The 2021 season was as wide-open as any we’ve seen in recent years. It culminated in a postseason that saw the top three seeds in each conference fail to make it to the Super Bowl.
For the first time at least since the merger, the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seed from both the AFC and NFC didn’t advance to the Super Bowl. Instead, it will be the fourth-seeded Rams and the fourth-seeded Bengals in two weeks at SoFi Stadium.
It’s the kind of outcome the NFL loves. With half of the 14 playoff teams from 2021 not making it last year and a pair of four seeds blowing up the playoff tree, it feeds into the any-year-can-be-our-year vibe. Which creates plausible hope for every team that next year can be the year.
Sure, for some teams the hope may be closer to implausible than plausible. Still, there’s reason to believe, for all 32 fan bases, that what happened for the Rams and Bengals is a year, maybe two, from coming to fruition for them, too.
Both teams did it as differently as they could. The Rams continue to swap draft picks for proven players. The Bengals, in contrast, have turned a pair of top-five picks into generational talents around which they have built — and will continue to build.
Regardless, it’s always better for the NFL when the unexpected happens. Because it shows that the unexpected can happen. And with everyone back to 0-0 in 14 days, it creates anticipation and fascination that, no matter how this year went, something unexpected will happen in 2022.