Next season is already here for most of the NFL. Coaching hires and staffs are being finalized, with the combine, free agency and cap casualties on deck. The storylines will be plentiful and vastly different than last year, when the central plot was the lockout that wiped out almost the entire offseason.
On Tuesday, I reviewed 11 things from the 2011 season that we may never witness again. Today, I'm taking a look into the crystal ball and offering up 12 things to look forward to in 2012:
1. Peyton's new home -- if he plays: About the only thing that seems certain is that Peyton Manning's days with the Colts are done. The team seems set to move in another direction (i.e. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck). Manning's medical condition will determine everything else. If he can't pass a team physical, his career could be finished. The market for him won't be huge, but teams like the Dolphins, Jets, Seahawks and Redskins need a quarterback. I'm sure some would rather build for the future, but taking a swing for the fences like Minnesota did with Brett Favre has to be worth a shot to some team.
2. Can Luck turn it around in Indy? Luck's arrival with the Colts might not translate to immediate success. Indy has a ton of holes, plus it could lose key veterans like center Jeff Saturday, wideout Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis in the rebuilding movement. Luck projects to have a Manning-esque run with the Colts, but will this new regime provide him with all the elements needed to succeed, including long-term continuity with the coaching staff and the front office?
3. Tim Tebow, Year 3: Tebow will enter training camp as Denver's starter and with some lofty expectations -- something new. He's captivated the masses as the savior off the bench. Now he has to build on what he's established, and that's a lot harder than saving a sinking ship. Denver also will have some other quarterbacks on the roster, not necessarily to challenge Tebow, but to provide depth and be at the ready in case things don't work out. The questions will remain until he unequivocally proves that he's a long-term answer.
Wyche: A fond farewell to 2011
With another season in the books, Steve Wyche reviews 11 things from the 2011 campaign that we may never see again. More ...
4. Houston might be the AFC's top team: Houston was the AFC's top team -- record-wise -- for parts of 2011. And had quarterback Matt Schaub stayed healthy, it could have entered the playoffs with home-field advantage throughout. Schaub is recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his foot, which is going to take some careful rehab, but if he's healthy, the Texans might be the team to beat. The nucleus of the team is young and now that the defense is among the more impressive units in the NFL, this is a rugged group. OLB Mario Williams is a free agent, but the Texans will almost certainly bring him back, even though they played well when he was out for most of the season with a torn pectoral.
5. Adrian Peterson's return: The Vikings star running back tore the ACL and MCL of his left knee in Week 16. Peterson has targeted his return for Week 1 of the regular season, but a player tends to be more optimistic because of his competitive nature. Typically, even if a player is a fast healer, he doesn't round into form for roughly a calendar year. Peterson is a physical marvel and will push himself to the extreme, but to expect him to be his normal self before the midway point of the season could be setting the bar too high.
6. Jeff Fisher could make the biggest splash among the new coaches: Fisher's reputation aside, he takes over a team that was decimated by injuries in 2011. With some of those players returning and some good drafting -- something that could be aided by trading out of the No. 2 overall selection for more picks -- the Rams could turn things around quickly. St. Louis has to get quarterback Sam Bradford some help at wide receiver and tighten up some things along the offensive line. Side note: The Rams' practices might end up being among the most heated in the NFL, with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging some "Remember Me" shots and new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau coaching the big boys to play up to the line of legality.
7. Eli's fine, but what about the rest of the Giants? Eli Manning is entering the prime of his career. With two championships already under his belt, he seems set to get New York back to the promised land at least once more over the next few seasons. The Giants could be even stronger personnel-wise next season because several players who were hurt -- namely rookies Prince Amukamara and Marvin Austin -- will return. Mario Manningham and Osi Umenyiora are free agents, but New York showed it has depth and the eye to acquire talent to replace one if not both should they leave. The Giants could actually be a better team and not get back to the Super Bowl. History isn't kind in regard to encore performances.
8. RG3's impact: While Luck is all but certain to land with the Colts at No. 1, Baylor's Robert Griffin III could be the rookie quarterback we're talking most about next season -- depending on where he lands. Cleveland, Seattle, Washington and Miami could make a play to draft him, and with his skill set, Griffin could elevate a team like Andy Dalton did in Cincinnati.
9. The 49ers should still be dangerous: San Francisco is going to have a tougher schedule and might not be able to match the surprising 13-3 mark in 2011. It could be a more dangerous team, though. Quarterback Alex Smith is a free agent, but the market for him is with the 49ers. He'll be back and should be better, although Colin Kaepernick could push him, which only helps. San Francisco has a young nucleus with key veterans in the right spots. Their almost-frightening physical style and fundamental soundness will allow them to get back to the playoffs. The addition of another playmaker at wide receiver would help, though. Coach Jim Harbaugh got players to buy in during his debut season and everything was new. Now that they've felt heartbreak and watched the team that beat them in the NFC Championship Game win the Super Bowl, the 49ers will be a team on a mission.
10. Donovan McNabb's future: With McNabb being replaced by Rex Grossman and Christian Ponder at his last two stops in Washington and Minnesota, respectively, he is not viewed by teams as a starter anymore. McNabb doesn't sound like he's ready to retire, but if he wants to keep playing he'll likely have to join a team as a backup. Even then, the market could be soft -- as we saw this season after he was released by the Vikings.
Harrison: Pats Exit Interview
11. Will Giselle's gripes be heard?: Mrs. Tom Brady wasn't happy that the Patriots' wide receivers dropped some key passes in the Super Bowl. Will the Patriots placate her -- actually address a need -- by bolstering the receiving corps? They tried with Chad Ochocinco and got little in return. Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston are free agents and both could be huge assets. The question is whether New England feels upgrading wide receiver, especially with the coin it would take to sign Colston or Jackson, is a greater priority than fortifying the defense and running game.