Top 15 Surprises of the 2012 NFL Season
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!!
There is an old adage in MLB that you can go to every game throughout their 162 game schedule and there will always be a chance to see something you have never seen before. Well, while that may not be true of every NFL game, it is getting to a point where each year something comes up that leaves your head shaking about where that team, player or play came from.
Whether it is the New York Giants beating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the Seattle Seahawks entering the playoffs as the NFC West Champion at 7-9 and beating the 11-5 New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round in 2010, or the 8-8 Denver Broncos lead by Tim Tebow beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round in 2011. Each year seems as if it is full of different surprises that leave fans clamoring for training camp and the birth of a new football year.
It is safe to say that the 2012 NFL season has not only kept up with giving us surprises, but actually eclipsed even the wildest dreams of many a player, team, fan or analyst. This season could not have been scripted better by Hollywood's greatest talent. There is no way that anyone could have predicted the unfathomable outcomes for some teams, the incredible talent that was displayed and the records that were not only broken, but shattered in some instances.
We all have ideas and thoughts about the biggest surprises that we have witnessed, but here are my Top 15 Surprises of the 2012 NFL Season. Surely I may have missed some, and quite possibly, you may think that you predicted anything that is to follow in this article. But I assure you that you are not being honest with yourself. Because sometimes there are times when we have to raise our hands and proclaim that you never saw this coming.
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#15 Drawing the Last Straw
With five out of six AFC West titles from 2004-2009, the San Diego Chargers were looking like a perennial playoff team. But beginning in 2010, Head Coach Norv Turner and his Chargers could not seem to get out of their own way, each year since resulting in a worse record. Phillip Rivers in 2012 looks like the west coast version of Mark Sanchez, and the offense as a whole can not get into any rhythm. Surprising considering that Turner is an offensive genius, but after a while, the message becomes stale.
While you may not believe it is a surprise that both Turner and GM A.J. Smith have been relieved of their duties, the talent on this team would dictate that the Chargers are built for the second season. But bad play calling and terrible sideline coaching has left this franchise looking softer than their powder blue alternates. The biggest surprise is that this did not happen three years ago when it was evident that the Chargers could not win with Norv as the coach.
#14 Career Year Gets You Benched?
What do you possibly think when you are having the best year of your career and the team you are leading is 6-2 after a bye week? I better stay healthy, otherwise I will lose my job, is usually not the answer. But that is exactly what happened in week 10 to San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith. He suffered a concussion early against the St. Louis Rams, Colin Kaepernick came and led the 49ers to a tie, and he never looked back.
It is hard to argue now against the change that Head Coach Jim Harbaugh made, deciding to stick with Kaepernick, but Smith was completing 70% of his passes with 13TDs against 5INTs at the time of the concussion. Clearly with a 104. QB rating that Smith had, it is quite surprising that Harbaugh decided to give the keys to his car to a second year QB who was only present during the wildcat option. It is evident that Smith will be playing elsewhere in 2013, but it just goes to show how delicate life is in the NFL.
#13 Vick Dogged It In 2012
Okay, maybe I could have come up with a better slide title, but really, that's exactly what Mike Vick did in 2012. For someone with such talent to play so sloppily and commit almost double the amount of turnovers as TDs, that is purely unacceptable. There is nobody in the league that could have predicted that Vick would be so horrendous, and his Philadelphia Eagles "dream team" would only win four games.
We know that Vick is injury prone, and the offensive line was weak going into the season, but 10INTs and 11 fumbles to go with only a 58% completion rate is grounds for the bench, which is exactly what happened as Nick Foles took the reigns while Andy Reid was booking a flight out of town. If Vick was in San Fran, he probably would still be the starter, as Kaepernick also has more turnovers than TDs. Just saying.
#12 Steelers Miss Playoffs...Again?
