MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The year in sport 2018: NFL

The NFL in 2018 came out swinging with a thrilling set of playoff games, culminating with the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia Eagles delivering the first Super Bowl to the City of Brotherly Love in a 41-33 win over the New England Patriots.

The stage was set. New super teams formed, like the Los Angeles Rams, star quarterbacks changed locations — Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum — and exciting new coaches arrived, such as Matt Nagy to the Chicago Bears and Jon Gruden returning to the Oakland Raiders.

Here is the Sports Gazette’s NFL year in review.

A new hope

The NFL is defined by its star quarterbacks. For over a decade the ‘golden age of quarterbacks,’ with the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers dominating the NFL landscape.

With recent draft classes producing quarterbacks such as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel — who have not lived up to their potential or flamed out altogether — the question is what will happen when the golden age legends are no longer around?

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Well in 2018 this question has been emphatically answered with the emergence of a new generation of superstars at the position.

This is the defining factor of the 2018 regular season, with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes being the leading candidate for the MVP award after a truly magical season.

Mahomes is the shining star of the NFL Christmas tree in 2018, but other young stars such as Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Lamar Jackson have given hope to not just their teams, but the future of the NFL in general.

The defense strikes back

After the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams provided the most epic offensive showdown in NFL history — with the Rams 54-51 win in November — it seemed like the nail in the coffin for defense in the NFL.

This followed a crazy first two months of the season which saw an explosion of scoring unlike anything before it. With scores like 48-40, 43-40 and 43-37 in the opening weeks, this had the NFL media declaring the death of defense and a new era of offensive dominance.

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But the NFL is cyclical and with time to examine these new high-powered offenses, inevitably defenses around the league adjusted and in recent weeks teams like the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts helping to restore some balance.

The Cowboys’ 13-10 smothering victory over the New Orleans Saints was the turning point, followed by the Colts being shut out 6-0 by the Jacksonville Jaguars then shutting out the Cowboys 23-0 in week 15.

Return of the stars

The 2017 regular season disappointed in large part due to injuries to major superstars like Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr and JJ Watt among others.

The 2018 season, in contrast, is one of the best seasons in recent memory, with these stars returning to form and the emergence of new and exciting superstar talent.

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The Rams, Chiefs and Saints have dazzled audiences with explosive offenses, balanced out by the defensive steel of the Bears, Ravens and Cowboys.

After a tumultuous 2017 — where politics poisoned the gridiron — 2018 is a much needed injection of sporting excellence.

It hasn’t been perfect, with Kareem Hunt’s recent incident the most pressing example. But in general, 2018 has been a showcase of the very best that the NFL can offer.

Featured photograph/Flickr/Jack Kurzenknabe