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NFL Week 18: Headlines and Matchup Notes

Cam looks at the biggest stories for the last week of the NFL regular season.

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots argues with the referee during the 2nd quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field At Mile High on December 24, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The final week of the NFL season is upon us, and every year seems to fly by quicker and quicker. There are still so many playoff spots to be had, that it is shaping up to be a very pivotal week for much of the league.

But this week I’m focusing on a completely meaningless game. There are so many things to love about the NFL: the power, speed, and overall skill of the players, the intensity of the fanbases throughout the country, the betting angle…etc. 

And there is another reason: the unknown. When you go to the game or watch it from the comfort of your home, when the game starts you have no idea what will transpire over the next three hours. Will you see a fantastic hit, a horrific injury, a remarkable reception, or a last second miracle comeback? It is the unknown that keeps us coming back.

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Let’s face it, sports is just another form of entertainment to take us all away from the monotony of everyday life. We could spend our time at a movie, and it’s true we don’t know how it will turn out…but we have a pretty good idea. If it’s a horror movie they’ll be plenty of blood, and in the end the killer won’t be caught, to set up a sequel. In a rom-com, the guy will get the girl, and in just about every movie, the bad guy gets his in the end.

Sports is far more unpredictable and that’s why we love it. 

The only game that matters this week in many ways is the New York Jets game vs. the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The reason: this is very well, odds on favorite to be Bill Belichick’s final game as the Patriots HC. 

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He’s been an institution for nearly a quarter of a century in New England, more than that if you include his days there with Bill Parcells. For all of his success, the ending is bittersweet. We want our heroes and legends to go out on a high, hoisting a championship trophy. His counterpart through all the success, Tom Brady, had his chance to go out on top too, but he couldn’t walk away. In Belichick’s case, this won’t be his choice to make.

Owner Robert Kraft has most likely seen enough. As owner of the team he cannot in good conscience keep Belichick on his sideline next season. In the four seasons without Brady, the Pats have only made the playoffs once and have been below .500 three times, finishing this year with a cataclysmic 4-13 or 5-12 season. Kraft can’t sell that to his season ticket holders, or his sponsors and advertisers.

That is not to say Belichick still has some support in New England, he does. But if it was unthinkable that it would ever get to this point two, three or four years ago, the percentages of people who want Belichick gone have risen each year, and even each week. It is about 80%-20% who want him gone if Boston Sports radio is any indication.

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As far as local Boston coaches go, Belichick is right up there with Red Auerbach in success and legacy. Where Red had the huge advantage as the team’s GM/president. His moves were invariably impeccable for decades which kept the Celtics at the top of the league for decades. And he did it with more than just Bill Russell. He was able to maneuver through eras and the game never seemed to pass him by. 

The same can’t be said for Belichick. It seems to happen to all aging football coaches…it happened to Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and even the great Don Shula (Belichick is chasing for the wins title). This is a new generation of player who needs his emotions considered more than ever. It is now a passing game where defense is minimized. The emphasis is on the QB, where Belichick has always seemingly had a disdain for the position.

It has been reported that Belichick is still under contract through next season, to the tune of $25M…and it isn’t in Kraft’s nature to simply burn $25M. The figure is actually much more than that, because he’ll have to replace him with someone and pay him too…along with a new staff of coaches. And say what you want about the recent performance on the field, Belichick is still a draw, and could still be preferred in the short term by the advertisers compared to some other coach, unless that coach had at least similar cache coming in…(Jim Harbaugh perhaps, with a National Championship around his neck after Monday). 

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And, the Patriots are in a position to snag one of the top QBs in this year’s draft, which will also be an exciting development, and could lessen the sting of parting ways with Belichick. But this article isn’t about analyzing who may or may not replace him. And it isn’t about who they should take with their top five pick. 

This is strictly about one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. And if Kraft does have the stomach to pull the trigger on his head coach. He owes a tremendous amount of appreciation for Belichick in helping to build the dynasty. Kraft also owes Belichick some thanks for being partially responsible for adding some zeros to his bank account. If it weren’t for Belichick, (and Brady to a larger measure), this franchise certainly wouldn’t have won six Super Bowls. They wouldn’t have Gillette Stadium, probably still playing in the tin can they used to play in. The team may not even still be in New England, (Kraft had already threatened to move them to St. Louis long before all the success). And Kraft himself may not still be the owner if it weren’t for all the success.

The bottom line is, it is the end of an era. It is historic. Anytime there is a change of this magnitude, it brings a sense of melancholy because very few enjoy change. The two are set to speak on Monday, and realistically at some point in the day, it will be announced that the guillotine has fallen. 

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Make no mistake about it, even with the $25M he’s set to get, and even with all the success, getting fired stinks. And walking into that office will surely be uncomfortable and a walk Belichick probably never thought he’d have to make. Although Kraft has said it in the past when Brady was still on the team, and I’m paraphrasing…I own the team, they are just renters here. I’m going to be here long after they are both gone. 

It appears that on Monday, they will both be gone.

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