Like a Football to the Face III:

The 2016 NFL Season
(The Fix Is In Style)

 


Can the NFL top Super Bowl 50 with Peyton "We Miss You Already" Manning riding off into the sunset a champion? Probably not. That storyline was one of the strongest the NFL has mustered in recent years, and it played out like a brilliantly written soap opera from about Week 3 onward.

So, before you ask (and some of you have--I don't mind the questions at all), here are six teams I don't think will win the Super Bowl this year: the Patriots, the Packers, the Seahawks, the Steelers, the Panthers, or the Cardinals. Why? Because all six were believed to be the only teams with a chance to win Super Bowl LI (or Super Bowl Lie as I'll choose to call it this year) in this MSN article. Actually, I wouldn't 100% rule out the Cardinals, but the rest I believe are too obvious for the league to go with. Some story will develop, some player will emerge, something out of the ordinary will transpire as if by magic, and that will be your eventual Super Bowl champion.

So get ready because here...we....go....

WEEK 1

I guess the best place to start is with how the game now starts: the national anthem. I won't get into the whole debate over Colin Kaepernick's actions. What I think is worth noting, however, is this tidbit taken from a Slate article (sent to me by Bobby--thanks!):

"Just as important, Kaepernick has made his fellow Americans think about what they’re standing for, and why. No NFL player stood for the national anthem until 2009—before then, the players stayed in the locker room as the anthem played. NFL teams got patriotic in recent years because it was good for business. A 2015 congressional report revealed that the Department of Defense had paid $5.4 million to NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies; the National Guard shelled out $6.7 million for similar displays between 2013 and 2015."

So now you know why it really matters to the powers that be in the NFL.

I think the league itself can best sum up Week 1 for you (again, thanks to Bobby for sending):

Ugh.

To further break it down, in Week 1 we were given: 11 games decided by a touchdown or less (one of which went into OT) and six games decided by 2 points or less (four of which were decided by a single point). That's drama. That's a reminder for all NFL-heads of what they were missing in their lives prior to football's return: namely exciting games and violence.

Such as:

And though I hate quoting ESPN, it was noted "Newton received several helmet-to-helmet blows during the Panthers' season-opening loss Thursday. Only one--Darian Stewart's hit on the Panthers' final drive of the game--drew a flag, but it was offset by an intentional grounding call against Newton."

That's what Cam Newton gets for walking out of that post-Super Bowl press conference. Message sent, and likely, received...that is, if Newton actually remembers any of it. Because despite all the blows to the head Cam suffered, he wasn't removed from the game and run through the NFL's concussion protocol...which is supposed to be mandated by league rules.

Head coach Ron Rivera had no issue with this, stating, "I'm not going to question the doctors. OK? There is a protocol. There is a set of rules that these doctors, these trained professionals have to follow. The understanding is when everything first happened, they followed the protocol." Apparently, if we're to believe him and the doctors, Cam showed no symptoms of a head injury.

What Rivera did have an issue with was the lack of penalties resulting from those hits (because the game matters more than the athletes playing it). Rivera believes that like Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA, Newton doesn't get the calls he should because of his size.

Cam's dad Cecil (you know, the guy that sold his son's services to the highest bidder when Cam was in college) also questioned the NFL's officiating. Quote Cecil Newton: "I'm beginning to question the consistency of how games are being called--and who they would call this particular play against versus this particular player. Was Cam treated differently from other quarterbacks? In this case, yes, he was--clearly."

Oh yeah, and it's only fitting that on the NFL's weekend of "Remembering 9/11" the New England Patriots win with a back-up quarterback leading the team. Very reminiscent of Tom Brady's highly unlikely (read: fixed) Super Bowl win over the (St. Louis--remember them?) Rams immediately after 9/11.

WEEK 2


Sound the horn, Bud! Tell the world! The NFL is still rigged!

Yes, it should come as no surprise to fans of this website that both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings won their home openers in their respective new stadiums.

The Rams, the team that was embarrassed last week on Monday Night Football in a 28-0 loss to the SF 49ers somehow turned the tables on no less a team than the Seattle Seahawks and pulled out a 9-3 victory for the 90,000+ (!) in attendance.

Oh, sure, the excuses for the Seahawks are the injuries to Russell Wilson and half of the WR core, an inept offensive line, and they did lose both games to the Rams last year while the Rams needed to "prove something" to the league after that MNF beatdown, but c'mon....

The Seahawks got flagged 10 times for 114 yards, and a key fumble by Seahawks' RB Christine Michael with less than a minute in the game gave the Rams the win. Or at least ensured the outcome the NFL needed/wanted. History has shown that LA fans will only pay for tickets to see a winner, and the Rams were looking like anything but that on opening night.

But perhaps the bigger snow job was the Green Bay Packers loss to the Vikings on Sunday night. I know I catch a lot of flack for trying to read players' body language/facial expressions, but if you saw Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, you saw the look of a guy that knew the Packers were not leaving the state a winner. And Rodgers only ensured that outcome by overthrowing receivers, fumbling twice, and after Terrance Newman failed to intercept a Rodgers' throw that hit him square between the numbers late in the game, ARog followed up that pass with another lame duck that was picked off to seal the Packers' fate.

One other item of note: Kansas City Chiefs' head coach Andy Reid accused the Houston Texans of NBA-style flopping during their game Sunday. Reid even felt that a wrongfully assessed defensive holding call made because of a flop late in Sunday's game may have ensured the 19-12 Chiefs' loss. Could it be that the Texans will break the "Super Bowl Curse" and play in the first-ever "home field" Super Bowl? I would actually put them firmly in the running at this point.

So including the aforementioned contests, 11 of the NFL's 16 games were settled by one score or less. And as one Twitter follower reminded me, that left the NFL with eight 2-0 teams, eight 0-2 teams, and 16 1-1 teams. Basically, near perfect parity (the NFL's supposed goal).

Not bad for two weeks worth of games.

WEEK 3

Okay. Let me get this straight. The New England Patriots have now won 82 straight games at home when leading at halftime. Their last loss at home when leading at the half came on Christmas Eve in 2000. They've won 14 of their 15 home openers at Gillette Stadium (which opened in 2002), and though he has yet to play in 2016, Tom Brady's record at home (if my calculations are correct) is 99-16.

This is not possible if the NFL is anywhere near legitimate.

Either the Patriots under Bill Belichick are the biggest cheats in sports or their partnership with CBS and the TV networks--thanks to owner Robert Kraft's business ties--runs incredibly deep (or both).

Home field advantage can only get a team so far. This isn't baseball with different dimensions in every outfield, different wall angles and space outside the foul lines. This is football where every field in the league is identical. Even the Patriots' faithful crowd isn't as insanely loud as the Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man" or some team that plays in a dome. So what gives? What really gives the Pats that sort of home record? (And believe you me, it ain't the "genius" of Belichick).

Elsewhere in the NFL, three rookie QBs have emerged as stories: the Cowboys Dak Prescott (2-1), the Broncos Trevor Siemian (3-0) and the Eagles Carson Wentz (3-0). This, ladies and gentlemen, is called "story building."

If one believes the sports pundits, playing QB in the NFL is the most difficult job around and there's no way an untested rookie should be succeeding in the starting role. But here we are with three starting rookie QBs sporting a combined record of 8-1. And if you want to throw Sam Bradford into the mix--though he's not a rookie, he was traded to the Vikings eight days prior to opening day (making space for Wentz)--new QBs are 10-1. Does that make sense, Mr. Pundit?

Oh, I know. It's the Broncos/Vikings defense or the Cowboys offensive line or the new coaches in Philly that is making all the difference in each of these cases. It's not really the QB.

Look, the NFL (like the NBA) relies on it's high profile QBs for ratings and hype. The old guard is fading. Peyton is gone, Brady is suspended (and in many places, despised), Brees and New Orleans haven't been relevant since the Katrina-gifted Super Bowl, Rivers and Ryan never were, Rodgers is whiny, and Big Ben and Eli have had their day(s). What's that leave? A gaping hole in the NFL's marketing plan. The league needs fresh blood to boost their (supposedly) sagging ratings, and these three QBs might just be the start of the next era. Let's watch and see where this goes from here....

And one last thing: the Colts were awarded five first downs via penalties in their 26-22 win over the Chargers on Sunday. Just FYI, the Colts played at home.

WEEK 4

Typically, no one cares what happens to the Cleveland Browns. But then the NFL's first (and only) female ref had to go and do this:


And now the Browns matter (well, they don't really matter, but that play does). The NFL instantly went into protection mode, including this tweet:


But all this winds up being is more of the same from the NFL: It's our league, it's our rules, and we will continue to "interpret" them in the way we feel is best suited for our games. In this case, if that screws the Browns, so be it. I have no idea why people get up in arms about these "bad" calls anymore. Can't fans figure this out?

So did anyone watch the Indianapolis Colts v. the London Jaguars game? It was a boring 23-6 affair after three quarters. Then guess what happened? Since the NFL won't stop trying to establish a team in London while attempting to court more European fans, the contest suddenly became competitive as the refs aided the Colts just enough to make the game's fourth quarter explode with four touchdowns. Nonetheless, the "home" Jaguars still emerged victorious 30-27. (This entire game, by the way, harkened back to last year's Jaguars' "home" game in London which they won in OT).

Elsewhere, the NFL continues to send its message to Cam Newton who once again suffered a blow to the head, only this time, it knocked him out of the contest for good. The Panthers are now floundering at 1-3 as are their foes from last year's NFC Championship Game, the Cardinals, who also lost their starting QB to a concussion. There goes two of the six teams predicted to be Super Bowl competitors at the beginning of this webpage.

But how 'bout them Cowboys? Could Dak Prescott be filling the Brock Osweiler role from last year's Broncos? Is Dak just holding the Cowboys together long enough for Tony Romo to return fresh and rested for his Super Bowl run a la Peyton Manning? There's not much competition in the NFC at this points since (I believe) that the Vikings and Rams are just being handed wins at the moment for their "new" stadiums. Even Sports Illustrated's NFL shill Peter King point out, "Since getting skunked by the Niners 28-0 in Week 1, the Rams have reeled off three straight wins. You can bet there will be 80,000 fans, minimum, at Bills-Rams Sunday, and you can bet they won’t be leaving early."

Finally, let's take a moment to recognize the Buffalo Bills 16-0 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Of course the week after I post those unbelievable "Patriots at home" stats, they lay the biggest egg imaginable. But this game was actually realistic, given the Patriots' QB situation. The "genius" apparently couldn't over come the "loudmouth"...even at home...even while likely cheating. But they have to make Tom Brady's triumphant return to the gridiron next week look like it means something, right?

WEEK 5

Ahhh! The ratings! The NFL's TV ratings are down! Abandon ship! Repeat! Abandon ship!

Everyone is trying to figure out why the league has an overall 11 percent drop in it television ratings, with the highest percent drop coming in its prime time games. Awful Announcing blamed the league's greed, yet somehow the site thinks the NFL playing game in London is part of the problem. Or it faulted the rookie salary scale which has skewed the league's average age younger, thereby making play worse. Yet college football's ratings are just fine, thank you very much, and outside of perhaps Alabama, no one thinks a NCAA team's talent comes close to equating to a NFL team.

There's also a belief that the Colin Kaepernick (who's been named the 49ers starter for Week 6) protests are causing fans to tune out. The NFL doesn't believe that the national anthem-based protests matter, yet it doesn't appear as if any recent NFL broadcasts have shown a protesting player in the past two weeks, either. The league apparently just thing the downturn is one of those things....at least that's what the NFL memo that "leaked" out suggests.

But I'm not buying that, and neither should you. The NFL's broadcast partners--CBS, FOX, ESPN, etc--are all giving money back to advertisers due to the poor ratings. If Commissioner Goodell is going to make good on his promise to increase the league's revenue from $10 to $25 billion within the next dozen years, he's going to need the television networks on his side. And at the moment, that doesn't appear to be the case. Sure, the NFL is still the #1 show in prime time, but NFL owners are reportedly holding a meeting this week to discuss the growing ratings issue.

My guess is coming out of that meeting, if the owners truly are concerned with their current numbers, you are going to see NFL football get even more staged which is hard to imagine given this:


But this is what may truly be the NFL's problem, and one the mainstream media doesn't understand because of its unwillingness to even comprehend it: people aren't buying the "integrity" of NFL games anymore.

Maybe fans are sick of seeing things like this week's Eagles v. Lions game where the Eagles were repeatedly screwed by the officials, racking up 14 penalties for 111 yards compared to the Lions two penalties for 18 yards. And yes, the Lions were at home. And yes, they won 24-23, thanks in large part to that tilted field. (And yes, I am slightly surprised the league would do that to the Eagles given the rise of their rookie QB Wentz, yet if this is going to be the Cowboys' year--and signs are starting to point to "yes"--then the league can't have the Eagles getting in the way).

I mean, how much mucking around with games can NFL fans take before they break and start Googling websites like mine? The Chargers lose again late in the 4th quarter because of ineptitude (this time a botched field goal attempt), the Giants with their three-headed monster WR corp can't do anything against a Packers defense missing their starting two CBs (in a game which I believe was intentionally muted during the "Presidential" "debates"), and last year's Super Bowl runners-up the Carolina Panthers (short Cam Newton this week) can't even muster the energy to beat the Buccaneers when they are at home and on Monday Night Football?

The league wanted parity, they asked for this "any given Sunday" mentality, and now that they have both hands shoulder-deep into manipulating their product to achieve that end, it's backfiring on them.

WEEK 6

Has Cam Newton learned his lesson yet? The almost-Super Bowl champion--who, in this website's opinion, was told to lay down in Super Bowl 50 so the world could enjoy the Peyton Manning love-fest/send-off--now leads a 1-5 Panthers team, and once again, stormed out of a press conference when he didn't want to answer the meatball questions sportswriters slung his way. The NFL can make you, and if you don't play by its rules, it'll break you.

Speaking of broken, NFL pundits are (still) taking their shots at explaining why the league's ratings are dropping with each passing week. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead wrote an entire article stating the NFL needs "villains," writing "Villains are good for business. They stimulate discussion. They generate interest. They get fans to care. The NFL needs them now." In other words, McIntyre is advocating for the full-WWEing of the NFL.

But not to be outdone, during Monday Night Football the world's most boring play-by-play man Sean McDonough called out the NFL's officials for making games suck. He said, "If we’re looking for reasons why TV ratings for the NFL are down all over the place, this [17 penalties in 3 quarters] doesn’t help. The way this game has been officiated is not something anybody wants to watch." So McDonough was taking the McIntyre route and in effect saying NFL officials should not call actual penalties (a la WWE refs) because that makes the game boring. I guess playing by the rules isn't as exciting and just "letting them play" while calling only the crucial penalties....

Like in the Falcons v. Seahawks game. Oh wait, in this game it was not calling a penalty (yeah, Richard Sherman's not holding Julio Jones' arm there...nah) that made a huge difference in the outcome. As in giving the hometown Seahawks a win instead of a massive pass interference penalty that should've led to an attempt at a Falcons' game-winning field goal.

But as the NFL begins this fall, cracks within its power structure are beginning to show. This ESPN article is interesting for revealing many of the signs of this inner revolt. Teams, players, coaches, a lot of key people within the league aren't happy with the NFL's draconian ways. Despite its desires, the NFL can't remain king forever. And if it can't appease its minions, the product will sour, ratings will continue to fall, and people might turn to...gasp...soccer...or just turn their TVs off altogether.

WEEK 7

I'm going to make this short and sweet because honestly there's not much worth writing about seven weeks into this NFL season. It seems as if the longer the season goes, the worse it gets.

Take Sunday Night's epic 6-6 OT tie played between the Cardinals and Seahawks. What the F was that? This NY Post article (sent in by John, thanks!) sums up this debacle nicely. But the key takeaway was that two highly paid, professional kickers--one from each team--missed two would-be game-winning field goals of 24 and 28 yards. Look at that photo above. That kick hit the upright. It seems as if it would be harder to miss that kick than to make it. And the kick Steven Hauschka later missed was so bad--despite a perfect snap and hold--that it barely clipped the net behind the goal post.

I have no idea if this game were rigged because...why?! Why would the league choose to go with this out of all the possibilities available? I mean, yeah, a 6-6 tie is extremely rare, but is this the kind of football the NFL wants showcased on prime time when ratings are dropping? Or was this in fact a desperate ploy in attempt to shake things up? If it was the latter, it didn't work.

It could be that the NFL has its head buried so far into the sand, it just doesn't get it. Signs of that come out of the ongoing Josh Brown controversy. (Brown, for those of you unaware, was the New York Giants kicker prior to being released this week after evidence of his abusing his wife). Here's the key statement regarding this (thanks to Michael for sending), coming from Commissioner Goodell himself:

Question: "The criticism that comes back to you is that people see punishments for touchdown celebrations but then only one game for a domestic violence incident. It must be very difficult to balance those things and explain them?"

Goodell: "They are. I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions. But those are things that we have to do. I think it’s a lot deeper and a lot more complicated than it appears but it gets a lot of focus."

Say what?! Is it that Goodell is that dense, or is it that he--and the rest of the NFL owners--believes its fans are idiots? I can't even tell anymore.

Elsewhere, two QBs--the Vikings' Sam Bradford and Broncos' Brock Osweiler--returned to the respective home of their former teams and got stomped. That'll appease the hometown fans for a bit. The Raiders keep winning as the city of Oakland says, "Wait a minute. We can put together a new stadium package, too. Don't leave for Las Vegas (yet)." Nice bargaining chip, that winning is.

Yes, the Tom Brady "Revenge Tour" continues. Look, the Patriots will make the playoffs, but there's no way they win the Super Bowl. Not this year. Not after Deflategate. No way is Goodell going to happily hand Brady the Lombardi Trophy after he sued the league. Deflategate was all about the league's/owners' power over the players, and they won. Handing Brady a title after that would make things right with that one player, but it wouldn't smooth over player-owner relations, not by a long shot.

And 14 of the NFL's 32 teams are either 4-3, 3-3. or 3-4.  That's some parity. And that's some bad football.

WEEK 8

So how brave (and/or blatant) is the NFL? Would it dare suspend its new "golden boy" Ezekiel Elliott over violating the league's domestic abuse policy? I mean, if any team has been anointed so far this season, it's Jerry Jones' Cowboys. And considering the allegations against Elliott occurred prior to his joining the Cowboys, will the NFL's "investigation" really turn up enough evidence to result in Elliott's suspension? My guess: No. And it has nothing to do with Elliott's guilt or innocence. It has everything to do with trying to increase ratings and push the Cowboys into a Super Bowl. Or as ESPN wrote, the NFL "needs" the Cowboys. Why else did it look like the Eagles laid down Sunday night? Because the team led by two rookies on offense is that good? Please.

While Cam Newton continues his "I'm not getting the same protection as the other 'star' QBs do" campaign, the Chiefs--yes, that team still exists--QB Alex Smith has reason to agree. He wasn't knocked out of the game once with a potential concussion, Smith was lambasted twice. Any ref bother to flag either play? Nope. This sent Smith's wife to Twitter to (rightfully) complain. The Bills QB Tyrod Taylor could make a similar beef considering the late hit made out-of-bounds on him by the Patriots that also didn't garner a flag, much to the announcers own dismay (and when announcers complain about a non-call, you know it's bad).

Other officiating-based complaints were filed this weekend as well. Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was told at halftime that the fumble recovered by the Panthers and ran in for a touchdown was incorrect. But, sorry, Bruce, the replay booth was "shut down" at the time of the play...well before halftime. Tough break. The Redskins CB Josh Norman flat out said the refs "sucked" after he was repeatedly flagged in the 'Skins 27-27 OT tie against the Bengals in England (wonder how those soccer fans took to an NFL tie?).

By the way, the recent spate of NFL ties could be a result of the NFL's push to keep games close into the 4th quarter. Teams that should be outright winning those games might not be able to overcome the league's manipulation to pull out a victory when need be.

Lastly, anyone else think the 1-6 Bears win over the 5-1 Vikings on Monday Night Football was weird? This was one of those games that does make me think Vegas and the NFL are joined at the hip. The line was MIN -4.5, and if anyone saw either team play this year, you'd have to think that point spread should've been much greater. But it mattered not as the Bears won outright 20-10.

WEEK 9

Do I really need to talk about this play? Or that fact that the refs--the not the replacement refs from a few years ago; no, the real, honest-to-goodness NFL officials--completely screwed the Bills on Monday Night Football? When USA Today is saying the Bills were "cheated," you know what went down was crooked.

This non-personal foul call at the end of the first half wasn't the only call in which the officials favored the home-town Seahawks, but it's the one that's getting all the attention. Even the NFL's head of officiating, Dean Blandino (you know, the guy who used to be a stand-up comic prior to joining the NFL...I'm serious here. Look it up), chimed in to say the refs "made mistakes" and the league will "look into it." Of course, it's too late to matter, but that's the NFL for you.

There was another screw job this weekend the NFL. One that was just as egregious, but since it was against the Jaguars, well, who cares? In this case, Chris Ivory clearly scored a TD when he held out the football to break the plane of the endzone, but it was ruled a fumble when it was knocked out of his hand. The Chiefs recovered for a touchback. Replay showed it was a touchdown, especially when the play was freeze-framed.

But as overlord Dean Blandino explained, "When you freeze it at that point, it looks like a score, but the problem with a freeze frame is we don’t know if the ball is loose or not. You have to look at it at full speed to determine if that ball is loose or not. As I take it one frame further, the hands are completely off the football. If we can’t see the ball this entire reach, then we can’t overturn because we can’t confirm he had control of it or not." In other words, the guy (Blandino) who's running all of the NFL's replays from the home office in NYC made his own excuse as to why he ruled in favor of the home-town Chiefs (who won the game 19-14, thanks in part to Blandino's ruling).

Just so we're clear, the NFL is very transparent on these matters. Right?

Meanwhile, Cam Newton continues to get pummeled without the comfort of a roughing the passer flag. The Cowboys continue their winning ways as Dak Prescott slowly becomes a household name even as Tony Romo is declared fit for practice. The San Diego Chargers won an exciting nailbiter over the Titans, just a couple of days before people in San Diego vote on a new stadium funding referendum. No coincidence there, right?

And neither is the Oakland Raiders Sunday Night Football win over their AFC West rivals, the defending champion Denver Broncos. The first place 7-2 Raiders are off to their best start in 15 years...amazingly at the exact same time as the cities of Las Vegas and Oakland battle over where the team will call home in the coming years.This sort of thing just happens, you know. No manipulation necessary.

Speaking of which, keep an eye on the Falcons. Even though the Cowboys are my pick as the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl (barring an Ezekiel Elliott domestic abuse suspension), Atlanta is getting a new stadium next year (the $1.2 billion stadium is said to cost the people there $600 million). Hoisting a Super Bowl banner would be one heck of a way to kick off 2017 with Super Bowl LIII to be hosted there soon afterwards.

WEEK 10

Did you hear? NFL ratings are back up! Isn't that great news, given that our nation's most watched programming is a child's game played by (over)grown men who violently collide into each other in an attempt to move a ball across a field of (mostly) artificial grass for a period of 60 minutes? If that right there doesn't sum up the state this country is in, I don't know what else could.

So how did the NFL's ratings suddenly pop back up? Is it because the Colin Kaepernick-style protest fad is waning? Is it because the presidential election is mercifully over? Or could it be because for the first time in NFL history, two games in the same week featured seven or more lead changes? And, boy, as luck would have it, those two games happened to be FOX's "America's Game of the Week" featuring the Steelers vs. the much-hyped Cowboys and NBC's Sunday Night Football played between the Patriots and the Seahawks.

In the latter contest, if FOX Sports is to be believed, the NFL was rooting for the Seahawks to beat the Patriots for a variety of reasons. And guess what happened? After 7+ lead changes, the Seahawks emerged victorious 31-24. Coincidence? Before you answer, consider this: the Patriots had the ball, first and 10, on the Seahawks 2-yard line with under a minute remaining in the game, but as Tom Brady told reporters, he intentionally didn't try to score on first down (thanks to Sam for that story). The "logic" behind not tying the game was supposedly to force the Seahawks to burn their final time out. Great plan, Belichick, since the Pats couldn't score on second, third, or fourth down either. Worked out perfectly....for the NFL.

Monday Night Football was a nailbiter as well with the NY Giants winning by a single point. Funny how these major prime-time games worked out for the league when it was in need of a ratings boost, isn't it? Or as the NFL's chief spokesman related on Twitter:

#fun indeed.

 WEEK 11

The Fix Is In is currently traveling for the holiday, so I'll make this very short and sweet. The Vikings, Lions, Cowboys, Redskins, and Steelers all won. Why does that matter? Because the ratings starved NFL has all five of those teams (plus the bye-week Colts) playing on Thanksgiving. With those victories, this will give the NFL a full slate of games on the national holiday with teams possessing records of .500 or above for the first time since 1993. How's that for luck favoring the league at just the right moment?

Elsewhere, the Raiders won Monday Night Football with a bit o' help from the refs. How else can you explain the least penalized team in the league (the Texans) receiving more flags in the game than the NFL's most penalized team (the Raiders)? Plus, there was that whole non-reviewed call followed up by the strange decision on the Texans part to punt fiasco late in the game (I didn't see it but enough fans emailed me to point it out). The Raiders are 8-2, playoff bound, and go figure, the city of Oakland is now making a "serious" attempt to keep the team in town. Would there be similar talks if the team was 2-8?

By the way, with the NFL playing three games in London and this MNF game in Mexico, did it affect people's watching of these games? No? Now perhaps you understand why the NFL could care less which city these franchises play in--it's all about television for them. They could play NFL games in Greenland or Nepal or the Congo and it wouldn't matter. The NFL is a TV show, period, and these games played outside the USA should prove that.

WEEK 12

Should I be writing about the Michigan v. Ohio State game? Maybe. I honestly don't care too much about collegiate sports because the corruption at that level is apparent to anyone with a set of eyes or ears. No major program or conference is immune. I mean, the Colorado v. Utah game saw a grand total of three penalties assessed for the entire contest, none of which were called on Colorado. Either that was the cleanest football game ever played or else an investigation should be forthcoming. But Harbaugh had a valid point to make about the call(s) against his team, even if it cost him $10,000 in fines. I don't know how legit this website is or if the post there is accurate, but if it is, it might explain OSU's win in double OT more than any pundit can.

As for the professional ranks, Derek Carr's pinkie might have been a difference maker if the injury was worse than it initially appeared. People ask me all the time, "Why does this team get favored over that team?" One of the things I often cite is a team's star power, and which player(s) the franchise might possess who are marketable (mainly QBs). Derek Carr has become one of those types of players, a new face/name the league can actively hype. Yes, I do believe the Raiders' success is in part due to their "need" for a new stadium, but if Carr was seriously injured, things in the AFC West might have changed on a dime as the Chiefs and Broncos are still lurking. Speaking of which, that Sunday night OT game certainly seemed to tilt the Chiefs way once the refs got involved, didn't it?

The Monday nighter in Philly also saw very lopsided officiating favor the Packers. Carson Wentz (another star QB in the making) and the Eagles had little hope of catching Aaron Rodgers with the way the refs were overlooking some of the Packers play. Now, suddenly, Rodgers is back to "MVP form." And even though the Pack are sub .500, with the Vikings imploding (for the moment, we'll see if/when Adrian Peterson returns what transpires) and the Lions being the Lions, there's still hope in Green Bay for a playoff berth. With the Pack ending the season facing the Vikings in Week 16 and the Lions in Week 17, methinks somehow, someway, these will become meaningful games with playoff implications for everyone's benefit.

Meanwhile, this:


Of those six teams that were the only teams believed to be Super Bowl contenders according to MSN at the beginning of the year, two are dead (AZ and CAR), two are on life-support (GB and PIT), one lost to the Buccaneers this week (really, Seattle, five points?), and one is the Patriots. I still don't believe the Patriots are Super Bowl bound. And while a Super Bowl featuring the Cowboys and Raiders seems apparent, it's almost too obvious, even for the NFL who are still desperate for ratings. The Falcons continue to lurk, the Dolphins (!) are surging (as one fan told me they would, believe it or not), and the Giants are winning for some reason. These final few weeks should sort some of this out, or make it even more confusing, but regardless, the story is the Cowboys--and it won't matter if Dak continues his winning ways or if Romo makes his triumphant return--"America's Team" is being groomed for greatness.

WEEK 13

"Um, he told me that I did not get hit in the face mask." That was Vikings QB Sam Bradford to reporters after the Cowboys held on to a 17-15 win thanks in part to this non-call on the Vikings two-point conversion attempt very late in the fourth quarter. Less diplomatic was Vikings DE Brian Robinson who said, "I’m sick and tired of the reffing in this league right now. I’m sick and tired of it. You’ve got holding calls all over the place that people don’t want to call. Bradford gets hit in the face at the end of the game and you don’t call it. I’m not laying this loss on reffing, but at some point it’s got to get better. It gets to a point where it’s too frustrating ... I’m probably going to get fined for this, I understand that, but somebody has got to step up and say something."

And people honestly don't believe the NFL influences the outcome of its own games.

Thanks to this win--the Cowboys' 11th in a row--"America's Team" now has its next three games in prime-time: back-to-back Sunday nighters followed by a Monday night affair. So even more praised and hype can be laid at the feet of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for a national audience to soak up. It's gotten to the point now with the Cowboys that FOX Sports #1 "most wished for" Super Bowl match up is the Cowboys v. the Raiders. Number two is Cowboys v. Patriots and number three is Cowboys v. Steelers. Will FOX--which is the network slated to broadcast Super Bowl Lie--get its wish?

Beyond this, I didn't see much football as I had flu. But from what little I saw, it was more of the usual. The Raiders and Chiefs both won to set up a meaningful (for once) Thursday night game this coming week. The Colts beat the Jets (who laid down so badly, even MNF's John Gruden and his boring sidekick made note of it. Seriously, the Jets defense didn't appear to try, especially the much lauded Derrelle Revis who apparently "doesn't want to play football any more." On Monday night, he made that painfully obvious) and since the "resurgent" Packers defeated the Texans, now the Texans v. Colts game on Sunday has "playoff implications." With that win, the Packers v. Seahawks game takes on more importance, and the Sunday night game between the aforementioned Cowboys and the NY Giants is now "huge" as is the Monday nighter featuring the Ravens and Patriots.

And for those who, again, don't believe the NFL is nothing more than a TV show, consider the following:

Need I say more?

WEEK 14

Not that I watch--or would watch--the show Undisputed, but Shannon Sharpe finally said what we all here around The Fix Is In believe: NFL officiating is so bad, it's as if the games are fixed. "I'm telling you, Skip, they [NFL fans] don't think the games are on the up and up. That what fans are starting to think." And remarkably, his cohort in loudness, Skip Bayless, didn't seem to think it was a big deal. To quote Skip, "I don't think they [the NFL] mind that somebody wonders about, 'Is this rigged? Is this fixed?' Because people have wondered that, trust me, for 50 years about this league." Um, Skip? If fans have been believing that for 50+ years, don't you think then it's more than just some "conspiracy theory?" Perhaps fans have thought that way about the NFL all this time because the damned league is fixed! (thanks to Ron for sending this story)

I mean, just look at the ending of the Bears v. Lions game. Matthew Stafford throws an ill-advised pass which is picked off and returned for a TD late in the 4th quarter. The Lions come right back, drive down the field, and score on Stafford's run to make it a 20-17 game. The Bears get the ball back, and remarkably make a showing of it...until the referees step in. A 1st-and-10 run deep into Lions territory--which would have made for an easy game-tying field goal attempt while putting the Bears in position to score a game-winning TD--is called back for "holding." On 1st-and-20, the Bears rip off another long play for a 1st down except..."holding." On 1st-and-30, the Bears pass is incomplete--mainly because of pass interference on the Lions DB--only no call. And there endth the game. Lions 20-Bears 17. That wouldn't give any fans the sense of impropriety, would it?

Even though the Panthers beat the Chargers 28-16, Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin pulled a Derrelle Revis impersonation and apparently quit playing during the game. Although head coach Ron Rivera denied it, Benjamin was benched late in the game for "lack of effort." Excuses can--and will be made--for Benjamin's sorry performance, but as a professional athlete paid big money to perform on the field, football fans (who don't think like Sharpe and Bayless) should be livid over this. Of course, a similar finger could be pointed at all-time kick return king, the Ravens Devin Hester. Hester's poor play on a 1st quarter punt essentially cost the Ravens a safety which led to a free kick which led to a Patriots TD which gave them a 9-0 lead from which Baltimore could never overcome on Monday night. (Although a muffed punt and kick-off return on the Patriots side gave the Ravens a pair of easy TDs to keep this game artificially close at 30-23). For his part, Hester was cut by the Ravens on Tuesday.

Another pair of head scratchers were the Seahawks v. Packers and the much-touted Sunday night game between the Cowboys and Giants. While the Seahawks looked bad versus the Buccaneers a few weeks back, in this--America's Game of the Week on FOX--Seahawks QB Russell Wilson literally gave the Packers the game with not one or two interceptions, but five. Of course, considering the Seahawks WRs sudden inability to catch the ball and the "resurgent" Aaron Rodgers (who limped around the field all day only to be pulled midway through the 4th quarter, and is now an MVP candidate according to FOX Sports), Wilson's INTs were just icing on an already baked cake. Then on Sunday night, the Giants lived up to the billing as giant-killers by knocking off the streaking Cowboys 10-7. It felt as if the game was intentionally compressed and held back (with the exception of Odell Beckham's long TD), and of course, two stories instantly emerged from this outcome: One, is the Dak Prescott express finished? Is it time for Tony Romo to re-emerge as Dallas's go-to QB? and Two, will these two teams meet again in the playoffs, and can the Giants beat the Cowboys a third time? Oh, I can't wait to see how all of this spin works out for the NFL.

Speaking of the playoffs, at this point in the season, nine of the 16 teams in each division have legitimate playoff chances. That's some good parity, isn't it? This will give fans plenty of "meaningful" games in the final three weeks, all with "playoff implications." That's must-see TV, right? Let's see how those much ballyhooed ratings are doing at season's end, then we can discuss what sort of "failure" 2016 was to the league and its broadcast partners. Like Frosty, I believe there's still some magic left in the NFL's hat.

WEEK 15

Believe it or not, the 2016 NFL season has been the most "competitive" since the 1930s. I know it's hard to believe given the the Browns are winless while the Cowboys and Patriots each only have two losses. But according to the linked article, "Indeed, the average margin of victory this season is 9.83 points, the lowest since 1932 (9.13 points)....Games have also stayed competitive throughout, with nearly 70 percent of all 2016 contests within one score in the fourth quarter. If the season ended today, that would be the highest mark since 1935 (71.7 percent)." This has been a theme all year for the NFL, and yet ratings are still off, apparently not for lack of trying to make them rebound from their horrid start.

So back in Week 4 (or 5, depending on how you want to read it), I said it was looking like this is the Cowboys year. Anything changed on that front? Nope? Did that Ezekiel Elliott "investigation" amount to anything? Nope? Did Elliott get fined for jumping into the giant prop Salvation Army bucket? Nope? Funny how that works out, ain't it? And back in Week 9 I made mention of the Raiders unexpected rise which was tied to their "need" for a new stadium. Now they're locked in for the playoffs. What luck. Oh, and back in Week 12 I wrote about the Packers sudden re-birth this season and how it would be nice for the NFL if they could claw back into the playoff race while the Lions folded in order to make their Week 17 game worth all the marble in the NFC North. Guess what? Their Week 17 game has been "flexed" into the Sunday Night Football slot so that game can determine which team moves on into the playoffs with that season finale. Oh joy!

So to keep things interesting in this "most competitive year" of NFL football, in the AFC, the Ravens, Titans, Bills, Colts, Texans, and Dolphins all won while the Broncos and Chiefs (who lost to the Titans) lost. Basically the wheat was separated from the chaff here--to the league's benefit, of course, as it leaves nine teams open to the remaining four playoff spots in the conference. The same numbers exist in the NFC--nine teams for remaining four spots--only this in case, two of the teams, the Saints and Panthers, have sub-.500 records. No matter, it'll all make for compelling TV with so many games having "playoff implications." Ugh.

