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2017 NFL Regular Season Rundown

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Although baseball claims the title “America’s pastime”, it has been statistically proven that football is actually the most-viewed sport in the United States. The NFL has become as much of a part of Sundays as going to church. Millions of fans tune in every week to watch their favorite teams battle it out on the gridiron. Its storylines, stellar displays of athleticism and overall sense of community among fans intrigue fans every year. The 2017 season has been no exception.

Through 11 weeks, there have been numerous controversies, injuries, surprising teams – for better or worse – and big games. Here are a few of the biggest storylines from the regular season thus far.

National Anthem Protests

Back in August of 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a protest for police brutality to African-Americans. After a few preseason games, Kaepernick opted to kneel for the playing of the National Anthem instead. He would continue this movement throughout the remainder of the 2016 NFL season.

Since then, silent protests have spread to different teams around the league. These were amplified during Week 3 of this year, after President Donald Trump criticized players for kneeling for the Anthem and demanded that they be released from their respective teams. As a sign of unity, players around the league knelt, locked arms or even stayed in the locker room for that particular week. Although these have since died down, the protests are still a heavily debated topic.

The Unpredictable NFC

Prior to the beginning of the 2017 regular season, many considered the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Atlanta Falcons to be the favorites to win the National Football Conference, better known as the NFC. However, if the current order in the standings remains until the end of the year, then none of those teams would even make it to the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Eagles, led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz and an impressive pass rush, currently sit atop the conference with a 9-1 record. This comes just one season after having finished in last place in their division, the NFC East. Tied for second place at 8-2 are the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, two teams that many believed would not compete for a playoff spot this year. The Los Angeles Rams lead the NFC West at 7-3, thanks largely in part to their stellar front seven and their balanced offensive attack.

Several teams are still in the wild card hunt. The Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers are projected to take the final two playoff spots at the moment, with the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons not too far behind.
Just a year ago, the Falcons’ high-octane offense led them to a Super Bowl appearance. With offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, though, their offense has not been nearly as good. They have struggled to utilize their weapons, including All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, to the best of their abilities.

The main reason for Green Bay’s lack of success has been injuries to some of their key players. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in October, leaving backup Brett Hundley to take the reigns for the remainder of the year. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is also out for the season with a torn ACL. With two of their best offensive players on the sidelines, the Packers have failed to recreate the magic that they have had over the past few years.

The Cowboys haven’t suffered from any injuries or coaching changes. Instead, they just haven’t played up to par with the league’s best. Quarterback Dak Prescott has failed to repeat off of his success from his rookie season, which has stalled the progress of their offensive development as a whole. Their defense has been lackluster, as well. Now that star running back Ezekiel Elliott is out for most of the season due to a suspension, it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to turn things around.

Key Injuries

The 2017 NFL season has seen plenty of stars go down with injuries. Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, and Ryan Tannehill have all suffered season-ending injuries at some point this season. Other offensive stars like David Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Joe Thomas, Marshal Yanda, and Julian Edelman all fell victim to serious ailments.

Things aren’t much better from a defensive standpoint, either. Big names like J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Eric Berry saw their seasons end prematurely. Despite increased efforts to focus on player safety, it seems like the NFL as a whole has been bit by the injury bug hard this year.

The Youth Movement

Slowly but surely, the NFL is undergoing a youth movement. Legends like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald, and Adrian Peterson are all in the tail end of their respective careers. As these players inch closer to retirement, a new collection of players is stepping up to ensure that the NFL still has marketable faces to build around.

In just this season, rookies Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Marshon Lattimore and, before his injury, Deshaun Watson, have proven that they have potential to be stars for years to come. Even fellow first-year players Mitch Trubisky and Dalvin Cook have shown flashes of stardom.

Last year’s rookies have shown significant improvement, too. Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey have developed into defensive cornerstones, while running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard have had very good seasons, as well. The biggest story, though, is the progression of both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the first two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Many wrote Goff off after a poor rookie season, but he has stepped up in a big way in his second season with the Los Angeles Rams. With new head coach Sean McVay and a handful of new wide receivers to throw to, Goff’s confidence has been sky high. His accuracy and decision making have improved drastically, and his Rams are competing for a playoff spot.

Wentz started the season off as a quarterback who had the physical tools to succeed, but made a handful of mental mistakes in each game. Those mistakes have cut down, as he only has five interceptions through 10 games. For reference, he had nine picks through 10 games last season. Thanks in part to an intelligent coaching staff and improvement from his weapons, Wentz is looking like a true MVP candidate.

As we approach the home stretch of the season, the playoff race will start to heat up. Heroes will be made and legends will be solidified, but only one team will reign supreme. Who will end up taking home the Lombardi Trophy? All we can do is stay tuned and find out.

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2017 NFL Regular Season Rundown