August 31, 2012

Dream Scenario: 2012 NFL Season

     The following is my best attempt at creating my ideal 2012 NFL season.  Four notes about it:

-None of the following events involve injuries.  I know injuries are a part of the game and allow for amazing stories to happen.  However, I never want to see anybody get hurt, and there are always ways to make a great story without someone being injured.

-You may notice that the following scenario is not ridiculously far off from how this season should turn out.  That's because teams that have been good in the past few years got more coverage, which has made them more interesting, which means their presence is important in creating a truly awesome series of events.

-If I did everything correctly, this scenario is completely plausible.  I actually got the NFL schedule and picked each of the 256 games, though I did have to change a few of my picks to get what I wanted.  Also, I made sure to check that the tiebreakers were how I wanted them to be.

-If your team does not do well in this fantasy, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't like your team (though it probably does).  It may just be a case of your team being in a division with 3 other teams I want to see win (Buccaneers and Bengals), or even your team coincidentally being in games in which the other team's victory in crucial to the storyline.

     I will add more detailed descriptions of my thought process in italics throughout the post.  The fantasy directly follows the first ever jump break in W17L history.  Enjoy.

Weeks 1-7:  Opening Act

     The 2012 NFL season begins with the reigning champion Giants earning a home victory over the Dallas Cowboys.  The Giants defeat the Buccaneers in Week 2 to join 8 other teams at 2-0.  However, Week 3 leaves only 2 undefeated teams, the Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.  Pittsburgh's Week 4 bye coupled with Cleveland's win at Baltimore gives the Browns the league's best record at 4-0.  On the other end of the spectrum are the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, who both lose their first five games.

     Week 6 brings Buffalo its first win and Miami sole possession of the NFL's worst record.  Also, the Browns, behind rookie stud Trent Richardson and his 632-yard start to the season (fourth most all-time in a team's first 6 games), make it to 6-0.

Trent Richardson goes hard on the NFL.

     Week 7 is when the league starts to change.  The Browns lose to the 2-3 Colts, giving the 6-0 Steelers the only undefeated record in the NFL.  The Jets, who had started 2-1 but followed that with a 3-game losing streak, give the starting quarterback job to Tim Tebow and promptly lose to the Patriots.  On the NFC side, the Saints win five of their first six games without interim head coach Joe Vitt and join the Patriots, Browns, and Texans at one loss after 7 weeks.

     (I gave a lot of thought to the Tebow situation, as it's one of the most intriguing stories going into the season.  At first, I wanted Mark Sanchez to lead the Jets to the playoffs, rendering Tebow useless.  But I knew that if that happened, people would start saying that Tebow motivated Sanchez to be great and Tebow deserved the credit for the Jets' success.  The only way for me to shut up the Tebow fanatics was to let him take the reins and fail completely.  Sorry, Jets fans.)

Weeks 8-14:  Setting Up the Playoff Scenarios

     In Week 8, the Browns, Patriots, and Saints all suffer their second losses.  The Dolphins earn loss number 7 against the Tebow-led Jets.  The Steelers continue to win, and their defense is playing at a record-setting pace, with only 68 points allowed through 7 games.

(Because what are the odds that anyone would seriously challenge a defensive record this year?)

     Week 10 brings a record of its own when the 5-3 Broncos travel to Carolina to play the 5-3 Panthers.  With just under 3 minutes left, Carolina trails 42-41 and Cam Newton has 508 passing yards.  Newton leads a drive that goes to Denver's 30-yard line, but Justin Medlock misses the game-winning field goal as time runs out.  Newton, however, gets a standing ovation for his single-game record 558 passing yards.

Cam Newton celebrates his historic achievement in front of his loving fans.

     Week 11 hosts a shocker on a slightly smaller scale.  Needing a win to keep up with the Browns in the wild card hunt, the 6-3 Ravens go into Pittsburgh and hand the 9-0 Steelers their first loss of the year.