By the way, I'm tired of seeing sportswriters and their ilk complain about the NFL's officiating on Twitter without them understanding that it's not incompetence that's driving these calls. They do understand that, don't they? Sportswriters can't be that dense, can they? That's why Jeff Triplette still works as an NFL referee (although he was suspicious absent from its Week 15 roster of games, perhaps due to his crew's horrible job in Week 14's Lions-Bears game). If he really were that bad at his job, he'd be fired. That's what would happen within any other corporation. Incompetence can only hide so long. There has to be more willing NFL officiating candidates out there capable of doing this job at supposedly the highest level in the country if need be. But need doesn't be. Why? Because the officials are doing exactly what it is the league wants them to do. That's why the calls in the Panthers-Redskins game sucked. That's why holding isn't called on every down (or even close to every time it legitimately occurs). This is the officiating the NFL wants, it's why penalties are not reviewable in instant replay, it's why the league gets the outcomes it wants/needs more often than not. So, for the love of God, quit yer bitchin', sportswriters. Either do something about it or wise up!

Oh, and if you're the gambling-but-not-really-gambling type, perhaps you'd want to get in on the new "TD CD" offered at a Philadelphia-area bank which will base the CD's interest rate on the Eagles final score.

Happy holidays, everyone!

WEEK 16

And just like that, the NFL needs a back-up plan. Derek Carr (and Marcus Mariota) breaks his leg, and the story that was the Raiders likely shattered right along with his fibula. I mean, sure, the Raiders could continue onward, but what does the NFL have to hype in Matt McGloin? Same as they have to hype in Matt Moore should the Dolphins continue their winning ways or a Texans team led by Tom Savage. Everyone loves a CInderella story, but really, these three offer a whole lotta nothing. Which leaves the AFC to the Patriots, Steelers, and (gulp) Chiefs. So I guess we're going to see a Patriots v. Steelers AFC Championship Game to determine who's the Cowboys fall guy.

Stuff happened in the NFC this weekend as well, but to be honest, I didn't watch a single minute of football because of the holidays. I hope you enjoyed a similar football-free weekend as well.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out, however. For one, T.Y. Hilton of the Colts told reporters his team "laid down" in their critical loss to the Texans. I thought pro football was the place where every athlete lived up to the cliches--you know, giving 110%, taking it to the next level, etc. I guess not. Maybe that explains why the Giants decided against showing up for their Thursday night game versus the Eagles, or why the Chargers lost--yes, lost--to the Browns. Perhaps this Christmas miracle win for Cleveland will give the franchise's fans something to cling to for 2017. Maybe.

Then there's this:


The NFL's ratings keep bouncing back from it's early season woes. Maybe that explains why stalwart teams like the Packers and Steelers suddenly turned their seasons around after horrific starts (much like the ratings, go fig).

Speaking of the Packers, why exactly did the Vikings DBs not listen to their head coach and abandon their game plan meant to stop Packers WR Jordy Nelson who exploded in the first half for 145 yards and two touchdown (effectively putting the game out of reach)? Now, of course, the whole matter was "blown out of proportion" and meant nothing, except for, you know, giving the Packers a needed win to keep them in the playoff hunt. This also raises the forever-to-be-unanswered question of how often do NFL players completely ignore the team's game plan and coaches' instructions to do as they please? I thought much like the cliched "giving 110% on every down" thing, this sort of player-coach breakdown never occurs. Yet here it happens at just the right time to make Week 17's final game between the Packers and Lions mean even more.

WEEK 17

2016 was the worst year of my life. Or, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, the worst year of my life...so far. Professionally, personally, physically, emotionally, mentally--there was no upside for me in 2016. I had several personal issues, either with myself or with loved ones, and was so stressed out by these seeming weekly events, I honestly felt like I was having a heart attack for the entire month of August (and part of September to boot). Stress is a helluva thing. I highly suggest avoiding it. Needless to say, I really didn't put much effort into my 2016 NFL weekly review here because I always had something more pressing, more mentally straining to deal with. I usually updated this blog Tuesday nights from my "day job" which I could do because the business I work for is failing, and I'd be surprised to see this place open come 2018. Good times. So I appreciate all my fans sticking with me throughout this ordeal, and hope your 2017 is better than 2016--because I certainly need that to happen.

On to football. My 2016 wrapped up as if on cue with me having a migraine headache so fierce that I was vomiting and couldn't look at a TV because the light amplified the symptoms. So I didn't really see any of the games this weekend, but it didn't matter as most of the games didn't matter. And the two that did shocked me as the Redskins fell to the Giants (which I didn't expect) making the Sunday night finale rather moot as both the Lions and Packers made the playoffs as if by default. The Giants seemed as if they wanted to hand the Redskins a playoff berth during the second half, but the 'Skins simply couldn't get out of their own way. And I'm curious as to when the rest of the NFL is going to figure out the Packers have zero healthy DBs and take advantage of that weakness. The Lions should've been the ones to do it--considering the Pack lost three DBs during the game--yet they failed to utilize the opportunity...and yet still made the playoffs.

What is also rather bizarre is how teams with "nothing to play for" managed to beat playoff teams (especially if one includes the point spread) over the past two weeks. The Giants aside, the Eagles beat the Cowboys; Panthers beat the Redskins; Bengals beat the Ravens; Titans beat the Texans; the Bears, Jaguars, 49ers and Browns all were good bets...but any given Sunday, right?

So on to the playoffs. I normally don't do this, but what the hell? Start the new year with something new. Here's my predictions for the playoffs:

In the NFC, nothing matters but the Cowboys. If they don't make the Super Bowl I'll be shocked. Here's how they get there: Giants beat the Packers (if Eli Manning doesn't throw for 500+ yards against that Packers secondary, something's wrong) so there can be that Giants v. Cowboys rematch. I'd say the Lions upset the Seahawks because the Seahawks have looked bad, but who really cares about Detroit? Which means the Seahawks win so the "Legion of Boom" (is that still a thing?) will take on the Falcons potent offense. Cowboys beat the Giants (finally), and the Falcons beat the Seahawks. Cowboys beat the Falcons, and as expected, make the Super Bowl. (I actually would give the Falcons a 5% chance of winning the NFC given their stadium situation, but still, this has been the Cowboys year and the media loves it).

In the AFC, I'm still standing by my prediction that the Patriots fail. So who cares who wins in the Raiders v. Texans game? I'll take the Texans just because the Raiders don't have a QB. (By the way, I like how the NFL made this the first playoff game of the year--people will watch this game simply because it's the "playoffs" otherwise who would tune in?). The Steelers then beat the Dolphins. The Patriots cream the Texans, and the Chiefs beat the Steelers. The Chiefs go into Foxborough and upset the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl (I'd give the Steelers a 5% chance of beating KC then beating the Patriots). This sets up a weird, all-Texas Super Bowl. How? Because the Chiefs were the original Dallas team back in the AFC (the franchise was the Dallas Texans--how 'bout that?--prior to moving to Kansas City), so the original Dallas franchise will take on the upstart Dallas franchise in the Super Bowl played in Houston.

And I'll take the Cowboys for the win.

Happy New Year!

