An Optimist's Guide to the 2012 NFL Season: Why Your Team Will Be Awesome
At the end of every NFL season only one team can truly be considered awesome. Sure, you could go 16-0 and get to the Super Bowl, but if you don't hoist that Lombardi Trophy when it is all said and done, you simply aren't awesome.
What's great about this time of the year is that no one knows who that one awesome team is going to be; it could literally be anyone. It might be a little harder for the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars to be awesome this year, but a meteorite could hit every other team in the league causing either of those teams to be awesome by default.
Really, it could happen (Cue the Wayne's World, "Yeah, and monkey's might fly out of my butt.").
There really is a reason for every team to be optimistic heading into the 2012 season and today we'll give you reasons why your team will be awesome in 2012.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: You Still Have Larry Fitzgerald
It's simply amazing that Fitzgerald hasn't abandoned ship like the crew of the Titanic considering his current quarterback situation. If I were him, I would take the team hostage, demand a trade and have them throw in a helicopter just for the heck of it.
However, Fitzgerald is a better man than I am and his commitment to the Arizona Cardinals is something that needs to be respected. He's never once complained about the fact that Arizona would be better off with a high-school quarterback than either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
Despite all this, Fitzgerald has put up back-to-back seasons of well over 1,000 receiving yards, which is simply ridiculous. As long as the offensive game plan for the Cardinals is to throw the ball to Fitzgerald on every single play, they have a chance of being awesome.
You hear that, Arizona. Every. Single. Play.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Have You Seen Julio Jones?
There is only one word to describe this man: Studly. Now I've never described another man like that, but I feel fairly confident in my assessment of Jones. In fact, I'm convinced that if you were to launch a concrete cinder block at the speed of light towards Jones, he'd still catch it.
His first preseason game saw Jones grab six receptions for 109 yards and a sick touchdown reception over cornerback Cary Williams. Oh yeah, that all took place in less than one half of football.
While Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are great players, they'll both be eclipsed by the awesomeness of Jones this year. If nothing else, he'll at least guarantee the Atlanta Falcons won't have another two-point playoff performance.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Ray Lewis Is Still Capable of Killing People
Not literally, of course, but in a figurative way Lewis is still capable of executing the most intense punishment on the football field.
Despite turning 37 years old this May, Lewis is still one of the most feared and talented football players in the league. The Baltimore Ravens are going to count on Lewis more than ever with the loss of Terrell Suggs, Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson on their defensive unit.
Ultimately, it looks like the vaunted Ravens' defense could take a step back this year, but as long as Lewis continues to play at an All-Pro level, it should be one of the better units in the league.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Your Defensive Line Could Consist of Four Pro Bowl Players
It isn't even fair for the Buffalo Bills to have that much talent along their defensive line. Just for the fun of it, let's do a quick rundown of their starters:
Mario Williams - When healthy, he is a near lock to make the Pro Bowl and is one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league.
Kyle Williams - No relation to Super Mario, but an absolute stud nonetheless. One of the best defensive tackles who will only be better this year with so much talent surrounding him.
Marcell Dareus - Despite the position change, Dareus proved that he is going to have a long and successful career in the NFL. In fact, the switch to defensive tackle will allow him to play a more natural position, making him an even scarier player.
Mark Anderson - The weakest link of the entire unit, but his 10 sacks last year showed he can be a major threat off the edge. He should also see a huge increase in production because of the players he is surrounded by.
It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see all four of these players make the 2013 Pro Bowl and wreak havoc on every quarterback they face.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Cam Newton Will Be Better in 2012
As crazy as it sounds that a player can actually improve on 4,000 passing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, it is absolutely the case with Mr. Newton.
We won't necessarily see his statistics improve, but rather his understanding of the little things that make an NFL quarterback better. If you're the Carolina Panthers, this is a very, very good thing.
You see, the Panthers only went 6-10 with Newton having the best statistical rookie season we've ever seen, so statistics aren't the issue with Newton. It's the cutting down on mistakes and understanding NFL defenses that need to improve and with a full offseason behind him, those aspects of his game should improve.
