End of Eras in the NFL?
I just witnessed the best NFL playoff weekend of all time, so I just wanted to put out a football appreciation post and do a little speculating on the futures of a couple of all-time greats.
The NFL Divisional Round this past Saturday and Sunday was the best of all time, and that's not just recency bias, the numbers actually back it up. All four games ended with a game-winning scoring play on the final play of the game, which had never happened before, and the total combined margin of victory was 15, which was the lowest of all time. I hope that the conference championships and the Super Bowl can give us anywhere near that amount of excitement.
First, I want to congratulate the Cincinnati Bengals for winning its first playoff game in 31 years, but the party didn't stop there. The Bengals beat the #1 seed Tennessee Titans on Saturday, and will be playing for an AFC Championship for the first time since 1988. Cincinnati, you have your franchise quarterback. The future is bright for Joe Burrow.
The other game in the AFC was possibly the best football game I've ever watched, especially the last 2 minutes. The Bill and Chiefs combined to score 25 points in the final 1:54, and we discovered that even 13 seconds is too much time to leave Patrick Mahomes, as he was able to pick up 44 yards in 2 plays to set up a kick to send it to overtime. Then, in what ended up being the biggest play of the game, the Chiefs won the coin toss. Now, I am conflicted as to whether the NFL needs to change their overtime rules or not because defense is half of the game, but it's a travesty that Josh Allen didn't even get to touch the ball in overtime. Anyway, the Chiefs won in OT and will host the AFC Championship for the fourth consecutive year.
On the NFC side of things, both games were decided on a last-second field goal, but got there in very different manners. San Francisco beat Green Bay in a defensive slug-fest with the help of a blocked punt for a touchdown and without scoring a single point on offense. The Rams knocked off the Buccaneers after seeing a 27-3 lead disappear when Tom Brady led a comeback to tie the game up with 42 seconds left. The game seemed destined for overtime, but Matthew Stafford and the Rams were able to go 63 yards in 39 seconds to set up a 30 yard game-winning field goal. The Rams will host the 49ers on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, a matchup which the 49ers have won 6 consecutive times.
However, the results of the NFC games this past weekend is what brings me to the point of this article. With the Packers and Buccaneers both losing, we may have just witnessed the end of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers' current eras. Tom Brady just completed his 22nd season playing professional football at the age of 44, and not surprisingly he is contemplating retiring. It was announced last week that a tenth episode of Brady's "Man In The Arena" series is still in production and will be aired at a future date. This, of course, started rumors that they were delaying the airing so that it could air after Brady announced his retirement. Brady took to Instagram earlier to address the retirement rumors to say, "I understand that at this stage in my career, there is going to be interest in my future whenever a season ends, but this week, all that is on my mind is the gratitude I have for this team and the fans that have supported us all year long." It sounds like he's going to take some time to think about it before he makes any decision. Personally, I think the guy still has what it takes to get it done, and his stats prove that. This season he led the NFL in passing yards with 5,316 (which is his career best) and touchdowns with 43 (which is 2nd most in his career). He also just had his most rushing yards for a season since 2011. This guy is starting to make me rethink the phrase "time is undefeated". I don't understand how he continues to get it done, but this guy is amazing. There's a reason he's the G.O.A.T.
I don't think we've seen the last of Brady on an NFL field. I really think he wants to go out as a Super Bowl champ. I think he'll take some time off and ultimately decide to come back as focused and ready as ever. Tom Brady has won every other Super Bowl since the 2014-15 season, so if the trend continues, he'll win another ring next year and get to make the choice to go out on top at that point. If this is the end, he's put together a Hall of Fame career that no one will ever touch.
Aaron Rodgers on the other hand, is clearly not done with football, but his time with Green Bay could be over. Rodgers is under contract for one more year, as things currently stand, but that doesn't mean Rodgers is going to play for them in 2022. He held out all of last offseason, but the two sides came to an agreement before the season started to restructure his deal that would make him a free agent in 2023 instead of 2024. Rodgers has been upset with the Packers front office for some time now, with the biggest issue being that they haven't built much talent around him during his time there. In fact, they've only drafted one offensive player in the first round since 2011 (never drafting a skilled-position player). The one that they did draft was QB Jordan Love in 2020. This was the final straw for relations with the front office for Rodgers. I can't imagine why any team would trade up to take a quarterback when they still have Aaron Rodgers in his prime. The Packers have made some questionable moves, but clearly they haven't been working. Rodgers is more than likely about to win his fourth MVP and the fact that they've only won one Super Bowl during that time is absurd.
Everything about this year seemed as if it was going to be one last season for this version of the Packers. Rodgers ended a hold out, Devante Adams was in the final year of his contract, and they brought back Randall Cobb; however, the Packers can still control everything. Rodgers is under contract for one more year and they can franchise tag Adams. I think if they decide to use the tag on Adams and don't trade Rodgers, things will get ugly and they'll both probably hold out.
In my opinion, I think this is the end of the line for Rodgers in Green Bay. I think the Packers will grant his wish and find a trade partner that Rodgers would agree to go to. I'm going to make a bold-ish prediction and say that the Denver Broncos will go all-in on former Packers and become a powerhouse in the AFC. Current Green Bay OC, Nathaniel Hackett, has been interviewing for the Broncos head coaching job and I think the Broncos will find a way to hire him and pair him up with Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams. Combined with the Broncos defense, that would be a scary thought for all other AFC teams to have to go up against.