Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 NFL Recap: Ten Pre-Season Predictions Nobody Made

Another NFL regular season is in the books, and we await another playoff run that looks fairly familiar.  The NFC is led by the Aaron Rodgers's Packers and the defending champion Seahawks.  The AFC is led by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning yet again, which appears destined for yet another AFC Championship showdown in Foxboro.  However, just like every season there were some great surprises throughout the season that no one could see coming.  So here are the ten pre-season predictions that no one made that actually ended up coming true.
10.  Tony Romo would get better in December instead of his usual collapse, leading one of the hottest teams into the playoffs.  Tony Romo has been made famous (or rather infamous) by the media for his epic collapses in the month of December, ruining any chances the Cowboys have at the playoffs every year.  This season the Cowboys started much stronger than usual, highlighted by earning the only win by a road team in Seattle (which happened to be where his late season woes started with a fumbled field goal snap).  However, everyone was waiting for Romo to go through his typical slump in December that could potentially cause the Cowboys their playoff spot again, and potentially cost Jason Garrett his job.  This year was different.  Romo got stronger, and led the team into the playoffs as division champ and many people's favorite pick to take the whole NFC.  Now the Romo collapse still might come in the playoffs, but he has avoided it so far.
9.  A Nebraska alum playing for the Detroit Lions would be suspended for stomping on an opposing player, and his name wouldn't be Ndomukong Suh.  The All Pro defensive tackle has been known as one of the NFL's bad boys ever since he entered the league out of Nebraska.  He has even been suspended in the past for stomping on an opposing player during a game.  So if a Nebraska alum playing for the Lions was going to get suspended for this same act, it would make sense that it would once again be a man named Suh, right?  Enter Dominic Raiola.  Raiola has been the starting center for the Lions for the last decade, and it would be this former Cornhusker that would be penalized for stupidity.  Now this doesn't mean Suh didn't try in the last game against the Packers...
8.  The Buffalo Bills would finish 9-7 led by Kyle Orton.  Last year, EJ Manuel was selected in the first round to be the quarterback of the future for the Buffalo Bills.  If they were going to make any strides in his sophomore year, Manuel was going to be the one leading the charge, right?  Enter Kyle Orton.  Orton was brought in to be a veteran mentor for Manuel, but after another slow start from their future of the franchise, coach Doug Marrone chose to switch gears to Orton.  This may have just been planned to be a short term solution to try and stabilize the offense, but then the team went on a run Buffalo hasn't seen in a decade.  With their two star running backs hurt, Orton led the Bills to their first winning season since 2004.  Although they fell short of the playoffs, the team made great strides forward, and it was Orton, not Manuel, that made it happen.
7.  The Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals would each play 4 quarterbacks throughout the season and both finish over .500.  Usually instability at the quarterback position leads to struggles as a team.  However, two teams this year defied those odds.  The Texans started the year with the Amish Rifle, Ryan Fitzpatrick.  He got off to a strong start, but was eventually benched for recently acquired Ryan Mallett.  Then Mallett got hurt, and Fitzpatrick came back in.  Then Fitzpatrick got hurt, and rookie Tom Savage was forced into action.  Not wanting to trust their season to a 4th round rookie developmental project, they signed Case Keenum, who unsuccessfully started games for them last year, off the Rams' practice squad.  Still, behind their defense and adequate quarterback play, they were able to finish 9-7 and one win away from the playoffs.
The Cardinals started the year hot with Carson Palmer at quarterback.  The game after he received a big contract extension, he had a season-ending injury.  Drew Stanton, one of the more respected backups in the league, was brought in.  Then he got hurt, which forced rookie Logan Thomas into action.  Not wanting to trust their season to a 4th round rookie developmental project, they signed Ryan Lindley, who unsuccessfully started games for them last year, off the Chargers' practice squad.  Still, behind their defense and adequate quarterback play, they were able to finish 11-5 and earn a Wild Card berth in the playoffs (although no one has much confidence in their chances).  Wow, those stories sound scarily similar.
6.  Super Bowl hero Percy Harvin would be traded away before mid-season, and the Seahawks would still be the #1 seed in the NFC.  In a move that shocked everyone around the league, only a year and a half after acquiring him, the Seahawks traded away the explosive Percy Harvin, citing team chemistry concerns.  Without Percy Harvin, the Seahawks wouldn't be able to repeat the success they had last year, right?  Enter Russell Wilson.  Wilson has continued to develop into a potential MVP candidate this year, leading the Hawks offense to scoring enough points to win with their dominant defense.  And Percy Harvin?  He was traded to the dumpster-fire that is the New York Jets and became what every offensive weapon for the Jets becomes: irrelevant.
5.  Two of the most productive and respected running backs of the last 5 years, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, would be suspended for the season for off-the-field issues.  The NFL has a problem with the law.  This is not a new concept, and Commissioner Roger Goddell is doing everything he can to control it.  The problem continued this year, but the surprise was who it involved.  Before this season, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson were considered by many as two of the league's "nice guys."  No one could have predicted by the end of the season that these two high-character players would be suspended for the season for domestic violence cases.  They went from being the faces of their respective franchises to potentially never playing in the league again.
