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Friday, 4 January 2013

The Pulling Linemen Awards Show 2012

Dust off your black tie, throw on your glad-rags and join us in the most prestigious NFL awards show ever.

After a truly memorable regular season, where we saw a lockout from the regular officials, the rise of the rookie QB, all kinds of all-time records being chased and even broken, it's hard to know where to begin when it comes to doling out awards. Luckily for you, we've done all the hard work for you, and after long hours of intense debate between us, we have finally nailed down the most deserving players to be given that most prestigious of all accolades an NFL players could hope to win - a coveted TPL "Pully" of their very own. Without further ado, we present to you The Pulling Linemen Awards for 2012.

Most Valuable Player
2011 Winner: Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB

1. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings (2,097 yds, 6.0 ypc, 12TD)
2. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos (68.6%, 4,659 yds, 37TD, 11INT)
3. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots (63.0%, 4,827 yds, 34TD, 8INT)

The Associated Press may have given their MVP awards to quarterbacks for the past five straight seasons, but to the collective mind of TPL, there was no more valuable player in the NFL this year than the man they call “All Day”. Tearing both his ACL and MCL in the penultimate week of the 2011 season, even playing in just a majority of the Vikings' games this year would have been considered a miraculous feat of recovery. Instead, Adrian Peterson was ready to go from opening Sunday, and though he was used tentatively early on in the season (getting less than twenty carries in four of the first six games, resulting in only one contest during that span where he topped 100 yards), he managed to pull off arguably the greatest season for a running back in NFL history, getting over 6 yards a carry over the year and finishing with the second-most single-season rushing yardage ever. Suffice it to say, Eric Dickerson's record would likely have been left far behind if AP's injury hadn't necessitated more cautious usage earlier in the year. As remarkable as his season was, what earns him the nod for the top prize was how fully he lived up to the notion of value. Without Peyton Manning, this Denver side would still boast a truly formidable defense, strong offensive line, high-upside receivers and a reliable running game – ingredients which, in the weak AFC West, would still have competed for a division title. Without Tom Brady, you would be hard pressed to count out the Patriots under Bill Belichick's masterful coaching – as 2008 proved. Without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings would probably be looking at another top-5 pick in the draft. Peterson has obviously been a huge part of the offense on his own; but by demanding 8- and 9-man boxes from opposing Ds, he has made life so much easier for Christian Ponder and a relatively anaemic passing attack, and with his ability to control the clock, he has allowed his defense to remain fresh throughout the game. The Vikings rode AP all day, every day right into the playoffs; there is no question that he is the most valuable player in the league this year.

All that said, you cannot overlook what Peyton Manning has done this year. Many thought he would not reach the heights he did as a Colt; some (myself included) thought that after his first hit as a Bronco, he'd never play another down. Instead, #18 had one of the best seasons to date, posting a career-high in yardage and with the second best completion percentage, touchdown percentage and quarterback rating of his 14 years as a QB (15 if you include last season). As stated above, in a weak division the Broncos may have gotten to the post-season without Manning (hell, if Tebow did it...) but therein lies the difference that Manning has made – without him, the only way they play in January is as beneficiaries of a weak division. With him, they have the top seed in the conference, are riding an eleven-game winning street, and must surely be considered the favourites to represent the AFC in New Orleans come February. While it was clear that he had some rust he needed to shake off early – as demonstrated by the back-to-back losses in Weeks 2 & 3 that saw him follow up a 3-pick outing with an effort where he completed just 50% of his passes – once he had settled back into a grove, he looked as if he had never taken a play off since 2010, let alone an entire season. Manning is just as dangerous as he was at his peak, and now coupled with the best defense he's ever had, facing Peyton Manning looks to remain a terrifying prospect for years to come.

