A few NFL-related notes and opinions in the aftermath of Carolina's 6-10 season and the beginning of the playoffs this weekend:
1) There are several "Rookie of the Year" awards, but the biggest and most respected are those presented by the Associated Press. They won't be announced this year until Feb.4 in a live TV special on the eve of the Super Bowl. Along with Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, the NFL and AP will announce the league MVP and other awards that evening.
I've said it before and will again -- Cam Newton should be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year. If he doesn't win it, that's crazy. I know Andy Dalton at Cincinnati had a fine year, too, and got the Bengals to the playoffs with a lot more defensive help than Newton had. But Newton had one of the best rookie years -- and possibly the best -- of any NFL player in history. He deserves it.
Incidentally, two rookie QBs will face off in Saturday's Cincinnati-Houston playoff game when Dalton faces T.J. Yates (who is supposed to be healthy again, although Jake Delhomme will be ready if not).
2) I mentioned in today's column that I thought Bill Polian got a raw deal in Indianapolis, where he and son Chris Polian were fired Monday. I still do. Polian was remarkably good at what he did -- he was the architect for Buffalo's Super Bowl teams, the Panthers' playoff team in 1996 and the Colts' decade of excellence.
Polian could also be a prickly character, and there's no shortage of stories about his temper and his on-and-off relationship with the media and others. While I got along pretty well with Polian -- I found that he would complain about a story you wrote, but also was one of the few NFL front-office types I've ever met who would also seek you out to compliment you on one -- some in the media did not, as this blog from an Indianapolis Star sportswriter attests.
3) The Panthers' inability to finish games was striking in 2011, and ultimately the reason they aren't in these playoffs. They really aren't that far away from a wild-card spot -- I think Carolina could give the 4,5 and 6 teams in the NFC a decent game (N.Y. Giants, Atlanta and Detroit). But check this out.
For the season, Carolina outscored its opponents in the first quarter (plus-13) and in the second quarter (plus-31). But they were minus-7 overall in the third quarter and then a staggering minus-60 in the fourth. There's the difference in the season.
Did you know that 49 percent of NFL games this season were decided by seven points or fewer? The fourth quarter, ultimately, makes the difference between 6-10 and 10-6, and the Panthers just didn't play well enough in the final 15 minutes of games this past season.
4) I recommended a couple of books in my column today but failed to note one thing about "The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky," which chronicles the 1992 NCAA tourney classic between Duke and Kentucky. Author Gene Wojciechowski will be signing copies of the book Thursday, Jan.12 at the Duke basketball museum/hall of fame adjacent to Cameron Indoor Stadium from 6-7:30 p.m. and on Friday, Jan.13th at The Regulator Book Shop in Durham.