NEW YORK, N.Y.- Has Bill Belichick done it again? Is the evil empire pulling a line from Lee Corso and saying, “Not so fast my friend!” to all of those who are burying the Patriots dynasty? The legendary head coach, after departing from a quarterback who helped him win six Super Bowls this offseason, pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the signing of former MVP Cam Newton on Sunday evening. While the move is a flashy one with a big name set to fill the void left by Tom Brady, there’s little reason to believe Newton will have much of an impact for the Patriots this season and even less reason to believe he’ll even beat out Jarrett Stidham to win the starting job week one.
Health is still the most pressing question for Newton. Since taking the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, the former Heisman Trophy winner has played a full 16-game season just once in the last four years. This is a player who missed the final 14 games of the 2019 season and two games in the prior season. As the old cliché in sports goes “The best ability is availability.” It’s impossible to deem the Patriots true Super Bowl contenders because their newest acquisition is far from a guarantee to step on the field.
While getting on the field is one concern, staying on the field is an even taller task. The good news for the Patriots is that Newton did pass a physical back in March, with both his shoulder and foot “checking out well,” according to a source who relayed that information to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. So while the Auburn product has checked the first box, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that this will equate to a healthy 2020 season. Cam’s body has taken a ton of abuse throughout his nine-year career. He’s had surgeries to his shoulder (twice), foot and ankle while also suffering back vertebrae fractures after a car accident.
As a Colts fan myself, I’ve witnessed first-hand how a player’s body gets worn down over time to the point where the slightest injury could end a career. Andrew Luck, while not as reliant on his legs as the 2015 NFL MVP, would still use his body to run over defenders while also being able to bounce back up after punishing hits. Years of exposure to big hits eventually took its toll, as Luck decided to retire in 2018 in part because of all of the punishment his body suffered.
While the Luck example is an extreme one, it highlights what happens if a team neglects to protect their quarterback. The wear and tear Newton’s body accrued over nine seasons doesn’t just go away because he’s healed from previous injuries. It will only get harder for Cam to keep himself healthy as his career elongates. If the former top pick wants to continue to play his physical, bruising style of football, it’s tough to imagine he’ll be able to make it through a full 16-game schedule, which would put a damper on the playoff hopes of the Patriots.
Putting health aside for a minute, the learning curve that the former Panther has to overcome in this unusual offseason is another reason to slam the brakes on the “Cam Newton will have a huge impact in New England” narrative. Signing on June 29th, Newton will have just about a month to learn the Josh McDaniels offense before training camp begins. The difficulty level increases due to the fact that the quarterback and offensive coordinator can’t meet in person until practices officially get underway. Taking it a step further, this also means Newton won’t be able to throw to any of his new teammates until training camp. Not exactly an ideal circumstance when you’re trying to beat out a player who already knows the offense.
2020 will be a season like we’ve never seen before. Two factors that will play a major role in the success or lack thereof from teams will be: continuity and familiarity. Minimal-to-zero offseason contact between players this offseason benefits those teams who are returning head coaches, quarterbacks and rosters from 2019. This gives Stidham a tremendous leg up on the competition. The former Auburn quarterback himself had all of last year to build chemistry with the skill position players and absorb McDaniels’ system, which will mean he’ll hit training camp full steam ahead. The familiarity that the second-year quarterback has with the offense could end up being the difference in him starting week one.
Another pandemic-affected aspect that will benefit the returning quarterback is that the preseason has been chopped in half, as there are only two preseason games scheduled. While teams have been valuing these glorified scrimmages less and less in recent years, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Belichick & Co. to see what they have in the former number one pick. The less preseason games, the bigger the advantage for Stidham to win the starting job.
Between injuries and learning a new playbook, it doesn’t add up to Cam Newton having success with the Patriots in 2020. To already hand New England the AFC East title or even going further to state this signing makes the six-time Super Bowl champions a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy is premature to say the least. When all is said and done, it will be Stidham, not Newton, that will be under center by the time week one rolls around.
On Monday, May 4, a flash went across my IPAD that read, “Don Shula, Hall of Fame NFL Coach, dies at 90”. Immediately my brain went into high gear, thinking of the best way to honor one of the greatest coaches ever.
