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4 lessons the 2018 NFL season taught us, including the secret formula for winning a Super Bowl

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz looks back at the season that was and what we can learn heading into 2019.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been over a week now since the 2018 NFL season came to a close with the New England Patriots defeating the Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl 53. After a week to soak in the Super Bowl, decompress from football (we all needed it), and watch the AAF this weekend, it’s time to put a bow on the 2018 season.

Here are my biggest takeaways from this wild season.

The formula for a Super Bowl victory is clear.

I know it can be tempting after that Super Bowl to say “defense wins championships,” BUT you’re not getting to the dance without an elite offense.

Looking at Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings for team offense and defense, we can see a clear pattern for deep success into the postseason. In the last five seasons, there have been 20 teams playing on Conference Championship Weekend. Only three of those teams had an offensive DVOA that ranked below No. 8: the 2017 Jaguars (16), the 2015 Broncos with a dead-arm Peyton Manning (25), and the 2014 Colts with a young Andrew Luck (17).

On the flip side, 13 of those teams had defensive DVOAs over 10. In 2014 and 2015, the teams with the better defense won their championship games. Since then, only one team, this year’s Patriots, won their conference as the better defensive team.

With all being said, the better defensive team won the Super Bowl in the last four seasons. It took a Malcolm Butler interception to avoid making that five for five. So what’s the lesson? It’s balance.

Well, it’s as much balance as you can find shading toward your offense. Building your defense is no different than it’s always been. It’s about pass rushers and defensive backs. We’ve seen it’s more important to have a variety of pass rushers, like the Patriots this season or the Eagles last, rather than just one excellent pass rusher like an Aaron Donald. I know that’s easier said than done, but that’s how it’s done to win the big game.

The social media freakout over results from September and early October needs to stop.

For players, the NFL is a week-to-week league. For the people that cover the NFL, it’s a month-to-month league. Trends develop over a few weeks, continue for a few weeks, and then things change. Yes, there are new plays to discuss each week, but trends don’t change that quickly.

So whenever offenses start fast during the early weeks, as they tend to do, people lose their minds on Twitter.

“What happened to defense?”
“Why can’t anyone tackle?”
“I hate watching so much scoring.”

It’s boring and tired. Each season the same people do this, and then lo and behold, defense starts to matter more as the weather turns, offenses get beat up, and defenses have time to adjust to new concepts. So please, stop doing this. Just enjoy the offense, then marvel at the defenses in December.

The future is BRIGHT for the NFL.

There was a feeling about three years ago that once the old guard of NFL quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, etc — retired, there wouldn’t be enough upper-echelon young quarterbacks to take up the mantle.

Feels like those fears are unfounded now.

Look at the young talent at quarterback in the NFL still under their rookie contract. Of course, you’ve got reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Baker Mayfield. How about the NFC Championship winner Jared Goff or the would-be 2017 MVP in Carson Wentz? There’s also Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Dak Prescott, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and so on.

Then there are the guys who aren’t on rookie deals but aren’t going anywhere. We have Aaron Rodgers for a while still. And Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Matthew Stafford. So our great game has a bright, exciting future.

If teams want to win, quarterbacks need to take less money.

I’m a huge proponent of getting every single dime you can. Most players have one opportunity to cash in on that second contract. So get all the paper you can. However, it might be time to think differently about the quarterback position with relation to salary cap space.

The top six highest-paid quarterbacks in 2018 didn’t make the playoffs. The seventh and eighth (Brees and Wilson) made it, then not again until Brady at 11. Both Brees and Brady took pay cuts to get that low.

Even with the salary cap continuing to rise at a fast clip, it seems like devoting a number over $25 million per season for your quarterback eats into the amount of talent you’re able to acquire. So what do young quarterbacks do moving forward? Prescott, for example, has a decision to make. I’ll highlight some of that in my next article looking forward to 2019.