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A New NFL Reality: London Jaguars, Playoff-Bound Colts, Super Bowl-Contending Texans and More
Just picture it. A playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts team led by Pro Bowl Quarterback Andrew Luck, battles the perennial Super Bowl contender Texans on Monday Night Football. Jet-lagged from their game on the road at London’s Wembley Stadium -- where they narrowly avoided the upset by FC Jaguars -- there’s extra pressure on them as Jake Locker and the Titans edge closer to the Wild Card spot.
Well this may be more Nostradamus than Miss Cleo in the next few NFL seasons. The NFL is an ever-expanding juggernaut, which means more money, more hype, and many more possibilities.
The Houston Texans are proving that their 10-6 2011 season and playoff run was no fluke. The Boss Hogg Outlaws have beaten up teams all season including a 43-13 “Come here son!” of the then 5-1 AFC powerhouse Ravens. In the last 8 or so years the same old teams seem to sit atop divisions and play more football come January. Houston is asking why they aren’t in the same conversation when they play at the same level, if not a higher one. This year they have matched their high-flying offense with a voracious defense led by J.J. Watt that gobbles up plays before they even happen.
Staying under the radar may be a good thing, but the best advantage the Texans possess over the elite teams in the NFL is their age. With an average age close to 26, the Texans are one of the youngest teams in the league, which will likely lead to them pulling away from the pack in the coming years. Staying dinosaur-free on both sides of the ball, the Texans may prove more durable and faster as we may see NFL dynasties fall at the hands of this young Texans Coup.
Matt Schaub, a nine-year veteran, is one of the eldest players on the team, and even the Quarterback position is reinforced by Tar Heel gunslinger T. J. Yates. The future looks bright for a franchise drawing hyped-up crowds of young Houstonians at Reliant Stadium, as Kubiak will be leading a headstrong crew onto the field for Sundays to come.
The Colts were part of one of the worst rookie-hype fiascos that NFL fans have ever witnessed. The Colts’ ability to lose and stay consistent doing so got to be known as the “Andrew Luck Race” as the team with the worst record would indubitably select Luck with their 1st overall pick. Well here he is; Stanford’s Golden Boy, Andrew Luck here to save Jim Irsay’s frail franchise as they lost their Daddy Peyton Manning to the Broncos who has anchored the Colts’ following ever since the Colts were moved to Indy Two-Men-and-a-Truck style. So Luck is leading a 7-0 team and leading the league in passing yards like people expected…right?
However, Luck has shown some serious veteran poise in two of the three narrow Colt wins over current NFL powerhouses Green Bay and Minnesota. Irsay has made a serious move toward the future, biting the Manning hand that has fed him and Indianapolis for a decade. Uncle Reggie Wayne is looking like his old self putting up a solid year, and his mentoring presence will likely point Donnie Avery, and rookie firecracker T.Y. Hilton to being future Luck targets for years…hopefully at least the four years on his 22.1 million dollar contract. The Colts looked to shake up their old win-then-lose routine on LP Field in Nashville Sunday. It was looking like another step backward until Luck led his offense on two 80-yard touchdown drives (one in the fourth quarter to tie, and one in overtime) against the volatile Titans.
The Titans and their fans are as excitable as old folks when you hand them scratch-off lottery tickets. If big moves are the gambles of the NFL, the Titans are the penny slot machine players of the league. In 2011, they said “Jeff Fischer takes us to the playoffs but doesn’t win it all, it’s time for a big change!” So who would they go with? A young face? A man with an even fuller mustache? Wham! Mike Munchak! Oh wait, he was the offensive line coach for 14 seasons and even played guard for the feeder franchise Houston Oilers. That’s like seeking new opportunities by moving away…2 blocks down the street.
They do however, have a fiery Jake Locker (though out with a bad shoulder) at Quarterback that brings a PAC-10(2) high energy to the helm of the S.S. Nashville. Locker looked at least fun to watch as he took over for an aging Hasselbeck. Who better to bring a team out of mediocrity than Matt Hasselbeck?! Though, it would be nice to have someone always take the coin toss and say “We’ll receive, and we’re going to win!” I will say, the Titans have a knack for barn-burners. The Week 3 overtime win against the Lions is one of the silliest/greatest games I’ve ever seen, they even busted out the old Music City Miracle (the lateral was clearly backward this time).
