Complex, rough, turbulent, loud, unstable. Pick any antonym you like for the word "smooth" and there's a good chance you're describing the roller-coaster ride that was the 2016 NFL regular season.
It often felt as though there were more botched calls, devastating injuries, loud boos and protests -- certainly more protests -- than in previous seasons. Yet it might also have been one of the more memorable seasons of recent vintage, and I can think of at least a dozen reasons why.
12. Two months after returning to L.A.,
the Rams are roundly booed at home
Nov. 10: Back in Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis, things didn't go too well for the Rams. Top pick Jared Goff didn't throw a pass until Week 11, coach Jeff Fisher became a punchline before finally being relieved us his duties in December and the league's worst offense averaged only 14 points. But nothing epitomized the Rams' return like when they were showered with boos in only their third home game -- a 13-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The jeering became normal the rest of the season, as L.A. finished 1-7 at home. Better luck in Year Two.
11. A Pick Two decides Chiefs-Falcons thriller
Dec. 4: In a potential Super Bowl preview between teams that wound up with first-round byes, the Kansas City Chiefs edged the Atlanta Falcons 29-28 in a Dec. 4 thriller. The difference? Late in the fourth quarter, Chiefs safety Eric Berry scored the winning two-point conversion after he intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a two-point attempt and took it to the house. Defenses were granted the ability to score on opposing PAT attempts last season, but this marked the first time the new rule swung a final result.
1) ATL scores TD, takes lead— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2016
2) ATL goes for 2
3) Berry PICKS IT OFF, goes the distance
KC takes the lead. UNREAL! https://t.co/FCrLGtx4Ki
10. Seahawks-Cardinals is a rare 6-6 tie in
prime time, typifying the first half of the season
Oct. 23: During the first couple months, there was strong fan sentiment that games had become much more messy than in previous years. No game represented that better than this Week 7 tie between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. The heavily hyped prime-time matchup was plagued by officiating blunders, offensive ineptitude and missed field goals (both kickers missed potential OT winners from inside 30 yards). With ratings already down and the league competing with the presidential election and a Chicago Cubs World Series run, this was a nightmarish evening for the league.
9. Chiefs eliminate the Broncos from playoff contention, cap it with a 'bloated Tebow pass'
Dec. 25: The Denver Broncos won't repeat as Super Bowl champions, and they have one of their biggest rivals to thank. The Chiefs beat the Broncos twice in the final six weeks, Denver absorbing each loss in crushing fashion. In arguably the game of the year in Week 12, K.C. scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to force overtime with 12 seconds left before winning as time expired in OT. Four weeks later, they eliminated Denver from playoff contention with a Christmas Day blowout accentuated by Dontari Poe becoming the heaviest man in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass.
8. Teddy Bridgewater dislocates his knee in
final preseason practice, creating a domino effect
Aug. 30: The season would have looked a lot different had blossoming Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater called in sick on Aug. 30. Instead, Bridgewater suffered a major knee injury in practice that day, ending his season before it began. Not only did that remove Bridgewater from the NFL zeitgeist indefinitely, it prompted a trade for Sam Bradford, enabling the Philadelphia Eagles to start rookie No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz from the get-go. Wentz had a remarkable start and is viewed as the long-term answer in Philly, while Bradford set a new single-season completion percentage record in Minnesota.
Oct. 9: The Patriots survived Deflategate. That was obvious when they started 3-1 while quarterback Tom Brady served his controversial four-game suspension, but it became crystal clear that Brady was ready to dominate the league when he immediately led the Patriots on three consecutive touchdown drives in his return at Cleveland. New England won 33-13, lost only once the rest of the year and Brady finished with the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history (28 to 2). Not bad for the oldest position player in football.
6. Dak and Zeke make a statement in Pittsburgh
Nov. 13: Dallas Cowboys rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott took the league by storm, but if one moment exemplified their magical run, it came in the fourth quarter of a Week 10 game at Pittsburgh. That's when the Cowboys came back from deficits twice in the final two minutes, with Elliott scoring a 32-yard touchdown to win the game with 9 seconds left. Prescott passed for 319 yards and two scores while Elliott added 209 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the 35-30 victory, proving the Cowboys were the real deal.
5. Tony Romo suffers a back injury
during a preseason game in Seattle
Aug. 25: Prescott went on to post the highest single-season rookie passer rating in league history and is a legitimate MVP candidate. But if not for veteran starter Tony Romo's preseason injury in Seattle, the fourth-round pick might never have gotten a chance.
4. The Giants have the Cowboys' number
Dec. 11: The magical Cowboys finished 13-3, and one of those losses came when they rested their starters in Week 17. The reality is they had a strong chance of putting together a perfect season if not for the New York Giants, who beat Dallas by a single point in Week 1 and then smothered Prescott and Elliott in a 10-7 Week 14 victory. It was by far the Cowboys' worst offensive performance, indicating that the G-Men could be Dallas' kryptonite.
3. Despite a 4-6 record, Aaron Rodgers
declares the Packers can 'run the table'
Nov. 23: It was by no means a guarantee, but even the suggestion seemed ludicrous to many who had been watching the Green Bay Packers. On this day, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were three days removed from a fourth straight loss, and the defense had surrendered 30-plus points in all four. They were 4-6 and folks were calling for coach Mike McCarthy's job. That's when Rodgers said he felt like the Packers could "run the table." Sure enough, they haven't lost since.
2. 'It's broke! It's broke!'
Dec. 24: The Oakland Raiders were well on their way to their first division title since 2002. On Christmas Eve, they led the Indianapolis Colts 33-14 in the fourth quarter. Just wrap that up and beat the eliminated Broncos in Week 17 and you're headed to the playoffs with a first-round bye. But that's when third-year quarterback/surprise MVP candidate Derek Carr went down awkwardly as he was tackled. "It's broke!" he immediately declared. He was right. Carr broke his right fibula, all but ending Oakland's Cinderella season. Without Carr, they were crushed by the Broncos in Week 17 and are now a wild-card team instead of a division champ.
1. Colin Kaepernick is spotted sitting during the
national anthem, setting off a series of protests
Aug. 26: This was it, the moment (tweet) that started it all:
Kaepernick's reason? "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL.com after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." And it didn't end there. The rest is history.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL since 2007. You can also read his work at Bleacher Report, Awful Announcing and This Given Sunday. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.