10 Hottest NFL Storylines That Everyone Will Be Talking About in 2012

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2012

10 Hottest NFL Storylines That Everyone Will Be Talking About in 2012

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    The 2012 NFL season kicks off in less than two months. The time between now and then will be filled with meaningless preseason games and overreaction from fans about the play of their specific team. Media will amass around camps for all 32 teams attempting to get a better feel for the dynamics of each franchise.

    Yet the stories have already been started, the thesis has been written and we are all just waiting for the next chapter to be entered.

    There is a labor battle once again this season, but don't fret; it has absolutely nothing to do with the players. Quarterback records promise to be broken once more, Cam Newton looks to continue his progression towards elite status and Peyton Manning joins only his third team since high school.

    The Philadelphia Eagles are attempting to fly under the radar with one of the most talented rosters in the league, while the San Francisco 49ers seem to be the sexy pick to capture the Lombardi.

    This article is going to focus on those stories, plus many more in what promises to be an event-filled 2012 season around the league.

Officiating Lockout

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    This could get extremely interesting quickly. The National Football League has locked out regular officials due to a lengthy contract dispute between the two sides. While no one will pay much attention to this issue early on, it could become somewhat of a sticky situation later.

    What happens after a player is injured because a replacement ref forgets to blow the whistle? What about a game-changing call during the end of the game? Once one of these two things happen, we will all be paying attention.

    For all the flack that NFL officials get, they have to be considered the best in professional sports. Their jobs are not easy, but they do a solid job throughout the duration of a season.

    How will replacement officials fare? That is going to be the million-dollar question here.

    The more pressing issue here is a possibility of a players strike if "scab" officials take the field for the first preseason games.

    Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk took a look at this issue:

    We’ll see what the decision is as we get closer to the day,” NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth told PFT Live on June 5.  “Hopefully, they can figure this out in an amicable way as soon as possible.  I’m not sure what the decision is going to be from the Players Association when that day comes.

    This is where it gets interesting. The NFLPA is tasked with protecting their biggest asset, the players. If they come to the conclusion that scab officials hinder the opportunity of success and ability to stay healthy of those they're tasked to represent, the players association could actually strike under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.

    Don't expect it to get to that point.

Quantity over Quality at Quarterback Position

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    The old saying goes, "If you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none."

    This is a situation that a number of teams around the National Football League find themselves in right now, none more so than the Seattle Seahawks.

    Pete Carroll and Co., obviously not happy with the performance of Tarvaris Jackson last season, set out to create competition for the starting job. They signed veteran backup Matt Flynn away from the Green Bay Packers and selected former Wisconsin standout Russell Wilson in the third round of April's draft.

    So, where does this leave them? Still without a true starting quarterback and facing a three-headed competition at this position during training camp and the preseason. Rarely do situations like this equate to success on the football field.

    On the other hand, a team like the Tennessee Titans, also in the midst of a quarterback competition, seem to be in a good place. Matt Hasselbeck led them to a near playoff appearance last season, and 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker appears ready to be an impact starter.

    The Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and, to a lesser extent, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns are in competition mode as it relates to the quarterback position.

    One thing is clear. If you have that one guy, that one quarterback to lead the team, you are in a much better situation heading into the season. Spending the two months between late July and the start of the season in September looking to find a starting quarterback generally puts a team behind the proverbial eight-ball.

Breaking the Passing Record, Once Again

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    By now, it is apparent that the National Football League has trended towards the pass over the course of the last decade. This is magnified by the apparent watering down of importance as it relates to the running back position. This is also magnified with the absurd amount of passing yards we have seen in the last few seasons.

    The following is a list of single-season passing leaders in the NFL, courtesy of pro-football-reference.com:

    OK, so four of the top six all-time passing yard seasons came in 2011. Overall, 17 of the top 25 on this list are from 2000 and later.

    Those are simply some crazy statistics.

    To put it into perspective, Joe Montana, widely considered the best quarterback of all-time, threw for a total of 15,000 in his four best seasons combined. Drew Brees has accumulated nearly 20,000 passing yards since the start of the 2008 season with the New Orleans Saints. In the process, he has attempted nearly 2,500 passes.

    Will records fall again in 2012? Only time will tell.

The Bountygate Game

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    Directly from the mouth of the tiger, or in this case suspended former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, prior to the 2012 NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Via NowPublic.com:

    The little wide receiver, No. 10 ... about his concussion. We need to (expletive) put a lock on him right now. He needs to decide. He needs to (expletive) decide. We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake (expletive) prima donna, or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find it out. He becomes human when we (expletive) take out that outside ACL. We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head. We need to decide how many times we can bull-rush, and we can (expletive) put Vernon Davis' ankles over the pile.

    This was the smoking gun that the National Football League used when they handed out punishments against various members of the Saints organization. This speech was also conducted immediately prior to one of the greatest postseason games in the modern history of the league.

    Now, the 49ers travel to the Bayou to square off with the Williams-less Saints, who are also going to be without head coach Sean Payton and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma.

