A fun end to a crazy season. A combination of traditional power houses and emerging contenders created a weekly spectacle that was both highly entertaining and unpredictable.
We saw the continued dominance of teams like the Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, and eventual Super Bowl 50 champion Broncos. But teams like the Cardinals, Redskins, Chiefs, and Panthers took major leaps towards becoming the new elite.
After the season, I had an opportunity to review my preseason predictions and I must say, some of them were pretty spot on. I correctly predicted a majority of the playoff qualifiers, including the Broncos Super Bowl appearance, as well as Carsen Palmer’s prolific year and J.J. Watt’s third consecutive defensive player of the year award.
I also made some predictions that went horribly awry. Andrew Luck did not perform well enough to even sniff the MVP award, the Dolphins followed up on all their promise by having a thoroughly woeful season, Matt Forte was used less by Chicago as opposed to leading the league in rushing, and rather than winning the Super Bowl, the Packers were exposed as the incredibly flawed team that they are.
There were plenty of storylines that evolved over the course of the season that kept all of us fans constantly clicking away on our browsers: the self-implosion of the Cincinnati Bengals, the retirements of Marshawn Lynch, Calvin Johnson, and (presumably) Peyton Manning, the firing of Chip Kelly, the emergence of young gunslingers Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, and of course Cam Newton and the Panthers’ incredibly prolific season.
That being said, there were a lot of other stories that were equally as important and entertaining, that did not receive the same coverage and scrutiny that they probably should have:
(1) The Incredible Disappearing Ndamukong Suh
Last year’s biggest free agent was made the richest defensive player in NFL history by the Miami Dolphins, signing a contract worth $114,375,000 over 6 years. In return for their investment the Dolphins received little to no production as Suh had only attained 6 sacks. To be fair 61 tackles and 6 sacks by a defensive tackle is pretty good, but not when the team handed you a $25 million signing bonus and the team’s defense finished in the middle of the pack. To further compound the problem the Dolphins desperately needed Suh to step up after all-world defensive end, Cameron Wake, was lost for the season.
(2) 49ers Hire Chip Kelly
As the season unfolded and the soap opera known as the Philadelphia Eagles played out, we were all mercilessly beaten over the head with the Eagles’ decision to part ways with the formerly touted innovator of offense. But what was far less discussed was the 49ers decision to part ways with stop-gap Jim Tomsula in favor of the enigmatic Kelly, in hopes of resuscitating the young Colin Kaepernick’s career.
My two cents on the matter is this: Kelly’s firing was a knee jerk reaction to tumors and hearsay that was exasperated by the lackluster season. This reaction is the 49ers gain as they now have a coach with two 10-win seasons under his belt, and whose only losing season can be attributed to a completely retooled team, an overly involved owner, and a select group of malcontents that undermined Kelly’s authority all year. I think this is a good move by the 49ers.
(3) Antonio Brown vs. Julio Jones
The battle these two athletes wages for the title of ‘best wide receiver in the NFL’ was historic, amazing, and criminally under-reported. Julio Jones completed the season with 136 receptions for 1,871 yards and 8 touch downs. Conversely, Antonio Brown had 136 receptions for 1,834 yards and 10 touch downs. Apart from the gaudy numbers, both of these players had career years despite playing for injury-riddled teams and facing defenses that were specifically game planned against them. It is a testament to the will and athleticism of both of these athletes that they had such phenomenal years in the face of such adversity.
In a season packed with excitement and surprises we were treated to a defense-oriented Super Bowl, pitting the face of a new generation squaring off against the standard-bearer for the last generation. As an objective observer, I found it to be a fitting end to a very good season.
Now we move to the off season, where good teams try to take that final big step forward and lesser teams try to bridge the gap. With the conclusion of Super Bowl 50 fans of every franchise begin the slow, but inevitable, inflation of hope as free agency and the NFL Draft loom large on the horizon. And with each passing day we as fans begin our descent into the wonderful delusion that this could be our year; and with a good off season and a little luck our team can win Super Bowl 51.