NFL's most memorable moments of 2016

Wednesday December 28th, 2016

From the dramatic ending of the Packers-Cardinals playoff game at the beginning of 2016 and Jeff Fisher's firing (finally!) to Dak Prescott's emergence to Colin Kaepernick's protest that caught the attention of many this season, here's a comprehensive look at the top 20 most memorable NFL moments of 2016. These moments also appear in SI's top 116 moments of 2016, so check it out to see where they stand against the rest of the sports landscape.

20. Jeff Fisher finally fired by Rams

Rams owner Stan Kroenke has a threshold for mediocrity. In Jeff Fisher’s four seasons as the head coach in St. Louis, the team’s best record was 7–9. Still, the Rams decided to make Fisher the nucleus of the franchise during its relocation to Los Angeles and even awarded him a contract extension after the Rams hit the 4–8 mark this season. One week later he was fired. — Melissa Jacobs

19. Panthers cut All-Pro CB Josh Norman

In arguably the biggest move of the off-season, the defending NFC champs decided to rescind the franchise tag on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman after the most impressive season of his four-year career. Norman wasn’t on the market for long—he signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Redskins two days later, and went on to make some, err, strong statements about the difference between his old team and new one. “It’s like going from a dictatorship to freedom,” he said. — Amy Parlapiano

18. Bengals melt down in playoff loss vs. Steelers

A late A.J. Green touchdown put the Bengals on the verge of their first postseason win since the 1990 playoffs, but the same old disciplinary issues doomed Cincinnati to another early January exit. Jeremy Hill’s fumble with 1:36 to play gave the Steelers one last shot, and on the ensuing drive Vontaze Burfict was flagged for a head-hunting hit that concussed Antonio Brown as he leapt for a pass, followed immediately by a scuffle on the field and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on an emotional and frustrated Adam Jones. Those 30 yards of penalties on one play set up Chris Boswell for a routine 35-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh an 18–16 win, and unlike the Bengals in the final minutes, Boswell made no mistake. — Eric Single

17. Beckham Jr.'s relationship with the kicking net

Odell Beckham Jr. gave us the most GIF-able moments of the season to date, and they weren’t even touchdowns: First, there was The Fight. During a particularly emotional game against the Redskins, Beckham Jr. took out his frustration on the sidelines by punching the kicking net. The net retaliated by falling on him. Then, there was The Reunion. After scoring his first touchdown of the season a couple of weeks later, OBJ apologized to The Net with a heartfelt hug. — Amy Parlapiano

16. Broncos defeat Patriots in final Brady-Manning matchup

It didn’t quite live up to the Brady-Manning matchups of the past, but this game still had its own share of drama. The Broncos had a 20–12 lead in the AFC title game with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots rallied and scored a touchdown to make it 20–18 with 12 seconds left. The Broncos’ defense then denied the Pats a two-point conversion to send Denver to the Super Bowl and give Manning one final victory over his long-time foe. — Amy Parlapiano

15. Carson Palmer implodes in NFC Championship Game

The Cardinals’ first-half in the NFC title game: Punt, punt, punt, fumble, touchdown, fumble, interception. Carson Palmer? He was responsible for all of those first-half turnovers. By halftime, Arizona trailed 24–7, and it didn’t get any better from there—Palmer ended his epic collapse with three more interceptions, including a pick-six, and the Panthers cruised to the Super Bowl with a 49–15 win. — Amy Parlapiano

14. QB Sam Bradford traded to Vikings

Just 12 days before the start of the season, the Vikings lost franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a torn ACL and dislocated knee suffered in practice, sending Minnesota into panic mode and the NFL hot stove into chaos. That the Vikings made a move for a quarterback was no surprise, but their trade partner was: The Eagles had openly touted Sam Bradford as their starter all summer and seemed reluctant to throw No. 2 pick Carson Wentz into the fire, but Minnesota’s offering of a first-round pick was too tempting to pass up. For the second consecutive off-season, Bradford was the centerpiece of a stunning blockbuster trade, and for the second consecutive year, he has left the team that moved heaven and earth to get him feeling shortchanged. — Eric Single

13. Seahawks beat Vikings after Blair Walsh’s missed FG

How did he miss that? Blair Walsh had a 27-yard field goal to put Minnesota ahead with 26 seconds left in the Vikings’ sub-zero wild-card clash with Seattle, but the kick hooked left of the goalpost, letting the Seahawks escape with a 10–9 win and etching Walsh’s name in Minnesota’s storied history of playoff blunders. Walsh didn’t survive the 2016 season—the Vikings cut him after an inconsistent start—but in many ways his fate was sealed months before. —Eric Single

12. NFL, Giants botch Josh Brown's domestic violence case

In March 2015, Brown was arrested and charged with assault following an altercation with his now ex-wife. After an investigation, the NFL suspended Brown just one game despite its personal conduct policy mandating six games barring mitigating circumstances. The case came to a climax when Brown’s journal admitting frequent abuse was made public. Brown was immediately placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and subsequently cut by the Giants. — Melissa Jacobs

