10. The Lions return to the playoffs: For the first time this century, the Detroit Lions played a playoff game, falling 45-28 to the Saints in New Orleans. But that won’t be the last we see of this incarnation of the Lions in January. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson coming off of career years and the aggressive defense improving rapidly, Detroit should be a perennial Super Bowl contender for years to come.
9. Al Davis passes away: For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Oakland Raiders played football without Al Davis being attached to the organization as either the owner or general manager. Davis died on Oct. 8, leaving the franchise in the hands of his son Mark. Davis was 82. Fittingly, in the Raiders’ first game after his death, the game-winning interception was made with only 10 men on the field…
8. The 5,000-yard passer club expands: Not only did Drew Brees set a new single-season passing yards record in 2011, but a club that had only two members prior to this season doubled in size with the addition of Stafford and Tom Brady. Brees, Brady and Stafford put up three of the top five most prolific passing yardage seasons in NFL history, while Eli Manning landed in sixth all time despite falling just 67 yards short of 5,000.
7. Aaron Rodgers continues to erase memories of Brett Favre: Rodgers did not put up 5,000 yards, but he actually had a better overall season than any of the aforementioned yardage monsters. The Packers quarterback posted a new single-season record passer rating of 122.5 while averaging an insane 9.2 yards per attempt. Rodgers’ 45-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio was also unmatched as he helped Green Bay make a legit run at perfection.
6. Nightmare for the “Dream Team”: Vince Young probably regretted the words the moment he said them. In his introductory press conference with the revamped and supposedly stacked Eagles on Aug. 1, Young referred to his new squadron as a “dream team.” And sure enough, the 2011 season was a nightmare for the uber-talented Eagles, who lost four of their first five games, couldn’t tackle and never found the ability to finish. They saved some face late by fighting back to win eight games but still missed the playoffs.