Mike Preston: With fall of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, new stars are leading unpredictable NFL


The quality of play in the NFL has dropped off but, thankfully, it isn’t totally boring.

With marquee quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — and their respective teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers — slumping, the league is having a slow makeover.

Even the genius of eventual Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick was questioned at the beginning of the season when his New England Patriots lost three of their first four, but he has quickly re-established himself as the best in any era with the Patriots winning five of their past six.

Super teams in the NFL? There are none.

The Philadelphia Eagles have the best record at 9-1, but they’ve allowed an average of nearly 120 rushing yards per game, which is why they recently signed 35-year-old defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Kansas City is 8-2, but six of their wins have been by four points or fewer. That’s great, but the Chiefs aren’t unbeatable, and they’re certainly not super.

Their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, might be. Some people hate greatness, but I like watching it work. I loved watching Larry Bird shoot 3-pointers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook for the “Showtime” Lakers. Few quarterbacks could master a two-minute drill like legendary quarterbacks Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana.

Mahomes is in that mold. The way he breaks ankles with his cuts and throws darts through small windows is amazing. Unless he gets hurt or the Chiefs stumble, he appears to be a runaway for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

No one is mentioning Brady or Rodgers anymore, which is sad in a sense but also refreshing. Before this season is over, Brady will do something remarkable again. It’s in his genes, and he is a fascinating study to even be playing at age 45.

Rodgers looks lost. With Brady, you could tell something was wrong. Rodgers has that nomad look on his face, a person in search of his next mission in life.

Their departures from the spotlight have pushed other quarterbacks into it, such as Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa even Geno Smith, who has resurrected his career in Seattle. They now join other young stars like the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and Buffalo’s Josh Allen.

Miami was expected to be better this season but not be in first place in the AFC East. The Eagles were in a similar situation, but Hurts’ play has taken them to a new level.

The entire NFC East has been born again. This division was expected by many to be the worst in the NFL after last season, but so far every team in the division has a winning record.

It’s been an unpredictable season, but even that can’t fix Jacksonville (3-7), Houston (1-8) or Cleveland (3-7), perennial losers that implode every year.

Even with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retiring at the end of last season, I believed the Steelers would finish at or a game above .500 because coach Mike Tomlin is such an intense competitor.

After the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl last year, I thought both had enough to make another serious title run or at least challenge for their division titles. Those teams are trending in opposite directions, with the Rams at 3-7 and the Bengals showing signs of life in recent weeks at 6-4.

Who saw this coming in Denver? I assumed trading for Russell Wilson would make the Broncos a playoff contender. Instead, he has performed poorly and is taking the rest of the offense down with him.

Who saw this coming in New York and Minnesota? The Jets are 6-4 and the Vikings are 8-2. Go figure.

Few teams in either the college or professional ranks fire their head coaches during the season, but the Panthers fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start, and the Colts got rid of Frank Reich on Nov. 7 after starting 3-5-1 and replaced him with former center and ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday, who had no previous NFL coaching experience.

All that, and this season is just barely past the halfway mark. When you sit back and put it all into perspective, Baltimore fans should feel good about the Ravens.

They aren’t always entertaining but at least they are consistent where it matters — winning, or at least staying in contention, and having a stable front office.

It could be worse. They could be the Browns or the Colts.

It’s a good thing they’re not anymore.



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