Chris Johnson may not be rushing for 2,000 yards this year, but he is and will be a threat to go the distance for years. Jason McCourty, of Rutger’s fame, is choppin’ wood in the secondary snagging two picks this year and is just one of a handful of game-changing playmakers for Tennessee. Even if they will forever be “Hmm. Not bad, but not good either,” the ownership has at least made sure the fans at LP Field will have a team that is fun to watch go 7-9 every year.
The Jaguars are 6-17 since the beginning of the season last year. An offense that once had one of the most dominant ground games has fizzled, especially with the loss of Maurice Jones-Drew who only looked like he had his “MoJo” in a strong game against the Colts. Without their Mojo, it’s hard to fill seats and sell jerseys, unless of course you bring Jacksonville their Messiah (no pun intended)…Timmy “Don’t Sleep on My Noodle-Arm” Tebow has been rumored to be catching eyes with suitor franchises that include the Jaguars. These eligible running-quarterback-bachelor teams are asking themselves why a guy that can do nothing but win is on the bench (I’m sure they’d find out once he took the field for them). Regardless, if you put Timmy Ballgame on the field in Jacksonville, you’ll sell out to rabid fans sporting brand new Jaguar Tebow jerseys, and drinking 10 dollar RedBulls. Is this a desperate move to keep the franchise in Jacksonville?
It almost definitely would work if it did materialize. Honestly, the Jags could go 0-16 with Tebow setting the record for safeties and interceptions and they’d sell of season tickets for 2013. Mid-season last year the team was bought by auto part mogul billionaire Shahid Khan. Shahid Khan is the first and only owner of an NFL team to be of an ethnic minority. What better place for Muslim tolerance than Jacksonville Florida?
All sarcasm aside, Khan met with many anti-muslim slurs and bigotry when the city caught word of his purchase. The man, to his credit, took it in stride and even embraced fans sporting fake mustaches much like his own wooly handlebar. Khan may have put stake in the lame horse, or he may be a genius. Either way the team is struggling to sell tickets as the team has fallen off the radar and plays a dated brand of football at the hands of Mularkey and Company. The team is being courted by the Governator in L.A., as he approved recently to build a $1.5 billion stadium in downtown Los Angeles. The City of Angels could easily be the new home of the Jaguars, but one could understand weary owners and investors from believing in a city that although being the 2nd largest sports market in the country, has lost two NFL franchises in the last 15 years.
More interestingly, playing games at Wembley Stadium in London could be the precursor for London to purchase a franchise for the NFL (May have to change to the IFL). Power sports networks like SkySports have some pretty serious NFL Sunday coverage in England. They even have colo(u)r commentators that make the back shoulder fade sound sophisticated. London is a progressive option for Commissioner Goodell and NFL owners to agree to send a franchise to.
Modern ease of travel and advanced sports rehabilitation and equipment has made international away games a seamless option, and more importantly a profitable one. Wembley Stadium has a long, storied history in soccer, yet the 90,000 or so seats have sold out for every NFL event. Who could blame them? The NFL features the GREATEST athletes in the world. You may find a few comparable all-around athletes in say…a decathlon, but you won’t find giants (not just the New York kind) doing the explosive things in the Olympiad on turf known as NFL Sunday. Sports a big business in London, and getting all of the UK behind a London franchise could mean big bucks for the NFL, and the NFL loves big bucks.
You’re bound to see a lot of big changes from your Grandpa’s Baltimore Colts bussing it to Cleveland to face the Browns (the old ones). The NFL has mastered the sports product, and is just going to get bigger, faster, and stronger along with its players. The AFC South is astutely banking on this promising future and is bound to eat up headlines with their big moves. So whether my predictions are more Miss Cleo, or more prophetic, the one thing for sure is that money talks and therefore the NFL will morph. Be sure to embrace the change, and get your popcorn ready.