The NFL playoffs are looming and with only two weeks left in the regular season, the brackets begin filling themselves out and predictions are made. While 12 teams battle it out to decide who will raise the Lombardi Trophy, there will be other stories developing underneath all the glitz and glamor of Super Bowl 46.
The biggest topic going into 2012 will most likely be the continuation of the Andrew Luck discussions, the aptly named "Suck for Luck" campaign. As possibly the best QB prospect to come out of college since the University of Tennessee gave us some guy named Peyton, in 1998, Luck was all but locked into the first overall pick in last year's draft.
However, he chose to stay in the Cardinal uniform for one more season, even though his exceptional coaching staff left for the NFL, and his prospects possibly look even better than they did at the end of last season.
So yes, it's pretty well in hand that Luck will (and should be) drafted first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft because he's an once-in-a-lifetime developmental project that has the tangibles and raw ability to start immediately if needed. It's obviously preferred if he lands with a team that can sit him for a couple years behind an established vet (i.e. Indianapolis Colts), but four years within a NFL-type system, Luck has the talent and skills that should allow him to play well coming out of the gate.
But one has to wonder, is that really a 100 percent, without a doubt situation? Andrew Luck definitely has over-the-top talent and is easily the most "NFL-ready" but does that term really matter anymore? With the success that Cam Newton has enjoyed with the Carolina Panthers, does a QB necessarily have to be "NFL-ready", especially with the transition to an NFL that heavily favors the passing game?
This isn't to say that Luck will fall on draft day but will another team feel compelled to dangle a savory trade in the faces of whoever ends up with the top pick? These are the three teams that are in the best position to end up with the first overall pick but there's only one that seriously needs to consider a QB.
Without droning on and on, there are some questions that are going to be answered after the Super Bowl is won and done. Much like the Heisman Award ceremony, maybe we're in for some surprises when it comes to draft day in April. Remember 2006, Reggie Bush was touted as the clear No. 1 pick and Houston spun the NFL on its proverbial head.
Current Record: 1 - 13
Remaining Games: vs. Houston, @ Jacksonville
How much does one player mean to one particular franchise? Although described as the true "team-sport", the Indianapolis Colts have shown this season just how much a particular outstanding player really does mean to their franchise.
Peyton Manning missing the entirety of the 2011 season came as a massive shock because he seemed like the best chance of any current player who could break Brett Favre's Iron-Man record. However, much like Tom Brady in 2008, Manning found himself sporting the headset and clipboard while he has painfully watched his team struggle against their competition.
It hasn't been an absolutely disastrous season, necessarily, and Colts have had opportunities to win this season regardless and Orlovsky has grown in the short time he's played for them. They silenced their critics last Sunday with a 27-13 dismantling of the crumbling Titans and talks of an 0-16 season are done. Clearly this team can operate without Manning but it isn't going to come easily, since they are going to finish last in the AFC South for the first time ever since the division was created in 2002.
The Colts are currently holding the No. 1 pick but with two teams at 2-12 and winnable games against the Texans and Jaguars, the Colts could find themselves with the No. 2 or 3 pick. Regardless, the Colts seem the best team that Andrew Luck could find himself with. Tutoring underneath a future Hall of Famer and playing in a system like Indy's will be superbly beneficial to him, regardless of how much people believe he should be starting immediately.
The only issue, which is quite odd, that has come up is if Manning tries to keep Bill Polian and others from drafting Luck, even if they have the No. 1 overall pick. There have been reports that he could try something of that nature but it seems pretty ridiculous and it would reveal dark clouds reside over that seemingly, squeaky clean club.
Current Record: 2 - 12
Remaining Games: @ Pittsburgh, vs. San Francisco
If you Google'd "sophomore-slump", there may be a picture of Sam Bradford that pops up. The poor kid has been nowhere near the level of production that his rookie season of 2010 seemed to promise. Between battling nagging injuries and simply under-performing, Bradford has not shown the ability to consistently play well this season.
It remains to be seen whether Steve Spagnuolo will be job searching at the end of the season but it's hard to believe that St. Louis will stick with him. This is where the Andrew Luck campaign begins to get murky.
It can be assumed that St. Louis will struggle against a Pittsburgh Steelers team who needs to win out, especially after a tough loss to the next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. The Rams finish their season out at home against San Fran who has proven they are the toast of the weak NFC West. So one has to think that there is a good chance, if Indy wins their final two games to end at 3-13, the Rams could end at 2-14 with the No. 1 pick.
They have to decide if they should stick with Sam Bradford long-term and see if he can find his rookie season form, or, do they believe strongly enough in Andrew Luck's ability to start if Bradford struggles early. But would they necessarily draft Andrew Luck?
There's a good chance that St. Louis could trade down to a team willing to pay a hefty price. Yet, with that trade being at such a premium, there's an even better chance that the Rams focus on an area of higher concern and not waste the money they spent on Bradford in 2010, much like the Texans when they skipped on Reggie Bush to take Mario Williams.
Current Record: 2 - 12
Remaining Games: @ Washington, vs. Chicago
The one team out the three that doesn't necessarily need another rookie QB after drafting Christian Ponder this year and in relief, Ponder has been off-and-on since Donovan McNabb was pulled as the team's starter. Does this mean that they wouldn't consider taking Andrew Luck if they end up with the No. 1 pick? No, it seems likely that they might feel strongly enough that he could step right in from Day 1.
The Vikings seem to be the most likely to trade down really because Ponder deserves a true off-season, not the lock-out shortened thing they called an offseason, to fully grasp the offense and grow into the position. The type of deal Minnesota could entertain may help them considerably, whether it's for a couple established veterans or a healthy amount of lower round draft picks, it would add a ton of depth they sorely lack.
They could also seriously consider keeping the pick and drafting outside of Andrew Luck, much like Houston as well. There should be a number of great players coming out this year and the Vikings might find it beneficial to draft another position of need that is more glaring than at QB.
If Luck finds himself in a purple uni, he at least is in a situation where it will be easy for him to homogenize into a system with a couple speedy receivers and an explosive play-maker in AD.
For a few random thoughts on 2012 and it's upcoming season after all is said and done.
Teams that could find themselves trading for Peyton Manning v.2
Miami Dolphins: Tony Sparano may have saved his job for another season with a strong turn-around and Matt Moore has played surprisingly well but they're going to need to carry it over to next season. I don't think Moore plays into that equation.
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch is a beast and is a large reason for their performances as of late, not to mention their defense. Tarvaris Jackson may be a poor-man's Donovan McNabb but Pete Carroll might like what he sees in Luck enough to pay what it takes to get him.
Denver Broncos: Before the Cult of Tebow sacrifices me to the Gator Gods, hear me out. It doesn't seem that John Elway feels that Timmy is the answer in Mile High. Plus, he might just do what's necessary to draft another Stanford man into the Bronco's organization.
No, I Ain't Crazy
Aaron Rodgers gets the Madden NFL 13 cover and not just breaks the curse, but obliterates it by throwing for 6,000 yards and 55 TDs.
Cam Newton continues to silence his naysayers, leads the Panthers to a 12-4 record and gets his team into the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Matt Forte tests the free-agent market, signs a long-term deal with another NFC club and entertains one of his best seasons ever.
Andrew Luck pulls an Eli Manning and demands a draft-day trade after being picked by the Indianapolis Colts No. 1 overall; gets his wish and ends up starting elsewhere.