“Middle Class” of Football Brings Contention to Play-Offs

BY DYLAN DELANCIE staff writer

Some people believe that the growth of the National Football League’s (NFL) “Middle Class” has detracted from the overall entertainment of the league, but this increase in mediocrity has also led to closer, more exciting games. The 2016-2017 NFL regular season was significantly more competitive than recent seasons, with nineteen teams at or above a 50 percent win ratio compared to only nine teams last year. The even level of competition will increase the excitement of the upcoming playoff games

The Super Bowl is widely considered to be the biggest sporting event in the US. The last Super Bowl, which turned out to be Peyton Manning’s last game and included an amazing Beyonce performance, was the third most watched television broadcast in US television history. One of the most interesting and unusual things about this year’s playoff picture is that neither of the two teams in last year’s Super Bowl made the playoffs this year. This year’s games include matchups new and old, as well as playoff perennials, and up and coming teams.

One of the most intriguing matchups in the Divisional Playoff round is the Packer’s game in Dallas against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys hold a narrow historical playoff advantage, winning four out of the seven. The Cowboys are historically very successful and have had a renaissance this year led by their two rookie superstars.

The Cowboys had a commanding victory in the game between the two earlier this year, winning 30-16. Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards and was less than 200 yards off the record for most ever rushing yards by a rookie. The Cowboys rookie tandem of Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott take on Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who has been unstoppable as of late.

These two factors combined are going to lead to a very exciting game, and despite the Packers recent success, many are predicting the young and fearless Cowboys will win at home. The other National Football Conference (NFC) game this round is between the Falcons and the Seahawks.  Their regular season game was a close affair, with the Seahawks winning 26-24. They have met once before in the playoffs when the Falcons won 30-28 in 2013. Both of these results set up a tight game, but Atlanta’s home field advantage, as well as roster health, gives them a slight advantage.

The American Football Conference (AFC) matchups are less exciting, with the Patriots playing the Texans and the Chiefs playing the Steelers. The Chiefs vs. Steelers game is the more intriguing of the two, even though the Steelers did win 43-14 over the Chiefs early in the season.

Since then, the Chiefs have improved greatly, and Coach Andy Reid is notorious for winning games which he has a bye before. The Patriots and Texans met in the playoffs in 2012, when the Patriots coasted to a 41-28 win. They played very early in the season this year, and the Patriots shut out the Texans easily by a score of 27-0. This came while Tom Brady was still suspended for the Deflategate scandal. His return and the previous matchups dominance is leading everyone to predict an easy win for the Patriots.

The NFL published data this year showing a sharp downturn in their national television ratings. There was a movement in the other direction locally, with the Raiders exceeding expectations this year and getting into the playoffs after years of floundering with a sub .500 record. The Raiders cruised into the playoffs and were in the hunt for the top seed in the AFC. This would have given them home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a bye in the first wildcard round. The emergence of the Raiders as a power in the AFC was a surprise to most, with their last positive record coming in 2002.

This Cinderella story had a bitter ending, with superstar quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr sustaining a broken fibula in the second half of the Raider’s game against the Indianapolis Colts on December 24, their penultimate game of the regular season. By the time they had to travel to Houston to play the Texans in the wildcard round of the playoffs, the inexperienced rookie Connor Cook was starting quarterback. This was a very disappointing end to an amazing season, but was a retrospective step forward for the franchise.Even though the Raiders won’t be progressing in the Playoffs this year, the stage has been set for an amazing finale to the season. I predict that the Falcons and Cowboys will find success in their divisional round games, but that the Cowboys will dominate the NFC Championship matchup between them. I also think it likely that the Patriots will find their game against the Texans easy and will have enough to get past the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

The Prescott and Elliott duo have proved their worth in big games already this year, and I think the Super Bowl will be no different. Tom Brady’s Patriots will be outdone by the young fearless Cowboys, and this game will symbolize the passing on of the torch from the perennially dominant Patriots and their old quarterback Brady to the young, fresh Cowboys. No matter the outcome of these games, they will reinforce why football is so  popular in the United States.