When you are in a division with the Baltimore Ravens and an up and coming Cincinnati Bengals team, maybe it is not such a surprise to miss the playoffs here and there. The loss of Ben Roethlisberger to injury for those three weeks hurt the Pittsburgh Steelers even more than was thought, especially going up against AFC North rivals. But does anyone see the pattern that the Steelers have shown the past 12 seasons?
In 2000, they did not reach the playoffs, and they continued that same trend every three years religiously since then. That means 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012 they have missed the playoffs. That is a surprising trend that seems almost uncanny. Does a team just get tired, or is it the ebb and flow of the other teams around them? Either way, this year was supposed to be the year to break that trend, and if Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich did not have to take Big Ben's snaps, than the number one defense in the NFL would now be gearing up for a run.
#11 Texans Lose Their Mojo Down The Stretch
In one of the more surprising instances of the 2012 NFL season, how do the Houston Texans go into the final quarter of the year at 11-1, then suddenly drop three out of four and lose the number one seed? Hopefully Head Coach Gary Kubiak has figured out the answer to that and fixed whatever is ailing his suddenly mojo-less team. I understand that the schedule was not in their favor at the end, but this should be unacceptable from an offense that was consistently scoring in the thirties and forties earlier in the year, and have one of the best running backs in the league in Arian Foster.
The schedule makers could not have predicted that the Minnesota Vikings would be fighting for their playoff lives, or Chuck Pagano, would be returning from a fight with his life, but this Texans squad has got to find a way to put some groove back in their step, and soon. Otherwise, Kubiak will be looking over his shoulder before long, being that the Indianapolis Colts may be a perennial contender once again.
#10 Giants Look Uninterested
What was that? Was that complacency we saw all year long? The reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants are defending nothing more than their tee times right now while 12 other teams will be gunning for their title. When you saw the Giants in each game this season, it was evident something was missing, and I'm not just talking about their run game or secondary. They just looked uninterested. Sort of like they needed a year off to rest and regroup from another long run last year.
Most would not believe this is a surprise for the Giants not to make the playoffs, being their usual non-playoff year after a super bowl. Since the 1970 merger, the Giants have appeared in five super bowls, winning four. They have only made the playoffs once after any of those appearances. This year should have been the second. Injuries took more of a toll than usual, and the lack of a menacing run game, and underachieving year from Eli Manning turned this Giants team into the Dallas Cowboys: Good, but not quite good enough.
Never have I seen a team score 52 against an opponent, then get shut out the week after by 34 points, play an embarrassing performance the next week, then score 42 on a divisional opponent. The only word to describe the 2012 Football Giants? Schizophrenic.
#9 Finding No Lovie In The Windy City
This is the disgrace in the NFL. Lovie Smith fell victim to the Black Monday fallout of firings for coaches and GM's. After nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, an 81-63 record, and a super bowl appearance, it was evident that first year GM Phil Emery wanted to hire "his guy". After last season's slide began after a 7-3 start that saw the Bears lose QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte to injury and miss the playoffs, this season's playoff absence after a 7-1 start was the one that signaled change in the Windy City.
In an era when the coaching carousel is going a little too fast, seeing a name like Smith, Mike Tomlin and Tom Coughlin can sometimes be soothing. The most surprising aspect of this firing is not the fact that it happened, but he fact that Smith's name is not even being brought up as a strong candidate for any of the coaching vacancies throughout the league, except for what most would believe a cursory interview with the Chargers. With his Tampa 2 defensive scheme, Lovie could be an asset to any team looking to boost their defensive front, as long as he does not have to run an offense, and that is where he will run into a snag if he chose the bolts.
#8 Chiefs The Worst Team In NFL?
It is absolutely amazing when analyst after analyst seemed to be wrong on all counts when it came to the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason. All the talk was the fact that with the off-season additions that were made, the Chiefs would be the team to beat in the AFC West. Sounded good, didn't it? But that is the trouble with playing the "on paper" game in today's NFL.
