20. Owens, Moss held jobless: It was a tough year for employment in America, and two millionaires who joined the unemployed were super-diva wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Both Owens, 38, and Moss, 35, had quasi-excuses for their inability to find work this season — Owens suffered a torn ACL in the offseason and wasn’t healthy until it was too late, while Moss announced his “retirement” when he detected a lack of open market interest in August. But that’s probably not the last we’ll see of either controversial wideout, because Owens is still plugging away in the Indoor Football League while awaiting a final shot, while Moss announced Monday that he’s planning on returning. The question now: Will anyone want either player?
19. Houston’s revamped defense: The difference a Wade Phillips makes. In his first year as the Texans’ defensive coordinator, Phillips brought the league’s 30th-ranked defense from 2010 to the No. 2 spot in 2011. The Houston D gave up almost 100 fewer yards per game this year than they did in the previous season, which is pretty much unheard of. The presence of offseason additions Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning and J.J. Watt didn’t hurt, but when you consider that they spent most of the year without top pass rusher Mario Williams, the transition is still hard to believe.
18. Jared Allen makes a run at the single-season sack record: In fact, for quite some time, it looked like Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 was going down, with Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Babin, and Jason Pierre-Paul all in hot pursuit. Ultimately, the mark held, but not before Allen — the best closing pass rusher in the game — made it dramatic by recording 3.5 sacks in the final game of the season to finished a half-sack shy at 22. In the end, he fell one Brett Favre dive short of the new record.
17. The Jets implode: After back-to-back appearances in the AFC title game, there was little reason to believe Gang Green wouldn’t be back for another run at Lombardi in 2011. But Mark Sanchez struggled with consistency in what was supposed to be a breakout year, the defense took a giant step backwards, and the running game once again lacked electricity. As a result, the locker room fell apart, with players pointing fingers at one another publicly. The chief feud pitted Sanchez against outspoken wideout Santonio Holmes, who reportedly didn’t show for a key meeting organized by Sanchez late in the year.
16. Year of the tight end: Or maybe the beginning of a new trend? Regardless, tight ends impacted this NFL season more than any other in NFL history, with Rob Gronkowski breaking new records for tight end receiving yardage and touchdowns and Gronk, Jimmy Graham and Brandon Pettigrew all finishing in the top 10 in receptions, with three more — Tony Gonzalez, Aaron Hernandez and Jason Witten — joining them in the top 15.