Being an NFL historian as well as an overall sports historian and expert, my mind switched into autopilot, reviewing some of his most significant accomplishments.
Coach Shula’s playing career was not one that received much attention. The Cleveland Browns drafted him as a defensive back in the ninth round of the 1951 NFL draft. Shula played seven NFL seasons, recording 21 interceptions while playing for three different teams (Browns, Colts and Redskins).
Baltimore Colts & 1960s
In 1963 the Baltimore Colts made Shula the youngest Head Coach in NFL history at age 33. It did not take long for the young head coach to make his mark. In seven seasons with Baltimore, Shula won 75 percent of his games (71-23-4).
Despite that success, Shula’s reputation plummeted when the upstart New York Jets of the AFL defeated Shula’s heavily favored Colts (18.5 favorites), 16-7 in Super Bowl III.
Shula lasted one more season in Baltimore before being hired by the Miami Dolphins. Only in their fifth season as a franchise, the Dolphins won just 27 percent of their games (15-39-2) when Shula took over.
Most Regular Season Wins
Head Coaches, NFL History
For the next 26 seasons, Shula’s Dolphins achieved an unprecedented amount of success. The head coach won 66 percent of his regular-season games, including 16 seasons of ten or more wins, 12 AFC East titles, six AFC Championships, and two Super Bowl titles.
During his 33 years as head coach, Shula’s 328 regular-season wins and 347 wins overall are the most in NFL history. Only twice over that span did his teams suffer losing seasons (6-8 in 1976 and 6-10 in 1988). Shula’s 19 postseason wins rank third in NFL history behind Bill Belichick (31) and Tom Landry (20).
Most Postseason Wins
Head Coaches, NFL History
Shula is one of three head coaches in Super Bowl history to coach in three straight Super Bowls (VI-VIII), Marv Levy (XXV-XXVIII) and Bill Belichick (LI-LIII) are the other two. He is also one of four head coaches to lose four Super Bowls (Levy, Dan Reeves, and Bud Grant).
Miami Dolphins Perfect Season & the 1970s
The pinnacle of Shula’s coaching career took place in 1972 when the Dolphins became the only undefeated team in NFL history. After winning all 14 regular-season games, Miami defeated the Browns 20-14 in the divisional round at the Orange Bowl, and the Steelers 21-17 at Three Rivers Stadium to advance to the Super Bowl.
Shula suffered a 24-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI and hoped to face the same Cowboys team that dismantled them in Super Bowl VII. However, Tom Landry’s team lost 26-3 to George Allen and the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game, setting up the matchup. The Dolphins 14-7 victory, completed the only perfect season in NFL history.
The next season Shula joined Vince Lombardi as the only head coaches to win consecutive Super Bowls, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7.
Most Seasons 10+ Wins
Head Coaches, NFL History
Wood-Strock, Dan Marino & the 1980s
Despite winning 77 of 120 regular-season games from 1974-81, the Dolphins qualified for the postseason just four times, going winless in those contests.
During the 1982 strike-shortened season, Shula’s defense (nicknamed the Killer B’s due to six of the 11 starters surname starting with B) led Miami to a 7-2 record. Their offense was led by 24-year old David Woodley & 32-year old Don Strock (nicknamed Wood-Strock) at QB.
Since the regular season consisted of just nine games, the NFL changed the postseason requirements, as the top eight teams in each conference qualified. The Dolphins ranked second in the AFC, played all three of their games at home, defeating the Patriots, Chargers, and Jets to earn their fourth Super Bowl appearance under Shula.
Once again, their opponent was the Washington Redskins, but this time, Shula’s young team fell to Joe Gibbs and Super Bowl MVP John Riggins, 27-17.
The next season saw the Dolphins first-round draft pick Dan Marino make his NFL debut. Under Marino, Shula watched his young QB set NFL records for passing TD (48) and passing yards (5,084) in 1984, leading the Dolphins back to their fifth Super Bowl against Joe Montana and the 49ers. Once again, Shula’s team came up short in the biggest game, falling 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX.
The Road to Nowhere and Playoff Failures
During Marino’s rookie season of 1983, Miami suffered an upset loss to the Seattle Seahawks at the Orange Bowl in the AFC Divisional Round. While the team rebounded to finish 14-2 and reach the Super Bowl the next season, many anticipated a return in 1985.