On the face of it, 2012 was a relatively quiet year for Tom Brady; the fact is when someone has played so well for so long, in many respects you take their performance for granted. Lost behind the great comeback tales of determination and persistence presented by Peterson and Manning, Tom Brady has been quietly working away, doing what he always does – playing fantastic football. In some respects his 2012 campaign is not dissimilar to his 2010 season, when he won the MVP unanimously as well as the Offensive Player of the Year award, despite the fact that, in that season, a lot of the Patriots offense came from the ground game. The same is true this year – the Patriots had the second most rushing attempts in the league, the seventh most rushing yards and topping the NFL in touchdowns on the ground – but, as two years ago, it would be incredibly erroneous to give much credit to the running game for relieving pressure on Brady; if anything, the exact opposite is the case. With a passing defense as porous as always, and the worst red zone D in the league (allowing teams to score touchdowns on 70% of trips to the red zone), most teams wouldn't have the luxury of resting on the run game that generally only comes with a top defense. The Patriots were able to do so because of just how good Brady has been this year. In a reversal of Adrian Peterson's effect on his team's passing attack, Tom Brady has spent large parts of 2012 passing in order to set up the run – and it's been incredibly effective. Not that Brady hasn't been active himself – throwing 34 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions while posting the second-highest passing yardage total of his career – but his value to this team is arguably even greater than Manning's, as he has done almost as well as his great rival with less pieces at his disposal. He may not have received the same press, and his team may not be as hot as Manning's Broncos, but in terms of sheer value to his team, Brady must definitely be included in the conversation.

- Also receiving votes: Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB) and J.J. Watt (DE, HOU)

Offensive Player of the Year
2011 Winner: Calvin Johnson, WR, DET

1. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions (1,964 yds, 16.1 avg, 5TD)
2. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots (63.0%, 4,827 yds, 34TD, 8INT)
3. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers (67.2%, 4,295 yds, 39TD, 8INT)

NB: Having won MVP Adrian Peterson was not eligible for this award

If the Lions were a good team then Calvin Johnson would have been in the running for MVP. It’s not every year that the best WR in the NFL breaks the single season receiving record, and does it in a game less than the previous record was set. After overcoming the 1848yd record held by Jerry Rice in week 16, Megatron had his sights set on becoming the first ever 2000 yard receiver in the NFL. He ended 36 yards short after recording only 72 yards in week 17, his 4th lowest total of the season, the first time in 9 games he’d failed to break the 100 yard mark. The ridiculous fact is that even as he was putting up record setting numbers, the Lions managed to lose 8 straight games to end the season 4-12, due in no small part to the fact that for all his yards, Johnson, indisputably the Lions best player, only found the endzone 5 times all season (for comparison, in Jerry Rice’s record setting 1995 season he scored 15 receiving TDs as well as a rushing one). That’s not to take anything away from Johnson’s excellent numbers, he broke the record comfortably, even if the play calling in week 16 seemed designed specifically to gain him as many yards as possible to the detriment of the team as a whole, but the fact he wasn’t able to influence the Lions season enough to win more than 4 games almost completely ruled him out of MVP consideration.

Also in the running for OPOY were two QBs, who’s numbers are basically inseparable. Aaron Rodgers has a slightly higher completion percentage, and 5 more TDs, but Tom Brady threw for 550 more yards, whilst both threw only 8 interceptions in the regular season. Perhaps where Brady was able to distinguish himself above Rodgers, and gaining himself the #2 OROY slot over his QB rival, was the ability of the Patriots to close out that coveted first round playoff bye. With little over 6 quarters of football to go, the Patriots were losing to the Jaguars, and facing the possibility of dropping down to the #4 seed in the AFC. That’s when Tom got mad. From 13-3 down he dragged the Patriots offense through to a 23-16 win in Jacksonville, before leading the team to a 28-0 win over Miami in the final week, clawing their way past Houston to steal that #2 seed a vital playoff bye. In Green Bay on the other hand, when a win was all that was needed in week 17 to secure a week off to prepare for the divisional round, the Packers were unable to get past the Vikings. Whilst it’s hard to put a stain on Rodgers’ character for that loss, seeing as GB put up 34 points and he threw for 4 TDs, it’s the 11-5 record vs the Patriots 12-4 tally that separates the two for us.

