Years from now, the NFL will point to January 15, 2017 as a day of historical significance in postseason classics. In the afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers delivered a game destined to live on YouTube forever, with Aaron Rodgers prevailing 34-31, holding off an 18-point comeback by Dak Prescott. Then, in the first ever Sunday evening playoff game, a holding penalty thwarted a successful two-point try that would’ve given the Kansas City Chiefs a tie in the final minutes against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next attempt failed, the Chiefs never got the ball back.
And there you have it; Those are your great moments from the 2017 playoffs. Consider these two games your main course, if “main” didn’t have to imply that there were other delicious accoutrements. No expensive wine, no amuse-bouches, no lavish desserts, not even a bloomin’ onion. Out of 10 playoff games, with one left to go, there have been eight blowouts to accompany the two great games that happened on the same day. Good luck, Super Bowl LI, the bar has been set extremely low.
But I guess this is the postseason that 2016 deserves.
The NFL has been mired in bad news, bad ratings, and bad product for months. Behind Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott, are Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Cleveland Browns. Look past the inspiring comeback story of the Oakland Raiders, and you’ll find the shattered fibula of Derek Carr. Don’t look directly into the turnaround season of the Tennessee Titans, or you may be blinded by Marcus Mariota’s own broken fibula. And forget about a Super Bowl run for the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom after Earl Thomas injured his leg. A broken fibula? No.
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Broken tibia. Not to be outdone by anyone, teammate Tyler Lockett broke both the tibia and the fibula.
Speaking of injuries, the torn ACL, which is like the “death you aren’t ready for in Game of Thrones” in that it shows up out of nowhere about once a week just to piss everyone off, claimed Teddy Bridgewater, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Reggie Ragland, Jason Verrett, and on the eve of his first trip to the playoffs, Ryan Tannehill. So too did we lose J.J. Watt, Luke Kuechly, Rob Gronkowski, Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles, Sammy Watkins, and to another degree, Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Houston, Ezekiel Ansah, plus down seasons from Todd Gurley, Russell Wilson, Darrelle Revis, Allen Robinson, Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Clay Matthews and so on, which left us with a deluded product, uneven primetime scores and forgettable broadcasts abroad.
In the AFC playoffs, Oakland, Miami, and Houston went into January with no quarterbacks of note, therefore, with no chance. And Matthew Stafford’s broken middle finger meant there’d be no end to the Detroit Lions’ 25-year nightmare.
The Atlanta Falcons may be in the Super Bowl, but parity was nowhere to be seen in 2016.
The Browns got their first win in the second-to-last game of the season, but if we’re being honest, at that point Cleveland was better than the LA Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars and maybe even the Minnesota Vikings. Oh, Vikings. The team that started 5-0 and made experts question the fact that they ridiculed them for giving up a first round pick for Sam Bradford after Bridgewater’s knee fell to pieces. Then the offense crumbled, Minnesota lost eight of the next 10 games, and Adrian Peterson’s career with the team almost ended as unceremoniously as the drunk uncle at a child’s birthday party: By being carried through a restaurant.
At least the Philadelphia Eagles got a bonus first round pick for Bradford and started 3-0, only to lose nine of the next 11 games with Carson Wentz. Which brings us to the rookie quarterbacks who only made us appreciate previous rookie quarterbacks that much more. For as much good as Prescott did for the 2016 class, the guys at the top were destructive. The Rams gave up more picks than what they should legally be allowed to have in order to acquire Jared Goff, a number one overall pick who it turns out wasn’t even good enough to beat out Case Keenum, only getting the job once it became apparent to Jeff Fisher that he was in his final days as a head coach.
Wentz had a nice start, but then threw nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the final 12 games. The best rookie of all at any position was Joey Bosa, only to see his first four games wiped out because he and the San Diego – excuse me Los Angeles – Chargers couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract that in reality was written into the stars long before they picked him thanks to the collective bargaining agreement.
One of many times this season it felt like the NFL was saying, “If anyone’s going to shoot my foot, it’s going to be me!”
Football left St. Louis, San Diego and has filed divorce papers with Oakland. Two of them fled for the sunny hills of Hollywood, a place that hasn’t actually cared about sports since Moneyball was nominated for six Oscars, and the other to Las Vegas, which surely has no bearing on the league’s dependency on gambling to remain profitable, newsworthy and of note to the father of three who swore that if the Bears covered the spread, he’d never bet again.
Of course, you can’t talk about 2016 and ignore the politics. For better or for worse, Colin Kaepernick ignited millions of conversations with his protest that he silently began in the first preseason game, only to be noticed by someone two weeks later. For better, he did what he felt he had to under his constitutional right to protest. For worse, that we realized the nation was so divided at the time, people might actually tune out of the country’s most popular sport because of a person exercising their constitutional rights; Ratings declined eight-percent from a year prior. That was one reason why, but far from the only reason. Too many reasons.
Too many flags. Too many commercials. Too many blowouts. Too many injuries. Too many football veterans with debilitating injuries. Too many games in London. Too many teams moving for money and market. Too many stupid decisions, and let’s be real, too many teams. The Jaguars can’t field a competitive team. The Browns can’t field a competitive team. The Rams can’t field a competitive team. No matter how hard he tries, Roger Goodell simply can’t do enough to balance out bad management. Not that he needs to because at the center of so many of these issues, like so many issues, is money.
On Friday, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zach Orr announced his retirement, due to a congenital neck and spine condition. Orr was a breakout player in 2016, making second-team All-Pro, leading his team in tackles and recording three interceptions. When he found out that his career was over, one of the first things that Orr did was turn to his agent and ask, “Are you going to be OK?” That’s a pretty interesting moment.
Orr was an undrafted free agent in his third season. He had earned six figures in his career, good for most folks, but this injury meant that he was leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table. It weighed so heavily on him that he had to make sure that his agent, whose career would continue, would be okay. That’s an admirable moment for Orr, but a telling moment for the NFL. Are we thinking first about the players, or the money?
In 10 playoff games so far, the league certainly can’t be happy with the results. On Sunday, there were two more blowouts, with the Patriots and Falcons easily advancing to Super Bowl LI with easy-fought victories over the Steelers and Packers. Lumped into previous action, eight out of 10 playoff games this year have not really been worth watching. Will Brady vs Ryan be a game for the ages, or will the Patriots tie a ribbon on the season that just says, “Be Gone, 2016”?
That’s what we’re waiting to find out. That’s what we’re kind of, sort of, not really, “When is the draft?” kinda waiting to find out.