Playoffs?! Don’t talk about the playoffs! It was a great (and bizarre) regular season. Before the postseason starts, let’s review some of the top trends from 2011.
Surprising Rookie Quarterbacks– Where to start with rookie quarterbacks? Most obvious is Cam Newton, who had a tremendous (but not the best ever) rookie season, breaking all kinds of records and improving his team’s record by five wins. Andy Dalton, the red-headed wonder, not expected to really do much in his rookie season, took the Bengals to the playoffs, having a very fine season in the process with fellow rookie-star A.J Green. Christian Ponder actually looked decent at times, and I think the Vikings have a quarterback for the future. Jake Locker, thought by some to be the best NFL prospect among rookie quarterbacks, played fairly well but sat behind veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who had a Renaissance season. Blaine Gabbert looked absolutely terrible, surprising for how the Sunshine look-a-like was rated coming out of Mizzou. T.J Yates, who wasn’t on the radar at all coming into the season, ended up being thrown into the fray and helped the Texans win three games and secure a spot in the playoffs. Someone just has to do a study on the unquantifiable attributes of quarterbacks. How were scouts supposed to know that Dalton would play very well but Gabbert would be terrible? Why did Cam Newton set the league on fire but JaMarcus Russell burned out? I mean this study has to get crazy: what type of cereal they eat, what music they listen to, what books they read, what is their favorite movie, what’s their favorite dinosaur, what’s their clan tag in Call of Duty? What is the difference between a Ryan Leaf and a Peyton Manning?
Struggling Second-Year Quarterbacks- I thought Colt McCoy would have a decent season; guess I was wrong. And what the heck happened to Sam Bradford? Injuries aside, he had a miserable season, with a healthy Steven Jackson and a legitimate number one receiver. Jimmy Clausen is nothing but a bad memory now for Carolina. Then there’s this guy…..
Tebow Time– As a person, I love Tim Tebow. As a leader and a competitor, I love Tim Tebow. That said, I got very sick of the Tebow overload on SportsCenter and ESPN in general. Every day of every week was Tebow Time. “This week Tebow takes on Tom Brady, can he beat the powerhouse Patriots?” “Tebow plays Orton this week in a battle of ex-teammates” “Tim Tebow ate his steak medium-rare at dinner, will that fix his throwing motion?” The run Tim Tebow went on with the Broncos was amazing; that much is undeniable. The problem is he is still the most under-rated or over-rated player in the league depending on who you talk to. Can he throw the ball? Sometimes, not consistently enough for an NFL quarterback. Can he read defenses? Not yet. Is he a great runner? No, just an effective runner. Does he protect the football? Only when the defense is looking for the run. Does he win games? For a while he did. I do not believe Tim Tebow is a good NFL quarterback, but I believe in him. While I think he is sometimes afforded too much slack by some, he is sometimes unfairly judged by others. It’s only his second year, and he can improve. All this being said, I’ve had enough of Tebow Time. Please just let us watch him play without scrutinizing everything about him every day of the week. I would like more NBA highlights, please.
Speaking of quarterbacks, a few had mind-boggling seasons– Drew Brees shattered the single season passing record. Even more amazing is that Tom Brady did too. Actually, Matthew Stafford only missed it by 48 yards, too. Even Eli Manning came within reasonable striking distance. However, all of their seasons pale in comparison to….
Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood– Second quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards and less than 7 interceptions. 45 touchdowns. Set quarterback rating record which was actually one of the most astronomical records in football (and underrated. Rating takes into account a combination of yards, efficiency, turnovers, and scores). He had (by far) the most yards per attempt this season. His team only lost one game. Matt Flynn’s unbelievable game on Sunday does not diminish his season; Flynn would have done the same thing had he taken Drew Brees’ place versus Carolina. He’s going to have a good career of his own. Rodgers is MVP; and that shouldn’t require any sort of double-check.
Unlikely Receiving Leaders– The top ten receivers this year included some surprising names. Second-year player Victor Cruz came out of nowhere and scorched secondaries for the third-most receiving yards in the league, along with nine touchdowns. At number five is Steve Smith, whose had fallen out of the group of elite receivers pre-Newton Era. At number six and seven are two pass-catchers…. who play tight end. Rob Gronkowski led the NFL in receiving touchdowns, setting the TE record in the process. Behind him was Jimmy Graham, a second-year player like Cruz and Gronk. At number nine was Jordy Nelson, surprising because prior to this year he was at best the number two receiver on the Packers if not the three or four. Also he’s white. Forget you read that…. And finishing off the top ten is Brandon Marshall, who after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Calvin Johnson’s Monster Year– What else needs to be said other than 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns? CJ helped my Fantasy Football Team to a championship this year, and because of that I think I’m obligated to say it. He’s the best wide receiver in the league. Who am I kidding he’s not even the best Johnson.
Players don’t learn rule very quickly….. nobody does– I’m not just talking about flagrant violations like Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison. I’m talking about Dunta Robinson, whose coach claims that’s how they teach it. I’m talking about the helmet to helmet hits, the low hits on quarterbacks, the leading with the helmet. Players just don’t seem to understand that those hits don’t work anymore. In their defense, I saw some pretty terrible interpretations this year. London Fletcher vs. Tom Brady comes to mind. I’m all for erring on the side of caution, but I think the referees missed a few this year. Besides that, there were plenty of other issues this year, like the tuck rule and the Calvin Johnson rule. The problem is that fans and commentators don’t always know the rules; officials do.
Bad teams finally make the playoffs– The Texans, Bengals, 49ers, and Lions had been three of the sorriest franchises in the NFL for the past decade. Finally, all of them made it there, the Texans for the first time. Whether or not any of them will do anything in the playoffs is uncertain.
Promising teams come up empty– The Jets guaranteed a Super Bowl, the Chargers and Cowboys are always pre-season favorites, the Bears looked ready to make a run until Cutler’s injury, and the Colts were doomed from the start.
This list is by no means complete. There are far too many stories, subplots, and statistics to include. It was a very entertaining and unique regular season. I can only hope the playoffs are just as good.
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