Eli Manning shows off the Lombardi trophy at the Giants' victory parade
The 2011 season ended with the New York Giants winning the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots. This was Eli Manning's second Super Bowl title.
There were many interesting stories in 2011, including the lockout and subsequent settlement, the re-birth of the San Francisco 49ers, the passing of Raiders' owner Al Davis and Peyton Manning missing the entire season.
2012 will have it's share of exciting action and compelling stories as well. Let's take a closer look at ten stories that could dominate the airwaves this coming season.
The NFLPA has filed a lawsuit against the NFL
The NFLPA has filed a lawsuit against the NFL. The underlying issue claimed is that commissioner Roger Goodell was biased in his dealings with the players involved in the Bountygate saga.
The NFLPA has nobody to blame but themselves because they granted Goodell the power to make these types of unilateral decisions.
This will develop into a legal wrangling and ultimately, the only people who will make money are the attorneys. Based on my understanding of the powers granted to Goodell, I don't believe the lawsuit will be successful and Goodell's suspensions of the players involved in Bountygate will stand.
Andrew Luck shined at Stanford
The Indianapolis Colts made former Stanford star Andrew Luck the top pick in the 2012 draft. Luck comes to Indy as the most polished quarterback since Peyton Manning. He will definitely take his lumps with the Colts, however.
In 2011, Luck completed 288 out of his 404 passing attempts, a 71.3 completion percentage. Luck also threw 37 touchdowns, against only ten interceptions.
The Colts are in a major rebuilding mode and their roster is in a complete state of flux. New head coach Chuck Pagano replaces Jim Caldwell. His expertise is on the defensive side of the football, so Luck will work most closely with veteran offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and quarterback coach Clyde Christenson.
The Colts were 2-14 in 2011 and do not have the personnel to help make Luck look like a star. However, Luck is extremely smart and also has the physical tools to excel in the NFL. It will take some time, but Luck will eventually lead the Colts back to being a perennial contender.
Patience is running thin in Dallas with Tony Romo
The Dallas Cowboys finished the 2011 season with a record of 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the straight year. When head coach Jason Garrett took over for Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season, I felt that he would turn around the fortunes of the Cowboys.
It didn't happen in 2011 and there is substantial question whether the Cowboys have enough talent to make the playoffs this coming season. A lot of the problems stem from owner Jerry Jones and his insistence on making personnel moves, as opposed to having a true GM run the football operation.
The Cowboys focused on defense with their first four picks in the NFL draft. Defensive back Morris Claiborne was excellent as the sixth overall selection, but the rest of the Cowboys' draft was unexciting.
Dallas did make some good offseason free-agent acquisitions by signing cornerback Brandon Carr, linebacker Dan Connor, quarterback Kyle Orton and fullback Lawrence Vickers. Whether these signings are enough to get Dallas back to the playoffs remains to be seen.
The NFC East looks to be a very tough division, as the reigning Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants, head the group. The Eagles and Redskins have also improved, so it will be a tough task for Dallas.
The key, as with most teams, will be quarterback play. Can Tony Romo recapture the magic he had early in his career and lead the Cowboys back into relevance?
My best guess is that Dallas will continue to struggle and so will Romo.
Peyton Manning and Eli Manning share a moment after a game
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. After sitting out all of 2011, due to injury, he has moved on to play for the Denver Broncos.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning was leading his New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. This was Eli's second Super Bowl title, while big brother Peyton has just one.
Now, with the 2012 season just around the corner, the game-by-game comparisons between Peyton and Eli will be a regular happening.
I can just imagine Archie Manning, their dad, a fine quarterback in his own right, watching two TVs at the same time to keep tabs on his sons.
Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire season
The New Orleans Saints have been gutted like a catfish caught in the bayou. Head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the year and defensive coordinator Greg Williams is out of the league, at this point.
Four Saints players were suspended, two of whom still play for New Orleans. Jonathan Vilma, the leader of the Saints' defense has been suspended for the entire season. Defensive lineman Will Smith will be lost for four games.
