American Football: Youth movement the inspiration for play-off teams
Superbowl XLVII is still more than a month away. Indeed, half of the dozen teams who will feature in the play-offs will only be decided by tomorrow's beautifully set up 'Final Sunday' of the regular season.
But as far as quarterbacks go – the position that defines teams and defines eras – one thing is already clear about the 2012 edition of the National Football League. This has been the year of the rookie.
Yes, there have been the usual ration of epic quarterback fiascos and rousing quarterback comebacks – the former embodied by the soap opera at the hapless New York Jets involving the struggling Mark Sanchez and the prayerful Tim Tebow, the latter by Peyton Manning's terrific season at the Denver Broncos.
Manning has a decent claim to be considered the greatest NFL player of the first decade of the millennium. But he missed the entire 2011 season, undergoing four separate rounds of neck surgery, including spinal fusion; he was already 35, elderly in quarterback terms, and his doctors warned he might never play again.
Medical recovery was followed by trademark Manning on-field heroics – most notably in October when the Broncos overturned a 24-0 half-time deficit in San Diego to win 35-24, tying the NFL's record for a comeback victory on the road. With one game to go, Manning-led Denver have compiled a 12-3 record, virtually guaranteeing home-field advantage throughout the play-offs.
But the rebuilding in Indianapolis, the team that discarded Manning at the end of last season, hasn't gone too badly either. In the Manning-less 2011 they finished a league-worst 2-14.
In US pro sports, however, being worst has one huge compensation – you get to choose first in the new players draft for the following year. In the 2012 draft the Colts picked Andrew Luck, who had already been hailed as the next great thing for his exploits in college football at Stanford.
It worked out well – Luck has led them back to the play-offs in his debut season and has set the NFL alight.
In four short months, 'RGIII' has become the most feted individual in Washington. Almost single-handedly, he has turned the long listless Redskins into one of the NFL's most potent offensive teams and can seal a play-off spot this week.
The biggest NFL surprise of the year, though, is in Seattle. Russell Wilson has made the quarterback position his own, transforming the Seahawks into an offensive juggernaut and leading them to a play-off place.
The rookie class of 2012 has already proved itself something special, with some even comparing it to the legendary crop of 1983 that featured Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly, all three rated among the greatest quarterbacks of all time.