Wednesday, January 4, 2012

End Of Season Recap, Post Season Preview; Part 1.

The 2011 NFL season was one of extremes.  Extremes in terms of the number of strong teams compared with the slew of pathetic losers and underachievers.  Six teams surpassed 12 wins and four reached 13.  Yet, only two of the NFC’s playoff teams from last year reached the promised land again and among the underachievers was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who concluded the season with 10 consecutive loses – a number so staggering that firing head coach Raheem Morris seems insufficient.  The whole team should be fired. 

It was a season of extremes in the number of records we saw shattered.  Three quarterbacks reached 5,000 passing yards.  Both Brady and Drew Brees topped Dan Marino’s long-standing single season passing record of 5,084 passing yards.  Brees’ nearly 5,500 yards is so straight up disgusting that it will probably never be broken, that is, expect for next season when Drew goes for 6,000.  Oh, and did I mention that Matt Stafford (Matt freakin’ Stafford) came within one Megatron bomb of surpassing Marino’s record himself?  The craziest part of all of this is that none of the listed quarterbacks will get the MVP award.  For that matter, these guys might not even be the top-two vote getters. 

Projected NFL Most Valuable Player Award

First Place: Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers put together perhaps the greatest individual season in NFL history.  Even with all the great passing records of 2011, Rodgers should feel disrespected if he does not receive all 50 first place MVP votes.  One year ago Brady became the first player to unanimously win the NFL MVP.  If Brady produced an exact replica of his 2010 numbers again this year (which he basically did), even he should not earn a single first place vote.  Comparing the last two MVP’s, Rodgers threw for 743 more yards, nine more touchdowns, and had a QB rating 11.5 points higher than Brady in 2010 (Rodgers’ rating of 122.5 is the single season record).  By the way, Rodgers also led his team to a 15-1 record. 

Second Place: Eli Manning
Another non-5,000 yard passer (although he missed the mark by 67 yards, which is the equivalent of Victor Cruz’s average yards/reception over the last 2 weeks), Eli produced a season so good that it would rank among Peyton’s best.  In a season of eye-popping numbers, Eli’s statistics leave you with your vision in tact.  However, his 15 fourth quarter touchdowns were a record and seemingly half of his 16 interceptions hit a Giants receiver first.  Eli led six game winning drives, a number that would be impressive in any season but is especially meaningful when the Giants only had nine wins. 

Both Eli Manning and Tom Brady had 99 yard passes
this season
Third Place: Tom Brady
Like Eli, Brady has been one of the only constants for his team this season.  His numbers are essentially the same as his MVP campaign last season and in just 16 games he has transformed TE Rob Gronkowski into the most challenging defensive assignment in football. 

Fourth Place: Drew Brees
Brees finished the year with the single season record for passing yards and the fourth most passing touchdowns.  I spoke a few weeks ago about his remarkable numbers since coming to New Orleans.  Just for the official record, he has averaged 4,732 yards and 33.5 touchdowns a season.  4,732 passing yards would be the 10th most anyone has ever averaged in a season.  Suffice to say he is the best 4th place MVP finisher of all time.  

Fifth Place: Calvin Johnson
Megatron pretty much secured himself as the league’s top wide out since Week 1.  He had a touchdown in all but 5 games this season, surpassed 100 yards 8 times, twice went for over 200 receiving yards, and finished the year with nearly 1,700 yards, 96 catches, 16 touchdowns, and the best nickname in sports.  A wide receiver has never won the AP MVP Award (although Jerry Rice won it from other writers in 1987 and 1990) but Johnson’s remarkable year deserves some recognition. 

Everyone has been making a big deal about the increased passing totals the last few seasons and this one in particular.  However, how often do we hear people addressing the related increase in individual sack totals?  Jared Allen recorded 3.5 sacks in his final game to finish the season with 22, just half a sack short of Michael Strahan’s single season record.  Meanwhile, DeMarcus Ware continued his dominance and finished the 2011 campaign with 19.5 sacks.  Another half a sack would have given Ware his second 20 sack season.  Eighteen sacks would ordinarily be a season high, but Philadelphia’s Jason Babin finishes third.  Babin’s final numbers were impressive, but they tended to come in bunches.  He failed to record a sack in seven games this season, which makes you wonder what could have been had the 31 year old defensive end played more consistently.  With an increased premium placed on the passing game, teams will be putting a similar emphasis on pass rushers who can interrupt the flow of a game.  The defensive player of the year finalists reflects this trend.  

Projected NFL Defensive Player of the Year

First Place: Terrell Suggs
How do you give the award to a pass rusher when he has eight fewer sacks than the lead sack man in the league?  Easy.  Suggs, out of “Ball So Hard” University, had the best season of his already impressive career, recording 70 tackles and a league-best seven forced fumbles to go along with his 14 sacks.  As Ray Lewis continues to age (although you wouldn’t know it from his play), Suggs is among a slew of Ravens defenders ready to take the first-ballot hall of famer’s place.  He was a furious, unstoppable force all season long and unlike Allen, Ware, and Babin, Suggs’ team is actually in the playoffs.  Suggs was the best defensive player this season on one of the league’s best teams and, resultantly, narrowly edges out the competition to take home the hardware.  He also did THIS WONDERFUL INTERVIEW.

