Similar to the Presidential State of Union, Zach Cohen gives a formal recap and report of the 2018-2019 NFL season and says why there is no better time to be a fan of the NFL.
My fellow football fans: It is with great privilege and honor that I deliver this State of the League today prior to the National Football League’s 100th season.
It is today where we will appreciate what the 2018-2019 NFL season had to offer, and why it was such a tremendous success. That success can be attributed to the countless individuals within the league, both on the field and off it.
On the gridiron, we witnessed an offensive explosion like never before. More overall points were scored per team than ever before. High-scoring games graced our screens weekly as coaches continued to create new and innovative plays.
The leaders of this new era of offense were arguably the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs. Backed by young gunslingers and a flurry of offensive weapons, the two teams battled in what many have dubbed the ‘Game of the Century’. The Rams ultimately came out victorious in what became the highest-scoring NFL game to date.
Despite this devastating defeat, the Chiefs continued to ride high behind second-year phenom Patrick Mahomes, who carried the team to a division title. When it was all said and done, the 23-year old Mahomes would also earn the distinction of the Most Valuable Player, beating out the 40-year old Drew Brees.
Akin to Mahomes, Brees also had a season to remember. His performances rewrote the history books as he became the all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Alas, it was not enough to earn him his first career MVP title. Many have started to wonder if his time will ever come.
While ageless legends like Brees and Adrian Peterson found productivity despite the dwindling years left on their football shelf-life, young stars like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley emerged as beacons of hope for their respective franchises.
Labelled ‘too short’ or ‘too sporadic’ by many, Mayfield defied the odds and became the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The selection has since paid off as Mayfield has brought more than just wins to the success-starved city of Cleveland: Hope.
Despite his early success, voters turned a blind eye towards Mayfield and crowned Barkley as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, a distinction that has since been debated over. With new additions to the starring cast and the continued development of prominent themes in the NFL, drama was a returning character that did not disappoint.
The blatant incident occurred on a crisp November night when a video was obtained featuring Kansas City’s star running back Kareem Hunt in an alleged fight with a woman. An hour later, Hunt was no longer a member of the Chiefs. Even after his controversial signing with the Cleveland Browns, 23-year old Hunt became a dark spot amidst the NFL’s growing activism in regards to social issues.
Hunt was undoubtedly a budding superstar, but he wasn’t the only big name to be thrust under the spotlight. Ironically, it is what star running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t do that got him ridiculed by so many. Bell partook in a season-wide holdout in efforts to receive the contract he has demanded for multiple seasons.
In his absence, running back and cancer survivor James Conner took over and ran his way up the leaderboards. Not only did the young running back earn a spot in the Pro Bowl but his success challenged what the true value of a running back is in the modern-day NFL.
The Steelers’ running backs were not the lone players to make noise in Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ outspoken wide receiver Antonio Brown may finally see his career in the black and gold come to a halt after years of antics and meltdowns. Which team Brown will suit up for next season is a colossal question looming over the impending offseason.
Indeed, player movement was a defining theme this season. Formerly a fourth-overall pick, wide receiver Amari Cooper was shipped to Dallas in exchange for a first-round pick. The deal solidified Jon Gruden’s new-look Raiders with three picks on day one of the NFL Draft. As for the Cowboys, Cooper’s implementation in the offense was essential to the team’s revival and subsequent division title.
Cooper wasn’t the only Raider jettisoned to another franchise. Former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack was shipped off to Chicago for a plethora of picks following a contract dispute. The ridicule towards Gruden increased after Mack continued along his dominant path, though it was not enough to secure him a second Defensive Player of the Year award.
Instead, that distinction went to the previous Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. His league-leading sacks provided ample support for this notable achievement. Donald’s sensational season was pivotal in the Rams’ Super Bowl run, where they ultimately fell short in a surprisingly-defensive battle against the New England Patriots.
A staple of February football, the legend of the Patriots grew stronger with a decisive 13-3 victory over the younger, less experienced Rams. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick ascended higher in football lore as they attained their sixth championship ring, tied for most of all-time.
However, many pointed out the stained and crooked vibe surrounding this year’s Super Bowl, starting with the Most Valuable Player being designated to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the season’s first four games due to a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
As if that was not enough, it is unknown whether the Patriots would have defeated the Saints, who were a blown pass interference call away from potentially reaching the promised land. Those pair of questions alone casts a shadow over Super Bowl LIII.
As with every NFL season, the questions continue to form in full-force following the final game. Like was this the closest Drew Brees will ever get to securing his second championship ring? Would he have led the Saints to victory over the Patriots?
How much longer does the Patriots’ dynasty have? Will a young team rise up and conquer the Kings of the AFC? Do Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck have a good enough supporting cast to eventually reach the Super Bowl?
All these questions, so little answers, yet that is what makes the NFL so great. How many people foresaw the rise of young teams such as the Colts and the Bears? How many people predicted the downfall of formerly-great franchises such as the Steelers and the Packers?
Unpredictability looms over the NFL like a shadow, yet it is that same uncertainty that causes millions of NFL fans to tune into their televisions, radios and mobile devices and ask: What happens next?
Because in the NFL, the possibilities are limitless. One team can pull off a miraculous, multi-lateral play to upend the eventual Super Bowl champs. One trade can give a team the firepower it needs to rocket up to first place. One dynamic, “undersized” quarterback can instill hope in a team that hasn’t known it in years.
It is that unpredictability, that sense of wonder and curiosity, that ultimately contributes to the amazing, unbelievable, endless story that is the National Football League. And it’s beautiful.
Which is why, as the league enters its 100th season of existence, all these reports of decline in play and viewership are simply false. There has never been a better time to be an NFL fan.
Advancements in safety and technology are only enhancing the game and its legacy. Accessibility is on the rise as the development of multiple new platforms give more people a chance to connect with their favorite team. Social media has paved the way for a whole new era of player marketability and has provided a source for immediate, up-to-the-minute news alerts.
This all brings us to where the NFL stands today: Prosperous, promising and perched on top. The State of the League is that of competition, entertainment and enjoyment incomparable to any other league throughout the continent. That’s why I stand here today confident that the State of the League is strong.
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