Summing up an entire NFL season is awfully hard to do in one post. The best place to start is what makes headlines: conflict. As is typical in any football season, there are controversies. However, recent controversies had a true impact on NFL viewership this season. Several football enthusiasts I know well, on both ends of the political spectrum, decided to boycott the NFL for a variety of reasons such as the anthem protests, domestic abuse, and long term effects of concussions sustained from football. The Dallas Cowboys seemed to be at the center of those controversies with owner Jerry Jones threatening to bench his players if they didn't stand for the anthem and star running back Ezekiel Elliott constantly fighting the NFL in the federal courts to appeal his six game suspension for domestic abuse until he finally caved in during the middle of the season.
The Cowboys were also heavily involved in trying to block Roger Goodell's contract extension which exposed how obscene his compensation has been and will be. He reportedly signed a 5 year contract extension for $40 million per year but apparently had asked for $50 million per year and lifetime access to a private jet. Goodell has become very wealthy since taking over as commissioner in 2006. He has earned close to a quarter of a billion dollars and all the while NFL ratings are down. I can't think of many chief executives of major companies that would earn so much money for mishandling some major situations and still get a contract extension.
As for what happened on the field, it was still an exciting season capped by a memorable Super Bowl that had you on the edge of your seat. Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles for finally winning their first Super Bowl. For a city that is die hard about football and sports in general, it was truly special to see the City of Brotherly Love rejoice at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where the Rocky Statue and the Rocky Steps are located. The heart shaped crowd of 1 million strong Philadelphians (some contend it was 700,000 people but will go with 1 million!) as shown in the image for this post will stand out as a reason why sports is one of those few things in life that can bring people together.
The Eagles stood out as arguably the most balanced NFL team since the start of the salary cap era in 1994. For the past 20+ seasons, it has been awfully hard for an NFL team to be solid at all roster spots when the NFL has been designed (thanks to a hard salary cap) to bring equity to all teams resulting in narrow championship windows for most teams that will still have glaring deficiencies in some significant parts of the game. The Eagles were able to defy the status quo by drafting well and signing the right players in free agency during the past two seasons. Even with a season-ending injury to Carson Wentz who was having an MVP like season before he tore his ACL in early December and happens to play the most important position, replacement Nick Foles proved plenty capable by earning Super Bowl MVP Honors and most likely a lucrative contract in the near future. He will go down in history for calling the "Philly Special" which has to rank as one of the greatest trick plays many of us have ever seen. What makes that play even more significant is how well timed that play was called and the magnitude of it. Near the end of the first half, the Eagles were in a close game in the Super Bowl against the defending champions who pretty much have dominated the competition since 2001. Scoring a touchdown on that play against a very good red zone defense enabled the Eagles to get the separation they needed to head into the locker room with a 10 point lead. Otherwise, the Patriots would have been the team dictating the tempo for the rest of the game with the first possession of the 2nd half.
Speaking of defying the status quo, one has to marvel at what New England has accomplished. Even with the Eagles keeping up the intensity and playing a great game, the Patriots still had a shot to tie the game as regulation time expired. The Eagles proved that no matter how perfect you are, beating the Patriots is very difficult. After all, the Patriots have won 5 Super Bowls and 8 AFC Championships from 2001 - 2017. They also have made it to the AFC Championship game every year for the last seven seasons. Still, the more talented team won and you must credit head coach Doug Pederson's gutsy and aggressive play calling throughout the whole game. On the first drive of the game for Philadelphia, the Eagles marched down the field with relative ease but stalled in the red zone by trying to run it in. Very predictable and not the way you dethrone the champions. Trick plays and threading a needle with TD passes to Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement is how you take down Goliath. Time of possession was also key as I had mentioned in my most previous post. The Eagles controlled the clock for 34 minutes and 4 seconds compared to the Patriots time of possession which was 25 minutes and 56 seconds. Percentage wise that was 56.78% time of possession for Philadelphia who happened to lead the NFL in 2016 in that category with 54.19% and again in 2017 with 54.67%. Keeping Tom Brady on the sideline is one way to beat him and the Eagles executed that strategy very well.
There are other things to take note from the 2017 season like the LA Rams playing an exciting brand of football with Todd Gurley's dominant performances during Weeks 15 - 16 (also earning yours truly and many others a fantasy championship!). Bay Area football seems to be back with Jimmy Garoppolo winning all five of his starts to finish the season, even against playoff quality teams, and Jon Gruden returning to the sideline for the Silver and Black. The Jaguars, Titans, and Bills all ended a decade long playoff drought. The Minnesota Vikings could have made for a great story, after the Minnesota Miracle against a very good Saints team, if they took care of business in the NFC title game en route to potentially being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium but it wasn't meant to be. This time, the dogs prevailed and the Eagles deserve a lot of credit for their grit even though the naysayers didn't think they could win the title without Wentz. That was a huge underestimation of Foles, who some people seem to forget had a brilliant season with the Eagles in 2013 when he finished with 27 TDs and just 2 interceptions good for a ridiculous 119.2 QB rating and an 8-2 record while replacing another star QB in Michael Vick. Also in that season, he tied the record for most passing TDs in one game with 7 against the Oakland Raiders. That is not a typical backup QB and Foles proved the critics wrong on the biggest stage in sports last week. In some ways, Foles beating Brady in the Super Bowl reminded me of Rocky Balboa beating Apollo Creed in Rocky II. Funny how Rocky was from Philly and a heavy underdog while Creed was a highly decorated champion dressed in PATRIOTic garb in Rocky I. Celebrating at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a great way to cap an amazing season for the Eagles, much how Rocky did the same in Rocky II. Never count out the underdog and that right there is how you define the 2017 NFL season.