     In the AFC East, the Bills stage a furious rally to catch the Patriots.  In Weeks 10, 11, and 12, the Bills go on a 3-game winning streak to move to 5-6, while New England loses three consecutive games (the final one against Tebow and the Jets) to fall to 6-5.  Buffalo continues its winning ways in Weeks 13 and 14, but the Patriots also win both games to stay one game ahead in the divisional race.

     In the NFC, the Packers lose in Weeks 11, 12, 13, and 14 to fall to 6-7 and last place in a very tight NFC North.  After 14 weeks, the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers are tied for their division lead at 8-5, while San Francisco (10-3) and Dallas (9-4) lead the West and East comfortably.

Weeks 15 and 16:  The Home Stretch

     A Bills loss and a Patriots win in Week 15 leave Buffalo with very little hope of ending its 13-year streak with no playoff appearances, with New England holding a 2-game lead with two games left to play.  Also that week, the Packers win in Chicago to move within one game of division leaders Detroit and Minnesota.

     The Patriots, though, lose the following week to 4-10 Jacksonville, while the Buffalo Bills defeat Miami to put the Dolphins at 0-15, just one loss from the league's second "imperfect season" in the 16-game era.  More importantly, the Bills can still potentially win the division.  The Packers win against the Titans to move into a tie for second place in the NFC North, but a Vikings win keeps them one game back.  In the NFC South, the Falcons move to 10-5, the Panthers claim second at 9-6, and the Saints fall back to 8-7.

Week 17:  The Greatest Week Ever

     NFC South:  The Panthers have a chance to clinch the division, but the Falcons win to finish at 11-5, leaving 10-6 Carolina a wild card spot.

     NFC West:  The 49ers win and run away with the division, earning a #1 seed with a 12-4 record.

     NFC East:  The Eagles win their 10th game of the year, but the Cowboys also win and take the division crown at 11-5.  With their loss to Atlanta in Week 9, the Cowboys earn a #3 seed.

     AFC West:  Denver wins to go 11-5, while the Chargers lose and finish 10-6.  However, having beaten the Browns and the Ravens, San Diego is guaranteed a #5 seed.

     AFC South:  The Texans win and earn a playoff berth comfortably, winning the division at 11-5.

     AFC North:  The Steelers have clinched the #1 seed at 14-1.  The Ravens and Browns, having had equal records since Week 10, are both at 9-6 with only one wild card spot remaining.  If both teams win, the Browns are likely to take the #6 seed due to their 4-game lead in strength of victory.  If both teams lose, a whole mess of possibilities can arise with the Raiders and Patriots.

     The Ravens finish their 1:00 game early, submitting a 37-7 beatdown of the Bengals and forcing Cleveland to defeat Pittsburgh's mix of backups and low-level starters.  With 6 minutes left, though, the Browns trail the Steelers 10-3.  Adding to the drama, the Steelers have only given up 158 points over the whole year, 7 less than the 16-game record.  The scrappy Cleveland team gets to the Steelers' 10-yard line, and Brandon Weeden completes a touchdown pass to Greg Little as time runs out. 

     Trailing 10-9, the Browns decide not to play for overtime and send out the offense.  A successful two-point conversion would put the Browns in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and would put Pittsburgh one-point over the points allowed record.  A failed two-point conversion would knock out the Browns and make Pittsburgh's defense statistically the best ever.  Weeden takes the snap, fakes a run with Richardson up the middle, and rolls to the right.  Being chased by the Steelers' D, Weeden fires a pass into the end zone that is caught by backup tight end Evan Moore.  The Browns win and make the playoffs!

Evan Moore celebrates his playoff-clinching two-point conversion, as well as actually being one of the 37 players named in this fantasy.

