In concluding writing on the 2012 NFL Season, there remain a few key reflections which can now be summed up nicely in the wake of the Super Bowl. Then we can agree to not talk about the season again…until it’s brought up the next time the Ravens or 49ers make it to another World Championship.
For the supposed weaker side of the league, the AFC had some talent…
It is fair to say that as a conference, the ratio between those teams which achieved close to their targets and those which fell far short is weighted towards the latter, but for teams such as the Texans and the Broncos it was a case of letting the momentum take them where they wanted to get to. For Houston in particular, it was a scintillating run which appeared to level off at perhaps just the wrong time. While observers marvelled at the record-breaking form of Adrian Peterson in the NFC, Arian Foster was steadily clocking up game-winning performances in the running game. The emergence of JJ Watt as one of the most clinical defensive players of the whole league was also a marvel to behold.
As the headlines focused on Peyton Manning, it was Von Miller and Trindon Holliday who were the standout performers in Colorado. Denver were relatively fortunate with their division as San Diego, Kansas City and Oakland dealt with trying to avoid tumbling down the rankings, but it was their wins over the Steelers, the Saints and the Ravens which truly showed their class as a possible Super Bowl candidate. A five-game winning streak to end the regular season saw them wrestle the top AFC seed from the grasp of both Houston and New England, only to come up short in a chilly match-up with Baltimore.
Elsewhere, in the AFC North, it was a bruised and battered Ravens which narrowly won the division despite a resurgent Bengals break for the title. Despite failing to make the post-season, Pittsburgh still managed to beat the Giants on the road whilst also dealing out a defeat to Washington. Even Cleveland were able to mount a few upsets, not least in the low-scoring win over the Chargers and two convincing divisional wins which ensured they had a say in the eventual AFC North rankings.
The Chargers and Dolphins provided glimpses of brilliance throughout the season, but were simply not consistent enough. They are very much well placed, however, to challenge for their respective divisions come the new season.
Finally, the Ravens won the Super Bowl against very high odds at time, and showed what a resilient and unpredictable conference the AFC was in 2012
On the other hand, the NFC was still pretty impressive…
In terms of personnel, the NFC arguably boasted a greater volume of the better players in the league. The playoff picture was altered radically in the NFC East over a matter of weeks as Washington got back into gear and the Giants faltered. The revelation of the season was undoubtedly the NFC West, which saw the Rams remarkably hold the 49ers in the only tied-game of 2012, while the Seahawks shocked the league with some memorable wins. The Bears turned a sure-thing into a season to forget, while the Packers blew it in the play-offs when they seemed to have the momentum…again.
Seven teams finished the season with double-figure winning records, but much like the Texans in the AFC, it was a case of playing catch-up for some of the bigger names. With New Orleans still reeling from imposed personnel changes they simply did not get up to speed in time to be a challenger, though Atlanta were out of sight by the halfway point.
The NFC witnessed the arrival of the read-option as a first-choice system, thanks in no small part to rookie Russell Wilson and second-year Colin Kaepernick who quarterbacked their teams into the post-season, leaving observers and fans in awe as they did so. On the ground it was Adrian Peterson who blazed his way towards a near record-breaking yardage marker for the season, carrying the Vikings into the playoffs while he was at it.
Other highlights included Robert Griffin III consistently surpassing expectations; passing, scrambling and ‘keeping plays alive’ to earn the Rookie Of The Year at the end of season awards.
For what it’s worth, here are my star performers…
QB of the season: Russell Wilson (Seattle)
Offensive player of the season: Michael Crabtree (San Francisco)
Defensive player of the year: Aldon Smith (San Francisco)
Team of the year: Houston Texans
Shock of the year: Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl