By Danny Boyce
Every Sunday/Monday evening during the NFL season I check the box scores for two things. First I look at every team’s completions and rushing attempts. This is a good indication of how a team’s offense is going; if your team gets to the 51-52 range they usually win unless the team they’re playing has a higher total. I also look for all of the Bad QB stats that we at Talk Back Fans keep because two of the three are absurd stats and are just fun to look at.
Then TBF contributor Mike Miheli last night decided to bring up everyone’s second favorite genuflector Colin Kaepernick and set Nonsense Nation into a fury.
Understand something: This isn’t about Colin Kaepernick or the First Amendment or the National Anthem. But while I thoroughly enjoyed the dialog, as I looking through all of these facts and figures while putting in my own two cents I had a thought reaffirmed in my mind:
The National Football League sucks.
It has been 15 years since the league last expanded, which should have been more than enough time to build up enough talent to recover from a 14.2857142585714 (it’s a repeating decimal; you get it)% increase in teams over what is now a 23-year span*. But they haven’t. The league blows and there are many reasons why.
*-In 1994 there were 28 teams in the NFL. In 1995 they expanded to Charlotte and Jacksonville, making the league 30 teams. Then after the 1995 season the Browns moved to Baltimore – don’t let the NFL tell you otherwise, it was in the papers and everything – and after the 1996 season the Houston Oilers (remember them?) moved to Nashville. In 1999 the league threw Cleveland a bone – figuratively and literally – and gave the city the sack of garbage you’re watching now. In 2002 the city of Houston received a new team, too. So based on this logic and Los Angeles already overcrowded, expect San Diego and Oakland to receive new franchises in 2020, complete with incompetence and poor leadership.
Rules changes have made the game one dimensional
In the 1970’s defenses were allowed to do basically whatever they wanted to, especially defensive backs. As a result the biggest emphasis was on being able to run the ball. While running the ball had always been a big thing teams still had to be able to throw the ball (go through the 50’s and 60’s and you’ll see Starr, Graham, Unitas, Tittle, Meredith, etc.
By the mid-80’s you had teams like the 49ers and Chargers (teams that loved to throw the ball) and teams like the Giants and Seahawks (teams that kept the ball on the ground). The Steelers and Bears meant defense. This led to games that featured constant contrasts in styles which made more interesting matchups.
But in the mid 2000’s the league started making the league much easier to throw the ball. If you sneeze near a receiver it’s a penalty. Tackling the quarterback is likely to get you suspended (I’m surprised the Aaron Rodgers injury didn’t result in a lifetime ban for the guy who tackled him). As a result usually the best bet for a team is to just chuck the ball downfield and pray for a pass interference call. Because of the advantages in throwing the ball everyone is now pass happy, meaning . . .
Quarterbacks are now ridiculously overvalued.
Yes, it is the most important position on the field (I guess). But it is also the most overrated. Why do I say this? Well, let’s start with the fact that it’s the only position where a W-L record is attributed even though they don’t even play half the game and 90% of the time when the play ends with the ball in their hands it’s a bad play. But that doesn’t stop people from thinking that all they have to do is plug in a quarterback and the team will start winning.
And it happens every year in the draft. Since 1998 (the famous “Manning or Leaf” draft) there have been 55 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Remember J.P. Losman? Or Kyle Boller? How about Patrick Ramsey? Joey Harrington, anyone? Cade McNown? Akili Smith? Remember when Josh Freeman just won football games? How about Samantha Ponder’s husband, Christian*?
*-I originally had “wife” instead of “husband” there, but had a change of heart.
I can go on and on, you get the point. And that’s just the first round. Overall an average of 12 quarterbacks are drafted every year since 1998, many with the hope that they will change the way of a fledgling franchise. And most of the time it fails miserably. Why? BECAUSE ONE PLAYER DOESN’T CHANGE A FRANCHISE!!!!! Peyton Manning? The first year they were 3-13, exactly the same as the year before. Add in Edgerrin James and eventually Tony Dungy as the head coach and the team finally took off. Drew Brees, you say? New Orleans was his second stop. Tom Brady? I’m convinced you could give Bill Belichick Han Solo after his kid put the light saber through him and the Patriots would still go 10-6. Bill’s that good, and remember, he was the only one who clearly thought Brady could play (as the story goes he kept wondering why Brady was still available and finally just filled out the slip).
That hasn’t stopped teams from taking risks and trading up for a quarterback or worse, mailing in a season and playing every schmuck on the roster in an attempt to finish nearest to the bottom of the standings as they can for the opportunity to get that franchise quarterback (two words that make my blood boil), which leads to another big problem. Well, a couple, but let’s start with . . .
