It makes sense the best team in the top division of the NFC would advance to and nearly win the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles emerged from the NFC East as one of three playoff squads, sporting the most balanced roster in the league – and its most improved quarterback, if not player overall, in Jalen Hurts. The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants also got into the postseason, each winning once before being dismissed.
The previously lauded NFC West wasn’t all that powerful, though the San Francisco 49ers were almost as good as the Eagles in running away with the division. The Minnesota Vikings did the same in the NFC North, only to look bogus in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose-dived in the NFC South, but they still won the sector – with a losing record.
>> READ: AFC Team Grades
Here’s how each NFC team rated:
Final NFC Team Grades
Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
Despite losing the Super Bowl, in which the Eagles represented themselves well in defeat, this was the NFL’s deepest, most balanced and frankly, most exciting team. From the relentless pass rush to a big-play secondary; from Hurts’ surge toward the top at his position to a top-ranked running game; and from an offensive line unmatched over 17 games to a receiving corps featuring stars A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia was, well, special. Their coaching was top notch and only the special teams lagged behind – just a bit.
>> READ: Eagles Must Keep Core Together
Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
It’s difficult to pinpoint just why we believe there should have been more out of the Cowboys than America’s Team produced. A bad second-round matchup with the 49ers ended any chance of finally returning to the conference title game. Still, turnovers at key times, a lack of depth at wide receiver, and juggling on the offensive line were issues.
The defense, led by stud linebacker Micah Parsons and a dynamic line, tends to carry this team, and that shouldn’t be the case with the likes of CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott on the other side of the ball.
New York Giants (9-7-1)
So much talk heading into the season focused on the Giants needing to change their culture, instill confidence in the players and find some big-play performers. Mission accomplished almost from Day 1 with new coach Brian Daboll. Quarterback Daniel Jones had his best season and earned a huge payday despite a mediocre receiving corps. Star running back Saquon Barkley, healthy at last, resembled the game-breaker he was as a rookie. The rebuilt defense was dynamic at times, especially in the trenches. This is a team on the rise.
Washington Commanders (8-8-1)
The Washington Commanders also could have been a team on the rise, and they were in the playoff conversation into January. But up-and-down quarterback play – the entire offense was inconsistent – led to not enough points; the Commanders scored more points than only the Los Angeles Rams and the Buccaneers in the NFC. Although the defense didn’t miss Chase Young as much as expected, it yielded enough key plays to keep Washington around .500. Their franchise turmoil couldn’t have helped, either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
Bye-bye TB12. This time for good. It wasn’t exactly the season Tom Brady envisioned when he pushed back his retirement for a year. Plagued by poor blocking, a defense that suddenly sprung leaks and no longer having Bruce Arians as head coach, the Buccaneers never seemed like a contender despite winning this weak division. This is not a young roster – even with the 45-year-old Brady retiring – and some of the veterans who didn’t come through this season should be wondering about job security.
Atlanta Falcons (7-10)
Even with a losing record, this was a positive season for the Atlanta Falcons. Predicted to challenge for the top overall draft pick, instead, the Falcons stayed in the division title conversation into December. They did so with stud tight end Kyle Pitts missing the final six games. Rookie WR Drake London had some nice moments, RB Tyler Allgeier rushed for 1,000 yards and the offensive line was solid. Coach Arthur Smith did well and seems sold on Desmond Ridder as the quarterback of the future. The defense was the division’s worst, however, and the Falcons were 1-7 way from Atlanta.
New Orleans Saints (7-10)
Maybe the New Orleans Saints suffered withdrawal symptoms from Sean Payton’s departure. Whatever it was, they underachieved in a division there for the taking. Only the Las Vegas Raiders had fewer than New Orleans’ 14 takeaways, and the Saints’ minus-11 differential was only better than the Indianapolis Colts. A defense considered by some to equal Tampa Bay’s heading into 2022 too often was leaky. There wasn’t enough offensive production from RB Alvin Kamara behind a so-so line, but first-round draft pick WR Chris Olave was excellent.
Carolina Panthers (7-10)
A merry-go-round of mediocre quarterbacks, a coach who lost the locker room early and was fired after five games, and then a decent turnaround under the interim coach. That sums up the Carolina Panthers‘ inconsistent season. Again, in a weak division, the Panthers had their opportunities, and such players as edge rusher Brian Burns, LBs Frankie Luvu and Shaq Thompson, RBs D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard made good impressions. The lack of continuity damaged Carolina, which found no solution to its QB quandary.
