(as picked apart by me, The Fix Is In)
Horrible way to start the playoffs. I hate to say it but this was not a good performance by the crew. Teams and fans deserve better.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) January 7, 2018
Look at No. 24 Darrelle Revis on Derrick Henry's game-clinching run. Gave up on the Chiefs most important play of the season. What an embarrassment. pic.twitter.com/k9B0oVeCfp— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) January 7, 2018
This "Cam Newton's visor poked him in the eye" is the greatest storyline in the history of sports. And I'm saying that as a former WWE wrestler. Watch the video, you don't collapse after that him because you need ice on your face. It's a #concussion. pic.twitter.com/fgsMiai3et— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) January 8, 2018
Let's start with the return Aaron Rodgers to the Packers for their "must win" game against the Panthers. This seemed like a no-brainer -- with one of the league's premiere QBs suiting back up after an eight week layoff, there was no way the Packers would lose, right? I mean, Rodgers is one of the NFL's "golden boys" with his amazing abilities and national endorsements. Why wouldn't the league keep him, and by extension, the Packers around and in the playoff hunt?
Well, to be honest, I thought they would. But -- perhaps pun intended -- then came this play...
No one thought this was a catch, especially for a touchdown. Not Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, not former NFL ref turned FOX broadcaster Mike Pereira, not Panthers TE Greg Olsen, and not even yours truly. Lo and behold, we were all wrong. This is a touchdown catch, and this call (plus a few others) cost Green Bay the game.
So why did the NFL seemingly turn on the Packers and Rodgers? Two thoughts. One, Rodgers didn't appear anywhere near 100 percent. He grossly underthrew two passes for interceptions, both of which seemed out of character, and when knocked to the turf, he appeared uncomfortable and in pain. The NFL can only mask so much. Better to save ARog until next year when all is well. Second, almost immediately after the game, Panthers owners (and former NFL player) Jerry Richardson announced his plans to sell the team. The most likely reason why is because it was recently uncovered that he had settled more than one harrassment suit, and knowing the modern NFL and its "investigations," it is likely none of it would've ended well for Richardson. So, to avoid any further embarrassment to himself, the franchise and the NFL, he's leaving...and perhaps being thrown a bone in a playoff berth on the way out the door.
Now, remarkably, if the "catch" seen above was a touchdown, somehow the catch seen below was not a touchdown.
This play, too, completely stumped the experts. Everyone seemed to think Jesse James catch was the go-ahead (if not outright game winning) score for the Steelers in their match-up with the Patriots. Nope. He didn't "complete the process" of the catch despite having a firm grip on the ball when crossing the goal line. Or, in other words, the NFL and its rulebook with the massive gray areas intentionally written into it can call any play any way the league chooses when its result best suits the NFL's needs. In this instance, the non-TD call (and perhaps the two -- count 'em two -- penalties called on the Patriots all game) cost the Steelers the game which suddenly made a handful of next week's games more interesting because had Pittsburgh won, they would've locked up the #1 seed and home field advantage for the AFC playoffs. Now, that remains up for grabs, meaning Week 16 (and potentially Week 17) Steelers and Patriots games are more meaningful. Don't forget to tune in to see what happens!
Not to be outdone, the Cowboys and Raiders Sunday night affair was equally as head scratching. This game was a "must win" for the Cowboys to stay in the playoff hunt, especially given that their star RB Ezekiel Elliott is due to return from his six game suspension in Week 16. As for the Raiders, well, at 6-7 their playoff hopes were close to dashed even prior to the game, and let's be honest, ever since Al Davis went to war with the NFL some 30+ years ago, the league has never smiled on the franchise.
The calls all seemed to go Dallas's way, but the really killer for Oakland's chances came on a first down measurement late in the fourth quarter. After Dak Prescott's QB sneak, the ball was spotted and required the chains to determine if he made the first down. If Dak did, the Cowboys drive stayed alive. If he was short, the Raiders would have the ball already in field goal position. With the game tied 17-17 at the time, this call was everything. Here's what it came down to...
Now here's the thing with that piece of paper. If there was room between the ball and the paper -- and there was -- he was short of the first down. Raiders ball. But instead, referee Gene Steratore cracks a smile and awards the Cowboys the first down, much to Oakland's dismay. Really, could it have gone any other way?
After the Cowboys went ahead 20-17, the Raiders still had a chance. In fact, they had more than a chance after getting a 55-yard pass interference penalty called against the Cowboys on 4th down. The Raiders looked to tie the game back up, or win it outright, until QB Derek Carr got the ball in his hands. Then...
