15. The end of the Polian era in Indy: In the immediate aftermath of a 2-14 season in Indianapolis, the first big surprise of the 2012 offseason came when Colts owner Jim Irsay decided to part ways with longtime vice chairman Bill Polian and his son Chris, the team’s general manager. Bill Polian’s first big move in Indy was drafting Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf in 1998, and his undoing appeared to be Manning’s season- and career-changing injury in 2011. That said, a poor draft record and the lack of a backup plan at quarterback were surely factors as well.
14. Handshake-Gate: Oct. 16, 2011. Detroit, Michigan. Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz…
13. Suck for Luck: With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck considered to be one of the most promising draft prospects in NFL history, the league’s worst teams were battling for the No. 1 overall pick in this April’s draft. Of course, they all insisted they wanted to win, but we knew the truth. In the end, the Colts won the Luck sweepstakes, but not before the Rams and Vikings gave Indy a run for its money.
12. Cam Newton quiets the critics: I’ll admit that I was among those who predicted that the Panthers were making a huge mistake by selecting Newton with the top pick in last April’s draft. But the Auburn product had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history, putting up a rookie record 4,051 passing yards while accounting for 35 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
11. Jim Harbaugh and the Niners come from nowhere: More self-rippage: Prior to the season, I wondered if the 49ers were deliberately tanking in free agency in order to land the top pick in the 2012 draft. Then, a team that lost four defensive starters and was rushing in a new system under a new coaching staff went out and won 13 games, clinching a first-round bye only a year after finishing 6-10. They kept winning despite extremely low expectations, a ton of transition and a horrid schedule that forced them to make five cross-country roundtrips.