The 2008 NFL season has been one to remember for several reasons. The futility of the Detroit Lions and the NFC West, the power of the Tennessee Titans, and the NFC South come to mind.
In this list, I rank the top 10 stories that the National Football League has given us this year. It covers events occurring in the regular season.
By the way, just so you don't go to sleep, Brett Favre's offseason tale has been left off this list.
10. Defensive Domination
This season has been one of the best in recent memory as far as the Defensive Player of the Year race is concerned. You can talk about the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware and his 20 sacks (2.5 off of Michael Strahan's record), or James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers and his 101 tackles and seven forced fumbles. Throw in Joey Porter, the leader of the Miami Dolphins defense and a player with 17.5 sacks. You can also make cases for John Abraham, Albert Haynesworth, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Troy Palamalu, Ed Reed, and Patrick Willis. It is a pretty tight race.
With all these nominees, you would think that defensive superstars aren't as scarce as they used to be. They aren't this season, so why not have one for an MVP? My vote would've gone for one of these defensive players, because they have dominated this season.
9. Coaching Carousel
On a sadder note, some head coaches in the NFL lost their job in the middle of the season. Scott Linehan, formerly of the St. Louis Rams; Mike Nolan, formerly of the San Fransisco 49ers; and—perhaps the least deserving—Lane Kiffin, formerly under Al Davis' control (technically, the Oakland Raiders).
Look: if you are really unhappy with your coach, why can't you just wait until the offseason to fire him? If you had suspicions in the preseason, why didn't you axe him then? This strategy has never made any sense to me, and no one can prove to me that its the best way to go. You might say it will boost attendance and fan morale; but ultimately, you aren't fixing the problems on the field. How is replacing someone in the regular season helping?
Linehan went first, and was probably the most deserving to leave, as he never did anything with the Rams. Kiffin was fired the day after by telephone (then Davis proceeded to show us all his letter). Nolan was fired later in October and supplanted by Mike Singletary. Linehan was replaced by Jim Haslett, and Kiffin by Tom Cable.
The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions were terrible this year, but are probably waiting until the offseason to find a new head coach. The Cincinnati Bengals should also probably look elsewhere, but won't during the regular season.
8. NFC West
The NFC West story: They are terrible. I don't see how any of those teams deserve to be in the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks, the glue holding the division together for the past few seasons, collapsed under all their injuries. Mike Holmgren really didn't deserve such a sad going out party.
Other members included the Rams and the 49ers, who combined for a 9-23 record, and both were forced to fire their coaches midseason. The leader, the Arizona Cardinals, couldn't even reach 10 wins!
Arizona went a perfect 6-0 in their division; that means they were 3-7 out of their cruddy division! Their wins? Dallas, Buffalo, and Miami, all in their dark moments of the season, all in Arizona. Their losses include a 40 point shellacking in New England, a three touchdown defeat to Minnesota at home, and a four touchdown loss in Philadelphia—all of which occurred in the five closing weeks of the season. Perhaps they peeked a little early.
The Rams, who finished in the basement, were one of the most defective teams in the NFL. They lost their first four games, won their next two, and then proceeded to lose their final ten. That losing streak was only better than that of the Detroit Lions, whose winning streak never started. They were 0-6 in their pitiful division.
The 49ers had their moments, though they started playing well too late into the season. They could challenge Arizona, and potentially Seattle, next year for the division. Overall, this division was the most streaky in all of the NFL, therefore making it the worst.
7. NFC South
On the other hand, the NFC South was the most dominant division in the NFL this season. Until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meltdown at the end of the season, the top three teams—Tampa Bay, the Carolina Panthers, and the Atlanta Falcons—were all playoff teams. The New Orleans Saints were great on offense and bad on defense, but still finished at .500.
Every team had a different strategy and story, which made this division a fun one to follow.
The Panthers brought back smash-mouth football with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart running the football effectively. Williams was elusive and speedy, while the rookie Stewart was a powerful tank. Jake Delhomme also came back after having some pretty rough seasons, and ultimately helped bring this team back to Super Bowl contention, along with the defense and Julius Peppers.
