And with that, the 2017 NFL regular season, the one we all waited so painstakingly for six months between the Falcons shitting the bed and the season opener. From Kareem ‘the Dream’ Hunt’s absurd 246-yard, three-touchdown introduction to the NFL in the season opener to Andy Dalton’s ascension into Buffalo sports immortality amid a final day that featured not one, not two, but three kicks returned to the house, the regular season came to a close. We’re now in a new season—the postseason—and a new year, so let’s take a look at a few of the top stories from this season.
Chris Long is a Beauty — In an utterly unprecedented and selfless move, Eagles defensive end Chris Long decided to donate his first six game checks to support educational equality in Charlottesville after the riots. Awesome, right? He followed that up by donating his next 10 game checks (that’s all 16, in case you weren’t counting) to several other organizations around the US with similar equal opportunity education mandates. So this guy essentially dedicated his whole season, all five sacks and four forced fumbles, to an issue he’s passionate about. If donating your entire salary (which was about $1 million) to educational equality doesn’t make you an absolute fuckin’ beauty then I don’t know what does. I hope he isn’t the last pro athlete to donate more than a few game checks to causes like these.
Antonio Brown… the GOAT? — Not yet, and maybe not ever, but there’s no debating Antonio Brown is having an unprecedented run. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2013, Brown has caught 100 passes every season. Over the past four years, Brown has averaged 118 receptions, 1,587 yards and 11 touchdowns a year, a four-year stretch unmatched by any receiver in history. Not Jerry Rice, not Randy Moss, not Terrell Owens. And this all considering the fact he didn’t even play in the Steelers’s final three games of the season. Since 2013, Brown leads the NFL in receptions (582), targets (858), yards (7848) and touchdowns (52). If that’s not the pinnacle of football dominance I don’t know what is. Because of Brown’s late ascendance to stardom (he didn’t join the starting lineup until his age 25 season) it’s doubtful he ever touches Rice’s all-time records. But when you look at Brown’s numbers in his prime, stack em up against his contemporaries and the best receivers in history, I think it’s safe to say we’re in the presence of the most dominant receiver ever. Oh yeah, and he still won the receiving crown this season despite not playing in his final three games.
Andy Dalton: The Hero Buffalo Deserved — I think the best story in football, maybe even in sports, this year is the Andy Dalton-Bills love-fest that’s been going on for the past week. When Bengals QB Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown on 4th and 12 with 44 seconds left, it not only won the Bengals the game 31-27 and sent the hated Ravens home without a playoff spot, it pushed the Buffalo Bills (who’d won 22-16 over the Dolphins earlier that day) into the playoffs for the first time since January 8th, 2000. It was the longest active playoff drought in North American sports. The last time the Bills had made the playoffs Britney Spears was still a promising young pop artist, Bills QB Nate Peterman was 5, Clay Matthews’ uncle was still in the NFL, Mr. Bill was still in the White House, and Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom fucking Menace was still in theatres. These guys haven’t been to the show since Darth Maul sliced up Liam Neeson. A lot has happened since then, but Liam Neeson sure as hell never allowed himself to be killed onscreen again.
Perhaps the best part of the end of the Bills’ drought is their fans’ reaction. The Bills fans have been the most endearingly savage fanbase in football and perhaps in North American sports for some time now. I can’t lie, #BillsMafia has become a weekly source of entertainment for me for some time now. Every week there’s a new drunken escapade and of course the week after they make the postseason for the first time in a generation was no different. After the fans that went to see their Bills at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami watched the end of the Bengals game on the TVs in the stadium, they began celebrating like no other fans could.
You know there had to be a band of Bills fans that went to Ralph Wilson Stadium to connect on another of their patented (and drunken) jumping-on-and-sometimes-crushing-a-table escapades. They also flooded Dalton’s foundation with donations—over $315,000 from over 14,000 donors so far, to which Dalton responded by buying four billboards in the Buffalo area to thank #BillsMafia—while other fans have been openly considering inducting the good ol’ Red Rifle into the Bills Ring of Honour. You gotta love these motherfuckers right? Not to mention that with their playoff opponent’s QB Blake Bortles looking a lot more like Blake Bortles lately (five picks in his last two games) the Bills could also be in for their first playoff win since 1995, the year yours truly touched down. It’ll be mighty difficult without a healthy Shady McCoy and against a very, very good Jaguars defence, but I think Buffalo can count on at least one defensive touchdown courtesy of Blakey. (Prediction: Bills 17 Jags 16).
To. The. House. — It’s been a while since the kickoff was returned more often than not. What with the increased boot strength of kickoff-ers and the 25-yard line start awarded for touchbacks, it does make sense. But in Week 17 the kick return was back with a vengeance: we got treated to three fucking kickoffs returned to the house. I don’t know about you but I really can’t remember the last time we had three in one week. Maybe back in the heydays of the Human Joystick and Devin Hester. Ahh, those were the days. There was Tyler Lockett‘s 99-yarder (above), which was exciting and all but unfortunately didn’t contribute to a Seahawks playoff berth. Wah.
There was rookie third-rounder Alvin Kamara‘s 106-yarder, which came in a Saints loss to the Bucs (really Drew?) that forced New Orleans to play on Wild Card Weekend against a tough Panthers team (I still think Drew Brees will lead them to victory though. Prediction: Saints 31 Panthers 27). Kamara has been ridiculously good this season, and the longest play in the NFL this season was just icing on the cake, baby. This guy was somehow a third round pick and put up 1,554 yards from scrimmage with 13 goddamn touchdowns. I strongly suggest you follow that link and watch the wild shit this man did in 2017. This guy was a mufuckin’ monster this season, and don’t expect the Panthers to stop him in the Wild Card matchup either. Just watch the kickoff return again, this dude was about to take a knee in the end zone before he somehow spotted some gap and just glided right into it and down the sideline. Big shout out to that linesman for keeping up with the kid too. That boy fast.
i never get tired of watching this kickoff return by Juju Smith-Schuster. pic.twitter.com/nQ3n9WdfPz
— Billy Hartford (@Billy2BG) January 4, 2018
Kamara is almost sure to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his performance this season, but perhaps his best competition also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Week 17—and he actually broke a few tackles in doing so. Pittsburgh rookie wideout Juju Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in the league (he was born in 1996, so he was just three last time the Bills made the playoffs, they grow up so fast don’t they?) but he’s already one of the most notable players thanks to his penchant for big plays (two 90+-yard plays this season), his propensity for big hits (hello Vontaze Burfict, how ya feelin’ buddy) and his proclivity for hilarious and creative touchdown celebrations. He had the longest play from scrimmage this season (a 97-yard touchdown against the Lions) and probably five of the top ten touchdown celebrations to boot. On the season the kid caught 58 balls for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, including six grabs of 40+ yards, good for fourth in the entire league. Not quite Kamara numbers, but pretty fucking impressive for a guy that’s actually younger than me. Yikes.