The 2012 NFL season is about to get started, and those of us in the media world couldn't be happier. It seemed like we were waiting and waiting for the long months between the Super Bowl and the Hall of Fame Game this weekend to pass by.
But, it is here.
With that in mind, it is important for us to take a look at the individuals who will define the season around the NFL.
This article is going to give you a list of the top 100 figures around the National Football League that you should pay close attention to.
You will see some of the best players in the league, but you are also going to see some individuals who represent everything that is wrong with modern football. This article isn't just limited to those suiting up on Sunday's or coaches on the sidelines.
Rather, it is a broad view of the entire construct of the league entering what promises to be an amazing season.
So, let's take a look.
What Scott Hanson does on a 17-week basis during the NFL season is simply amazing. Relying on a ton of producers and feeds from dozens of venues around the league, the talented host puts us in the middle of the action on a consistent basis.
This has to be one of the hardest jobs in professional sports, and I, for one, don't envy him.
What makes Hanson's story so much more interesting is his past and how much he has had to overcome to make a list like this and join the upper-echelon of the journalist community.
As Michael Hiestand over at USA Today points out, Hanson's path to television couldn't have been more rocky.
He once pretty much gave up on TV—on even having a job—to move in with Christian brothers trying to serve the poorest of the poor.
I was in a dark broken lost place in my life. I'd been obsessed with being a network TV sportscaster. My life unraveled through my own sin.
Let's not read anymore into this other than to thank Hanson for his awesome performance on a weekly basis on a show that makes Newsroom look elementary.
It has been a good five seasons since Carson Palmer was an impact quarterback in the National Football League. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals has seen his career hit a downswing since missing all but four games of the 2008 season with a knee injury.
Despite this, the Oakland Raiders made the decision to invest a first and second rounder in a trade with the Bengals for Palmer last season.
He now has a myriad of different weapons and an offense that seems to fit his skill set to a T.
I am expecting Palmer to revert back to 2006 form this year. If that happens, he will be among the biggest stories in the league in 2012.
We need a couple females on this list to breakup the tremendous meat fest that could have taken place on Bleacher Report.
Who better than Collen Dominguez? She is also pretty damn good at what she does.
As someone who follows politics a great deal, Dominguez did a bang up job witch MSNBC during the earlier part of last decade.
She joined ESPN in 2004 and has been covering the NFL, among other sports, ever since.
It doesn't hurt that I have a weak spot for raven-haired beauties.
I didn't know that those two words meshed all too well with one another.
Say what you want about the Pittsburgh Steelers, he is as tough as nails on the football field. This is going to be an interesting storyline heading into the 2012 season. Can the Steelers offensive line holdup in protection of their franchise quarterback? Is he going to be able to play through serious injuries like we have seen in that past?
If your a Steelers' fan, you have to hope the answers to both of these questions are resounding yes's. After all, this team does not stand a chance to compete for a conference championship with him on the sidelines.
It is time for Rob Ryan to step up and lead the Dallas Cowboys defense out of mediocrity. Widely acclaimed for his risk-taking and blitz-heavy defense, Ryan has failed to provide the necessary oomph for a unit that seems to have under-achieved throughout his one year tenured there.
Dallas finished 23rd in pass defense and 16th in points against last season. Definitely not the marked improvement that Jerry Jones and Co. were looking for when they hired him away from the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2011 season.
The Cowboys have added both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at the cornerback position this offseason, solidifying a unit that was much maligned last year.
The excuses are over, and Dallas needs to step up on this side of the ball if they're going to contend for a division championship in 2012.
For argument's sake, I am going to assume here that Jake Locker is the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback heading into the regular season. While this is far from a certainty, all the markers seem to point in his direction.
Matt Hasselbeck was a decent starter and almost led Tennessee to a postseason appearance. That being said, he did struggle down the stretch, throwing just three touchdowns in the Titans' final five games last year.
Locker, a top 10 pick in 2011, seems to have both the talent and moxie to perform up to level as a starter this season. He looked really good in limited action last season and seems to have progressed during the offseason.
If Locker wins the starting job and performs up to the level that his talent indicates, the Titans could be looking at a playoff berth this season.
It is funny how fans have such a short memory in the professional sports world. Matt Cassel is just one season removed from leading the Kansas City Chiefs to an AFC West Championship and accumulating some of the best numbers in the entire league.
He threw 20 more touchdowns than interceptions in 2010 en route to a surprising 93.0 quarterback rating.
2011 was a completely different story.
Marred by the injuries to two of their best players, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs were a disaster waiting to happen. They started out the season by being outscored by a total of 79 points in their first two games, Todd Haley was fired, and Matt Cassel was injured.
The veteran quarterback missed the final seven games of the season with a serious hand injury. In total, the Chiefs were struck by a wide array of bad luck throughout their roster.
Cassel appears to be fully healthy, and both Berry and Charles do as well. This is a team that has the talent to contend for a playoff spot in 2012.
There are some who will tell you that Terrell Owens has burned his bridges around the National Football League—that he has played his final game of what should be a Hall of Fame career.
Those people don't have an understanding of the changing landscape within the league. Training camp injuries, unproductive players and other roster dynamics could seemingly open up a spot for Owens in the NFL.
While some will argue that Owens is too slow or has lost a couple steps, it is hard to deny the fact that he was a productive receiver the last time he saw a football field on Sundays. Owens recorded nearly 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010.
Owens was said to be working out with both Carson Palmer and Drew Brees prior to the start of training camp last week. It doesn't appear that either the Oakland Raiders or New Orleans Saints have room on their roster for the enigmatic receiver.
That doesn't mean that Owens will not catch on with a NFL team. In fact, I expect him to be suiting up in the league prior to the season opener in September. If so, we all know it will be a rather big story.
Peter King is one of the true professionals of the journalist community. For years now he has maintained a great balance between being a fan and staying objective with what he writes.
The CNNSI writer has a regular feature called "Monday Morning Quarterback" that takes a look at what happened the previous day around the National Football League. It is one of the most in-depth pieces of work you will read throughout a NFL season. If you haven't made it a regular read, I suggest you do so.
If I were a betting man, I would wager against Chris Johnson continuing his downward slide in 2012. The former NFL rushing champion has regressed in each of the last two seasons, bottoming out with just 1,047 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season.
Johnson has way too much talent to put up similar numbers this season. He is going to have an improved passing attack with the addition of Kendall Wright in the draft and likely return of Kenny Britt, depending on his legal issues.
You can fully expect Johnson to challenge the 2,000-yard mark this season.
If that happens, the Tennessee Titans will be in a good spot.
The last time Brandon Marshall suited up with Jay Cutler, the talented receiver accumulated over 100 receptions for nearly 1,300 yards and six touchdowns.
