A Look Back on the NFL Season Ahead of Super Bowl LIV

Super Bowl Chiefs 49ers
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Oh, Super Bowl, what will you be this year: historic nail-biter or bomb-filled blowout? Call it a coin toss. We’ve had both in recent years. When the league’s top two teams meet in the big game (at press time, the playoffs were still underway), one thing is for certain. Tom Brady and his New England Patriots — participants in four of the last five Super Bowls and winners (13–3) of last year’s astonishingly boring game — will be watching the action at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami from their recliners.

Whoever takes to the turf for Fox’s broadcast will have survived a season filled with stunning plays on and off the field. Let’s recap.

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Colts Out of Luck

The late-August retirement of Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck sent Indianapolis into a preseason frenzy. And while they started the year 5–2, an injury to new QB Jacoby Brissett sent them swooning to 7–9.

Top Teams Looking Lost

Is it fair to call a Patriots 12–4 division-leading season subpar? Yes, when it starts out 8–0 and features key injuries to complement another videotaping controversy. The team was accused in December of spying on the hapless Cincinnati Bengals the week before their game. More unmatched expectations hit the Dallas Cowboys, whose 8–8 showing kept them from repeating atop the NFC East, this season’s worst division. And the L.A. Rams, losers of Super Bowl LIII, struggled all year.

NFL fight

Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph fights with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Ol’ Brawl Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns are one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL, with 136 meetings going back to 1950. It’s doubtful anyone will forget their November contest. Upset by a late hit, Steelers QB Mason Rudolph tried to pull the helmet off Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who then yanked off Rudolph’s helmet and hit him in the head. Among other disciplinary actions, Garrett was suspended for the rest of the season.

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Passing With Honors

On the plus side, it was a stellar year for a pair of young quarterbacks. Despite battling a knee injury, the unstoppable Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City to a second straight 12–4 record while Baltimore’s otherworldly Lamar Jackson broke the NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB, leading the Ravens to the best record in the game (14–2). Veteran Kirk Cousins made Vikings fans finally imagine what a Vince Lombardi Trophy might feel like. And Russell Wilson (Seattle) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) did what they always do: find ways to keep winning.

Super Bowl LIV, Sunday, February 2, 6:30/5:30c, Fox