WILDCARD WEEKEND

You know the NFL and its media pundits are reaching when a literal hole in the wall is the biggest news coming out of Wildcard Weekend. Not one of these games were a true contest, and not one made for great TV...yet who didn't watch? (Well, I didn't, but I'm in the minority here).

I went 3-for-4 on my playoff predictions, and that wasn't too hard. Oakland, led by a 3rd string QB, losing to Houston? That was a given. Does this mean Houston has a chance of breaking the "Super Bowl curse" and will play in a "home" Super Bowl? Not a chance.

Seattle defeating Detroit? C'mon. Did anyone think all those 4th quarter comeback by the Lions actually meant something? Well, it did. It meant they were a bad team and were constantly trailing in the 4th quarter of games. In fact, ESPN called the game early.

Did Miami have a chance against Pittsburgh? Nope. Though I don't have visual evidence of this, according to one fan of mine, ESPN.com listed Houston as playing New England prior to this game even taking place. Funny, because if Miami pulled off the upset, as a Wildcard winner they would be playing the Patriots, not Houston. So I guess this game was a given as well.

Which leaves us with the Giants-Packers game and this lovely sight--

The "party boat" had nothing to do with the final outcome--or the Giants' WR corps play--but it was a great talking point. The turn-around in this game was amazing, however. Here you had the NFL's 31st ranked pass defense in the Packers able to completely shut down Odell Beckham Jr, cagey veteran Victor Cruz, and star rookie Sterling Shepard with ease. That is, when Beckham and Shepard weren't dropping the ball...in the end zone...more than once. I believe in my prediction I wrote if the Eli Manning didn't pass for a ridiculously high number of yards, something was up with this game. Well, here we are.

The Packers lost their #1 WR in Jordy Nelson, and yet their offense got better after he left the game. Cover Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone on yet another Aaron Rodgers' hail mary? Nah. Why bother? And why bother to, you know, try and jump for the actual ball as it comes down from orbit? The Giants outplayed the Packers for nearly half the game, then like in the Redskins game in Week 17, they appeared to quit...only this time their opposition didn't blow the opportunity.

Then, like children, apparently the Giants rebeled. First, Beckham punched a hole in the wall (no one's ever called him "smart," have they?), then the team destroyed a plane. Could this be the reaction of a team that took a dive? Maybe. Or it could just be a bunch of unprofessional goofs who can't control their tempers. And despite this being the game I got wrong, I still believe whichever team won this game is nothing short of a fall guy for Dallas next week even though more than one fan emailed me believing we're in store for a Packers-Chiefs Super Bowl, a rematch of Super Bowl 1 in Super Bowl 51.

Stay tuned....

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

I write this in a bit of shock as the NFL pulled the rug out from under its own main season-long storyline, the Cowboys. Jerry Jones' team has been the catalyst for NFL ratings all season. But sometimes I'm not smart enough to get out of my own way. In predicting that the 'Boys were on their way to the Super Bowl because of this, I failed to rely on the true engine that drives NFL ratings and storylines--Quarterbacks.

The three of the four QBs that remain now are perhaps the best the NFL has to offer, in talent, legacy, and even marketing--Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers. Matt Ryan, who's been on cusp of that elite group for sometime, is an MVP candidate this season, and as I mentioned in my predictions, I gave the Falcons a 5% chance of making the Super Bowl because of their stadium situation. Why would I think the Chiefs and Alex Smith had a chance, or that a rookie like Dak Prescott would advance when I put this into perspective (even for myself)?

Saturdays two games were givens. Atlanta needed that victory over Seattle, and Seattle seemed to play the second half as if that were certainly the case. And while some fans of mine thought Houston would pull off the upset of upsets, c'mon--re-read that last paragraph and it all becomes incredibly clear that wasn't about to happen (especially given that even the Sporting News was questioning why the refs were allowing the Patriots to get away with clear penalties).

Which gets us to Sunday. First off, the first game--Steelers v. Chiefs--was bumped to prime-time because of a potential ice storm in the Kansas City area. That didn't exactly develop, and I'm sure both the NFL and NBC were crushed to change that game from a 1 pm start to 7 pm. Had to be a killer for ratings. Secondly, though I missed this initially, apparently the Falcons' official Facebook page was so excited about the team's victory they created an event page for the NFC Championship Game...in which the Falcons were going to play the Green Bay Packers. Interesting because the Packer v. Cowboys game hadn't kicked off yet. But the Falcons' "mistake" was accurate.

The Packers v. Cowboys game was an "instant classic," with three (or was it four?) scores in the final two minutes. The Cowboys rookies erased an 18-point deficit to tie the game on Prescott's two-point conversion QB sneak, then the Packers kicked a 56-yard field goal, the Cowboys answered with their own field goal, and witn under 15 seconds to play and on 3-and-20, the Cowboys fail to cover the Packers TE Jared Cook (who had been killing them all day) and Rodgers pulls another miracle out of you-know-where, and lo-and-behold, with 03 seconds left, Green Bay ends the Cowboys with a 51-yard field goal. Funny part of all of this was, where were the refs? Oh sure, they got the Cowboys early with a never-seen-it-before 15-yard penalty for "an offensive player entering the huddle but not participating in the play" call. But where were the obvious calls? Like offensive holding? Because for both the Wildcard and the Divisional rounds, the "vaunted" Packers O-line has been flagged for holding exactly zero times. (Oh, I know, Packers' fans, there were a few pass interference/holding calls that should've called on the Cowboys that weren't, but your DBs weren't flagged for much, either).

Now contrast that to the treatment the Chiefs got versus the Steelers. This certainly looks like defensive pass interference:

But was it called? Nope. Clean play. And while the Chiefs had to scratch and claw their way back into this game, when they did tie it with a 2-point conversion pass with under two minutes to play, guess what? Now was the time for an offensive holding call which negated the score, moved the Chiefs back ten yards, their second attempt to tie the game failed, and there endth the game. Now, I don't think that holding call was incorrect, but given the Packers inability to get flagged for such things as well as the timing of the call, and the "correct" call seemed to be the "right" call for the NFL at that time.

So we're going to get Rodgers v. Brady in the Super Bowl, aren't we? It's a waaay sexier match-up than Roethlisberger v. Ryan. And while I gave both the Steelers and Falcons a shot at making it to the end, this is really what I should have been thinking about all along:

Funny, too, that the NFL's investigation into Ezekiel Elliott's past heated up just now, as the Cowboys were set to make their march to the Super Bowl. Is that a coincidence, or a telling sign?

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Just prior to this Sunday's games, I was alerted to this website which details future match-ups for each NFL team per the league's dictated scheduling system through 2019. Assuming the site is correct--and I don't know why you'd make a fake website dedicated to that--the NFL's lucky streak was about to continue. In 2017, the NFL and its broadcast partners were to be blessed with a rematch of both Conference Championship games--the Falcons were scheduled to host the Packers while the Patriots would travel to PIttsburgh to again face the Steelers. On top of that, again thanks to this "quirk," the Falcons were to play New England and the Packers are set to battle the Steelers in 2017. In other words, by sheer "coincidence" the NFL could potentially be guaranteed not just AFC and NFC Championship rematches, but a Super Bowl rematch as well...if things worked out (wink, wink).