11. Browns release Johnny Manziel after two tumultuous seasons

Manziel’s fall from grace—from first-round pick to all-time bust—was officially complete when the Browns parted ways with the troubled quarterback in March. Manziel was unable to curb his partying despite a stint in rehab, and was investigated in January for a domestic violence incident against his ex-girlfriend (prosecutors later agreed to drop the charges). — Amy Parlapiano

10. Cam Newton storms out of Super Bowl postgame press conference

Newton had little interest in answering questions after his worst performance of the season (18 of 41, 0 TDs, 1 INT) on the biggest possible stage. He appeared quite agitated, and either answered questions with one-word answers or ignored them altogether. Then he walked away, launching an off-season of questions about his leadership— Melissa Jacobs

9. Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles

Back in January it looked as though it would be the Chargers and Raiders who would be relocating to Carson, Calif., while the Rams stayed in St. Louis. But after a six-hour meeting in Houston, the vote swung dramatically. Instead Stan Kroenke and his Rams who moved back to Los Angeles, where they’d be featured on Hard Knocks and, despite the change of scenery, proceed to put together yet another subpar season. — Amy Parlapiano

8. Cardinals edge Packers in epic fashion

Two of the game’s most esteemed veteran superstars, Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald, would not be denied when the Packers and Cardinals met in the divisional round. Rodgers connected with Jeff Janis on a desperate 61-yard heave to convert a fourth-and-20 with less than a minute left, then fired up a last-second Hail Mary that once again found its way to a leaping Janis as time expired for a game-tying touchdown. That all served as prologue for Fitzgerald, who weaved through the Packers' defense for 75 yards on the first play of overtime, then scored the game-winning touchdown on a shovel pass two plays later, capping off a breathless finish that made the rest of the 2016 playoffs seem unremarkable by comparison. — Eric Single

7. Rams, Eagles make massive trades to move up for QBs

The Titans and Browns earned the first two picks of the 2016 draft, but as quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz became crystallized at the top of draft boards, both teams chose to deal their spots away, shaking up the draft order in the process. First, the Rams jumped up from the 15th pick to No. 1, and once word leaked out they had their eye on Goff, the Eagles jumped from No. 8 to No. 2 to secure their man, Wentz. By the time Round 1 rolled around, the first two selections had been drained of all surprise—but fans got their share of that in the weeks leading up to it. — Eric Single

6. Will Smith shot and killed in New Orleans

Late on the evening of April 9 former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, a star on the 2010 Super Bowl championship team, was shot and killed following a traffic incident in the city’s Lower Garden District. Cardell Hayes, a former high school football star and current semipro player, admitted shooting Smith eight times, but maintained he only fired in self-defense. In a December trial that rivets the city, Hayes is convicted of manslaughter. He faces sentencing on Feb. 17. — Richard O'Brien

5. Laremy Tunsil's account tweets gas mask video before NFL draft

Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil was ticketed for the top 10 of the 2016 NFL draft as the consensus top player at his position. But moments before the first pick was announced, a video of him smoking a bong through a gas mask was posted to his Twitter account, sending the draft into chaos. Who would sabotage a promising player’s public image on the most important night of his professional life? In the end, the Dolphins scooped up Tunsil at pick No. 13, but only after two agonizing hours of confusion and misinformation—during which time two other offensive linemen heard their names called first. — Eric Single

4. Deflategate officially ends

545 days after Deflategate began, it ended with a Facebook post from Tom Brady stating he would “no longer proceed with the legal process.” Brady was simply out of legal options. The NFL won back its four-game suspension after the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned Judge Richard Berman's earlier decision to erase the suspension. Brady’s appeal was rejected, meaning his only remaining option was the Supreme Court, which most observers viewed as a long-shot. — Melissa Jacobs

3. Dak Prescott emerges for Cowboys

When Tony Romo suffered a broken bone in his back during a preseason game in late August, the outlook for the Cowboys’ 2016 season was as murky as ever. And then Dak Prescott emerged alongside fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott and cleared it all up, leading Dallas to an 11-game win streak and a top seed in the NFC. This was now Prescott’s team, and Romo admitted as much in an emotional press conference in November, when he said Dak “earned the right to be our quarterback … as hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right.” — Amy Parlapiano

2. Von Miller leads Broncos to Super Bowl win in Peyton Manning's final game

The spotlight leading up to Super Bowl 50 zoomed in on the quarterbacks—the regular-season MVP, Cam Newton, and the future Hall-of-Famer, Peyton Manning, who was likely playing his last game. But once the game began, Denver’s dominant defense, led by Von Miller, completely shut down the NFL’s no. 1 scoring offense. Miller forced two fumbles that set up both of Denver’s touchdowns. The final score was 24-10, and Miller was the no-brainer MVP. Meanwhile, Manning got his second ring and rode off into the sunset on top. —Melissa Jacobs

1. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during national anthem

Before the 49ers’ third preseason game, cameras caught Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, which we would later learn was in protest of mass police brutality. What ensued was both a movement and nightmare for the NFL. Players across the league kneeled or raised a fist during the anthem in solidarity while fans interpreting Kaepernick’s act as disrespectful stopped watching the NFL in droves. — Melissa Jacobs

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.