And then there were twelve. The dust has settled on the regular season, and tonight 4 teams will do battle in the Wildcard Round. The top prize is on the line: a trip to the Superbowl.
It’s been a weird 4 months of football. Pass defense seemed to fall by the wayside as high octane offenses dueled to outscore each other. It was only down the stretch that teams remembered that they had secondary’s. The emergence of rookie gunslingers like Mahomes and Goff and the resurgence of the legendary Drew Brees were the main factors behind the apparent redundancy of defending against the pass.
But it wasn’t just defensive backs who became villains. Pass rushers, Clay Matthews in particular seemed to become persona non grata with the league. In the early part of the season, defenders who even breathed aggressive were penalized for roughing the passer. It became so farcical that Ndamukong Suh created his own PSA demonstration video on how to safely tackle the Quarterback.
Disastrous defense aside, there were a number of other notable events that marred the season.
Le’veon Bell’s holdout at the start of the season cast a shroud over the Steelers. Bell’s absence was a massive distraction for the team and is undoubtedly the reason they got off to such a rocky start. But Bell’s holdout also revealed the true nature of professional football, the side we don’t like to acknowledge. Money. The league is a business, and these men are assets. Bell has every right as an employee to demand more money, but because we like to ignore this facet of football, he was portrayed as the bad guy, greedy and gutless for holding out on his teammates and his fans.
You could write a whole thesis on the ins and outs of professional athletes and their rights vis a vis payment. All we’ll say for now is that by taking the above action, Bell has guaranteed two things. 1: He has played his last game for Pittsburgh and 2. Other Running Backs are going to follow in his lead.
The NFL has a checkered history of players committing physical assault. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and more recently Reuben Foster have all been accused of violence against women. In some cases the league will pay lip-service and then sweep it under the carpet. But occasionally, they’ll make an example. 2018’s perpetrator was Kareem Hunt, the electric Chiefs Running Back. Within an hour of a video of him appearing to hit someone surfaced, his former time cut ties. There message was loud and clear: “We don’t want anything to do with him.” And you can’t blame them. In order to maintain some sort of a good reputation, the NFL has to be tougher on this issue. Zero tolerance. Zero excuses.
It has indeed been an up and down year in the NFL. I haven’t even enjoyed watching games as much as I used to. Hopefully the 2019 season will be better. As for the Post Season Finale in February: The Chiefs and the Rams will battle it out in Atlanta for a chance to lift the Lombardi. And ultimately, Patrick Mahomes will win his first world championship.