The NFL on television this season gave us too much Tim Tebow, a few putrid Monday-night games (Seahawks-Rams, anyone?) and endless speculation about Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck.
There was Fox shamefully fabricating headlines about Jay Cutler, yet somehow missing live coverage of the Jim Schwartz-Jim Harbaugh postgame confrontation (the network already had gone to break).
One analyst (ESPN's Tom Jackson) spoke about the Dolphins needing pass-rushing help from Channing Crowder — unaware he wasn't even on the team anymore — and another analyst (Jim Mora) bolted Fox to take the UCLA coaching job.
Meanwhile, Fox and CBS, regrettably, began posting player tweets on their pregame scrolls — an utter waste of time and space.
But amid all the hiccups and missteps, there was plenty of good stuff — Mike Mayock's appointment to the Thursday-night booth, NBC's flex scheduling working to perfection and a generally successful NFL return by Marv Albert (although he did refer to the Dolphins as the Miami Heat in the closing moments of CBS' regular-season finale).
1. Al Michaels / NBC
Sharp, alert, engaging, and quick to point out time mismanagement. His timing is usually impeccable — he mentioned that at some point, there was going to be a big defensive play in the Lions-Saints playoff game. A forced fumble and defensive recovery followed immediately after.
2. Jim Nantz / CBS
Skilled storyteller, commanding big-game presence and quick on his feet. Barely two seconds had elapsed before Nantz noted that a Tom Brady interception against the Jets this season was the Patriots' first red-zone pick after 91 touchdowns.
3. Kevin Harlan / CBS
No play-by-player — none — is more diligent identifying substitutions and disseminating key information quickly after plays. Harlan hollers more than most, but that doesn't bother this viewer. Undervalued at No. 5 on CBS' depth chart, Harlan is a far better play-by-play voice than No. 2 man Greg Gumbel.
Honorable mention: ESPN's Mike Tirico, CBS' Ian Eagle and Fox's Joe Buck, for consistently superior work. CBS' Albert made a smooth return to NFL TV broadcasts for the first time in more than a decade.
1. Cris Collinsworth / NBC
It's difficult to tell serious fans something they don't already know. But Collinsworth does it more often than anyone. He noted in the Cowboys-Giants game that Dallas knew New York would snap the ball — and didn't need to worry about jumping offside prematurely — whenever Eli Manning yelled, "Omaha! Omaha! Hut!" Why? Because that meant the play clock was close to expiring. And Collinsworth never curbs his candor: He used "idiotic" to describe the Colts looping Robert Mathis to the far side as a pass rusher against Pittsburgh.
2. Phil Simms / CBS
Terrific at spotting nuances. Among them: Tom Brady likes to hit the center's back to try to get defensive linemen to jump offside. The Patriots use four receivers to the right when they want to throw a screen pass to a receiver. New England almost always runs a quarterback sneak on 3rd- or 4th-and-short. And he noted how Tim Tebow very rarely looks at a second receiving option; if his intended target is covered, he looks to run.
3. Mike Mayock / NFL Network
Aced his first year as the Thursday-night analyst by mixing dead-on dissection of strategy with assessment of players' strengths and weaknesses (a skill that Mayock honed as a draftnik), plus other offbeat musings (he apologized to Denver's Chris Harris, who wasn't invited to the NFL Combine, for not knowing him).
Honorable mention: CBS' Dan Dierdorf and Rich Gannon and ESPN's Ron Jaworski. They provide consistently smart, sensible analysis.
1. Bob Costas / NBC
Earns the No. 1 spot because of his eloquent halftime commentaries and ability to pump life into dull interviews by asking good questions. Such as: He asked Greg Jennings if Aaron Rodgers is better than Brett Favre (he will be "long term," Jennings said). He asked Michael Vick what he says when detractors approach him (he walks away). And he asked Colts C Jeff Saturday: "If I blindfolded you and hands were put under your behind, would you know if it's Peyton Manning?"
2. Dan Patrick / NBC
Terrific at narrating highlights. He mixes in modest doses of humor, generally doesn't make errors, keeps the show moving along quickly and extracts intelligent analysis from Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison.
3. (tie) James Brown / CBS
Sharp and likable, he's more opinionated and conversational on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" than on CBS' "NFL Today." But there's no need for J.B. to chortle so much after comments that aren't funny.
3. (tie) Chris Berman / ESPN
To some viewers, his shtick (the catchphrases, the yelling, the forced puns) have grown tiresome. Don't think he's not aware of that, but Berman isn't going to change. Yet Berman earns a medal because he remains a dynamic personality (which you need from a host on a three-hour pregame show) and because his NFL knowledge might be the best among studio hosts.
1. Cris Collinsworth and Phil Simms / Showtime
They split the Griddy — with an assist to Brown, Warren Sapp and Mike Lombardi — for serving up consistently sharp, smart, spirited analysis that's more conversational — with more give-and-take — than what we usually see on the Sunday-morning pregame shows. There's no time wasted on tired clichés. Collinsworth and Simms always raise the level of discourse, but they do it with a playful touch, taking whimsical pokes at each other.
2. Tony Dungy / NBC
Pleasant, understated and earnest. His continued willingness to criticize coaching decisions is as refreshing as it was initially surprising. And he breaks down plays on the Telestrator in a way even the most casual fans can understand.
3. Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason / CBS
Esiason remains a voice of reason, but with an edge; he seldom wastes words, always takes a stand and backs up his opinions with facts. Sharpe's clever wit, sharp tongue and stand-his-ground interviews with a few players he has blasted (including Tim Tebow) earn him a share of the bronze. To this viewer, Sharpe elicits more smiles than any network analyst. "Antonio Cromartie says, 'I want Tom Brady to target me,' " Sharpe cracked. "Antonio, he was going to do that anyway!"
Honorable mention: CBS' Bill Cowher (well-prepared, and his passion is a plus) and Fox's Jimmy Johnson, who prematurely "stuck a fork" in the Giants but has more dynamic TV presence than any of the other ex-coaches. There's also Fox's Howie Long, who takes more time to analyze line play than any of the other studio analysts.
1. Pam Oliver and Chris Myers / Fox
Oliver is the best at eavesdropping to pick up news on the sideline. Myers extracts the most meaty information of any sideline reporter but is used on play-by-play during the regular season.
2. Michele Tafoya / NBC
Quick on injury updates, but too often asks players, "What were you thinking?"
3. Alex Flanagan / NFL Network
Gathers decent information from coaches at halftime; asks logical questions during postgame interviews.