We’re past the mid-way point in the National Football League season and the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. From a business standpoint it’s been a banner year for the league, with TV ratings surging and primetime games setting records (the Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving was the most watched regular season game since 1990!) Let’s talk about some key takeaways as we head into the last third of the 2021 season:
- It’s Belichick AND Brady, not or: Following their divorce after the 2019 season, the debate raged over who was more responsible for the New England Patriots dynasty: Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. After one year many fell into the Brady camp, as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title and the Patriots floundered with Cam Newton under center. But now with the steady play of rookie Mac Jones and the roster back to full strength the Patriots look like AFC favorites…while Brady continues to set records with the high flying Buccaneers offense. A Super Bowl match-up between the two looks like a real possibility, but regardless of the result the answer to the debate now appears obvious: they’re both all time greats.
- 2021 is the year of parity: I can’t remember a season that felt so wide open and uncertain approaching the playoffs. Every time one of the top teams seemingly separates from the field, they drop a game to a squad with a losing record and fall back to earth. There’s still a handful of perennially awful teams (I’m looking at you New York Jets and Detroit Lions), but beyond them everyone is competitive on any given Sunday. Oddsmakers still give the Bucs and Kansas City Chiefs the best chance at reaching the Super Bowl, but I count a dozen teams with a realistic chance of reaching the Big Dance.
- Rookie quarterbacks are struggling, as they should: After a few years of seeing at least one rookie quarterback look like a revelation (first Baker Mayfield, then Kyler Murray, and finally Justin Herbert) the class of 2021 rookie quarterbacks are back to struggling at the position; save Mac Jones. The other four rookies taken in the first round of the draft are statistically among the worst starters in the league, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Learning to play quarterback at the NFL level has historically been a slow, multi-year process and the teams with struggling rookies shouldn’t give up hope. We’ve just been a little spoiled by recent talent emerging so quickly.