Peyton Manning has something to prove in 2012.
The NFL is unpredictable. Every year, some team is crowned the offseason champion, only to be a major disappointment. Every season, some team is an afterthought, only to come out of nowhere and make the playoffs.
That rise and fall usually coincides with the play of that teams' quarterback.
Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles were the "Dream Team," only to see Michael Vick miss three games because of injuries. When Vick was on the field, his completion percentage dipped below 60%, and his interception total ballooned from six to 14.
Add it all up, and the Eagles finished the season 8-8, one game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East. As we all know, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.
So which QB's will take their game, and their team, to another level in 2012?
We saw too much of Jay Cutler in a sock hat, and not enough of Cutler in a football helmet last season. Playing in Mike Martz's high scoring, high impact, minimal protection offense, Cutler took a beating. He appeared in only 10 games, and he completed a career low 58% of his passes.
Martz is gone, so expect Cutler to actually have time to throw the football now.
Cutler is also reunited with Brandon Marshall, his favorite target while a member of the Denver Broncos, and you can see why Bears' fans are excited. The Bears also drafted Alshon Jefferey, the 6'4 wide receiver out of South Carolina, with their second-round pick. Jefferey could be a steal. Throw in the always-explosive Devin Hester, and running back Matt Forte—one of the best in the business if the Bears can work out his contract—and Cutler has a ton of weapons to work with.
2011 Stats: 58% completion, 2,319 yards, 13 TD's, and seven INT's.
2012 Prediction: 63% completion, 4,600 yards, 25 TD's, 12 INT's, and the Bears will steal the Lions spot in the playoffs.
Alex Smith was perhaps the breakout QB of the 2011 season, apologies to rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Smith led the Niners to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship game. So how is he supposed to "break out" and have an even better season than that?
I think Smith will go from "game manager" to a playmaking QB in 2012.
Smith had more talent added to his arsenal than perhaps any QB in the NFL. The Niners brought in wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham via free agency, and drafted A.J. Jenkins out of the University of Illinois in the first round. They added depth to the running back position by signing Brandon Jacobs via free agency, then they went out and drafted LaMichael James in the third round.
The Niners have an awesome defense, and with all those weapons, expect Smith to take a few more chances this season. He will make a few more mistakes, but expect more big plays also.
2011 Stats: 61% completion, 3,144 yards, 17 TD's and five INT's
2012 Prediction: 62% completion, 4,100 yards, 24 TD's, 10 INT's, and the Niners will make the playoffs again. Just like in 2011, they will be knocking on the door to go to the Super Bowl, and they just might get there.
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2010 NFL Draft has had to endure more difficulty than perhaps any other starting QB in the NFL over the last two seasons.
The Rams have been terrible, but Bradford led them to a 7-9 record as a rookie, as he was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Then in 2011, the bottom fell out. The Rams lost both starting offensive tackles to season-ending injuries. The starting center was benched. The top receiver, Danny Amendola, was lost for the season in the first half of Week 1.
It was one thing after another.
Throw in the fact that Bradford was working for his second offensive coordinator in two seasons, in an offseason shortened by the lockout no less, and Bradford never found his footing in 2011. A high ankle sprain suffered at Green Bay caused Bradford to miss six games, and the Rams finished the season 2-14.
Jeff Fisher was brought in to replace Steve Spagnuolo as the head coach. Fisher is going to pound the run, and I expect Bradford to get a lot better protection now that his offensive line is healthy. Expect Bradford to have a season very similar to what Alex Smith did last year in San Francisco, when a new head coach was brought in to simplify things for an embattled former No. 1 overall pick.
The Rams signed Steve Smith, who led the NFL with 107 receptions while playing for the Giants in 2009. They also drafted Brian Quick in the second-round, and the 6'4" receiver should give Bradford another talented receiver to throw to. Amendola will be back and fully healthy. Throw in Steven Jackson, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and the Rams have the beginnings of a decent offense.
2011 Stats: 53% completion, 2,164 yards, six TD's, six INT's
2012 Prediction: 64% completion, 4,000 yards, 23 TD's, 10 INT's, and the Rams could sneak up and steal a wild card playoff spot.
Andrew Luck is the most hyped QB to enter the NFL in a long time. There is a reason for that. The dude is that good.
The Colts were awful last season, going 2-14 as Peyton Manning missed the entire season with a neck injury. The Colts cleaned house, but they still have Reggie Wayne catching passes in Indy. Throw in the fact that the Colts drafted Coby Fleener, Luck's tight end at Stanford, and unlike Bradford in St. Louis, Luck will actually start his career with some weapons to throw to.
I think Luck is stepping into a great situation, as the Colts have nowhere to go but up.
2011 Stats: Luck was at Stanford
2012 Prediction: 61% completion, 4,200 yards, 20 TD's, 14 INT's, he wins the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the Colts finish somewhere between 4-12 and 7-9.
Peyton Manning, as we just discussed, missed all of 2011 with a neck injury. That led to the Colts being awful, and opened the possibility that they could draft Andrew Luck. The Colts decided to turn the page, and now Manning is a Denver Bronco.
The Broncos are about to air it out.
Throw all the passing stats out from last year's receivers, because the Broncos didn't really throw the ball. I know that Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are both talented players, with Thomas having the physical ability to be an elite receiver.
I also know that Manning has made a career out of turning no-name receivers into solid NFL players. Manning is one of the hardest working players in the NFL, and that work ethic and preparation are about to rub off on his young receivers.
More than anything else, Manning has a chip on his shoulder. The Colts probably made the smart move by going with Luck, but you know Manning is going to try to make them look stupid for as long as he is still playing in the NFL.
2011 Stats: Manning didn't play.
2012 Prediction: 67% completion, 4,500 yards, 26 TD's, eight INT's, and the Broncos will make the playoffs again.