25 Things We're Looking Forward to in the 2012 NFL Season
The 2011 offseason was filled with drama. From the lockout to the mad scramble for free agents, there was plenty of drama to be had. So much so, this year could never match it, right?
Perhaps fully fueled by Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle that powers our information age today, we have experienced an avalanche of intrigue.
That means there is plenty to look forward to this season, aside from having football back in our lives.
Bouncing Back from Bounties
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The bounty scandal was, by far, the biggest story of the offseason, and it will be the most interesting thing to anticipate this season.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Saints are going to handle getting hammered by the NFL. They lost their head coach, Sean Payton, for the season along with general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games.
When Payton was knocked off the sidelines for three games last season after getting run over and needed surgery, Drew Brees had his two worst games of the season.
The Saints lost them both.
Jonathan Vilma was also suspended for the entire season and Anthony Hargrove for eight games, though New Orleans did well to anticipate that by signing David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton to man the linebacker position.
Incidentally, why must we add "gate" as a suffix to any scandal nowadays? Watergate is the name of a hotel, "gate" was not simply added arbitrarily. I refuse to call this "Bountygate."
Living Up to Expectations
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There is nothing quite like the pressure of being a franchise savior, and that mantle has been passed to this year's top two rookies: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
While Luck is stuck with the fully-rebuilding Colts, Griffin's Redskins have a chance to compete right away. He has set Washington D.C. abuzz with anticipation unlike any other player in recent decades.
It is going to be fun to watch the talented rookies dive into starting gigs right out of the gate.
Who Gets Kicked off the Hot Seat First?
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Who will be the first coach fired? Many assumed Norv Turner was on the outs after failing to make the playoffs last season, but the Chargers chose to keep him.
Will he be the first coach out of a job if the Chargers stumble out of the gate again? Is Rex Ryan a dark horse to lose his job if the Jets find themselves in the cellar after a few weeks?
Or will every coach survive the season after all the turnover we saw this year?
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He is just 260 yards behind Johnny Unitas and 572 yards away from surpassing Joe Montana, both of whom he has already passed in touchdowns. Brady could pass each in consecutive games to start the season.
He is also on track to pass Dan Fouts, and he has a good chance to catch his predecessor, Drew Bledsoe, later in the season.
All this will help erase doubt that he is the best quarterback in the history of the game.
Circus in Jersey
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As if the Jets needed to add drama in the locker room, they traded for Tim Tebow—without looking at his contract—and held a big press conference for him despite his status as backup quarterback and special teams contributor.
When are the tents going up?
Neither quarterback is particularly appealing. Tebow "just wins" to the tune of an 8-5 career record while completing less than 50 percent of his passes, and Sanchez has been the beneficiary of an excellent defense to buoy him with a pinch of luck and an occasional flash of good play.
How long will it take for Jets fans to become unruly and boo the Sanchize off the stage in favor of Tebow? This one is popcorn-worthy.
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Though reports from minicamps are being overblown just a tad, the word around the league is that Russell Wilson looks great and could seriously challenge Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.
This makes the quarterback situation in Seattle a bit of a mess.
The Seahawks traded away Charlie Whitehurst, leaving uninspiring incumbent Jackson to take the reins before they signed Flynn.
Seattle then said they would give Flynn a chance to compete for the starting job. He probably did not imagine he might lose the battle to a 5'10" rookie drafted in the third round.
In reality, Wilson is behind the eight-ball and would need to be extremely impressive throughout training camp and the preseason to have a real shot. It will be interesting to see if Pete Carroll starts a quarterback carousel, or Carroll-sell, if you will.
(I apologize for that terrible pun.)
South Florida Shuffle
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The team Matt Flynn "spurned" may just be better off without him.
It will be years before we can truly evaluate the value of drafting Ryan Tannehill, but everything indicates this was Jeff Ireland's plan all along. It would explain why Miami chose to "low-ball" Flynn—they already had Matt Moore in the fold.
Whatever happens at quarterback in the short term, the Dolphins are in a semi-rebuilding phase—in reality, they are mainly switching to a drastically different offense, adding and subtracting pertinent personnel in the process.
Expectations could scarcely be lower, but they could surprise many if they can continue playing solid defense.
Will Joe Philbin be the man to turn the team around after a decade of mediocrity, or worse? Year one is going to be interesting.
