Deep impact: Power of the long ball

Going deep can go a long way toward putting points on the board. Elsa/Getty Images

As the 2012 NFL season was getting ready to start, many experts had the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys as, at least, playoff teams, and some even had them as Super Bowl-caliber teams. Part of the optimism for both teams was the potential of their offenses. The Chargers have Philip Rivers, a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback who had led their offense to score the sixth most points in the league the previous season. The Cowboys have Tony Romo, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who ranked fourth in QBR during the 2011 season.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were expected to be left out of any postseason discussion. The Colts were starting the Andrew Luck era with high hopes for future seasons, as few rookie quarterbacks ever had highly effective first seasons. The Buccaneers, who were heading into Year 4 of the Josh Freeman experiment after finishing 23rd in QBR during his third season, were not more than an afterthought.

Twelve weeks into the season, though, a very different story is emerging. The Cowboys and Chargers are a combined 9-13 with neither team in serious playoff contention, while the Colts and Buccaneers are a combined 13-9 and both have legitimate playoff aspirations. Luck is fourth in QBR, while the Buccaneers are fourth in total points scored. The Chargers are now 16th in points scored and the Cowboys are 18th. This reversal of fortune can certainly not be attributed to any single factor -- each team has had its own collection of lucky breaks and unforeseen challenges. However, one common piece of the puzzle for all four teams is the use of the long ball. And this season is showing how important that piece of the offense really is.