R.I.P. 2011-2012 NFL Season

Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, another NFL season leaves with it. No more football until the beginning of August. It’s a sad day for NFL fans everywhere. Personally, I look forward to March Madness and the 2012 Summer Olympics to occupy my time until the preseason rolls around. But there’s no reason that we can’t take a look back at what was an extraordinary NFL season. Here are the top story lines of the 2011-2012 NFL season:

 

Tebowmania

Leaving out Tim Tebow when looking back at the 2011 regular season would be like leaving out turkey on Thanksgiving. For me, the infinitely polarizing figure of Tim Tebow was the biggest story of 2011. We all know his story of his rookie year; he played in four games, two wins, two losses, varying numbers, etc. But this year, the wishes of Broncos fans would be granted, as Tebow took over the 1-4 Broncos in week 7 as the new starting QB. He faced Miami as his first test and for three and a half quarters, he failed that test. But then, down 15 with less than three minutes remaining in the game, he started what would turn out to be a huge story line in 2011. Inconceivably, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for one two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. One 52-yard field goal later, and Tebow was a hero. The Tebow experiment lived on for at least one more game.

Next he faced the Lions, a team a bit more challenging than Miami. To sum up, it didn’t go well at all. Tebow managed to put up 10 points against the rabid Lions defense in a 45-10 loss. By the end of this one, Tebow critics everywhere declared the experiment laughable and a failure. But John Fox kept Tebow in, putting his reputation and job on the line. How would Tebow fare?

He won his next six games.

Not only did he win the next six, but he did it in incredible fashion. Tebow assembled four fourth-quarter comebacks, two of those wins coming in overtime. Tebow was 7-1 in 2011 and playoff hopes were alive when just eight weeks before, playoff talk for Denver was blasphemous. But of course, Tebow couldn’t just quiet his critics once and for all. No, he had to lose his next three games. As the regular season came to a close, the jury was very much still out on Tebow. Even so, Tebow had sent his team to the playoffs with a (not so) stellar record of 8-8.

If the Broncos wanted to even dream of getting to the AFC Championship, they had to get past the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers first. The Steelers had arguably one of the best defenses in the league and were one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. Preliminary predictions had the Steelers embarrassing Tebow. But as we saw last year with the 7-9 Seahawks, just about anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. Anything.

Without getting into too much detail, Tebow shockingly jumped out to a 20-6 lead at the half. But as expected, the Steelers roared back to tie the game up at 23-23 with 3:48 remaining. However, the story of this game wouldn’t be the lead or the comeback, it would be what happened in overtime. It was the first NFL playoff game to go to overtime under the new OT rules. How would the new rules affect strategy? Will it change anything? NFL fans didn’t have a lot of time to ponder these questions as it would turn out. But why tell you what happened when I can show you? Here is what happened on the first play from scrimmage in overtime:

This play will be remembered as one of the most famous plays in NFL playoff history, right next to Marshawn Lynch’s run.

Tebow’s magical ride ended when he suffered a bad 45-10 loss to the Pats. But the debate on Tebow rages on. He saved the Broncos season as well as John Fox’s job (who was thrown into Coach of the Year discussions). He finished 7-4 with a resume chock-full of comebacks. But his average stats and bad losses will still be brought up in debate. And deservedly so. Both sides have an argument and that’s what makes this such a big story. The jury is still out. Just about everything one person can say about a guy has been said, from Jesus-references and atheist insults to Jimmy Fallon singing “Tebowie”.

Like him or hate him, Tim Tebow took the football world by storm. Don’t believe me? Check this out.

 

New York Giants win Super Bowl XLVI

The Super Bowl is why every player pours his heart out in the regular season. It’s the biggest sporting event of the year. The Giants won it in 2012. And they did it in the same fashion as in 2007. At 7-7, they were just coming off a mediocre loss to the Redskins. It just wasn’t their season. Then suddenly, it was.

Huh?