During the 1988 season, the Dolphins hosted the undefeated Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 13. Sitting at 12-0, the Bears dominating defense led by defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan posed a threat to join Miami’s 1972 team as the only undefeated team in NFL history. However, Shula’s bunch embarrassed Chicago 38-24, ending their perfect season.
While everyone was anticipating a rematch in Super Bowl XX, Miami lost to the New England Patriots in AFC Championship Game. (Patriots were the first team ever to win THREE ROAD GAMES to advance to Super Bowl).
The loss was the Dolphins first against New England in Miami since November 30, 1969 (were both members of AFL). They were 15-0 all-time at home against the Patriots since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 before that loss.
The following season New England snapped their regular-season losing streak at Miami, defeating the Dolphins 34-27 on December 22. The loss eliminated Miami from postseason contention, occurring in their final game at the Orange Bowl.
Don Shula as Miami Head Coach
NFL Playoff Games on Road
1995 at Buffalo
1994 at San Diego
1990 at Buffalo
1979 at Pittsburgh
1974 at Oakland
1972 at Pittsburgh
1971 at Kansas City
1970 at Oakland
During Shula’s final nine seasons in Miami, the team won three postseason games, but in 1992 suffered their second AFC Championship Game loss at home (29-10 to division-rival Buffalo). Another contrast from his initial success in Miami, Shula, lost his final five road playoff games (last road playoff win came in the 1972 AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh).
Shula was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1997. He and George Halas are the only NFL head coaches to record 300 wins.
As the sports world discusses how to get back to work, amidst COVID-19, the upcoming NFL season will see one of biggest free-agent signings in pro sports history. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport , Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finalized a deal worth $30 million per year.
How will Brady fit in with his new surroundings is a discussion taking place around the league and that I will address in a later article. Having left New England and coach Bill Belichick, the only team and coach he has known in his 20 NFL seasons, I am very intrigued about how he will perform.
One thing that prognosticators can point to is his accomplishments. Any argument about whether Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL is moot at this point. He is. Bar none. The next discussion we need to have is this: Could Brady, historically, be the greatest player of all-time in any of the four major sports? In case you need to be reminded of his qualifications, here are some reasons why I am making that suggestion.
Brady owns 30 playoff wins in his career. Only three teams in the Super Bowl era have more playoff wins than he does: the Pittsburgh Steelers (36), Dallas Cowboys (35) and San Francisco 49ers (32).
Individual Playoff Records
Closest on List
<<Bill Romanowski (19)
Joe Montana (45)
Peyton Manning (7,339)
John Elway (6)
Joe Montana (5)
<< Among Players that weren’t teammates
He has 14 more postseason wins than the next quarterback on that list, Joe Montana. Brady has 13 game-winning drives in the postseason. Next on that list is John Elway with six. Brady has nine fourth-quarter comebacks in the postseason. Joe Montana is second with five. That isn’t just being better, that’s complete domination.
Brady has gone 219–64 during the regular season, good enough for a .777 winning percentage. That’s nearly 100 points higher than №2 on the list, Peyton Manning, who went 200–92 (.685 winning percentage). What about players in other sports? Who can we compare to Brady in that conversation? Here are a few names.
MLB — Babe Ruth
Due to batters and pitcher’s differences in deciphering their excellence, I decided to take a player who excelled in both. Babe Ruth is such a legendary name that people might forget that he played for 22 seasons. Ruth spent the majority of his four seasons pitching, not hitting, for the Boston Red Sox. Ruth averaged 20 wins with an ERA of 2.05 and WHIP of 1.08 from 1915–18 (ages 20–23).
Babe Ruth Career
Season Average Pitching
Upon his trade to the Yankees in 1920, Ruth played the outfield and no longer pitched, a process the Red Sox started the prior season. From 1919–34, Ruth provided offensive numbers never seen prior in MLB history. Over those 15 seasons (24–38), Ruth averaged a .351 BA, 44 HR, 134 RBI, 132 Runs & 1.201 OPS.
Babe Ruth Career Averages
While those numbers are staggering both pitching and batting, Ruth suffered a steep decline in his final two seasons. From 1934–35 (age 39–40), he averaged a .271 BA, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 46 Runs & .953 OPS. Ruth appeared in ten World Series and won seven championships from 1915–32.
