You probably noticed it was Week 7 of the NFL season this past weekend. Luckily someone did, because half the league’s teams did not. The number of no-shows on Sunday was staggering. The Panthers rolled over. The Colts may have gotten Chuck Pagano fired. The Cardinals didn’t make the trip to London. The Broncos were shut out for the first time since Right Said Fred was making hits. The Falcons covered their eyes from that big ol’ banner in Foxboro. The Giants attempted to run out the final 40 minutes of the game. And to top it all off, the Titans and Browns played a three-hour field goal folly.
That’s half of Sunday’s action, which was unwatchable. There’s been all types of theories for the decline in ratings. Let’s get one thing clear: people are still watching football more than anything else. The NFL owned 9 of the 10 top telecasts over the last two months. But a portion of the audience has eroded, and maybe we should give fans some credit here. The product is not good, and we all know it.
There are five reasons the modern NFL has become inferior to its predecessors.
1) Coaching. The industry is too volatile, there’s less patience than ever before, meaning coaches are cast aside before they’ve learned from mistakes or developed into a steady leading man. Hue Jackson, Dirk Koetter and Ben McAdoo are all in their second season as head coach in the NFL. Each will be lucky to get a third. It forces these men to make bizarre, desperate decisions, like constantly starting and benching DeShone Kizer, or attempting to run out the final three quarters against the Seahawks.
2) Gotta Get Mine. The “Lazy Millennial” narrative is tired and cliche. But there is a problem with modern-athlete culture. A generation of players have been treated like princes since the day they scored their first touchdown in 6th grade. As early as they can remember, they’ve been courted by private schools, recruited by colleges, fawned over by fans on social media, given HD TVs in their lockers and had digital highlight displays drooled over by strangers. Once they get to the NFL, if it’s not going their way, they’re ready to jump ship. This weekend, Bengals RB Joe Mixon complained about touches, Steelers WR Martavis Bryant demanded a trade, Bucs DB TJ Ward belly-ached about playing time, and Kizer was caught on film partying until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. This all means when teams need to battle adversity, many players simply choose to push the blame. They’ve been Gods their entire lives.
3) Lack of Practice Time. The current CBA has been the biggest reason for early season sloppiness. In exchange for more financial power, the owners allowed the players an easier practice schedule. No two-a-days, limited hitting, regulated training time. Most starters don’t play in the preseason because of injury risk, so the first month of the year is essentially figuring it out as you go. It’s made for dog-food football in September and now you see it seep even deeper into the season than that.
4) Lack of Depth. There were 26 teams until 1976. There were 28 teams until 1995. The NFL added the Jags, Panthers, Texans and (new) Browns since then, meaning there’s 200 more players employed now than 20 years ago. There’s apparently just not enough talent to support 32 teams with 50+ roster slots each. With the salary cap strangling roster flexibility, no teams are able to deal with injuries. The Giants lost Odell Beckham for Week 1 and their wideout corps immediately looked like an FCS team. The Packers and Seahawks have struggled to piece together an offensive line for years. The Patriots lose Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Chris Long to free agency and even the best machine in the league can’t replace that pass rush. The Browns have a roster that would give the expansion Bucs of ’76 a run for their money.
5) Style of play. Complexity of schemes and quarterbacking dependency are hallmarks of bad football. The chess match is ever evolving, technology is better, scouting is more advanced, analytics are utilized. So coaches now have to go to absurd lengths trying to outsmart and out think one another, and middling quarterbacks are exposed as disasters. It’s now impossible to walk into a locker room and contribute right away. It’s why unlike MLB, NBA and NHL, there are so few midseason trades. Thirty years ago, schemes were simpler, and players could plug and play. The rules have also slanted so far toward the quarterback that the only way to win is with a great one, and there’s only a handful of those. No elite signal caller? Well, then you might as well pack up the tent. Bob Griese never threw for more than 2,400 yards. Bart Starr threw for fewer yards than Matt Schaub. Griese and Starr are Hall of Famers, but would be backups in today’s NFL. Those two could never win 7 combined championships in today’s aerial video game, and that’s the snake eating its tail.
Hopefully the football gets semi-watchable, because at this rate we may as well tell half the league to sit this one out under the jungle gym and just eat their orange slices. But the steady drumbeat of low quality football isn’t fooling fans anymore.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm 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.