There was rarely a dull moment during the 2010 NFL season, from exciting plays every week on the field to seemingly non-stop news off it.
Everything from the controversial (Calvin Johnson's TD reception that was ruled a non-catch in Week One) to the jaw-dropping (DeSean Jackson's walk-off punt-return TD in Week 15) took place in 2010. Tom Brady and Michael Vick re-emerged as dominant QBs, and star defenders Clay Matthews and Troy Polamalu led their teams to Super Bowl XLV.
Outside the white lines, the drama was even greater. A bitter labor fight is still being battled, along with a new discussion on player safety. Everything from a coach tripping a player to a stadium roof collapsing impacted the league this past season.
Based on votes from the PFW editorial staff, here are the 10 most important stories from the 2010 NFL season:
1. CBA stalemate leads to fear of lockout in 2011
Don't delete your favorite games and highlights from the 2010 season off your DVR; there might not be any new football to entertain you for a while. The league appears to be on the verge of a lockout, as the NFL Players Association and owners still have a lot of differences to work out in negotiating the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA expires on March 3, and until a new deal is agreed upon, players will likely not be able to train at team facilities, work with coaches or sign new contracts. As always, the major sticking point is money. Issues such as a rookie salary cap and an expanded regular-season schedule need to be worked out between the two sides, but so far, there hasn't been much progress made, leading to the fear that the 2011 season may not kick off when it's scheduled to do so.
2. Packers bring Lombardi Trophy back home
Timing is everything in sports, an adage proven most recently by the 2010 Packers. The team struggled in the middle of the season with a lengthy list of injuries but got hot at the right time, helping it capture the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. Once in the postseason, Aaron Rodgers was nearly flawless in leading Green Bay to the fourth Super Bowl title in franchise history. After edging out the Eagles, demolishing the top-seeded Falcons and surviving a battle with the archrival Bears, all on the road, the QB cemented his place among the NFL's elite on its grandest stage. Rodgers threw for nine TD passes in the team's four playoff games — including three vs. the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV — en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors.
3. McNabb trade leads to Vick's return to dominance
It's no surprise that the April 5 trade of Donovan McNabb from the Eagles to the Redskins triggered one of the bigger stories of the year. The surprising part is which story it set off. Michael Vick, who was promoted from third string to the Eagles' No. 2 QB as a result of the deal, found himself on the field for Philly in Week One when starter Kevin Kolb went out with a concussion. Vick didn't waste the opportunity, as the former Falcon wound up throwing for more than 3,000 yards, rushing for 676 more and accounting for 30 total TDs in electrifying fans with his best pro season. McNabb's stint in Washington didn't prove to be as successful, as he was benched on multiple occasions after inconsistent play.
4. Roethlisberger returns and comes up just short
Ben Roethlisberger's season started on the sideline, thanks to a suspension stemming from an offseason off-field incident. It nearly ended on a podium as Super Bowl champion, as the Steelers' quarterback and his team were one touchdown drive away from capturing their third championship in six years. Roethlisberger was aided by the league's stingiest scoring defense, helping Pittsburgh emerge from the physical and tough AFC. Turnovers, however, cost the Steelers dearly in the Super Bowl. Big Ben threw two interceptions, one that was returned for a TD, and RB Rashard Mendenhall coughed up a fumble just as it appeared the Steelers had taken momentum from the Packers, all of which were costly mistakes the Steelers couldn't overcome.
5. Helmet hits, safety risks spark major debate
There were many memorable plays during the 2010 season, but the one play that might resonate with the league and its players the longest was an incomplete pass thrown in Week Six to Eagles WR DeSean Jackson. On the play, Jackson was crushed by Falcons CB Dunta Robinson, who led with his helmet and wound up hitting Jackson in the head. Both players suffered concussions as a result, and that, along with a host of other helmet-to-helmet collisions that Sunday, sparked a crackdown on illegal hits. It also increased the volume of a debate on how to make the sport safer for those involved. Players were fined heavily and subject to suspension for the illegal helmet-to-helmet hits, and the discussion continues on how to eliminate the dangerous plays from the sport altogether. With more and more evidence emerging that football players have an increased chance of suffering brain damage and other lingering injuries as a result of the sport, player safety is becoming a major topic of discussion.
