What We Learned about the NFL in 2018

 

The 2018 NFL season felt like a watershed moment. Coming into the year, NFL attendance and viewership was trending downward, the quality of games was arguably worse (or at least less exciting) than fans were accustomed to seeing, and the league had found itself weighed down by quagmires like concussion and refereeing issues. Superstar stalwarts like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre had retired, and Tom Brady and Drew Brees seemed as if they’d be following suit, with no foreseeable young, exciting replacements. Yards per game and points per game were each at a ten-year nadir. It was so bad that no one even knew what the rules were for a catch or a touchdown. Then, 2018 happened, and despite a finish that was disappointing for many, America remembered why it likes football so much.

 

Indeed, the NFL fixed many of the problems that hampered previous seasons. As it turned out, Drew Brees and Tom Brady were decidedly distant from retirement, and quarterbacks like Pat Mahomes and Andrew Luck elevated their games to elite levels. After years of quarterback stagnation, 2018 saw a youth movement develop at that position. Mahomes, as well as Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, and Carson Wentz, are all above-average NFL QBs, with serious potential for further improvement.

 

The 2018 season saw a sharp increase in offensive production more broadly, too:

 

Stat Total All-Time Rank
Points/Game 23.3 2nd
Yards/Play 5.6 1st
Pass Completion % 64.9 1st
Passing TDs/Game 1.7 1st
Int/Game 0.8 1st (lowest)
Points/Drive 2 1st
Rushing Attempts/Game 25.9 Last
Rushing Yards/Attempt 4.4 1st

 

Offensive efficiency was at an all-time high, and it will be interesting to see if this was a statistical anomaly or a real trend. Pass completion percentage was the highest it has ever been, and it wasn’t particularly close. In fact, the difference between this past season and the next best season is the same as the difference between 2nd and 8th place. In other words, quarterbacks weren’t just completing passes at a high rate; they blew every other season out of the water. The other really interesting fact above is the rushing stats. Because passing was so efficient in 2018, teams decided to run the ball less often than ever before, and that decision led to the most efficient rushing season of all-time as well. Many thought we saw the future of the NFL on a November Monday night, when the Rams eked by the Chiefs, 54-51, in a game that was decidedly not played in Mexico City. There’s no doubt that Roger Goodell prays to the Football Gods for more games just like that one. It is worth noting that the intense offensive prowess of 2018 obscured a still existent concussion and refereeing problem, the latter of which came to a head in the Conference Championship Week, and will certainly be addressed this offseason.

 

The goal of this 8-part series, which will run every Thursday, is to identify and analyze themes from the spectacular 2018 season that enhanced our understanding of NFL football for the coming years. The series will be, on the surface, by division, just as a tidy way to organize things, but will expand beyond each division’s scope. For example, next week’s AFC North article will focus on how Baltimore and Cleveland were able to win football games with rookie quarterbacks. To tell that entire story, however, the Arizona Cardinals’, Buffalo Bills’, and the New York Jets’ seasons are going to be needed for context. My hope is to at least mention every team in the NFL over the course of this series; even though the AFC North article doesn’t pertain to the Steelers or Bengals, another divisional article likely will. I hope this season review series is a valuable and interesting way of analyzing the 2018 season!

 

Next week: AFC North, It Turns Out Rookie Quarterbacks Can Win Games After All

 

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