- Also receiving votes: CJ Spiller (RB, BUF) and Robert Griffin III (QB, WAS)

Defensive Player of the Year
2011 Winner: Jared Allen, DE, MIN

1. J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans (20.5 sacks, 16 passes defensed, 4 FF's)
2. Charles Tillman, Cornerback, Chicago Bears (16 passes defensed, 3 INT's, 10 FF's)
3. Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals (12,5 sacks, 4 FF's, 53 tackles)

JJ Watt was our unanimous winner after what can only be described as a stunning season. The 2nd year man fell just shy of the single season sack record (22.5) but was a constant terror to offensive lines week in, week out. He lived in teams backfields, and when he wasn't sacking QB's he was batting down passes with unerring ease, smothering runners in the backfield and generally breaking all grading systems that advanced metric websites had. The way in which Indianapolis double teamed him on nearly every drop back in week 17 was telling. If Brooks Reed had been able to stay healthy then maybe Watt would have seen a few more single blocks, and he eats those up for lunch.

Charles "Peanut" Tillman's first half of the season was incredible. He forced 4 fumbles in a game against Tennessee, held Calvin Johnson to 3 catches & 34 yards on Monday Night Football in week 7 almost single handedly and was a key cog on a defense who's play was truly historic for the first 8 weeks. While his play tailed off towards the end of the year, that first half was enough to get him a deserved spot in our awards show.

In 3rd came a guy who, outside of the AFC North, isn't particularly well known. Yet. Geno Atkins has been a monster in the middle of Cincinnati's defense, dominating opposing lines and doing more than enough to deserve recognition. His impact on games this year helped the Bengals return to the playoffs, and at just 24, he should be a force for years to come. - Toby Durant

- Also receiving votes: Von Miller (OLB, DEN) and Aldon Smith (OLB, SF)

Offensive Rookie of the Year
2011 Winner: Cam Newton, QB, CAR

1. Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks (64.1%, 3,118 yds, 26TD, 10INT + 489 yds, 4TD)
2. Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts (54.1%, 4,374 yds, 23TD, 18INT + 255 yds, 5TD)
3. Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins (65.6%, 3,200 yds, 20TD, 5INT + 815 yds, 7TD)

Unsurprisingly, the "big 3" rookie QB's make up our medal ceremony for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But maybe the name at the top surprises you...

Russell Wilson, a 3rd round pick who was knocked for his height, takes this award thanks to an incredible 2nd half for the ages, including a comeback OT win in Chicago and the demolition of San Francisco that featured 4 touchdown passes and several baffled pass rushers. Wilson's escapability is maddening, his accuracy on the run is fantastic and his downfield passing ability is sensational for a guy who is a hair over 5 foot 10. He was also the only player to be selected by all 3 of us for this award. It appears that my continued praising of him convinced the others too.

Coming in 2nd is the first overall pick Andrew Luck. Taking over the reigns of a 2-14 team, in the shadow of one of the greatest QB's ever while being touted as "the next big thing" for over a year has got to be a daunting task. One that was made even harder by his head coach Chuck Pagano having to leave the team to receive serious medical treatment. But Luck has carried his league-worst defense and a poor running game to an incredible 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Sure, a soft schedule played a big part, but Luck's end of game heroics were fantastic too. Luck is the first QB taken number 1 to make the post-season in his rookie year.

Robert Griffin III rounds out our trio of QB's. While Griffin's numbers are fantastic, I think there are several reasons why he was left off of one ballot entirely, in favour of his partner in crime, running back Alfred Morris. Firstly, unlike the other 2 QB's Griffin didn't play all 16 games. Running QB's are often vulnerable to additional injuries, and Griffin was no different. A blow to the head against Atlanta knocked him out of that, winnable, game. And a knee sprain against Baltimore once more sent backup Kirk Cousins into the game and handed him the start in the next game against Cleveland too. Griffin also runs more of a "college" offense, which while affective might have counted against him in a very tight race against two more "pro" style QB's.

