, Falcons, Bucs stand out

Vikings, Redskins, Niners, Cardinals and Panthers all have serious work to do

Originally Published: January 5, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Here are my NFC team grades for the regular season. For my AFC grades, click here.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: GRADE: A
Lovie Smith saved his job and won the NFC North by promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hiring Mike Martz and Mike Tice to fix the offense. General manager Jerry Angelo deserves credit now for the Jay Cutler trade and the signing of defensive end Julius Peppers, which helped take the Bears back to the top.

Green Bay Packers: GRADE: B
The difference between first or second place in the NFC North might go back to the Packers' unwillingness to find running back help after the loss of Ryan Grant. But defensive coordinator Dom Capers did a masterful job holding the defense together despite numerous injuries, and head coach Mike McCarthy continues to do great things in making Aaron Rodgers one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Detroit Lions: GRADE: B
A four-game winning streak offers hope to Lions fans that their team could challenge for a .500 record next season. Jim Schwartz successfully rebuilt the defensive line, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan improved the offense by a touchdown a game. The next challenge is rebuilding the linebacking corps and the secondary and upgrading the offensive line.

Minnesota Vikings: GRADE: F
The Metrodome lost its roof. Brad Childress lost his job. Brett Favre suffered personal embarrassment, and age finally caught up to him. New coach Leslie Frazier has to find a new quarterback and decide whether it's time to break up this aging, talented roster.

NFC EAST

Philadelphia Eagles: GRADE: A
Andy Reid provided one of the most exciting rides of the 2010 season. He traded Donovan McNabb, rebuilt Michael Vick, made the roster younger and won the NFC East. Thanks to Vick, the Eagles have become "Must See TV.''

New York Giants: GRADE: C
The Giants didn't have the feel of a team that went 10-6. Their .400 strength of victory record was the ninth-worst in the league. The defense has to do better against playoff-caliber teams and needs to improve the linebacking corps -- again.

Dallas Cowboys: GRADE: D
Call them the "Allas'' Cowboys because they lost their "D." The defense gave up 46 yards and 11.6 points a game more than last season. Jason Garrett did a nice job of adding more discipline to the offense, but his next challenge is to figure out why the defense went south.

Washington Redskins: GRADE: F
The addition of Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan to a perennially underachieving offense added only 2.3 points a game, and the switch to the 3-4 defense produced a 70-yard net loss.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: GRADE: A
Mike Smith and the Falcons took advantage of every opportunity to be a No. 1 seed. They took advantage of an easy road schedule to go 6-2, and they were tough to beat at home at 7-1. The trio of Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner is hard to stop in the Georgia Dome.

New Orleans Saints: GRADE: B
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams gets an A grade for finishing fourth in the league on defense. The offense gets a downgrade because Drew Brees ended up with 22 interceptions.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: GRADE: A
Raheem Morris had an amazing season. He had 19 rookies on the roster and set an NFL post-merger record by starting 10 of them. He had a seven-game improvement and helped to develop one of the league's next elite quarterbacks -- Josh Freeman.

Carolina Panthers: GRADE: F
The whole season was a failure. John Fox tarnished a strong coaching record with a 2-14 season. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen never had a chance to work the right type of offense for him and went 1-9 as starter. Injuries riddled the offensive line, the backfield and the defense.

NFC WEST

Seattle Seahawks: GRADE: C How does a team win the division and get an average grade? Simply, it was a less-than-average team in one of the worst divisions in NFL history. The Seahawks finished the season with an unsettled quarterback position, and they turned over the roster in bringing in 31 new players. But they finished first, which still has great value.

St. Louis Rams: GRADE: B
Although it was disappointing to lose the division title on the final Sunday, the Rams had a great season. Sam Bradford is the quarterback to beat in the NFC West. Steve Spagnuolo deserves credit for tightening up a defense that allowed 20.5 points a game, a touchdown less than last season.

San Francisco 49ers: GRADE: F
It became apparent by midseason that Mike Singletary didn't have it as a head coach, and the team waited too long in making a change. It had the best defensive talent in the division, but the key to the future is finding a new coach and a new quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals: GRADE: F
The Cardinals went from division winner to the fifth choice in the draft because they had no replacement for Kurt Warner at quarterback. More baffling is a defense that allowed 27.1 points a game.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer