As autumn ushers out the last remnants of summer and Swatties swap out beach outfits for textbooks, one thing is still heating up — the National Football League’s 2018-19 season! After a thrilling finish in February that saw the Philadelphia Eagles capture their first N.F.L. Championship, all 32 teams are now ready for the next round, hoping to capture glory and earn the title of Super Bowl champions. In preparation for the coming season, here are summaries of the top stories from the previous season and offseason.
Not surprisingly, I will start with the Super Bowl runner-ups, the New England Patriots. For most football fans, the mere mention of the team draws shudders, grimaces, and words not fit to reprint on a newspaper. The Patriots are the Evil Empire of the N.F.L., the gridiron equivalent of the New York Yankees or the recent Golden State Warriors for basketball fans. In other words, everybody hates them for their consistent success, but also their fanbase’s insufferable arrogance.
New England’s leaders don’t do much to help that cause either. Quarterback Tom Brady is essentially a preppy high school jock, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the human equivalent of an athletic cheat code, and coach Bill Belichick draws frequent comparisons to Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. Hence, when the Philadelphia Eagles marched into Super Bowl LII and emerged with the win, the vast majority of the league rejoiced. Ding dong, the Patriots were dead! The long N.F.L. nightmare was over, and the franchise that had been in three of the last four Super Bowls finally looked mortal.
But with the focus no longer squarely on them, and an unquenched thirst for championship gold, the Patriots may have the perfect opportunity to strike. Though they’ve lost quite a few pieces — namely offensive lineman Nate Solder, cornerback Malcolm Butler, and receiver Danny Amendola, all key role players in their Super Bowl trips — they’ve retained their potent core of Brady, Gronkowski, and Belichick. Brady, in particular, has shown no signs of slowing down as one of the game’s top quarterbacks, even as he gets further from his prime. And even as a slightly weaker team on paper, the Patriots continue to be a free agent draw as a championship contender, as players like Corey Coleman and Dez Bryant have indicated interest in joining New England. So while New England may have lost the battle, the Patriots may still end up winning the war.
Meanwhile, as the Patriots look to extend their era of dominance, the future of the league looks bright. The 2018 N.F.L. Draft Class was one of the most anticipated classes in recent memory, headlined by a few stars in particular. The quarterbacks in this year’s class, namely Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (University of Wyoming) and Baker Mayfield (University of Oklahoma), are all regarded as potential franchise faces, with Darnold already starting for the New York Jets.
Each, of course, has their own strengths and weaknesses that make them unique. For Darnold, a powerful throwing arm and athleticism put him above the rest, but questionable decision making and high turnover rates are something the Jets will hope to improve on. By contrast, Rosen will aid the Arizona Cardinals with sharp passes and split-second reactions but may hold himself back with a weaker arm and less mobility under pressure. Allen, drafted by the Buffalo Bills, has both tremendous throwing strength and accuracy, but his weaknesses are a lack of focus and game planning. Finally, Mayfield seems like the total package — strength, accuracy, response time, and athleticism — but off-field cockiness and arrogance could doom him like former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Outside of passers, Saquon Barkley, a Penn State running back widely considered as a generational talent, went to the New York Giants with the second overall pick. On the defensive side of the ball, stars like defensive end Bradley Chubb, linebacker Roquan Smith, and cornerback Denzel Ward promise to make an impact, either by disrupting passes or simply attacking the quarterback. All in all, the potential this rookie class has is limitless, and someday, it might translate into all-time greatness.
But for the time being … the champ is here! If the two references up top didn’t alert you to it, the Philadelphia Eagles are the reigning, defending N.F.L. Champions! But with the taste of championship gold comes the ire and jealousy of 31 other teams in the league, all with one goal in mind — knocking off the champs.
Not that the Eagles aren’t prepared. On the defensive side of the ball, they have a shutdown starting secondary that is able to lock down receivers all game. The rest of the defense is more concerning — certainly above average, but also liable to being exposed by top-flight offenses (like the Patriots last year, who piled on 613 yards and 33 points on the Philadelphia defense), especially come playoff time. Offensively, they are nearly as set as anyone can be, with a dominant offensive line allowing their quarterback plenty of protection, and a solid trio of running backs in Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles. This is, of course, all before tacking on their quarterbacks, who just happen to be young superstar Carson Wentz and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
The Eagles also have their concerns. After losing Timmy Jernigan (injuries) and Beau Allen (joined Tampa Bay) from their dominant defensive line, the Eagles could be vulnerable to strong run games. In addition, the lack of consistently healthy top receivers could allow teams to keep Wentz and Foles in check. But all around, the team looks to be in fairly good shape. Only time will tell if the Eagles’ weaknesses will doom them or fade on the way to a championship repeat.
With these stories and so many others to follow this season, there’s only one way to see how things turn out. For the players, it means putting on pads, gear, and helmets and charging out onto a field. But for us, the solution is a lot simpler — grab some snacks, plop onto your favorite couch, and watch some football!