Top 10 Takeaways As We Prepare For Super Bowl LIII
The 2018 NFL season ushered in new records offensively from some of the youngest stars in the NFL, brought us incomprehensible new rules regarding tackling the quarterback, and has lined up a Super Bowl showcasing new school vs. old school styles of play. Here are the top ten storylines around the league heading into the offseason.
10 – Jacksonville Needs Some Serious Help
Following an impressive performance against New England in the 2017 AFC Championship game – and sweet revenge against the Patriots in week two – the Jaguars plummeted to a lousy 4-12 season that saw the end of Blake Bortles’ time in the sunshine state. But the biggest issue for Jacksonville is not the quarterback play but rather retaining the talent they already have on their roster. The Jags added star talent in Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Donte Moncrief, and Leonard Fournette in the past few seasons.
Their intention was to win a Super Bowl, and they were one game away in 2017. With roughly the same roster they played below .500 ball this year. As we’ve seen in the past with teams like Seattle, star players want big money contracts when their rookie deals are up…unless their team is winning Super Bowls. Jacksonville’s failure to succeed in the regular season is setting their best players up to test free agency and join a real contender.
The good and bad news for Jags fans is that all these concerns could be answered with one spot-on draft pick in 2019. The only move they have here is to go after a quarterback, and there will be some talented ones in the upcoming draft. But with Arizona and Oakland ahead of them and entertaining the possibility of drafting a QB early the Jags will have to act quick before they lose the potential future of their franchise.
9 – The Emergence of Lamar Jackson
The Baltimore Ravens finally dragged themselves out of the shadows of the mediocre Joe Flacco and pulled the trigger on Lamar Jackson. Jackson ignited the Ravens down the stretch to a 6-1 record and a wildcard birth. The rookie threw for 1,200 yards but gained an additional 700 yards on the ground.
Jackson will now try to avoid the perennial sophomore slump that second year quarterbacks – specifically mobile QBS – suffer from. Big time rookie names like Robert Griffen III and Cam Newton both had underwhelming second seasons after setting rookie records. Griffen is now backup to Jackson in Baltimore whereas Newton has made it all the way to a Super Bowl. Head coach John Harbaugh is undoubtedly on the hot seat for next season and his development of Jackson will play a pivotal role in his job security.
8 – Browns Find Their Quarterback of the Future
After blanking on the last 28 quarterbacks to start a game for the Cleveland Browns the mistake by the lake may finally have their answer in Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma alum threw for over 3,700 yards this season and 27 touchdowns.
Mayfield had a rough start to his rookie season before the firing of Hue Jackson – leading Freddie Kitchens to take over the offensive play calling and steer Mayfield on the right track. Now Kitchens is the official head coach of the Browns and Mayfield has stability in the coaching staff to further his development during the offseason.
Mayfield carried a fair amount of baggage into the league after his boisterous personality in college placed a black mark on his draft stock. So far the rookie already has a better off the field record than pro bowler Ezekiel Elliot and many other first round picks in recent history. With the QB position locked up the Browns can finally focus on developing weapons for Mayfield to use next year.
7 – Redskins and Vikings Both Overpaid For Average QBs
One of the biggest storylines of the previous offseason was who would land Kirk Cousins on a big deal. Minnesota and Washington were both deciding between Cousins and Alex Smith, both knowing one would likely sign the other. Minnesota signed Cousins to a three year 84 million dollar contract while the Redskins gave Smith a four year 94 million dollar contract.
The Vikings limped to an 8-7-1 record, missing the playoff by one game. The Redskins lost Alex Smith in week 10 – and possibly for a lot longer – after he broke his leg against Houston. Cousins failed to enter the ranks of elite quarterbacks this season, putting up average numbers with super star receivers at his disposal. Smith barely made it half way through the season and wasn’t impressing anyone with his play before then – albeit the Redskins were on track for a wild card spot.
Both Minnesota and Washington now have average players leading their teams while simultaneously blocking off a huge percentage of their spending cap.
6 – New Rules For Tackling The Quarterback
The NFL further confused fans by implementing new rules for tackling the quarterback. Per section two article 13 of the NFL player Conduct policy, roughing the passer is described as: “Any physical acts against passers during or just after a pass which, in the Referee’s judgment, are unwarranted by the circumstances of the play”.
