NFL Wrap-Up

Simon Bruty/SI

Brian Tan

It was fitting that the two most storied franchises in football history competed for sport’s most valuable prize, the Super Bowl.  The Pittsburgh Steelers, with their countless blitz schemes powered by strong safety and Defensive MVP Troy Polamalu, faced the Green Bay Packers, who had red-hot quarterback and Northern California product Aaron Rodgers under center leading arguably the most talented receiving corps in the NFC.

The Packers came out on top 31-25, after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failed to lead his team to a score.  The final play gained some controversy after the Steelers players called for a defensive pass interference flag that did not appear.  As a result, Rodgers won his first Super Bowl.  In addition, he was named Super Bowl MVP, an accomplishment his predecessor Brett Favre never achieved.

The Super Bowl capped off a season in which the Browns beat the Patriots, the Seahawks beat the Saints in the playoffs, and most shocking of all, the Raiders went undefeated in the AFC West but still failing to make the playoffs (before promptly firing head coach Tom Cable).   The Seahawks went into the playoffs as huge underdogs representing the NFC West, being the first team with a losing record to qualify.  But in the most player-hostile stadium and thanks to one of the greatest runs in playoff history, Marshawn Lynch put the team on his back and sent the Seahawks into the next round.

The biggest story of the year was the resurgence of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.  Vick not only returned to his old Atlanta form where he played before serving his jail sentence, but he also improved as a pocket passer and succeeded in giving his speedy receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin opportunities to score every time they touched the ball.  Vick won the Comeback Player of the Year Award after setting career highs in yards passing (3,018), passing touchdowns (21), rushing touchdowns (9) and completion percentage (62.6).  Vick won the starting job after original starter Kevin Kolb went down with an injury in Week 1.  The Eagles won the NFC East but lost to the eventual champions Packers in the Wild Card Round.

The breakout star was Texans running back Arian Foster, who basically came out of nowhere to lead the league in rushing yards and become the biggest fantasy steal of the season.  Another surprise was Browns running back Peyton Hillis, who powered his way to 1654 all-purpose yards and 13 total touchdowns.

However, it came as no surprise that Tom Brady would lead the New England Patriots to the top seed in the playoffs.  Without a real deep threat at the receiver position after Randy Moss was traded to the Vikings, the Patriots lost to their division rival Jets in the playoffs after being chosen as overwhelming favorites to advance to the Super Bowl.

The San Francisco 49ers ended a disappointing season by finishing 6-10 and finishing third in the weak NFC West division.  The 49ers fired coach Mike Singletary and hired Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh in one of the most dramatic coach hirings in recent memory.  They look to rebuild with a new quarterback and coach, and will prepare themselves for a more successful campaign in 2011.