This was easily the hardest award to decide on. There are strong arguments for each of the QB's, as well as others. 2012 might go down as one of the best draft classes ever. - Toby Durant

- Also receiving votes: Alfred Morris (RB, WAS)

Defensive Rookie of the Year
2011 Winner: Aldon Smith, OLB, SF

1. Bobby Wagner, Middle Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks (140 tackles, 2 sacks, 3INT)
2 = Luke Kuechly, Middle Linebacker, Carolina Panthers (164 tackles, 2 sacks, 1INT, 1FF)
2 = Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, St. Louis Rams (73 tackles, 14 passes defensed, 4INT, 4TD)

Here at TPL, we were all high on Seattle's defense going into the season, agreeing amongst ourselves that they had the best secondary in the league, and were strong up front; yet, speaking for myself at least, I was not yet sold on the Seahawks' linebacking corp. The last thing I was expecting was a rookie linebacker to step into the starting lineup almost from day one – and especially not into the all-important middle linebacker position – and shore up the only real weak(er) spot on this D. Throughout the season, Wagner has not only played undoubtedly strong for a rook, but has shown play reminiscent of established vets. He has displayed a natural aptitude for reading the game, tracking down running backs, seeing lanes open and flying down to plug them up; he has shown mature technique, something lacking in even Pro Bowl LBs, wrapping up and bringing ball carriers to ground for short gains (or negative) gains, instead of gambling on big hits in an effort to get himself on Sport Center. He's rarely (if ever) found out of position in both run fits and in pass coverage, indeed displaying the sort of covering ability that defensive co-ordinators love in middle linebackers. Of course, he's had help from what is a top defensive side, but Wagner has absolutely exceed expectations, not just being the straw the stirs the defensive drink, but bringing sure tackling, sound coverage and excellent awareness that is the mark of a truly great middle linebacker. Wagner will be a thorn in many a team's side for years to come.

Wagner may have been the best rookie middle linebacker in 2012, but the highest-drafted player at the position was far from a slouch either in his first campaign. Ex-Boston College Eagle Luke Kuechly was a top ten pick in last April's draft, but his early performance was shaky to say the least, with the linebacker found out of position to make plays with surprising (and disappointing) regularity. Of course, he began his rookie season as an outside linebacker, instead of his natural 'Mike' spot, thanks to the presence of Jon Beason. Once Beason landed on IR, Kuechly was moved back inside, the position which he had manned so successfully in college – and the improvement was both extensive and instantaneous. In some ways, Kuechly's rookie season was more remarkable than Wagner's, given that Kuechly was playing behind a poor pair of defensive tackles, forcing him to take more responsibility in the run game to compensate for the weakness in front of him. Kuechly responded with such high-level play that it saw him lead the NFL in total tackles (i.e. solo tackles + assists), and while there is some validity to the argument that Kuechly's tackle total was inflated by the fact that there were no starting-calibre DTs who would have gotten to the ball carrier first, Kuechly still had to be disciplined enough to be in position to make the tackle, and show the technique and awareness to bring down some of the league's top running backs – not an easy task for any linebacker in his situation, yet one which never phased the rookie, to the extent that he has been announced as the long-term starter at the position even once the All-Pro Beason returns to the field. High praise indeed for the first-year player.

Tied in votes with Kuechly is rookie Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, one of the most talked-about prospects in last years draft – and not for complimentary reasons. While he was recognised as being arguably one of the two top talents at the position in the draft, a history of off-field issues, including arrests for violence and possession that saw him thrown out of the SEC's Florida Gators to finish his college career in Division II, led to debates of whether his talent was worth the headache that he would presumably have brought – and which was responsible from him falling from a potential top-10 pick to having to wait until the second day of the draft to hear his name called. When news broke that the Rams felt they had to have a team official check in with Jenkins daily to ensure he would avoid trouble, many wondered about the gamble; it is now safe to say that, thus far, the gamble has paid off. With the exception of a Week 10 benching in response to a broken curfew, Jenkins has kept his nose clean – but more importantly, on the field he has shown a very good (and clean) nose for the ball. Jenkins has had somewhat of a boom-and-bust season – giving up touchdowns and other plays due to biting on double moves and fakes – but has made up for it with some splash plays on defense as well as special teams, bringing back three of his four interceptions for touchdowns (tied with Charles Tillman for the league lead in pick-sixes), adding a fumble recovery for a touchdown for a league-high four defensive TDs, and adding in a blocked field goal to boot. With prized free agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan slowed in the final weeks of the season with injury, Jenkins stepped up with some of his best play of the year as the year drew to a close. Add a team record – becoming the first player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game in Rams history – and an NFC Defensive Player of the Week award to boot, and you'd be hard pressed to argue that St. Louis' gamble on the previously-troubled corner paid off in spades.

