By: Joe Siniscalchi (@Joe_Siniscalchi)
Change. We all have to deal with change sooner or later in our lives. Some of us manage to get by with change, some thrive from it, and some of us can’t deal with it at all.
The NFL is no exception to change. Don’t believe me? Two of the most consistent juggernauts of the 2000s have undergone a major transformation. The Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts remain a shell of who they were a mere two years ago, while the Patriots have completely changed their identity. In fact, the Patriots are nearing 10 years since their last Super Bowl victory (has it really been that long?).
Other perennial playoff contenders, such as the San Diego Chargers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys are undergoing transformations as well. Two teams on that list have new regimes in place after years of organizational stability, and the other two are undergoing drastic personnel changes. The Steelers looked rather old in the tooth this year compared to some NFL teams, Dallas has simply become so mediocre right in front of our very eyes. Andy Reid, the longest tenured head coach in the NFL before this season, is taking his talents (and lack of game managing talents) to Kansas City.
Yes, the NFL is in the midst of an evolution, and we will see what I like to call “Athletic Darwinism”. It happened in other sports across the US. Teams like the Spurs in the NBA and the Braves in the MLB have always remained relevant, even with drastic roster turnovers inevitably taking place. Young, emerging talented rosters such as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Clippers have taken advantage of new opportunities and become legitimate forces. Others, like the Philadelphia Phillies, and now the Los Angeles Lakers, have struggled to survive. As players age and rosters begin to change, we see the collapse of dynasties. Along with these falls, however, comes an emerging team to rise from the ashes.
Don’t believe me that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s window is closing faster than we all think? Consider that since 2009, the Patriot’s defense has finished 11th, 25th, 31st, and 25th in total defense. With this decline in defense, the Patriots have had to adapt by amping up the efforts on offense. Enter freaks like Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. Unfortunately, Belichick hasn’t been able to provide a deep threat since Randy Moss, and now has to deal with the loss of Wes Welker (Danny Amendola is nowhere near as good as Welker is until he plays a full season). Eventually, something has to give.
The chance for a new dynasty in the NFL is approaching upon us. The Ravens and Patriots are the closest thing to a dynasty right now, and they aren’t as dominant as we’d like to believe. While Ozzie Newsome has always adapted to roster turnover, the fact still remains the team lost two leaders who are also first ballot hall of famers.
So who can rise from the ashes as the NFL’s newest phoenix? Two teams come to mind in the NFC. The clearly talented San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks can be competing for the next 5-6 years as the NFC’s best. It’s conceivable that they can play three times a year. As a football fan, that has to excite you. Both teams have a very young core group of players that are all locked up for the forseeable future.
Other teams that may not be as dominant but are set to emerge as legitimate threats include the Rams, Redskins (praise RG3), and Minnesota Vikings (thanks to great drafting the last few years).
In the AFC, we see the Ravens sustaining success thanks to the best GM in the NFL in Ozzie Newsome. The Patriots are in the midst of a decline, and the Steelers are in transition. We’ve seen the end of the Bill Polian-Manning Colts. So who can emerge in the AFC? One can quickly point to the man who was responsible for another dynasty in the 2000s with Andy Reid. The Chiefs have a very talented, young roster, and their last place finish is not indicative how how talented the team really is. The Colts can also rise again into a new era with last year’s number one pick, Andrew Luck, who already guided the team to the playoffs as a rookie. The Cincinnati Bengals are also a team that shouldn’t be forgotten about. A quietly young and talented defense to match a young talented offense on paper, along with an opportunity to overtake the aging Steelers and now seemingly vulnerable Ravens makes the Bengals a team with the chance to rise to the top of the AFC.
The NFL is shaping up its image for the next decade. We’ve seen the emergence of the read option and extremely potent passing attacks, both new molds for teams to build around for success. Defenses are becoming all about rushing the passer and utilizing versatility in skill set and in coverage. Entering year three, we will see the clear establishment of who will dominate for the next decade or so using those models for success. Dynasties will falter, some teams will remain stagnant and adapt, while teams with the right amount of talent and opportunity will break through the wall and power into the next decade.
While “Athletic Darwinism” is taking place in the NFL, you might be surprised who survives, who fades away, and who thrives.