There will be plenty of time to sit at the bar, alongside fans of the 31 other NFL teams who aren’t crowned Super Bowl champion, wondering “WHAT-IF?” The fact is that it usually ends this way, feeling left with utter disappointment. But instead of eulogizing the Patriots rollercoaster ride of a season, we’re going to stay positive and look to the future.
Let’s play a game of Three & Out (FOOTBALL PUN!) and point to three things – ranked from “I guess that makes me feel better” to “WHEN DOES MINI-CAMP START UP?!” – that will make football season better than ever next year.
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1. Johnny Football & the 2014 NFL Draft
It’s too soon to start breaking down whether to draft positions of need versus picking the best player available, but in terms of the NFL Draft, we need to talk about someone who will likely have little to do with the Patriots. We need to talk about Johnny Manziel.
To some, the former Heisman Trophy winner is a hot, hot mess, but really fun to watch play football. To others, Johnny Football is really fun to watch play football, but also unfairly scrutinized for being a college kid who does harmless college kid stuff that’s documented by the TMZ-Gotcha!-Sports-Blogosphere world which athletes have to deal with in 2014.
Whichever camp you believe in doesn’t particularly matter. What’s important to know is that he comes to the NFL with Tebowian levels of polarization. And that level of divide is a perfect match for his career outlook. I fully expect Johnny Football to either flame out or be wildly successful. There’s no middle ground here, and frankly speaking, both outcomes will result in a win for fans. The only loser here is the first head coach he gets fired, and Roger Goodell.
2. The Return of Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan is coming back as head coach of the hapless Jets. His return is awesome for everyone involved, especially fans. Think about it: Rex gives fans another larger-than-life figure to observe and think to themselves “SPORTS ARE AWESOME AND CRAZY AND I LOVE IT.”
Seriously, who doesn’t enjoy The Rex Ryan Experience? He is your buddy from college who’s really fun to hang out with, but sort of a wild card. He fills his role nicely, but you certainly wouldn’t want him dating your sister or, in this case, coaching your favorite football team. To one group of friends, Rex totally exists as that guy. And that he has a head set, and holds insane press conferences, and we all get to watch. It’s nothing short of incredible.
Many expected Rex to meet his demise before the end of the 2013 season, but he managed to navigate tumultuous waters and pilot New York to an admirable record of 8-8. Thank God. Detractors point to his calculated demeanor that resembles a character created in the mind of Vince McMahon, but the end game here is that Rex makes football more fun.
3. The Patriots Will Be Among the Super Bowl Favorites
More than 20 percent of NFL teams will begin next season with a new head coach. Who knows how their new regimes will fare. Our guy? Yeah, he just finished arguably the greatest coaching job in his Hall of Fame career.
Bill Belichick was forced to coach up a defense that lost nearly half its starters throughout the season. The offense also dealt with the injury bug and successfully changed philosophies on-the-fly. Excuses weren’t made; instead, players stepped up. In the end, tact, grit, and mettle wasn’t enough, but that’s hardly an indictment of this team’s potential going forward.
Football is weird and arbitrary. When you really think about it, the Patriots are a few plays – bounces, really – away from five Super Bowl titles, and a few plays away from having none. Great expectations come from the idea that something is great, and in a league that values structure and stability, New England is in prime position to make another deep postseason run next season.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__