- Also receiving votes: Casey Hayward (CB, GB) and LaVonte David (OLB, TB)

Coach of the Year

1. Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts
2. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
3. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings

A unanimous vote for "Chuckstrong" after an emotional, magical and astounding season in Indy. Firstly, Chuck Pagano's decision to bring a bitter rival in former Pittsburgh offensive co-ordinator was inspired, Bruce Arians has done a fantastic job with the offense and when Pagano had to go on indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia Arians took over head coaching responsibilities and steered the Colts into a playoff berth. The atmosphere around the LUCAS Oil Stadium on sunday, when Pagano returned to the sidelines was incredible, and now "Chuckstrong" goes on the road to take on Pagano's old team Baltimore in the playoffs. Would you really go against another impressive upset??

Maybe the presence of a Rams fan on the voting panel helped Jeff Fisher to 2nd place here, but when you look back at the season St. Louis have had, it's very difficult to argue against his position. a 7-8-1 record is, on the face of it, not all that impressive, but it's a 5 win improvement on last season in an incredibly competitive NFC West. St. Louis played 9 games against teams who finished with 10 or more wins and went an impressive 3-5-1 in those games. With young talent on the roster already, and 2 1st round picks this year and next, St. Louis might soon join San Francisco and Seattle as playoff contenders.

We round out the top 3 with the head coach of another improbable playoff team, Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, this is another hat-tip to the incredible season that Adrain Peterson has had, but the play of the offensive line, Percy Harvin and the defense has also been good, and 2nd year quarterback Christian Ponder has been handled very well this season. Frazier hasn't demanded too much, and has allowed Ponder to mature this season. - Toby Durant

- Also receiving votes: Jim Harbaugh (SF) and John Fox (DEN)

Offensive Lineman of the Year
2011 Winner: Joe Staley, LT, SF

1. Duane Brown, Left Tackle, Houston Texans
2. Joe Staley, Left Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
3 = Mike Iupati, Left Guard, San Francisco 49ers and Andy Levitre, Left Guard, Buffalo Bills

Finally we come to the most important award of all. And walking away with this one is the "Do it all" left tackle Duane Brown. While he's not necessarily the best pass protecting left tackle, he's very reliable while being a monster in the run game and able to get up field and outside the numbers on screens. For all the talk of Arian Foster's decreased yards per carry in 2012 it wasn't for a lack of effort and performance from Duane Brown.

2011's winner finds himself slide to second this year, but what was true then is true now: Joe Staley can do it all. He didn't have the one reception this season that he managed last year which is a shame, but otherwise Staley has been everything the 49ers ever expected this season. The transition from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick has been made easy by his play.

A joint third place goes to two left guards. Mike Iupati of the San Francisco 49ers is a monster in the run game and a huge reason why Frank Gore continues to have success every week, while Andy Levitre has been carving holes for CJ Spiller in both the ground game and screens, where he's excelled. Both are fully deserving of recognition, as are the 3 centres who also picked up votes this year. - Toby Durant

- Also receiving votes: Max Unger (C, SEA), John Sullivan (C, MIN) and Mike Pouncey (C, MIA)

Most Improved of the Year
2011 Winner: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NYG

1. Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys (1,382 yds, 15.0 avg, 12TD)
2 = Rob Ninkovich, Defensive End, New England Patriots (8 sacks, 5FF, 4FR)
2 = Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens (855 yds, 17.4 avg, 8TD)

Most Improved is always a fun category, and there were a lot of worthy candidates this year, as shown by just one player receiving multiple votes this year.

That player is Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant. After a slow start, and a lot of pre-season chatter about the "rules of conduct" Jerry Jones had given him to live by, it looked like Bryant might be more trouble than he was worth. But then he exploded in the second half, scoring a total of 10 TD's in 7 consecutive games while also playing through a broken finger.

