In most years, with just two weeks left in the season, there's a general sense of who will win - or at least appear - in the Super Bowl. This year however, as the season winds down, more uncertainty looms.
According to most advanced research via ESPN (and other networks ready and willing to spend millions of dollars on pointless research), the New Orleans Saints have the best chance to win the Super Bowl at 30.3%. And according to Vegas the Saints are now +160 to win it all, with the Rams listed at +450. For the majority of the season the Rams have been positioned as the odds on favorite. That is until five weeks ago, when the Saints tied Los Angelos at +275, and never looked back.
But what does any of that really mean?
I could go on forever presenting odds and percentages but unless you've watched the NFL in recent weeks, I don't believe odds are in anyone team's favor.
In five to ten years we might look back on the 2018 NFL season as the 'Year of the Offense.' Score are up around the board; just four teams heading into Week 16 are allowing less than 20ppg and touchdowns are at an all-time high as twelve teams are scoring at least 3TD per game. For perspective, in 2017 just four teams scored an average of 3TD per game; eight teams in 2016 and five in 2015. Moreover, seven teams in 2017 allowed less than 20ppg; seven in 2016 and nine in 2015.
As a hardcore fan - or even a casual viewer - there's been plenty of things to be entertained with. One of, if not THE, most memorable games of the year will infamously go down as the capstone of the offensive onslaught; a Week 11 Monday Night shootout between the Chiefs and Rams which resulted in a 54-51 'holy shit' fest. I can't remember a game in which I had to text friends back quick enough so I did not miss the next play. It was intense. It was crazy. I was glued to the TV. But it wasn't even the most watched game of the year. In fact, it was just the fourth most watched game of ... that week.
What does that suggest (If anything) ? Maybe I'm reaching here, but I don't think the majority of fans really want that much offense. They might say they do, but ratings suggest otherwise. Anyway, that's an entirely different debate I'll revisit at another time.
I think we are falling into a trap of mixed narratives. On one hand there's the gauntlet of huge offensive numbers produced for the majority of the year; from rookie and second-year quarterbacks to reliable veterans and teams with little to no perceived preseason chance of being relevant, offenses have almost universally exploded.
Conversely, on the other hand there's the boring and tired 'defense wins championships' statement. It's a phrase guys throw around at the bar after one too many jagerbombs mostly when they can't think of anything better to say. Personally, I've always been against blanket statements because there's zero credibility in such a notion like "defense wins championships." It's a sentence surrounded by the exception(s), and not the rule; the exception(s) being the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Bucaneers, 2007 Giants (<-reaching), 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos. If the measurement were to be a twenty year window then how can five (or even 6,7,8) teams during that stretch become the rule? Sometimes I just think we say things because we like to believe they make sense.
Maybe the real suggestion is 'defense wins championships' situationally? The 2007 Giants played exceptional situational football against the almost perfect Patriots and stunned the world (and Vegas) in Super Bowl XLII. The Giants weren't transcendent that season. They ranked 17 in points allowed and 7 in yards. The Patriots were ranked 1st in both offensive categories averaging over 400 yards and 36ppg. But the Giants made timely defensive stops, sacked Brady five times and held Randy Moss to 5 catches for 62 yards. Long story short, they got to Brady and got in Brady's head and did just enough to win a Super Bowl no one saw coming.
The reason I referred back to Super Bowl XLII is because there's strong correlations between what happened then and what we are seeing now. In 2018 there's no all-time defense in the league. But in the setting of a single game - when a team plays brilliant situational football, pressures the quarterback and the secondary doesn't give up the big play - the defense seemingly always outshines the shiny offense.
I tend to think we can't just assume one of these prolific offenses (i.e. Saints/Rams/Chiefs) will automatically win the Super Bowl. Yet, I would not be surprised if one of these high-powered offenses mows through the postseason with efficiency and ease. Also, increasingly confusing, I would not be shocked if one of these historically great offenses melt down in the playoffs ... solely based off of what I've seen in recent weeks. And the only justification I have for such a premise are the few recent weeks I've seen these teams play. I do not have any measurement or formula to apply here. Sometimes the 'eye test' is all that matters. I have watched these once unstoppable offense sort of sputter along since Week 12, and I guess I'm just a little confused.
The Saints were bad against Dallas, only dropped 28 points on Tampa Bay's 30th ranked defense and struggled mightily in Charlotte. Sure, they went 2-1 in three consecutive road games, and they're well on their way to clinching home-field, which eliminates having to play on the road when it counts, but, still, there was a noticeable struggle ... road or not. The Dallas game was indoors, the temperature in Tampa was 71 and it was 48 degrees in Charlotte. It wasn't like New Orleans had to adjust to freezing temperatures for three straight weeks. So what was the difference in these games? Was Brees and the offense suddenly out of sync, after being virtually perfect for most of the year, or did the opposition's defense magically execute?
See how the narrative suddenly changed? After twelve weeks of flawless offensive performance by the Saints, the opponent's defensive success immediately became the talk of all things media. How convenient! How easily we forget things that just happened a month ago.
But what if it it's not convenient? What if its because it's the NFL and film, preparation and ability somehow find a way to slow down and/or stop the once invincible offenses?
So here I am, stuck in a place of watching the excitement of phenomenal offensive numbers and wanting to be closer to the days when dominating defensive units punished the quarterback and all of his flashy receivers.
I am trapped somewhere directly in the middle of the contrary; mostly not knowing what I want, bored with most games especially if there's no gambling stakes and/or fantasy football implications and constantly angry with the team I claim to be a fan of - the Dallas Cowboys. And I have no fucking idea who will win Super Bowl LIII.
Could it be the red-hot Bears; bruising defense headed by Khalil Mack and a sneaky good offense under Mitch Trubisky. Also, what if they somehow slide into the #1 or #2 seed if both New Orleans and Los Angeles were to lose out? Soldier Field is not an easy place to win at in January.
What about the surging Colts, if they make it in? Andrew Luck is playing at an MVP clip and their no-name defense is ranked top-10 in both categories.
The LA Chargers are a sexy pick. No one really believes in Houston but they're loaded and might finish with the #2 seed. And you can't ever count out Pittsburgh or the Patriots. Hell, I'm laughing as I'm typing this, but what if the Cowboys bounce back from an ugly Colts loss and makes a deep playoff run? The Eagles aren't completely out of it. And who the hell wants to ever play Seattle in the postseason?
The point is I don't have a goddamn clue. It seems wildly wide open. It feels like Jared Goff and Pat Mahomes could throw 4INT in a single quarter and become an immediate internet meme. Who really thinks Andy Reid will outcoach Bill Belichick? Does anyone believe in Kirk Cousins if Minnesota makes it in? Will Jason Garrett clap his way into termination? Can you really trust the Steelers to be legit after losing in Oakland and dropping three of the last four?
As for me, I just want chaos ... whatever that entails. If it's poor officiating and incompetent play-calling then so be it. If it's a team coming out of nowhere, then that's cool to. But, if it's some magical return of the defense, and all the collective offenses supremely shit the bed, then I'll be a happy guy. Really what's it matter, fantasy football is over!