Too many young players are being put in too quickly
You used to hear people praising the wonders of the NFL’s salary cap. Baseball should have a salary cap. What started as a cost control measure (and yes, that is exactly what it is) has gone rogue as teams constantly forgo veterans who know their roles and are up to the speed of the game at the top level and instead go with unproven college kids because they cost a fraction in salary. As a result you have players learning on the job without the aid of veterans and when it’s discovered that they young kid can’t cut it the team has no viable answer. This is supposed to happen with expansion teams and terrible teams, not average and above teams. But it happens everywhere. And that also leads to . . .
Parody, er, I mean parity sucks
The line “Any Given Sunday” has always been true. But when the NFL was passing up everyone else on the popularity ladder the league was anything but balanced. In the 50’s the league was dominated by the Browns and Giants, then later the Colts. The 60’s were dominated by the Packers. The 70’s were dominated by the Steelers, Cowboys, Dolphins, and Raiders. In the 80’s it was the 49ers and Redskins. Even the 90’s were basically the 49ers and Cowboys for the first half of the decade.
By the middle of the 90’s parity was settling in. Parity happens when everyone is at best so-so. But these teams stink. Look at Sunday’s games. Is there one that you would call “enjoyable” to watch? Even in the Saints’ 52-38 win (Hey 90 points!!! Oh Boy!!), do you really want to watch 40 incompletions and five interceptions (not to mention three lost fumbles)? But how do you avoid this when . . .
The league is spread way to thin schedule-wise
(Channeling my inner-Langdon here)
Back in my day the NFL was on Sunday with one Monday night game. Then later in the year when the college season was over they would have a Saturday game for the last two weeks of the season. Then they added a Sunday night game (basically because ESPN got tired of showing Sumo-Rodeo and wanted something legitimate). This was still OK, because the schedule was still limited to basically two days (and remember how the talk about the “short week” after a Monday night game was a big deal?). The exception was Thanksgiving, when the Cowboys and Lions hosted games. That’s it.
Now we have a Thursday night game every week featuring two banged up teams, three Thursday night games on Thanksgiving because science forbid we just enjoy a college game in the evening, to go along with the Sunday and Monday night games and the Sunday afternoon slate. Out of the kindness of their hearts, the league does put in bye weeks for the teams, so in the middle of the season four teams have a week off. That means that during the bye weeks you have three prime time games, two 4:15 games (and getting later) and two non-games (the four bye teams), meaning you have nine games left. Considering they try to have the five “prime” games be marquee matchups (though other than the Sunday night game it’s a crapshoot at best), those nine games are all but destined to be bad matchups. Add in the perception of teams not giving their best and the Thursday game is going to be two rundown teams, you just don’t have enough good matchups to keep anyone interested unless you need to enter Gamblers’ Anonymous. And the worse thing?
The games themselves suck to watch regardless of the matchup
No in person experience is worse than an NFL game. The fans are drunk and perpetually angry. Parking lots have become battle grounds – you want to avoid anyone wearing a jersey of the home team and why you would want to wear the apparel of the visiting team unless your masochistic is beyond me. Inside the stadium can practically be a mass riot as all those idiots tailgating have moved the frat party to a new location. That’s just if you go in person.
If you decide that the best seat is located in your living room you are subjected to three hours of replays posing as live football action as some former player tells you all you need to know, even if it’s about how fantastic the quarterback is at taking the snap from the center.
Actually, the three hours of replays is an exaggeration. There are also commercials. Usually you’ll order a Papa John’s pizza because you’ve seen so many of those ad spots you actually feel sorry for Peyton Manning, thinking that retirement has been rough on him and he really needs the extra few bucks. Overall, you are in store for about 11 minutes of live action in a given game. For those that buy the NFL Ticket I hardly call that a bargain.
These problems aren’t going away
The league won’t change any of the passing rules. If anything they will continue to push towards a 100 yard arena league. And I know my opinion about quarterbacks is in the minority – just tune in to any football talk and take a drink every time they say “quarterback”; you’ll be drunk within 10 minutes. And as long as they keep believing it they’ll continue to waste picks on quarterbacks and continue to go to whatever lengths to get their quarterback, so the bad games will continue.
I know they’ve talked about it, but the Thursday games won’t go away. It’s the only reason to tune into the NFL Network (unless you’re a fan of the NFL Combine to which my answer would be to say “no thanks”, turn around, and walk away, much like one would do to a Jehovah’s Witness). Unlike the other sports networks, they can’t jump into games for live action during the week, meaning a lot of empty hours.
And I get the importance of ad revenue. Postseason baseball games seem interminable because of it. Games won’t be moving faster.
Maybe this is just a valley in the pattern of any business. Maybe I’m wrong about them changing rules and allow defensive backs ten yards to chuck instead of five, making offensive coordinators consider running the ball a little more often. Maybe they’ll actually reconsider how to schedule the Thursday games and put in two teams coming off of a bye – they may be two bad teams, but at least they’ll be two rested bad teams.
Or maybe they’ll realize the lack of need for the Thursday games because how much money does a league really nee – – –
Ah, you’re right, nothings gonna change.