The Chiefs will receive the first pick in the 2013 draft, and they didn't even have to trade up for it. Both Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn reminded everyone that they are not viable NFL QBs. Peyton Hillis was not the second option intended for Jamaal Charles. Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin were not top notch wide receivers. And although the Chiefs defense had some moments this year, they could not consistently stop the run and their secondary was susceptible to big plays. Nobody saw this coming. Worst team in the NFL in a league that has the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders? Never could have guessed it.
#7 Rookie Duo Dominates NFC East
When you play in the NFC East, emotions run high, the competition is usually fierce and not too often does one team completely dominate the division. Especially when that team is led by two rookies. What Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris have meant to the Washington Redskins is everything that owner Daniel Snyder could have dreamed of while seeing his team go 5-1 against the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles.
The 'Skins pose the NFL leading rushing offense because Morris and RGIII combined for over 2,400 yards, which is an incredible feat, and also a rookie record. Griffin also had the highest rookie QB rating in history while completing over 65% of his passes and throwing 20TDs against only 5INTs. Clearly, everyone thought the Redskins would be a work in progress this year after finishing with only five wins in 2011 and Head Coach Mike Shanahan looking for answers. Well, it seems he has found his answer a little sooner than imagined as his 'Skins prepare to face the Seattle Seahawks on Wild Card weekend: A game that features another rookie QB that has done some magic on his own.
#6 What Were The Vikings Thinking?
Before I get to that "other" QB that the Redskins will be facing this weekend, I need to bring up one valid point. What the heck were the Minnesota Vikings thinking while sitting in the war room during the 2012 NFL Draft? They actually decided to stick with Christian Ponder as their leader, than draft any of the available options in their slot. It's simply amazing that they believed that much in Ponder's ability after a 3-13 season, while names like RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Brandon Weeden, and even the likes of Nick Foles were there to be had.
Head Coach Leslie Frazier must have seen something special, because Ponder, as well as Adrian Peterson were the reasons for the Vikings revival to the playoffs. Ponder's stats are mediocre at best when you consider his 62% completion rate, just under 3,000 yards passing, and one more turnover than touchdowns. But where he thrives, is the ability to look opponents in the eye and never blink.
In the Vikings last four games of 2012, Ponder committed one turnover, an interception against the Bears. The results in those four games? Four straight wins against the Bears, Rams, Texans and Packers to make the playoffs. So can the Vikings win consistently with Ponder, as opposed to another rookie that was just taken in last year's draft? Time will tell, but so far, the Vikings look like the gamble payed off.
#5 Seahawks Take The 12th Man To Another Level
No longer sleepless in Seattle, as the Seahawks have awoken once again, and are leaving many teams shaking their heads as to how Pete Carroll transformed this team into an instant contender. This is where the "other" rookie QB comes into play. Russell Wilson has only in the past few weeks begun to get the recognition of his counterparts in Washington or Indianapolis. But is he the best of the three? Probably not, but he will make a darn good case for it as his Seahawks are actually favored in Washington this week.
What makes the Seahawks so tough has been their ability to shut down their home field, winning all eight there in 2012. But they go into the playoffs having won five in a row behind the league's number three rushing attack with Marshawn Lynch and Wilson. The invaluable leader of the 'Hawks has also been setting records, becoming the only rookie since the 1970 merger to throw three game winning TDs in the final two minutes or overtime. Wilson has taken his team to a new level that nobody could have imagined from a third round pick from Wisconsin.
#4 Orange Crush Re-Born In The Mile High City
No matter what anyone will say at this juncture, we all knew that on some level, Peyton Manning was going to make the Denver Broncos offense markedly better than when Tim Tebow was behind center. The one thing nobody could have figured out, though, is how good this Broncos defense under Jack Del Rio could become. With injuries, benchings and suspensions, Del Rio has molded this squad into the number three defense in the NFL. That is with Chris Harris playing opposite Champ Bailey at corner. That is with Keith Brooking taking over at the mike linebacker, and Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard becoming integral parts to the rotation at the will linebacker.
