Welp, I’ve resisted writing this for as long as possible…but I guess it’s time to pull the bandaid off.
It gives me no pleasure to be the one to tell you, but there won’t be an NFL game played on Sunday. Not on Monday night or Thursday night, either. Same goes for next weekend, and the weekend after that. Matter of mournful fact, we’re staring at seven long months and lots and lots of baseball before our beloved pigskin returns.
It isn’t all bad, of course.
March Madness is just coming into view on the horizon, and right after that we’ll get those four days in Augusta. The overlapping NBA and Stanley Cup Playoffs are always fun. And of course, above all else, there’s the 365-day calendar the NFL has successfully constructed around itself.
Before you know it, free agency will be here…and before that, there could be some huge names on the move (once they emerge from their darkness retreats, of course). Draft season is already underway (does it ever really end?), plus schedule release, minicamp and training camp will provide some intrigue ’til September arrives.
Yeah, I know: I’m rationalizing…but what else can I do? I’d love to make like a bear and hibernate ’til kickoff, but I think – or at least hope – my kids would miss me. Besides, this is the deal we’ve made with football, which works on the exact opposite schedule of those hibernating bears hiding from winter.
Warm weather’s where it’s at in a lot of ways…but as mentioned above, it lacks the most important thing: Football. Only when the temperatures dip does our spiritual sunshine spiral back into our lives.
For now, though, we wait. And contemplate. And maybe find some reasons for optimism where our favorite team is concerned. The NFL is a copycat league, after all…so maybe we can extract some lessons from the last 22 weeks. Even better, we can recklessly speculate about what might happen come autumn ’23 – no one’s gonna remember any of our predictions by then (unless those predictions come true…in which case we can demand boundless praise).
Not only is it likely each of the four NFC South teams will have a new starting QB in Week One, it’s possible those new QBs aren’t on yet rostered on those teams, so let’s start there:
Lamar Jackson moves on to the Atlanta Falcons, and immediately becomes the division’s best QB.
Derek Carr passes on NOLA, who just can’t reasonably afford a guy with his tenure, and instead signs with the Carolina Panthers…and promptly takes a very good roster to the playoffs with the help of steadying-force Frank Reich & his gargantuan coaching staff.
Jimmy Garoppolo – who a few years ago was expected to replace Tom Brady in Foxboro – replaces Tom Brady in Tampa. Irony! Fun!
The ’23 AFC South will be like ’22 AFC West, which is to say, a division loaded with three young, talented QBs (sorry, Tannehill – if you’re still in Nashville next year, I guess you get to be ’22 Russ) after the Texans draft Bryce Young and the Colts draft CJ Stroud. Or vice versa. Or one of ‘em takes Will Levis. Larger point is, things are about to get tougher for Trevor Lawrence. (Come to think of it, the ’23 AFC West still has three young, talented QBs…and Russ.)
Aaron Rodgers moves the boulder and emerges from the darkness…and ascends to heaven until he deems it time to return to earth.
– OR –
He follows in his forefather’s footsteps and heads to the Jets for a one-year marriage of convenience. The only question I have: Are the ascendant Jets sure they wanna partner up with a guy who believes in citizen journalism and sitting in his own defecate?
Despite rugged competition for supremacy, Jordan Love’s Packers benefit from a third-place schedule and return to the top of NFC North.
The Dolphins surpass the Bills and win the AFC East. (If you were paying attention, Miami would’ve done it this season if not for Tua’s repeated “back” problems.)
The Steelers follow the lead of the Eagles and use two of the first three picks (they’ve got the 17th, 32nd & 49th slots) to load up at the line of scrimmage. (Personnel wiz Andy Weidl leaving Philly for his hawm tahn Pittsburgh significantly informs this prediction.) Good Guy in a Tough Spot Mitch Trubisky moves on in favor of W Eater Jameis Winston.
