The most common complaint about the NBA in 2018 is that it lacks competition.
At the end of the day, the Warriors and Cavs will always find themselves playing each other in the NBA Finals, critics lament. Many NBA critics feel that the 82-game regular season and four-round Playoffs are just window dressings when the conclusion is already set in stone.
On the other hand, fans around the country love the NFL for the exact opposite reason. They enjoy the league’s perception of parity, where each team possesses an equal shot at winning a championship, despite its previous season’s record. The four-round, single-elimination Playoff format creates a sense that any team can make a run for first place, much like the New York Giants in 2007 and 2011 (shoutout to my former sports editor Ollie Jung, a die-hard Giants fan).
Yet, as the NFL gets ready for its 52nd Super Bowl on Feb. 4, the Football League faces predictability issues similar to the NBA’s.
Since 2003, only four different quarterbacks have won the AFC Championship: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco (the obvious outlier).
For Brady, 40, this will be his eighth Super Bowl appearance in his 18-year career. He’s had an extended run of greatness that’s been ongoing since my first days of watching sports.
Yes, the NFL’s highly touted parity does exist, but only across half of the league. Compared to the AFC Championship, 13 different quarterbacks have won the NFC Championship since 2003. There are some future Hall of Famers in that group, like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. But there are many more Flacco-esque head scratchers like Colin Kaepernick, Rex Grossman and 2018 winner Nick Foles.
For the most part, superior play by a few quarterbacks in the AFC has translated directly to more wins in the Super Bowl. Since Brady’s first appearance, the AFC is 11-6 in the Super Bowl, with another win likely on the way in two weeks. The AFC’s run is not quite on the level of the NBA Western Conference’s utter domination, but it’s pretty damn close.
The NFL’s AFC problem starts with a lack of depth at the quarterback position. Aside from bouts with Manning and Roethlisberger, Brady simply hasn’t experienced much competition in getting to the Super Bowl. This year, he defeated Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans and Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs — two quarterbacks who ranked in the bottom half of the league for completion percentage. A sixth Super Bowl victory in Minnesota would certainly be impressive, but Brady didn’t exactly go through a difficult road to get there.
Several recent draft classes looked promising in terms of quarterback talent, but players ended up not panning out as expected. 2012 offered Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as can’t-miss prospects. Both of their careers have since been derailed by injuries.
In 2015, two Heisman Trophy winners in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were drafted No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. They were supposed to take over as the new group of elite NFL quarterbacks sooner rather than later, yet in 2017, both showed signs of regression. Their teams (the Buccaneers and Titans) finished with a combined record of 13-19.
NFL teams need to get better at scouting and developing young quarterbacks in order to make the league more interesting, and prevent older “signal callers” from continuously dominating the league.
This year’s quarterback draft class includes several talented prospects including USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma. But only time will tell if any rise up to challenge the Roethlisberger-Brady hierarchy.
In the meantime, a 40-year-old quarterback will attempt to win his sixth Super Bowl, with the narrative feeling all too familiar for a league that prides itself on producing the unexpected.
This week, I wanted to start doing something a little different with my column. From now on, I’ll be concluding with three things I enjoyed in sports this week:
1. Andrew Wiggins’ game against the Clippers on Monday night.
I had the pleasure of attending the Clippers-Timberwolves game at the Staples Center. Both teams were ravaged by injuries. Deandre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverly all sat out for the Clippers while Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford were unable to play for Minnesota. Still, the two Western conference foes turned in an intense, fun and fast paced game. The T-Wolves ultimately eked out a close victory thanks to a spectacular 40-point performance by Andrew Wiggins. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler on the roster, it’s easy to forget about Wiggins. On Monday, he reminded everyone why that’s a very bad idea.
2. USC’s four-game winning streak
I wrote about the Men’s Basketball team’s current winning streak in more detail on Monday, but it’s worth bringing up again. They have a talented enough roster to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and now they’re finally playing up to that potential. USC should be a fun team to watch over the last half of conference play.
3. Jake Olson “throwing dimes”
When the Trojans were in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, video surfaced of the team’s blind long-snapper launching drives at TopGolf. Olson showed off more of his incredible athleticism on Monday, as the USC Athletics Instagram page posted video of him of completing perfect passes on the football field. Olson continues to inspire and amaze (also don’t count him out of the 2018 USC quarterback competition).
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs Wednesdays.