The Passing Season (2016) ((HOT))
The New England Patriots have the league's best overall record (14-2), the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs and now the ESPN Power Rankings' No. 1 spot. The Patriots, who were last in the top spot in Week 15, overpowered the No. 2 Dallas Cowboys to claim our regular-season "title" for 2016.
The Passing Season (2016)
Tom Brady threw 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 2016, which gives him the best TD-INT ratio of any quarterback with 300 attempts in NFL history. Brady has been on point this season, and his efforts helped earn the Patriots a No. 1 seed in the playoffs and the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
Entering the season, NFL FPI gave the Cowboys a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs. Fast-forward to the end of Week 17, and the Cowboys have won 13 games for the third time in franchise history and are the No. 1 seed in the NFC, all behind a rookie quarterback and rookie running back.
Believe it or not, the wild-card round will be the first time QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown all take the field together in the playoffs. The Steelers are 28-14 (.667) when all three have played together since 2013 (8-3 this season).
The Chiefs earned a first-round bye thanks to a 12-4 record and a unique way of scoring. The Chiefs had eight non-offensive touchdowns this season, most in the NFL, scoring on interception returns (four), a fumble return, a kick return and punt returns (two).
Aaron Rodgers said the Packers could "run the table," and that's exactly what the Packers did, winning six straight to close the season. Here's a look at Rodgers' passing stats during the winning streak: 71.0 completion percentage, 15 TDs, no interceptions.
The Seahawks went 10-5-1 this season, but they scored their fewest points (354), posted their worst point differential (plus-62) since 2011 and finished third in points allowed (292) after finishing first each of the previous four years. Seattle is still strong -- just not as strong as it has been.
The Falcons scored 540 points this season, tied for eighth most in NFL history. QB Matt Ryan averaged 9.26 yards per attempt to get them there, the highest by any quarterback with 500 or more passing attempts in a season. Also, 14 players caught at least one of Ryan's 38 passing TDs. Will Ryan be rewarded for those efforts with the MVP award?
The Giants spent big on defense in the offseason, and the result was a defense that allowed 17.8 points per game, second fewest in the NFL. The offense wasn't as solid, scoring 19.4 points per game, but the Giants finished 11-5 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
It doesn't help that the Raiders scored six points in their first full game without QB Derek Carr. Carr helped the Raiders overcome a lot of deficiencies this season (26th in total defense and most penalized team), and win or lose in the playoffs, the season should still be considered a success.
Constantly having to fight to come back and win games is not a sustainable strategy, and even though the Lions made the playoffs, they are finding that out the hard way. The Lions lost three straight to close the season and had zero offensive plays with a lead in the second half of any of those losses.
The Broncos missed the playoffs, but they did so with a winning record in a division with two 12-win teams. The defense is still great (fourth-fewest points per game allowed this season at 18.6) and should draw some strong head-coaching candidates to replace Gary Kubiak.
The Dolphins made the playoffs behind Jay Ajayi's powerful running. Ajayi averaged 2.52 yards per rush after contact this season, third highest of any player with 200 rushes the past five seasons. Only Adrian Peterson in 2012 and Marshawn Lynch in 2014 averaged more. That isn't bad company.
Jameis Winston set the Buccaneers' franchise record in passing yards (4,090) and touchdowns (28) this season, and he led Tampa to its first winning season since 2010. Next season, Winston will need a little more help outside of Mike Evans, who led the NFL with 171 targets.
The Titans posted their first winning season since 2011, and next season, with a healthy Marcus Mariota, they'll be looking for their first playoff berth since 2008. One thing that will help their cause: The Titans own the Rams' first-round draft pick (fifth overall).
The past two seasons, QB Kirk Cousins is 17-14-1 as a starter, with a 68.3 completion percentage, 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns (23 interceptions) and the fourth-best Total QBR. The Redskins missed the playoffs this season; however, those stats could make a case for a long-term deal for Cousins.
The Cardinals outscored opponents by 56 points this season, yet finished below .500 with a 7-8-1 record. The last time any team had that good of a point differential and still finished below .500? That would be in 1993, when the Phoenix Cardinals went 7-9 with a plus-57 differential.
If we told you a team's quarterback would set the completion percentage record and that team's defense would allow fewer than 20 points per game, you'd probably think we were talking about a playoff-bound team. That's exactly what the Vikings did this season, and it resulted in an 8-8 season and a postseason at home.
