DA: Why The Quality of the NFL is Eroding

The NFL’s television ratings are healthy. The Seahawks-Cowboys game two weeks ago was the most-watched of the season and drew 30 million viewers in the fourth quarter. That’s nearly the equivalent of Canada’s entire population. However, most residents of Moose Jaw would’ve seen Matt Cassel throwing passes into the dirt during a 13-12 snooze fest and went back to watching reruns of SCTV.

The league’s attendance is fine. Every team is playing to more than 80% of capacity of their home games. In fact, only four franchises are playing to less than 90% of a full house and all of them need stadium upgrades or are threatening to move (Oakland, St. Louis, Miami, Washington).

The NFL’s public relevance is predictably enormous. Cam Newton’s end zone dance becomes a national talking point. Grandmothers in Iowa are debating bapping. Greg Hardy’s exploits have made him a household name (for the wrong reasons). Aaron Rodgers slump has led to media speculation which has led to Olivia Munn’s retort which will lead newscasts.

But the product is actually not good right now. We enter Week 11 with only 11 winning teams. That’s the lowest in 25 years when there were four fewer franchises. There are two undefeated teams, and both seem to be deserving of elite status: The Patriots and Panthers. The Bengals have only one loss, but after Monday night’s dud and a history of playoff catastrophes, they’re not a behemoth.

The rest is a massive middle to lower class in the NFL, and perhaps that’s how we like it. Fans from Jacksonville to Buffalo can believe, “As long as we get in…” But at the risk of sounding like the old guys in the balcony of the Muppets this modern slop is not what it used to be.

The byzantine, muddled rule book (combined with the evidence of HD, super slo-mo DVR’s) has left us totally dissatisfied with the officiating. When you sit down to watch an MLB, NHL and NBA game you don’t confusedly walk away from the TV wondering if that was really a homerun, goal or three-pointer. But what’s a catch? What’s a touchdown? What’s the completion of the process? It leaves us (and coaches) scratching our head for weeks. Three years ago did you ever think you’d have no idea what a “football move” was? Sigh. Today’s NFL.

Impatience has also left us with a poorer product. There’s no longer any time for coaches or quarterbacks to learn from their mistakes or build something methodically. In an age of social media and screaming debate the owner hears the catcalls. The GM is on the hot seat, and the head coach will be fired after 20 games unless he starts the rookie quarterback. And even then (Ken Wisenhunt) you’ll probably get the zig.

There’s no greater example of this than in Houston, where Bill O’Brien yanked Brian Hoyer after three quarters in Week 1. That’s equal to benching your new rightfielder after 7.5 games (or the first week) of the MLB season. Why? Well, O’Brien may be coaching for his job, of course. And everyone wanted to see the backup Ryan Mallett, and O’Brien had never been in this spot before.

Tom Coughlin could’ve been fired before both Super Bowl seasons. Does a surly, disheveled Bill Belichick get canned after an inaugural 5-11 season nowadays? Warren Moon went 3-13, 4-10, and 5-10 in his first three years. Would he have been thrown onto the trash heap of busted quarterbacks, holding a clip board and rotting for the rest of his career?

Lack of practice time also has eroded the product. The new CBA eliminated two-a-days, limited quarterback-receiver sessions at the facility, and five weeks were shaved off the off-season practice schedule. Yes, by Thanksgiving the football should no longer be clunky and sloppy. Teams have had plenty of time to get into a groove. But how much of an effect does it take to start the season behind the 8-ball and play catch up all year? Fewer players are in sync, and then inevitable injuries force lesser athletes to attempt to turn it on mid-season.

If we didn’t have a sycophantic media simply tweeting, “Sports!” after last-second finishes we might actually realize how bad the “Sports!” is. There’s zany endings in 8-year-old soccer and high school field hockey. Doesn’t mean I want to spent 10 hours every Sunday watching it. Yes, equally bad teams will produce a compelling final minute. But the rest of the game? Blecch.

Of course, I’m the dummy. The NFL is doing quite fine in the business department so who really cares? All 32 owners will be swimming in their Scrooge McDuck money pits this holiday season, donning nothing but their Color Rush banana hammocks. But if we weren’t so blindly ravenous to the sport we might actually notice: it’s just not that good.

D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.

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