These two were a dynamic duo for the Denver Broncos back then.
Phil Emery and Co. hope that they will rekindle this success after the general manager traded for the enigmatic Marshall prior to April's draft.
He gives Jay Cutler his first true No. 1 receiver since the quarterback joined the Chicago Bears in 2009. The mere presence of a consistent threat on the outside is going to help the Bears offense rebound from a disappointing and injury-riddled 2011 season.
It should also make them contenders in the NFC.
Cris Collinsworth has made a living with pretty intelligent insight and a strong voice during games. This was only magnified when he joined Al Michaels for Sunday Night Football on NBC a few years back.
That being said, he is somewhat of an enigmatic figure around the broadcasting world. From my own observations, he seems to favor some teams over others. This isn't the way you're supposed to go about business on national television. Instead, it is usually reserved for local radio broadcasts.
A prime example of this is his obvious attitude against the Dallas Cowboys when they played the New York Giants. This was magnified when the two teams played on Sunday night twice last season.
Only one of two cornerbacks on this list, Brandon Browner will take that next step towards elite status in 2012 and become one of the best overall cover guys in the National Football League.
The young cornerback recorded six interceptions and 23 passes defended in his first NFL season with the Seattle Seahawks. Talk about coming on like gangbusters.
I fully expect Browner to be an All-Pro performer in 2012. This is how good he is on the outside in coverage.
Let's not focus on what the Arizona Cardinals gave up to acquire Kevin Kolb last season. I think we are past the point of making that judgment and need to move on to see how he can actually handle being a starting quarterback in the National Football League.
If 2011 was any indication, Kolb just isn't ready for prime-time.
He was, by all accounts, a disaster of a quarterback last season. Outside of the myriad of different injuries that Kolb had to suffer through, he was horrible when actually on the football field.
Despite there being a supposed open competition between Kolb and John Skelton for the Cardinals' starting quarterback position, I just think they have too much invested in the former to give up on him.
If so, Kolb will have one last chance to prove he can be a starter in the NFL.
Not only did Nick Fairley fail to live up to his first-round expectations as a rookie in 2011, he has been quite the problem for the Detroit Lions this offseason.
The talented defensive tackle has been arrested twice since the end of his rookie season in a bout with authorities that seems to be taking on more of a pattern than anything else.
Time will tell.
The Oakland Raiders have a myriad of talented young weapons for Carson Palmer in the passing game, none better than Denarius Moore.
The Tennessee product and 2011 fifth-round pick tallied over 600 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a rookie last season. In doing so, Moore acted as the Raiders' major deep threat on the outside.
There is no reason to believe he won't reach that coveted 1,000-yard mark in 2012.
What is there to say about John Madden. This guy has seriously succeeded in everything that he has done in his life, including making being afraid of airplanes cool.
He is kinda of like the Dos Equis guy.
Madden holds the best winning percentages in the history of the National Football League, built the Oakland Raiders into a dynasty, became one of the most popular announcers in the history of professional sports and created a billion-dollar video game industry from scratch.
Oh, we also have the Madden Curse to "look forward to."
According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, Josh Gordon was running with the Cleveland Browns' first team during the earliest parts of training camp. The second-round pick in July's supplemental draft gives the Browns some more talent at a wide receiver position that has been void of of it over the course of the last few seasons.
While Gordon has a fair share of off-field issues, there is no questioning his talent. In fact, he probably would have been a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Gordon will help fellow rookie Brandon Weeden on the outside and could conceivably start opposite Greg Little.
This has a chance to be a big story either way. Cleveland gave up a second-round pick in order to draft Gordon, which is a pretty high price to pay. If the Baylor product produces a great deal as a rookie, that story will be relatively big.
Al Michaels has been a staple around the sports world for over a half-century now. He gave the play-by-play for the United States' Miracle on Ice Olympic victory in Lake Placid over the Soviet Union in 1980. The veteran broadcaster was also on hand for the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics when the earthquake happened.
In regards to football, Michaels has also been a staple.
He manned the booth for Monday Night Football on ABC for two decades, joining the aforementioned John Madden to form one of the best tandems in the history of broadcasting. In 2006, Michaels joined Cris Collinsworth to form a solid duo for Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Jimmy Graham stood toe-to-toe with Rob Gronkowski throughout the majority of the 2011 season. The talented tight end from Miami acted as the favorite target for Drew Brees, accumulating 99 receptions for over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns.
You can expect the same type of numbers from the talented young tight end in 2012.
James Harrison has been one of the favorite kicking posts for Roger Goodell over the course of the last few seasons and isn't quite to happy about it.
The talented pass-rusher had the following to say about Goodell during the 2011 lockout.
If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it....I hate him and will never respect him.
He has also criticized fellow Pittsburgh Steelers teammates in the past, singly pointing out recently retired Hines Ward.
To say that Harrison is a controversial player would be a gross understatement.
The National Football League Players Association has made its arguments in a lawsuit against the league, looking to overrule the suspension of multiple players for their apparent roles in Bountygate.
It all comes down to federal court judge Helen Berrigan, who could conceivably shake up the entire punishment process in the league.
If she rules in favor of the players, it would send a strong message to the league that it overstepped its boundaries in regards to the biggest offseason scandal in recent NFL history.
The Washington Redskins have an entirely new dynamic on the offensive side of the ball with the selection of franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III in April's draft. His addition represents the first time that Washington has had that type of signal-caller in over 25 years.
Joining RGIII in a completely revamped Redskins offense are Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon at wide receiver.
Kyle Shanahan now has the tools to play with on the football field. Will he make it work?
Washington has failed to finish outside of the bottom third in the league in scoring offense since Shanahan joined his father with the franchise prior to the 2010 season.
It is my humble opinion that Jay Cutler has gotten a bad rap since he joined the Chicago Bears in 2009. The enigmatic starting quarterback has been sacked 110 times in 41 starts with the Bears during that span. Cutler has also been forced to work without an elite wide receiver on the outside.
While Chicago didn't do much to upgrade its offensive line, the front office did a great job finding targets for Cutler in the form of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Wes Welker has been one of the most productive receivers in the recent history of the National Football League over the course of the last five seasons. During that span he has accumulated over 550 receptions.
The talented receiver will be playing under the franchise tag in 2012, which could indicate it is his final season with the New England Patriots.
Stephen Ross bought 50 percent of the Miami Dolphins in 2008, only to acquire the remaining shares the following season. What has followed in Miami is a disaster of epic proportions.
They have failed to finish at .500 in each of the last three seasons after winning 11 games in Ross's first year as the Dolphins owner.
