The NFL's 2014 season has wrapped up and there's a lot to say about it. Some thoughts as the playoffs count down -
The Return Of Parcellsball - To a striking extent what jumped out at me was how many teams took the ball out of their quarterbacks' hand and put it in the hands of the running game and the defense. The most obvious examples were the Cowboys - whose defense was ostensibly awful in 2013 - and the Broncos. A few years ago it seemed everyone was saying the league was all-passing all the time - it's not that way anymore; indeed what has come to the fore is that increased passing has opened up run games, to where Detroit's 2013 win over the Cowboys where Matthew Stafford threw for 488 yards yet the Lions still busted out over 140 (strikingly unnoticed) rushing yards may become the archtypal NFL game going forward.
There Was A Lot Of Scoring But Curiously Uncompetitive Games - 2014 didn't seem to have that much in the way of the kind of super-competitive games that would get the NFL Films Game Of The Week treatment. Denver's 39-36 comeback over Miami, Miami's 37-35 win over the Vikings, and San Diego's amazing coemback win over the 49ers were perhaps the best games of the season. The previous two years saw a sizeable number of such games - 2012 saw the amazing 41-34 Giants-Bucs shootout, Tennessee's 44-41 overtime heart attack game over the Lions and the Titans' 35-34 thriller over the Bills, the 38-31 Bengals win over the Redskins, the controversial 31-30 Ravens win over the Patriots, and numerous other amazing games. 2013 also saw a slew of genuinely great games - New England's comeback wins over New Orleans, Denver, and Houston, plus the astonishing finish against Cleveland, Houston's shocker over San Diego, the mind-blowing 51-48 Broncos win over the Cowboys, the Jets upset of the Falcons, the Green Bay-Minnesota tie, the Cardinals' 37-34 escape at Tennessee, the 41-38 San Diego win at Kansas City, and the history-making 45-44 Colts playoff win over Kansas City, to name several.
Mind-blowingly Poor Coaching In Several Quarters - The excuses made for Rex Ryan have come fast and furious with the potential of his firing from the NY Jets, and the excuses really are not to be taken seriously. The reality is that Ryan is not that good a coach - his preparation is chronically inadequate, attention to detail is slipshod, and his reputation as a players coach has meant what it has always meant - he doesn't instill adequate discipline in players. His inability to develop quarterbacks first showed with Mark Sanchez and continued with Geno Smith and Michael Vick.
That the Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins at the end of the season also bodes poorly for Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who once again saw a capable team falter down the stretch. One has to now wonder if Philbin really is in over his head as an NFL coach.
The collapse of the Falcons after 2012 has raised the spectre that Mike Smith will be replaced by Rex Ryan - that Smith has worn out his act in Atlanta seems clear enough. We also got a poor first impression out of new Bucs coach Lovie Smith, who may have Jameis Winston as his starting quarterback in 2015.
But the worst of the lot is clearly Ken Whisenhunt, who took over a Tennessee Titans team that under Mike Munchak fought to the end of almost every game - this is what made 2013's frustration all the worse; it was a team of legitimate 12-4 caliber - and made that team into the worst in the league, a team that basically quit on the season. The issue of quarterback was one Whisenhunt could never make better; whether he plays ever again is still a question but clearly Jake Locker showed more than what Charlie Whitehurst has, and while Zach Mettenberger showed some talent the rawness was also obvious and he never showed evidence of being able to stop bleeding, notably in the loss to the Steelers.
Burning Out And The Failure Of The Read-Option - That is the term that comes right to mind regarding the 49ers as Jim Harbaugh was subject to year-long controversy and quarterback Colin Kaepernick regressed quite graphically as the season went on, displaying no ability to process quarterbacking information and often panicking instead of facing adversity on the field head-on. That Harbaugh was supposedly to be traded to the Browns was bizarre enough to open everyone's eyes and a sign there really was something wrong there.
It should also be clear that read-option offenses cannot work in the NFL. That the college game seems grossly inadequate at properly training quarterbacks is an issue the game needs to address.
The Decline Of Peyton Manning And The Collapse Of The AFC West - Once again arm strength showed noticeable deterioration as the season went on and the Broncos showed a struggle to put games away early and often, notably in nearly blowing it against Kansas City in Week Two. That the Broncos grabbed a bye week after being humiliated by the Bengals came because of the collapse of the AFC West, which failed to produce a single win over the Broncos.
San Diego's regression was all the more gnawing as Philip Rivers failed to pull one out of the hat, this after dominating Peyton Manning for a lengthy portion of his career.
Kansas City regressed from 11-5 to 9-7; though they had more wins over quality opponents (four) than in 2013 (just one) overall the Chiefs got worse instead of better, and the Alex Smith experiment has to end.
Contrary To Myth, Officiating Was Not A Serious Problem - Entering the season there was concern that the NFL would over-officiate games after showing signs of such in the preseason, notably the Eagles-Patriots game. As the season got going, though, penalties did not show any sign of interfering with games; indeed what was striking was that penalties against offense seemed more frequent than normal and certainly was enough to dispel the myth that the league will not let teams play defense.
The Pipe Dream That Won't Go Away - Yes, the idea that Los Angeles should or will get an NFL team continued. That the league will try to ram it down everyone's throats is obvious; that no one is biting is also obvious, with targeted teams refusing to leave their present homes (and NO sign their host cities will or even should ever let them leave), and no evidence there is any fanbase for a team in that city, one of the worst in the country between nitwit politicians and a population of transients, degenerates (see all the street gangers with Oakland Raiders gear), and indifference.
The Media War Against Roger Goodell - The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence controversies saw a gigantic media crusade against Roger Goodell and served to mask the real problem that is the media's grotesque grandstanding on these issues. Media coverage of Ray Rice was chronically inadequate, merely a regurgitation of anger instead of some actual analysis, which would have noticed that Goodell was actually correct in his initial punishment of Rice. It remains absurd that seemingly no one in the Mainstream Sports Media ever dissents from the established myth created at the beginning of issues like this.
Finally, A Resurgance In The AFC East - Buffalo finished 9-7 and Miami 8-8, and for the first time since 2000 both teams won against the Patriots. That it didn't matter is true enough - New England locked up the AFC's top seed and treated its last two games as semi-preseason games with experimentation on line combinations. It nonetheless served as a legitimate step forward for the division, especially with Buffalo's resurgance after over a decade of irrelevance and a change of ownership a long time needed.
And thus it is as the 2014 playoffs beckon.