That is a frightening thought for NFL defenses, and the Panthers could be a surprise contender this year.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Jay Cutler Has a Real Receiver To Throw To
Since Cutler came to the Chicago Bears he's had the likes of Devin Hester and a washed-up Roy Williams to throw to. Even with those "receivers" (it really is hard to call them that) the Bears have made it as far as the NFC Championship Game.
Now that he has a real receiver in Brandon Marshall, this offense could reach the level of extreme potency. Combine that with a defense that impresses year after year and you have the makings of a Super Bowl contender in the Windy City.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: You No Longer Have Carson Palmer
You can't call it a coincidence that the Cincinnati Bengals just so happen to get an influx of talent once Palmer decides he no longer wants to play for the team.
I'm not trying to say that Palmer was a bad thing for the Bengals because he was one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history. However, there is no doubt that Palmer's play had declined quite a bit in recent years and his heart wasn't completely in Cincinnati any longer.
Now that Palmer is gone, the Bengals have one of the best young rosters in the league. With star players like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins, this is a team that is built for the long term.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Ummmm.....Trent Richardson?
I'll be honest. There isn't much to be excited about for the Cleveland Browns this year.
However, they do have Richardson who has the potential to be the best running back in the NFL. Of course, the last time a running back single-handedly lead his team to a Super Bowl was back when Jim Brown was running all over defenses.
While Richardson will likely become quite the player for the Browns, until they surround him with a bunch of other talented players, it will be hard for his team to be awesome.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Tony Romo Can't Become Any Less Clutch
This might sound like a bad thing, but I guarantee that this is a very good thing. In recent years we've seen Romo completely crumble under any type of pressure. There have been key fumbles, horrid performances and a string of other non-clutch memories for the Dallas Cowboys.
The good news for Dallas is that all of those performances are in the past and Romo simply can't become any less clutch. When you hit the bottom, the only place to go is up.
Well, I guess you could stay at the bottom, live a life of solitude and never climb back up. Let's hope that doesn't happen for the Cowboys. I don't think Jerry Jones can take much more disappointment.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Peyton Manning Doesn't Have Losing Seasons
Well, Manning has had two losing seasons in his 13-year career, but none have come in the last nine years, which is just absurd.
With the AFC West completely wide open this year, nine wins might just be enough to sneak into the playoffs.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Calvin Johnson is Really An Alien Life-form
When you look at Johnson's combination of size, speed and athleticism, the only logical answer is that he must be from a completely different planet.
This clearly isn't a bad thing for the Detroit Lions because despite not being human, Johnson is still capable of putting up 111 yards and a touchdown in less than a half of football. It is completely possible that Johnson breaks every major receiving record this year.
The only question that will remain is whether an alien should be allowed to win the Most Valuable Player Award.
Green Bay Packers
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Aaron Rodgers is the Best Player in the World
Rodgers isn't just the best quarterback currently in the league, but he is literally the greatest player in the world right now. The things he does on the football field—the jaw-dropping throws, the incredible pocket awareness—leave you breathless when you watch him play.
As long as Rodgers is playing for the Green Bay Packers it will be impossible for them to be anything less than awesome.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: The Defense Could Be Legendary
Even without Mario Williams, the defense for the Houston Texans has the opportunity to be one of the best ever assembled.
It starts with the mastermind behind it all in defensive coordinator Wade Philips. He's a guru who changed this defense from a cellar-dwelling squad into a top-five unit last year.
However, what really makes this unit go is the incredible amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball. J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph and Brian Cushing are perennial All-Pro players. Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus are capable of bringing constant pressure off the edge.
There are so many young and talented players on this roster that it is hard to imagine them not dominating every offense they play. Yes, the offense should also be very good in Houston this year, but the real reason this team is awesome is because of their potentially legendary defense.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: There Is This Guy Named Andrew Luck. Have You Heard of Him?
In case you haven't heard yet, Luck is looking like quite the quarterback through his first three preseason games. In fact, it'd be safe to say that he looks even better than Peyton Manning did at this point in his rookie season.
There may not be much talent surrounding Luck right now, but the Indianapolis Colts have to be thrilled with the idea of Luck carrying this team for the next decade.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Blaine Gabbert Doesn't Appear To Be Afraid of Defenses Anymore
I'm not saying that Gabbert is going to be a top-20 quarterback this year because I don't think he will. However, had Gabbert entered the 2012 season as afraid of pressure as he was last year, he wouldn't even be considered a top-50 quarterback in the NFL.
