Andrew Luck, Anthony Lynn, Carson Wentz, Chris Ballard, Conference Championships, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, Frank Reich, Howie Roseman, Indianapolis Colts, Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones, Joey Bosa, Josh McDaniels, Kansas City Chiefs, LA Chargers, New England Patriots, NFL, Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, Philip Rivers, Playoffs, Super Bowl
There are two games and two weekends left between now and the Super Bowl, and I will give full attention to the teams in the Conference Championship games on Sunday before the teams take the field, but it is time to say goodbye to the divisional dismayed who fell last week.
There is a reason that teams fight for the top two seed and last weekend the advantages told as all four home teams won, and so to the losers.
The Colts might be the least dismayed team to lose this round. Their performance against the Chiefs was worrying as both sides of the ball struggled in the cold of Arrowhead but in head coach Frank Reich’s first year the Colts were really competitive and this bodes well for the future. Reich’s tenure started late after Josh McDaniels pulled out of the job late after the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss, but Reich and the coaching staff have already established an identity with a roster that has been turned around in only a couple of off-seasons by GM Chris Ballard. I expect them to be a real force next season given that Ballard has another draft and the most cap room for the 2019 season to further augment this team. Whilst there is no guarantee of success given the volatility of the NFL and injury luck, I do tip the Colts to be right up there with the best next season now they have surrounded Andrew Luck with the talent to make the most of his skills. Luck has looked really good in this latter half of the season, although he seemed to be off last weekend, but after it looked for a while like we might not seem him play again the success this season is hopefully laying the ground work for future seasons. I just hope I’m not jinxing the 2019 Colts by being this optimistic about them.
I’m conflicted about how the Cowboys will fare next season as whilst there were definite positives to take from this season, there are also a bunch of question. This starts with head coach Jason Garrett who survives another year as Jerry’s man, but the nine year head coach added just his second playoff win to a record of three playoff visits and Garrett has never got beyond the divisional round. The defence looked really good for long stretches of this season, but we know that defence is more volatile than offence, and the Rams ran all over the Cowboys on Saturday and that was the strength of this Cowboys defence. Meanwhile, the offence desperately needs more options around Dak Prescott who is about to go into the final season of his rookie deal. For once the Cowboys cap number does not look bad as they have the tenth amount of space in the league when looking at 2019, but the big question will be how much of this space will Prescott’s deal take and the Cowboys have frequently not been afraid of handing out big deals to starts and regretting it towards the end of the deal. They have enough young talent to be competitive again next season, but I do wonder if there is a ceiling to what they can achieve without some serious tweaking. Everyone will be watching the Cowboys anyway, but I don’t know if the 2019 team will be able to break into the elite strata of teams truly competing for the Super Bowl.
There is a lot of good to take from the Chargers season but they are another team that head into the off-season with a lot of questions surrounding them. They got thoroughly outplayed by the Patriots on Sunday, and kept seven defensive backs on the field for longer than they should have so that tells you the linebackers need upgrading. The offensive line also gave up too much pressure and so re-enforcements would be a welcome addition, but the not so secret question is how much longer can Philip Rivers go? The thirty-five year old quarterback has won one of his nine games against the Patriots and is 0-5 in Gillete Stadium. I’m not saying that he can’t win, but the Chargers don’t have a lot of time to turn things round and whilst Anthony Lynn has done well in his first two seasons as head coach of the Chargers, there is still work to be done and very little cap room for next year. The Chargers are not exactly bringing in the fans from LA either, despite being a competitive team. If Joey Bosa can be healthy all next season then the Chargers could be right up there with the best in the league again, but in the longer term we might be looking at quarterback controversies and a franchise that hasn’t been able to truly establish itself in a demanding market. There was no football in LA for a long time, and teams have struggled and moved away from the city before, and with the Rams’ previous history in LA serving them well I can’t help but wonder where the Chargers will be playing once Rivers calls it a day. For now though, let’s enjoy what we have.
The defending Eagles did well to get back to the playoffs given the way the season started for them and how many injuries the roster sustained. They will be hoping to return a lot of players next season, but will need to add some speed to an offence that couldn’t stretch the field and find a consistent running game as well as shoring up the back of the defence. For all his playoff magic, Nick Foles, Super Bowl winning quarterback, will be playing for someone else next season, but Carson Wentz’s stress fracture will be healed in plenty of time for him to have a full off-season and I suspect he will be even better for the Eagles another twelve months away from his knee surgery. After all the turnover in the coaching staff last season, where the offence suffered a real brain drain, I think that the Eagles will be raring to go next season. They may be solidly in the middle in terms of cap space, but Howie Roseman has demonstrated his aggressive strategy of draft trades and free agent moves can build incredibly deep rosters and after this season, I would expect the Eagles to be back at it again next season. I can hear the fans singing, ‘Fly Eagles fly!’ already.