Oops. Touchback. Dallas's ball. Game over. Raiders over. Cowboys playoff chances just went up.
Three games, three calls, all made wrong, yet all "right" from the NFL's viewpoint. Heck of a "sport," this NFL.
This week was a total WTF, and I'm not talking about (SPOILER ALERT) the death of Carl on The Walking Dead.
Let's start at the beginning, which for the NFL these days is Thursday. Remember Thursday? The Falcons beat the Saints 20-17 to keep their playoff hopes alive while tightening up the entire NFC South playoff race. In that game, the Falcons were given nine -- count 'em nine -- first downs thanks to Saints' penalties. One of the referees helping the Falcons out happened to be a former Falcons' player, Phil McKinnley. Remarkably (or not), the NFL did not officially list McKinnley as working the game, and actually assigned him to the game despite McKinnley not being a member of the officiating crew assigned to the game. There's actually more about this game and the NFL's recent treatment of the Saints in general to be found here (it's worth the read), especially given that the author of that piece is crying "conspiracy" and it's not unfounded.
Then in snowy Buffalo, in a game few probably cared about, the Colts and the refs gave the home-town Bills a much needed 13-7 win to keep their slim hopes of the playoffs alive. First, a good 30 seconds after the Colts scored a two-point conversion to go up 8-7 late in the 4th quarter, the refs decided the Colts had committed a penalty and negated the go-ahead 2-point score. The Colts managed to convert a 43-yard extra point in the snow to tie the game anyways. Then, for the remainer of the 4th quarter and on into overtime, the Colts coaching staff seemed to sabotage their own chances of winning the game. It was as if a call came down and ordered the Colts to lay down....and they listened.
Another call seemed to benefit the Jaguars of all teams in their win over the Seahawks. The Jaguars? Yes, the Jaguars. Perhaps all those overseas trips to London have their rewards, like completely missing pass interference on a crucial fourth down that gave the game to Jacksonville. The "non-call" was egregious enough that it likely sparked all of the end-of-the-game B.S. which included one of the Seahawks attempting to climb into the seats to go after a fan who threw a beer at him.
Though it wouldn't seem necessary in most NFL cities, in Los Angeles an actual casting call went out for people to act like LA Rams fans prior to their game against the Eagles. FOX Sports denied making the request, but it was for their coverage of this potential NFC playoff match-up. The game was a barn-burner, but though the Eagles won, their MVP candidate QB Carson Wentz blew out his ACL and is out for the season. Will the NFL continue hyping the Eagles without Wentz? I mean, can the NFL back Nick Foles? Or did the Eagles Super Bowl hopes vanish with the loss of Wentz, not because of the QB's play, but because of the hype machine behind him?
My prediction for the NFC representative was the Cowboys. Now that Wentz is gone, is it possible Jerry's 'Boys have a hope? At 7-6, they just might. Of course, they have to get the calls/"help" to make such a run. Thus far, one Cowboy -- DeMarcus Lawrence -- doesn't believe the refs have been treating them fairly. In fact, after their 30-10 win over the Giants, Lawrence was admittedly willing to get fined to tell the press, "F*ck them refs."
Also still alive are the Packers who rallied from a 21-7 deficit against the Browns to win in OT. The win likely resurrected Aaron Rodgers from injury which both Packers fans and the NFL are happy to see. Even though the Pack has some tough sledding ahead, with Rodgers back at QB, their next two or three games will garner national attention.
Amazingly, too, with the NFL taking over Saturday nights with games starting next week (Week 15), one of those games is the Chargers v. Chiefs which is basically a pre-playoff game as the winner will be alone in first place in the AFC West. That's a nice coincidence. In fact, even though the league trimmed a lot of fat off by eliminating a few teams that had very slim playoff potential, Week 15 will offer up several games with huge playoff implications including the Steelers v. Patriots, Rams v. Seahawks, and Cowboys v. Raiders (on Sunday night). What luck! Only three regular season weeks to go! Can't waste a one of them!
So after Monday Night's debacle, I'm feeling much more confident in my "Steelers to the Super Bowl" prediction. A Week 13 high of 13 penalties (for 173 yards) were called against the home Bengals while the visiting Steelers racked up 7 for 66 yards on MNF. One of those 13 Bengals flags negated a 50 yard AJ Green touchdown while another set the Steelers up for the game-winning Antonio Brown TD. In short, the refs gave this game to Pittsburgh while coincides with my theory that the Steelers are being gifted this season.