That’s the same reaction a whole lot NFL fans had when the Giants squeaked into the playoffs. I won’t go into the details of their entire season (that’ll be for another time). However inconsistent the Giants were in the regular season they made up with pure consistency in the playoffs. Their defense was lethal in the first two rounds. They shut out the Falcons offense and held Aaron Rodgers to a mere 20 points. Then came the grinding.

Their next two games were not easy by an stretch. They were beat up against the 49ers but managed to get away with a win after a couple key turnovers.

Then there was the Super Bowl. Tom Brady lit up the field with 16 straight completions at one point and had the lead late in the fourth. But, as he had done so many times before, Eli Manning served up another 4th quarter comeback. After an unbelievable catch, undesired touchdown, and failed hail mary, the Giants were World Champions. It was another magical season for the Giants.

 

Incredible QB Play

It’s so hard to summarize how well the quarterbacks of 2011 played, but I’ll do my best. Ever hear of analysts on TV describing the league becoming a “passing league?” Well, that’s because of the countless QBs lighting up the field. Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Manning, Stafford, Newton, Romo, Smith, Roethlisberger, Dalton, Schaub, Ryan, Cutler, etc.

Rodgers broke the NFL record of best passer rating in a single season (122.5). Brees set the record for most passing yards in a season (5,476). Newton set the record for most passing yards in a season by a rookie (4,051). I bet there were many more records broken, but those are the ones that stand out for me. Unbelievable scores were displayed on scoreboards around the league and point totals at the end of the season were staggering. The emergence of top-notch QB play this year is the start of something big in the future. A new era of QB-driven football.

 

Outstanding Rookie Play

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding play of this year’s rookie class. Some may have been expected, but others…not so much. It starts with Cam Newton. With many critics yelling “Bust,” Newton quickly responded with two 400+ passing yard games. He continued his hot success and ended the season among the NFL’s best in passing yards (4,051). He may not have won a whole lot of games, but he definitely gave hope to Panthers fans for seasons to come.

Another rookie QB worth mentioning is Andy Dalton. Just think about what this guy faced as he entered 2011; he took over the 4-12 Bengals, had the shadow of the Carson Palmer issue over him, lost one of his best wide receivers, and his division consisted of the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns. Good luck, kid. ESPN had the Bengals dead last in their preseason Power Rankings. It was a shock to just about everybody when he sent this team to the playoffs. It looks as if he has a bright future as well.

Now we turn to defense. Von Miller, JJ Watt, and Aldon Smith were all absolute nightmares for opposing QBs. Smith and Miller finished in the top 10 in sacks and Watt was a huge force all season. These guys were huge pickups for their respective teams and something tells me they’ll be there for a while.

Oh, and then there’s Patrick Peterson. I don’t really feel like elaborating on him, so he’ll just show you himself.

 

Four Peterson punt returns led the NFL this season.

 

Unprecedented TE play

We talked so much about QBs this year, that tight ends were nearly forgotten.

Just kidding, they weren’t. In fact, they were the next-most talked about position in the NFL. There were great tight ends all around the league, but the two that stick out to me are Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, two former basketball players.

Gronk and Graham both landed in the top 10 for receiving yards this year. And they both finished in the top 5 for TDs. In fact, Gronk finished #1 in that department. Oh, and don’t forget top 5 in receptions as well. These guys are doing wide-receivers’ jobs. And better!

It doesn’t end at Gronk and Graham. Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis also had good years. Over the next few years, I think we will start to see the tight end position evolve into a primarily scoring position rather than a blocking one.

 

2011 NFL Lockout

Remember the lockout? It was that thing that threatened the upcoming season for the entire summer. Starting to come back to you?

It feels so long ago, but from March to July of 2011, players and owners sparred for a good deal in the new collective bargaining agreement. I’m lost on the rest of the details. All I knew then was that it threatened to cancel the 2011 NFL season. Luckily, everyone got everything all sorted out and the NFL season started on time. There’s not much more to say about it, but it was definitely worth mentioning.Thank god they figured it out.

Want to revisit this season’s best plays? Click here!

