With the playoffs beckoning, the NFL season saw a lot to dissect and debate. Ten takeaways from the season past -
THE AFC WAS THE STRONGER CONFERENCE
- In interconference games, AFC playoff teams went 19-5 over the NFC while their NFC counterparts were 14-10. The Eagles had the worst interconference record at 1-3 while the Broncos and Chiefs were both 4-0.
DEFENSE DID MAKE A RESURGENCE
- Long has been the complaint that the NFL's rules bias is toward offense, yet the season was notable for defensive resurgence, notably with such teams as Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina, and also New England, whose defense was often criticized yet again yet by the end of the season was taking over its side of the line of scrimmage.
TEAMS STILL MAKE THE MISTAKE OF FALLING IN LOVE WITH NAMES - Jay Cutler was 5-6 as a starter in 2013 with twelve interceptions; Josh McCown was 3-2 with thirteen touchdowns and one interception. Yet Cutler, because he's a Name, got the contract despite having never earned any benefit of the doubt as a quarterback under any coach that's worked with him. A similar situation came in Green Bay, as Matt Flynn led back-to-back coemback wins - yet it was the notorious frontrunning fraud Aaron Rodgers who was given back the starting job.
THE AFC NORTH IS NO LONGER THE AFC BLACK AND BLUE DIVISION - Not that AFC North teams aren't physical, but the collapse of the Ravens and the two-year period of playoff-less mediocrity and offensive line instability with the Steelers show this division is no longer the strong arm of the AFC.
THE LEAGUE'S BEST GM IS STILL BILL BELICHICK - Remember criticism of Belichick's personnel moves, how the Patriots ostensibly lacked enough depth, that Belichick had failed in the draft (one stat was that 12 of his last 19 defensive draft picks are gone from the team), and so on? The Patriots are 12-4 with a very young roster turned almost completely over - again. At some point people need to see that Belichick builds rosters to win, not rosters with a group of Names.
THE LEAGUE'S WORST OWNER IS STILL DANIEL SNYDER - The feud with Mike Shanahan and the public support of Robert Griffin despite his regression as a quarterback showcased everything that is wrong with Daniel Snyder - inability to either hire qualified football people (Shanahan proved anew his inferiority as a coach) or to let them do their job. And this was a Redskins team appearing ready for a competitive renaissance as the halcyon days of Joe Gibbs (the first time, not the misbegotten attempt to recapture lost glory in the 2004-8 era) fade away.
THE READ OPTION IS - NATURALLY - DEAD - Any offense that relies on running by the quarterback is going to fail. And the read option is no longer a relevant offense in the NFL. You could see it coming with the failure of the Wildcat and of quarterbacks who run instead of stay in the pocket.
PASS INTERFERENCE IS NOT THE PROBLEM - Pass interference penalties became a bigger issue during the season and were tied into the complaint about the rules stifling defense. The problem, though, is not the rules. One, it's the referees continuing to try to be the show. Two, it's defenses that continue to make the mistake of playing the player, not the ball. The old school mentality needs to change into a mentality of playing the ball instead of playing the opposing player.
THE LEAGUE WILL KEEP PUSHING FOR TEAMS IN LONDON AND LOS ANGELES - Roger Goodell's comments and the steady mission creep of NFL games at Wembley Stadium showcase the league's determination to have a team in London and one in LA, even without much evidence of an audience for either.
THE BEST QUARTERBACK OF THIS GENERATION IS NOT PEYTON MANNING - It's Tom Brady. Brady has repeatedly helped build contending rosters; Manning keeps inheriting quality rosters a la Dan Marino. Brady led the biggest comeback win in Patriots history and did so against Manning's Broncos - and he did it with touchdowns into brutally cold winds.
So it was as we await the playoffs.