Surprise Team: Obviously this has to be the New Orleans Saints. I definitely underestimated Drew Brees. I didn't think he had a pro arm. Honestly, I'm still not completely convinced. His season reminds me of Kurt Warner's monster seasons with the Rams. Warner didn't have a pro-arm, benefited from playing in a dome, was surrounded by great talent, played in a great offensive system, and was extremely smart and accurate. That combined for two regular season MVPs (would have been three if his finger wouldn't have been broken) and a Super Bowl MVP. This year's Saints aren't quite as good as those Rams. Brees is as good as Warner, but their combo of McCallister and Reggie Bush is not equal to Marshall Faulk. Marques Colston may be as good as Torry Holt, but Joe Horn is no Isaac Bruce at this point (remember Bruce was #1 with a bullet on that Super Bowl team.) They don't have the O-Line that the Rams had either. The other big surprise to me was how well the Eagles played down the stretch.
Disappointing Team: Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah I know they had a tough schedule, but it's to understand what happened to them. Their defense was good, but not as good as they were last year (or the year before or the year before that or...) I don't think a tough schedule is enough to justify them being #20 in Pass Defense, especially given their record. The bigger problem though was Roethlisberger. It seemed like he was really becoming a dominant QB in the playoffs last year, and his stats in his first two seasons were excellent. But a 75 QB rating this year is just terrible. Everybody fretted over them losing Jerome Bettis, but Willie Parker was #6 in the NFL in rushing and was tied for 4th in rushing TDs. That's huge. No, the problem on offense was the QB. Pittsburgh proved that the passing game is the most important thing in pro football. They ran the ball well, and they did a great job in stopping the run (#3 in the NFL at 88 ypg,) but they did not throw the ball well and they did not stop the pass well. The result was an 8-8 season. Of course I was also very disappointed with my team, the Miami Dolphins. I'll have to devote an entire blog to that though.
Surprise Players: As mentioned earlier, Drew Brees was a big surprise, as was Jeff Garcia at the end of the season. Frank Gore was awesome for the 49ers. Norv Turner is the greatest RB coach, ever. Look at the amazing success he had with Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis, Ricky Williams, Lamont Jordan, and now Frank Gore. Sure Emmitt and Ricky Williams were great talents, but even they clearly had their best years playing for Turner. Steven Jackson was also dominant at the end of the season for St. Louis. Who would have guessed that Mike Furrey would have 98 catches? Or that Lee Evans would have 1292 receiving yards. I thought that future Hall-of-Fame WR Marvin Harrison would decline some this year, but instead he had 95 catches, 1366 yards, and 12 TDs. Wow. And what about Aaron Kampman? That's a lot of sacks on a bad team.
Disappointing Players: Also as mentioned, Ben Roethlisberger was a huge disappointment. Same thing for Eli Manning and Michael Vick. The Giants made the playoffs in spite of Manning, and Vick shows no sign of ever being able to quarterback a pro team. His QB rating entering the season was 75.7 and his rating for the season was... 75.7. At leas that was a little better than last year's dismal 73.1. He set a record for QB rushing with 1039 rushing yards. A lot of good that did. He had a career high in rushing attempts and interceptions. Funny that. Other disappointing non-QBs: Shaun Alexander, Willis McGahee, Randy Moss, and Chris Chambers.
MVP: Obviously it's Ladanian Tomlinson. He lead the league in rushing, had a great 5.2 yards/carry, and of course he set a new TD record. He was also the best player on the team with the most wins. Drew Brees was amazing as well, and so was Peyton Manning for that matter. It's easy to take him for granted, but he had less running game and his defense stunk at stopping the run, yet look at all the wins. It's amazing that his team could be so bad against the run, and he could post a 100+ QB rating at the same time.
Playoff Predictions: Super-upset... Kansas City over Indianapolis. Peyton Manning is supposed to be a choker. Indianapolis can't stop the run, and Larry Johnson is a pretty good running back. Dallas also has a good chance against Seattle, who never seemed to play all that well this season. Dallas didn't play so well down the stretch, but at least they looked good at times. There's no way the Jets will beat the Patriots. It's hard to imagine the Giants beating Philadelphia, mostly because of how good the Eagles have played down the stretch and how bad Eli Manning has been... Chicago is very vulnerable in the next round, and I hate to say it, but it's because of Rex Grossman. You just can't turn the ball over like Rex does and win in the playoffs. San Diego definitely seems like the team to beat. They have great balance. Philip Rivers has played great this year, but you have to wonder what he'll do if he's asked to win a game late in the 4th quarter. So... San Diego over New Orleans in the Super Bowl? That's too chalky, so I'll pick San Diego over Philadelphia instead.