It's been a wild year in the NFL filled with compelling stories. From records broken, to arrests, teams given up for dead only to comeback, disappointments, surprises, inspiring stories, sad stories, retirements, suspensions, and of course the parity... this year gave NFL writers plenty of stories to fill their columns/blogs with.
The top 10 stories in the NFL this year are after the jump.
10) Bye Bye Tiki. Tiki Barber's retirement announcement which was "leaked" all too easily in midseason. It's not very often that such a prominent player at the top of his game hangs it up. Since when did guys want to leave the field early to get into that broadcast booth?
9) Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Steelers suddenly stink. After winning the superbowl on one of the great runs in NFL history, the Steelers opened up the year losing 6 of their first 8 and looked bad doing it. Whether it was Big Ben's offseason motorcycle accident, free agent defections/retirements, or just plain superbowl hangover something sunk the champs this year. The Carolina Panthers imploded. Everyone had this team as THE team to beat in the NFC. The Redskins followed up a playoff appearance last year with a last place finish in their division this year. The Giants are losers of 6 of their 7 going into the final week of the year. They won the NFC East last year and will finish 3rd this year, possibly out of the playoffs.
8) The Bengals make last year's Vikings look like Boy Scouts. And to think the NFL was upset at the show "Playmakers" because they said it was unrealistic and put the NFL in a bad light? Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, Reggie McNeal, Deltha O'Neal, Eric Steinbach, Frostee Rucker, Mathias Askew, A.J. Nicholson and Josh Kirkendall all had run ins with the law, some more than once. I can't even remember seeing that many from one team in year. What's worse, these distractions probably played a role in taking a superbowl favorite and putting them out of the playoffs.
7) Ongoing Terrell Owens drama. He started the year by getting cut from the Eagles solely based on his behavior only to sign with the team's biggest rival... Where he began his antics in traning camp, then came the suicide/mistaken overdose soap opera, to the sideline yelling and screaming, to leading the league in drops, to finally blaming the Cowboys late season struggles on the team not getting him the ball enough despite the fact that the stats show that he is thrown to more than any other WR in football. It's been vintage TO from start to finish.
6) The Saints are comin'. After a 3 win season last year and from the ruins of hurricane Katrina, the Saints emerge as one of the best teams in the NFC. With a combination of a very good first time head coach, some brilliant personnel moves, and a great rookie class... The Saints seem to be the new America's team.
5) Shawn Merriman Suspended. I think this story has been somewhat overlooked. The guy who may very well be the leagues' best defensive player on the leauges' best team, a pro bowler and reigning rookie of the year was suspended for steroid use. Of course he said it was a mistake... but in a league that had largely dodged a massive steroid scandal, unlike baseball, this was a tremendous blow to the NFL.
4) NFL Network falls flat. Awful announcers, games not able to be seen in large parts of the country, and games on nights that no one wants to watch football. By trying to expand their brand, the NFL has just watered it down and made 2 games a week afterthoughts... Football is great because it's on Sunday with one game on Monday night. Having it on Thursdays and Saturdays as well doesn't enhance your football experience, it waters it down. The anticipation, the build up is just not there when there's a game on every night.
3) Tomlinson dominance. No need for much explanation here. The guy has had the greatest offensive season in NFL history. He's done nothing but score TDs and break records all year.
2) Best draft class ever? The 2006 draft class made some pretty impressive contributions this year and they made them from week one. 7th round pick WR Marques Colston has over 1,000 yards receiving, Vince Young and Matt Leinart already look like real QBs while Jay Cutler is also leading the team with a shot at a playoff berth. Reggie Bush, Lawrence Maroney, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Joseph Addai all look like feature backs. The Texans went defense with the first pick in the draft, but their 2nd round pick Demeco Ryans may very well be the defensive rookie of the year! The n there's the Bears' rookies Devin Hester, who in his first year may already be the best returner ever, and Mark Anderson who has 12 sacks as a rookie. This is easily the hardest season to pick the rookie of the year in a very long time...
1) The Year of the QB change. The amount of QBs that started the year on the bench and have since led their teams to big turnaround that put them in the playoffs or close is astounding. Whether it's because of injury or poor starter play, backups QBs have played an amazing amount of key roles this year. Romo, Garcia, Young, Cutler, & Garrard are all guys that started as backups that are now leading teams that have clinched or can clinch playoffs spots this weekend. Five teams that have already clinched playoff berths did so with QBs that didn't start for them last year. Plus, on teams out of the playoff hunt Leinart, Jackson, Gradkowski, Campbell, & now Lemon are all getting a shot at starting.
Questions, comments, anything I missed? Let me know...