During this same game -- and on that winning AB touchdown -- the Bengals were flagged for a helmet to helmet hit. Subsequently, Bengals George Iloka was suspended for one game. While it didn't appear intentional (arguably), I can live with the call and suspension.
Unreal. Bengals respond with a brutal hit from S George Iloka on Steelers WR Antonio Brown. pic.twitter.com/DoLMgjHuqi— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) December 5, 2017
But then there's this, which the comment in the tweet sums it up perfectly (and goes along with my Week 12 post).
Gronk wasn't ejected for this because...Patriots pic.twitter.com/X0VTDhjcRK— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) December 3, 2017
Somehow, no flag. But upon review, "Gronk" received a one game suspension as well. Fair? A football-ish play that leads to a helmet to helmet hit versus an intentional late hit that may (or may not) have been directed at an opponent's head. Which was more egregious? Which more deserved a flag and a suspension? Which was caused by a star and which was directed at a star? Hmmm.....
Now let's take a step back and try to understand how both "new" LA teams -- the Rams and Chargers -- are suddenly playoff contenders. There's only one thing you need to understand. As a city, LA fans only support winners. No one is attending either the Rams or Chargers' games. So, the powers that be in the NFL apparently decided, "We need to make these team contenders -- and fast!" And so, here we are.
The Rams have a #1 overall draft pick in QB Jared Goff (who is talented) coupled with stud RB Todd Gurley and a solid defensive supporting cast. That alone should win games and draw fans. Yet, the LA Coliseum remains about half full at best. How well does that bode for the new $1 billion stadium slated to replace it as a new home for the Rams? Not too well. But a probable divisional champ with a guaranteed home playoff game will help all that. And if a game here or there needs to be fudged, oh well. That's NFL football today.
The Chargers are in worse shape all around. An aging, semi-star QB in Phil Rivers, a stud RB in Melvin Gordon, and an above average defense led the Chargers to an 0-4 start. No one -- I mean no one -- was showing up for their games. The Chargers couldn't fill an American soccer stadium. They looked completely out of contention, especially as the Chiefs ran away with the division. Then, the Chiefs fell apart, the Chargers went 6-2, and now the AFC West is knotted up with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders (hello, Las Vegas!) fighting for the title. Might not that help in selling a few tickets?
In fact, this is the time of season for the NFL to tighten everything up so more teams have more (mostly false) chances at making the playoffs. The Chargers and the AFC West are just one example.Thought the Cowboys were done? Not yet. The Packers without Aaron Rodgers? Still alive. The Bills, Ravens, Lions, and Falcons? Hope remains.With four games remaining in the regular season, only four teams are officially out of the playoffs -- the Bears, Browns, 49ers, and Giants. A happy accident, I'm sure.
So Sunday night, the sports books needed the Packers to cover over the Steelers, who were favored by 14 points.
A Steelers cover tonight would produce the worst Sunday of the NFL season for multiple Las Vegas sports books.— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) November 27, 2017
Of course, Vegas didn't need the Packers to win outright. So, when the Packers had the ball with under 2 minutes remaining in the game and needing just to get into field goal range to tie it, things looked dim for the home team. Then this play happened....
A helmet to helmet hit on Packers QB Brett Hundley. A personal foul for 15 yards, right? Nope. No call. I've heard all sorts of excuses why this wasn't flagged -- from it not being seen to Hundley taking a "runner's stance" and beyond -- but the real reason is the same as to why this LeBron James play from the other night wasn't called traveling...
Lebron continues to stretch the boundaries of what the refs won’t call pic.twitter.com/OFykdG3lDE— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) November 28, 2017
Previously, on Thanksgiving, the Lions managed to stick around all afternoon against the Vikings. Why? "Poor" officiating. But that's not me -- America's leading sports conspiracy theorist -- writing such things. It's Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (and NBC Sports) saying as such in this article. In fact, Florio went so far as to write...
"...while I’m a firm believer that the fix is never in, moments like this make me wonder whether the ratings dip has resulted in an unspoken message to give calls to a team that is on the verge of getting blown out, in order to help avoid it. And if I’m wondering, other people are, too.
"Several years ago, the Commissioner admitted that he always roots for the team that is trailing. At the time he said it, the league continued to be in unchecked growth mode. Now that the pie is shrinking, maybe it makes sense to find a not-so-subtle way to keep games closer.