Front office blunders, an inability to find a quarterback and lackluster coaching has led to this downswing in South Beach.
In order for Ross to gain the trust of the fan base, he is going to have to turn it around relatively quickly.
Gunther Cunningham has been a solid defensive mind in the National Football League for the better part of the last two decades.
That being said, his defenses have struggled in each of the last four seasons, first with the Kansas City Chiefs and then with the Detroit Lions since 2009. They haven't finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense in any of those four seasons, including a No. 23 ranking last season.
If the Lions are to make that jump towards elite status, their defense is going to have to step it up a great deal in 2012.
Justin Blackmon is the only 2012 first-round pick currently unsigned. He joined Maurice Jones-Drew as two players the Jacksonville Jaguars were relying on a great deal who aren't in camp right now.
This comes on the heels of the talented young receiver being arrested for a DUI shortly after the draft in April.
Really not a good start for his NFL career.
Blackmon needs to show up to camp and make an immediate impact in order for the Jaguars to justify his selection in the top 10. Otherwise, you will quickly be hearing the "bust" label thrown around relatively early in his career.
"He could go all the way" is a term that I grew up with. Chris Berman wasn't anywhere near the hack that many people suggest he is when I was growing up. I really did enjoy NFL Prime Time on ESPN to finish off football Sunday.
As I have grown and matured, Berman's antics have started to get on my nerves.
As it is, he is one of the most popular figures in the world of professional sports.
As one of the best cover guys in the history of the National Football League, Darrelle Revis has made a name for himself in a relatively short career. The term "Revis Island" has been thrown around on a consistent basis. Despite the respect that the New York Jets corner receives, quarterbacks still make the decision to go in his direction, mostly to their own demise.
Revis has been selected as an All-Pro performer in each of the last three seasons and continues to transcend a position that was made popular by Deion Sanders in the 1990s and Willie Brown before.
Mike Smith has been a successful regular-season head coach since taking over that position with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. He has accumulated four winning seasons, three playoff appearances and a .672 winning percentage during those four seasons.
Smith has also made a Falcons franchise that had been an afterthought into a prime contender each and every season.
That is not lost on me.
The issue as it relates to Smith and the Falcons is their inability to perform when it counts the most in January. They have lost all three playoff games during his tenure, by a combined 55 points.
Something needs to change in January if Smith is going to see his job remain safe for the foreseeable future.
You cannot place the blame for the San Diego Chargers' lack of success the last two seasons on Philip Rivers. He is, by far, their best player.
That being said, Rivers is the quarterback of a franchise that continues to under-perform every season. He also struggled a great deal with untimely mistakes and wasn't anywhere near as clutch last season as we have seen in the past.
Rivers needs to revert back to 2010 form if the Chargers are going to live up to lofty expectations in 2012. Another disappointing season for the Pro Bowl quarterback and there will be questions about his leadership ability.
At first glance it seems that Mark Davis followed in his father's footsteps by bringing in another young head coach to lead this fledgling Oakland Raiders franchise.
That is just at first glance.
Reggie McKenzie, one of the most respected talent observers in the league, was brought on by the Raiders to run their front office.
McKenzie's first order of business was to find a head coach. After a lengthy round of interviews, he settled on former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Expectations don't seem to be too high in Oakland, which gives Allen some time. That being said, they do have the talent, and a change in the culture could lead this franchise to a surprising playoff run.
Should be interesting.
Jim Irsay made the difficult decision to release future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. In reality, the decision was made for him when the Indianapolis Colts earned the No. 1 overall pick and Andrew Luck declared for the 2012 NFL draft.
Still, it had to be difficult for the popular owner of the Colts.
Now Indianapolis and Irsay move forward with a new quarterback looking to turn the page from their successful run with Manning at the helm.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2012 and beyond.
Lawrence Taylor, one of the greatest linebackers to ever play, earned six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances to begin his career. Dick Butkus accumulated eight consecutive appearances to start his career. Ray Lewis actually missed the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
What do these three players have in common? They are among the best linebackers to ever play the game.
Enter into the equation Patrick Willis, who has made five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances since joining the San Francisco 49ers in 2007.
The fact that Willis has an opportunity match Taylor in regards to this is simply amazing. He is one of the best defensive players in the entire league and can dominate a game on a whim.
Some say Bob Costas is full of himself on air. Others, such as myself, enjoy the brand that he brings to the table in both Inside the NFL and on Sunday Night Football. He is one of the last true trendsetters in the broadcasting world.
From Major League Baseball to the Olympics to the National Football League, Costas is a household name in the United States.
His "Do you believe it?" remark in a regular-season game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals put Costas on the map. He hasn't strayed away from national prominence in the quarter-century that has followed.
Make no mistake about it, the Dallas Cowboys have the talent to compete for a conference championship in the NFC. They added two top-tier cornerbacks in the form of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to solidify what was a weakness in 2011.
DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin make up a fearsome foursome at the skill positions on offense.
Oh, and Tony Romo is coming off the best season of an already solid NFL career.
In short, there really aren't any excuses here for Jason Garrett. Entering his second full season as the Cowboys coach, Garrett has to show Jerry Jones that he can lead this team to the postseason.
If it doesn't happen, he could be getting his walking papers come January.
It doesn't appear that Marshawn Lynch is going to be suspended for his recent DUI arrest. This is tremendous news for the Seattle Seahawks considering just how much he meant to their offense last season.
Lynch recorded over 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first full season in the Pacific Northwest.
That being said, this recent bout with the law is going to place Lynch under the microscope. He is only a few years removed from issues with the Buffalo Bills and was known as a malcontent with Cal in college.
In terms of hackish media personalities, there aren't many on the same level as Skip Bayless. This is a dude who earns his living making incendiary and outlandish remarks about professional sports players the world over.
Stephen A. Smith might be the perfect counteraction to Bayless, but most of the time their interactions come off more like a debate reserved for Fox News or MSNBC.
In reality I completely tune out when those two are on ESPN. However, ratings suggest the sports world enjoy their banter.
As you were.
The Philadelphia Eagles made a contentious decision to promote Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator prior to the start of the 2011 season. Castillo, a 17-year coaching veteran of the Eagles, spent his first 16 years with the organization working on the offensive side of the ball.
You just don't see that type of transition around the world of professional football.
Needless to say, the Eagles struggled a great deal on the defensive side of the ball in Castillo's first season leading that unit.
In order for Philadelphia to live up to high expectations and contend for a conference championship in 2012, the defense needs to step up big time.
Could we be looking at the single-season sack record being broken in 2012? Numerous players seem to have the opportunity to amass the 22.5 that Michael Strahan boasted in 2001. Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Aldon Smith come to mind.
