The Transition Period in The NFL

an image of Drew Brees handing off to Adrian Peterson in the Pro Bowl
At some point, the greybeards need to hand hand off to the next generation.

The National Football League is in transition.

Think about it.

The wacky up-is-down nature of this season seems to make no sense.

Division leading teams losing to Winless Opponents.  Longtime Contenders falling to heavy underdogs at Home.  And Super Bowl Favorites looking completely pedestrian (or worse).

These puzzling circumstances on their own would appear to have no rhyme or reason.  But that’s only when these events are viewed in a vacuum.

And maybe that’s why so many NFL Observers are confused.  Because if one tries to analyze this season on its own, then nothing would make sense.

Interestingly enough, it isn’t just the writers and pundits that are confused; even the handicappers can’t figure things out!  If you follow the spread, then you already know it’s been all over the map this year (and it seems like a growing number of games each week don’t even have a line).

What the hell’s going on here?

I’ll tell you what’s going on…The League is in a transition phase.

How do I know?  Simple.



I’m going to give you three primary factors that all contribute to this state of being.  After considering these reasons, I’m certain that you too will reach the same conclusion that I have.

You don’t agree?

Okay fine.  But do me a favor & name the 3 best teams in football.  You know, those elite squads that can be penciled in for 12 or more Wins right now (and are very likely to make a deep Playoff run).

Can’t do it, eh?  Hmmmm….

Tell you what, we’ll come back to that.  But 1st, let’s take a look at those three factors I mentioned earlier.

 

Aging Quarterbacks

How about I ask you a different question: who are The NFL’s top Quarterbacks?

Normally most people’s  answer is some combination of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, & Phillip Rivers.  And some include Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, & Matt Ryan too.

And of all those guys, Rodgers and Ryan are the only ones named that are under 35 (Rodgers is 33 & Ryan is 32).

Also, Joe Flacco is 32, Alex Smith is 33, and Carson Palmer is 37.

Here’s the full list QBs and their ages.  And that article was published a year ago, so everyone on the list is one year older.

This is a big deal because in today’s NFL, quality QB play is so important that it’s difficult to challenge without a “Franchise Quarterback”.

That’s pretty well known.

But if that sentiment is true, then consider the following:

  • The New York Giants QB is 36
  • The New Orleans Saints QB is 38
  • The Arizona Cardinals QB is 37
  • The San Diego Chargers QB is 35
  •  The Pittsburgh Steelers QB is 35
  • The New England Patriots QB is 40
  • The Green Bay Packers QB is 33
  • The Atlanta Falcons QB is 32
  • The Baltimore Ravens QB is 32
  • The Kansas City Chiefs QB is 33

In this light, it is reasonable to wonder how much longer these teams will contend for anything with their aging Starters.  And that is particularly true of the top  six guys on the list.

 

Aging Teams

Having an aging Starting Quarterback on the team is one thing.  But what about having a roster filled with aging Veterans?

That really gets to the heart of the matter.

And interestingly enough, the Philly Voice considered the question.  In their article, they analyzed the average age of every roster of each team in The League (after final cut downs prior to this season).  To check out that article, click here.

They even provide a chart that breaks down the rankings for each team by season going back to 2013.  This really scratches that itch for ya (you data/analytics nerd).

What I find most intriguing are those final 10 teams.  Take a look at the chart:

Team 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Browns 24.24 (1) 25.08 (2) 26.06 (16) 25.69 (9) 25.25 (2)
Rams 25.09 (2) 25 (1) 24.94 (1) 25.09 (1) 24.98 (1)
Bengals 25.48 (3) 26.3 (23) 26.28 (20) 25.91 (14) 25.91 (12)
Texans 25.53 (4) 26.17 (19) 25.81 (5) 25.98 (16) 26.22 (20)
Colts 25.6 (5) 26.52 (29) 27.17 (32) 26.66 (29) 26.55 (24)
Jets 25.62 (6) 26.23 (21) 26.6 (27) 25.85 (13) 25.6 (7)
Jaguars 25.64 (7) 25.43 (4) 25.25 (2) 25.2 (2) 25.41 (5)
Chargers 25.7 (8) 25.73 (9) 26.32 (21) 26.64 (28) 26.28 (21)
Giants 25.7 (9) 26.02 (14) 26.53 (25) 26.75 (31) 26.66 (27)
49ers 25.72 (10) 26.08 (16) 25.83 (8) 26.36 (22) 26.56 (25)
Packers 25.72 (11) 25.36 (3) 25.49 (3) 25.62 (6) 25.42 (6)
Lions 25.75 (12) 26.09 (18) 26.53 (24) 26.34 (21) 27.15 (32)
Seahawks 25.83 (13) 25.6 (7) 25.92 (12) 25.65 (7) 25.31 (4)
Chiefs 25.91 (14) 25.54 (6) 25.83 (6) 25.34 (3) 25.68 (8)
Redskins 25.94 (15) 26.36 (25) 26.15 (17) 26.44 (24) 26.84 (31)
Broncos 25.96 (16) 25.47 (5) 26.19 (18) 25.81 (12) 26.75 (28)
Cowboys 26.06 (17) 26 (12) 26.02 (14) 25.44 (4) 26 (15)
Steelers 26.06 (18) 26.34 (24) 26.57 (26) 26.26 (18) 26.45 (23)
Raiders 26.08 (19) 26.02 (13) 26.45 (23) 27 (32) 26.11 (17)
Vikings 26.09 (20) 26.58 (31) 25.83 (7) 25.58 (5) 25.96 (13)
Buccaneers 26.15 (21) 25.7 (8) 25.91 (11) 25.66 (8) 25.98 (14)
Bears 26.26 (22) 25.85 (10) 26.21 (19) 26.72 (30) 26.77 (29)
Eagles 26.36 (23) 26.49 (28) 26.69 (28) 26.26 (19) 25.74 (10)
Falcons 26.4 (24) 27.08 (32) 26.77 (30) 26.57 (25) 26.08 (16)
Ravens 26.42 (25) 26.43 (27) 26.04 (15) 26.04 (17) 26.16 (18)
Patriots 26.45 (26) 26.07 (15) 25.95 (13) 25.76 (11) 25.88 (11)
Titans 26.49 (27) 25.87 (11) 25.83 (9) 26.39 (23) 26.19 (19)
Saints 26.51 (28) 26.4 (26) 26.7 (29) 26.32 (20) 26.32 (22)
Dolphins 26.6 (29) 26.19 (20) 25.62 (4) 25.92 (15) 25.7 (9)
Bills 26.74 (30) 26.3 (22) 25.87 (10) 25.72 (10) 25.3 (3)
Panthers 26.75 (31) 26.53 (30) 26.89 (31) 26.57 (26) 26.57 (26)
Cardinals 27.28 (32) 26.09 (17) 26.35 (22) 26.6 (27) 26.79 (30)

