Lawrence: Future Hope

A lot can change in one year – and the NFL is proof of that

Amy Lawrence
January 03, 2019 - 6:30 pm

USA Today Images


What a difference a year can make.

As we bid farewell to 2018, it's the opportunity to hit the reset button, the chance for a fresh start. The next 12 months offer time to improve ourselves and our lives, to take steps forward and progress toward our goals. And in the first week of January, it can be encouraging to look back and see how far we traveled the previous year. Using that same perspective, a few teams in the NFL made huge strides in 2018.
The Cleveland Browns' turnaround began with the hiring of general manager John Dorsey 13 months ago. With one fantastic draft under his belt, the stage was set, and the rookies did not disappoint. From Baker Mayfield's 27 passing touchdowns and 3,725 yards to Nick Chubb's eight touchdowns and 996 rushing yards to Antonio Callaway's five receiving TDs to Denzel Ward's three interceptions and two fumble recoveries to Genard Avery's 4.5 sacks – their impact was undeniable. But even more than the numbers, the energy from these young Browns was palpable and contagious. This time last year, the franchise was wrapping up an historic winless season. In 2018, the Browns were in the hunt for a Wild Card spot until the holidays. Now, instead of serving as the punchline for NFL jokes, Cleveland may be the most attractive head-coaching vacancy in the league.
As we kick off 2019, the Indianapolis Colts are prepping for their first postseason game in four years. After starting out 1-5 and being left for dead, they rattled off nine wins in their final ten games. Andrew Luck survived all 16 weeks with barely a scratch; he was sacked just 18 times! A slam dunk for Comeback Player of the Year, he amassed 4,593 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, second only to Patrick Mahomes. No doubt, that's part of the reason Luck can't stop smiling. He also remembers where he was a year ago, still recovering from multiple setbacks related to his torn labrum and shoulder surgery. He admits there were times he wasn't sure he'd ever fully heal. And while he'll never forget what it was like to watch, wait, and wonder, he's back to slinging the ball all over the field. Like the rest of the locker room, he's thrilled with new head coach Frank Reich, who was still the Eagles' offensive coordinator this time last winter. In fact, Reich wasn't on the Colts' radar; they had yet to be dumped by Josh McDaniels. From the basement of the AFC South to Wild Card weekend – what a difference a year can make.
Making a similar climb from the bottom of the South were the Houston Texans who used more players in 2017 than any other team in the league. Lost to injured reserve were dynamic young quarterback Deshaun Watson, top pass-rushers JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus, and a host of others. General manager Rick Smith took a leave of absence, and the Texans needed to find his replacement. After nearly two decades in five different organizations, Brian Gaine moved in and instantly launched a makeover – from the personnel department and roster to the weight room and cafeteria. Fast forward a year, and Houston is division champion once again, and the franchise is flying high on optimism.
The Chicago Bears are the NFL's other worst-to-first story. January football is back at Soldier Field for the first time in eight years! While we could see the seeds of a great defense sprouting up last season, the unexpected trade for Khalil Mack doused the D with Miracle-Gro. In winning the NFC North, the Bears finished first in the league in a host of categories, from fewest rushing yards and fewest points allowed to lowest opponent passer rating to most defensive touchdowns. For the first time since the retirement of Brian Urlacher, they have an identity again – one of strength, toughness, confidence and determination – shades of the Monsters of the Midway. At the helm of the transformation is head coach Matt Nagy, hired away from the Chiefs in early January 2018. Players describe him as smart, genuine, creative, and demanding. He's raised expectations and energized a dormant fan base in 12 months.
The Ravens didn't make a coaching change, and they weren't last in their division a year ago. In fact, they were above .500 and challenging for a playoff berth until a stunning touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd rewrote their entire story. While some fans may have suffered flashbacks in the season finale against the Browns, Baltimore picked off Baker Mayfield to end the threat and secure its first AFC North crown since 2012. Phew! Just as importantly, John Harbaugh made the tough decision to move on from veteran quarterback Joe Flacco and entrust the offense to rookie Lamar Jackson. Not only did the Ravens win six of seven down the stretch, but the style shift put them in a position of strength. By relying more heavily on the run game, they control the ball and keep the defense fresh and productive deep into the fourth quarter.
The NFL is unique in the way it carves out a level playing field. Teams CAN catapult from worst to first and see a total transformation in the course of 12 months which keeps fans engaged and excited. We never know where we'll find the next "rags to riches" story. And football can be a microcosm for real life. Every January, as we flip the calendar to a new year, it's a chance to pause, look back, and assess how far we've come. Not every year will be notable for its grand successes or great accomplishments, but every year offers endless possibilities and a fresh dose of hope.
Happy New Year! Here's to the best one yet.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.