    Both San Francisco and New Orleans promise to be in the thick of not just playoff contention, but conference championship contention when these two teams meet in late November.

    We also have to wonder if the 49ers defense, led by Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, will be looking to exact a certain amount of revenge against Drew Brees and Co.

    This will be fun!

Muting the Dream Team Talk

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    The Philadelphia Eagles were all talk and no walk leading up to the 2011 season. In fact, one could conclude that it was a straw man argument on their part. They had the talent, they had previous success but there was one new element to the roster.

    The Eagles had a bunch of new "high-priced" players. As we had seen in the past with the Washington Redskins, this type of building up the roster in one offseason rarely works in the NFL. Philadelphia followed that trend to a T last season.

    Now they come back with high expectations, but have been somewhat mute in regards to the level of talent on the roster. Philadelphia fixed serious holes on the defensive side of the roster with the selections of Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin, all of whom seem to be upgrades over what it had last season.

    In the process, Philadelphia went back to the basics in regards to a front office philosophy that had enabled it to have sustained success over the course of the previous decade.

    The talent is definitely there, but it is time that Andy Reid and Co. put up on the football field.

Where Will Cam Newton Trend Towards in 2012?

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    It is hard to envision Cam Newton besting a 2011 campaign that saw him break so many rookie records that fans had to resort to this when watching him play. By all accounts, Newton had one of the most impressive overall seasons in modern NFL history.

    We are talking about a rookie quarterback that combined for nearly 4,800 yards and 35 total touchdowns. He led a Carolina Panthers offense from dead last in scoring in 2010 to the top 10 last season. In the process, the Panthers won three times more games than they did the previous season.

    One drawback from a successful rookie campaign is the fact that Newton threw 17 interceptions and fumbled the ball five more times. These numbers need to change if the talented young quarterback is going to take his game to elite status.

    Either way, the Panthers and their young quarterback are going to be one of the most exciting stories of the upcoming 2012 season.

NFC Domination

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    The Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers combined for a 41-7 record last season as the top dogs in the NFC. Meanwhile, the top three teams in the "junior circuit" combined for a record of 37-11. This might not seem like a huge difference, but it is indicative of the difference in talent between the two conferences.

    While the NFC East might have taken a step back, all three other divisions in the NFC seemed to get better. The Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with seven wins in 2010, only to finish six games out of the top spot in the division with the same amount of wins last season

    The Denver Broncos followed the Seahawks by failing to finish above .500 and the AFC West in 2011. Meanwhile, multiple teams in that conference maintained playoff expectations despite hovering near or below .500.

    NFC teams represent seven of the top 10 spots in Matt Miller's initial power rankings of the 2012 season. This is a representation of just how much more talented that conference is.

    In reality, only the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens stand a legit chance to win the Super Bowl out of the AFC. Meanwhile, a case could be made for eight or nine teams in the NFC.

    Expect this domination to continue in 2012.

Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

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    The last time two quarterbacks were selected with the initial two picks in the NFC draft was when Peyton Manning went to the Indianapolis Colts No. 1, followed by Ryan Leaf to the San Diego Chargers in 1998.

    We know how that turned out. 

    Don't expect the same discrepancy in 2012. Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have what it takes to be championship quarterbacks in the National Football League. Their games are much different, and their pedigree coming from college probably cannot be compared either.

    Luck represents a continuation of the "old-school" quarterbacks of yesteryear, while RGIII is just another in that new breed of hybrid quarterbacks that have taken the league by force, most recently Cam Newton in 2011.

Peyton Joins the Other Mile-High Club

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    Peyton Manning has been one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history since being selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the initial pick of the 1998 draft.

    He led the Colts to 11 seasons with double-digit wins, including nine in a row from 2002 to 2010. In the process, Manning made 11 Pro Bowl appearances, topped 54,000 passing yards and threw 399 touchdown passes.

    Simply amazing.

    Now, Manning joins only his third different team since high school, and does so with tremendously high expectations. Make no mistake about it, John Elway brought the future Hall of Fame quarterback to the Denver Broncos for one reason: to win a Super Bowl.

    Manning is also tasked with replacing Tim Tebow, who became somewhat of a cult hero.

    This is going to be an extremely interesting season in Denver in particular and in the AFC West specifically.

Broadway Tim Tebow

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    The last quarterback to draw this much attention for the New York Jets was Joe Namath, who wasn't much more than a marginal quarterback in the NFL in his own part. Boy, have the tides changed a great deal in the near 40 years between Namath and Tim Tebow.

    Namath, a known womanizer, filled the bright lights of New York with his electric personality and supposed "American good looks," representing that time of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to the best of his ability.

    Tebow, on the other hand, is as pure as they come. He goes on international missions to build places of worship, has never said a bad word in his life and even acted as the "team chaplain" for the Denver Broncos.

    Now, Tebow comes into a situation with the Jets that would cause most people to be taken aback. He is joining a decisive locker room, loud-mouthed coach, underperforming team and will be tasked with backing up the enigma that is Mark Sanchez.

    All in a city that drives drama.