(This narrative took a lot of turns as I got further and further into the project.  I needed a bad team to start out 6-0, so I went with the Browns because I think Richardson and Weeden deserve some exposure after being hailed as only decent picks in the Draft.  I wasn't planning on having the Browns make the playoffs at first, but being in a 9-year playoff drought, I thought it would be cruel to have them go 6-0 then miss the playoffs.  I also wanted Pittsburgh to go 15-1, but having the Browns get the wild card spot after a loss didn't feel uplifting enough, so I settled for 14-2, and I didn't want them to win the first 15 games because I know I would want to see them win the 16th after that and I would've had a real conflict then.  As for the Ravens, I was stuck with 3 wild card teams:  San Diego, Baltimore, and Cleveland.  Seeing as Baltimore was in the conference championship last year, I thought it would be okay to give them a solid 10-6 non-playoff season.  Another thing I wanted to do was a massive tiebreaker that went down to a coin flip, and this seemed like a good candidate.  But once I got to strength of victory, I realized that making this huge string of ties would ruin too many other things I had going on, so I stopped there.)

     AFC East:  The 9-6 Patriots can win the division with a win at 0-15 Miami or a loss by the 8-6 Bills, who host the 4-11 Jets.  If the Patriots lose, they can still make the playoffs with a Browns loss, a Ravens loss, and a Raiders loss.

     With both AFC East games going into the 4th quarter, the Patriots lead the Dolphins by a score of 26-10 and the Jets lead the Bills 27-14.  Both the trailing teams score touchdowns, cutting the deficits to 8 and 6, respectively.  With 7 minutes left, Miami scores another touchdown but misses the two-point conversion, leaving them in a 26-24 hole.

     The Bills mount a final drive, reaching the 15-yard line with 4 seconds left.  Ryan Fitzpatrick drops back to pass, looks right, sees nothing, then launches a pass to the left to Stevie Johnson for the game-tying touchdown.  The following extra point gives Buffalo a 28-27 win and keeps their playoff hopes alive.

     With the Ravens' win already in the books, the Patriots must win to make the playoffs.  Otherwise, the Bills will get in on the divisional games tiebreaker, will end a 13-year playoff drought, and will become the first team to overcome an 0-5 record to make the playoffs.  And just as the Bills seal their victory, the Dolphins take their first lead with a field goal.  But with 90 seconds left, Tom Brady and the Patriots still have time to score.  The fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium watch anxiously as the clock gets closer to zero and the Pats get closer to the end zone.  New England lines up for a 47-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining.  Gostkowski gets the kick up.  It starts out a little bit to the left, then hooks further to the left and passes the wrong side of the goalpost.  The Dolphins avoid an 0-16 season, and the Bills have made the playoffs!

Buffalo Bills fans celebrating finally making the playoffs, including tears from #99 (front left) and #12 (front right).

(The Patriots are probably my least favorite NFL team, despite the fact that I rooted for them in the Super Bowl last year.  Imagining them losing in the 2012 playoffs wasn't enough for me.  I want to see them miss the playoffs entirely.  When I saw they played the Dolphins in Week 17, the plan really started forming.  What if Miami was 0-15, and their first win also knocked the Pats out of the playoffs?  Extreme humiliation for New England and a super-satisfying win for Miami.  And I felt okay with having the Dolphins go 1-15 with them getting rid of Brandon Marshall and having almost nobody good on the roster.  So New England misses the playoffs, the Jets get destroyed, and Miami is awful.  By default, the Bills are winning the division??!?!??  With the 13-year playoff drought, though, it all worked out too perfectly.  And cranking up the Pats' humiliation by having them lose a huge division lead to the first 0-5 team ever to make the playoffs?  Even better.  Just imagining the crowd reaction at Ralph Wilson after the Patriots' loss makes me start to tear up a bit.)

     NFC North:  As the only game that would decide a playoff spot no matter what happens in the other games, Packers (8-7) at Vikings (9-6) is selected as the Sunday Night Football game of Week 17 and the regular season finale.  The Vikings only need a win to earn the division title.  The Packers need a win and a loss by Detroit.  The Lions (8-7) can also win the division if they win at home against Chicago (7-8) and the Packers beat the Vikings.