Finishing in equal second place was Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich and Baltimore's young speedster Torrey Smith. Ninkovich has gone from a role player in the Patriots 3-4 defense in years past, to a key player in 2012. Leading the team with 8 sacks and always seeming to come through in big spots for the Patriots.

Smith, in his 2nd year, became a more reliable deep threat for Baltimore this year, averaging 17.4 yards a catch. His biggest game came with the spotlight unfortunately turned on him in week 3, when he took to the field barely a day after his brother had been killed in a motorcycle crash. Smith went on to dominate the Patriots to the tune of 6 catches for 127 yards and 2 key touchdowns on Sunday Night Football.

How these players perform in 2013 will be interesting to watch, after 2 of last year's top 3 wound up getting votes in an award no one wants this year... - Toby Durant

- Also receiving votes: Golden Tate (WR, SEA), Brandon Graham (DE, PHI), Darrel Young (FB, WAS), Brian Hartline (WR, MIA) and Robert Quinn (DE, STL)

Most Disappointing of the Year
2011 Winner: Chris Johnson, RB, TEN

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions
3 = Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles & Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings

When a team has more than twice the number of Pro Bowlers as it wins, even with the Pro Bowl's selection faults, it's pretty obvious that they failed to live up to anywhere close to expectations. Of course, every year there are teams who fall far short of expectations, but often it is due to an overestimation of a team's talent, or an erroneous projection of how a team would deal with certain circumstances. What makes the 2012 Chiefs collectively our most disappointing players of the year is that we still believe that our assessment of this team's talent was not far off at all. Jamaal Charles is still an explosive and immensely talented back, running behind pretty solid offensive line who have consistently shown excellent implementation of the outside-zone running scheme. Dwayne Bowe still showed why he is one of the best young WRs in the NFL despite holding out for part of training camp before his season ended on IR, and there are some talented complementary receiving threats too. The defense still boasts an incredibly strong linebacking group, with skilled pieces in the secondary (with specific mention to Brandon Flowers and of course Pro Bowler Eric Berry, who despite not yet recapturing his rookie form has still shown flashes of greatness) and a high-potential defensive line. We knew who Matt Cassel was, and what he was capable of, heading into this season (although his generosity with the ball when it came to his opponents was an eyebrow raiser), and despite that it did not seem much of a stretch to consider the Chiefs a dark horse to win the AFC West. So, where did it all go wrong? As mentioned above, Cassel's embarrassingly high turnover rate hurt the Chiefs immensely, and with the benefit of hindsight there is no question that signing Stanford Routt in order to allow Brandon Carr to walk was a huge miscalculation on the part of the front office. Even so, with a strong run game, talented receiving options and some very, very good defenders, once it was clear that neither Cassel nor, eventually, Brady Quinn was going to lead the team to even sniffing the division crown, this team has far too much latent talent to be holding the no. 1 pick. Mistakenly thinking bad players were more capable than they turned out to be would be one thing, but that would not have been enough on its own to earn the Chiefs this dubious honour; rather, it was good, and even great, players were playing so far below their ability that it's almost insulting, that earned Kansas City the TPL Most Disappointing award.

