2018 Promises to be a bumper year
With high profile moves and a solid draft, 2018 looks to be another bumper year for the NFL.
Eagles and Falcons Kick Off 2018
It’s time to get “Back to Football!”
The 2018 season begins with the NFL’s annual primetime kickoff game. The opener for us in the UK is early Friday morning kickoff at 1:20am and will feature the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field in a battle of the NFC’s past two Super Bowl representatives.
If history is anything to go by the Eagles better be at the ready, in the corresponding fixture last year the reigning champion Patriots went down 42 to 27 to Kansas City.
Hope Springs Eternal
What attracts many to the NFL is not just the hard-hitting action but also the parity of teams. Due to the annual college draft where the worst teams get to pick the cream of the new talent, NFL teams don’t normally linger in the basement for too long.
Every team enters the 2018 season with a trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII in mind and below are a few reasons why.
- Five of the eight divisions in 2017 were won by a team that finished in third or fourth place in the division the previous season – Jacksonville (AFC South), the Los Angeles Rams (NFC West), Minnesota (NFC North), New Orleans (NFC South) and Philadelphia (NFC East).
- Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before. Eight teams that missed the postseason in 2016 – Buffalo (9-7), Carolina (11-5), Jacksonville (10-6), Los Angeles Rams (11-5), Minnesota (13-3), New Orleans (11-5), Philadelphia (13-3) and Tennessee (9-7) – accomplished the feat in 2017, tied with the 2003 season for the most such teams since 1990.
- The Eagles, who finished last in the NFC East with a 7-9 record in 2016, became the second team since 2003 to go from “worst-to-first” en route to a Super Bowl victory, joining the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
- The Jaguars, who finished in last place in the AFC South in 2016, won their first division title since realignment in 2002 last season and advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
- Fresh off its first Super Bowl in franchise history, the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES begin their quest to repeat as champions as the race to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Super Bowl LIII kicks off. Only eight teams have repeated as champions since the first Super Bowl in 1967, with the 2004 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX) being the last team to accomplish the feat.
- Seven teams enter the 2018 season with a new head coach – STEVE WILKS in Arizona, MATT NAGY in Chicago, MATT PATRICIA in Detroit, FRANK REICH in Indianapolis, PAT SHURMUR with the New York Giants, JON GRUDEN in Oakland and MIKE VRABEL in Tennessee.
- Five quarterbacks – Oklahoma’s BAKER MAYFIELD (No. 1 overall, Cleveland), USC’s SAM DARNOLD (No. 3, New York Jets), Wyoming’s JOSH ALLEN (No. 7, Buffalo), UCLA’s JOSH ROSEN (No. 10, Arizona) and Louisville’s LAMAR JACKSON (No. 32, Baltimore) – were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, marking the third time that at least five quarterbacks have been selected in the Draft’s opening round since the inception of the common draft in 1967. At least one rookie quarterback has started Week 1 in 10 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1950.
- Several notable players were on the move during the offseason, including quarterbacks KIRK COUSINS (Minnesota), ALEX SMITH (Washington) and TYROD TAYLOR (Cleveland); wide receivers JARVIS LANDRY (Cleveland), JORDY NELSON (Oakland), MICHAEL CRABTREE (Baltimore) and BRANDIN COOKS (Los Angeles Rams); tight end JIMMY GRAHAM (Green Bay); tackle NATE SOLDER (New York Giants); defensive end ROBERT QUINN (Miami); defensive tackles DONTARI POE (Carolina), SHELDON RICHARDSON (Minnesota) and NDAMUKONG SUH (Los Angeles Rams); cornerbacks MALCOLM BUTLER (Tennessee), MARCUS PETERS (Los Angeles Rams), RICHARD SHERMAN (San Francisco) and AQIB TALIB (Los Angeles Rams); plus safety TYRANN MATHIEU (Houston).
- In each of the past two seasons, a rookie running back has led the NFL in rushing yards – Dallas’ EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (1,631) in 2016 and Kansas City’s KAREEM HUNT (1,327) in 2017. Three running backs – SAQUON BARKLEY (No. 2 overall, New York Giants), RASHAAD PENNY (No. 27, Seattle) and SONY MICHEL (No. 31, New England) – were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The NFL’s schedule of London Games for 2018 features three games at Wembley Stadium, including three teams playing a regular-season game in London for the first time.
“We continue to be very excited by the growth of the NFL in the UK,” said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL.
“The fans have demonstrated outstanding support and passion for the NFL over the past 11 seasons and we look forward to some great games in London this year.”
The 2018 London Series kicks off in Week 6 on Sunday, 14 October, as the Oakland Raiders host the Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders, the home team in London for a second time, welcome the Seahawks to Wembley for their first game in London.