The newest addition to that rule in 2018 is that the defender can no longer deliberately place his body weight on the quarterback when making a tackle. This adjustment to the penalty became a hot button issue when Clay Matthews was called for three of these penalties in the first three games of the season – doubling his career total.
Fans and defensive players, and even some quarterbacks, are still trying to wrap their heads around a new rule that all but eliminates tackling the quarterback from a head on position. Meanwhile, we are all still in the dark over what is actually a catch in the NFL ever since the Dez Bryant conundrum a few seasons ago. But its okay, Roger Goodell is adamant that more rules to protect the quarterback is what this league needs to pump its ratings back to where they used to be.
5 – Brady Is Still The G.O.A.T.
If you’ve tuned into ESPN’s “First Take” in the past few weeks and nothing else you would be inclined to believe that Tom Brady has fallen off his career “cliff” and no longer belongs in this league – at least thats Max Kellerman’s opinion.
But any real sports fan would know that Brady just through for 348 yards in the AFC Championship coupled with two game winning drives – one in overtime – to send the Patriots to their 9th super bowl under Brady and Bill Belichick.
One of the greatest of all time continues to play at a Super Bowl Caliber regardless of the supporting cast around him. Win or lose two weeks from now the first ever unanimous NFL MVP will be back on the field leading New England at the age of 42.
4 – Nick Foles Will Start For Someone In 2019
The man who was asked to take over for Carson Wentz and win a Super Bowl in 2018 was asked once again this year – although with a different result. Foles once again helped the Eagles reach a playoff birth and victory before falling to the New Orleans Saints on an Alshon Jeffery dropped pass.
The Eagles seem to be staying on the Carson Wentz train, meaning Foles will likely be free to sign with any team he wants to this offseason. Foles has never started all 16 games for any of the teams he’s played for – although he managed an 8-2 record with the Eagles in 2013 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The teams likely looking to sign Foles this offseason would be the Jets, Buccaneers, Jaguars, and Dolphins. Each team would be using Foles as a bridge while they potentially develop a rookie from the draft this season. The Bucs however would likely be looking at Foles to mainly create competition for the struggling Jameis Winston.
3 – Patrick Mahomes Is The Real Deal
After only starting one game in his rookie season Mahomes exploded onto the scene win 2018, throwing for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns. The young star put up numbers in his second season that Brady put up during his prime.
The Chiefs came one game away from the Super Bowl this season and if Mahomes had the chance, he may have won that game. Now Kansas City has fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton after surrendering 348 passing yards last week. With a new direction on defense and one of the hottest new school offenses in the NFL, the Chiefs are likely favorites in the AFC next season.
2 – Rams Launch New Dynasty
Head Coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff transformed the way we view football in 2018. The offensive mastermind McVay formed an offense that could beat any team in the NFL from multiple different game plans. Todd Gurley was one of the best rushers in the league, Goff emerged as the first round pick he was expected to be, and the receiving core as a unit was outstanding.
The Rams are gaining recognition in a similar way to the early 2000s Patriots. Sean McVay is a mastermind at game planning and play calling – Bill Belichick is the ultimate game manager. Jared Goff is a young, still underrated quarterback who seems to make throws no one else can. Tom Brady was barley drafted out of Michigan and only given a chance due to injury. What ensued after for New England is in the record books, only time will tell what happens to L.A.
1 – Offense, Offense, and A Little More Offense
Its no secret the NFL has been offensive minded over the last decade. New rule changes regarding the quarterback, defenseless receivers, targeting penalties, and more have paved the way for an increase in offensive production. But no one could’ve anticipated the kind of points put on the board in the 2018 NFL season.
The Chiefs vs. Patriots early season matchup that ended 43-40 was the first inclination that defense doesn’t really matter anymore in the NFL. Fans of modern day football want to see touchdowns scored, its as simple as that. The Rams vs. Chiefs contest that claimed all the way up to 54-51 was crowned the best game of the year by most viewers.
The league is scoring more points and thats exactly what Roger Goodell would like to see. A decade ago, fans would be lucky to see one team ( Like the Saints or Patriots ) put up astronomical numbers on offense. But today theres four teams in each conference that have the ability to break any offensive record set prior to 2010. If we don’t remember that defense wins championships, the NFL may very well convert to 7v7 flag football by the 2030 season.
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