During the preseason this year, we were confused. “What’s a catch?” turned into “what’s a tackle?” NFL fans, already either tired or continuously angered by the league’s handling of the protests during the national anthem over the last two seasons, were now poised to pounce on the “wussification” of the league.
And then, it happened. It was like a football version of McGwire & Sosa, without the drug use. Scoring went through the roof.
On Monday, November 19th, a game that was supposed to be played in Mexico unfolded in Los Angeles due to poor field conditions south of the border. Instead of the game feeling like it was thrown together, a packed building, along with millions more around the world tuning in, viewed the first ever game where a team scored over 50 points, and lost. It was a significant moment to say the least.
5. Roles were played
Any good television program has one thing: well developed characters. As well as any league, the NFL develops and stays with its characters, and this year was a good show. Characters can be individuals, like Odell Beckham, who called out his quarterback and performed at a high level, or Antonio Brown, who also called out his quarterback and performed at a high level. It can also be teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were called the “Kardashians of the NFL” by one of their own players. Jon Gruden traded stars and frustrated fans, Drew Brees set an all-time record for completion percentage, Aaron Rodgers won a power struggle with his coach, Baker Mayfield stared down a coach, and Kirk Cousins lost big games. These are all things that have become benchmark characteristics for these players, and they were highlighted this year.
On the team front, the Steelers imploded, the Jags failed to live up to their own mouths, the Chargers played well for their, err, other teams’ fans, and the Patriots, as always, annoyingly, won more games than it seemed like their talent would allow.
4. Changing of the guard?
We love QB battles, stories and performances. More on that later on, but one specific aspect of the QB story this year is incredibly special. The league has a group of Hall of Fame – to- be QB’s who are trying to hang on to the glory days or take one last shot at a title. All on the other side of their 35th birthday, Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Rodgers all were central figures in their team’s story. Manning looked done at times, Big Ben feuded with his top target, Brees set records and will factor into the MVP vote, Rodgers became an even bigger lightning rod, Rivers might finally have a legitimate shot in the postseason, and Brady just won another ho hum AFC East to secure the 2 seed.
But while all this was happening, so was Patrick Mahomes. The most exciting young QB we’ve seen in years, Mahomes amassed stats that made all the others drool. Other young bucks like Mayfield and Deshaun Watson raised our eyebrows. Jared Goff, Mitch Trubisky, and Dak Prescott stabilized their standing within the league.
The league has a beautiful reality of knowing while all-time greats still sling it, the next group of stars are waiting in the wings once the old guys decide to hang ‘em up.
3. Fantasy Football experienced ANOTHER bump
How could it not? More good players, more points, more fun. The real reason the NFL rule changes were necessary will be addressed later, and while fantasy football may not have been the main reason, in no small way, it is a reason. Fantasy football is a major part of the NFL business model, so the more happy customers, the better. And there were a lot of happy customers this year. There have been years where if you end up with a pick in the back half of the first round, you’re out of luck. This year, no fewer than 16 running backs ran for over 900 yards, and two others, Melvin Gordon and Alvin Kamara, were beasts due to their ability to catch passes. There were 20 receivers who eclipsed 1,000 yards, and 12 QB’s who tallied over 4,000 yards — one for every player in your league.
2. The rule changes worked
To this day, you may still be philosophically opposed to what the NFL has done. Quarterbacks are protected, especially in the pocket, like never before. At times, completely innocuous hits have been flagged. As a nation, we had to come to a place where we understood the interpretation of “driving” a quarterback into the ground. But we eventually arrived. Outside of Alex Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo, the position stayed relatively healthy, which is the point. Mahomes emerged. Andrew Luck re-emerged. Mayfield and Lamar Jackson won games. And Nick freaking Foles.
Quarterback stories are a huge part of making an NFL season great. It is, without question, the most important, most followed position in all of sports. Once we calmed down about how the QB’s are a bit babied, we realized that the greater good was being served.
1. The Great 8
As much as we like to use the phrase “defense wins championships,” it’s no longer true. The top defense in each conference both hosted playoff games over the weekend. Both lost. A potential Ravens – Bears Super Bowl probably had league and TV execs most worried. They can now breathe easy. The storylines available with the final 8 include…
*Two of the biggest brands of 2019, the Cowboys and Rams, will play in market 2.
*Two future Hall of Famers, one with 5 rings, one with none, will face off in Foxboro.
*The backup QB who never loses after Christmas is at it again, and headed for the Big Easy.
*The man who will likely win the MVP award is going to play the league’s hottest team.
One last point: Ratings are up. Way up. Enough said.
Image Source: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports