Maybe it was the lockout.
Maybe it is the rule changes.
Maybe it is an over-abundance of youth and inexperience at key positions around the league.
Maybe it is just the dawn of a new era and this is what we are to expect going forward.
Or, maybe it was just one of “those years.”
But, for whatever reason (or combination of reasons) the 2011 NFL season was easily the strangest NFL season I can remember. Think all seasons present “oddities?” Think I’m just finding a reason why the most talented Eagles team of my lifetime didn’t win the worst NFC East of my lifetime? Think I’m just heaping on my usual overdose of hyperbole? You might be right, but let me offer a few quick reasons why this season was simply nuts.
The Bengals, Lions, and Texans All Made the Playoffs
Anyone who has followed the NFL even a little bit knows that the Lions and Bengals are the annual league doormats. The last playoff win for the Bengals came over some team named the Houston Oilers 22 years ago. That means that the Lions fans can’t complain about their team’s 21 years since their last postseason win (which was followed up by getting drubbed 41-10 in the 1991 NFC Championship Game). Then again, at least the Bengals have been there in the past couple of years. The Lions haven’t even made the playoffs since the 20th Century. Oh, and then there is the Texans, who, before this year, not only hadn’t ever made the playoffs, but they hadn’t even ever had a winning record…ever! Now, they are all in the postseason here in 2012, and one of them is going to win a game, considering the Texans host Cincinnati on Saturday.
Tim Tebow, Andy Dalton, and T.J. Yates Will All Start Playoff Games This Weekend
NFL franchises’ fates depend more on the performance of their quarterback than any other sporting franchise depends on any one person. It is, without argument, the most important position in the world of sports. And, this year – the Year of the Quarterback – the importance of a team’s signal-caller is at an all-time high. And, yet, a guy who can’t throw (Tebow), an unheralded rookie who has hit the wall (Dalton), and a third-string, fifth-round draft pick from UNC (Yates) will all be that “most important guy” for playoff teams this weekend. And, two of the four quarterbacks that earned their teams first-round byes are named Alex Smith and Joe Flacco – not exactly Elway and Montana…
There Were Two Teams That Gave Up More Passing Yards Than Any Other Team in History – The Two #1 Seeds
That’s right. The 2011 New England Patriots (the AFC’s top seed) allowed more passing yards than any other team in the history of the sport. And, second-place on that list? The 2011 Green Bay Packers (the NFC’s top seed). Now, I know that when you’re ahead (or even have the threat of a quick-strike offense), teams tend to pass much more often than they throw, but, still, the two WORST pass defenses of ALL-TIME are our two #1 seeds? You can’t make this stuff up…
TWO Quarterbacks Broke the 27-Year-Old Single Season Passing Record…And NEITHER ONE Is Expected to Win the MVP
Dan Marino’s passing record (set in 1984) has been one of the most targeted records in the NFL, yet has stood tall for nearly three decades. Until now, when Drew Brees AND Tom Brady both broke this prestigious record. And, yet, another quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) is the odds-on favorite to take home the Most Valuable Player Award. Crazy.
The League’s Rushing Leader Was on the Worst Passing Team in the League
Maurice Jones-Drew ran away with the rushing title this year, despite playing in on a really bad team with the league’s worst passing attack. That means that teams routinely put 8, or even 9 guys in the box on every play against the Jags because MJD was the only guy who could do anything in that offense.
The League’s Sack Leader Was on a 3-13 Team
When a team in the NFL is leading a game, they usually run the ball to work the clock and hold the lead. And, when they do throw, they are usually quick, conservative passes designed mostly to avoid negative yardage and turnovers. So, the fact that Jared Allen, whose team only won 3 games all year, would lead the league in sacks (and basically tie the “legit” all-time record) is absolutely incredible.
Four of the Top Eight in Receptions Were NOT Wide Receivers, Including the League’s Leader in Receiving TDs
Rob Gronkowski broke out this year with 17 touchdowns to lead the league from a position that, not too long ago, was basically a 6th offensive lineman. Now, in an era of big-play wide receivers and strong-armed quarterbacks, the Pats tight end had nearly 100 receptions to go with his 17 TDs. But, it doesn’t stop there, as Jimmy Graham (99 catches), the Saints tight end, was tied for 4th in the league with 11 touchdowns. Along with Gronk and Graham, Brandon Pettigrew (Lions TE), Darren Sproles (Saints RB), and Tony Gonzalez (Falcons TE) were account for five of the 12 players this year that caught at least 80 balls.
The Chargers and Eagles Did NOT Win Their God-Awful Divisions
Okay, maybe I’m just being a homer on this one, let us really think about this. The Chargers have been one of the best teams in the league and have, objectively, one of the most talented rosters, top to bottom, in the league, yet somehow they couldn’t win a division that was won by the 8-8 Broncos. The Eagles, who were 10-6 and division champs last year, added SIX Pro Bowlers in the offseason. Plus, the division was really, really bad – as shown by the mediocre (and that is kind) Giants winning the division at 9-7. Oh, and neither team can blame injuries, as they were relatively healthy.