The NFL Rundown: Wild Card Edition
CTV.ca looks at some of the top stories heading into the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend.
The Comeback Kids: A Mile-High Miracle and Minneapolis Mirage
Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson were both expected to make returns to the NFL this year following career-threatening injuries, and they both have.
They were not, however, supposed to do it like this. Nobody does. Ever.
What Manning and Peterson have accomplished this NFL season is nothing short of remarkable, as both players have delivered unprecedented stats following injuries to the areas most necessary to their respective positions.
Manning, a four-time league MVP, sustained a major neck injury prior to the 2011-12 season. The injury stole his arm strength and required a rare spinal fusion surgery for him to have a remote chance of playing football again, a risk which his career-long team, the Indianapolis Colts, were not willing to take.
In early 2012, Manning signed a five-year deal with the Denver Broncos after travelling in a media circus that also took him to look at options in San Francisco and Tennessee.
Since then, the 36-year-old has led the Broncos to the best AFC record (13-3) and a division title, while garnering his 12th Pro Bowl nod and strong MVP consideration. He also finished first in passing percentage, second in quarterback rating and third in touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy who a lot of people thought would never play again, eh?
Speaking of impressive accomplishments, falling nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yard season is incredible for a star running back that's expected to put up big numbers.
Doing so less than a year removed from major ACL and MCL surgery is unfathomable.
Peterson, a two-time NFL rushing champion, has been borderline bionic this season, scampering for an astounding average of 172.2 yards per game in December, including 199 against division rival Green Bay to lift his team into the playoffs in Week 17.
He also became the second player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards in seven regular season contests.
In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Peterson’s physician, Dr. Andrews, made known that he believes his patient hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential.
"I say an athlete after [an] ACL [tear] is much better the second year back than the first year back. First year back is a wash. It hasn't been a wash for him, obviously… Who knows? Adrian may be better next year than this year," he said.
By accomplishing such extraordinary feats using bodies that were hurting not long ago, both players have defied logic, broken records and cemented themselves as some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game.
He’s been a monster among men for the past decade, revitalizing Baltimore’s defence while dictating (and often obliterating) opposing offences.
It could be argued that Ray Lewis is not a Baltimore Raven; the Baltimore Ravens are Ray Lewis.
Playing 17 years in the hard-hitting NFL is an extraordinary accomplishment on its own. Playing all of those years in the same city is truly a rarity, achieved by only a handful of high-calibre players in the league’s history, including fellow NFL great, linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
Lewis has made it known that he will retire following this season. When the 37-year-old steps onto the field Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, it will be the start of his final run at a Super Bowl. The 2012-13 playoffs will bring to an end Lewis’s run of being the only player still on the roster from the Ravens’ inaugural season in 1996.
Known for his electrifying persona and unparalleled locker room speeches, there are already rumours swirling that Lewis is a nearing a deal that will land him in a broadcast booth next season.
One thing is certain: if he delivers a speech even remotely similar to this one, his swan song may end with him receiving a second Super Bowl ring.
John and Jim Harbaugh, the first brothers to serve as head coaches in the NFL, must be antsy about their respective teams’ prospects of making it to New Orleans. Baltimore is in the midst of a tumultuous run that includes the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, while San Francisco will soon find out if the right quarterback is leading the team after Jim opted to replace Alex Smith with second-year play-caller Colin Kaepernick.
One of the most heartfelt NFL stories of the year is undoubtedly the Indianapolis Colts’ road to the Super Bowl with head coach Chuck Pagano away from the team fighting leukemia. In his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did a masterful job, leading the team to a 9-3 record and a Wild Card spot. The Colts and their fans rallied around Pagano, with many adopting the word "Chuckstrong" as a slogan, and players and cheerleaders shaving their heads in support of the coach.
While Pagano’s illness is now in remission, it remains to be seen whether his return to the sideline will be the best thing for a team that’s gelled remarkably well with Arians calling the shots.