This has been a year when Tracy Porter missed significant time with seizure symptoms, rookie Derek Wolfe started every game at defensive end, D.J. Williams was suspended nine games, and all throughout the season, the next man stood up, and in some instances was better than the man who fell. Von Miller proved once again why he is the mot dominant LB in the NFL, most likely earning the Defensive Player of the Year award, and Elvis Dumervil recorded 11 sacks for a unit that had the most sacks in the NFL. This unit was good last year, and probably the main reason the Broncos made the playoffs, but in 2012, Del Rio schemed his way into Broncos lore with the re-birth of the Orange Crush!
#3 Colts Make Playoffs With A Little
When the Indianapolis Colts decided to let Peyton Manning go, and choose Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, there surely were mixed emotions throughout the league. But going from worst to almost first in their division and entering the playoffs after winning two games in 2011, was something that was as surprising as anything that has happened in 2012. Yes, we thought Luck was going to be good. But we also thought there would be growing pains for a Colts team that has 11 rookies on their roster, including key positions such as QB, RB, TE and WR. Forget the fact that Luck set the rookie record for passing yards in a season. Luck proved that a rookie QB can carry a team on their back.
But having a little luck on your side helps tremendously when you get good interim coaching, inspired play from a hungry team and an uplifting boost from a head coach that just battled and survived cancer. This Colts team is special, and if anyone does not think it has to do with Luck, then they need to re-evaluate themselves. It is incredible when an organization can draft a QB that wins four league MVP's and takes them to two super bowl's, winning one, and they can simply walk away. Now we all understand that this is 1998 all over again, and if this year is any indication, it will be another 14 years of Colts dominance in the AFC South.
#2 Best Rookie Class...EVER!
There have been great rookie classes before. We have debated them over and over without coming to terms with who is the best. Let the debate stop with 2012. Never has there been such a collective set of rookies that have made as much of an impact this quick on both sides of the ball. You know the names. Luck, RGIII, Wilson, Morris, Doug Martin, Ryan Tannehill, etc. These are the names that stick out. These are the household names that most will argue when this debate comes to fruition. But what about the others? What about DE Derek Wolfe of the Broncos who started every game and recorded 6 sacks. What about T.Y. Hilton of the Colts who had nearly 900 yards and 7TDs. RB Trent Richardson of the Browns? QB Brandon Weeden? QB Nick Foles of the Eagles? QB Kirk Cousins, who played admirably in RGIII's absence? CB Janoris Jenkins of the Rams? OT Cordy Glen of the Bills?
I mean, I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea. Yes, the QB draft of 1983 was the best ever, but time will tell if this class will surpass Elway, Marino and Kelly. But if you look at every position on both sides of the ball, you might find that nobody saw this draft class coming. Show me a better all around class and then I will argue full stats and value, but I would need at least 20 more slides to put all of that out there.
#1 Most Dominant Rushing Season...EVER!
Nine yards. Against a team that is famous for laying down to allow a record to be broken. One year removed from tearing his ACL, an injury that usually takes at least a year to come back from. Adrian Peterson not only came back in seven months, but he put together the most dominant rushing season ever. Sure Eric Dickerson had nine more yards than AP. Of course Dickerson holds the NFL record. But in this game of inches, there was never a man who pushed himself to the limit in order to return to the game he loves and be so dominant after such a detrimental injury.
Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12TDs on the ground. He amassed over 800 yards in the month of December alone, an NFL record. Nobody, not Dickerson, Jamaal Charles, O.J. or Terrell Davis looked so focused, and carried their team to the playoffs like AP. For Peterson to accomplish what he did this 2012 NFL season, it is nothing short of miraculous. Clearly he will go down as one of the best to ever play his position, but this has got to be the single most surprising thing that has happened in 2012. Any arguments? I didn't think so.