NBA — Michael Jordan
One can make an argument for Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, etc. However, there is one GOAT in the NBA.
Jordan is at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to the greatest ever. His six NBA titles, six NBA Finals MVPs, scoring records, and legendary playoff performances are well known. However, Jordan did take nearly two seasons off in his prime that prevented him from possibly winning two more NBA titles. When he came back to the NBA the second time with the Washington Wizards at age 38, he was clearly a different player.
Michael Jordan -Season Average
Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG and shot 43 percent from the field with the Wizards from 2001–03 at age 38 and 39. From 1991–98, he averaged 30.3 PPG and shot 50 percent. Jordan won his NBA titles over eight years, starting at age 27 in 1991 and ending at 34 in 1998. Yes, Jordan could have won two more NBA titles if he didn’t leave the NBA to play baseball. But he did. Should’ve and could’ve doesn’t matter.
NHL — Wayne Gretzky
“The Great One” joined the NHL in 1979 and destroyed every conceivable scoring record there is. By himself, Gretzky finished with four seasons of over 200 points. No other player in NHL history has done that once. Gretzky is the all-time leader in points, goals, assists, short-handed goals, and hat tricks. He has 936 more points than anyone else in NHL history.
Gretzky won four Stanley Cups in his NHL career, but none after leaving the Edmonton Oilers. He won his first cup at age 23 and his last one at age 27. Despite his dominance, Gretzky started to decline at age 34. After averaging 54 goals and 164 points per season from 1979–94 (ages 19–33), he averaged just 18 goals and 80 points per season the last five years of his career (ages 34–39).
Wayne Gretzky – Season Averages
My argument for Brady revolves around the consistency in which he has played. Starting with his first season in 2001 going through this season, he has stayed at a very high level.
Tom Brady Season Averages
Super Bowl W-L
If you look at Brady by how he did in his 20s, 30s, and 40s, he is the only athlete to post better statistics in his 40s than his 20s.
Tom Brady Season Averages
Super Bowl W-L
Judging from the charts, Brady has improved with age, unlike Ruth, Jordan & Gretzky, who all slowed down significantly as they aged. Brady has yet to see that decline, which is remarkable. Along with his play staying dominant, Brady has also continued winning titles. Gretzky won his last title at 27, Jordan, at 34.
While all players had exceptional years in their prime, Brady is the only one to play beyond prime years and continue to post impressive numbers. Considering all those factors, Brady is historically the greatest player to play any of the four major sports.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- The Miami Dolphins are finally on the clock. After a year of “Tanking for Tua” and accumulating as many draft picks as possible, they can finally start addressing their needs, starting at the quarterback position. Holding the fifth pick, it seems destined that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be sitting in their lap, waiting to put on the aqua and orange. But now that this day has finally come, the decision is harder than it seems. There is no doubting that the Crimson Tide quarterback has the talent to transcend a franchise. There is very little on the field that Tua does wrong, transforming the SEC powerhouse from a ground and pound team to one that slices and dices defenses with a lethal aerial attack. There is a major flaw with the 22-year-old and that is his health, more specifically, his durability. Which begs the question: Should the Dolphins trust Tua to be their franchise quarterback?
From a talent perspective, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Normally, the biggest question marks surrounding quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft are their physical tools. Do they have a strong arm? Are they accurate? Can they read defenses and analyze information quickly? Can they be a leader of men? At Alabama, he aced all of those questions. The two-year starter amassed 77 touchdowns to just nine interceptions while claiming numerous accolades, including 2018 SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American that same season. He holds the single season touchdown record (43) and is the career touchdown leader (87) in Alabama history.
Equally as impressive as his stats are his leadership abilities. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a very glowing compliment of the quarterback’s effect on the university as a whole.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program as any player we have ever had,” Saban said. It’s tough to find a compliment that has greater weight than that.
While the on-field accomplishments and leadership say that the Hawaiian native can turn a franchise around, the injury concerns say he can’t be relied upon. The former Alabama star has had more than his fair share of nicks and bruises throughout his two seasons as the starter. During his three years in Tuscaloosa, there were five documented injuries that Tua suffered. Three of these injuries (broken finger in March of 2018, sprained right knee in October of 2018 and left ankle surgery in December of 2018) did not see the signal caller miss a game. The latest two injuries he suffered this past season saw the Heisman hopeful miss a total of four games, including a dislocated hip that ended his college career.
