Every league has its unique ebbs and flows. Even when it comes to North America’s biggest and most popular leagues, there are always periods of uncertainty and evolution. The NBA is currently in an era of stats-first offense, which emphasizes the use of three-pointers. Creative drives to the basket seem to be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, the MLB just skated by a huge lockout as it struggled to pen a new agreement with players and owners. After a touch-and-go 2020, the league overhauled dozens of policies. The NFL is no exception to these types of official, structural and more abstract changes. The game evolves, the league’s official policies are updated, international expansion looms—and much more.
In fact, when looking back at changes in the NFL since 2010, there have been shifts related to just about every element of the game, from the fan experience to the commissioner’s approach to the game, to the start and end of multiple franchise dynasties. Let’s dive into some of the most notable changes in the league over the last twelve years.
Rise of Sports Betting & Competitor leagues
Back in 2018, the US Supreme Court repealed a federal ban on sports betting, Since then, football fans can find betting lines on the league and tons of DFS offers. The latter might be the most novel development considering how popular and ubiquitous fantasy football remains.
With the rollout of point spreads and DFS wagers, football fans have more content to sink their teeth into than ever before. And that’s a good thing for NFL fans—especially considering there’s been a recent proliferation of summer and spring leagues.
Last year, Fox Sports launched a spring league in its United States Football League, revived from a failed attempt in the early 1980s. Currently, the XFL is attempting its third restart after its most recent flop in 2020. While both face uncertain futures, that doesn’t mean football fans haven’t enjoyed a fresh wave of leagues to follow, along with fresh ways to bet on sports.
The Fall of the Patriots
The last decade in the NFL may very well be remembered as the tail-end of the Patriots era. Starting in 2001 and ending in 2018, the team took home six championships under the unfailing eye of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. During that period, the team missed the playoffs only two times, in 2002 and 2008.
Along the way, there were more than a few controversies, from deflating footballs to stealing hand signs. Still, it’s hard to fathom all that Brady managed to accomplish during his reign—especially considering the Patriots were one of the NFL’s most hopeless franchises prior to his appearance. In fact, that’s what makes the dynasty worth celebrating. For how unmemorable the Patriots were back in 1999, they’re now a poster child for the league.
The Rise of the Chiefs
In 2019, Brady packed his bags and headed to Tampa Bay. At the same time, the Kansas City Chiefs looked to be ramping up for another Super Bowl run—a win that they hadn’t replicated in 50 years. In fact, heading into 2017, the Chiefs had lost ten of eleven playoff games they’d entered since 1993.
That changed during the 2019-20 season. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes led a fourth-quarter comeback against the San Francisco 49ers—a feat that he repeated earlier this year when the Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles to take home another Super Bowl.
With Brady officially retired, it looks like the Chiefs’ rivals in Florida have been vanquished. Could this be the rise of the Chiefs and the start of another Patriots-level dynasty? For now, it’s too soon to tell—but all eyes are on Mahomes.
The Raiders, Las Vegas, & Jon Gruden
It was a busy decade for franchise moves. One of the most controversial was the Oakland Raiders’ departure from California and the establishment of Las Vegas’s first NFL team. The move came after a bitter struggle over the Oakland stadium, which eventually resulted in the Raiders settling into the brand-new Allegiant Stadium in 2020. For a second time, the Raiders left their home city.
But they were able to snag Jon Gruden along the way. The ESPN analyst signed a ten-year contract in 2018, which many hoped would translate into a dominant performance in Vegas. Instead, Gruden was revealed to be a highly controversial character after emails from his time at ESPN were leaked.
Gruden was released in 2021—which unleashed a string of other unfortunate occurrences, including the Raiders’ decision to cut star receiver Henry Ruggs and, later that year, cornerback Damon Arnette.
Los Angeles Goes All-In on Football
The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas was helped along by the construction of Allegiant Stadium, which cost nearly $1 billion to build. That must look like chump change to all those behind Los Angele’s So-Fi Stadium, home to the LA Chargers and Rams. The city has gone all-in on football in the last decade.
In 2016, Rams owner Stan Kroenke moved the team to LA from St. Louis. Though he paid a steep price after settling with the City of St. Louis (some $570 million), his antics paid off. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, the Rams won the 2021 Super Bowl while playing on their home turf—a feat only achieved once before.
The Chargers also moved to LA after cutting ties with San Diego. Since moving, they haven’t lifted a Lombardi Trophy, though they have advanced to the playoffs twice.
Notes on the Goodell Era
This last decade in the NFL has been predicated by many decisions made by commissioner Roger Goodell. There have been setbacks and progress made under his watchful eye. For the most part, the NFL has taken a much harder stance on safety and protocol that are designed to protect players. Goodell has also pressured teams to elevate their standards of personal conduct regarding how players are allowed to act off the field.
He’s investigated things like Bountygate, Daniel Snyder’s ownership of the Commanders, and pushed the NFL abroad through an increasingly visible International Series. However, Goodell has also been slow to address social justice movements and took a particularly hard stance against players like Colin Kaepernick. Looking back, it’s unclear which changes Goodell will be remembered the most for.