That being said, I would have to conclude that Jason Pierre-Paul has a better opportunity to break that record in 2012.
The young pass-rusher is an extremely good all-around talent. He plays the run extremely well and can even drop back into coverage. This means that the former first-round pick will be on the field a lot more than those aforementioned players.
As it is, Pierre-Paul is well on his way to becoming the New York Giants' best defensive players since Lawrence Taylor. After all, he recorded 16.5 sacks in 2011 at the age of 22.
What Casey Bradley did for the Seattle Seahawks defense in 2011 was nothing short of amazing. The talented coordinator helped that unit improve in every possible way.
Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor make up one of the most talented secondaries in the league. Seattle's front four is absolutely stacked after adding both Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones to the mix.
This has the makings to be one of the top units in 2012. If that is the case, Seattle should challenge for a postseason birth.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed front office philosophy a great deal this offseason by spending a record amount of money in free agency. Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright were all added at need positions.
In the process, Tampa Bay made it clear it wants to contend for a playoff spot this season after an extremely disappointing 2011 season.
Mark Dominik definitely put his butt on the line with these signings. He made a clear point to the Glazer brothers that he was going to field a contending team in 2012.
If the Buccaneers fail to meet expectations, especially after using Raheem Morris as a scapegoat last year, Dominik could find himself on the way out.
Much like what I covered in the Mike Smith slide, Matt Ryan needs to start proving himself in the postseason. While a majority of the Atlanta Falcons' struggles in the second season cannot be placed on the talented quarterback, he still needs to take a leadership role in crunch time.
Ryan is ready to do that.
He has progressed a great deal in each of the last two seasons and is nearing elite status. Once Ryan is able to get to that point, the Falcons will immediately become contenders for the conference championship.
If it doesn't happen in 2012, there will be questions about Ryan's ability to win when it counts. After all, a 0-3 postseason record isn't going to get it done.
It doesn't hurt that when you tune in to the NFL Network, you see this blonde beauty there on the screen. It also helps that Michelle Beisner is a pretty damn good reporter for that network.
She has a tremendous knowledge of football, engages in entertaining interviews and seems to be truly excited about the game of football. This during an era when many reporters seem to be nothing more than uninteresting stooges working a nine-to-five job.
Good for her.
San Francisco 49ers' fans were not too happy when Jed York gained control of the franchise a few years back. To most fans it was a bitter pill to swallow considering that Jed's mother had gained control of the 49ers from the beloved Eddie DeBartolo after a tremendous legal and league battle.
The younger York didn't do too much to endure himself to the fan base following a couple disappointing seasons.
Working behind the scenes, York was able to come to an agreement on a new stadium in Santa Clara. He cleaned house in terms of both the front office and coaching staff.
The result was a surprising 13-3 season in 2011, a new stadium on the horizon and a first-class organization that fans had been accustomed to in the 1980s and 1990s.
In short, York has to be considered one of the best young owners in the professional sports world.
"The Gronk" simply had one of the most amazing receiving seasons in the history of the league for a tight end. He set a positional record with 17 touchdowns while accumulating 90 receptions for over 1,300 yards in 2011.
Don't expect much to change this year either. Rob Gronkowski returns as the favorite target in a pass-orientated offense led by Tom Brady.
In fact, we could easily see a repeat performance starting in September.
From 2006 to 2008, the New England Patriots enjoyed a tremendous amount of success under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels on offense. They never finished outside of the top 10 in either points scored or yardage gained.
The 2007 season was something for the record books. Tom Brady eclipsed Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown mark, while Randy Moss gained nearly 1,500 receiving yards en route to a league-record 23 touchdowns.
Needless to say, the stock watch was on for McDaniels, who would end up being hired as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. We all know how that story unfolded.
He now returns to New England in order to rekindle the success that the Patriots saw in that three-year span last decade. With the weapons that the Patriots have on offense, it is hard to imagine him not succeeding.
Blaine Gabbert was simply dreadful last season. The former first-round pick tallied a quarterback rating of 65.4 while averaging under 150 passing yards per game. It was one of the wort rookie performances that we have seen from a quarterback in quite some time.
It was, however, to be expected. Gabbert was making a steep transition from the spread offense in Missouri, didn't have a whole lot of help at receiver and was failed by the labor strife in the NFL.
In total, it was hard to imagine him having any success heading into his rookie season.
The same can pretty much be said in 2012. Maurice Jones-Drew is currently in the midst of a holdout that promises to extend deep into training camp, if not longer. The Jacksonville Jaguars' initial selection of April's draft, Justin Blackmon, remains the only unsigned rookie in the league.
In short, Jacksonville doesn't seem like it has put Gabbert in a situation to succeed.
Think about this for a second. Mike Tomlin is only the third head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers since the start of the 1969 season. This continuity factor has enabled the franchise to be one of the most successful in the modern era.
That hasn't changed since Tomlin took over in 2007. Pittsburgh has accumulated a 55-25 regular-season record during his five-year stay. Moreover, they have made two Super Bowl appearances, winning the Lombardi Trophy in 2008.
It is important to note that things aren't running as smoothly in Pittsburgh as we have seen in previous seasons. Ben Roethlisberger was battered to a pulp last season, Rashard Mendenhall promises to miss a good chunk this season, and long-time offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been replaced by former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Oh, and No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace is currently in the midst of a bitter holdout.
If Tomlin can turn the Steelers into Super Bowl contenders with these type of distractions, he should definitely get some play for NFL Coach of the Year.
This all comes down to whether Jonathan Vilma will actually suit up for the New Orleans Saints. He was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to his involvement in Bountygate.
Vilma's suspension is currently being appealed by the Players Association, and a decision should come down within the next couple of weeks.
If the former Pro Bowl linebacker is able to play in 2012, there will be a huge media spotlight on him—most notably, during the New Orleans Saints' matchup with the San Francisco 49ers in November.
What Jay Gruden did for the Cincinnati Bengals offense was nothing short of amazing. While they didn't do anything spectacular, the Bengals offense clicked considering that both their leading passer and leading receivers were rookies.
Gruden put them in that situation to succeed with his play-calling ability and understanding of what each player does well and tends to struggle with.
It is now time for the Bengals to take that next step on offense. An entire offseason in a new scheme will definitely help the youngsters more in 2012. You can also fully expect Gruden to open up a somewhat conservative offense this year.
Should be interesting.
Joe Flacco failed to take that next step towards elite status in 2011. In fact, it seems that the talented quarterback regressed a great deal.
Flacco saw his passing yards, touchdown total and quarterback rating all take a hit from 2010, while his interceptions went up.
