There has been no shortage of drama or excitement over the first few months of the NFL season. As the playoffs get closer, the stakes for certain teams are now higher than ever. While some teams are already looking at the draft, other franchises are competing for the playoffs, some for the first time in a while. With all the twists and turns, come five key news headlines that are worth paying extra close attention to as the season winds down.
Who’s Going To Stay Strong Going Into Playoffs
There are several NFL franchises that are worth watching as playoffs get closer. While many critics would not have predicted it, the best team in football could be the Carolina Panthers. With a few division games left including one against the Saints, and two against the Falcons, the Panthers are the favorites to win the NFC. In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals and the play of Andy Dalton are one of the best stories of the season. The Bengals with a record of 8-2 are off to a good start to at least get a shot at redemption, after being criticized for poor post-season play in the past. The Patriots are also off to their normally dominant start, but are hobbled with injuries that could make the rest of the season tougher than expected. Another typical playoff team, the Denver Broncos, are 8-2 but are relying on 2nd year quarterback Brock Osweiler for at least the next few games.
New Teams Chasing Post-Season Action
Every year it seems certain teams are a lock to make the playoffs (here’s looking at you Patriots!). Through week 11, there are several new faces in the playoff hunt. The typically awful, Jacksonville Jaguars, are only 1 game out of the AFC South and the AFC Wildcard. The Jags are largely dependent on the success of their 2nd year quarterback Blake Bortles, but have a bright future. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the most exciting team to watch in the NFC. The worst team in football last year, the Bucs have rebounded in part due to the play of rookie quarterback, Jameis Winston. Despite not expecting playoffs when the season started, both franchises have legitimate shots going into week 12.
The Emergence of Young Stars
Every year teams face injuries to some of their premier players. The best teams in football are often the ones that have the right coaching in place to strengthen their depth. The Seahawks will learn this first hand, as they are without Marshawn Lynch for the next few weeks as he recovers from a sports hernia. Lynch’s replacement is the undrafted free agent, Thomas Rawls, who ran for over 200 yards against the 49’ers. Rawls is an exciting player to watch, and could take over Lynch’s job in Seattle as early as next season. The Vikings are also competing with the Packers for top spot in the NFC North, in part due to the play of 5th round pick Stefon Diggs and last years 2nd round pick, Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper is also excelling in his rookie year and growing great chemistry with young quarterback Derek Carr.
The Fate of Several Coaches
The end of every NFL season comes with it the end of several coaches tenures. One of the coaches who is most likely to be unemployed is Chuck Pagano, the current coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Despite finding regular season success, Pagano’s failed to get past the Patriots in the playoffs (a familiar feeling for many teams). Pagano is also publicly on negative terms with the general manager Ryan Grigson. As tension continues to mount there are talks that Pagano might not last the year.
Chip Kelly’s future with the Philadelphia Eagles is also uncertain. There are reports that there is a growing rift between Kelly and other members of upper management. It was a similar sounding turmoil last season that led to the departure of Jim Harbaugh from the San Franciso 49ers. Chip Kelly was given large control over the roster, and as a result is responsible for a large amount of roster turnover in the past few years. Kelly’s mark on the team includes trading away of starting quarterback (Foles), running back (McCoy) and other key former veterans of the team. The entire offensive system ran in Philadelphia is also implemented through the mindset of Chip Kelly. It will be an incredibly different identity for the Eagles whenever Chip stops being on the sidelines.
Is A Franchise Moving To L.A.?
Unfortunately, one of the headlines that grows ever closer for one NFL franchise, is the possibility of a move to Los Angeles. The San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams have all been linked as potential candidates for relocation. While nothing is definitive, it is starting to become clearer that it may be the Chargers who make the move. The primary issue in San Diego is the inability to get funding for a new stadium. The Chargers have been in San Diego for the past 55 years, and a move to LA may also lead to a re-alignment of the AFC and NFC West. While things are still murky, news on the reality of an LA based franchise will become clearer as the season wanes on.
There are still weeks left of the NFL season to be written. The games become bigger, and as injuries start to tear teams apart, it is the depth and unexpected stars who may lead their team to the promise land. Some of the headlines that have emerged, an average fan may not have expected at the start of the year, but that just makes them all the more intriguing to follow. No matter who your team is, the league is always developing new stories and new angles to watch. Let’s just hope that the next piece of breaking news is a positive one for your franchise.