The NFL regular season is no longer right around the corner. It’s here!
No more anticipation for fantasy leagues. No more first units playing halfheartedly for a quarter or two. No more roster speculation. The months of preparation are over and the results have officially been set in stone. From now on, every team will have to prove their value through wins and losses. With work ethic, hustle, and talent a new team will be crowned the victor of Super Bowl L.
But why don’t teams dominate for generations like in baseball or basketball? With less splashy transactions, how does a team grow into a competitor? All simplistic questions for an avid follower of the sport. Yet, the attention to detail of a rebuilding franchise is something that many fans take for granted.
Building an NFL powerhouse is a very meticulous and patient process. Franchises use years to accumulate players through trades, draft picks, and free agency. Teams sometimes wait for a decade before they start to see results. It is a long and drawn-out chess process, that yields a historic reward. These cycles of development begin on teams every single year.
Take the San Francisco 49ers for a concrete example. After winning five Super Bowl’s from 1981 to 1994, the 49ers have continually rebuilt their roster to compete at a top-tier level. Most recently, San Francisco went from a 2-14 record in 2004 to three consecutive NFC Championship title games from 2011 to 2013. After a lackluster 2014 campaign and even more disastrous 2015 offseason, the 49ers have once again begun to rebuild.
This offseason perfectly encapsulates the fluctuations the success of an NFL franchise. Using the preseason football as a microscopic view of the development of NFL teams. This year alone has yielded some surprising players, events, and situations that will either lead to the success or downfall of some organizations.
Here is a rundown of the biggest surprises this preseason in the NFL:
Let’s begin by taking a look at a player who exploded onto the scene this preseason. With an outstanding 77.4 completion percentage on 236 yards, Tyrod Taylor has taken over the Buffalo Bills offense. Beating out Matt Cassell and EJ Manuel for the number two and number three spots, respectively. Taylor is unquestionably deserving of the starting position. Taylor was a four-year backup for the Ravens and highly sought after by Rex Ryan. An important piece in the Bills development. With established consistency at the quarterback position, the Bills will be a much better team this year.
In fact, the Bills will be a wildcard caliber team in the AFC. This offseason, Buffalo needed to address both sides of the ball. The Bills were able to add a variety of offensive talent, and hire a defensive minded coach in Rex Ryan. Expect to Bills to be leaps and bounds better than last season.
Another team that should be surprising this year, the Oakland Raiders. Oakland has had a rough rebuilding process for the past couple of years. Last season alone, they posted their worst record since 2006.
This season should be different for the Raiders. If preseason football is an indication of the skill level of a team, Oakland should surprise some teams in the AFC. With a second-year jump from Darek Carr and the defensive arrival of Khalil Mack, these two are great examples of fantastic drafting. The Raiders also added stand-out Alabama wide receiver, Amari Cooper. Along with free agency acquisitions, Oakland should double their wins from 2014. While they may not be a Super Bowl caliber team, the Raiders are starting to become better. Surely it has taken some time, but Oakland could surprise some fans and teams alike.
Another player who has had a marvelous debut in American Football has been rugby star, Jarryd Hayne. Hayne has most recently made the 53-man roster for the San Francisco 49ers. With electric special teams play, Hayne has made a recognizable name for himself. While Hayne has yet to solidify a roll in San Francisco, he has been a marvelous surprise for the casual watching football fan.
A huge reoccurring theme this offseason is second chances. Former convicted felon, Michael Vick, has joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only making the 53-man roster, but Vick was still able to flash a glimpse of his former all-star self. Most notably, throwing 4/5 for 106 yards, making an immediate impact against Buffalo in the preseason, albeit for a loss.
Along with Michael Vick was former Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow! A long shot to make the Philadelphia roster, Tebow was still able to use the preseason stage to showcase his ability to play at the top level. In his final preseason appearance, Tebow threw for two touchdowns and 189 yards.
Another surprise this preseason had to be the lack of urgency for the NFL reform preseason schedules. Four weeks of games is two too many. Losing players like Maurkice Pouncey and Jordy Nelson have large impacts on two of the best offenses in the league. Nonetheless, preseason football is still important for teams to establish their roster. A lot of work is put into this process by implementing playbooks, designing schemes, and coordinating lineups. Although losing two star players is enough to argue the benefits of an extended preseason.
Finally, the biggest surprise this offseason had to have been the “deflategate” ruling. The only reason this is put into quotations is because Watergate was named after a hotel. Not Nixon trying to steal Democratic water, but that can be argued another time.
Unlike Michael Vick or Tim Tebow, Rodger Goodell shouldn’t deserve another chance to prove his ability to commission this league. Previously, Goodell has gotten the Greg Hardy, Ben Rothlisberger, and Ray Rice bans all wrong. Doing very little positive for the league, aside from making the owners a lot of money, Goodell really has had a shameful run as a commissioner.
Once again, another Goodell’s punishments was cut short when Tom Brady was declared active to play in Week 1. But what does this mean for the league? If remembered correctly, Goodell also fined the Patriots $1 million and a 2016 first-round pick. This story has yet to finish. Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, and Goodell are known to be incredibly good friends. Whatever way this ends up playing out, it will be something important to follow.
Now the preseason has come to a close. The first games are finally here. Enjoy the season, and follow the progression of these storylines throughout the year. The news is always subject to change.