Top 15 Story Lines of 2012 NFL Season

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15 Top NFL Stories of 2012

2012 Top 15 NFL Moments
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 NFL season is two weeks away from entering Playoff time. Some teams have locked up playoff spots, while others won’t know their postseason plans until Week 17. The season has been an exciting one for fans and players. The season has future several record breaking performances and some exciting young talent that has turned teams around. However, there have also been some sad events, including the deaths of several NFL players.

Some issues from the 2012 NFL season made commissioner Roger Goodell a villain. Several moments showed his control over the league as he issued suspensions and punishments. The control offers a difference of opinion to how much control the commissioner should have. The commissioner also dealt with a large amount of arrests during the off-season.

It’s hard to believe that it has only been one year since the NFL lockout almost caused last season to be delayed. In the end, 2012 has showcased why the NFL is one of America’s favorites things to watch in person and on television. The large fan base even led to Goodell apologizing for embarrassing moments during the 2012 season.

Several key free agent and draft moves during the offseason shaped what would happen later on in the season. Replacement referees during the preseason and first few weeks also questioned the integrity of the league during its season. As the 2012 calendar year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the top 15 NFL stories of the year.

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15. New York Giants Win Super Bowl

Super Bowl Winners: New York Giants
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl XLVI was played in Indianapolis on February 5th, 2012. The game featured a rematch between the New York Giants (9-7) and the New England Patriots (13-3), both teams that appeared in Super Bowl XLII. The Giants won the Super Bowl in a hard fought 21-17 victory. The win by the Giants capped a huge momentum run at the end of the 2011 season. The Giants went into Week 17 tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East lead. The Giants won the game and secured a playoff spot and would win out. The Super Bowl win marked the first time a team with less than ten regular season wins (since 1978) had become champions. Only two other teams had even appeared in the Super Bowl with less than ten wins, in a sixteen game season. The Giants currently find themselves in a similar situation as they have an 8-6 record going into Week 16. The team needs to win at least one game to stay alive for a playoff spot and could make a deep playoff run once again.

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14. Hines Ward Retires

Pittsburgh Steelers Receiver Hines Ward Retires
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Fourteen year NFL veteran Hines Ward retired in March of 2012. Ward was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers and decided to hang it up rather than play outside of Pittsburgh. Ward said in his press conference, “I can say I’m a Steeler for life and that’s the bottom line, that’s all I’ve really ever wanted.” Ward finished his career with 1000 receptions for 12,083 yards. Ward won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, including Super Bowl XL where he won MVP honors.

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13. Junior Seau Suicide

Junior Seau Commits Suicide
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On May 2nd, the NFL lost Junior Seau, a linebacker who spent 20 seasons in the league. In Seau's suicide, the league lost one of its greatest linebackers of all time. Seau, who was a first round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Seau played in 268 games over his 20 year career. Seau had 1184 solo tackles and 56.5 sacks in his career. The long time Charger also was a member of 12 Pro Bowls and helped the team reach the 1994 Super Bowl.

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12. Colin Kaepernick Takes Over San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers New Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

When most star quarterbacks get hurt, it’s a bad thing for the team and for coaches. However, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith got hurt, coach Jim Harbaugh decided to change the future of his team because of it. After compiling a 6-2-1 record, Smith is now the number two quarterback in San Francisco. In Smith’s absence, backup Colin Kaepernick is now 4-1 with the 49ers. In his first start, Kaepernick completed 70% of his passes and ended the day with 243 yards and two touchdown passes. Harbaugh has decided to go with Kaepernick the rest of the way, which is a decision that will have a major impact on 2013 free agency as one quarterback will likely not be a 49er next season.

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11. New NFL Head Coaches

Chuck Pagano Among New NFL Head Coaches
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 NFL season began with seven new coaches. Here is the list of new coaches:

Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts)

Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Romeo Crennel (Kansas City Chiefs)

Joe Philbin (Miami Dolphins)

Dennis Allen (Oakland Raiders)

Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams)

Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

The biggest story of the new head coaches centered around Pagano. The new Colts head coach has compiled a 1-2 record and is currently on a leave following his leukemia diagnosis. Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia and now appears close to his return. The story became a huge inspiration for the team as many members of the Colts shaved their heads in support of their coach.

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10. 2012 Rookie Quarterbacks

Rookie Starting Quarterbacks 2012
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

In week one of the 2012 NFL season, the league saw a record five rookie quarterbacks start. Here is a look at the starters from week 1. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson all got the start in the first week of the season. Four of the five were first round picks, with Wilson being the exception. Wilson was taken in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks with the 75th overall. Three other rookie quarterbacks (Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Lindley) have been starters at some point during the season.