The Jacksonville Jaguars still have major questions across much of their roster, but the fact that their starting quarterback will no longer crumble to the ground in the fetal position when faced with a defensive player is a great sign.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Your Defense Is Incredible
Yes, the offense in Kansas City may have its ups and downs this year, but at least their defense is going to be absolutely incredible. On paper, it looks like the third best defense in the league with the potential to be better than any other team.
When you look at this entire unit there simply isn't a position that is lacking a great amount of talent. The secondary is filled with the likes of Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt. The linebacker corps has Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston.
Even the defensive line has major potential with Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and Dontari Poe. If all these players play up to their maximum abilities, the Chiefs offense might only need to score seven points to win a game.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: David Garrard and Matt Moore Aren't Your Starting Quarterbacks
Sure, Ryan Tannehill may be a little rough around the edges, but he is still a much better option than either Garrard or Moore.
The Miami Dolphins have had enough of veteran quarterbacks over the last 12 years that it is time they committed to a young player like Tannehill. There is no doubt that he'll have his struggles his rookie season, but he'll at least provide plenty of excitement to the fanbase in Miami.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Jared Allen Will Record An Infinite Amount of Sacks
While this might be a small exaggeration, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Allen break Michael Strahan's 22.5 sacks in the 2012 season. He came half a sack shy last year, and so far in preseason he's looked better than ever.
Against the San Diego Chargers this week, Allen recorded two sacks without playing a full 60 minutes of football. While it will be difficult to record over a sack-and-a-half every week of the season, Allen certainly has the tools to do it.
In fact, don't be surprised if Allen not only breaks Strahan's record, but completely shatters it this year.
New England Patriots
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: You Have More Receiving Weapons Than America Has McDonald's
The New England Patriots' receiving corps is similar to the menu at Olive Garden; there are so many delicious things to choose from.
If defenses want to try and take away Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker, they'll be dominated by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Even if all of their starters get hurt, the Patriots can still turn to Deion Branch, Visanthe Shiancoe and Donte' Stallworth. There should literally be a rule against stockpiling this much talent.
If there was ever a receiving corps that could utterly destroy every receiving record in NFL history, this is the one to do it.
New Orleans Saints
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Your Defense Will Be Much Improved
We know that as long as Drew Brees is quarterback for the New Orleans Saints the offense is going to be prolific. What has kept this team back from reaching the pinnacle of awesomeness has been their defense.
However, that will change this year. With the offseason additions of Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Brodrick Bunkley, the Saints have a defense that will finally be able to slow down opposing offenses.
While this unit isn't likely to finish in the top-10 of NFL defenses, as long as they can keep opponents below 24 points they should be golden.
New York Giants
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Jason Pierre-Paul Eats Babies
Once again, not in a literal sense, but in the sense that he chews up and spits out every offensive lineman he faces.
Last year we saw Pierre-Paul burst onto the scene and dominate every team he played. If he can continue to progress at his currently ridiculous rate, there is simply no way that a team will be able to stop him.
JPP certainly has the talent and potential to end the season as the best defensive player in the league. As we saw last year, if the New York Giants have a dominant defense, they can be the best team in the NFL.
New York Jets
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: TEBOW!!!!
I'm just kidding. Even an optimist like me has a hard time figuring out why the New York Jets will be awesome this year.
Maybe Darrelle Revis? Yeah, we'll go with that.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Darren McFadden Could Possibly, Potentially Be Healthy This Year
It's a new year in Oakland and that means another year of hoping that McFadden can stay healthy for an entire year. It hasn't happened yet, but he's starting with a clean slate this year.
The Oakland Raiders desperately need Run DMC to stay healthy because if he can't, this team will be the exact opposite of awesome.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: You Finally Have A Capable Backup Quarterback
Look, we know that Michael Vick isn't going to play every snap of every game this season, so let's just get that out of the way.
What is different this year for the Philadelphia Eagles is that it finally appears they have a competent and capable backup quarterback for when Vick inevitably gets injured. Last year we realized that Vince Young was completely worthless so the Eagles went out and drafted Nick Foles.