     In the 1:00 game, the Lions playoff hopes get bleak really quickly, as the Bears take a 28-0 lead in the first quarter due to three interceptions by Matthew Stafford.  After the ensuing kickoff, Stafford is replaced by rookie Kellen Moore, who had beaten out Shaun Hill during the season for the backup quarterback spot.  The Lions go on a quick touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 28-7.  Moore and the Lions claw their way back into the game and take a 35-34 lead with 3 minutes left.  However, a Robbie Gould field goal gives the Bears a win and removes Detroit from playoff contention.

     The NFC North title comes down to one game, Packers at Vikings for all the marbles.  Both teams trade scores throughout the game, and with 5 minutes left the contest is tied at 24.  Behind the running of Adrian Peterson, Minnesota makes a field goal to go up 27-24 with 8 seconds remaining.  After the squib kick that follows, Green Bay finds itself on its own 30-yard line with only enough time for one play.  Rodgers steps back and completes a 15-yard pass to Greg Jennings in the middle of the field.  Using the classic hook and ladder play, Jennings tosses the ball back to Randall Cobb, who runs to the Vikings' 45-yard line before meeting resistance.  Cobb looks to his left and finds James Jones, who runs toward the left sideline and upon reaching the middle of the field, pitches the ball to Jordy Nelson.  Nelson cuts upfield, meets a defender at the 30, then turns around and gives the football back to Jones.  Jones sees some green near the left sideline, gets to the 15, then is forced to run backwards and toward the middle of the field.  He laterals to Donald Driver, who's cutting toward the left sideline.  The blocking lines up perfectly, Driver jukes a defender, and he runs the final 10 yards and dives into the end zone.  On the most improbable 70-yard touchdown pass, the Packers have defeated the Vikings and are moving on to the playoffs!

Donald Driver celebrates one of the most ridiculous touchdowns ever.

(I actually diagrammed that play.  It looked ridiculous.  The astute/slightly obsessed W17L reader is asking themselves one question right now:  Why did he have the Packers, his favorite team, go 9-7?  The answer is simple.  Last year's Packers were really, really boring to watch.  The 10-6 season in 2010, on the other hand, was an adventure.  I need intrigue and suspense to keep me interested, and what better way is there to do that then to have the Packers fall to last place in an incredibly tight NFC North, only to win it in the last game of the season on an absurd desperation lateral play.  Can you imagine the size of the emotional payoff behind that?  It would be one of the greatest moments of my life, or anybody's life.  As for the play itself, Driver scoring the touchdown was not arbitrary.  He's had a great career in Green Bay, but his production has dropped off to the point where he might be the fourth best wideout on the team.  That one great moment is his gift for being so awesome over the years.  And he would look the happiest out of anyone who could have scored that touchdown.  As for the Lions game, I want to see Kellen Moore prove himself after not being drafted.  I also needed the Bears to win and a reason for Stafford to leave the game.  A massive almost-comeback fills all 3 criteria.)

The Playoffs:

     In the Wild Card Round, the Bills defeat the Chargers in Buffalo, 30-28, after a last second field goal.  The Browns go into Houston and deliver a 24-17 beating of the Texans.  In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers outlast Cam Newton and the Panthers in a 49-48 shootout.  And a Tony Romo touchdown pass with 55 seconds left propels the Cowboys to the Divisional Round with a 25-21 victory over the visiting Eagles.

     The Bills' magical run continues in the Divisonal Round thanks to a 35-31 win at Denver.  The Steelers get revenge against the Browns in Pittsburgh, with a dominant defense leading them to a 26-0 win.  In San Francisco, a late touchdown pass by Alex Smith pushes the 49ers past the Packers, 27-23.  The Dallas Cowboys take the final spot in the Conference Championships after a pick-six by Brandon Carr gives Dallas a 25-22 edge over the hosting Falcons in a game featuring 11 field goals.