4.  The Washington Redskins will end the season with Colt McCoy as their most successful quarterback.  There were high expectations coming into the season for the Washington football franchise with offensive mastermind Jay Gruden taking over as coach.  He would be able to get RGIII back on track, right?  Well, after an early-season injury, RGIII was benched for Kirk Cousins, widely thought of as the best backup in the league.  After some struggles and an injury, Coach Gruden turned to all he had left, Colt McCoy.  With McCoy, he finally found some success as the team finally looked to be clicking.  If it wasn't for another injury, he would have been the starter for the rest of the year over his high-profile teammates.  McCoy ended the season with a QB rating 10 points higher than Griffin and Cousins, who both finished with the same rating.  Heading into the offseason, McCoy might be the quarterback most likely to be on the roster next year.
3.  The NFC South would be won with a losing record.  There are many stats with this division that no one could have predicted.  First, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earn the first pick in the draft with two of the best receivers in the league, a new coach, and a big offseason quarterback signing.  Next, the New Orleans Saints would miss the playoffs losing 5 straight games in the Superdome, thought to be one of the best home-field advantages in the league.  The Atlanta Falcons would finish with a 5-1 record in the division, but miss the playoffs with an overall 6-10 record.  They only won one game outside of their division!  And last, the Carolina Panthers would win the division with a 7-8-1 record, with Cam Newton missing a late season game due to injuries sustained in a mid-day car accident.  The league really has to get rid of the tie...
2.  The rookie quarterback with the most passing yards for the Cleveland Browns would be Connor Shaw.  Coming into this season, one of the biggest stories was the potential impact Johnny Manziel would have on the Cleveland Browns and the league in general.  The first slight surprise of the year was that Brian Hoyer beat out Johnny Football for the starting job in Cleveland.  Manziel would be in eventually though, right?  Well, behind Hoyer the Browns had a decent amount of success with Johnny seeing a couple plays here and there.  Near the end of the year, as the Brady-Backup Magic started to wear off of Hoyer, they decided to give Manziel a chance in Week 16.  In his first career start, Johnny Manziel proved to indeed to be too small for the NFL as he was knocked out of the game in the 2nd quarter.  Then Hoyer was injured later in the game.  Enter undrafted rookie Connor Shaw.  Shaw was signed off the practice squad to start Week 17 for lack of a better option.  Not only are these two rookies now tied in starts made in their career, but the efficient Connor Shaw, in that one game, earned more passing yards than the first rounder Manziel had in the other 15 games combined.  Who knows what the future of Manziel will be past this year, but no one would have thought the Connor Shaw star would shine brighter than the Johnny Football star for the Browns this year.
1.  The Kansas City Chiefs would not throw a touchdown pass to a receiver all season.  This has to be one of the most bizarre stats I have ever seen.  Alex Smith has always been considered a game manager, but the thought that no receiver caught a pass in the end zone all year is just ridiculous.  Now some touchdown passes were thrown to running backs and tight ends, but the only position whose primary job is to catch the ball never reached the end zone.  Maybe even more ridiculous is the fact that entering Week 17, the Chiefs still had an opportunity to make the playoffs.  They did their part, but didn't get the help they needed from other teams.  At one point, with Chase Daniel behind center, I thought the streak would end as Dwayne Bowe dove for the goal line, but he fumbled into the end zone.  With the recovery by Travis Kelce, the Chiefs got the touchdown and kept the streak in tact.  In a league where stat lines are looking more like video game numbers, where passing records seem to be broken every year, you can be sure something like this will not happen again for a long time.  However, I never thought it would happen this year, which is what puts this as the top prediction nobody made.

What do you think?  Any omissions?  Did anybody see any of these things coming?

1 comment:

  1. Love this list. A few of these (such as 10, 8, 4, and 3) are not completely improbable. Your #s 1 and 2 are completely improbable, however. Even if people thought that Manziel would not see playing time, no one in their right mind assumed that Connor Shaw would see any meaningful playing time. And yeah, the Chiefs stat is absolutely mind-boggling. I read somewhere that the last time that happened was on the 1964 Giants, 50 years ago. I would almost venture to say that may be one of those stats we will never see again in our lifetime, but who knows.

    I still say it's fairly shocking that Gronk did not get injured and could have played all 16 games healthy. And I still think it's amazing that the Cowboys went 8-0 on the road, including a huge W in Seattle. But if I was writing this list, I would make my #1 Roger Goodell pulling a Walter White and morphing into the most hated man in America -- so hated that he makes victims out of a wife-beater and child abuser. That is something I never would have fathomed. And the Panthers didn't win a game for TWO MONTHS (nearly three months if you discount their one win over the hapless Bears). There is no overstating how astonishing that is.