Second Place: Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul nearly won the D-POY award in just one night: December 11 against Dallas in which in he had 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and blocked the would-be game winning kick.  JPP has been a force in every game this season and failed to record a sack in just four games.  The word “high motor” is invented for this guy who had 86 tackles this season, 14 more than any other defensive end.  Statistics rarely tell the whole story, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but JPP’s total tackles are indicative of his ability to make a play anywhere on the field.  It was difficult to give Suggs the award over Pierre-Paul, but the phenom out of Southern Florida should take refuge in the fact that he is in just his second season. 
Pierre-Paul may be the finest athlete in all of the NFL
Third Place: DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware once again demonstrated that he is quite possibly the best defensive player in the game.  He has recorded 99.5 sacks since coming into the league in 2005 and has surpassed 11 sacks each of the last six seasons.  Like JPP, Ware failed to record a sack in just four games this season.  Had the Cowboys defeated the Giants on Sunday night, he may have very well taken home the award.    

Fourth Place: Jared Allen
His 22 sacks pretty much speak for themselves.  Unfortunately, so does a 3-13 record.  Allen is a great player, but if he was so valuable Minnesota should have won several more games. 

Fifth Place: Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie was without question the best defensive back this season and never contributed to any of the Jets’ eight losses.  The only thing more impressive than his man to man coverage was his ability to cover up the football in the return game.  Also, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real, the meaning of life is the number 15, and in approximately 12 hours Barack Obama will announce that cheddar cheese is the new currency of the United States.  In other news, Cromartie has nine different children from eight different women across six different states.  Only one of the things mentioned in this paragraph is true (hint: it has to do with incorrect condom usage).    

Before I move forward to discuss the postseason, I think it would make my predictions more (or less) credible if we first revisit my preseason column (SEE IT HERE).  

Like many fans, I anticipated big things from the Eagles this season.  However, by week 6 it was apparent that they would not be reaching the 13 wins I had predicted.  However, I wrote that the Giants would finish 9-7 (which they did), the Cowboys would do the same (pretty close), and the Redskins would win five games (which they did).  Only the Eagles earned a playoff birth in my September article, but this was still one of my more accurate divisions.  Grade: B

If it were not for an inexplicable Kansas City loss, I would be the greatest football genius this side of the Mississippi.  Still, I did call for an Aaron Rodgers MVP and for Green Bay to be, rather obviously, the league’s best team.  I also correctly predicted an improved Lions season (I gave them 8 wins) and a disappointing season for the Bears.  All this would have added up to an A+ were it not for the Vikings.  Unfortunately, the North was also home to my greatest abomination of the preseason article.  The stars incorrectly told me that Donovan McNabb would be the consistently mediocre quarterback that Minnesota needed to reach the playoffs.  He was not and I anticipated seven additional wins.  Grade: B+
Donovan McNabb's time in Minnesota was hard to watch
Atlanta and New Orleans both made the playoffs in my preseason article, although I had the Falcons edging out the Saints for the division title.  I could have never anticipated a 10 game losing streak to round out the season, but I did think 2011 would be a setback year for Tampa Bay.  Carolina was a pleasant surprise and won two more games than I had anticipated.  My predictions were relatively accurate, but given the generally straightforward recent history of this division, anyone forecasting the upcoming season should have done well.  Grade: B

The NFC West was, as usual, a head-scratching hodgepodge.  I thought a NFC West team would reach the 10 win plateau, but I honestly had no idea who would do it.  Arizona winning it with a 10-6 record was not a bad prediction, but still incorrect.  I gave Seattle six victories and they got seven, which resulted in a third place finish in the September column and in reality.  However, I grossly devalued San Francisco and even more grossly overvalued what-happened-to-our-talent-because-we-have-absolutely-none St. Louis.  Grade: C-

New England finished the regular season 13-3 and as the number one overall seed in the AFC.  I predicted they would finish the regular season 13-3 and as the number two overall seed in the AFC.  I missed the mark badly on the Jets 2011 season (12 predicted wins vs. 8 actual ones) but came respectably close with Miami (7 predicted wins vs. 6 actual ones) and with Buffalo (4 predicted wins vs. 6 actual ones).  Grade: B

Anyone with general football knowledge could have guessed that the Steelers and Ravens would be battling it out for most of the season for divisional dominance.  I thought the Steelers were the better team in September and still do despite the fact that Baltimore won the division.  Cincinnati was a surprising postseason entry this season and I anticipate an equally unsurprising first round departure.  Obviously, Cleveland was and continues to be one of the worst teams in professional sports.  Grade: B+

I wrote my September column before the news of Manning’s second or third (I lose count) surgery.  At the time, the team and surrounding media believed it would be a 6-7 week recovery period.  This discrepancy leaves all my AFC South predictions inherently void.  Grade: None.

Always one of the league most inconsistent divisions, maybe I should have just played it smart and made every team finish with an 8-8 record.  If I had done that, I’d look like I know what I’m talking about.  Only Kansas City finished the year without a .500 record (7-9).  I wasn’t surprised by San Diego’s slow start, but predicted that they would turn things around earlier than they actually did.  Tebow’s God-given victories I did not anticipate.  Grade: C+    
Outscoring Weezy is a feat Trent Dilfer knows nothing about
GPA Scale of Football Knowledge

0.00 – 0.50: Should definitely start trying to find other things you are good at.  (Michele Bachman)

0.51 – 1.00:  Should probably start trying to find other things you are good at.  (Aaron Carter)

1:01 – 1.50: Think you’re so great and it comes back to hurt you.  (Trent Dilfer)

1.51 – 2.00: Don’t know how you knew that, but okay. (Lil Wayne)

2.01 – 2.50: Exceptionally average. (Matt Millen)

2.51 – 3.00: Not bad, but we still expect more form you.  (Me)

3.01 – 3.50: You have skill. (Keyshawn Johnson)

3.50 – 3.75: Dean’s List. (Steve Young)

3.76 – 4.00: Exceptional. (Bill Belichick)

Final GPA: 2.80

The postseason preview will be coming soon.


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