The Colts finished 8-8 for the second straight season. Yes, they have issues to address both offensively and defensively, but QB Andrew Luck needs to improve as well. Luck had 17 touchdowns and three picks in the second half of games this season, compared to 14 TDs and 10 interceptions in the first half.
Andy Dalton was one of three quarterbacks (Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford are the others) to attempt every pass for his team this season. However, he's the only one of those three to miss the playoffs. It's the first time since 2010 that the Bengals have missed the postseason.
Here are the Saints' overall records the past five seasons: 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, 11-5, 7-9. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees era has slipped into mediocrity, so perhaps a change of scenery isn't the worst idea for Payton & Co. The window in New Orleans could be closing soon anyway: Brees turns 38 later this month.
The Eagles finished 2016 with the most difficult strength of schedule, which makes a 7-9 season behind a rookie quarterback seem a bit more impressive. The priority this offseason will be getting Carson Wentz some more weapons to work with on that side of the ball.
The last MVP-winning quarterback to miss the playoffs the following season while still playing 10 or more games was Boomer Esiason in 1989. Cam Newton saw dips in completion percentage, touchdowns and Total QBR while seeing increases in interceptions and sacks.
Offense hasn't really been a problem for Buffalo. The 2014 Bills scored 21.4 points per game and allowed 18.1 PPG. The Bills' offense has improved each year since, scoring 24.9 PPG in 2016, but the defense has declined each year since, allowing 23.6 PPG this season.
The Chargers led the NFL in turnovers (35) and blown fourth-quarter leads (six) this season, and it led to the firing of coach Mike McCoy on Monday. No matter where the Chargers play in 2017, they'll need to figure out their issues and how to win in their division. San Diego has gone 1-13 against West foes since November 2014.
After a 3-13 season, the Jaguars will be picking fourth in the 2017 NFL draft. It will be the sixth consecutive year the Jaguars have a pick in the top five selections and the 10th year in a row that they pick in the top 10.
What the Jets do at quarterback will surely draw the most attention this offseason, as both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are free agents. However, it was the Jets' defense that allowed 25.6 points per game, their worst since 1996. That might be the most pressing issue.
The Browns "earned" the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft with their 1-15 season, but there's no guarantee that the top pick will lead to a turnaround. The Browns have picked first three times in franchise history (Bobby Garrett, Tim Couch and Courtney Brown). Those three picks netted zero Pro Bowls.
After a year plagued by inconsistent performances through the air in 2015, J.T. Barrett and his Ohio State teammates started the 2016 season off with a bang. The junior quarterback found redshirt freshman receiver K.J. Hill streaking past a Bowling Green safety on only his fourth passing attempt of the afternoon for a 47-yard bomb to give the Buckeyes their first points of the new campaign.
With one flick of the shoulder, Barrett seemed to erase months of negativity and doubt, as the underperforming passing game that prevented perhaps the most talented team in school history from repeating as national champions the year prior seemed to have found its way in the offseason. All seemed well and in order for Buckeye fans that afternoon, as the single greatest offensive performance in 126 years of football was on display for the home fans in Ohio Stadium.
Though Barrett would win his second Big Ten Quarterback-of-the-Year award, center Pat Elflein would be named the conference's best lineman, running back Mike Weber the best freshman, and Curtis Samuel would become the most dangerous skill player in the entire conference, the unit often looked much like it had the year before. Despite the efforts of Urban Meyer and his two offensive coordinators, Ed Warinner and Tim Beck, the OSU passing game once again resembled Jekyll and Hyde, leaving fans to wonder which version would show up each Saturday.
While the lack of a deep passing game was apparent to all, Barrett and the staff began to rely heavily on intermediate routes, specifically attacking the opposing linebackers and safeties inside along the seams. Knowing Barrett's threat as a runner would force defenses into zone coverage on nearly every play, the staff leaned most heavily on the 'H-Option' concept, isolating their best receiver, Samuel, against a lesser opponent and allowing him to work.
Samuel wasn't the only one to benefit from Warinner's reliance on quick-hitting underneath routes. Tight end Marcus Baugh hauled in 24 passes last fall, 17 of which came in the second half of the season as opponents grew wise to the constant threat posed by Samuel. 041b061a72