Eight Games In: My take on the 2011 NFL season's top stories

Ahhh, the National Football League is alive and well, in the season that almost wasn't.  There have been many stories that have been well-chronicled on this site and others so far this year.  I thought I'd spend a little time reflecting,  and I came up with my own top-10 NFL stories of the 2011 season, in no particular order. I'm sure I've missed some good ones, so chime in with what you think merits inclusion in the Top-10.

CBA was signed, and only the Hall of Fame game was cancelled.  
The angst over the off-season was easy for most fans to forgive and forget.  However, the lack of OTAs and shortened Training Camps impacted many teams, especially young teams with new Coaching Staffs (ahem, us).  It has undoubtedly contributed to muscle pulls, especially hamstrings, as well as overall player conditioning.

Peyton’s Neck Injury
This injury gets its own category because of the impact to the Colts and to the draft next April.  Manning hopes to play again this year, even after three surgeries and a stem-cell procedure (done in Europe cuz it’s not approved in the U.S.)*. I’m not a Doctor, don’t play one on TV, didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express, and thankfully don’t have neck or back problems.  Still, one must seriously consider the possibility that Manning may not play again, period.  I would hate to see a legend go out because of injury, but it’s happened many times before: Gale Sayers, Michael Irvin, and Joe Theismann (a legend in his own mind), to name a few.
*For those concerned about the stem-cell procedure, they used Manning’s own cells.

  You can see the rest of my list after the jump.

Other Injuries
I’m not talking about the expected hammies, other pulled/sore muscles, and inevitable dings and doinks; but rather the devastating season-enders.  After watching our Panthers dropping like flies (TD, Beast, Ron Edwards, The Schwartz, Mount Otah, Gettis, Barnidge, Gary Williams …), I fully expected to see similar results around the league.  I was surprised.  Only the Giants have more players (12) on IR than the Panthers (11), and I would argue that the impact of Goff, Austin, Hixon… doesn’t come close to the impact the Panthers have sustained.  Probably the next hardest hit team would be the Chiefs, losing Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki. Other big names on IR: Mario Williams, Shawne Merriman, Kenny Britt, Chris Cooley, Tim Hightower, Jarvis Jenkins; along with the usual suspects, Bob Sanders and Mark Clayton.

Free Agent Frenzy
Labor strife sucks, but in the end the owners, players, and lawyers got a deal that keeps them covered for 8 to 10 years.  But, a major side-effect of the negotiations was that the draft occurred on time, but Free Agency was delayed, shortened, and seemingly sprang up out of nowhere.  It was Fan-friggin-tastic for the NFL blogging nation.

Suck for Luck
Do I think it’s happening?  No, I don’t.  The two poster-teams for the supposed strategy are the Colts and Dolphins.  Head coaches Caldwell and Sporano will likely lose their jobs because of their teams’ performances, so I don’t think they’d be all in for the Luck campaign.  As for players, well to quote Jeff Saturday (Colts), "I've done this for 13 years. I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote, ‘I ain't sucking for anybody’."  I believe this is more of a fan phenomenon than anything.  What do you guys think?

Rule Changes
So how do you like the new kickoff rule?  I don’t feel compelled to rant about it, mostly because the Panthers don’t have a KR threat anyway.  I suppose the Bears’ fans feel differently about it.  I’m going on record as saying that I very much like the new review of all touchdowns.  In most cases, it doesn’t take long.  I’m in favor of getting the call right, even though Smitty’s knee habitually hits the ground just before the ball crosses the damn’d line.  I’m also not getting any heartburn from the new "illegal hit" definitions, at least not compared to recent years.  Big "Jacked Up" hits were fun to watch before the long-term affects of concussions were known.  And they actually loosened up the rule preventing contact to the QB’s head (now must be forcible contact).  So, the rules changes don’t bother me at all.  The phantom Holding and P.I. calls bug the crap out of me, though.

Surprising Teams
Okay, lots of folks believed the Eagles were the ‘dream team’ after their free agent spending spree.  They started 1-4 before winning their last 2.  So, the dream is still alive, but they’re looking up at the equally surprising (to me) N.Y. Giants, who are 5-2 and leading the NFC East.  Other disappointments (I’ll leave the Colts out of this): I thought the Rams, Cardinals, Jags, and Vikings would be at least middle-of-the-pack teams, but all are floundering.
Surprisingly good teams include the Giants, Lions, and Bills; but the two biggest surprises to me so far are the Bengals and Niners.  My expectation is that the Bengals fall back in the face of their brutal remaining schedule, whereas the Niners continue to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the NFC West.

Achievers and Deceivers (non-Panthers)
My best "feel good" story?  Fred Jackson – a decent RB but a fumbler for 5 years,  Fred is getting it done and holding onto the ball.  
Whatever happened to? … Chris Johnson.  Oh yeah, he got paid.
Who are you?Peyton Hillis.  Dude erupted last year, running and jumping over would-be tacklers.  Now he’s trying to get paid by not playing.  Disappointing (especially for two of my FF teams)
Have you ever seen a player want to leave a team so badly they threaten retirement?  Carson Palmer’s power play worked, and they’re not missing him at all in Cincy.  People may frown on what Palmer did, but he’s had a rough career with the Bungles; and, he was up front about his intentions from the beginning (unlike a certain DE we all know…and no, I don’t have to let it go).  

Tebow(ing)
Please, just make it go away.

Panthers’ Dynamic Duo
There’s nothing I can tell you about Cam’s historic rookie performance, or about Smitty’s rejuvenation, that you don’t already know.  Happy days are here again in Carolina.  Hallelujah!!

Bonus: Lindsay Lohan
I’m just using Li Lo as feeble example of how ugly this world can be.  Yet the NFL remains in all its splendor; spectacular plays and follies, fantastic finishes and blow-outs, enigmatic risers and fallers.  The NFL can’t keep all the ugliness from our daily lives, but it provides a blessed distraction during hard times. I’m just extremely thankful that I’m not an NBA fanatic.

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