The Falcons were the young guns and fun to watch grow together. Michael Turner emerged from LaDainian Tomlinson's shadow in the playoffs in 2007, Atlanta got him in free agency, and now he's a potential MVP. Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, and Harry Douglas were all thrown into the offensive mix as rookies and produced something for an Atlanta team who sat in the basement last season. Ryan is looking like a strong candidate for rookie of the year.
The Buccaneers were defensively minded and allowed the fewest points of any team in the division. With superstars like Ronde Barber in the secondary, and Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud at linebacker, Tampa Bay played excellent defense; until the fallout late in the season, where they allowed 123 of their 323 points this season. They also established a relationship between quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Antonio Bryant, as well as resurrecting the career of Warrick Dunn.
The Saints were pass, pass, pass. Drew Brees had one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had. He became just the second quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards or more, the other being Dan Marino. Brees hooked up with unknown receivers like Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. Marques Colston also came in after an injury and caught several passes, while tight ends Billy Miller and Jeremy Shockey caught underneath throws.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Look, this story would be higher if not for the fact that this story was more annoying than interesting. Everyone knows what happened: The Cowboys started off hot at 4-1, before injuries to Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Roy Williams (the safety) happened. The addition of Roy Williams (the receiver) took Dallas' first round draft choice away.
Dallas proceeded to lose to two NFC West teams (the Cardinals and the Rams), who I have already outlined as terrible. The went into their bye week at 5-3. Pacman Jones drama comes up somewhere in there. I forgot in what order these events happened.
Week 11 Dallas comes out hot. Romo is back and slinging passes to Jason Witten and Terrell Owens.
Well, maybe not as many to Owens...according to Owens.
Then the big story of Owens being angry at Romo for throwing too much to Witten. He also accused the two of drawing up secret plays. Owens proceeded to meet with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (with or without receivers Williams and Patrick Crayton) to express his issues. So there is trouble in Big D, and they lose three of their last four to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
The lesson we can learn from this: Let your play do the talking. No need to draw so much attention to yourself.
5. Tennessee Titans
Not a "homer" choice; the Titans were actually a huge surprise this year. In the preseason, I was skimming around the Internet to see how others thought Tennessee would do this season. I saw records like 3-13, 4-12, 6-10, and 8-8.
How a 10-6 playoff team who returns nearly everyone finishes the next season like that is beyond me.
Analysts used reasons like "they had a very poor draft," "Vince Young can't lead a team," and "Albert Haynesworth is the only defensive player they have." Apparently no one knows of Chris Hope, Keith Bulluck, and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Tennessee started out so incredibly hot just running the football with LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson. These were two offensive playmakers they needed. Kerry Collins took over for Young after an injury, and immediately began connecting with tight end Bo Scaife, and wide receivers Justin Gage and Brandon Jones. These three targets turned out to actually be reliable.
The defense emerged as a top five unit and the running game rose to the same status. Collins and the passing game were still in the bottom half of the league, but considering offenses today revolve around the pass, they did a remarkable job.
By the way, their terrible draft has turned into Johnson being a rookie of the year candidate, defensive tackle Jason Jones (who had the best defensive game a rookie has had this year with 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five tackles against the Pittsburgh Steelers), eight receptions for 77 yards for two rookie receivers, as well as 25 tackles from rookies William Hayes and Stanford Keglar.
The AFC as a whole has been confusing this season. Of the trifecta of preseason conventional favorites (San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, and New England Patriots) two made the playoffs at four and five seeds. Their combined record was 31-17. The Cleveland Browns, another team that nearly had a playoff run last season, returned to their former ways at 4-12. The Jacksonville Jaguars were so bad it was saddening.
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't disappoint. The Tennessee Titans rose to the level that the elite three were on last year, with the Colts and the Miami Dolphins. Yes, those former 1-15 Miami Dolphins conquered the AFC East and completed the best turnaround since 1999. Other AFC risers included the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets.
