Commentary

A revealing year in the NFL

Manning, Belichick and the Seahawks led the way in the 2013 NFL season

Originally Published: December 31, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Bill BelichickKellen Micah/Icon SMIDespite key injuries and new faces, Bill Belichick guided the Pats to 12-4 and another AFC East crown.

Here's what we found out about the NFL in 2013:

• Bill Belichick proved he is one exit past genius. He won the AFC East with the best tight end in the game lying in the hospital, another top-10 tight end in jail, his best receiver in Denver and his run-stopper in a cast. Belichick is the NFL Coach of the Year, unless it's Peyton Manning.

• It's possible for a man to break the single-season passing TD record twice in one career -- nine years, 1,000 miles and four neck surgeries apart.

That's got to go on the plaque.

History is right under our noses. Manning's 55 passing TDs record might last longer than landfill Styrofoam. Second best this season? Thirty-nine by Drew Brees. That's Reagan over Mondale.

• The NFL seedings make as little sense as ever. Explain, please, how 12-4 San Francisco has to go to Green Bay to play the 8-7-1 Packers. In January.

Insanity.

The fix is simple: Reseed them based on record and give no standing to winners of divisions thinner than a Goth drummer.

• The hottest teams heading into the playoffs are Carolina and Philadelphia. The best is Denver. The worst is San Diego, where they really must be starved for good news. The Chargers went positively mental after beating a KC team that was resting 20 of its 22 starters -- at home.

Nonalcoholic beer for everybody!

• Tom Brady is God, and Tony Romo is Satan. Except they finished 11th and 12th in QBR this year.

• Cam Newton doesn't worry about anything. Not your deadline. Not your blitz. Not your opinion of him. The man is titanium.

• Mike Shanahan was canned for one reason: He risked RG III's career at the end of last season by putting him back in the game. Lost the kid's trust. Fatal mistake.

Poor Shanahan. What can he do now except move back into his 35,000-square-foot Denver house -- the one with its own bowling alley -- collect $7 million in 2014, and hang around at his world-class steak joint?

• Jason Witten is going to the Hall of Fame after all this.

• The Cleveland Browns' front office must have a vault of Bitcoin somewhere. The Browns are willing to eat $10.5 million firing a head coach whose name fans hadn't even learned to spell yet when they have the worst linebacking corps this side of Rice. This is known as setting squirrel traps while elephants stomp you into pancakes.

• Fire the coach, fire the coach, fire the coach. Remember September? When 80 percent of a certain town's fans wanted the head coach fired after his 1-3 start? His name? Riverboat Ron Rivera, who has the Panthers skillet-hot and holding the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

• Speaking of job termination, it is very hard for an official to be fired. Example: Bill Leavy, whose San Diego field goal screw-up this past week means his crews have made more big mistakes than Custer.

• Much easier to fire players, though. Seattle CB Brandon Browner just got a year ban for a positive pot test while in Stage 2 of the substance-abuse program. But Browner went from Stage 1 to Stage 2 while he wasn't even an employee of the NFL. He was playing in Canada when he missed two tests, which was strike two. If you switch jobs from McDonald's to Wendy's, do you still have to take McDonald's drug tests? "The letters went to my ex's house," Browner told me. "How am I supposed to get those?"

• These are parched days in New York. Not a single player on the Jets or Giants made the Pro Bowl.

Luckily, there's always the Knicks. The Nets? Never mind.

• Guess the Green Bay Packers became the No. 4 seed in the NFC using the old reattaching rope trick. They don't have a single player going to the Pro Bowl, either.

• Roger Goodell needs someone near him who gets young NFL players. Leslie Frazier, just axed at Minnesota, would be perfect. He loves them, and they love him. They just don't play all that well for him.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Greg TrottPeyton Manning towered over the NFL in 2013.

• It's going to be a very quiet Easter dinner at the Manning house this year.

One brother threw 37 more touchdowns and 17 fewer interceptions than the other.

And probably won his fifth MVP to the other's zip.

Here's something Eli can bring up: Peyton had his worst season ever -- rushing the ball. Went backward 31 yards this year, worst in the league.

• Grown men with wives and kids and house payments don't appreciate the gung-holier-than-thou routine. Take Greg Schiano, dumped Monday by the Bucs. Blowing up kneel-down plays. Diving at knees. Gipper halftime speeches. Back to Saturdays, Coach.

• Coaches might not matter in the NBA, but they matter more than ever in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints, without Sean Payton last year, went 7-9. This year, with him -- and almost the exact same team -- they went 11-5.

• Logic doesn't visit Chicago. Josh McCown led the NFL in QBR, yet it looks as if the Bears will still re-sign Jay Cutler. Meanwhile, their defense can't stop a sniffle.

• Chip Kelly has changed the league like nobody since Don Coryell. Here it is heading into January, and his players are fresher, happier and more dangerous than anybody.

Kelly's jailbreak offense isn't about throwing. It's about running. It was at Oregon, where his leading rusher was never worse than third in the Pac-12, and it has been in Year 1 in the pros, where LeSean (Shady) McCoy led the league.

Playing really loud hip-hop at practice is about to trend.

• Denver's Matt Prater is some kind of wizard. He missed one -- 1 -- field goal try all year, from 52 yards. Made all 74 of his PATs. And broke the league record with a 64-yarder. You say it's all altitude? Then why was he a perfect 13-for-13 on the road?

• Seattle, the fourth-youngest squad, is going to be scary good for a very long time.

• One man's ego can wreck a team.

Exhibit A: When OL Jonathan Martin stomped off the team instead of trying to mend his personal feuds like an adult, the Dolphins' offensive line collapsed. They wound up giving up by far the most sacks in the league -- 58. Talk it out already.

Exhibit B: Jerry Jones.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com

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