We have reached a close on what was one of the more unpredictable seasons in NFL history. Despite the season being full of questionable officiating, early season-ending injuries to star players, and the continuation of the controversial anthem protests that caused numerous occasions of social collision between fans, players, coaches, owners and league officials, I can still look back and say that I was entertained for the most part. After all, we still got our fair share of great games, awe-inspiring individual and team performances, amazing plays and game finishes, emerging new stars, and an irregularly large set of new contenders for the Lombardi Trophy.
Moreover, the playoffs gave us plenty of interesting match-ups, outstanding games, and has forced us fans to give some more respect to some of the newcomers on the playoff scene like Jacksonville, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. With everything that has taken place throughout the year there are - much like every other season - some things to take away about the league and some of its teams. Many times what we do is come to a conclusion about one thing from one season and get proven wrong about it the next. The bottom line is that in the NFL it's always hard to distinguish what is from what isn't, but we're going to give it a shot anyway. We are going to look at some likely takeaways you may have gathered from the 2017-18 NFL season and discuss each as either fact or fiction, with 10 of the latter and 5 of the former.
15 Fiction: Matthew Stafford Wasn't Worth It
For a long time Detroit Lions have struggled to field a team that can contend for the Super Bowl. With the hunger that they have to put together a team that can actually do so, I can understand why some people felt a little discouraged by the Lions giving Matt Stafford the most lucrative contract extension any quarterback has ever received in NFL history. I really do understand, Stafford hasn't exactly shown himself to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, despite gaudy stats, and if you look at what he's done in the league so far you will see a bunch of non-playoff appearances and early playoff exits. As a matter of fact he's never even won a playoff game. However, the last time I checked the starting quarterback is not the true decider of what makes a championship team.
You can judge Stafford all you want, he is still considered to be one of the more clutch performers in the league, we are not too far removed from Championship Sunday, where the quarterbacks playing in the two games involved the likes of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles, all of whom you wouldn't take over Matt. On top of that, for the entirety of Matthew Stafford's career he has yet to work with one 1,000-yard rusher, and has never worked with one of the upper tier offensive lines in the league. He is definitely not the league's best QB, but he can definitely be the starting quarterback of a championship-caliber team, meaning he was worth the money.
14 Fiction: Rob Gronkowski Is The Best TE In The NFL
I know I'm probably going to be met with a lot of disagreement for this, but I feel it needs to be said: Rob Gronkowski is no longer the best tight end in football. Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea; he's still very talented and when he's on the field he is without a doubt Tom Brady's favorite weapon to throw the ball to. He's a big play performer, but the issue over the course of the last several years has been that he's almost never on the field. Gronkowski has been held out year after year with debilitating injuries. In spite of that the New England Patriots have not struggled in the least in his absence. They won the Super Bowl last year via one of the greatest comebacks you'll ever see, without him.
I believe the best tight end in football is Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only is he the best receiver on his team, but when he's off the field the Chiefs offense becomes significantly worse. Meanwhile, you can make the argument that when Gronkowski is off the field New England continues to be the well oiled machine that it was before he arrived. For me what it boils down to is the old saying, "the best ability is availability".
13 Fact: The Texans Are Coming
I can't even begin to explain how long Texans fans have been waiting for that franchise quarterback to fall on their lap. Believe me, it was hard to watch them go from Matt Schaub to Case Keenum to T.J. Yates to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Brock Osweiler to Tom Savage. It had to be even more frustrating when you consider the fact that in these past couple years where they've dealt with these average to below-average quarterbacks while the rest of the roster looked incredible. As a matter of fact, even with the poor play at quarterback, the Texans have managed to find themselves in the playoffs for the majority of the past several years because of the talent on the roster, they were just always missing a quarterback to put it all together.
While he is still young and only played seven games before going out with a devastating ACL tear, Deshaun Watson looks like that answer that Texans players and fans have been hoping to see for so long. Even with the injury and how it may affect him going into next season, he doesn't even have to be as phenomenal as he was in the seven games that he played because again, the Texans remain one of the most talented teams in the entire NFL. I have my concerns pertaining to the offensive line and how they can perform, but considering that they will have a lighter schedule and the defense will be healthier and better with the impending return of Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt next season I just can't help but feel that the Texans are coming for the throne sooner rather than later.
12 Fiction: The Giants' Bad Season Was Eli Manning's Fault
I wouldn't refer to myself as some type of football aficionado, but I like to think that I'm smart enough to know that when you have a terrible offensive line, no running backs, a deteriorated defense, several injuries in the receiving core, and a terrible coach, it's pretty hard to win in the NFL. These are the things that Eli Manning has had to put up with this year. Now I know what you're thinking, "the Giants made the playoffs last year and they looked really good." Yes, and the Denver Broncos once won a playoff game with Tim Tebow starting at quarterback, and the Kansas City Chiefs once made the playoffs with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback, a dead clock is right twice a day.
What I'm getting at here is that there are several aspects that you can point at as to why the Giants had as bad as season as they had without even thinking about Eli Manning as the primary reason for their downfall. That notwithstanding, I still think Eli should part ways with the Giants, New York should rebuild, but if there is anybody who should be exempt from blame for this terrible 2-14 season, it's Eli.
