The flurry of NFL rule changes over the last few years could be labeled as growing pains but it’s a long term trend the league should be concerned about.
Let’s take a look at this weekend’s games, specifically the two that were close, Cincinnati-Pittsburgh and Seattle-Minnesota.
Both of these games featured key defensive penalties with under two minutes. In the case of Steelers-Bengals, you could concede the way the officials elected to call the final sequence with Adam Jones and Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter decided the game. In fact, ESPN ran a feature about the 10 most important plays of the weekend; four of them were either field goal attempts or penalties (and I think ESPN was being generous for not putting more penalties on the list.
The league has consistently stated that the various rule changes produce a more fan-friendly game since “fans like offense,” but this is red herring. “Offense” doesn’t really mean big chunks of yardage gained through penalties, does it?
No, of course not.
What the league is producing is not “offense” on the football field, but fantasy points. By artificially pumping up offensive stats and more or less gutting defensive technique from the game, fantasy players get a more lively product with more scoring options. I readily acknowledge the role fantasy sports has played in increasing the popularity of “real” sports, but what the NFL is doing is, in my view, a dangerous experiment. Are people really going to continue watching bad football because of “good” fantasy results? Lest we forget, you can play fantasy without even watching the games. Stated another way, does the NFL have no confidence people will want to watch its product without some separate, unrelated reason for doing so?
I’m not hating on fantasy sports here, even though I don’t play them. And perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way. The NFL is the money league, always has been. If they’re sacrificing football game content for fantasy payoff, it means they believe they can make more money off fantasy sports than they can off the actual football games. Given the untoward recent spate of information coming out about FanDuel and Draft Kings, maybe they’re right. Stated another way, keep your eye on your wallet if the NFL is anywhere near you.
This Week’s Sucked And Won
Kam Chancellor, S (SEA): The big hard-hitting safety who symbolizes the Legion of Boom had a tough day. He made little impact on the game, and during the final drive, he drew a key penalty and gave up a big play to Kyle Rudolph, only to get bailed out by Blair Walsh’s missed field goal. Chancellor had better play a lot better than that next week vs. the Panthers.
This Week’s Great But Lost
Jordan Reed, TE (WAS): What a tremendous weapon this guy is! 9 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort on Sunday, it seems clear that Reed’s best football has yet to be played. Look out linebackers, have fun trying to cover this guy next year.
RAMS HEAD BACK HOME
It’s now official that the St. Louis Rams will be moving to Los Angeles in the offseason and will play next year, once again, as the Los Angeles Rams. You might think I’d be pleased or nostalgic about this news, as the Rams were the team of the Fearsome Foursome and Eric Dickerson, but I have to tell you, I’m not. L.A. is no football town. You think Dodgers fans are distant and disinterested?
Fans in L.A. couldn’t care less about the Rams. In fact, only two teams have ever captured the L.A. imagination: the Lakers (of course) and, briefly, the L.A. Kings of the NHL.
The Kings are easy to explain – everybody loves a winner. Let’s see how many Kings fans there still are in Los Angeles by the time Anze Kopitar retires. And the Lakers, well, they’re the one true L.A. sports product, the professional equivalent of John Wooden’s unbeatable UCLA Bruins back in the day.
But the Rams? Even if they win, no one will care. It doesn’t help that the Rams best players are RB Todd Gurley and DL Aaron Donald. Talk about unglamorous. No all-American quarterback? Nope. No flashy wide receiver? Not on this team. Not even an above-average cornerback who likes to run his mouth? No. The Rams are one of the most boring teams in the NFL, and moving to L.A. will just make them a boring team with bored fans.
Cheer up, though. This means in about a half dozen years there’s going to be a football team looking for a home. Maybe they can become the San Diego Rams by then.
DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFF THOUGHTS
While the matchups in the NFC are near-perfect, with four very real contenders eyeing each other up heading into the divisional round, the once-mighty AFC is a mess.
Kansas City goes into the weekend missing its two most potent offensive weapons, Jamaal Charles and now, Jeremy Maclin.
The “invincible” Patriots have lost four of their last six and are playing a bunch of guys off the street on their offensive line.
The Steelers will consider themselves lucky that they still have Ben Roethlisberger available (although who knows if he can throw right now) and will be missing the game’s most explosive receiver, Antonio Brown. Only the Broncos, who apparently now have a healthy Peyton Manning, are anything close to full strength.
This is a far cry from the middle of the regular season, when the Broncos, Pats and Bengals were all unbeaten at one point. Sadly, Andy Dalton’s injury robbed Cincinnati of its chance to see if they had finally turned the corner, and while only a fool would count Brady and Belichick out, New England looks pretty toothless right now. While I would have no problem with Denver’s dynamite defense plus a healthy Peyton Manning taking on one of the NFC front runners in the Super Bowl, it seems a shame that, for the first time in quite a few years, there was substantial drama surrounding the top contenders in both conferences in the playoffs. While anything can happen on the field, I would prefer to see it happening with Dalton, Brown, Maclin, LeVeon Bell and a bunch of others figuring in the final scores.