What’s even more alarming is that while five injuries in three years is significant, it’s possible that more setbacks occurred without anyone knowing. Former NFL executive Mike Lombardi reported that on top of the injuries listed above, Tua broke his wrist not once but twice. On the GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi expanded.
“It’s not just his hip. It’s his ankle. It’s his wrist,” Lombardi said. “He broke his wrist the first day of spring ball one year. And then they fixed it and he came back and he re-broke it again.”
This is of major importance because it could be a precursor to what Dolphins fans could expect in the future if Miami tabs Tua to be their guy. At Alabama, Tagovailoa had great offensive lines in the two seasons he was the starting quarterback. Both in 2018 and 2019, the Crimson Tide were finalists for the Joe Moore Award, an honor given to the best offensive line in the country.
The junior was sacked just 10 times in 2019, while Alabama as a whole allowed the third fewest sacks in the country. In 2018, the Crimson Tide were tied for 12th with just 16 sacks allowed in 15 games. Despite having great protection throughout his college career, Tagovailoa still found himself injured. Looking at what the Dolphins possess on their offensive line, it’s worrisome that the injury-riddled quarterback will be subject to a ton of pressure and will be hit more in one year than his entire college career. Miami allowed the most quarterback hits (147) and tied for first in sacks allowed (58) in 2019, so it’s a stark contrast from the protection Tua was afforded in college to the kind of protection he’ll be dealing with in the pros.
The injury prone label that is being floated around isn’t hyperbole, as NFL teams are legitimately questioning whether the talent is worth the injury risk. Lombardi went on to say that two teams he knew of flunked Tua’s physical not just because of the questions surrounding his hip injury, but because of the total compilation of injuries suffered throughout his career. There is good news concerning his hip injury, as two doctors have said his hip is recovering perfectly and there should be very little worry that his hip will suffer the same fate of Bo Jackson’s. While the hip is encouraging, the fear for the Dolphins should be focused on his ability to stay healthy, not his current health to date.
All of these injuries and serious concerns are enough for me, if I were the Dolphins, to pass on drafting Tagovailoa. There are already examples in the NFL of talented quarterbacks getting drafted to be the franchise leader only to have injuries derail their career. The last thing the Dolphins can afford is to have another Robert Griffin III or Sam Bradford situation. While Tua’s upside is higher I believe than both of those players, the risk is even greater as well. Andrew Luck’s career arc should be enough to give the Dolphins a peek into the future if they draft Crimson Tide star and aren’t able to protect him adequately enough. Even just a year or two behind this extremely porous offensive line could be enough for the already brittle quarterback to never fully recover.
It’s an old cliché, but a very fitting one when it comes to the decision of finding the next elite quarterback. A player’s best ability is his availability, and for Tua, that’s his most questionable feature. It’s why I believe the Dolphins would be better off drafting Oregon’s Justin Herbert or even bypassing the position completely and drafting an offensive tackle. While they might not be getting the player they dreamed of drafting back in September, the good news for the Dolphins is that there are other fish in the sea.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- After months of speculation, Tom Brady made it official on Tuesday morning that his time in New England was done and he would play elsewhere in 2020. The Buccaneers seemed to come out of the shadows and land Brady’s services. The six-time Super Bowl champion taking his talents to Tampa should provide for some high-octane offensive play. While the highlights should be abundant, Brady didn’t sign with the Bucs to only throw touchdown passes and have a good time. His goal of winning hasn’t changed, and he wouldn’t have signed up if he didn’t believe the team that went 7-9 last year were just a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders in a deep NFC. Will Brady be right?
Before we look ahead at what could be in 2020, we must first
look back at 2019 to try and figure out what led to the Patriots offense
becoming pedestrian, especially in the second half. The final eight games of
the regular season, New England averaged just over 21 points per game, compared
to 31 points per game they average in the first half of the season. While it’s
easy to point to the trigger man as the main reason for the two score drop off,
it goes deeper than that. The Patriots offensive system, guided by offensive
coordinator Josh McDaniels, is predicated on reading the defense and adjusting
routes based on what they see. Reading the defense doesn’t just start and stop
at the quarterback position though. It extends to the running backs, tight ends
and wide receivers. Everyone has to be on the same page and the timing must be
exact, or else the entire play is thrown off.
