The denouement of the 2017 NFL season — a year that sent a series of seismic shocks through the natural order of things — came on Monday morning in Minneapolis, when a former high school coach and a starter-turned-backup-turned-Super Bowl MVP held court to talk about how they had upended Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“It wasn’t necessarily me; it was everyone around me that did an amazing job,” Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said. “The outcome was, we were successful and now we’re world champions.”
Foles, the former Eagles starter who had come back to the team after time with the Rams and Chiefs, returned to the starting lineup when Carson Wentz tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 10. He led a Philadelphia team that secured the No. 1 seed in a NFC field that included five teams that hadn’t made the playoffs the previous year.
And while Brady and the Patriots played in their eighth Super Bowl of the past 16 years, they were at the top of an AFC playoff field that included longtime doormats such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills.
The NFL landscape changed dramatically in 2017, as injuries to star players derailed longtime contenders and young quarterbacks led their teams to the postseason for the first time. As the league officially turns its eyes to the 2018 season, the question going forward is likely not whether there will be more shifts, but when and where they will occur.
There’s nothing saying New England’s 16-year reign has to end, after a 41-33 loss to the Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night, but the Patriots will have to sort out lingering questions about their future after reports of friction between Belichick and Brady. The 40-year-old quarterback said Sunday night he expects to be back in 2018, but then added, “We’ll see. It’s 15 minutes after the game ended. Have to process this a little bit. Don’t see why I wouldn’t be back.”
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who returned from a concussion to play in the Super Bowl, left open the possibility he could retire at age 29, saying Sunday night, “I am definitely going to look at my future, for sure.” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was officially named Detroit Lions coach Monday, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is expected to become the Indianapolis Colts’ next coach.
In the NFC, 11 of the conference’s 16 teams will begin the 2018 season having made the playoffs in one of the previous two years. For teams such as the New York Giants, who have the second pick in the draft under new coach Pat Shurmur, there’s hope of a quick turnaround. For others such as the Green Bay Packers — whom the betting website Bovada named co-favorites with the Eagles to win the 2018 NFC title in its opening odds on Monday — there’s a belief that things can get back to normal once Aaron Rodgers returns from the broken collarbone that kept him out for nine games this season.
Where do the Vikings fit in all of this, after winning 13 games for only the second time in franchise history and advancing to the NFC Championship Game? Team President Mark Wilf and General Manager Rick Spielman spoke confidently about the Vikings’ prospects for 2018 during Super Bowl week, and as the Vikings defense returns virtually intact, there’s every reason to think the team will be strong again, especially with running back Dalvin Cook returning from a torn ACL.
But the Vikings have some big decisions in front of them — first with the offensive coordinator hire they could make this week, and then with the state of their quarterback situation. Case Keenum and Sam Bradford are set to become free agents; Teddy Bridgewater could be, if his 2017 contract does not toll in 2018. Will one of those three QBs be the Vikings’ starter next year, or will the team make a run at a player like Washington’s Kirk Cousins?
At least from where things stand now, the Vikings face a tougher schedule in 2018, with road games against the Eagles, Patriots, Rams and Seahawks, as well as home games against 2017 playoff teams like the Saints and Bills, in addition to their traditional slate of division games.
“I know we have a very good nucleus on this football team,” Spielman said on Feb. 1. “I know how we are set up cap wise, I know the pending free agents we have coming down the road, we want to keep this team together as long as we have because we’re in an opportunistic window now.”
They are among a large group of NFC teams who likely feel that way. And if the sight of Foles at a MVP podium on Monday — or, for that matter, the sights of Rodgers, Odell Beckham, J.J. Watt or Richard Sherman lying on a field — drives home any kind of message, it’s that things won’t stay static in the NFL.