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Top 10: Plays of 2012 Playoffs

Now that the NFL playoffs are completely over, we can take a look at some of the very best plays of all the games. There were only good teams in the playoffs with good players, so there was no shortage of great plays to choose from. Here are the top 10 plays of the NFL playoffs, along with some honorable mentions (apologies for some videos with bad quality, I tried to find the best videos of the plays possible):

Honorable Mentions: 

13. Tom Brady vs. Ravens

 

12. Lawrence Tynes vs. 49ers

 

11. Chase Blackburn vs. Patriots

 

Top 10:

10. JJ Watt vs. Bengals

A huge turning point in this game, JJ Watt’s super-quick-reflex interception return set the tone for the rest of the game. The Bengals didn’t score again, probably because Andy Dalton was so dumbfounded after such a crazy pick.

9. Hakeem Nicks vs. Falcons

Just one game after Victor Cruz had two breakaway TD interceptions (vs. Jets, Cowboys) Hakeem Nicks shows off one of his own. Everyone raves about his hands, but Nicks shows how fast he can run as well, leaving four Atlanta defenders in his rear-view mirror.

8. Lee Evans vs. Texans

I didn’t actually see this play live like the others, but boy do I wish I had. Lee Evans didn’t have a great season, to say the least, but this catch showed that he still has some greatness left in him. Unbelievable concentration. Too bad he would make up for it later…

7. Alex Smith vs. Saints

The game is on the line and you need a score quick against a bad pass defense, so you call a…. QB bootleg? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Smith score. It just goes to show that with good blocking, anything is possible.

6. Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers

Jimmy Graham’s dominance this season was astonishing. Once a forward in basketball, Graham found his calling as a tight end and proved it with a clutch catch and run. He made it look easy.

5. Rob Gronkowski vs. Broncos

I wasn’t so sure this was a catch at first glance and I still am not so sure. But it was called a TD by the refs and what the refs say goes. Not only can Gronk catch footballs up top, but he can lay out and tip them to himself! Impressive.

4. Vernon Davis vs. Saints

Nicknamed “The Catch III,” this play was a thing of beauty. A perfect throw and catch at the goal line to knock off the mighty Saints will go down as one of the most clutch plays in playoff history.

3. Hakeem Nicks vs. Packers

The Giants showed they could keep up with the Packers back in the regular season and then they embarrassed them in the playoffs. And I can’t help but think it had something to do with a this stunning hail mary grab to end the half. The odds of this play ending in a TD were crazy-low. Instead of 13-10 at halftime, it was 20-10. It’s hard to stop a team going into the half with that kind of momentum.

2. Tim Tebow vs. Steelers

“He can’t do this, he can’t do that.” The future may still be a bit hazy for Tim Tebow, but the expectations he shattered this season cannot be ignored. Not only did he send a 1-4 team to the playoffs, but he knocked off an AFC Championship-favorite Pittsburgh Steelers when all odds were against him. And the play he did it on will be forever etched in NFL playoff lore.

1. Mario Manningham vs. Patriots

I thought the Tim Tebow play was a shoo-in for #1, but then I watched a little game we call the Super Bowl. This play combines all the great elements of the plays before it; the concentration of Gronkowski and Evans, the great hands of Nicks, the game-changing value of JJ Watt, and the “clutchness” of Davis and Tebow. It was in the big game! It was synonymous to David Tyree’s miracle catch in 2007, and any catch compared to Tyree’s has to be great. Correction: amazing. No second thoughts about this one.

Top 10: Super Bowl XLVI Commercials

For the most part, I enjoyed the commercials during the Super Bowl. And I feel like I’m the only one who thought that. I don’t know if my expectations for the ads were lower than everybody else’s, but I liked a lot of the commercials. I would give them a solid B+. Here are my 10 favorites along with some honorable mentions:

Honorable Mentions:

14. The Voice “Vocal Kombat”

13. Kia “Dream Car”

12. Honda “Matthew’s Day Off”

11. Old Milwakee “Will Ferrell” (only aired in North Pattle, Nebraska)

Top 10

10. Chevy “2012”

I liked this because it was a pretty direct attack ad on another company. You don’t see that much and this could start a series of attack ads between Ford and Chevy. I also liked how it involved 2012. Topical.

