Nothing went according to plan this year in the NFL....
Every season, the NFL gives us several amazing story lines; so much so that one wonders how the next season could possibly be as exciting. And then every year that question is quickly proven irrelevant by injuries, upsets, dominance, and disappointments. This year was no different.
After last season's undefeated Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to Eli's underdog Giants, fans around the world thought that they had officially seen football at its best, without room for improvement. The 2008-'09 season was doomed to be disappointment compared to the previous instantly classic season.
Entering this season the Patriots looked poised for another dominant run. The Giants appeared to be the latest addition to the NFC's recent collection of one-hit-wonders. Most predicted San Diego and Indianapolis to continue their dominance of their respective divisions.
This season quickly proved itself to be anything but predictable.
The Patriots didn't make it out of the first quarter of their first game without surprising us. Tom Brady, their perennial MVP candidate and one of the league's most prolific passers, suffered a season ending injury.
The Patriots, all of the sudden, looked a lot less dominant. Matt Cassel filled in nicely, but no replacement for Tom Brady is an improvement.
The Patriots were suddenly in a tough battle for one of the most tightly contested divisions in the league. The New York Jets had high expectations with the addition of Brett Favre. Miami came out of nowhere led by the man Favre replaced: Chad Pennington. The Bills looked impressive and started out 4-0.
New England beat all the teams they were supposed to beat, but all season seemed incapable of beating the NFL's elite. They finished with just five losses, but all five were good teams (Miami, San Diego, Indianapolis, New York J, and Pittsburgh), four of which made the playoffs.
New England only managed two wins over teams that would go on to reach the postseason (Miami and Arizona). While 11-5 is a good record, New England missed the playoffs. In no way did the Patriots live up to their expectations for this season.
The Giants entered this season riding high after their Superbowl XLII upset. Despite the win, New York made virtually no improvements this offseason. Combining that with the fact that they played in arguably the toughest division in the NFL forced many fans and analysts to predict a subpar season for the Giants. Man were we (yes, I was one of them) wrong!
Eli Manning led his team to a great 11-1 start and had his team at or near the top of the NFL in just about every offensive category. Unfortunately, they would go on to lose four of their last five games, including their divisional playoff game with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite the tough finish, the Giants had a great season. Eli proved that last year's postseason was more than just a fluke. They proved a lot of people wrong.
Indianapolis started slowly compiling just three wins through their first seven games. They turned it around and won the last 9 games they played led by MVP Peyton Manning. They took an early exit from the playoffs when they ran into a few key injuries and a hot San Diego team.
The surprising thing about Indianapolis this year was, they didn't win their division. Tennessee came out of nowhere to take an 10-0 start. They did cool off and lose three of their last seven including a shocker to Baltimore in the playoffs, but not before winning their division and earning the AFC's top playoff seed and the NFL's best win-loss record.
San Diego also entered 2008 with high expectations. They had basically the same team as the year before and were playing in what turned out, to nobody's surprise, to be the weakest division in the AFC. Somehow however, they managed an abysmal 4-8 start.
With some help from one of the biggest choke jobs in recent memory by the Broncos, San Diego won their last four games to become the first team in NFL history to start 4-8 and still make the playoffs.
It wasn't surprising that Arizona won their division; somebody had to. It was the worst division in football. The Cards basically won it by default. So it was and is shocking that the Cardinals would win three straight tough games and earn the first Superbowl appearance in franchise history.
The only thing that seemed to go as planned was the dominance of the Pittsburgh Steelers led by their No. 1 defence. They were the most consistent team in football all season long and eased through two playoff games and didn't surprise too many people with their seventh Super Bowl appearance. They will no doubt enter the game heavily favored. They should win.
But then again, nothing went according to plan this year in the NFL. Why start now?