More importantly, he just didn't play consistent football for a Baltimore Ravens team that had Super Bowl aspirations. Ten of his 16 starts resulted in one touchdown pass or fewer, as Flacco had five different games with a quarterback rating under 70.
These numbers need to improve if the Ravens are going to have a shot at the Super Bowl in 2012.
Mikel Leshoure is an interesting figure around the National Football League. The young running back missed his entire 2011 rookie season with a torn left Achilles, a damaging blow to the Detroit Lions prior to the start of the year.
Leshoure was then arrested two different times in the offseason, both on drug charges.
The NFL has since suspended him for the first two games of the 2012 season.
This is an ominous way to start his NFL career. That being said, he has a tremendous amount of talent if he can ever actually get on the football field. We all know the Lions need that consistent presence behind Matthew Stafford on offense. Maybe Leshoure will provide that upon his return.
Pete Carroll might be one of the most uplifting figures in the entire professional sports world. His lighthearted attitude and buddy, buddy mentality seem to get the best out of his players.
Unfortunately, this hasn't translated to success on the football field.
After two mediocre stops with the New York Jets and New England Patriots late last century, Carroll made the wise decision to return to the college football ranks. We all know how that story played out in Southern California.
Yearning for another shot in the NFL, he agreed to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks prior to the start of the 2010 season.
Despite winning just seven games in his initial season, Seattle was able to capture a dreadful NFC West and actually defeated the then defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.
Momentum was lost during the lockout.
Seattle again won seven games last season, this time finishing six games behind the pace-setting San Francisco 49ers. This franchise is going to have to get over the proverbial bubble and contend for not just a winning season, but a postseason spot if Carroll's job is going to be safe long-term.
When I look at our football team and what we have on paper, I think about when I was growing up and the great San Francisco 49er teams, the great Green Bay Packer teams, and the great Dallas Cowboy teams, how they just positioned themselves to compete and be one of the best teams out there...I think we have a chance to be that. I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty.
Michael Vick, July 19, 2012
There is something inherently wrong with this comment. First , the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off one of their most disappointing seasons in recent history. Secondly, Vick has yet to win a single playoff game in three seasons with the franchise. Finally, the enigmatic quarterback is no longer a spring chicken at the age of 32.
He might want to actually accomplish something when it matters before comparing the Eagles to those three great teams of yesteryear.
Are the Eagles talented? Of course. Do they have a chance at winning the Super Bowl in 2012? Definitely.
That isn't the point. Rather, Vick and the Eagles should do their talking on the football field, where it actually counts.
Want to talk about a dynasty? Maybe Michael Vick should look northeast to Massachusetts where Bill Belichick has built one of the only long-lasting dynasties in the modern era of the professional sports world.
The New England Patriots have made five Super Bowl appearances in the last 11 seasons, winning three Lombardi Trophies.
That is a dynasty right there.
New England doesn't appear to be heading towards the dustpan of history either. They reloaded a weak defense, added weapons for Tom Brady on offense and appear to be the clear favorites to win the AFC heading into 2012.
A rookie being the only offensive lineman on this list might not seem to make a whole lot of sense to my readers, but let me explain.
David DeCastro is the best guard prospect to enter the National Football League in over a quarter-century. He is going to be able to come in and immediately help protect Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game, while opening up holes for the committee of running backs that the Pittsburgh Steelers plan to use in 2012.
In short, the Stanford product will be an All-Pro guard as a rookie in 2012.
This is why he makes this list.
Adrian Peterson would be on this list even if he weren't battling a devastating knee injury that forced the talented running back to rehab all offseason.
The heart-and-soul of the Minnesota Vikings is one of the best players at this position and will again reign among the elite running backs in the league once he returns.
Peterson is going to be big news because spectators are going to look long and hard at any long-term effects from his torn ACL and MCL last season. Skeptics will conclude that Peterson has lost a step if he doesn't perform up to snuff early in the season. Apologists will blame rustiness for his ineffectiveness.
However, if Peterson returns like the player we saw in 2010, the NFL world will take notice once again.
Eli Manning has already eclipsed his big brother Peyton with two Super Bowl championships. This would have been incredibly hard to imagine after Eli struggled through his first four seasons, throwing just 13 more touchdowns than interceptions.
This all changed following a tremendous late-season run to the Lombardi Trophy in 2007 as Manning led the Giants from the brink of elimination to the holy grail in just the matter of a few weeks.
He did the same last season as New York won its second championship in five seasons. However, one thing changed. Manning became the unquestioned leader and face of the franchise. His performance in 2011 is something for the history books.
Look for continued progression from Eli in that role in 2012.
It is interesting to see how the Miami Dolphins fans handle Jeff Ireland if the team finishes in the cellar in the AFC East, as expected this season.
They haven't been too kind to the general manager since he took over the front office in 2008. What has followed is a consistently under-performing football team and lackluster management from the powers to be in Miami.
Ireland and Co. set their sights on Peyton Manning before focusing on Matt Flynn and then eventually turning to Alex Smith. None of those three quarterbacks decided to go to South Beach.
Instead, Miami was forced to sign David Garrard and reach for Ryan Tannehill in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Any sign of regression from a team that won six games last season could easily be the end of Ireland's regime in Miami.
Let's put into perspective the success that Arian Foster has had over the course of the last two seasons. He has amassed 4,061 total yards and 30 touchdowns in 29 games during that span. For those of us who struggle with math, that is an average of 140 total yards per game.
Pretty amazing stuff right there.
Foster returns to the Houston Texans and is looking to build off this success in 2012. More importantly, he is looking to help them contend for a conference championship as one of the best teams in the AFC.
Jerry Jones is an enigmatic figure around the National Football League. In fact, he has replaced the recently deceased Al Davis as the most polarizing owner in football.
As someone who retains control over personnel decisions every season, Jones receives either praise for success or the full wrath of blame for failure.
It has been failure for the most part for the Dallas Cowboys recently. They have won a total of one playoff game since the end of the 1996 season and have missed the postseason in eight of the last 12 years.
There will not be an excuse for Jones and Co. if they fail to miss the postseason again in 2012. This team has the talent to contend for a conference championship. It is now up to the players on the field to perform up to level.
While that doesn't have a whole lot to do with Jones, he is the one who built this roster as it is currently assembled.
Brandon Weeden is going to face a certain amount of pressure as a rookie starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in 2012. The primary reason for this is due to the recent lack of success for a franchise that has quickly become a laughing stock around the league.
The 2012 first-round pick is going to face an uphill battle. He doesn't have the necessary weapons on the outside to succeed and really hasn't been put in the position to lead the Browns out of the cellar in a stacked AFC North division.