Concussion Junction, What's Your Function?
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The NFL is reaching a tipping point in concussion litigation. There are very real concerns that the massive cost of these lawsuits could effectively kill the league.
In reality, the likelihood we will get real motion on this case this season is low, but it will be interesting to see how the continued attempts to introduce safety measures will affect the gameplay.
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Drew Brees shattered Dan Marino's single-season yardage record last year, but Tom Brady broke it as well. His arsenal has only gotten better.
What do the Patriots have to add to the explosive mix on offense?
Brandon Lloyd has been added to the mix, and record-breaking Rob Gronkowski is just entering his third season.
There is just no way around it, the Patriots are going to score points in bunches. The question is which records will be threatened this time around.
Putting It All Together
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Baltimore came within a dropped Lee Evans touchdown of going to the Super Bowl last season. It will be interesting to see if they can get over that hump this year.
Losing Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury was a big blow to the defense, but the Ravens fortunately drafted Courtney Upshaw, who should help fill the void. Suggs has a chance to be back by the end of the season, too.
Meanwhile, fellow 2008 draftee Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to two playoff appearances in the past four seasons with disappointing results in both cases. He has all the weapons he needs at his disposal, and it will be exciting to see if he can put it all together as well.
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After a promising rookie campaign, Sam Bradford fell far short of expectations as a sophomore.
He can hardly be blamed for the 31 receiver drops he had last year—nearly 10 percent of all his pass attempts—but he also regressed as a passer.
With a new regime in town and an upgrade to his receiving corps in rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens, however, Bradford is poised to bounce back this year. Jeff Fisher certainly believes he can be a great quarterback.
Miracle on 11th Avenue
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Mall of America Stadium may have its days numbered, but it could be the site for a remarkable return.
Peterson has different plans, though
The stud running back is on track to start in Week 1, though his trainer has put a bit of a wet blanket on that expectation. That he could be playing early in the season is especially impressive considering Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL a week later and is expected to miss the 2012 season.
Whether Peterson is effective or not this season is another story—running backs tend to take a while to return to form after serious knee injuries. This is Adrian Peterson we are talking about, however—I would not bet against him being his old self sooner than later.
Graduating from Colt to Bronco
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John Elway helped the Broncos win the Peyton Manning sweepstakes—though having a ton of cap space to throw money at him certainly helped—bringing high hopes to Mile High and masterfully ridding himself of Tebowmania in the process.
The intrigue in Denver might be the highest since Elway finally won the big one. Can Manning get back to his high level of play? Will he be able to stave off further injury?
He is 35 years old, so the clock is ticking one way or another.
Can He Do It Again?
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When Jim Harbaugh signed on with the 49ers, the reclamation project was supposed to take some time. He had other plans.
The 49ers stormed the league en route to an improbable 13-3 record and an NFC Championship Game berth. They were two fumbles away from a spot in the Super Bowl.
Can Harbaugh build on his success?
San Francisco may have undermined Alex Smith by entering the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, but the former first overall pick is used to adversity. San Francisco gave him new and old toys to play with in rookie A.J. Jenkins and aging-but-still-fast Randy Moss.
With all the possibilities, it should be called the NFC Wild West.
The Return of JC Superstar
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Peterson may be back to start the season, but Charles has had much more time to recover.
Kansas City's stud back tore his ACL on September 18 last season, knocking him out for the rest of the season. The two-year rule may not apply to Charles, who is apparently ahead of schedule with his recovery and ready to go for the 2012 season.
The best part about all this is that we will finally get a chance to see Charles without having to worry about Todd Haley inexplicably underutilizing him—the fantasy football world in particular rejoices to know that.
Packer Mojo Spreading
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We have already talked about former Packers coach Joe Philbin in Miami, but he is not the only transplant.
Reggie McKenzie took over in Oakland, and the effects were immediately felt. Hue Jackson was let go, then the Raiders had a very un-Al Davis draft.
Meanwhile, Seattle's John Schneider is in his second full year after leaving Green Bay, and he has the Seahawks pointed in the right direction. He landed Matt Flynn on the cheap, then took the underrated Russell Wilson in the third round.
While that may be a recipe for a hot mess at quarterback this season, he is building for the future.