6. Favre, Childress, Metrodome come crashing down
The Vikings' bad luck in 2010 started on Jan. 24, when they lost in overtime of the NFC championship game. It got worse as the year progressed. Brett Favre was coaxed out of retirement once again, but the QB couldn't recapture his magic from '09 and struggled, as injuries (which ended his consecutive-games streak at 297) and an off-field scandal marred his season. Head coach Brad Childress tried to spark the team by acquiring WR Randy Moss in early October, but that didn't work, and by Thanksgiving, both Childress and Moss had been let go by the team. To make things worse, the Vikings were at the center of two weather storms, the first caving in the roof of the Metrodome and forcing two "home" games to be relocated to different sites, the second requiring the team to play a game vs. the Eagles in Philadelphia on a Tuesday night.
7. Constant scandal doesn't stop Jets from success
It began in training camp, when Jets head coach Rex Ryan's liberal use of the F-bomb on the show "Hard Knocks" caused an uproar, and the controversy surrounding Gang Green never slowed down. Darrelle Revis' holdout, Braylon Edwards' arrest and Antonio Cromartie's trash talk made headlines, but they weren't the only ones in the news. A female reporter claimed she was verbally harassed in the Jets' locker room. Strength coach Sal Alosi was suspended and fined for tripping a Dolphins player during the teams' Week 14 game. Ryan and his wife shared the spotlight when foot fetish videos of the couple were leaked online. The Jets didn't seem to be distracted by any of it, posting an 11-5 record and reaching the AFC championship game for a second consecutive season.
8. Three preseason favorites out of it by midseason
In the past 10 seasons, 10 different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Among the six that haven't won the George Halas Trophy are three storied franchises that have combined for 17 conference titles in the Super Bowl era. The Cowboys, Vikings and 49ers all entered the 2010 season thinking this was their year to return to glory, yet all three wound up firing their coaches before the season ended after having been colossal flops. Dallas canned Wade Phillips in early November after a 1-7 start; two weeks later, Brad Childress got the ax after his Vikings were blown out at home by the Packers, 31-3. In Week 16, Mike Singletary joined the group of pink-slipped coaches, as the 49ers let him go after the team was eliminated from the playoffs.
9. Brady, Patriots dominate regular season
In the 2010 offseason, the Jets acquired a group of Pro Bowl-caliber players, the Dolphins traded for WR Brandon Marshall and the Patriots signed no veterans of note. It appeared as if New England's run as AFC East kings was coming to an end. Instead, Tom Brady and Co. were as dominant as ever, finishing the regular season with a league-best 14-2 record, thanks in large part to a splendid season from the MVP quarterback. When Randy Moss was traded at midseason, the Pats' offense somehow improved, going on to score a league-best 518 points. A pair of rookie tight ends and a no-name RB duo charged the attack, but the leader was Brady, who went 355 pass attempts without tossing an interception. That streak, however, was snapped in the team's 28-21 loss to the Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs, a shocking end to a surprisingly magical season for New England.
10. Seahawks win when it matters most
The NFC West was historically bad in 2010, with all four teams finishing below .500. Seattle proved to be the best of the worst, winning the division with a 7-9 mark despite having the league's 28th-ranked offense and No. 27 defense. Once in the playoffs, however, the Seahawks proved themselves to be a legit team. A 10-point home underdog in the wild-card round vs. the Saints, Seattle shocked the defending Super Bowl champs with a 41-36 upset, capped off by a (literally) earth-shaking 67-yard TD run by RB Marshawn Lynch. Thus, the Seahawks became not only the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record, but the first such team to win a playoff game.