10 Trends to Watch in the NFL During the 2012 Season

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2012

10 Trends to Watch in the NFL During the 2012 Season

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    The 2012 NFL season is mercifully creeping closer as fans wade through the dog days of summer. We can finally start to realistically prognosticate the trends of the approaching year.

    There are teams that are sure to rise and those that will regress. 

    There are also players who will begin to determine their legacy and others who might legitimize theirs.

    But not all of the attention will be paid to the issues on the field.

    Click through to find out what trends will be hot-topic items next season.

A Dedication to the Fan Experience

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    The NFL is at the height of its ever-growing popularity, but fans are not showing up to games.

    The evolution of high-definition television, NFL RedZone, NFL Sunday Ticket, fantasy football and skyrocketing prices have kept people at home.

    Who wants to drop at least $100 on parking, a ticket, and a couple beers when the view from your own coach is brilliant?

    Fewer and fewer people, apparently.

    The league has responded by changing its blackout rules as games in Jacksonville, San Diego and Tampa Bay were disappearing from local televisions with increasing frequency. 

    Now it's up to each team to create an enjoyable fan experience to get the turnstiles moving again. Teams have already decided to allow fans to see the replays that referees are reviewing and many have added Wi-fi.

    Efforts like these will need to continue so long as Best Buy remains in business. 

The Escalating War Between Roger Goodell and the Players

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    The fallout from Bountygate will not be ending anytime soon. 

    Jonathan Vilma didn't take the accusations involved and resulting year-long suspension lying down.

    The New Orleans Saints linebacker has been outspoken in his criticism of Roger Goodell's handling of the matter and has challenged the decision in court

    The NFLPA has heard Vilma loud and clear. The Association recently filed suit on behalf of the other suspended players to vacate the commissioner's decision. 

    There was already bad blood between the players and the league office stemming from last year's lockout. The addition of courts and lawyers rarely adds anything positive to a relationship.

    Get ready for some serious pyrotechnics.

The Continued Proliferation of the Passing Game

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    Woody Hayes and Darrell Royal would not have survived in today's NFL. The mantra that "three things happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad" is no longer applicable.

    Besides completions, incompletions, and interceptions, passing plays now often result in roughing the passer calls and pass interference flags. There is little reason for coaches to throttle back the passing attack with those types of odds. 

    The game has evolved into a pass-happy version that lights up scoreboards and keeps fans on their toes. As Kevin Seifert thoroughly explained, passing stats have been steadily rising for the past 25 years. 

    In 2011 alone, three quarterbacks broke the 5,000-yard barrier which had only been accomplished by Dan Marino. 

    As the above-cited article explained, there appear to be few options for defenses to slow down the aerial onslaught. 

The Simmering Down of the Concussion Discussion

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    The NFL world has been abuzz for the past few years regarding the players' health. The link between football, concussions and debilitating diseases has only recently started to gain steam.

    Everything seemed to come to a head when Junior Seau committed suicide. There had been others before him, but none carried the same weight.

    However, with so much media attention being turned towards Bountygate and the actual season, it's likely that the number of words spent on this critical issue will drop. 

    Hopefully, it will not take another tragedy to steer the discussion back to where it needs to be.

The Evolution of Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton set NFL secondaries on fire to begin the 2011 season.

    Then defensive coordinators figured out how to stop him.

    In his last six games, he averaged less than 200 yards passing after debuting with a pair of 400-plus efforts.

    But the kid with the charismatic smile will be all right. 

    His skill set is phenomenal. He demonstrated that he has the accuracy and touch to make every throw necessary and a couple that seemed previously unimaginable.

    Now that he has been given a full offseason to hone his game, teams will find a much-improved quarterback when they face the Carolina Panthers.

A Boom-or-Bust Season for Matt Ryan

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    Matt Ryan has enjoyed a steady yet unspectacular career. His numbers certainly put him in the top half of the NFL's quarterbacks, but it's time to determine his ceiling.

    Besides his rookie season, Ryan has had trouble getting things going in the playoffs.

    To be fair, the team's deficiencies along the offensive line didn't help matters. But that explanation will only work for so long for the former third-overall pick.

    With weapons like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Jacquizz Rodgers, the time has come for Ryan to either ascend to the elite or settle in as good but not great quarterback.

The Ascention of the NFC North

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    The NFL will revolve around the Midwest in 2012. 

    The Green Bay Packers are one of the league's elite teams, and the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are quickly approaching the same status.

    The Bears injected quality receiving talent into a team that was primed for a playoff spot before injuries dashed those hopes. The defense is getting old quickly but should retain its quality through the next season. 

    Detroit has run into several off-the-field issues lately. If they can weather the suspensions, the Lions lost little talent and will be in contention for postseason play.

    The competition for the division crown and wild card spots will be fierce and entertaining. 

The Demotion of the AFC North

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    The AFC North is going in a different direction from their NFC counterpart.

    The Cincinnati Bengals have begun ushering in a new era in the division. They should be stronger with another year under their belts, and the taste of the playoffs will certainly motivate them.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens cannot say the same thing.

    Pittsburgh is in a transition period.

    The defense has many aging players who have been consistently staving off injuries for years. The offense will have to endure the growing pains of their fresh-faced linemen while getting by without their best running back.

    The Ravens are facing similar problems with their defensive stalwarts. Ed Reed is still a top-notch safety, but he hasn't been fully healthy for some time.

    There won't be a free fall that relegates the division into obscurity. However, the AFC North will not continue to enjoy their familiar lofty status.  

The Reemergence of the Kansas City Chiefs

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    Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, and Philip Rivers should rebound from a poor 2011.

    Neither of these events matter.

    The Kansas City Chiefs will win the AFC West. 

    The losses of Jamal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry were devastating last season. Their returns should be equally uplifting when combined with the additions of Eric Winston and Dontari Poe. 

    The Chiefs are only a season removed from their last division title. Much of that talent has remained with the team, and the firing of Todd Haley will prove to be addition by subtraction.

    Arrowhead will be rocking this fall all the way into January.

The Continued Infatuation with Tim Tebow

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    This one was easy.

    The title of the article promises the 10 trends of the 2012 season. Just because people will be speaking about Tim Tebow for thousands of years after he passes doesn't mean it isn't currently a trend.

    The biggest media star resides in the biggest media market in the country. Put on a helmet, as you will be hit over the head with Tebow coverage all season long.