9. Acura “Transactions w/ Jerry Seinfeld”

Commercials with stars in it aren’t always guaranteed to be good ads, but I thought they did well integrating both Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno into the ad. They threw the Soup Nazi in there and had Leno competing for the car as the rabid car collector he is.

8. Bridestone “Performance Football”

Watching the tire-like football fly the way it did was hysterical. It kind of makes you want to buy the football.

7. Oikos “The Tease w/ John Stamos”

No talking in this one and it was still really funny. That’s the mark of a good ad. John Stamos was great also.

6. M & M’s “Just My Shell”

This is a lot of people’s favorite and understandably so. A goofy M & M “stripping” off his shell and dancing to Party Rock Anthem? C’mon….

5. Audi “Vampire Party”

This was one of the earliest ads I remember and it started the night off well. Vampires seem to be popular among a population of teens out there and using the product to disintegrate them pleased the vampire-haters as well.

4. Skechers “Go Run Mr. Quiggly”

Dogs, in case you didn’t notice Sunday night, was a huge theme for Super Bowl commercials this year and it makes sense. Dogs are a very popular pet and can be very funny, especially when they walk backwards and smile at the finish line.

3. Volkswagen “The Dog Strikes Back”

Here’s another dog, this time working out to get fit. But the story for me was the fact that VW compared this year’s ad to their Darth Vader one last year, another one of my favorites. Brilliant.

2. Chevy “Happy Grad”

This is the epitome of teenagers and their cars. They go crazy for them and the irrationality of their reactions was priceless. I also love the parents’ reaction.

1. Doritos “Man’s Best Friend”

This ad aired early in the night just like the vampire one and it stuck with me for the whole night. The incentive of Doritos to cover up the death of a cat was a bit dark, yet it still made me laugh aloud. And it made me want to have Doritos. Simple and funny. Great ad.

Super Bowl XLVI Post-Game Analysis: Giants vs. Patriots

New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17

How the Giants won: The Giants of New York got out to a great start in the Super Bowl. Justin Tuck, of all people, scored the first points of the game for the Giants. He pressured Brady in his own endzone on the Patriot’s first offensive play of the game and forced Brady to chuck the ball up to nobody, resulting in a intentional grounding penalty. A penalty in the endzone is a safety. The Giants’ defense couldn’t have dreamed of a better start. In addition to that, Eli Manning completed his first nine passes of the game en route to a Victor Cruz touchdown.

But the quick start was soon matched by a brilliant second quarter from Tom Brady. He threw a quick touchdown before the half to put his team up by one. He continued his hot streak in the beginning of the third quarter driving down the field easily and throwing another touchdown. By the end of this run, he had completed 16 straight passes. Brady was on fire. The Giants defense didn’t have an answer. The Pats D was stopping Manning’s productive drives short. Down eight, it didn’t look good for the Giants.

But then, the Giants said no.

Just like they had so many times in the past month and a half, they came alive when their backs were up against the wall. And they did it very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that the game-winning touchdown run was scored to soon, if you ask the Giants. But back too the third quarter.

While the Giants somehow contained Brady, the Giants kicked a couple of field goals to make it a two-point game. In the fourth, an early interception by Chase Blackburn was huge in stopping a Pats drive before it started. However, the Giants couldn’t capitalize. In fact, there was no scoring of any kind in the fourth quarter until the final minute. Late in the game, the Patriots had a chance to deliver the knock out punch to the surging Giants and for a moment, it looked like they had. Then this happened:

 

Wes Welker had inexplicably dropped the pass that, in my opinion, would have ultimately led to a Patriots’ Super Bowl win. New England would have been in field goal range with a lead under four minutes left. He just didn’t make the play. This led to a punt, giving Eli Manning a little more than three minutes to score. Then Eli Manning did what he does best. He drove his team down the field for a fourth-quarter touchdown. And one of the catches on the drive was as memorable as any in Super Bowl history:

 

A few passes later, the Giants were inside their own 10 staring at the endzone. With about a minute left, Manning handed the ball off to Bradshaw who burst threw the whole and……….accidentally scored? Yes, it’s as weird as football gets. In hopes of getting the ball back as soon as possible, the Patriots let Bradshaw run free down the middle. Realizing at about the one-yard line that he wanted to take a knee, his momentum carried into the endzone for the (eventual) winning TD.