Fearsome Front Four
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The Buffalo Bills needed an upgrade on their defensive line.
They got two.
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson signed free agent deals with the Bills this offseason. With the Bills moving back to a 4-3 defense under Dave Wannstedt, this not only puts Williams back into his natural position, but it allows big defensive linemen Marcel Daraeus to move inside to tackle and help Kyle Williams wreak havoc in the middle.
The upgraded defensive front is going to be an issue for the AFC East and beyond.
Breaking the Madden Curse
This almost looks like a shot from the new game.
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Lions fans collectively groaned when Calvin Johnson was named the new cover boy for Madden 13, or at least it felt that way.
Have no fear, Detroit, if there is one man capable of breaking that curse, it is Megatron. After all, curses do not work on robots, right?
Johnson is not likely to repeat his 16-touchdown performance from a year ago, but anything is possible for the incredibly talented receiver. He will be fun to watch, Madden cover notwithstanding.
The Real Dream Team
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The Eagles were jinxed last season.
Expectations skyrocketed on the heels of a good season, the robbery of a deal they got for Kevin Kolb and the acquisition of Nnamdi Asomugha. Then Vince Young had to utter the words "Dream Team."
Philadelphia fell flat to start the season and never recovered.
After an excellent draft, however, I expect the Eagles to bounce back with a vengeance. They shored up their defensive issues by trading for DeMeco Ryans and drafting Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks.
With the defense back on track and the offense hopefully back to its 2010 ways, the Eagles will be a dangerous team.
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Houston may have lost its premiere pass-rusher when Mario Williams was wooed away by Buffalo, but that defense performed well without him for most of last season.
Matt Schaub returns from injury to lead Houston after their first playoff berth ever. Arian Foster and Ben Tate make for an excellent running back tandem, and Andre Johnson is still one of the league's elite receivers, despite nagging injuries last year.
With a young, improving defense to help, they should take the AFC South once again. If they can stave off injuries, who knows how far they can take that success.
Pounding the Rock
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Greg Schiano brings an old school mentality to the Bucs.
He is going to run the ball a lot, and it is going to be fun to watch rookie Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount combine for 400-plus carries this season.
Martin is a great rookie out of Boise State and Blount was good outside of fumbling issues last season. A good running game should help Josh Freeman bounce back and keep defenses honest.
Entering His Prime
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If you thought the last couple of seasons Rodgers had were good, you might be in for a treat.
At 28 years old, Rodgers should just now be hitting his peak years. He was other-worldly for the Packers last season, breaking the record for NFL quarterback rating with a 122.5 rating.
The Packers simply reload his arsenal, too. With Donald Driver's potentially permanent departure, Randall Cobb will simply step in as a sophomore after a promising rookie campaign. His supporting cast returns for the most part after an MVP campaign.
This is going to be good.
Avoiding the Sophomore Swoon
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If you expect Cam Newton to come close to repeating his record-breaking, 14-touchdown performance on the ground last season, you are an optimist.
Can he avoid a full-blown sophomore slump, though?
Newton had a fantastic season en route to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His gaudy rushing numbers masked passing numbers that regressed as defenses began figuring him out, though.
Meanwhile, about 475 miles away in Cincinnati, Dalton was a pleasant surprise while leading the Bengals to a playoff berth as a rookie. Can he build on his success?
Fellow sophomore A.J. Green should be a big help.
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The magic is rekindled in Chicago as the Bears gave Cutler a late Christmas gift by trading for the mercurial receiver, giving up just a third-round pick in the process.
With Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery upgrading the receiving corps, Cutler could be in for a huge season.
That is, if Marshall can keep his head on straight and steer clear of any more off-field issues.
Defending the Flag
"Come and get it."
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The Giants captured the flag after narrowly making the playoffs at 9-7 last season. They got hot at the right time, though, much like their 2007 Super Bowl run.
New York went 12-4 the year after they won their last Super Bowl, but they lost to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.
How well can they defend their title?
After a solid free agency period and draft, they could be even better.
Jerry Reese responded to the injuries Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum sustained by signing promising Martellus Bennett away from the rival Cowboys. He went on to draft David Wilson and Rueben Randle to replace the departed Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham.
Oh, and they still have Eli Manning.
Repeating championship success is no easy task, but the Giants will be ready for the challenge.