With the the 2012 regular season now closed, so are the storylines that included Adrian Peterson’s magnificence, Peyton Manning’s mastery, the forgettable run of the replacement refs and the played-out story that was the New York Jets. While we transition to the 2013 postseason, we can also anticipate what we have to look forward to in the next year of the NFL.
A Coach and a Quarterback
The most inspiring story of the season was the #Chuckstrong movement in Indianapolis, supporting coach Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia. The most surprising story of the season was the turnaround of the 2-14 Colts of 2011 to a playoff team this year.
Interim coach Bruce Arians played to the strengths of one of the best rookie quarterbacks we’ve seen … well, since Cam Newton last year. Andrew Luck’s record-setting passing exploits (most yards ever by a rookie quarterback) carried the Colts to an improbable postseason berth. Fueled by the emotional support from the community and league at large, the Colts willed out close games and beat lesser opponents despite having been written off as a “rebuilding” team.
Regardless of how far they advance in the playoffs, 2012 will go down as a success for the Colts. Proven to be ready for prime time, the combination of Luck and Pagano (who made his name as a defensive coordinator) will be fun as the next chapter of this feel-good story continues next season.
The Curious Case of Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers’ has regressed over the past three years. When given the reigns of the Charger offense in 2006, Rivers was dynamite, drawing comparisons to Dan Fouts and Dan Marino with his field-stretching arm and quick release. San Diego went on a run, making regular season noise and reaching the playoffs in each of Rivers’ first four seasons as the starter. The Bolts were the sexy pick for the Super Bowl in a few seasons and Rivers was marked to be the “it” quarterback.
Norv Turner took over as head coach in 2007. The Chargers lost in the 2007 AFC Championship Game, but have not been to the playoffs since 2009 and Rivers has a career postseason record of 3-4.
Rivers saw his once-vaunted assembly of offensive tools depleted and he was left floundering in an already listless AFC West. While being named to the Pro Bowl in four consecutive seasons, this year his interception totals are up, while his completion percentage and win totals are again down. The franchise is going through a coaching change and when that happens, and if Rivers remains in San Diego, we want to see him return to the top-level quarterback conversation.
The Return of the Running Backs
In a pass-first league, Adrian Peterson has galloped to new heights. Arian Foster and Ray Rice balance the Houston and Baltimore offenses, respectively. This year’s rushing leaders are a talented and athletic group. Notably absent are the big-name backs of the past few seasons. Chris Johnson posted his fourth straight 1,000 yard campaign but isn’t the dominant force who gave defenses fits back in 2009. Maurice Jones-Drew’s season was lost in Jacksonville and it appears his days there are numbered. LeSean McCoy had Barry Sanders-esque moments, but injuries and ineffectiveness were just a part of a very forgettable year in Philadelphia.
Teams like Green Bay and New England produced a ton of offense without a potent running game. Still, watching Peterson and Marshawn Lynch pound opposing defenses was a reminder that the feature back, short shelf-life and all, brings the smash-mouth element to the game that is so traditional and integral. We want MJD, Shady and CJ back running on all cylinders next year.
The QB Class of 2012
1983’s draft class is the benchmark for quarterbacks, with three Hall of Famers (Jim Kelly, Marino and John Elway) and four Pro Bowlers among the six quarterbacks taken in the first round. The 2012 crop is looking like ’83 and then some. No. 1 and No. 2 (Luck and Robert Griffin III) are full-fledged stars as rookies. RG3 led a football resurgence in DC that many thought wouldn’t happen for the Heisman winner. Russell Wilson has been equally brilliant. Dubbed too short to be a starter and expected to be a backup in Seattle, Wilson’s moxie and big-time arm took the Seahawks to the playoffs in his first season.
Considered a gamble, Ryan Tannehill utilized his athleticism to keep the Dolphins competitive and showed vast improvements as the season went on, passing for the most yards by a rookie quarterback in franchise history. If provided more weapons in Miami, his future looks bright as a starter. Brandon Weeden was the starter from Day 1 as a rookie in Cleveland, and while the team needs help across the board, Weeden did his part. He compiled the most wins and passing yards by a rookie quarterback in Browns history.