2017: A Changing of the Guard?
What a strange season this has been. We’ll remember 2017 in the NFL as the year marred by injuries, but we should also consider that it could be a changing of the guard. Sure, we’ve seen the rise of dual threat QBs in recent times, and that has impacted the game to a point, but 2017 has also seen an emergence of some of the league’s new powers.
I’ve written about, and shamelessly plugged, the Jags remarkable season. To go from three wins in 2016 to the AFC Championship in 2017 is truly amazing. It’s never been done before, and there’s no team that better signifies the shift in power query for the NFL. Do the Jags epitomise the beginning of a new wave of young talented teams, ready to take over the league? Or is this an anomaly?
If they do the unthinkable and win in New England, I think we’ll be better positioned to declare the shift official. After all, there’s no denying that we all fear the inevitable Patriots role of setting the record straight. Furthermore, unless you’re a Pats fan, I’d wager you’re routing for a new Superbowl winner. For you see, out of the final four, three have never won the top prize. Between Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Minnesota, we have several underdogs to route for.
Minnesota have been threatening to make the leap for a few years now. Since losing to New Orleans in the conference championship back in 2010, they’ve reached the playoffs twice – losing in the Wildcard round on both occasions. That also happens to be their only two winning seasons in that stretch. To that point, they may feel like they’ve gotten over the hump this time around – in bypassing the wildcard, and winning their divisional. They’ve a few poor seasons on record recently, but they’ve been a better team than that would suggest. Starting 5-0 last season, they looked destined to push on, only to fail. This time around, they kicked on.
Indeed, while the Jags have turned things around in just one season, the Vikings’ journey feels a bit less sudden. Similarly, Philadelphia kicked off the 2016 season at 3-0 only to fall behind and find their season slip away. They’ve made some adjustments and, like Minnesota with their QB injuries, finished atop their division and won their divisional game too, with Foles under centre. Both teams showed glimpses of their potential in 2016, before making the leap this year.
There’s also the likes of the Rams’ success story this season, which fell short to the experienced Falcons on wildcard weekend. It’ll be interesting to see if they progress in 2018 or if they’re a one and done squad.
In contrast, there’s powerhouses like Green Bay who fell apart this season, or Dallas who couldn’t reach the heights of 2016. Was that a one and done season for Prescott and co, or is there more to come? For Green Bay, we can only wait to see if they bounce back or if this season is a sign of decline. They’ve made a lot of changes and will have Rodgers back, so one can only assume they’ll make a return to the playoffs.
Finally, this brings me back to the current crop of teams remaining, and more specifically, the annoyingly consistent New England Patriots. We all lauded Tom Brady as the MVP, and deservedly so. It just felt like a banal choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Similarly, a lot of pundits are picking them to win it all, as boring as that is. We all pounced on the Patriots when the ESPN story leaked about friction in their camp, like wolves after blood. We craved abnormality in our post season and saw this as the recipe for destruction in New England. We craved their impending decline, and with McDaniels and Patricia likely to take head coaching jobs elsewhere in 2018, it may yet come.
Maybe that’s why we’re all so invested in the other three teams more than usual. In part, it’s due to the underdog story of the other three teams – especially Jacksonville. New England are the unstoppable force and have been the ‘bad guys’ for years now. We want Blake Bortles to overthrow the empire and for a new king to be crowned. Until then, it might be the same old Patriots winning out, but should the unthinkable happen, then we can confirm the changing of the guard.
This OTI piece was written by Matt Carolan. Matt is a New York Football Giants fan from Co Wicklow, and is currently working in marketing. Matt can be found on twitter at