"That said, I still don’t believe it’s happening. Incompetence in these matters is always a more reasonable explanation than design. But with mistakes that are so obvious and with limited procedures for fixing them, it’s not crazy to at least wonder whether human error is being steered a certain way. To avoid that kind of thinking, the league needs to be committed to correcting all correctable errors."
Or to paraphrase it for Florio, "The fix isn't in...but it might be...but it's not...still...maybe...?"
He writes that and gets to work on primetime. I write it, and I'm called a nut (among other things).
My life is still a bit topsy turvy at the moment, so this week's round-up is about as lame duck as Week 10. But some good news on a personal matter -- my next book is completed! If the publisher of The Fix Is In and Larceny Games decides to pick up this as-yet-untitled new book, it'll be a while before it's released (perhaps not until 2019). But if they pass, then I'll self-publish it and it should be available come the first of the new year.
Now, on to the NFL. The league entered a period of "haves" and "have nots." There are not many "haves" -- the Steelers and Patriots (maybe Jaguars!) in the AFC, and the Eagles, Vikings, and Saints (maybe Rams) in the NFC. Everyone else? "Have nots"...at the moment. And really, the NFL likes it like this. There's the "power" teams (see above), and the "parity" teams that will battle it out for the rest of the season to ensure most of the schedule remains watchable and meaningful because a handful of playoff spots will be up for grabs until Week 17.
It is interesting how the media covers all of this. While it's still pre-occupied with the anthem protests and their relationship to the league's falling ratings, the pundits don't quite know how to spin the stories they have on hand. For instance, take the Vikings and Packers. Both NFC North teams have lost their starting QBs early in the season -- Sam Bradford for the Vikings and Aaron Rodgers for the Packers. Since then, however, each team's fortunes diverged. The Vikings, led by 3rd string QB Case Keenum, are 8-2 and rising. The Packers, led by 2nd string QB Brett Hundley, are 5-5 and sinking. But the Vikings get praise for overcoming the injury while the Packers get sympathy for losing Rodgers. Both teams were in the same situation, yet the coverage of each team is generally different. No one is saying "woe to the Texans" for losing rookie QB sensation Deshaun Watson and using Tom Savage at QB, or for the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Cardinals for resorting to back-up QBs due to injury as well. All these stories are essentially the same, yet the media can spin them in a variety of ways to suit the situation.
Then there's the bizarre turn of events in Buffalo. Despite being in the thick of the playoff contention, the Bills decided to bench their starting QB Tyrod Taylor "just because" and go with 5th round draft pick Nathan Peterman. There was no sensible reason for the Bills to make the switch, and yet there it was. And there went Peterman, throwing five (!) first half interceptions on the way to a 54-24 loss to the Chargers. In seeing the five INTs, none were entirely Peterman's fault. His offensive line was zero help. My guess is that the line -- unhappy with Taylor's benching -- refused to block as a protest. If true, it worked. Taylor was back in at the start of the 2nd half.
If you find this story unlikely, I'll give you a true one along similar lines. Back in the late 1970s, my dad was a banker who occasionally worked with Bears players. One time, a Bears offensive lineman flat out told my dad that they refused to block for QB Bob Avellini because they wanted Vince Evans to start at that position. The coaches wouldn't listen to the players, so they tanked it until -- lo and behold -- Evans got the nod for a "struggling" Avellini. And players always give 110%....
Lastly, if you've been wondering about the ongoing Jerry Jones v. the league battle over Roger Goodell's salary (and job), let me enlighten you a bit. Outside of the public-owned Packers, the 30 other NFL owners are basically Communists when it comes to the NFL. They share approximately 70% of all revenue the league generates. Very little money goes unshared. However, Jerry Jones is the exception to this general rule. For example, most teams share merchandise sales. If you buy a NY Giants jersey, that money does not all go to the Mara family. It is actually shared by Eagles, Redskins, and the rest of the league as well. But the Cowboys do NOT get a cut. Jones has an exclusive deal with merchandise. He gets 100% of Cowboys sales, but not a dime of any other teams' sales. There are other ways in which Jones doesn't participate revenue-wise as well. This has always been a sore spot. The other owners don't like his selfishness (although they do like -- and benefit from -- his business acumen). But it's because of this unwillingness to be a full-fledged NFL owner that Jones is on the outs with the others, and why it wouldn't be surprising to see the owners attempt to oust him. He's not a team player. And it's likely why the Cowboys aren't going to get any support on the field for the time being, regardless of their contribution to the league's overall ratings.