If the Chiefs was the most disappointing entity of the 2012 season, the single player who disappointed us most was Detroit signal caller Matthew Stafford. The former-first overall pick famously ended his first two seasons on injured reserve before giving a stellar performance in 2011 that seemingly fully justified his high draft position and the faith the Lions braintrust had placed in him, become just the fourth player in NFL history to throw for over 5000 yards, breaking the team record of single-season touchdowns with 41 scores, and delivering the team's first playoff berth of the millennium. While it would have been perhaps expecting too much of Stafford to offer a season of similar gaudy heights – one which would rank among most quarterback's career finest – his follow-up effort fell far below even the most cautious of expectations. Stafford's season actually offers a good study of why statistics are at best can only offer a partial account of a player's performance, as in many categories he did not perform much worse than he had the season earlier, finishing only 33 yards shy of back-to-back 5000 yard outings, throwing just one more interception (and actually having a better interception ratio than the previous season), and throwing just 4.5 yards less a game. On paper, the only significant differences were a mildly lower completion percentage rate (dropping about three and a half percent), but much more significantly, the number of touchdowns he threw – just 20 on the year, or, expressed as a percentage of throws, dropped from 6.2% to just 2.3%. When you put on the tape, this discrepancy is easily resolved – Stafford simply looked lost and confused throughout the season. He made poor decisions, misread coverages and seems to be on a different page to his receivers when it came to running routes. A theory we've been proponents of throughout the season is that, with 2011 being his first full season as an NFL season, this year has seen Stafford go through a 'sophomore slump' of sorts. The Lions organization do take some share of the blame – with no run game to speak of, the coaches have had to lean heavier and heavier on Stafford to get the offense going, as attested to by his setting an all-time NFL record for passing attempts in a season (727) and for most games in a season with 40-or-more passing attempts (13). Still, it is another, more ignominious record that Stafford broke this year that is the perfect microcosm of his 2012 campaign: in a Week 16 contest against the Atlanta Falcons, Matthew Stafford threw for the most passing yards in a game anyone had ever thrown without completing a touchdown pass – a staggering, season high 443 yards. Just by the law of averages, you would expect that so many passing yards would have yielded in at least one touchdown, but instead it was a game of miscues, miscalculations and misfiring – Stafford's season in a nutshell. After the future looked so bright for him following last year, Stafford came crashing back down to earth, truly deserving to be mentioned in this list.

The final spot in our “Most Disappointing” list is shared by two players who find themselves named for different reasons; one from having a very poor season, and the other, perhaps unfairly, for having an above-average season in a year when expectations for him were incredibly high. After his pre-prison career was defined by being a run-first, run-second, run-or-maybe-occasionally-throw-third running-back-as-quarterback, Michael Vick took over the starting spot at the Eagles a few weeks into the 2010 season and promptly delivered the best season of his life, one that had him pegged as a top-10 quarterback. He has played at nowhere near the same level since. He followed a disappointing 2011 campaign with an even more poor showing this season, with his 13 combined TDs through the air and on the ground not being anywhere near good enough when compared to the 21 times he turned the ball over during his ten starts. With him not playing well enough in the pocket, and with him giving his worst rushing performance as a starter, Vick was not doing a good enough job either as a quarterback or as a running-back-as-quarterback. What makes this season even more disappointing is that he knew how much was at stake this season – Jeff Lurie made it clear in no uncertain terms that Andy Reid would be gone if the Eagles had another sub-par season (and of course, in the end the Eagles could only wish to have played well enough to be considered 'sub-par'), and it was clear that, with his current contract, Vick would be unlikely to remain an Eagle if there was to be a coaching change. Despite that, Vick had his worst season in Philly, and instead of being one of the better quarterbacks in the league as the 2010 season had once hinted, the conversation is now whether or not Michael Vick will ever be a starter in the NFL again.

There is a distinction to be made between having a bad or poor season, and having a disappointing season. A 12-sack season is normally nothing to be sniffed at for a 4-3 end, but it is more a mark of just how good he had been the previous year – being the highest-ranked 4-3 end in last year's TPL100 after coming just a half-sack shy of matching the all-time single-season record – that his 2012 season was a disappointment in our eyes. Of course, expecting back-to-back 20+ sack seasons would be unrealistic, but given how much more help he had in 2012 compared to 2011, this year appeared something of a step back. Unlike in 2011, where teams rarely had to throw the ball against the Vikings, thereby giving less opportunities for Allen to rank sacks, and where he was the only defensive player who would have commanded serious attention from his opponents' blocking schemes, this year saw the Vikings offense able to control the clock, forcing opponents to throw behind in order to account for long sustained drives on the back of Adrian Peterson, while Everson Griffen developed into a consistent threat on the other side of the defensive line, drawing attention away from Allen. In addition, posting his lowest tackle count since his rookie season merely serves to highlight that this was something of a step back for Allen. Again, it should be made clear that Allen still had an above-average season by all measures; but, coming off a truly dominant 2011 season, above-average is disappointing from a player clearly capable of better.

- Also receiving votes: Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, NYG) and Fred Jackson (RB, BUF)

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