11 Fiction: Last Year's Cowboys Were A Fluke
Now I understand that there are a lot of people who dislike the Dallas Cowboys for numerous reasons, but for those who say that 2016 was a flash in the pan type of season, I'm not seeing it. It was Dak Prescott's sophmore campaign, the year that most star quarterbacks struggle, the team's best player, Ezekiel Elliott, was out for significant amount of time dealing with suspension from the whole domestic violence case, the team's best defensive player, Sean Lee, was in and out of the lineup with injuries, and the receiving core deteriorated significantly; Dez Bryant played far below what he's capable of, Cole Beasley took a step back, and Jason Witten is old. In spite of all these setbacks, on top of having one of the toughest schedules in the league that year due to them being the one seed the year before, Dallas was still a win and a Falcons loss away from getting back into the playoffs. All they really need is for guys to get healthy and the star players to stay out of trouble and you could all but guarantee that they will be back in the playoffs next year.
10 Fact: Trading Jimmy Garoppolo Was A Mistake
Now I know the New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl and Tom Brady does not plan on retiring until he's like 45, but we all know that's not how this really works when it comes to how one's career ends. I remember how Peyton Manning was going to play well into his 40s... and then he fell off a cliff (figuratively). We all talked about how Brett Favre was going to be the quarterback to play into his 40s and still be great... and then he fell off a cliff too. Now I'm not saying that Tom Brady is doomed to face the same fate, but it seems likely. What I am really alluding to here is that New England could have avoided being in the situation in the first place had they just let Garoppolo take over as the team's franchise quarterback.
Now there were the rumors that this is what Bill Belichick intended to originally do but ownership got in the way, but that doesn't change the fact that he still traded Jimmy G, a more-than-capable quarterback who is still relatively young and through eight starts is yet to lose a single game in the NFL, even with five of those games being played as a member of the lowly San Francisco 49ers. Tom Brady can defy the odds and play till he's 45, but the point is that both Tom and Patriots fans can all see the light at the end of the tunnel now, whereas if they had given the team to Garoppolo it would have likely extended their reign of greatness.
9 Fiction: Andrew Luck Is Overrated
Okay... I've heard people say this for a few years now and if I'm being honest I understand why, but just because I get it doesn't mean that I agree. Over the past three to four years, Andrew Luck has been injury riddled, a turnover machine, and hasn't been able to bring the Colts back into title contention. In spite of this, there are many who continue to say that Luck is still very talented and one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Those individuals are in the minority of this argument, as most people based off of those comments see Andrew Luck as an overrated player. Here's the problem with that: Can any of you name me a single team this season that has sniffed a speck of success while having a low ranked offensive line? I didn't think so.
The Colts' biggest issue since their fall from grace has been the offensive line. Their poor play is why Andrew Luck has been hit the most amongst all NFL quarterbacks since entering the NFL, why he has been battered with injuries in the past few seasons, and the reason why he throws so many interceptions. Another example of this situation is Jameis Winston, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers last year... we could go on. If you're wondering why people still believe Andrew Luck is an elite-level quarterback, it's because there aren't a lot of guys that take a team that went 2-14 and bring them to three consecutive 11-5 finishes. Believe me, there is yet to be a single quarterback to maintain a consistent level of success with poor O-line play. It's impossible.
8 Fiction: The Seahawks' Championship Window Is Still Open
Seahawk fans I know you really don't want to hear this, but it's the truth: The Seahawks window is closed. It's not something I thought I would see at this point but that's the fact of the matter. Ever since they lost Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots things just haven't been the same. That moment where Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson in the end zone changed everything. Since that game, the O-line has deteriorated significantly, key players of the championship core have either left or plan on leaving, those who are staying or getting injured and severely so, and above all other things, other teams in the NFC West are set to rise in the coming seasons. The Los Angeles Rams just wrapped up one of the better seasons in recent years and don't seem to be looking like they're going to let up anytime soon, and the San Francisco 49ers rebuild looks like it's going to be finished a lot sooner than most had anticipated. All that in mind, I think we've seen the end of the Legion of Boom-led Seattle Seahawks as we know it.
7 Fact: Russell Wilson Is Running Out Of Luck
A lot of you probably read the headline and thought I was referring to skill and ability as a quarterback. I actually think Russell is the second best quarterback in the league. What I am referring to here is the health hazard to come Russell's way if Seattle continues to go on the path that they're headed towards. The fall of Andrew Luck was due to the terrible offensive line that was in front of him, causing him to get hit more so than most quarterbacks in the league.
Well, if you been watching the Seattle Seahawks especially this past season, Russell Wilson literally has to run a good mile before he's able to get a pass off. People think Cam Newton struggles with offensive support because he's the leading rusher on his team, those people haven't watch the carousel at running back that the Seahawks have had for like 4four years now. There was Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, Eddie Lacy, Mike Davis, Christine Michael, and not one of them stuck. Seattle needs to patch up that offensive line and quick because Russell Wilson is not going to have that speed of his forever, and once he gets a little slower the end result could be devastating.