 

Who knew the Super Bowl’s game winning touchdown would be reluctant?

The Patriots got the ball back and moved the ball down the field about 30 yards. A last-second hail mary and…….the Giants are world champions. The ball hit the ground and the game was finally over. There were so many turning points in the game but if you ask me what won the game, it was the Giants’ receivers making plays where the Patriots’ receivers didn’t. The defense did a great job pressuring Brady late and forcing some errant throws. The game could have gone either way, but the Giants buckled down when it mattered and now they are World Champions.

What surprised me: Missed opportunities by the Pats. There were more than a few instances that the Patriots could have seized the game. One was a fumble by Cruz inside the Pats’ 15 that was overturned because there were too many defenders on the field. A sloppy mistake by the coaching staff. A couple more came when Nicks and Bradshaw fumbled to only have the Giants recover. One of those fumbles was actually in Giants territory, which would have been devastating for the Giants if the Pats have recovered. And then there was Welker’s drop. It was shocking to see so many miscues in such a big game.

Looking ahead: To the dismay of NFL fans everywhere, the 2011 NFL season comes to a close. And what a season it was. A great season full of great plays, surprises, shining rookies, record-breaking veterans, comebacks, blowouts, close playoff races, and an amazing postseason was beautifully punctuated with a thrilling Super Bowl. The New York Giants are the champions of the NFL and the Patriots fall to New York in the big game for the second time in four years.

Poll: Who will win Super Bowl XLVI?

Click here for my pick…

And here for analysis on the game.

Super Bowl XLVI Pre-Game Analysis: Giants vs. Patriots

New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, Sunday 6:29 PM ET, NBC

What we know: The Patriots are favored by 2.5, but throw all lines out the window. Throw away Lee Evan’s dropped pass. Throw away Billy Cundiff’s missed kick. Throw away Kyle Williams’ muffed punts. Both of these teams are here for good reason. It may seem like all previous accomplishments should be thrown out the window in such an unpredictable game, but don’t get too forgetful just yet. While some things should be forgotten, others need serious consideration.

The Patriots, although favored, may be starting to feel like underdogs right about now. Overall, predictions from analysts as well as the public seem to be leaning toward the Giants a bit more. Perhaps part of the reason for that is the fact that the Giants are actual underdogs. But the Patriots may be scratching their heads at the lack of support. They have won 10 in a row, they own the best record and #1 seed of the AFC, their QB is Tom Brady, their coach is Bill Belichick, and their tight end led the league in TD receptions. This offense has been as good, if not better, than Green Bay’s at times. They know how to move the ball. But with every strength comes a weakness and the Patriots do have some key chinks in their armor. Their running game and defense, although improving as of late, has been weak this season. They have no deep threat. They have a bad habit of giving up early leads but have been able to recover from them for the most part. While the Patriots come into this game with an offense as good as any in the league, their weaknesses are evident.

The Giants have been on tear since they won an elimination game against the Jets. Eli Manning is playing the best games of his career in this postseason, the pass rush is the best it’s been all season, the special teams unit is solid, and the running game is starting to come together. This team is getting all the pieces to work at the right time. But just like the Patriots, the Giants can be stopped. The 49ers did a great job of pressuring Eli and covering down field to significantly slow down a powerful offense. The Giants’ coverage this season has been sub-par a lot of the time and if the pressure on QBs isn’t there, wide receivers can get open. Even a team as hot as this can get cooled down.