As fate would have it, both the Steelers and the Packers reportedly came down with "the flu" in the days leading up to their respective games. Bummer. The Steelers also had a crazed Patriots fan pull the fire alarm at the team's hotel at 3 am the morning of their game. Steelers star RB Le'Veon Bell "injured" his groin early in the game and never returned. Packers got their #1 WR Jordy Nelson back from broken ribs and did worse.

Any of this sound funny to you?

In the NFC Championship game, the Packers were steamrolled by the Falcons and Matt Ryan. I had written a few weeks ago that because the Falcons were set to open up a new stadium (seen above) in 2017 that went from being privately funded to publicly--and that many in Atlanta weren't happy with that--there was a chance (5% in my mind) for the Falcons to reach the Super Bowl to appease those angered by the change. Well, here they are.

I had also written that the Giants, with their three star WRs, should throw for 500 yards on the Packers weak pass defense (and if not, something was up). They didn't. Neither did the Cowboys feed Dez Bryant as they should have since he looked like a man among boys during the game. But only the Falcons were bright enough to see this mismatch and used Julio Jones to exploit it to the hilt. And people were surprised Aaron Rodgers' "magic" failed the Packers?

CBS Sports had an article about the 2016 NFL playoffs being the "worst ever." Why? Too many lopsided games and not enough nailbiters. And while this is true, another thought occurred to me--where have the referees been in this playoff season? Could this be a teltale sign that officials do influence NFL outcomes, and have artificially kept regular season games closer than they should have been? Because not one playoff game has been "marred" by a "bad" call. Certainly a few have been questionable--did the Falcons recover the Packers fumble on the 1-yard line or was it a touchback, and did Tom Brady fumble on the QB sneak which the Steelers recovered?--but nothing that has really altered a game or caused controversy.

In the AFC Championship game, there wasn't a single flag thrown in the entire first half. In the end, five penalties were assesed--three on the Steelers (for 19 yards) and two on the Patriots (for 10 yards). There were 10 total assessed in the Packers-Falcons game, the biggest of which was the facemasking call against Rodgers (!) and on the subsequent play, a seemingly "make-up" pass interference flag against the very Falcons DB Rodgers facemasked.

If this wasn't a case of the referees "letting them play," I don't know what is. Maybe both the Falcons and the Patriots picked up on this faster and used it to their advantage better which is why both ran away with their respective games. But for the NFL supposedly having their "best of the best" officials on the field, those referees weren't too concerned with holding, pass interference, or any other subjective penalties that could be called. It was noticeable enough that Grady Jackson of the Falcons told Pro Football Weekly that the Packers struggle when a game is "played fair." That, football fans, is a scary statement.

So Super Bowl LI(e) is the Falcons v. the Patriots. Who wins? I'm sticking with my original assessment which was that there's no way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hands that Lombardi Trophy over to Tom Brady after the entire "Deflategate" debacle. Now I know millions of NFL fans and most sportswriters would love for that very scenario to play out. And God knows, Goodell makes enough money to endure a little egg on his face by eating a plateful of crow. But that's not the way the NFL typically rolls.

Atlanta's never won a Super Bowl despite being in the league the same number of years the Super Bowl has been in existence, and I can foresee the spectacle that is the franchise hoisting the Championship banner on opening night of their new stadium on primetime TV. That's what the NFL loves, and that's what I believe we'll see.

SUPER BOWL LIe

I was wrong. Not about the games being a "presentation of the National Football League" and everything that goes along with that statement. No, I was wrong in not completely grasping how much the NFL mimics the WWE. In pro wrestling, the ultimate heel is Vince McMahon. In the NFL, the biggest heel is Commissioner Roger Goodell. Nothing got the hardcore fans and sportswriters slapping their hands together like a bunch of trained seals more than seeing Goodell get his comeuppance with a New England Patriots win led by Tom Brady.

And immediately after the historic comeback that made that victory possible, Goodell gets on the podium and is not just met with an constant, ear-splitting "boo" by the fans but he is instantly trolled by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, feeding into the sentiment pulsating through the stadium. Kraft and Goodell are buddies. Kraft may be Goodell's biggest supporter inside the league. And he's the one who instantly calls out Goodell over the Deflategate "scandal" which suspended Brady for the first four games of the season? You don't think that's all part of the show? That's the culmination of the show! And it's only once I saw that happen that I understood why I got the outcome of this game so wrong.

Take a look at this:

While this tweet (rightfully) mocked the "statistic" of win probability during the Super Bowl, it failed to take into account one important detail--the Super Bowl wasn't a real game. If it was a true sport, well, those numbers were accurate. The Patriots were finished, toasted and roasted. But this is the NFL, part of the entertainment industry, and here miracle comebacks are all part of the show.

Because if this game was real, why did the Falcons do any of the following?

Up 28-3, they only called running plays five more times for the remainder of the game.

Up by 16 in the fourth quarter, averaging 6+ yards a carry (when they did run the ball), and after running on the first two downs to make it 3rd-and-1, Matt Ryan fades back not for a quick strike pass, but a long pass play. He stands statuesque in the pocket and is promptly blindsided, sacked, and fumbles.

Then when up only  8 and after a spectacular catch by Julio Jones (which may have been an attempted interception on Ryan's part given the stupidity of the throw in the first place), the Falcons had the ball on the Patriots' 22-yard line with three minutes left in the game. They were three runs and a field goal attempt away from sealing the team's first-ever Super Bowl championship. So what do they do? First down is a run (good start) for -1 yards. Still right there for a field goal. Second down is a pass (!), yet Ryan is sacked (doesn't bother to throw the ball away). Still, a long field goal attempt is possible. So on third down, the Falcons attempt another pass. This leads to an offensive holding call which makes it 3rd-and-33 and knocks out the possibility of any field goal attempt. The second attempt at third down is a complete bust, and well...you know how it ended from there.

Even Marshawn Lynch--you remember, the guy the Seahawks should've given the ball to when their Super Bowl vs. the Patriots was on the line--managed to say of these moves:

So twice now the Patriots won a Super Bowl not because their opponents weren out-coached, but because they did the dumb thing: pass when anyone with a brain would hand the ball off.

Funny, too, that the refs were very hands off in the playoffs, and from outward appearance, stayed that way in the Super Bowl (13 penalties for the game--only 4 of which were called against the Patriots). Yet it's not necessarily what's called, but when it's flagged that really matters. Like that previously mentioned holding call late in the 4th quarter against the Falcons. A backbreaker if ever there was one. Or like when in the second quarter as the Patriots were being pummeled the refs handed Brady and Co. three straight first downs on 3rd down because of "defensive holding." These calls were clearly made to keep that drive alive and keep the Patriots in contention.

And what about the non-calls? The plays that should've been flagged but magically were not? Such as the game-tying 2-point conversion attempt. Might there have been a big of premature blocking/interference on the Patriots on that play? Sure, they flagged the Falcons for being offsides, but an off-setting call would have put pressure back on the Patriots. But why ruin a good thing, right?

I could break this game down further, but why bother? You (probably) saw it for yourself. Plenty of football fans on Twitter seemed to think the game was a bit shady, that it might have been too much of a production. But it made for great TV--and the Super Bowl is the most watched TV production now, year in and year out. Plus, the Super Bowl's wild finish silenced all those naysayers who criticized the NFL's ratings and their "boring" playoffs leading up to this point. The league ended it's season with a true bang, one that will ring out over its remaining history (however long that may be). What more do fans want? What more entertainment can the league provide?

Remember, it's only a game. The meaning placed upon it is up to you, and you alone.