But right now it is wide open. As we look into the playoffs, every team is dangerous for different reasons. Baltimore is physical enough to bully any team out. Indianapolis is on the best winning streak in the NFL. San Diego can't be any worse than they were in the regular season. Miami has the chip on their shoulder, as well as a unique offense. Pittsburgh has the physicality on defense and talent at every position. Tennessee can beat you with the run, and has the best mix of veterans and youngsters in the NFL.
Besides maybe the Chargers, all of the AFC teams are legitimate. And we all know that from a year ago, anything can happen in the playoffs.
3. Detroit Lions
This story is one of the most ridiculous stories in all of sports this season. A professional organization cannot put out one positive output in a whole year. Not one time can 53 men in Detroit put together a win. Not one.
The NFL's first 0-16 season has been bestowed upon the Lions.
Who is to blame? Everybody involved. Rod Marinelli is one of the worst coaches in history now because of this. Matt Millen couldn't evaluate talent if every player had a tag on his shoulder pads that said either "talented" or "not talented". Owner William Ford has no idea how to run this thing.
But let's not just take a peek at the people backstage. The players played without any emotion or fire. None of them really wanted to win the game. It seemed like they were dead, and just wanted their money. There are some exceptions; on offense, rookie halfback Kevin Smith had a decent season. Second year wide receiver Calvin Johnson could potentially be the best in the NFL with some work. There are a few other names you could add.
But besides that, Detroit was just miserable. This has to be one of the worst teams in history.
2. Atlanta Falcons
There is great debate over whether the Falcons or the Dolphins deserve to be the better turnaround. I give Miami a slight edge, but Atlanta is a great runner-up.
We all know about Michael Vick and the terrible things he did. We all know about the bad job Bobby Petrino did and how he just abandoned the organization. What this team needed was a leader to take over.
That man was Mike Smith.
With probably the most common name in the universe, Smith volunteered to clean up the mess that was Atlanta. He did more than just a quick mop up; he made it sparkling clean.
It all started with the NFL Draft, where Smith and Atlanta had to decide between Glenn Dorsey (maybe the best player in the draft), and Matt Ryan (the best quarterback in the draft). The Falcons surprisingly went with Ryan, but it turned out to be the correct move.
Next came other good draft choices, like Harry Douglas from Louisville and Sam Baker from USC.
Along with free agent pick up Michael Turner, this team was set. The NFL world just didn't know it yet.
Atlanta went on to have a magnificent season, finishing 11-5 and with the fifth seed in the NFC. Turner finished the season with the second most rushing yards, and wide receiver Roddy White placed fourth in receiving yards. John Abraham was third in sacks, and Ryan was number one among rookies in passer rating.
Indeed, everyone in Atlanta deserved this after the doom surrounding their franchise nearly drowned them.
1. Miami Dolphins
Ronnie Brown was coming off of IR, they had no receivers, and no offensive line to speak of. No quarterback or defense. In fact, Jason Taylor, their best defensive threat, was taken away.
This team had zero healthy playmakers.
On came Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells. Doing what Smith did in Atlanta, they made an even dirtier room sparkle even more.
Differences from the Falcons: their improvement was two games better and they won their division title.
Jake Long was drafted and has become one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Chad Pennington, a beat up quarterback who was vastly rejected in New York, was added. Ricky Williams was back. No other big name players came on board.
Pennington threw to receivers like Davone Bess, Patrick Cobbs, Ted Ginn, Anthony Fasano, and Ernest Wilford; all but possibly Ginn were thought little of, or—more likely—unknown.
A team of rejects is the best way to put it. Parcells evaluated them all as talented, and they sure were. Sparano and his staff formed the "Wildcat" offense, which is somewhat of a single wing. It became effective, and actually very entertaining to watch. Trick plays and reverses became much more common, and this team rose to 11-5 and a three seed playoff berth.
- Rookie of the year race
- Matt Bryant
- Tom Brady
- Oakland Raiders
- End-of-season Fallouts