What do I say about Adam Schefter? The simple fact that he has nearly 1.7 million Twitter followers should speak volumes in regards to his popularity around the world of football.
The ESPN insider seems to be the guy to whom NFL players, agents and teams go to first when news breaks. In fact, I keep his Twitter page open when big events around the league are taking place. In short, it isn't news until Schefter breaks it.
I guess it's illogical to use the "his mouth is as big as his stomach" card as it relates to Rex Ryan. The New York Jets head coach has lost 100 pounds over the course of the last year, which indicates that his mouth is definitely larger.
I guess it is a perfect fit for the media-frenzied spotlight of New York City.
Ryan seemed to endear himself to the Jets' fan base during his first two seasons as their coach, leading the franchise to two consecutive AFC Championship game appearances.
This was followed by a disastrous 2011 season that saw the Jets fall apart in the locker room and on the football field, missing the postseason completely.
While Ryan's seat might not be incredibly hot, it is definitely getting warmer. Adding more fuel to the fire is the addition of Tim Tebow. As always, the Jets are going to be an interesting bunch in 2012. That being said, they need to return to the postseason for Ryan's seat to get a bit cooler.
Lost in the antics of one Ndamukong Suh last season is the fact that he regressed a great deal as a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions.
His tackle total dropped from 65 to 49 and sacks from 10 to four. Moreover, teams made a living running past Suh, who penetrated the line with reckless abandon. This enabled running backs to find holes up the gut and took him out of plays on a consistent basis.
Suh has also become a frequent member of Roger Goodell's weekly fine memo that circulates around the league following that week's schedule of games.
Not only does Suh need to play more disciplined on the football field, he needs to become a better overall player.
Dez Bryant has the talent to be a Pro Bowl performer in the National Football League. He has shown signs of that talent at times but continues to be too inconsistent for Tony Romo to count on.
Despite nearly recording 1,000 receiving yards in 2011, Bryant struggled a great deal late in games. He accumulated just 344 yards and two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters combined. Moreover, Bryant disappeared when the Cowboys were in most need of his production. The talented young receiver recorded a total of 91 receiving yards when his team was within one score.
The primary concern for Bryant heading into the 2012 season is his recent bout with the law. The receiver was arrested for domestic abuse on his mother after this alarming 911 call was made to authorities. While prosecutors haven't pressed charges, it speaks volumes in regards to his character off the field.
Brian Quick is going to be a No. 1 wide receiver in the National Football League. It is just a matter of when it is going to happen for the St. Louis Rams' rookie. He has the talent and physical ability to absolutely dominate on the outside.
Additionally, there is a major gap in the Rams' receiving group that needs to be filled relatively quickly.
My assumption is that Quick takes over as Sam Bradford's top target in 2012 and reaches that rare 1,000-yard receiving mark for a rookie.
We can all get on Norv Turner as much as we want for the San Diego Chargers' lack of success in recent seasons. However, some of the blame has to be placed on general manager A.J. Smith.
Some of his free-agent and draft decisions just haven't worked out, as Smith seems to have failed at building a team with a combination of talent and cohesion.
At some point, the blame needs to be placed on the individual making the personnel decisions. If the Chargers miss out on the playoffs once again in 2012, Smith will be out of a job.
It really is that simple.
Randy Moss has had a quietly good offseason for the San Francisco 49ers since signing with the defending NFC West champions in March.
The future Hall of Fame receiver is two years removed from being an impact player in the National Football League and didn't suit up last season.
That being said, everything coming out of 49ers' camp appears to be great as it relates to Moss.
Peter King had the following to say about Moss yesterday.
Randy Moss absolutely has something left. If he stays healthy, five weeks from now I think you're going to see Randy Moss as a contributing player on a playoff offense.
The 49ers coaches have also been quick to praise Moss. If the talented receiver is able to regain anywhere near the form we saw with the New England Patriots just a few years back, San Francisco's offense quickly become a strength, not a weakness.
Victor Cruz had one of the most surprising seasons in recent NFL history for a wide receiver. In his first season seeing sustained action on offense for the New York Giants, the talented wide receiver absolutely dominated opposing cornerbacks on the outside.
He recorded over 1,500 receiving yards, including a whopping 27 receptions (33 percent of his total) that went for over 20 yards. He was simply the best big-play receiver in the league.
Skeptics will conclude that Cruz, who wasn't drafted out of Massachusetts in 2010, was nothing more than a one-year wonder.
That is a complete joke.
Receivers who are void of talent don't put up those type of numbers we saw in 2011 only to fall off the map the following season.
It would be ignorant to place the majority of the blame for the Dallas Cowboys' lack of success in 2011 on Tony Romo. The talented quarterback had the best season of an already superb career, throwing for nearly 4,200 yards, accumulating 21 more touchdowns than interceptions and putting up an amazing 102.5 quarterback rating.
In fact, he was one of the only reasons that Dallas remained in the playoff race up until the final week of the season.
Romo and the Cowboys are, once again, facing lofty expectations and criticism from the national media. Will they be able to make the postseason? Will they live up to the talent that the team seems to possess? These are two questions that have and will continue to define Romo.
Up until the 2011 season, Mark Sanchez, although not putting up great statistics, was considered a winner. He led the New York Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship game appearances in his first two seasons in the league.
In fact, Sanchez was spot on in the postseason those two years. He recorded nine touchdowns compared to three interceptions, winning four of his six starts.
Then 2011 came along. There were expectations that Sanchez would be able to take his game to the next level and lead the Jets to the conference championship. This simply did not happen.
Now the onus is on the quarterback to prove his skeptics, myself included, wrong. He needs to take his game from pedestrian levels (73.2 career quarterback rating) and become one of the reasons why the Jets earn a postseason berth after a one-year hiatus.
LeSean McCoy took the top spot in my initial fantasy football rankings heading into the 2012 season. While this isn't indicative of his success on the football field as it relates to helping the Philadelphia Eagles win games, it does show exactly how important the talented running back is to his team.
He recorded over 1,600 total yards and scored 20 touchdowns for the Eagles last year. In the process, McCoy took over the reins as the best young running back in the National Football League.
At just 24 years of age, McCoy promises to get only better.
Shahid Khan took over operations of the Jacksonville Jaguars in January of this year. His expectations were clear: Keep the franchise in Florida and bring the fans a winning team.
This was met with unbridled enthusiasm from their fan base. However, that has since turned into skepticism as it seems the former auto industry mogul might not be ready to enter the prime time of the NFL.
Taking somewhat of a hands-on approach, Khan is leading an organization that continues to play hardball with its players.
Maurice Jones-Drew is currently in the midst of what could become a lengthy holdout. 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon is the only rookie to not sign a contract, and Khan nearly acquired Tim Tebow, much to the chagrin of general manager Gene Smith.
