Unpredictable results renewing interest in NFL

Note: Article originally published in The Talon in November of 2018: Dacula High School’s newspaper and is published with permission.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2011.” by Mike Morbeck is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Since the early 2000s, the New England Patriots have dominated the NFL, appearing in the Super Bowl eight times and winning five. Along with that, as a Chicago native, my beloved Bears were not doing so well, so it felt like every season was the same. But on Sep. 9, 2018, I witnessed two results which made me question my lack of interest in football. That was the Houston Texans losing to the New England Patriots 20-27 and the Green Bay Packers beating the Chicago Bears 23-24. Just like before, the Patriots won and the Bears lost, but this time, the wins for the Patriots and the Packers were much harder to achieve.

I was still questioning if football can really become this entertaining again, and if the Bears were really capable of challenging the top teams this season. But that weekend, two other surprising results posed new questions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating the New Orleans Saints 48-40 and the Pittsburgh Steelers tying the Cleveland Browns? After drafting running back Alvin Kamara from the University of Tennessee, the New Orleans Saints were not just massive favorites to top their division, but also to perhaps make a run to the Super Bowl. However, Tampa Bay’s signing of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick produced results with their offense, managing to score eight more than the Saints. The second result really put Pittsburgh to shame. The Cleveland Browns. The Browns. The team that had won only once in two years? Seriously Pittsburgh? They could not beat the Browns?

This result is promising, a promise of more competition, more fun, more unpredictability. As I started to renew my interest in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns played the New Orleans Saints, and nearly won. The Browns had reassured their seriousness this season, and despite not being able to win against the Steelers, they took on a far harder challenge and almost handed the Saints what would have been their second embarrassing defeat of the season. However, later that week, an even crazier result happened. Yet another tie took place, this time between rivals Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. After scoring 22 points in the final quarter, the Vikings fought the Packers to a draw in overtime, not only making the competition between these two teams fiercer, but also creating a new pathway for the other teams in the NFC North, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions to move to the top.

That was exactly what happened. The Chicago Bears won their next three games, including a game-changing 17-24 victory against the Seattle Seahawks and a 10-48 thumping of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and moved to number one in the NFC North. Today, Chicago’s arch-rival Green Bay is on the verge of not making the playoffs, a team who has made the NFL playoffs 13 times since 2001! However, it is not just the Bears who are having an incredible season. The Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans are all having really excellent seasons, with the Dolphins holding a 5-5 record and the Bengals and Titans boasting a 5-4 record (including a Titans’ massive 34-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Week 10).

Normally, by now, well over half-way into the season, it should have been easy to predict who will make the playoffs, if that has not been decided by now already. But right now, no team has clinched the playoffs. Even the Cleveland Browns, with their three wins, are still in contention for the playoffs. It is nearly impossible to predict exactly which team will compose the playoff bracket, as the competition is so tight. For example, in the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins are all on five wins, but it is unlikely all three teams can make the playoffs, thus building a very interesting and tough concentration. In the NFC, the usually more competitive conference, five teams are all currently tied on four wins, with Super Bowl winners Philadelphia Eagles on the same level as the Dallas Cowboys right now. Because the “weaker” teams have been playing really well this season, giving trouble to the usual dominators of the NFL, even a team like the Oakland Raiders, with only one win, has not been eliminated from playoff contention yet (although it is highly unlikely they make it).

With only six weeks left, the playoff picture is still really blurry. Not only is it unclear as to which teams will make the playoffs, predicting the winners of the next few matches are going to be really difficult. For the first time in years, strong teams like the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks could be forced to give up their spots for teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. All of this together makes for one of the best NFL seasons in the modern era, one of the most entertaining seasons, and most definitely one of the most heart-stopping.

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