>> READ: Panthers Hire Frank Reich
Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
Such a glowing record for a team that fell short of the playoffs the previous season might warrant an A. Except that crash landing against the Giants in the playoffs, not long after being throttled by mediocre Green Bay, remains fresh in the mind. The Vikings deserve credit for winning so many close games, and Justin Jefferson was a worthy Offensive Player of the Year. Minnesota can score, but its defense has few playmakers, and the Vikings had a minus-3 point differential. Still, they had the NFC’s second-best record, tied with the 49ers.
>> READ: Vikings Need Defensive Overhaul
Detroit Lions (9-8)
The Detroit Lions were one of the success stories of the season, particularly on offense. Here’s a measure of how far Detroit progressed in 2022: The Lions went 5-1 in the division, including sweeping the hated Green Bay Packers, keeping them out of the postseason. Dan Campbell’s aggressive coaching and personality have infiltrated the players, from revitalized QB Jared Goff to RBs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and a strong defensive line. No. 2 overall draft pick DE Aidan Hutchinson was a stud.
Green Bay Packers (8-9)
No matter what Aaron Rodgers decides about his future, 2022 won’t be a season he cherishes. Only that late string of victories to get Green Bay in position to make the playoffs keeps the grade this high. It took far too long for Rodgers to get comfy with his untested corps of receivers, and coach Matt LaFleur didn’t distinguish himself with his play calls. The defense wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t impressive either. Also worrisome: The Packers were 3-6 away from Lambeau Field.
Chicago Bears (3-14)
The Chicago Bears’ talent level rated at the bottom of the conference and was only slightly better than the AFC tailender, the Houston Texans. Most upsetting was allowing 463 points, a league-high. Monsters of the Midway? Hardly. Matt Eberflus didn’t quite distinguish himself as a rookie head coach. So why a D and not an F? Because there was progress with QB Justin Fields, and in tight end Cole Kmet and RBs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, there are the makings of a threatening offense.
San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
Kyle Shanahan was edged out by Brian Daboll for top coaching honors, and we’re fine with that. Just remember Daboll had his starting quarterback all season, while Shanahan guided the 49ers to the NFC title game with a third-string rookie, who was the final overall pick in the 2022 draft.
San Francisco’s defense was immovable at times, and it has All-Pros up front (Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa), at linebacker (Fred Warner) and in the secondary (Talanoa Hufanga). The offense isn’t a slouch either with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Trent Williams. Is Brock Purdy the No. 1 QB when he gets healthy, or is it Trey Lance?
Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
Pete Carroll likely is headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and this season exemplifies how brilliant a coach he can be. The Seattle Seahawks are in rebuild mode, yet he and general manager John Schneider cobbled together a roster of strong draft choices and solid enough veterans to earn a wild-card spot. Recognizing Geno Smith’s ability to turn around his career – and win Comeback Player of the Year – was among Carroll’s best moves. Putting together a winning record while attempting to find the right pieces at so many positions was impressive.
Los Angeles Rams (5-12)
They won the championship in the previous season, then plummeted to noncontender so quickly we might have forgotten they were No. 1 in 2021. Injuries played a large part in the Rams’ demise, though many of the stars of the title campaign struggled when on the field in ‘22. Not WR Cooper Kupp, but the offensive attack was suspect otherwise.
Even Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the better defensive players over the last decade – Donald will head to the Hall of Fame five years after he retires – struggled too often. No wonder coach Sean McVay is sticking around. Who would want to leave after that season?
Arizona Cardinals (4-13)
The only F in the NFC, and it is warranted. Not only did the Kliff Kingsbury regime fail, but the tenor and direction of this franchise are uncertain. The Arizona Cardinals struggled in the second half of the 2021 schedule, then barely showed up this season. They paid QB Kyler Murray the big bucks, yet his level of success has been moderate at best. The defense was awful, stingier than only the Bears, and Arizona allowed 109 more points than it scored. Good luck, Jonathan Gannon.
>> READ: Cardinals Hire Jonathan Gannon
Barry Wilner was a sportswriter for The Associated Press for 46 years. He has covered virtually every major sporting event, including 13 Olympics, 9 World Cups, 30 Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup finals, and has written 75 books. Follow him on Twitter @Wilner88.