For 20 of the 32 teams in the National Football League, the season is over and it's time for "wait until next year". Some teams have had dismal season after dismal season, like the hapless Oakland Raiders, and even the prospects of high draft picks and free agents don't look like the remedy for truly sucky organizations.
Some teams that didn't make the playoffs look to be on the rise, and that would include the San Francisco 49ers.Last year, they hired Mike Singletary, famed two decades ago as the on the field leader of the feared Chicago Bear "46" defense, as their interim head coach, and decided to give him the job full time this year. Ads from the sides of buses proclaimed "I'm not a moral victory kind of guy." 49er fans had some real hope that they would get out of the doldrums. The team finished with 8 wins and 8 losses, their best result since early this decade, but in second place in their division and at least two wins away from a playoff spot.
While Singletary may not be keen on moral victories, here are the moral victories that give the 49er fans some hope for the future. This year, the 49ers went 5-1 in the six games against division rivals, and the AFC West does not have a historically dominant franchise. The best team of the bunch right now is the Arizona Cardinals, who have made the playoffs two seasons in a row. The last time the Cardinals achieved this level of quality, they played their home games in St. Louis and Gerald Ford was president. The 49ers can also look with pride to their home record of 6-2 this year. If they can start winning some of the heartbreakers they lost on the road this year, the playoffs are a real possibility in January 2011.
Another 8-8 team in the NFC are the New York Giants, but they are heading in the opposite direction. They made the playoffs under coach Tom Coughlin for five consecutive years from 2005 to 2009, and two years ago won the Super Bowl with a brilliant fourth quarter comeback against the New England Patriots, who went into the game an unprecedented 18-0. This year, their quarterback Eli Manning was gimpy for most of the season and their best receiver Plaxico Burress was in jail on a weapons charge. After starting with five straight wins this year, the Giants lost big to New Orleans 48-27, one of several serious ass-kickings the Giants endured this year, several to teams that aren't even in the playoffs, like Denver and Carolina. To make matters worse, they finished third in their division, and both the Eagles and Cowboys are quality organizations. In World Cup parlance, the Giants are in a Group Of Death, while the 49ers find themselves in a Group Of Cake.
Earlier this century, both the 49ers and the Raiders were playoff caliber teams, but these past several years have been as long a drought as Bay Area football fans have had to endure in many decades. As for the Raiders return to glory, well... who doesn't like a good "RAIDERS SUCK!" joke?