     In the NFC Championship game, the Cowboys go to San Francisco and play three evenly matched quarters to get the score to 14-14.  Both teams make a field goal in the fourth and the game goes to overtime, where Dallas comes out on top with a 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
     The AFC Championship features the Buffalo Bills, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, playing in Pittsburgh, whose Steelers have won 15 of 17.  The Bills take a quick lead and carry a 14-3 advantage into the second quarter.  By halftime, Pittsburgh narrows it to 17-13, but Buffalo extends it to 24-16 after three quarters.  A touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall gets Pittsburgh within two, but they stay there after a failed two-point conversion.  However, the Steelers' fortunes are reversed when LaMarr Woodley picks up a Ryan Fitzpatrick fumble and takes it all the way back for the score.  With a successful conversion this time around, Pittsburgh leads 30-24.  The Bills drive down the field and with a minute and ten seconds left, Fitzpatrick completes a pass to David Nelson to go up 31-30.  But 70 seconds is too much time for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who sneak in a field goal as time runs out to move on to the Super Bowl and end the Bills' incredible run.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Donald Jones watch as the Steelers ruin the Bills' Super Bowl aspirations.

     The Steelers and the Cowboys begin the Super Bowl with 3 exciting and closely matched quarters, and the Cowboys enter the 4th quarter with a 28-27.  Pittsburgh takes the lead with a field goal with three and a half minutes left.  Trailing by two, Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense begin to march down the field, but a 50-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin gives them the go-ahead score and leaves Pittsburgh just under two minutes to steal the win with a touchdown.  The Steelers convert on two third downs and make it to the Cowboys' 13-yard line with 4 seconds left.  Pittsburgh lines up, Roethlisberger takes the snap, and he waits before looking to Heath Miller on a post route.  Roethlisberger throws the pass, it looks good, but suddenly Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh comes from the other direction, snags the pass from in front of Miller, and quickly falls to the crowd to seal Dallas's 34-30 victory.  After throwing for 332 yards and engineering a great drive to go ahead in the game, Tony Romo is named the Super Bowl MVP.  The Dallas Cowboys are the 2012 NFL champions!!

Tony Romo, as Gerald Sensabaugh clinches the Cowboys' Super Bowl victory.

(Lots to go through here.  First, my choice of the Dallas Cowboys as champions.  I don't really like the Cowboys franchise or the unwarranted amount of attention it gets.  But I was thinking, who's the one NFL player who really needs and deserves a championship ring?  Tony Romo.  This guy has consistently been a top-10 quarterback statistically, but has always been trashed for nitpicky things like a single bad decision in a couple of fourth quarters.  Overall, though, Tony Romo has basically been Philip Rivers, and that's an insult to Romo because he was great last year too.  Yet Rivers doesn't catch a quarter of the criticism Romo does.  All of that, and I think Romo would be very emotional if he wins, and whether it's him crying or jumping around all over the place, it would be beautiful to watch.

Every great sports moment requires two parties that, in the viewer's mind, are a clear favorite and villain.  And who would make a better villain than the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last AFC team to win a Super Bowl, winners of two titles in the last 7 years and six titles overall.  There's no way I would want to see them win again, and that way I can fully get behind Dallas.  Add in a 14-2 record and a historically dominant defense, and you have the best villain team since the '07 Patriots, and their close win against Buffalo is meant to intensify that hatred.

Finally, why did I have the Packers losing in the Divisional Round?  If they would have lost to the Cowboys, then I may have felt some dislike for Dallas.  Since the Cowboys beat the team that beat Green Bay, I have no problem rooting for them against Pittsburgh.)


I hope you enjoyed this dream scenario as much as I did.  Now I can finally get back to regular posting, because this took forever to do.  It's a labor of love, this blogging thing.

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