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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

As we near the end of one of the most parity-driven NFL seasons in history, it’s smart to reflect on what transpired around the league and spin it forward to pinpoint what trends will be copied in this notoriously copycat league.

Sometimes these trends are drawn directly from the regular season. In other instances, they come from a playoff game, and occasionally, the Super Bowl.

This season, it feels like we’ve already gotten the trends that’ll play a role in shaping team-building efforts and game-planning philosophies across the league. Let’s identify those trends before¬†Super Bowl LVI.

GO FOR IT!

…has probably been yelled from stadium seats and living rooms more this season than any in¬†NFL¬†history. It’s surely taken time, but it now feels like the foundational thought process behind fourth-down decisions has fully been flipped on its head.

Forever, fourth-down choices were rooted in conservatism — let’s not try to lose this game. Now, the underlying philosophy is based in aggression — let’s win this game.

For defenses, not the best development. For offenses and all NFL lovers, a tremendous breakthrough. Check how the league, collectively, got bolder on fourth downs.

Kyle Shanahan’s decision to punt on fourth-and-2 from the¬†Rams¬†45-yard line with a three-point lead in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship will haunt him and¬†49ers¬†fans for a while, and it’ll serve as the loudest reminder that coaches should be more courageous. In fact, I believe we’ve gotten to the point where coaches will not want to be the one to fold under pressure and punt when, previously, there was an overarching fear to be the overly bold coach who’d get burned by a failed fourth-down attempt.

Yes, there was the infamous¬†Chargers¬†game against the¬†Chiefs¬†in primetime, when Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it on fourth down three times — and came up empty every time. The Chargers lost. But because Staley is such a¬†staunch advocate for keeping the foot on the gas on fourth down, he’ll be one of the coaches pushing this new aggressive era forward. And, over time, the Chargers will be better off routinely keeping the offense on the field in fourth-down situations than punting or opting to kick field goals.¬†(For what it’s worth, Los Angeles actually finished fifth in fourth-down conversion rate this season.)

Related to this, the two-point conversion in unconventional instances will become more common, as evidenced by the NFL record being set during the 2021 season (11%). This article by ESPN’s Seth Walder explains the logic behind one of the analytics community’s boldest ideas —¬†going for two down eight points.

Walder spells out the thought process nicely, and it’s more sound than you probably thought, right? My bet is we see the two-point conversion rate continue to rise for the 2022 season and beyond.

Kyle Shanahan’s decision to punt on fourth-and-2 from the¬†Rams¬†45-yard line with a three-point lead in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship will haunt him and¬†49ers¬†fans for a while, and it’ll serve as the loudest reminder that coaches should be more courageous. In fact, I believe we’ve gotten to the point where coaches will not want to be the one to fold under pressure and punt when, previously, there was an overarching fear to be the overly bold coach who’d get burned by a failed fourth-down attempt.

Yes, there was the infamous¬†Chargers¬†game against the¬†Chiefs¬†in primetime, when Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it on fourth down three times — and came up empty every time. The Chargers lost. But because Staley is such a¬†staunch advocate for keeping the foot on the gas on fourth down, he’ll be one of the coaches pushing this new aggressive era forward. And, over time, the Chargers will be better off routinely keeping the offense on the field in fourth-down situations than punting or opting to kick field goals.¬†(For what it’s worth, Los Angeles actually finished fifth in fourth-down conversion rate this season.)

Related to this, the two-point conversion in unconventional instances will become more common, as evidenced by the NFL record being set during the 2021 season (11%). This article by ESPN’s Seth Walder explains the logic behind one of the analytics community’s boldest ideas —¬†going for two down eight points.

Walder spells out the thought process nicely, and it’s more sound than you probably thought, right? My bet is we see the two-point conversion rate continue to rise for the 2022 season and beyond.

YAC matters

The 49ers, Chiefs, and Bengals entered conference championship Sunday as the top three teams in yards after the catch per reception. And Cooper Kupp had the most total YAC of any receiver in football.

Amazing, right?

And YAC is here to stay. Yes, growing is the list of rocket-armed, highly athletic specimens playing the quarterback position today, passers who adore launching it deep and toting the rock. But league-total YAC has increased in four of the last five seasons and set an all-time high this season with 63,161 yards after the catch during the regular season.

That was around 3,500 more YAC than in 2020 and nearly 7,000 more yards than 2017. A decade ago, the NFL accumulated 54,403 yards after the catch. Therefore, the league has averaged 1,000 more yards after the catch per season over the last 10 years.