There was a time when the ESPN was dominated by big-name wide receivers, the so-called divas of professional football. Guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were some of the biggest names in the NFL, and the position of wide receiver not only received a ton of media coverage but also dominated a lot of fans' conversations. I'm not sure exactly when the wide receiver phenomenon died out, but today's version of the NFL features far fewer vibrant personalities at that position. Many of today's most popular players are quarterbacks, many of whom don't have the presumed luxury of a big-name receiver. In any case, judging by the amount of media coverage and fans conversations that I witnessed over the course of the year, the 2011 NFL season was the Year of the Quarterback. And it won't be any different in 2012. Most of the major story lines will almost assuredly be centered around quarterbacks once again. Here are a few examples:
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts
Indy has a huge, franchise-altering decision to make in the near future. Should they put their hope in Andrew Luck, who some are calling the best QB prospect since John Elway, or should they trust in Peyton, who has been one of the NFL's most valuable (to his team) players over the last decade plus. Whichever route they choose to embark on, Indy finds themselves on the beginning of a journey which will impact their team for many years to come, and will most likely be a major topic of debate over the next several years.
Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos
John Elway said Tebow will enter the 2012 training camp as the starter. In other words, Elway figured out how to appease the pro-Tebow portion of the Broncos faithful while still leaving the door open for other options. Denver may look to acquire another QB in the draft, or they might focus on free agency, but they will definitely be looking for some type of QB since currently their only option is Tebow. Whether or not Denver's search for depth leads to another year of Tebow Time or a QB change remains to be seen, but either way it will be a big story in 2012.
Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers
Smith is finishing out a 1 year, $4 million contract. After last weekend's impressive and thrilling victory over the New Orleans Saints, any questions regarding San Francisco's desire to retain Smith have been answered. The 49ers will definitely resign Smith, and the only question is how much money is it going to take? Some reports have the 49ers willing to offer as much as $12 million per season, and depending on how far the 49ers playoff run takes them, it it might take at least that much to keep him in the Bay Area. Regardless of what the exact amount winds up being, there will undoubtedly be plenty of people judging Smith's (and the 49ers team, in general) 2012 season by comparing contract figures to wins/stats.
Eli Manning and his legacy
Eli had a truly remarkable 2011 campaign, and the best part is it's not over yet. Winning another Super Bowl would go a LONG way towards elevating Eli's reputation as a great player, but even if the Giants fall short of the trophy Manning certainly had a career year in 2011. 2012 will give him the chance to cement his standing as one the NFL's elite, just like he predicted not too long ago...
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees
Everyone has heard all the accolades; the broken records and the evolution of the League due to the unstoppable excellence of these two quarterbacks. But both the Packers and the Saints are going to be watching the playoffs from home, so despite the dominance of these two players the 2011 season will ultimately be deemed unsuccessful. Rodgers and Brees are very good, very popular players and 2012 should bring another slew of highlights featuring each of them.
Matthew Stafford and his physical well-being
Stafford finally showed what he's capable of when he plays all 16 games. After playing a total of just 13 games the previous two season, Stafford dominated in 2011, throwing for over 5,000 yards and over 40 TDs and leading the Lions to 10 wins and a playoff berth. Stafford proved he can fill up a stat sheet and help his team win at the same time as evidenced by the bevy of comeback victories the Lions had this year, many of them coming after Detroit surrenderedhuge leads. The only question regarding Stafford is can he do it again? If he can, the Lions will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Michael Vick and success
Vick had a decent 2011, throwing for 18 TDs and 14 INTs and finishing with a QB rating of about 85, but he was more average than great, which is basically a reflection on the Eagles overall. Vick wasn't bad enough for fans to neccesarily start questioning the $100 million contract just yet, but he will be 32 years old by the time next season rolls around, and 8-8 just isn't good enough for a team with the expectations and talent like the Eagles. Vick needs to play well next year, and more importantly the Eagles needs to find a way to maintain a successful level of play or things could get ugly in Philadelphia.