by Matt Rosenthal ’22
The 2020 NFL Season was one that brought some sense of hope and normalcy to America because of the Covid-19 shutdown in sports this past year. And there were a lot of interesting twists and turns to the season. The Cam Newton experiment was an absolute failure in New England and Bill Belichick looks to rebuild his twenty year empire. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens took a step back from their dominance last year, but rebounded in the second half of the season. The Cleveland Browns ended their 18 year playoff drought. Lasty, The New York Jets blew a beautifully crafted tank for Trevor Lawrence, going 2-14 and losing the first overall pick to the Jaguars. While these stories are fascinating in their own ways, they don’t crack this list of the top five headlines of this season.
5) Russ Overcooked
Seattle fans ponder why Russell Wilson has never received an MVP vote. He always has a strong start to the season then falls apart mid-season and knocks himself out of the MVP debate. Fans created the “Let Russ Cook” campaign to allow Wilson to be himself and dominate competition. Wilson took an early lead in the MVP conversation after three consecutive games with four-plus touchdowns and leading his Seahawks to shootout wins. Wilson was also leading the league with 24 touchdowns headed into Seattle’s Week 6 bye. Shortly after his great start, a three-interception loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 slumped into a stretch all the way to Week 13. Wilson had 12 turnovers, most in the league in those weeks, thus knocking him out of the MVP debate.
4) King Henry Asserts His Dominance
With Panthers star running back Christian McCaffrey out for most of the year with injuries, it was up to Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, or Alvin Kamara to assume the title of “best running back in the league.” Henry and Cook were on pace with each other for the majority of the season, trading both the rushing yards and rushing touchdowns lead seemingly every game. But then Henry exploded and took full control of the rushing total. By week 14, he matched his rushing total from the year prior and Cook was left in the dust. Heading into the final week of the regular season, Henry needed 223 to become the eighth running back in NFL history to eclipse 2,000. Sure enough, Henry finished the game with 250 rushing yards, bringing his season total to 2,027 yards and 17 TDs, leading the league in both categories for the second consecutive year. Henry’s reign of dominance came to an end in the Wild Card round against Baltimore. The feisty Ravens’ defense held him to only 40 yards.
3) Pissed Off Aaron Rodgers
In 2019, The Green Bay Packers were the NFC runner-ups, losing to the 49ers in the conference championship game. It was clear during the game that the Packers were one big offensive piece away from winning a championship. Rather than drafting a weapon for their aging star QB Aaron Rodgers, or defensive help, the team selected his replacement, Utah State’s Jordan Love. This is quite similar to how Rodgers came into the league. A young, California-native quarterback with a lot of potential gets to watch and learn from a hall-of-fame quarterback for his first two or three seasons. However, Rodgers wants help to win with what little time he has left in the league, and his team punted away a potential title for the future.
Rodgers took all this and had his best season since his 2014 MVP season. Rodgers threw touchdown after touchdown, leading the league with 48 passing touchdowns as well as adding 3 rushing to his monumental season. He also led the league in completion percentage and passer rating. Rodgers led his Packers to the number 1 seed in the NFC and look poised for a Super Bowl run. Sadly, Green Bay lost their star left tackle David Bakhtiari to an ACL tear, but the Pack is still an NFC heavyweight. A-Rod is the MVP favorite, ahead of guys like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, proving he still has some magic left in that arm.
2) NFC Least
The 2019 NFC East was one of the worst divisions in NFL history. The 2020 NFC East could be the worst division in professional sports history. The closest comparison to this mess is the 2014 NFC South. Three teams were in the division title race until the very end, and one team was out of it by a mile.
Each team had their moments of flaming garbage and of hope. Washington, Philadelphia, and New York each had big upsets against Super Bowl favorites. Dak Prescott was once on pace for 6,760 passing yards, until he suffered a gruesome ankle injury. Washington’s success came with Alex Smith, but their failure came from former first round pick Dwayne Haskins, the supposed QB of their future. Daniel Jones threw interception after interception, further falling into the moniker “Danny Turnovers.” Lasty, Carson Wentz looks like a shell of his 2017 self. He was the most sacked quarterback this year and was replaced by second round-rookie Jalen Hurts after 12 painful games.
Overall, this division made a modest turnaround after a dismal first half of the season.
1) The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers: A Fall From Glory
The Steelers started off 11-0 and looked like a prime contender, until they weren’t. How did they fall so far from glory and become a laughing stock? It’s simple: cockiness and sloppy play.
Receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool care more about their social media careers than playing football. Smith-Schuster infamously danced on the Bengals’ logo and was slammed to the ground by Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell. After this fiasco, JuJu announced that he would stop dancing on teams’ logos but the damage had already been done.
Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner all of a sudden stopped calling good plays. 5-10 yard slants that are heavily dependent upon receivers due to Ben Roethlisberger’s deteriorating arm killed the offense in the 3-game losing streak. And then the run game has vanished. Pittsburgh is known for having a dominant run game, yet this year they were last in the league in rushing yards. The bad play calls resulted in Roethlisberger calling his own plays in the Week 16 comeback victory against the Colts.
This team finally collapsed in the Wild Card round against the Browns. It was over from the very first play when Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball way over Big Ben’s head that resulted in a Cleveland touchdown. Quickly it became 28-0. Despite a fierce Steelers comeback, they ultimately came up short, losing 48-37.