Collective Bargaining Agreement and Collateral Damage. After months of deliberation and stall tactics on the collective bargaining agreement on both sides, finally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the team owners and the players settled on a collective bargaining agreement. It gave some of the owners more of a salary cap, and the players more leniency when it came to practicing and injuries. The collateral damage was that there was less time to practice before the regular season, and team “leaders” leading their own practices were insufficient and laughable. Other collateral damages included more injuries to key players this season and porous and unprepared defenses.
Jim Harbaugh + Alex Smith = San Francisco 49ers Gold. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith finally gets a proper coach who is more than willing to prepare him after going through several previous coaches. Alex Smith is not an elite quarterback, but he’s far better now. From 2010, he improved from a 82.1 quarterback rating to a 90.1 quarterback rating in 2011. Under former Stanford Cardinals head coach Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith reduced his number of interceptions by half to five this season.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Their Dream Team. A whole lot of talent that went nowhere fast. This Philadelphia Eagles team was supposed to easily get into the playoffs and a strong contender for the Super Bowl this season. The Eagles are still one of the top three offenses with over 6,000 total yards, but their potency couldn’t overcome their turnover deficiency and porous wide 9 defense with vulnerability against the run.
A Season Without Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning. The Indianapolis Colts team sorely missed their great quarterback Peyton Manning this season as their team has been in last place in their division. Without Peyton Manning and the Colts standing in the way, the Houston Texans have finally gotten first place and clinched the AFC South. The media and the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Saints quarterback Drew Brees or even Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not have a yardstick to compare themselves this season.
The Best of the Best: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees. Even with this strange season, some things always remain consistent — the best remained the best. The Patriots Tom Brady, Packers Aaron Roders and Saints Drew Brees are among the top three in quarterback rating to date. As of this week, Aaron Rodgers remains the top dog with a 122.5 quarterback rating followed by Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Dominates Again. After the fallout last year with Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Steelers defense rose to the occasion this season. They are first in total defense.
Quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. I mentioned the Carolina Panthers as a team to watch out for defensively, but their defense is still going through some growing pains. The acquisition of Cam Newton over the pre-season has changed the team for the better offensively. Cam Newton has a solid 85.0 quarterback rating for a rookie quarterback. Like Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Newton has mobility but needs improvement on his passing skills.
Cleveland Browns Running Back Peyton Hillis and the Madden Curse. The Madden Curse has been persistent this season as Peyton Hillis continues to battle injuries. Marshall Faulk had to contend with the same thing until the Curse finally took its toll.
Coaches on the Hot Seat…Again. San Diego head coach Norv Turner and Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sporano are now former head coaches. With the looks of it, St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnulo is gone as well, and one of his potential new positions next season might be the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles with Juan Castillo given another job (hopefully on the offensive side).
Wildcats No More. After last season or two, the wildcat formation has all but disappeared this season. True, there are running options with the quarterback on some teams, but it is no longer an established wildcat formation per se.
Bonus: Illegitimacy of College Bowls. The chant has long and been hard about the illegitimacy of the college bowls, but this season perhaps made the issue very apparent — not only to the teams playing but to the media and the general public as well. With Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers facing each other again, the entire BCS system is put into question, and questions will remain long after the BCS Championship has been decided.