A changing of the guard is underway in the National Football League (NFL). Through Week 10 of the 2017-18 season, eight teams who missed the playoffs a year ago are on pace to reach this coming postseason. Let that sink in.
This shift of power in the NFL can be attributed in part to the settling in of the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, the first and second overall picks in the 2016 NFL draft. Despite their terrible rookie seasons, with Goff ranked 34 out of 34 and Wentz just slightly better at 27 out of 34 qualified quarterbacks, both signal callers have bounced back remarkably, with Wentz and Goff currently given the best and third-best odds to be named this season’s Most Valuable Player by sports betting firm Bovada, according to bleacherreport.com. While Wentz has led the Eagles to the NFL’s best record (8-1) and a seven-game winning streak through Week 10, Goff’s Rams trail Philadelphia by only one victory. The Rams are averaging a league-high 32.9 points per game compared to the Eagles’ second place mark of 31.4 points. With the subsequent rise of the Rams and Eagles along with their star quarterbacks, Goff and Wentz are ready to carry their teams to the postseason and eventual glory.
Equally as surprising as the Eagles’ rapid ascent is the reinvigoration of the Los Angeles Rams. Last season, the Rams’ offense was ranked dead last in the NFL in total yards per game, yards per play, points per game and third down conversion percentage, and was among the five worst teams in the league in terms of penalties and penalty yards surrendered. To put it mildly, the Rams’ attack resembled a “middle school offense” according to running back Todd Gurley. Gurley greatly underperformed last year following his remarkable 2015 season which culminated in him being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, says NFL.com. Overflowing with frustration as a result of his own failure to produce and his team’s collective struggles, Gurley described the Rams’ 4-12 season, which the team ended on a seven-game losing streak, as “a nightmare,” continuing to assert, “I don’t want to feel that feeling again,” Gurley said in an a NFL.com article.
Gurley has certainly done his part to live up to this statement. Tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns, Gurley has started off the 2017 season with a bang. This factor, combined with new head coach Sean McVay’s ability to inspire confidence in Jared Goff, has the Rams primed for a playoff push. Improving his passer rating 37.9 points from last season’s “abysmal rookie campaign,” Goff has had more time to throw this season thanks to the Rams’ impressive offensive line. Goff, a former University of California quarterback and Rams’ first overall pick of 2016, was sacked only thirteen times through the first nine games of this season, making him fifth in the league in fewest sacks allowed, reports ESPN.com. With the exception of the Los Angeles Chargers, the top-five teams who have allowed the fewest sacks are on pace to make the playoffs. As a result of this extra protection, Goff has been able to complete a league-high nine passes traveling at least 40 yards in the air. The Rams’ newfound ability to be a threat in the passing game has opened up running lanes for Gurley, allowing the offense to fire on all cylinders in the team’s 7-2 start to the season.
After Chip Kelly smashed the Philadelphia Eagles piggy bank with a sledgehammer before his dismissal in 2015, general manager Howie Roseman was left with a “sizable mess to clean up,” according to ESPN staff writer Tim McManus. However, through several trades in which the Eagles ridded themselves of Kelly’s remains in linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerback Byron Maxwell, and running back DeMarco Murray in 2016, the team was able to turn a collection of ill-fitting pieces into draft picks and eventually a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz. With Wentz, ranked first in the league in touchdown passes (23) and third in quarterback rating (104.1) through Week 10, on the team, the Eagles finally have the natural leader they have been looking for ever since Donovan McNabb left the team in 2009. By hiring head coach Doug Pederson to groom Wentz, the Eagles are now playing under a genuine coach who “is not in any way shape or form phony,” according to 973espn.com. In line with his admittance that Wentz is “not only…developing into a special player, he is a special being,” Pederson has instilled faith and confidence in his players, which has led to the unexpected success of the team this season.
The signing of free agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, along with running back LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns last season, Roseman miraculously turned a bunch of grapes into a bottle of fine wine, making a “quick repair [that] sped the Eagles into the future… [and] transformed the Eagles, now 8-1, into serious contenders in just two years,” according to ESPN.com. Ranked second in the National Football League in point differential, total touchdowns scored and second in time of possession (a welcome change from Chip Kelly’s idealistically up-tempo offense), the Eagles have shown their quality through Week 10 of the 2017 season. Following a largely disappointing 7-9 season a year ago, the Eagles are back and better than ever as a result of their quarterback playing to his utmost potential, their effective second-year head coach, and several additions to their offensive unit.
Jared Goff’s and Carson Wentz’s strong play through the first half of the 2017 NFL season has put the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles among the favorites to take home the George Halas Trophy and go on to win Super Bowl 52. If both teams remain on their current trajectories, their Week 14 matchup in Los Angeles will be a hard-fought battle with playoff home-field advantage implications on the line. However, despite the enormous potential both quarterbacks have exhibited to this point, odds are against Goff and Wentz continuing on their current paths of exponential improvement. The question remains: Which quarterback will be celebrating with their team on a championship float this coming February? Given the volatile beast that is the NFL’s ever-changing playoff landscape, your guess is as good as mine.