The Ravens replace the departed Jackson with less-than-ripe QB specimen Anthony Richardson from Florida…but bridge the gap for at least half the season with not-in-Nashville Ryan Tannehill.
The NFL finally does the right thing, the just thing, and replaces overly-officious refs with clear-eyed robots. (Okay, this might be more of a wish…but leave me my dreams.)
San Francisco auditions Trey Lance, Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, Mitch Trubisky, Josh Johnson, Elvis Grbac, and, eventually, Brock Purdy, but when another Super Bowl-worthy season appears to be slipping away, Kyle Shanahan blows in a call to Tom Brady around Halloween for one last shot at the Lombardi…and the GOAT accepts.
Tom Brady can’t say no when the Niners, once again showing Super Bowl form, call him in November for one last shot at the Lombardi.
The Chiefs miss the playoffs. Probably lose double digit games, too. It’s over. No one believes in them.
Now for some more enduring 21st-century pigskin facts to keep in mind:
Getting a playoff bye still greatly increases your chances of getting to the Super Bowl. 2021, the first season of the new format in which only the 1-seeds get the wildcard round off, was the anomaly as both the Titans and Packers lost at home in the divisional round. This year, though, things returned to normal with top seeds KC and Philly getting to the Super Bowl. 22 of the 28 teams to reach the big game had a bye.
You don’t need to have a high-end WR to win the Lombardi. This transcends the Chiefs and Tyreek Hill parting ways last offseason. Super Bowl LVI MVP Cooper Kupp notwithstanding, most of this millennium’s best wideouts are ringless: Randy Moss, TO, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, AJ Green, Larry Fitzgerald…and we can count Antonio Brown, too, because his ring came as third wheel in Tampa. This isn’t suggesting a difference-maker at WR is irrelevant, just that it’s not the must-have item it’s often couched as. A good offensive line isn’t as splashy, not to mention much tougher to construct, but look at the teams who’ve ruled pro football the last few years.
The most important in the QB League remains QB. Sure, there are different ways to skin the championship cat…but it’s also not a coincidence the teams with the great QBs are the ones always playing in January. Any argument to the contrary is likely just empty rationalizing from an enthusiast of a team without a high-end QB.
Some people outside the champs’ locker-room did believe in them. Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes both seem like delightful guys, but their postgame rhetoric about all the doubters is jive. To be clear, I predicted KC to come in last place in the West this year…but the team also had the third-shortest odds of winning the title when the season started. Seems like someone believed in ’em. This recurring pap (let’s be fair to the Chiefs – every team likes to claim they were somehow underdogs despite public evidence to the contrary) also requires me to ask if the 76,000 red-clad fans who stuffed into Arrowhead Stadium were masochists?
The Chiefs are “just getting started” is a nice but improbable claim. As a fan of sports history, I’m down to see Patrick Mahomes break all the individual and team records out there. Even those who resent any team tracking towards a dynasty (unless it’s their team obviously) will eventually come to appreciate having witnessed generational greatness. It might take several decades for those fans to get there, but still. However, so long as the One Lombardi per Season Conundrum remains true, there are only so many titles even a superhero 25-year-old can win with so many other superheroes aiming for the same prize.
As far as that goes…I’ve updated the QB WINZ Big Board for an easy snapshot of greatness personified in the biggest games from sports’ most important position:
When you’re evaluating how the very best QBs stack up against each other, this is really oughta be the primary consideration.
Well, that’s that…but rest assured, this isn’t goodbye to football. It’s more of a see ya down the line. Meantime, it’s been a treat getting to share my thoughts on the NFL, college football & the game of life this past season. Great thanks to my guys Akiva Wienerkur & Fred Goldberg for hitting me up last summer and offering me this space. Hey fellas – this isn’t me saying goodbye. It’s mo.
Best wishes to your favorite team making all the right decisions this offseason to get right for 2023 kickoff. ’Til then, it’s been a thin slice of heaven.