How the Patriots can win: There are multiple ways for both teams to win this game, so I’ll just pick one aspect of each team that will be the key to their win. And without this aspect being successful, the team won’t win. For the Patriots, it’s simple. Tom Brady, as always, needs time to throw. He has plenty of weapons, yes, but he’ll have a difficult time getting the ball to these guys if he has to look over his shoulder during every drop-back. If the O-line for the Patriots can contain the Giants’ rush, Tom Brady will spread the ball around and make it a tough game for the Giants to win.

How the Giants can win: The one key for the Giants is their D-line. Yes, this game will be won in the trenches. If the Giants get as much, or even three quarters, of the pressure on Brady as they did in week 9, the Patriots will not win. It’s as simple as that. If they held anything back in the regular season, they need to bring it all back in this one game. No level of pressure is too much. The Giants need to be relentless and if that means sending a couple extra guys here and there, then so be it. If Brady finds his pockets collapsing again, the Patriots will end up Super Bowl losers for the second time in four years.

Prediction: Click here to see who I think will win Super Bowl XLVI

I want to know what YOU think, so vote here!

Why the Giants will win Super Bowl XLVI

Everybody seems to be forgetting a couple of games that stand out for me in my pick. The first one is the week 9 matchup between the Pats and Giants, in which the Giants won a close game. Both teams have improved and I realize that. But what everyone seems to forget is that both Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks were out due to injury in that game. I can’t imagine how different that game is if those two are healthy and playing. Those are two key players

Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks had their way with the Packers' secondary.

that were out and I truly doubt that Jake Ballard is second in receiving yards for that game if Nicks is in. I also doubt that Jacobs would have gotten so many carries if Bradshaw were available. The fact that these two players will be a new matchup for the Patriots is scary. The Pats know what to expect from Cruz and Eli and Ballard, but now they have to prepare for two players they haven’t seen since the preseason? That’s a tall order to fulfill.

The second game is the Giants win over the Packers. Is it just me, or do the Packers resemble the Patriots? Elite QB, plenty of weapons, lack of a running game, faulty defense, great coach, plenty of wins, #1 seed, the list goes on. In case you didn’t remember, the Giants embarrassed the Packers in one of the hardest stadiums to play in on the road. To me, the Giants are playing the Packers again, just with a different name and different uniforms. Ok, they may not be exactly alike. But if the Giants play close to the level they did against the Packers, they will win this game.

New York has been playing at a consistent level all postseason and that level is HIGH. They are playing at a level I haven’t seen them play at since 2007. And we all remember what happened then.

The Giants' defense exposed the 49ers offense as dysfunctional.

People can bring up the 49ers game when Eli and the offense were all but shut down, but if you ask me, that game only helped them. The 49ers defense is leagues better than the Patriots’ D and Eli will pick apart the Patriots secondary all day. He’s got so many weapons. If Nicks is covered, Cruz gets open. If Cruz is covered, Nicks is open. If both are covered, there is Manningham. It has been this way all postseason. Eli and Cruz have been 3rd down geniuses in the playoffs. The ability to convert on 3rd down after 3rd down is unbelievably demoralizing to a defense.
Finally, looking at the Giants as a whole, they have exposed the weaknesses of every playoff team thus far, and that has been integral in each of their three wins. They have exposed Atlanta’s offense as truly average, they made Green Bay pay for its miserable secondary, and when it came down to it, the 49ers could not move the ball with their average QB. Eli Manning will expose the Patriots like they did to the Packers. It’ll be awfully tough for the 31st ranked defense to win the Super Bowl.

If you put all those elements together, the weapons, the 3rd downs, the two games, the weaknesses, and all the other things I haven’t even mentioned, they point to a Giants win. Although it may be hard to believe after all this, I can see either team winning. It’ll just come down to what happens in one game. And in a game like this, I like to stick to consistencies and completeness. In their three playoff games, I have seen the Giants repeat certain aspects of their game that won’t go away. They also have the more complete team. I think the Pats have too many holes on defense. In a shootout, I like the Giants to make more stops when it counts. In a close game, I like the Giants with Eli’s performance in the 4th quarter.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I like the Giants to win this one.

Giants 27, Patriots 20