The NFL is in full gallop racing down the final quarter stretch still demonstrating that it is the thoroughbred of the American sports scene. There are teams jockeying for playoff positioning but there are also a few other stories that have shaped the 2011 pigskin season. Here are the top ten.
10. Concussed – Last season the NFL began to focus on identifying and treating concussions with more care but that was in the midst of inconsistently urging for more games. This year, the league seems sincere about the issue. The Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best was placed on IR after not being able to recover from his head trauma. Also, San Diego Chargers’ guard Kris Deilman suffered a seizure on the plane after a game against the New York Jets prompting the league to tell officials to watch closely for concussion symptoms.
9. Tough Texans – The Houston Texans have been expected to reach the playoffs for the past several seasons but have always failed. Now, the team is 9-3 and on the verge of clinching first place in the AFC South and the franchise’s first trip to the postseason despite a host of injuries and bad luck. The season began with its leading rusher the erudite Arian Foster out with an injury. Then, a few games into the season, it lost its leading sack man Mario Williams. One of the game’s best wide receivers Andre Johnson limped out a game and was lost for six weeks with a hamstring injury and recently suffered another one to his other leg. And after losing its starting quarterback Matt Schaub to a freak foot injury back-up Matt Leinart primed to resurrect his disappointing pro career went down with a separated shoulder in his first game at the helm. Yet, the Texans still rise.
8. Donovan McNabb.-. McNabb’s career has the scent (or stench) of Alex Rodriguez and LeBron James. Perhaps, not supremely talented as those two in their respective sports, McNabb like them seems to have this ominous cloud hovering over as if he is a sports schlep-rock. They all have been a lightning rod for controversy without even trying. The wrong word just seems to jump out of their mouth or in the crucible of the moment they strike out to conclude a series loss or have fourth quarter meltdowns. McNabb got dumped on by fans since his arrival in Philly and will likely leave the game just as unceremoniously after asking for his release from the Minnesota Vikings and no team claiming him or signing him after clearing waivers.
7. The Peytonless Colts – Peyton’s place being the sidelines this season has made the Colts winless and hopeless. Not one player has dominated the direction of an NFL team since the Herschel Walker trade set-up the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s. The Colts can’t seem to tackle now that Manning is not there. The coaches can’t seem to coach without Manning. Well, that makes sense since it’s a known fact that Manning was the offensive coordinator and de facto head coach. The B-side of this winless record was that the play of the Colts and other hapless teams set off the “Suck for Luck” debate where people wondered whether teams would or should consider not making every effort to win games in an attempt to get the number one pick to draft Stanford’s quarterback Andrew Luck.
6. Harbaugh Knock Life – Jim Harbaugh, Luck’s former coach at Stanford, made the jump from the college coaching ranks to the NFL like no other. Even former Miami Hurricanes head coach Jimmy Johnson took a few years and the aforementioned Herschel Walker trade to be successful. But the former NFL quarterback has taken his uber competitive nature to the sidelines for the San Francisco 49ers forging a 10-2 record with former number one selection Alex Smith under center who was considered a bust by all except his mother. The 49ers have clinched its first playoff berth since 2002 breaking the curse of T.O. who left the team in 2003.
5. The Lions, Suh and Schawrtz – The Lions opened up 5-0 and the bandwagon was full. Now, after going 2-5, in the words of former New York Knick Michael Ray Richardson, ”the ship be sinking.” And the wagon is not so crowded anymore. Things began to fall apart after a defeat to the 49ers and the postgame handshake between Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz turned into a playground pissing match. The team has since followed their coach’s lead with their own discipline issues most notably the Ndamukong Suh stomp. But please stop reminding me that Suh is well spoken as the media sounds like Joe Biden when running against Barack Obama praising him as articulate.
4. Caaaaaaaaaaaam – Everybody this side of ESPN’s Stu Scott has sung this homage to the Guy inspired New Jack Swing name for one Cameron Newton. It’s clear that the Carolina Panthers made the right choice taking the former Auburn quarterback despite the shaky pre-draft critique that he was a phony with a fake smile. Right out the box he passed for 422 yards in his NFL debut. Newton has continued to redefine the law of football physics that state that a rookie quarterback can’t do this or can’t do that evidence by topping Week 1 by passing for 432 yards in Week 2. He is on pace to amass almost over 4,400 passing yards and third in the NFL with 13 touchdowns scored while leading the league in fake smiles.
3. A Dream Deferred – Langston Hughes poetically pondered if a dream deferred dries up like a raisin in the sun. The moment Andy Reid signed Nnamdi Asomugha, I’m sure the portly coach felt like reclining on a chaise lounge to be fed some grapes like a Roman emperor. Now, at 4-8, he must feel like Walter Lee from Raisin in the Sun after Willy Harris stole the money for their liquor store. Back-up quarterback Vince Young breathed life into the dream team notion that has all but been a nightmare. Putting the defense into the hands of an untried offensive line coach foolishly challenged the football gods. Michael Vick can’t stay healthy while the wide receivers continue to drop passes and miss meetings.
2. A-Rod leads the Pack – Aaron Rodgers has officially usurped the nickname A-Rod from Alex Rodriguez. The Yankee third basemen should seek permission hereafter to use the name. Rodgers is playing the quarterback position better than anyone ever. He possess the qualities of many of the recent greats like the intelligence of Peyton Manning, the coolness of Joe Montana, the arm of Dan Marino, the elusiveness of Roger Staubach, and the athleticism of John Elway. The Packers seem destined to go undefeated led by Rodgers and his corp of receivers that go six deep that make up for limited running game and an opportunistic defense.
1. Tebow – The premier issue of the NFL Magazine quickly jumped from having Newton as its cover boy to Tim Tebow. The faith-based football player has a legion of followers and is converting more and more fans as he and the Denver Broncos racks up miraculous wins like turning water into wine. Every water cooler conversation on Monday morning begins and ends with Tebow. Tebow coincidentally plays in the same stadium that Barack Obama received the democratic presidential nomination and both have similarly transformed previous notions of what could be. The team has soared to a 6-1 record under Tebow and soon enough W.W.T.D. bracelets may be available.