- The biggest drama by far happened in San Francisco, where a falling out between Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke caused the former to leave to go be the head coach of Michigan. Tom Brady was furious at this development, and he threatened to retire unless Harbaugh ally Greg Roman was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach. 49ers owner Jed York relented on Brady’s request, causing Baalke to resign on acrimonious terms.
- Drama also ensued in Indianapolis with head coach/general manager infighting between Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson. With his initial contract expired, Pagano elected not to return. Hoping to get something out of Robert Griffin III, Grigson went to the college ranks and hired Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
- Pagano left the Colts knowing he could find head coaching employment elsewhere, and he did so in Detroit, after the Lions had completely cleaned house following the death of owner William Clay Ford, including the dismissal of Jim Schwartz.
- The Cardinals had fired John Fox after they deemed him incapable of competing in the tough NFC West, and he was replaced with Saints offensive coordinator (and former Arizona State head coach) Dirk Koetter.
- But Fox also got a job back quickly, as the Bears hired him after firing Marc Trestman.
There was little drama once the draft got started—as expected, Florida State’s Jameis Winston went first overall to the Redskins and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota second to the Titans. But beforehand there was a shocking blockbuster trade: the Jets traded Peyton Manning and the rights to quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to the Saints for their 1st and 2nd round picks and backup quarterback Luke McCown. In addition of the allure of playing for his father’s old team, Manning was intrigued by going to a team with the league’s longtime best running back in Adrian Peterson, young, talented weapons in draftees Brandin Cooks and Jimmy Graham that was bolstered by free agent acquisition Eric Decker, and an even younger and talented defense that emerged last season as a force.
After the shock wore off, a few observers felt it was just part of Bill Belichick’s longtime habit of unloading aging star players before they decline too much—Belichick had done the same with Mike Vrabel (Chiefs), Richard Seymour (Raiders), Logan Mankins (Buccaneers), and Vince Wilfork (Lions). Rumors later leaked out that the Jets also talked about potentially trading for 49ers quarterback Tom Brady, had he followed out on his retirement threats, by including the 49ers in a three way trade with the Saints.
- Texans 24, Bills 10
- Steelers 24, Bengals 23
- Seahawks 20, Packers 14
- Panthers 35, Eagles 20
After losing for four straight years in the Wild Card round, the Texans finally got over the hump with a big win over the Bills, with Andy Dalton particularly on point with two TD passes to DeAndre Hopkins. Carson Palmer and the Bengals had a good season but were stymied once again by their hated rival, losing to the Steelers three times in the season. The Seahawks got revenge on the Packers for last year’s playoffs behind the newly found rushing attack of rookie Thomas Rawls, Meanwhile, Cam Newton was determined to emerge out of the shadow of the Wilson/Luck narrative dominating young NFC quarterbacks with a romp of the Eagles in which he threw for three TDs and rushed for two more.
- Texans 20, Patriots 19
- Saints 22, Panthers 10
- Vikings 12, Seahawks 10
- Broncos 41, Steelers 20
The first day of the Divisional round was all about defense. It started with Aaron Rodgers getting sacked and picked off multiple times in a narrow Texans upset at Foxboro. It then continued with Cam Newton getting humiliated at home by a division rival, who had Cameron Jordan alone sack him four times in the game. Things continued on that path in Minnesota, with Blair Walsh capable of the Vikings’ only offense in a victory. The only reprieve from the defensive theme came in Denver, with Tony Romo having one of his finer performances connecting multiple times with stalwart Broncos receivers Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson in defeating the Steelers.
- Texans 23, Broncos 20 (OT)
- Saints 17, Vikings 0
Longtime Texans running back Arian Foster had a revitalizing game against his former head coach, rushing in the triple digits and catching a touchdown pass from Andy Dalton. Meanwhile, Tony Romo would have nowhere near the success he had last weekend, with Von Miller repeatedly harassing him in the backfield. Miller ended up deciding the game in overtime with a sack of Romo, sealing a major upset of the Broncos that would send Houston to its first Super Bowl. On the NFC side, Peyton Manning had one of his worst games in his career with no touchdowns and two interceptions, but he had the backing of Adrian Peterson and his defense to nonetheless lead him to the Super Bowl once again, and first for the Saints.
Super Bowl 50
- Saints 30, Texans 10
In a dominating game that was never close, Peyton Manning was controversially awarded Super Bowl MVP despite throwing for only one TD, a 2-yarder to Eric Decker. Most thought the award should have gone to Adrian Peterson, who rushed for over 150 yards and a score, but many thought that the specter of his child abuse charges loomed over his on-field performance. Others also thought Aaron Donald was a better candidate, who had sacked Andy Dalton three times and stripped a fumble out of him. The prevailing opinion was that it was handed out as more of a lifetime achievement award, as speculation ran rampant as to whether he would go out on top after winning two Super Bowls in a row—with two different teams.