2012 NFL Outlook: Mega-Year appears to be on the horizon for the Motor City

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It is not every year that a team that finished 9-7 in the regular season, ranked 27th in the league in defense and had the NFL's worst rushing offense wins the Super Bowl.

But the New York Giants proved again in 2011 it is not necessarily the best team that wins the Super Bowl, rather the one that gets hot at the right time.

So what surprises might be in store in '12?

Well, here's one:

The Detroit Lions.

Just four years after they went 0-16, the Lions might not only be ready to beat out the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North Division title, but they also could be on the verge of being the biggest surprise team to make it to the Super Bowl since the '08 Arizona Cardinals.

Their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, was one of a record three players to pass for more than 5,000 yards a year ago, joining more established veterans Drew Brees of New Orleans and Tom Brady of New England. And the Lions have the league's best and most dominating receiver, Calvin Johnson, who could become the first player to have more than 2,000 receiving yards in a season.

Megatron, as he is called, had 1,681 yards last season, just 167 yards shy of Jerry Rice's single-season mark (1,848).

And, barring injury, there is no reason to believe he won't better that mark this season.

Here are a couple of more surprises:

• Peyton Manning might not be the quarterback he was with the Indianapolis Colts, but he will be more than enough to produce a 12-win season for the Denver Broncos. Mainly because they have the defense to go with him.

• Some quarterback, likely Brady, will pass for more than 6,000 yards this season. He might even break the league record for pass attempts in a season, which, surprisingly, is held by a former Patriots quarterback -- Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe attempted 691 passes in 1994 -- a record that has stood for 17 years in the pass-happy NFL.

• Andrew Luck will quadruple the number of wins for the Colts, who were 2-14 last season. He is one of five rookie quarterbacks who are scheduled to start the season opener -- further proof of the desperation teams have to unearth a marquee quarterback as soon as possible. Do you think any of them can beat Ben Roethlisberger's rookie completion percentage record of 66.4?

• Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, not the Cleveland Browns' Trent Richardson, will be the best rookie running back in the league. By the way, no rookie has led the league in rushing since Edgerrin James in '99 with the Colts.

• The Baltimore Ravens will miss defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs more than they know or will admit.

• Atlanta's Julio Jones might end up being the most dynamic wide receiver in the NFC, which is saying a lot in a conference that will also feature Megatron and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.

And, while on the subject of surprises, did you know ...

• Rookie Brandon Weeden will be the 11th starting quarterback in the season opener for the Cleveland Browns since the franchise returned to the league in '99.

• This will be Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 54th consecutive season in the NFL as player and coach. And he still shoots his age (74) on the golf course.

• The Cincinnati Bengals never have had consecutive winning seasons since Marvin Lewis became their head coach. Can they do it this year after the rookie-led resurgence with quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green last season?

• There are 15 new offensive coordinators in the NFL this season, not counting the Steelers' Todd Haley.

• The Washington Redskins have started 21 quarterbacks in the past 21 years, the latest being Robert Griffin III, the rookie from Baylor.

• It is not only the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, it is also the 40th anniversary of the Miami Dolphins' perfect season.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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