The rotating cast at the skill positions, which saw first
round pick N’Keal Harry miss the first nine games of the season, Mohamed Sanu traded
for halfway through the year and an extra reliance on rookie Jakobi Meyers, not
to mention both Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon coming in and then going out,
Brady wasn’t able to trust his targets. The lack of trust stemmed from not
being on the same page, which led to bad throws and a stagnant offense. Last year
wasn’t a hint that Father Time is finally catching up to the ageless wonder,
but instead a reassurance that Brady can no longer make chicken salad out of,
well, you know.
Looking ahead now to the upcoming season, the new toys Brady has at his disposal jump right off the page. Tampa boasts arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league, as Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both surpassed 1,100 receiving yards last season. Brady hasn’t had two players both go over 1,100 yards in the same season since 2011, when Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski combined for 2,896 yards. On top of those two on the outside, the future Hall of Famer also has two solid tight end options in Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. While there’s still work that has to be done at the running back position, this is already shaping up to be one of the best supporting casts ever assembled around the soon to be 43-year-old.
Brady also gets the pleasure of working with pass-happy head coach Bruce Arians, whose aggressive mindset allowed former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to create the infamous 30-touchdown, interception club. Arians worked his magic with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer, so it will be intriguing to see what he can do with an all-time great chasing his seventh Super Bowl victory. The biggest question mark with this new marriage is how Brady, who is known more as an underneath to intermediate passer, will integrate into the vertical passing system that Arians runs.
The Buccaneers upcoming 2020 schedule also adds to the fun,
as there are a few very sexy matchups that are sure to put Tampa Bay in
primetime more than they’ve ever been. The former Patriot (still so weird to write)
will go against his former defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia, battle Drew
Brees twice and gets a shot against the only other team that made an offer for
his services in the Los Angeles Chargers. There are also some awesome
quarterback matchups slated for the 101st NFL season, as the Michigan
alum will take on Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes. These games
will bring the most eyes and attention that have been on this franchise since
their 2002 Super Bowl season.
While the weapons, head coach and schedule present some great opportunities for fireworks this upcoming season, the main question surrounding this team is whether they will be legitimate contenders not just in the conference, but in their own division. The Falcons are gearing up offensively to match the firepower of Tampa Bay, signing Todd Gurley to add to the collection of talent they possess that includes Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst and Matt Ryan. The Saints return Drew Brees and most of the weapons that helped power New Orleans to a 13-3 record. Both of those teams already pose bigger threats than most of the competition the Patriots have rolled over in the AFC East for the last 20 years. The Panthers don’t appear to be a pushover either, as the signing of Teddy Bridgewater will keep them competitive in 2020.
Outside of just a more challenging division, the NFC poses a deeper road to the Super Bowl than the AFC. Before the breakthrough of the Chiefs this past year, the Patriots controlled the conference for two decades, going to 13 AFC Conference Championship games in that span. While Brady navigated the AFC littered with young, up-and-coming gunslingers, the NFC is filled with established, championship-winning signal callers. Standing in the way of a seventh Lombardi Trophy are the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
In addition to those star quarterbacks, the NFC also boasts
the defending conference champion in a young and physical 49ers team, the
Vikings, who pulled off an impressive playoff upset over the Saints, a talent
loaded Cowboys team that is armed with a head coach who doesn’t specialize in clapping
and the Eagles, who barring catastrophic injuries, will be a tough out.
While the road may be tough, there is promise that the
Buccaneers can turn it around from a losing season to right in the thick of it this
year. Ironically enough, it’s on the defensive end where the Brady signing could
show the biggest dividends. Last year, Tampa Bay’s defense, especially their
secondary, struggle mightily. But was is truly all their fault? The answer lies
on the other side of the ball. In 2019, the defense was credited with allowing
449 points, which was the fourth most in the league. Part of that was due in
part to Winston’s record setting seven pick-sixes thrown that directly added 49
points to their total points allowed tally. You take away those 49 points and while
it’s still not pretty, it’s improvement as they move from fourth to 10th
worst in total points allowed.