Overstepping your bounds as a new owner in the NFL will give you a bad reputation around the league.
It has been widely noted that Doug Martin will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting running back in 2012. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that they traded back into the first round for his services.
The Boise State star possesses all the necessary skills to be a dominating back in the National Football League. He has excellent field vision in the backfield, breaks through the line quickly, has soft hands and can already pass-protect.
There is no reason to believe that Martin cannot amass 1,500 total yards and earn a Pro Bowl appearance as a rookie. This is how good he is.
According to reports, life-long Pittsburgh Steelers fan Jimmy Haslam is in serious talks to buy the Cleveland Browns from current owner Randy Lerner.
In fact, Haslam would have to sell his minimal stake in the Steelers in order to buy their bitter division rival.
It really doesn't get any more intriguing than this.
I noted earlier that San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith must take some of the blame for their lack of success over the course of the last few seasons.
That hasn't changed in just a few slides.
However, Norv Turner is the man that who s required to put a winning football product on the field with the team that he has assembled.
Despite having some of the best talent in the entire league, San Diego has consistently failed to perform up to expectations.
Much like Smith, a 2012 season without a playoff appearance will signal an end to Turner's tenure in Southern California.
Von Miller seemed like an omnipresence for the Denver Broncos last season. He was everywhere on the football field at linebacker as a rookie.
The Texas A&M product earned Pro Bowl honors and recorded 11.5 sacks in a stunningly good campaign.
Miller played a whole lot more as the 2011 season progressed, becoming much more than a pass-rush specialist. You can definitely expect this to continue this season.
Alex Smith was nothing more than a bust prior to a surprising 2011 campaign. He had failed to live up to expectations in each of his first six seasons in the NFL, and the San Francisco 49ers continued to be mired in or near the cellar in the NFC West.
Things changed a great deal with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh and the change of culture in Santa Clara.
Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an overtime loss in the NFC Championship game, just one touchdown away from the Super Bowl.
In the process, he was historically good in terms of limiting mistakes and coming from behind late in games.
Now that the 49ers are considered one of the favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy in 2012, Smith must step up his game.
The up-and-coming quarterback, who is still only 28 by the way, needs to become a reason why the 49ers offense improves on a pedestrian 2011 season. If Smith doesn't progress, San Francisco could find themselves disappointed come January once again.
Mike Wallace has put up two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and at the age of just 26, he has the potential to be one of the best pass-catchers in the National Football League.
One thing that will hold Wallace back is his ego.
The young receiver is currently holding out and refusing to sign his restricted free-agent tender. Things between Wallace and the Steelers have gotten contentious as of late with the club cutting off negotiations.
Don't expect the Steelers to cave on this either.
Things will definitely get more interesting before they are resolved.
What Aaron Rodgers did last season was something special. In fact, it could easily be stated that he had the best regular season of any quarterback in the heralded history of the league.
Just take a look at the following stat line.
Those are Madden numbers playing against a rookie-level computer opponent.
Oh, and the Green Bay Packers were only a December loss to the Kansas City Chiefs away from going undefeated.
That being said, the pressure is going to be on this team and Rodgers a great deal. They went one and done in the postseason, failing to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The NFC is a beast of a conference, and Green Bay will have a hard time getting back to the ultimate game in New Orleans next February.
A lot of their success is going to rely on the arm of Rodgers. Is he up for a repeat performance?
Calvin Johnson wasn't just good last season; the dude was an absolute beast. Despite showing flashes of inconsistency with 18 receptions in a four-game span, Johnson was dominating pretty much the entire season.
In reality, his statistics seemed more like Jerry Rice on steroids.
Over the course of the Detroit Lions' final four games, including the postseason, Johnson accumulated 36 receptions for 771 yards and six touchdowns—probably one of the greatest month-long stretches for a receiver in the history of the league.
Don't expect too much to change in 2012.
Upon bringing brought on as the top executive for the Denver Broncos, a team that he had led to multiple Super Bowl championships as a quarterback, John Elway set the goal of returning this franchise to prominence.
It didn't quite turn out that way, as he seemed to have internal struggles with unorthodox quarterback Tim Tebow. Their relationship, although civil, would come to a boiling point this offseason.
Denver reached for the stars in the form of Peyton Manning and came back aces. In the process, they had to find a suitor for Tebow.
Now that Elway has his quarterback, expectations are extremely high in Denver. It is going to be Super Bowl or bust for the next few seasons, and Elway's legacy as an executive might depend on the arm of the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tom Brady has to be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game—simply amazing considering he lasted until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft.
Brady has already passed his childhood hero, Joe Montana, with five Super Bowl appearances and is looking to match his total of Lombardi Trophies with four.
In addition to appearing in five Super Bowls in a 11-year span, Brady has accumulated 300 career touchdowns passes and is nearing 40,000 passing yards.
I was one of the few who thought Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles would part ways following a disastrous 2011 season. There comes a time in every professional relationship where the two sides just have to move on.
Reid, who has led the Eagles to eight double-digit win seasons and a career .609 winning percentage, returns for his 14th season with the franchise. He does so with a roster full of talent and high expectations once more.
A run at the Super Bowl would cement his status as one of the better coaches of the modern era. Another down season could end in an ugly divorce between Reid and the Eagles.
Robert Griffin III was absolutely amazing for the Baylor Bears last season. His performance on a weekly basis left many awe-struck and pretty much came out of nowhere to the common college football fan.
This doesn't mean that the talented quarterback was a one-year wonder.
He has always possessed the necessary talent to be a dominating signal-caller. It all just seemed to come together nicely in 2011.
RGIII now joins the Washington Redskins, who traded a stockpile of picks to move up to the No. 2 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft to nab him.
The electricity is apparent around the capital city, and it should be. While we might not be looking at a postseason appearance for Washington this season, it is all but guaranteed that the Redskins got the Pro Bowl quarterback they have been seeking for a great while now.
Should be fun.
You couldn't possibly think Andrew Luck would be left off this list. The former Stanford All-American was not only the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the 2012 NFL draft, many people concluded that he was the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998.
Speaking of Manning, the Indianapolis Colts have called on Luck to replace the future Hall of Fame quarterback and move the franchise forward.
They couldn't be in better hands.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a class organization. They seem to do everything right from both a PR and player personnel perspective.
This didn't magically change when Kevin Colbert was named the Steelers general manager in 2000. In fact, it seems that they are run as good today as ever before.
Pittsburgh has had eight double-digit win seasons and won two Super Bowls since Colbert took over their front office at the start of the new millennium.