You'll have to forgive me as I'm still dealing with some personal issues which have routed my attention to more important things. This website is a hobby, and when things go south in life, hobbies have to be set aside to focus one's attention on what truly matters.
That said, I can quickly rattle off a couple of things about Week 10 in the NFL. We're more than halfway through the season now, and the quality of football on display is not improving. I didn't see much football, but what I did see was a combination of poor play and foolish coaching. For example, how did the Cowboys allow Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to record six sacks on Dak Prescott? Couldn't the coaching staff see the problem and find a way to help their back-up tackle who was assigned to block Clayborn? Professionals shouldn't act this way.
But perhaps the Cowboys issues run deep. Perhaps my Super Bowl pick a few weeks back already took a hit given Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insistence in fighting the rest of the league on Commissioner Roger Goodell's salary. This owner infighting appears to be getting out of hand, and more seem to be lined up against Jones than on his side. Are they really about to allow him to win (or at least play in) the Super Bowl when there's talk of either sanction him or forcing him to sell the team? I doubt it...unless, of course, a settlement is reached in which Jones backs off Goodell in return for a gifted Super Bowl berth.
Then there's the saga of former Packers TE Martellus Bennett who signed with the team this past off-season after winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots last year. Bennett supposedly told the team after last week's game that he needed season-ending shoulder surgery which would've kept him under contract for the Packers into next season. The Packers didn't want his over-priced salary on their balance sheet, so the team cut Bennett, claiming he failed to disclose the prior injury when he initially signed with the team. Bennett, now free from the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, immediately signed back on with the Patriots, and suited up and played in Sunday night's victory over the Broncos. So much for that much-needed season-ending surgery, huh? It just goes to show how much of a business the NFL is, and how petty players (and teams) can be.
"Rodgers is out? I need surgery."
"You're injured? You're cut."
"Hello, New England? Is Tom Brady still there? He is? Good. Tell him I'm available. No, I'm not hurt. I'm good to play."
"Welcome back, Martellus."
Who else is lying about an injury? Who else was cut for the wrong reasons? Who else got screwed? I can tell you the answer to that last question. It's the fans.
So last week in a closed door owners' meeting, Texans owner Robert McNair reportedly stated, "We can't let the inmates run the prison" in reference to the players. Taking offense at the comment, players responded in various ways, including most of the Texans players kneeling prior to the game. Then this week, NFL player went out and acted like this.
That quote doesn't seem too far off base now, does it? And the NFL wonders why it's losing fans. And if it's not the players on (and off) the field behavior, perhaps it's their actual game play. Like these great defensive gems from this week.
That said, I heard a Chicago-area sports radio host say, "Every teams seems like they are 5-4 or 4-5. How am I supposed to know who's good anymore?" It's a fair point, and it one I think many fans agree with. But this is the parity the NFL has long sought after because if every team is average, then every team can carry playoff aspirations all season, stringing their fans right along with them. And that keeps eyes on TVs. That drives ratings. That makes the NFL rich.
But it doesn't make for good quality football (as seen above). Does the NFL care? It's hype machine can do much of the league's heavy lifting, turning a mediocre product into something fans believe is must-see TV. And until fans demand a change by turning it off, we'll get more of the above week in, week out. Enjoy. It's what you asked for.
Oh, but before, I do I have to revisit the Zach Miller play in that CHI-NO game. Not because of the horrible injury Miller suffered on the play. But because this was somehow NOT ruled a catch. You tell me how this wasn't a catch because it's amazing he managed to hold the ball as long as he did given that his knee dislocated halfway through the play. Did NFL HQ want Miller to hold onto the ball all the way to the hospital?
(Yeah, it's a shaky video, but I know this won't get pulled like the last one did)
Ok. On to my sort-of Super Bowl prediction.
First, we can clearly rule out a few teams. The 49ers, Browns, Bears, Buccaneers, and Giants in the NFC and the Browns, Jets, and Colts in the AFC are toast. See y'all next year. Teams that are likely finished this year include the Cardinals (no QB), Packers (no QB), Lions, and Redskins in the NFC and the Ravens, Raiders, Chargers, Broncos, Bengals, and Dolphins in the AFC. That's covers more than half the league that you can really rule out at this point. Oh, sure, IF Aaron Rodgers could come back by season's end for the Packers, or IF the Lions, Redskins, and/or Raiders put together some semblance of a complete package on the field, or IF the NFL feels LA needs both of its teams in the playoffs to make the Chargers move there seem reasonable, all of those teams have a shot at the playoffs...as a one-and-done Wildcard team.