That’s not where the optimism for a defensive turnaround in
2020 ends. Of the 23 interceptions thrown by the former number one overall pick
that weren’t returned for touchdowns, 16 occurred in the Buccaneers’ own end of
the field, putting the defense in a tough spot to succeed. The overall efficiency
numbers reflect the notion that the defense, led by defensive coordinator Todd
Bowles, was a lot better than the scoreboard indicated. According to Football
Outsiders, Tampa Bay was fifth in defensive DVOA, which is a collection of
data that measures the overall efficiency of the unit. So, despite the Buccaneers
struggling statistically, the simple addition of Brady and subtraction of
Winston should automatically give them a boost.
The path to a 10th Super Bowl appearance seems as tough as it’s ever been for Brady. The positive is that despite is age, he’s insulated with a supporting cast that can pick up him in a way the 2019 Patriots couldn’t. Barring injuries, it’s tough to bet against the man who’s only known winning his entire career. The playoffs are very attainable, and frankly expected, especially with the addition of an extra wild card team. 2020 will be simultaneously both the same and different. It will take some getting used to seeing the Boston icon wearing the pewter and red. The quest though, remains the same and the final destination is a familiar one, as Raymond James Stadium will host the upcoming Super Bowl. The end goal of raising that Lombardi Trophy doesn’t change, but for once, the journey will be a fun one.
Football fans and WWE fans – remember the XFL? Shockingly, it debuted 19 years ago, back in February 2001. The NFL is king of football, as we know. There have been somewhat successful alternative football leagues before. We currently have leagues like the CFL (Canadian Football League), and the AFL (Arena Football League); and other failed leagues like the USFL (United States Football League), the AAF (Alliance of American Football), and even NFL Europe. Then of course, we had the colossal failure that was the XFL. I can still recall Vince McMahon’s voice screaming, “THIS…IS…THE XFL!” Vince McMahon failed miserably in his first attempt to create an alternative football league for many reasons.
For starters, McMahon only gave himself one year to prepare for the launch of the league. Another problem was the way people could consume the product; some games were on NBC, others were on networks most football fans hadn’t heard of. Let’s face it – the league was way too gimmicky. It had too much of a WWE feel, from the presentation of the games to the announcers calling them. Whether it was the “He Hate Me” jerseys, the radical rule changes, or simply the lack of a quality product, the league quickly lost viewers and ultimately failed after just one season.
But all hope was not lost. We know Vince McMahon is a very driven, successful businessman. The WWE was founded in the 1950s, and is currently as popular as it has ever been. The WWE is responsible for stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena, to name a few. Amazingly, the company has a net worth of $3.2 BILLION! He obviously knows how to operate and grow an entertainment product. This time, he’ll learn from his mistakes, right?
After watching the first week of the XFL reboot, I think it has potential to be around for a very long time. The one thing the NFL is lacking is a place to develop their talent. Sure, I guess that’s what the NCAA is for… but is that really enough? These kids are entering into the NFL not even old enough to legally drink alcohol, and going up against grown men on the biggest stage with hardly enough time to prepare, both mentally and physically. There are only 32 NFL teams, with only 53 roster spots. But there are far more than 1,696 football players and coaches. Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a developmental league for the NFL?
Since there are so few roster spots and coaching openings, it makes perfect sense to have a league for fringe level NFL talent. The possibilities are endless. If every NFL team had an XFL team, players and coaches can get actual game experience to work diligently to improve their skills. Theoretically, a team could install a minor league program, where potential players and coaches could learn a team’s system, and be ready to jump onto the pro team fully prepared to run the team’s schemes. Think about the depth that would create for teams, and how ultimately the quality of play could increase with all this extra preparation! Not to mention, the XFL could be used to experiment with rule changes, safety features and camera angles.
Week 1 definitely showed potential. It actually resembled real football. The production was top notch, there were compelling stories, familiar names (players, coaches, even announcers), and there was genuine excitement surrounding the games. For the sake of the NFL, we should all hope that the XFL takes off for the reasons mentioned above. The NFL needs a minor league system, and Vince McMahon seems to have created just that. Enjoy a few more weeks of grid-iron battles, football fans!