Peyton Manning showed in 2012 why he should not be doubted. Despite being released by the Colts after undergoing neck surgery, Manning quickly found his footing in Denver and led the Broncos to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. (Who would you add to the list? Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
2 of 9 Darron Cummings/AP
The inspirational story surrounding first-year head coach Chuck Pagano was one of the biggest of the year. After Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, interim head coach Bruce Arians and the Colts players went on an inspiring run of victories, winning eight of their next 10 games, all while keeping Pagano in their thoughts. With his cancer in remission, Pagano returned for the final regular season game (a win over Houston) and will lead the team into the playoffs as a wild card.
3 of 9 Bob Levey/Getty Images
Few could have expected that J.J. Watt would lead the NFL in sacks, let alone almost break Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks. After recording 5.5 sacks in his rookie 2011 season, Watt finished the 2012 regular season with 20.5.
4 of 9Chris Szagola/CSM/Landov
New York Jets
A few years ago, Rex Ryan and the Jets were some of the biggest stars of New York. This season they Jets were still all over the headlines, but not in a favorable way. The Jets slumped to 6-10, hampered by the oftentimes laughable play of quarterback Mark Sanchez -- see: the "butt fumble" -- and even after benching Sanchez in Week 15, the Jets still lost.
5 of 9Rob Carr/Getty Images
A lot of things did not go the Ravens' way this season: their offensive coordinator was fired in December, their star linebacker was injured most of the year and their quarterback was still the hardly elite Joe Flacco. Despite it all, the Ravens made the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.
6 of 9David E. Klutho/SI
There have been so many quarterback busts in recent NFL history, but the big names in the 2012 QB draft class are not going to join them. No. 1 pick Andrew Luck led the Colts to the AFC playoffs, while No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III helped Washington to the NFC East crown.
7 of 9 Frederick Breedon/Getty Images; Wade Payne/AP
The Tennessee Titans scored a record five times on plays of 60 yards or longer (two pass plays, one kickoff, punt and fumble return) in their 44-41 overtime win over Detroit. The fourth quarter alone featured 46 points, six of which came with a game-saving Hail Mary in the final 18 seconds to force overtime.
8 of 9 Denis Poroy/AP
One of the leading candidates for the MVP Award two years ago, Philip Rivers had a year he probably wants to forget. The 2012 season included an October game against the Broncos in which he was intercepted four times -- the fifth consecutive game he had thrown at least one pick. The Chargers, a team that had gone 8-8 each of the past two seasons, finished 7-9, with coach Norv Turner expected to be fired.
9 of 9Jared Wickerham
Six weeks after being sidelined with a broken forearm, Rob Gronkowski returned to the Patriots lineup in Week 17 and caught a touchdown pass against the Dolphins. He's the only tight end in history with back-to-back-to-back seasons with at least 10 TD receptions.
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