Don't sleep on Adrian Peterson
this year, recovery or not. (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)
Who had the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game before last season began? How about the Eagles out of the playoffs? Or Cam Newton shattering rookie QB records?
The NFL continues to be predictably unpredictable, meaning that everything you think you know about the 2012 season probably will turn out to be wrong.
And so, with the season less than a week away, we take a few moments out to bust some widely-held beliefs about the upcoming football season:
• Myth: Adrian Peterson won't get back to his old form
Given that we are less than a year removed from Peterson tearing up his knee, it's fair to question how good the NFL's highest-paid running back can be upon his return. The answer: Probably very, very good.
The Vikings are doing what they can to ensure that Peterson is 100 percent before he steps foot back on the field again. From that point, AP's challenge will be mostly mental -- if he avoids consciously or subconsciously protecting that knee during play and relies on his ability, there's nothing between him and superstardom again.
• Myth: The Packers will challenge 16-0 again
Green Bay looked headed for the third perfect regular season in the NFL's modern era last year after starting 13-0. That dream died in a shocking upset loss at Kansas City in Week 15. But could this year's team, with Aaron Rodgers back to torment the opposition and some young upgrades on defense, go where the 2011 version could not?
Don't count on it.
For starters, the same issues that derailed Green Bay in the playoffs last year -- namely questions on the O-line and in the secondary -- are still there. Plus, the schedule doesn't really lend itself to a run at perfection. Green Bay plays San Francisco and Chicago (granted, both at home) within a five-day stretch to start the year, travels to play Houston and the Giants, has the Saints at home, and must deal with both the Bears and Lions twice.
The Packers might be the NFC favorites and could wind up with the No. 1 seed. Just don't except them to be perfect.
• Myth: Matt Flynn will ride the bench all season
You're going to have to get on a waiting list if you want a spot on the overflowing Russell Wilson bandwagon right now. The rookie QB out of Wisconsin took Seattle's camp by storm and won the starting job with a brilliant preseason. His mobility makes him a dangerous weapon, even with concerns about his small stature following him.
But. The Seahawks gave Flynn a three-year deal with $10 million in guarantees. That money won't press Pete Carroll to use Flynn unnecessarily, but it also means Seattle won't hesitate to turn to him if need be. Carroll's expectations are to contend for the division title this season. If Wilson goes through some rookie growing pains -- as can be expected, unless you're Cam Newton or, possibly Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III -- then Seattle's chances diminish greatly.
Wilson won the Seahawks' job because Carroll kept the QB competition wide open all summer. He could give it back to Flynn with a couple of poor performances.
• Myth: The Saints will fall apart without Sean Payton
Payton has a record of 62-34 in New Orleans with three division titles and a Super Bowl championship, so saying that the Saints will be the exact same team without him would be diminishing his impact. But anyone expecting New Orleans to go 6-10 just because he's not on the sidelines this year is in for a rude awakening.
The main reason you can still be confident in New Orleans is the presence of Drew Brees. The Saints' franchise QB has enough knowledge of the offense and enough say over it to pick up Payton's slack. New Orleans also still has new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a proven and veteran coach, calling the shots on the other side of the ball.
The biggest wild card in the mix here is how New Orleans responds to the turmoil surrounding the franchise. If the Saints use it as motivation rather than succumb to it, the sky remains the limit.
• Myth: The Patriots' tight ends won't repeat their 2011 success
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez gave opposing defensive coordinators fits last season en route to 169 combined catches and more than 2,200 yards receiving. Those numbers were way way up from 2010, when Gronk and Hernandez put up a total of 92 catches and 1,109 yards. So was last season a flash in the pan?
There is very little reason to think that heading into 2012. The Patriots' offense now, more or less, revolves around how Tom Brady uses his tight ends. Wes Welker, he of the 122 catches last season, still plays a vital role but, especially in the red zone, Brady looks to his two big TEs first.
Even if opposing defenses have devised some way to try to deal with Gronkowski and Hernandez, the sheer physical advantages they have over the opposition can negate that. Think of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver -- even if you defend them perfectly, they can and will still beat you. It's the same for Gronkowski and Hernandez over the middle.
• Myth: Peyton Manning's arrival means Denver will run away with the AFC West
The Broncos won the AFC West in 2011 and added one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in the offseason. No-brainer: division crown, right?
Two factors could turn the tide: 1. Peyton's health. This is the obvious concern for Denver and its fans heading into the season. Can Manning survive an entire season after sitting out all of 2011? There have been reports already that he can't make all his throws to the right side, because he does not have full strength back in his arm yet. One big hit could ruin the whole plan.
And 2. The division should be better in 2012, starting with the Chiefs. Kansas City was done in by injuries last season but responded very well under then-interim coach Romeo Crennel. Now armed with a healthy roster, Crennel could do some serious damage.
Denver may win the division. But it will be a dogfight.
• Myth: Pittsburgh is doomed after a tough offseason
The Steelers were buried by the salary cap this offseason, which forced them to say farewell to long-time key players like Hines Ward and James Farrior. Add in some key injuries -- Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison, David DeCastro -- and all signs point to a 7-9 or 8-8 season.
Except few teams in the league have shown themselves to be as resilient as this Pittsburgh one. Lest we forget, the Steelers still should have one of the NFL's better defenses, led by Troy Polamalu
; and Ben Roethlisberger
remains among the league's more reliable quarterbacks. With Mike Wallace
back in tow, Pittsburgh could contend in the AFC North (and beyond) for yet another season.