(This chart is courtesy of the Philly Voice)

Of those bottom 10 teams (starting with Philly) 6 have been in The Super Bowl within the last ten years (all bolded).  And that includes last year’s participants.

Both of them.

So reasonably speaking, one could call those teams Contenders.  And if that is indeed the case, how much longer will each of these outfits be in a position to contend going forward?

Things get even curiouser when you consider the age of the Starting Quarterback in tandem with the average age of those 6 teams mentioned.

  • Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan (32)
  • Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco (32)
  • New England Patriots – Tom Brady (40)
  • New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees (38)
  • Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton (28)
  • Arizona Cardinals – Carson Palmer (37)

In this light, you would have to wonder how much longer all of these teams (except the Panthers) will factor into Division and Playoff races before needing to rebuild.



The Class of Each Division

I believe the argument gets driven home with this point.

The primary method to Contend for a Title for any team is to Win the Division.  Because a Division Winner is guaranteed to host at least one Playoff game.

Sure, a Wildcard berth can lead to a Super Bowl run.  But that’s the exception rather than the rule.

So the strategy still holds that the clearest road to The Super Bowl is paved through Winning the Division.

And with that being the case, if we look through The League by Division, can we nail down the best teams?  More to the point, can we identify who is clearly the best team in each Division?

If we can, was that the same team as last year?  And will it be the same team next year?

The answer to that last question is probably not.

In other words, most Divisions in The NFL don’t have a year-in-year-out ass kicking powerhouse.

Some Divisions are just too competitive (The NFC East), while others have teams whose performances are too unpredictable on a yearly basis (The NFC South).

But let’s take a walk through The NFL and identify each Division’s best team, starting with The NFC.

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles – conventional wisdom says they’re the best, but they didn’t Win The Division last year (and it’s an open question whether they can next year).

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings – The Green Bay Packers have owned this Division for years, but the Aaron Rodgers injury has changed the calculus of things this season.  With a healthy Rodgers back next year, the Pack will once again be the Favorites.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints(?) – The South has been a mystery for several years, with no team standing out as a consistent force.  There’s no guarantee New Orleans even Wins the South this season.

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks/Los Angeles Rams -The Rams have been rolling (and perhaps this is the year they break out), but Seattle has dominated this Division for a few seasons now.  Can they finish strong and retake it?

 

AFC

AFC East
New England Patriots – If there’s one sure bet in The NFL, it’s these guys.  Love ’em or hate ’em, they have been the class of the East for so long, it’s become expected.  But how much longer will this be the case?

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers – Truth is, the North has seen better days.  As things stand, the ‘Burgh is a cut above their rivals.  Can they strengthen their grip on their Division going forward?

AFC South
Tennessee Titans/Jacksonville Jaguars – Maybe things are looking up in the South.  I had Houston Winning it again until Deshaun Watson got hurt.  Now who knows?

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs – It sure looks like their year.  But past this season, it’s too difficult to say who’ll Win given the competitiveness of this Division (and Alex Smith’s uncertain status after this season add to the intrigue).

Based on looking at the Divisions, how many bona fide Contenders do you see?  Five, maybe six?  And that’s just this season.  Projecting out to next year, how many of those six would still be on the list – three?

It’s just too early to tell who’s going to emerge as legit.  We may not even be certain by season’s end.

 

And that’s my point.

The crapshoot tone of this season makes plenty of sense, when viewed in the context of The NFL going through a transitional phase.

Three years from now, several teams that have been in the mix for a long time will look totally different.  And in that span, a new crowd may well have replaced them.  That is my expectation.

Until that time comes to pass however, watching things unfold will be plenty of fun.

It’s the predicting part that’s troublesome.



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