This game will mark the third straight season and the fourth time in five years that the Raiders have hosted a regular season game internationally, having played games at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca in each of the last two seasons, as well as making the team’s debut in London against the Miami Dolphins in 2014.
“The Seahawks are excited to be playing in London on 14 October against the Raiders,” said Seahawks Owner PAUL ALLEN.
“We have a strong international following and are eager to celebrate the passion of the 12s in a city known for its enthusiastic support for sports.”
Over the following two weeks, two additional teams will make their London debuts as visiting teams. The Tennessee Titans will be hosted by the Los Angeles Chargers on 21 October.
“We are excited as a franchise to be playing in London,” said Titans controlling owner AMY ADAMS STRUNK. “There is a great relationship developing between Nashville and London with music being the common thread. We are looking forward to showcasing our team to the NFL fans in London and throughout Europe.”
“Since we last visited London in 2008, the NFL’s popularity has continued to grow in the UK,” said Chargers president of business operations A.G. SPANOS. “It was an honour to be part of the early wave of regular season games played abroad back then, and it is every bit the honour to represent the league in London this time around. We’re excited to introduce the Los Angeles Chargers brand, in person, to football fans in the UK this year.”
The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles will face the Jacksonville Jaguars in a matchup of 2017 playoff teams on 28 October 28. The Jaguars are playing a home game in London for the sixth straight season.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” said Eagles owner JEFFREY LURIE. “It’s the first time we’ve really had a chance to go over there and it’s nice to go over as Super Bowl champs. It’s going to be a big game. We’re playing an outstanding football team in the Jaguars. But I’m very much looking forward to it.”
“I think London has a chance to be a franchise someday in the NFL.” – Jefferey Lurie.
“It’s hard to believe we’re about to play our sixth regular-season game in London,” said Jaguars owner SHAD KHAN, “but not hard to believe at all the positive impact our annual game continues to make, year after year, for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the growth of American football throughout the United Kingdom. The Jaguars and the NFL overall are building something special and, as important, something that is lasting. This season we welcome the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to face us at Wembley Stadium, our home away from home. It doesn’t get much bigger or better for the thousands of Jaguars fans throughout Europe who’ve grown to love and support our team since our first visit in 2013. The Eagles vs. Jaguars would be a highly anticipated game anywhere this season, but playing it at Wembley in the capital of the UK is going to be epic.”
By the end of the 2018 season, the NFL will have played 24 regular-season games in London, with 29 of 32 teams having participated. The NFL kicked off its series of regular-season games in London in 2007, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on their way to winning the Super Bowl. The home of English football has now hosted 18 NFL games, with almost 1.5 million fans attending those games.
“The NFL holds huge value and importance to Wembley Stadium. We are proud to have hosted games under the arch for the past decade and to have played a key role in the growth of the sport,” said MARTIN GLENN, chief executive of the Football Association. “NFL games bring people to the stadium from all over the world, provide a boost to the local economy, and are among the highlights of the Wembley events calendar. Working closely together, we have been able to share knowledge and expertise with the NFL, and continue to learn a great deal from their events and the activation of their games. We are very excited to be welcoming some outstanding playoff teams to the stadium in 2018 and hope our strong partnership will continue for years to come.”
In previous years, many complained about the NFL rules, in particular about what was a catch. Well the NFL agreed that ‘Dez caught it’ when they announced in the off-season that they were changing that controversial catch rule and replacing it with anoher one.
This time we have another rule that people are saying will ruin the NFL, however its needed and as usual teams will adjust. The new rule makes it illegal to initiate contact with the helmet. It’s ironic really that it’s the 75th anniversary of the NFL introducing mandatory wearing of the helmets. In the preseason there have been lots of these penalties called, however things will settle down as teams adjust and the officiating department review their library of plays.
For more background on the new rules, see my rules article from the offseason.
The other piece of controversy still haunting the NFL is the continuing focus attatched to the situation with Colin Kaepernick and the protests about social injustice. Despite him not playing in the NFL for the past two seasons, what he started is still a thorn in the NFL’s side. This situation has recently been made worse when Nike selected Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30th anniversary campaign.
How to watch
Despite initial probems with the NFL’s premium product last season, Game Pass is still the best and most comprehensive way to watch the NFL.
Other than Game Pass, Sky will be providing their usual coverage of games on a Sunday night as well as the key games during the week. Like last year, Sky’s Sunday night 6pm and 9pm games will be blacked out on Game Pass until 24 hours after their finish time. Just to be clear, this won’t apply to any other games shown on Sky, including the postseason.
The BBC will reunite Mark Chapman, Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora for the weekly ‘NFL Show’ on Saturday nights. Their informed yet funny presentation is an ideal introduction to the NFL.