He is now in the spotlight for a less-than-stellar reason. Steelers No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace is holding out for a long-term contract, and as noted before, Colbert is remaining strong in his stance. This is just another sign of a great organization.
We go from one of the best organizations in professional football to one of the worst in the matter of just one slide.
Maurice Jones-Drew, the heart-and-soul of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is currently engaging in what promises to be a lengthy contract holdout. The reigning NFL rushing leader is looking for more money, while Jacksonville is remaining firm in their stance against giving in to him.
I am not sure how this is going to turn out, but both sides don't exactly look too great in the media. Jones-Drew signed an extension just over three years ago and should live up to it. The Jaguars need their best player on the field in order to resemble anything close to a legit football team.
Yet the warning signs for a lengthy contract dispute seem to be right in front of our face.
Jim Schwartz led the Detroit Lions to one of their most successful seasons in over two decades last season. In the process, he gained a lot of admiration from others around the league. After all, Schwartz took over a Lions team in 2009 that had gone without a win the previous year.
That is amazing stuff right there.
Detroit is now looking to take that next step towards conference championship contention.
That being said, a wide array of offseason arrests has seemed to tarnish the momentum that we saw last season. Moreover, the Lions must get better on the defensive side of the ball if they're going to compete with the class of the NFC.
Should be a fun season.
2011 was a storybook season for Jim Harbaugh in his first year as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers The former NFL quarterback and Stanford head coach took over a team that was loaded with talent but consistently failed to live up to expectations over the course of the last few seasons.
He showed trust in Alex Smith, who was considered nothing more than a bust. He changed the culture in San Francisco.
In the process, the 49ers returned to glory after more than a decade in mediocrity. Harbaugh led them to 13 wins and a NFC Championship game appearance.
The pressure is on now. San Francisco will not be flying under the radar in 2012. Rather, the 49ers are going to be the hunted in what promises to be an improved NFC West and a talent-laden conference. Anything short of bringing home a sixth Lombardi Trophy to Northern California will be considered a disappointment.
How is that for your second season as a head coach in the NFL?
Finally, the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees were able to come to terms on a long-term contract extension. A lot of people around the football world were actually starting to talk about him walking following the 2012 season.
No need to worry about that anymore.
Despite the disastrous offseason for New Orleans, Brees remains that one constant. As long as he is the quarterback of that franchise, they have a chance to contend for a Super Bowl.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback has had one of the best five-year spans in the history of the league. Since the start of the 2007 season, Brees has thrown for more than 24,000 yards and accumulated 175 touchdown passes.
While 2012 promises to be a contentious season in the Bayou, Saints fans can always rely on Brees to be the class act he has always been.
Speaking of the New Orleans Saints, they're going to be without one of the best head coaches in the business this season. Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 year for his alleged role in Bountygate.
This leaves Joe Vitt, an individual without any coordinating experience, as the interim head coach of the fledgling franchise.
You have to believe there will be some sort of drop off from Payton to Vitt.
That being said, the Saints have a slew of other assistant coaches to help their head man moving forward this year.
Don't count New Orleans out just yet.
Some of the success and statistics that Peyton Manning put up as a member of the Indianapolis Colts is beyond comprehension. He led them to double-digit wins every season from 1999 to 2010, spanning three different decades.
During his tenure in Indianapolis, Manning accumulated nearly 55,000 passing yards, threw 399 touchdowns and made 11 Pro Bowl appearances.
Oh, and Indianapolis grabbed the AFC championship twice, winning the Lombardi once.
Manning now moves on to the Denver Broncos in an attempt to rekindle a career that was stopped in its tracks following a series of neck injuries that cost him the entire 2011 season.
Can Manning return to old form? Will he lead Denver back to the Super Bowl? We will find out answers to these questions and more within the next six months.
Cam Newton dazzled fans with his superb play as a rookie in 2011. In doing so, he made fans all over the world of professional football.
Statistically speaking, it was the greatest rookie season for any quarterback in the history of the league. Yes, the history of the league.
In terms of success, it was even greater. Newton helped the Carolina Panthers triple their win output from the previous season and brought fans back to the franchise after it appeared owner Jerry Richardson was hellbent on destroying the trust between the organization and the individuals in charge of paying the checks, the fans.
Can Newton take that next step towards elite status? Will he lead the Panthers back to the postseason? I am banking on it being more than a one-year process, but they will get there with this talented quarterback at the helm.
On the opposite end of the popularity spectrum is Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner, who continues to run a franchise that has become the laughing stock of the league.
Fear not, Ohioans, the long state-wide nightmare that has been the Browns franchise might be taking a turn for the better.
Lerner is currently in negotiations with the aforementioned Jimmy Haslam to sell a majority share of the Browns. Despite the fact that Haslam is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, this has to calm the nerves of a Browns' fan base that seems to expect losing seasons on a consistent basis.
There comes a time when a franchise must scrap everything and start anew. That time surely is now for the Browns.
I know, I know. It seems that I am becoming brainwashed by the mainstream sports media here. After all Tim Tebow is nothing more than a backup quarterback in the NFL. Right?
Well, that isn't entirely the case.
The physically gifted football player has become a cultural icon in the United States. He seems to transcend the entire landscape of professional sports. In fact, there will come a time in our lives where there is going to be mentions of him running for high political office.
Don't question or fight this; it is going to happen at some point.
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Tebow is the simple fact that he is one of the great guys in the sports world. What he does on a consistent basis through the ideology of altruism seems to have been ignored by the media and fans alike.
I, for one, am extremely happy he this high on this list. Sure the heck beats the idea of putting another athlete with major character concerns ahead of him.
Good for you, Mr. Tebow, and keep it up.
Talk about a polarizing figure. Some people absolutely love what Roger Goodell has done since becoming the commissioner of the National Football League in 2006. Others absolutely despise the "tyrant."
Well, let's take a look at it for a second.
The NFL has enjoyed one of its most prosperous six-year runs in the history of the league since Goodell took over. He has started to create a process of responsibility and accountability for player conduct and was able to avoid a long-term lockout prior to the start of the 2011 season by working with NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith.
Moreover, Goodell has helped put the league into a situation where it is going to expand far beyond the entertainment industry. If it wasn't before, the NFL has become an American brand. Super Bowl Sunday is a now a de facto national holiday, and it is becoming increasingly popular in Western Europe.
Can't ask for much more than that.
Despite all this, Goodell seems to face the wrath of many within every sector of the football world, and for good reason. His heavy-handed approach does seem a bit tyrannical. He has served as the leader of a league that refuses to take responsibility for the transgressions of its past, mainly the treatment of retired players.
Football needs fixing on a wide array of different levels, and I hope Goodell recognizes the true nature of these issues.