With the 2020-21, NFL season wrapped up, let’s take a look at a few teams around the league who exceeded expectations, a few teams that disappointed fans across the country, as well as a few league-wide points of emphasis that reared their ugly heads along the way in a season of sports unlike any other in the midst of a global pandemic.
Tom Brady is still doing Tom Brady things, and after winning a 7th Super bowl (most by any single professional player or franchise in the sport’s history) the question will continue to be, “When will the guy slow down?”
With a loaded roster in Tampa Bay that includes pass-catching weapons like Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, its hard to picture a 2022 playoff picture without Brady sitting center stage.
At the Super bowl parade in Tampa on Feb. 10, a slightly past tipsy Brady set the record straight—he’s coming back for another year and a run at yet another Super bowl. With the league’s top defense in tow and a plethora of pass-catchers and running threats out of the backfield, who is going to deny this Bruce Arians led powerhouse?
Josh Allen looks to be taking the next step, and that is a wonderful thing for the Bills Mafia but a scary thing for the rest of the league. Three years ago, as a draft prospect, Allen was the quarterback prospect with the lowest floor and highest ceiling; many wondered if he could ever realize the massive amount of potential he had, especially with an aging Bills roster and a head coach in Sean McDermott who many were unsure of going into his first offseason with the team.
Following a breakout third season for Allen which saw him post 4,544 passing yards, 37 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions while boasting a nearly 70 percent completion rate, the QB in Buffalo is beginning to look like the National Football League’s next breakout star. On the heels of a season that saw the Bills progressing further through the playoffs than they have in the last twenty years, the 2022 season brings renewed hope for Bills Mafia.
The Chargers pull off the seamless QB transition going from Phillip Rivers, who took his talents to Indy signing a one-year deal with the Colts, onto the young Oregon Duck NFL freshman in Justin Herbert.
The third QB off the board in the 2020 NFL draft, Herbert was pegged as a long-term project, not a guy that a franchise can lean on from Day 1 as an NFL starter, but proved to be anything but a project player leading to one of the most electrifying rookie quarterback campaigns the NFL has seen in a rich history of talented young gunslingers.
Over 16 games, Herbert tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most touchdowns of 50+ yards thrown, as well as the most touchdowns thrown by a rookie QB in the league’s history. It seems the Chargers are in good hands with young Herbert at the helm, provided they do their part in building around him for a future playoff run.
The Texans taught a masterclass on running a star QB out of town and set the franchise back years, turning the Houston-based franchise into one of the most mismanaged cases in the league today. What started with bringing head coach Bill O’Brien back for another season (only to fire him less than 8 games into the year) quickly snowballed into a bleak 4-win season that has 25-year-old star quarterback Deshaun Watson demanding a trade.
While this decision likely came down to Watson’s lack of input in the team’s hires at general manager and head coach, Houston’s inability to field a playoff-worthy team with one of the league’s most electric young quarterback prospects has become a cautionary tale on how NOT to run a franchise. Going into the 2021 offseason, Houston faces a litany of issues transitioning to a new coaching regime and trying their damnedest to retain their star player that is adamant he wants out.
Carson Wentz seemingly went from stud to dud in the blink of an eye and the Philadelphia Eagles are left with more questions than answers at the quarterback position.
From 2017-19 Wentz seemed to have the makings of a future NFL Most Valued Player, posting a 25-15 overall record with a passer rating of 98.3 compared to a 3-7-1 overall record in 2020 to go along with 73.4 passer rating (the league’s worst).
The breakdown of Carson Wentz led to the firing of Super bowl winning head coach Doug Pederson and with Wentz now being shopped on the open market, the Eagles go from a playoff-contending power in the National Football Conference East to a team in transition with a new head coach in Nick Sirianni taking the helm for 2021.
New Orleans was so close, yet so far… and now, Brees is in the wind. Following yet another disappointing playoff collapse, New Orleans is in an awkward spot following what is looking like Drew Brees’ final season as an NFL quarterback.
For four straight seasons the Saints made the playoffs with a loaded roster and Brees leading the pack, and four straight seasons they’ve suffered crushing losses at the hands of inferior rosters, essentially “fumbling the bag” when it came to managing Brees in the twilight years.
Now, the Saints have a worrisome salary cap situation with a roster bound for heavy turnover and more questions than answers when it comes to who the starting quarterback will be in the 2021-22 season.
Taysom Hill has shown promise with the ball in his hands but as a pure passer, he’s got a way to go. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston didn’t play a single significant snap for the franchise in 2020.
While the NFL boasts zero cancellations over the course of its 2020-21 season, the pandemic made this year in sports one of the most unique in the history of professional sports.
Were games canceled? Well, no. But the state of affairs league-wide were anything but “normal” compared to the run of the mill NFL season.
From the Kansas City Chiefs team barber testing positive for the virus and being escorted out mid haircut, to Cleveland Brown’s Michael Dunn being forced to go over walkthrough drills in his apartment complex parking lot instead of a team facility, the NFL simply did not have all bases covered when it came to managing the influx of positive tests that ran through league facilities.
The NFL’s approach to COVID-19 and its determination when it came to playing out the season was critiqued by many but at the end of the day, the NFL put its money where its mouth is, pledging over 100 million dollars to COVID-19 research and testing protocol which resulted in a league end positivity rate of under 1%.
It wasn’t always perfect, the learning curve was steep when it came to navigating the professional sports world in the midst of a pandemic, but at the end of the day, the league’s commitment to seeing the season through provided a blueprint for sporting organizations around the world on how to navigate through the “new normal.”