The others are no longer with the Saints. Anthony Hargrove is now playing in Green Bay and Scott Fujita is with the Browns.
In addition to these issues, quarterback Drew Brees is threatening to hold out, if he does not reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension.
New Orleans, amid all of the turmoil surrounding this franchise, is in for a downfall.
Robert Griffin will shine for the Redskins in 2012
The Washington Redskins selected quarterback Robert Griffin as the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. The former Baylor star and Heisman Trophy winner is a tremendous athlete and talent.
The Redskins finished the 2011 campaign with a record of 5-11. This is a team with some talent and I believe Griffin will bring some excitement and play-making ability to the Redskins.
Unlike Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Griffin has the talent around him to make a big splash in his first NFL season.
Tim Tebow at the Espy's
The New York Jets will face a huge amount of media scrutiny and second-guessing, as fan favorite Tim Tebow will start the season backing up Mark Sanchez. The Jets plan to run a few specific plays for Tebow and may also utilize him specifically in red-zone situations.
The moment that the Jets lose or Sanchez struggles, people will be calling for Tebow to step in. The Jets and Sanchez will fight the media and public outcry for Tebow, at first. However, unless Sanchez plays extremely well and the Jets win, the cries for Tebow will just continue to get louder.
This is a situation where somebody will ultimately emerge as the winner and it's unlikely to be Sanchez. The problem with turning your team over to Tebow, however, is that he is not a very good NFL quarterback.
The Tebow situation in New York has disaster written all over it. Anything less than a train wreck will be a surprise to me.
Peyton Manning has looked good in Denver, thus far
Peyton Manning will end his illustrious career in Denver with the Broncos. He joins a team that was 8-8 but that still won the AFC West. The Broncos also upset the Steelers and shocked the league, with a 29-23 overtime victory.
The AFC West is arguably the weakest division in the NFL. The Denver Broncos are up against a declining San Diego Charger team, along with the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. This is a division ripe for the picking and Manning should be able to lead the Broncos to the division crown.
If the Broncos get of to a good start and Manning plays well, it will be an exciting winter in Denver. Personally, I believe Manning will indeed play well and lead his team back into the playoffs with a record that is above .500.
Tom Brady and the Patriots will be tough to beat in 2012
The New England Patriots have retooled their team and should be even stronger than last year. The Patriots were 13-3 last season and won the AFC title, before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady is healthy, and his corps of receivers Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney will do plenty of damage to the opposing defense. The Patriots also signed running back Joseph Addai from the Colts to bolster their running game.
New England also brought in some solid defensive players via the draft in Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. The defense should be much improved in 2011.
At this point, on paper, the Patriots look like the team to beat in the AFC.
Alex Smith will have many more weapons on offense
The San Francisco 49ers made it to the NFC title game in 2011. There, they lost to the New York Giants in a hard-fought, overtime contest.
The 49ers' schedule is much tougher in 2012. The team should be improved, but that may not show up in their record.
Quarterback Alex Smith and head coach Jim Harbaugh formed a bond that will carry forward into 2012. Smith had his best season in 2011 and will have many more weapons to utilize this year.
The 49ers focused on improving their offense this offseason. They brought in free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to bolster the passing game. In addition, the 49ers drafted wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in Round 1 and the explosive LaMichael James in Round 2.
Defensively, the 49ers return all of their starters from this past season, when they were one of the best defensive units in the league.
I fully expect the 49ers to win the NFC West. From there, they should win their division and get ready for the playoffs. My prediction for the Super Bowl matchup is New England vs. San Francisco.
Randy Moss will help open up the field for the 49ers
There will be many other compelling stories of perseverance and success in the 2012 season. Nobody knows for sure what will happen, but the 49ers will be right in the thick of things as they try to reach the Super Bowl.
With the incorporation of their new offensive playmakers, the 49ers will be much more explosive in 2012. I predict the 49ers and the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl, with San Francisco winning a close game.