By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
As of EBS press time on Feb. 3, the NFL was gearing up to crown its Super Bowl champion on Feb. 7 when the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers square off.
This season was one of surprises and disappointments and, like every year, the NFL gave us multiple storylines that filled us with hope and inspiration, as well as sadness and defeat. We saw what may be the end of the line for NFL legends like Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, as well as the beginning of a new era with the success of rookies like Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.
Teams including the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts suffered injuries that derailed their seasons, while the New England Patriots forged ahead to the playoffs, despite losing key starters on offense.
Here’s a look at some of my favorite storylines of the 2015-2016 NFL season.
The emergence of Cam
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton entered the echelon of elite quarterbacks this year behind 45 regular season touchdowns – 35 passing and 10 rushing – and led an exciting young Carolina team to the Super Bowl. With improved passing and decision-making, Newton developed into a complete quarterback, and is just beginning what should be a long career of MVP-caliber seasons.
The immortal Tom Brady
“Deflategate?” History. Turning 38 years old? No problem. Injuries to key starters on offense? Bring it on. Despite these issues, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led the league in touchdown passes and guided his team to the AFC Championship game. Brady remains one of the best at his position, and fans are privileged to watch him play at such an elite level despite his age. Brady thinks he has up to 10 years left in the league. I’m not going to argue with him.
Wade Phillips: defensive genius
All Wade Phillips does is coach elite defenses. As a head coach, he’s had limited success, but as a defensive coordinator Philips is about as good as it gets. After leading the Houston Texans defense to top 10 rankings in points allowed each year from 2011 to 2013, the Broncos hired Phillips to lead their defense this season. The Broncos improved from 16th to fourth in points allowed this year, and allowed the least amount of yards to opposing offenses. Phillips is a big reason why the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl, and head coach Gary Kubiak is lucky to have him on staff.
There were plenty of other things to love about this season: the emerging young talent in Oakland, Jacksonville, and Washington will all be worth watching in the future; the amazing campaign the Arizona Cardinals had; and the Seattle Seahawks’ late season success added intrigue as well.
While it’s hard to pick out just a handful of my favorite moments from this year, the dominant Denver defense and amazing seasons from Newton and Brady stand out above the rest.
Once the Super Bowl is over, the long layoff until next year begins. But with the flurry of offseason activity that occurs each spring, fans can eagerly follow their favorite teams during free agency and the NFL draft as they put away their tailgate equipment until next fall.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.