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9. Josh Brent Arrested

Dallas Cowboys Intoxication Manslaughter
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Brent of the Dallas Cowboys was arrested after causing a car accident that took the life of Cowboys practice squad member Jerry Brown Jr. Brent was arrested for intoxication manslaughter, which he has not been tried for yet. The story showed once again how alcohol is becoming a problem for NFL players. For more on other NFL players who got in trouble, check out this slideshow.

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8. Jovan Belcher Murder Suicide

Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On December 1st, the NFL got some sad news as one of its own had taken his own life. Jovan Belcher, of the Kansas City Chiefs, committed suicide after killing his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins. After a dispute with his girlfriend, Belcher shot her fifteen times and then drove to the Chiefs practice facility. After thanking general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel, Belcher shot himself in the parking lot. Belcher had played in the league since 2009, when he was signed as a free agent.

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7. NFL Tributes to Sandy Hook Elementary School

Sandy Hook Elementary School Tributes
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

A school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut left the nation stunned. Twenty six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School lost their life in one of the worst school shootings in the United States. The NFL chose to pay their respects by holding moments of silence around the league. Other teams chose to honor the victims in other ways. Victor Cruz, of the New York Giants, perhaps had the best tribute with the name of one of the victims on his cleats and gloves. After Cruz found out that Jack Pinto, one of the children who died, was a huge fans of his, he wanted to pay respect to him and his family. The New England Patriots launched 26 flares prior to their game to honor each of the victims.

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6. Adrian Peterson NFL Record

Single Season Rushing Record: Adrian Peterson
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson appears to be fully recovered from MCL and ACL injuries suffered on December 24, 2011. With two games left in the 2012 season, Peterson has a chance to break the NFL single season rushing record. In 1984, Eric Dickerson rushed for 2105 yards. Peterson has 1812 yards going into Week 16. If Peterson falls short of the all time record, he will still likely pass the 2,000 mark for the first time in his career.

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5. Calvin Johnson NFL Record

Megatron Passes Jerry Rice Record Receiving Yards
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, December 22nd, Calvin Johnson broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a season. The old record of 1848 held by Jerry Rice was surpassed in Week 16 by the Detroit Lions receiver. Calvin ended the night with 11 catches for 225 yards. The game marked the fourth game in a row that Calvin had double digit catches. The 225 yards was the highest Calvin has posted in the 2012 season and the second best of his career. On the season Calvin now has 1892 yards and could become the first receiver to hit the 2,000 plateau in next week’s matchup against the Chicago Bears.

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4. Tim Tebow Traded to New York Jets

New York Jets Acquire Tim Tebow
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

After winning a playoff game for the Denver Broncos, quarterback Tim Tebow took his talents to the Big Apple. The New York Jets entered the race to secure free agent Peyton Manning, but were never really in the race. Tebow was traded to the Jets to backup Mark Sanchez. After the Broncos secured Manning, they traded the former Heisman winner along with a seventh round 2012 NFL Draft pick for fourth and sixth round picks in the draft. Despite the struggles of Sanchez, Tebow is now listed as the backup to Greg McElroy. Tebow is now looking like he will once again be traded prior to the 2013 NFL season.

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3. Peyton Manning Signs With Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos Sign Peyton Manning
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After missing the entire 2011 season with an injury, quarterback Peyton Manning was bound and determined to come back and showcase his usual form. The problem was the Indianapolis Colts decided Manning was not worth the money with his new injury risk. Manning became one of the biggest free agents in any sport. Several teams fought hard to secure the quarterback, but in the end the Denver Broncos signed Manning to be the new leader of their team. Manning now has the Broncos back in the NFL Playoffs and is having one of his best statistical seasons. Manning has thrown for 4016 yards and 31 touchdown, through week 14. The signing appears to have paid off for the Broncos big time.

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2. New Orleans Saints Bountygate

Sean Payton Supended 2012 NFL Season
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest stories of 2012 was Bountygate. An investigation by the NFL determined the New Orleans Saints operated an illegal payoff system to reward defensive players for big hits, especially ones that caused injuries. The findings by the league led to several suspensions and fines. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt received a six game suspension. Four players received suspensions for at least part of the 2012 season. Jonathan Vilma received the stiffest penalty, as he was suspended for the entire year. Anthony Hagrove received an eight game suspension. Will Smith served a four game suspension. Scott Fujita was suspended three games. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was behind the entire payout system, has been banned by the league indefinitely.

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1. Replacement Referees

2012 NFL Replacement Referees
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Prior the start of the NFL Preseason, a lockout began by the referees. A dispute over benefits and pensions caused all the NFL referees into the lockout. The NFL decided the best fix was to hire a bunch of refs from high school, college, and lingerie football leagues. The temporary solution lasted through the preseason and into week four of the 2012 season. After a questionable touchdown to end the Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers game, the NFL came to a deal with the refs. A new eight year deal became the longest ever signed between the league and officials. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would later apologize to fans for the poor calls made by replacement refs.