Through the first three weeks of preseason, that looks like the smartest pick Philadelphia made in the entire draft. Foles has been spectacular and will finally give the Eagles little drop-off in play when Vick goes down with an injury.
As long as Philadelphia can stay competitive in the five to six games that Vick is out this year they have a great chance at winning the NFC East.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Antonio Brown Is Awesome
As good as Mike Wallace is, Brown is better.
He's proven time and time again to be one of the most dynamic players with the ball in his hands. While that has taken place as a return man in previous years, his abilities as a receiver are finally blossoming.
Even with Wallace expected to be back with the team this weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to begin relying on the big-play abilities of Brown more and more this season. As long as they can do that, they should have great success this year.
San Diego Chargers
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Philip Rivers Hasn't Been Injured Yet
The San Diego Chargers have suffered numerous unfortunate injuries. First it was Ryan Mathews going down with a broken clavicle on his first play in preseason. Then Melvin Ingram was taken off the field in Week 3 of the preseason with a thigh injury.
However, the Chargers will be able to survive without these two players as long as Rivers doesn't get taken out with an injury. Rivers is easily the most valuable player in San Diego and as long as he is on the field, the Chargers will have a prolific offense.
San Francisco 49ers
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Your Offense Might Finally Match Your Defense
Last year, the San Francisco 49ers relied on their stout defense to carry them to the NFC Championship Game. While their offense wasn't as bad as it had been in years past, it certainly wasn't on the same level as their defense.
However, this year we might see an even bigger improvement in the 49ers' offense. Their offseason has been filled with improving their firepower on offense and if all those moves pay off, we could be looking at the most balanced team in the league.
We still don't know what type of impact Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James will make this year, but even the slightest bit of impact will make this team extremely dangerous.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Russell Wilson is Unstoppable
Do you see that picture to the left? Russell Wilson is so incredible that defensive players literally do flips in the air when they get close to him.
After three straight impressive performances in the preseason, there is no way that the Seattle Seahawks won't give him the starting quarterback job in Week 1. As long as Wilson is on the field, the Seahawks have a chance to win every game his season.
St. Louis Rams
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: You Could Have the Best Cornerback Duo in the NFL
For the St. Louis Rams to go from having one of the worst secondaries in the league to one of the best would be quite the drastic change.
We've known for a few years that Cortland Finnegan is one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Unfortunately, just one great cornerback wouldn't be enough to flip this unit.
The good news for St. Louis is that it appears they'll be having two great cornerbacks at the start of the regular season. Second-round draft pick Janoris Jenkins looks like he'll be a dominant shutdown cornerback in this league.
If Jenkins can continue this high level of play, the Rams could end the season with the best cornerback duo in the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Mark Barron Has the Ability to Intercept Tom Brady
I know it is only the preseason, but Brady just doesn't throw that many interceptions. So, when a rookie in his second preseason game, intercepts Mr. Brady and takes it to the house, it's kind of a big deal.
This one interception proves that Barron is going to be an absolute beast despite being a rookie. He'll be a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year from day one and it won't take long for him to establish himself as one of the better safeties in the league.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: The Defense is Shaping Up Nicely
For the past few seasons of hardship for the Tennessee Titans, the defense has struggled to perform at a consistently high level. Whether it was injuries or slow development, the Titans' defense was never able to really get going.
However, through the first three weeks of the preseason it seems like that may finally be changing. Derrick Morgan is healthy and teaming with Kamerion Wimbley to give Tennessee two talented defensive ends. Both the linebackers and secondary are also filled with playmakers.
With second-year quarterback Jake Locker taking the reins on offense, the Titans will need to rely on their improved defense if they want a chance in the AFC South.
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Reason You'll Be Awesome: Robert Griffin III
He's no Andrew Luck, but RG3 is about as close as you can get without him being an exact clone.
Griffin is going to rejuvenate the Redskins' franchise in a way that hasn't been done in years, possibly decades. He's going to make watching him play a top priority because of his abilities as a quarterback and his dynamic skills in the open field.
He may not win many games in his first season, but he and the Redskins will be awesome nonetheless.