6 Fiction: Re-signing Marvin Lewis Was A Good Move
I'm having trouble understanding what could have possibly happened to convince the Cincinnati Bengals to give this man a two-year extension. My problem with Marvin Lewis is not that I think he's a bad coach or anything like that, it's not even that I don't think he can eventually bring this team into Championship contention, he's a good coach but it's been 14 years and he hasn't won one playoff game. Unless he was in the postseason in each of those 14 years, which he was not, I don't see why - for the sake of both Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals - both parties don't part ways and look to gain success through a different direction, that could potentially generate a quicker resolve. The Bengals aren't going anywhere and Marvin Lewis will have his stock drop even more if the Bengals continue to underachieve to the point where he will not be able to get another head coaching job again.
5 Fiction: Cleveland Should Have Fired Hue Jackson
In defense of those who say that Jackson should have been fired, the Browns after going a whopping 1-15 in 2016 were supposed to get a little better and win at least two games this year but that didn't happen either. 0-16 is nothing to be proud of, even if it is the second time in league history that's ever happened. While it's very possible that the Browns could be better off going ahead with another coach at the helm, I have to ask: to what end? There's no one that could possibly replace Jackson that would have any level of success with this Browns team, not even Bill Belichick. I'm not saying the man deserves an extension or anything, I'm just simply asking, what did he have to work with? Even the one win he got in 2016 was a field goal game. Even with the lack of success, you can see that in the Browns' games the players are dedicated to the coach and that goes a long way in terms of building towards future success. That said, what could one more year with Jackson as the head coach possibly do to make things worse?
4 Fact: The Steelers Have Lost Their Identity
I take no pleasure in saying this, but Pittsburgh has indeed lost a step. When I thought of the Steelers, I used to think about the Steel Curtain and the dominant defensive units that have lead this team to numerous championship victories. Nowadays, when you think of the Steelers you really just think of offensive firepower. Don't get me wrong, having a really skilled offense can take you places but it's not as dependable, especially with the bunch we have in Pittsburgh at the moment. In the past couple years we've seen the Steelers unravel as it pertains to overall cohesion within the franchise and it is shown while on the field. The team plays below-average defense and on offense while yes, very dangerous, it isn't as effective as it should be. In a nutshell, the current culture in Pittsburgh is far too loose for them to still be considered a consistent championship-level team that they've been revered as being in past years.
3 Fiction: The Chiefs Can Take The Patriots
I understand where this argument comes from but it's just wrong. Oh I know, I know you're going to bring up the blowout victory at Arrowhead in 2014, or early this past season when the Chiefs went to Foxboro and basically blew out New England to point out as to why Kansas City can indeed take on New England, but they can't, they never could. Here's why: I can distinctly remember after the Patriots got blown out at Arrowhead by the Chiefs and dropped to a 2-2 record in the 2014 season. Everyone started to talk about how the Patriots were on the downturn, and maybe it was the beginning of the end of the Brady/Belichick era... They went on to win the Super Bowl that year and on the way there they beat those same Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. Moreover, I have a hard time believing that a team that couldn't maintain an 18-point lead over a Tennessee Titans squad that shouldn't have been in the playoffs can go to Foxboro and beat the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Just a hunch.
2 Fiction: Tom Brady Is The Best QB In The NFL
I understand that he's the guy who's about to win League MVP, he has the most wins of any quarterback in NFL history, he's going to be playing in yet another Super Bowl at age 40, and was the catalyst for the greatest comeback in a Super Bowl game in history just a year ago. I understand all that, and there's no disputing any of those things, which is why Tom Brady will likely go down as the greatest quarterback of all time. However, being the greatest at something does not mean that you are the best at it right now.
Here's what I'm saying: As of 2017-18, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. He is the one quarterback who I have seen carry the team on his back and maintain a relative level of success. He is more talented than Tom Brady, he plays in a situation that is not as secure as Tom's, and most importantly he is more heavily relied upon to facilitate team success then Brady. Last year Brady missed four games for his Patriots due to suspension, yet the Pats only lost one game. This year, Aaron Rodgers missed the majority of this season due to injury, and the team didn't look the same at all. As you can see, Rodgers is the better QB. Brady's body of work outweighs A-Rod's by a wide margin which makes Tom the greater player, but Aaron's better.
1 Fact: Most Playoff Teams Won't Return In 2019
As you can see judging from this past year, in the NFL things can change very quickly. There is no better example of this than the playoff bracket from this year. There were only four returning teams from last year's postseason. That said, there were a lot of conditions that lead to the playoff bracket looking the way that it did. There were a plethora of injuries to star players, and there were a lot of teams who had to deal with a relatively strong schedule and couldn't really keep up. Not to take away from the teams that did make the playoffs, but these are facts of the matter. On top of that, there are conditions surrounding the teams that made the playoffs this year that will cause them to deteriorate and therefore fail to get back to the postseason next year. Tennessee has a new head coach. Buffalo barely made it as it is. Minnesota will have to hire a new offensive coordinator and does not know who will start at quarterback for them, you never know what you're going to get out of Carolina offense year in and year out, and so on. We'll see how it all unfolds as we enter the offseason.