The NFL just wrapped up its 2020 regular season, and before any on-field accomplishments are talked about here’s one that the league is surely most proud of. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL didn’t cancel any games. Several were postponed or played on days that aren’t traditionally NFL game days, but the league is undoubtedly happy that all teams were able to play 16 games during the unprecedented circumstances of the world right now.
NFL Regular Season Recap and What Lies Next
On the field, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate. In the midst of several new young stars emerging at the quarterback position, including Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Justin Herbert, the league saw vintage seasons from four quarterbacks who are nearing the ends of their careers.
Drew Brees is already reportedly going to retire after the NFL Playoffs, but he didn’t go out quietly. He played in only 12 games due to injury, but still completed 71 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He has played 20 NFL seasons and built the Saints into one of the most successful franchises of the last two decades.
Philip Rivers is another future Hall of Famer reportedly considering retirement. Rivers just completed his first season with the Indianapolis Colts after spending his entire career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. Rivers led the Colts to the playoffs and completed 68 percent of his passes for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Ben Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to an 11-0 start to the season and looked like a potential MVP candidate for parts of the season. That’s more impressive considering the fact that Roethlisberger was coming off of a serious injury that had him mulling retirement after last season. Roethlisberger flirting with retirement is basically an annual tradition dating back several years in Pittsburgh at this point, so there’s still a chance he could play next season. But if he does retire, he went out on a pretty good note, completing 66 percent of his passes for 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Like Rivers, Tom Brady also completed his first season with a new team, leading Tampa Bay to the playoffs. But unlike the other three future Hall of Famers, Brady is not considering retirement. Brady occasionally struggles with his deep ball, but on a Tampa team full of weapons, he could keep his career going even longer. Brady threw for 4,600 yards this season – the fourth most of his career – this season and 40 touchdown passes, the second-most of his career.
As much as this NFL season was a celebration of the sustained excellence of some legends, though, it also featured some impressive surprises. Look no further than the NFL betting odds for a glimpse. Before the season started, the Dallas Cowboys were expected to win 10 games. Instead, they lost star quarterback Dak Prescott to injury early in the season and won only six games.
The NFL betting odds also provide a glimpse at just how off preseason predictions can be. Prescott, Carson Wentz, and Cam Newton were among the top contenders for the MVP award according to preseason odds, but all struggled this season and could be on new teams in 2021.
Most NFL betting odds also wouldn’t have predicted that a 7-9 team would make the playoffs, but such is the NFC East. The Washington Football Team won the division at 7-9, and that guaranteed spot actually knocked a better team, the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals, out of the playoffs.
Two teams also ended long playoff droughts – the Cleveland Browns made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years and Tampa Bay made them for the first time in 13 years.
The NFL season had immense strangeness, with few fans in stands most weeks and constant worry about exposure to the coronavirus and its potential impact on teams. But looking ahead to next season, here are three things to watch.
1. The NFL’s changes to the playoffs were immensely popular.
The NFL added an additional playoff team in each conference this season, which made things much more interesting. Had there not been a seventh team, the 11-5 Indianapolis Colts would’ve missed the playoffs and 7-9 Washington would’ve kept both the Cardinals and the 8-8 Chicago Bears out of the playoffs.
More importantly, the last few weeks of the regular season would’ve been decidedly less interesting with fewer spots up for grabs. The NFL takes a lot of heat for its rigidity, but this was a great change and one that will be a huge positive for the league in future seasons.
2. The quarterback position is in good hands.
This season felt like a swan song of sorts for four future Hall of Famers who most assuredly can’t keep up the production they played at this season even if some or all of the Brady, Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger group don’t retire.
But don’t fret – star-power is not lacking at the position. Mahomes, Jackson, Prescott, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Murray, Mayfield, and Allen solidified themselves as prominent current stars at the position. Justin Herbert will likely win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, Joe Burrow would’ve made it a competitive race had he not been injured, and Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a 10-6 record in his rookie season. Aaron Rodgers is still around, too old to be in the group of young arms but not old enough quite yet to be in the Brady-Rivers-Roethlisberger-Brees group.
And in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Justin Fields of Ohio State will both likely be selected in the first five picks and join that group of elite young up-and-comers. Don’t take your eyes off the quarterback position in 2021.
3. Can the New England Patriots reload?
New England’s streak of 11 straight seasons making the playoffs ended this season – maybe next time you have the greatest quarterback in NFL history don’t unceremoniously let him walk away in free agency?
Newton struggled in his first season with the Patriots as Brady’s replacement, and New England will likely look for an upgrade at the position next season. But they have bigger problems than quarterback. Their defense was mediocre, and a big part of the reason Brady left in the first place – a glaring lack of playmakers on offense – was still a huge issue. New England still has the caché to fix both problems, but will they? If they can’t come up with big solutions, a longer rebuild might be on the horizon.