This leaves slim pickings for who makes a Super Bowl run. In the AFC, there's always the Patriots. I'm actually ruling them out. They're not going back to back (again), so IF they should somehow reach the Super Bowl (again), they're fall guys. The Bills are quite possibly a playoff team -- the franchise has been mostly forgotten by NFL fans and "owed" one -- but QB Tyrod Taylor is not a household name. Therefore, their run stops short. The Titans and Jaguars are interchangable. Neither matters. If the league wants to build up QB Marcus Mariotta for the future, then the Titans get thrown a bone. Otherwise, these two teams (should either win their division) are mere fodder. Despite the hostilities between ownership and players, the Texans still have a hope of winning their division over the aforementioned Titans and Jags. With the hype QB Deshaun Watson is generating (and the ol' "Houston Strong" motto), the Texans could sneak in. But I suspect without JJ Watt in tow, if they do make, they don't go far.
This leaves two team -- the Chiefs and the Steelers. If I forced to choose, I go with the Steelers. With QB Ben Roethlisberger potentially retiring, he could get the Elway/Manning/Bettis send-off with a Super Bowl win. Plus, the Steelers have a national fanbase, other skill players like Bell, Brown, and JuJu Smith-Schuster to hype, and the myth of the "Steel Curtain" defense. While the Chiefs have played over and above most of their opponents with QB Alex Smith looking like a strong MVP candidate so far, the Chiefs don't have the drawing power the Steelers do. That said, they have been another "long suffering" franchise, and head coach Andy Reid might be "owed" one for years of faithful tanking at the league's behest.
But my pick right now is Pittsburgh in the AFC.
The NFC is tougher to decode. I doubt any of the NFC South teams -- Panthers, Saints, or Falcons -- reach the Super Bowl. If one of these three teams is going to emerge, however, I like the Saints simply because of QB Drew Brees promotional history. While it's looking like the Vikings will win their division, the Super Bowl will be played in Minnesota this year, and this doesn't feel like the year the "Super Bowl Curse" is broken. The Seahawks have names and a camera-friendly QB in Russell Wilson, but they've been contenders long enough. Plus, their ramble-rouser players aren't going to be given a platform like the Super Bowl to continue the anthem-based protests. Not this year.
So that leaves three teams -- the Eagles, Cowboys, and believe it or not, Rams. The Rams need the playoffs to establish an LA fan base. But I don't think QB Jared Goff has the goods for the Super Bowl just yet. A solid playoff run will do for now. The Eagles have a new Tim Tebow in QB Carson Wentz, only this version of Tebow can really play. Wentz is a quarterback the NFL can get behind 100 percent. The Eagles could be for real and be the Super Bowl team. The only thing standing in their way is their division rival the Cowboys. I think the NFL will likely make the Cowboys their Super Bowl team of choice, but it depends more two off-the-field issues than their on-the-field play. The first is the possible suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliott. But I'm sure the Cowboys can weather 6 games without him. But the second issue, owner Jerry Jones potential rebellion against Commissioner Roger Goodell is something else entirely. This revolt could determine the future of the league, and I'm not sure the other owners would be in a giving mood if Jones screws things up.
That said, I like the Cowboys v. Steelers match-up in the Super Bowl. It has history. It has two huge fanbases. And it'll sell from coast to coast. If this is what we get, then the Steelers will win and the team can hoist the trophy in honor of the recently deceased owner Dan Rooney to whom that shamrock patch on their jersey is dedicated.
I'm not sure I'm properly expressing myself this week, but I want to just focus on one game -- the Chiefs v. Raiders clash from Thursday night. The reason why is because this one game was a microcosm of what it is I talk/write about, and why some people will never believe a league like the NFL could or would fix its own games, instead choosing to rely on happenstance for every outcome.
On the surface, it was "just one of those games" that happens weekly in the NFL. So much so, that by the time I post this five days after it was played, most fans and pundits have ceased discussing what happened and have moved on to either some more recent game or to Week 8 altogether. But there is so much more to unpackage from the Raiders stunning 31-30 victory that "moving on" shouldn't occur so hastily....unless there's a good reason on why fans shouldn't dwell upon the outcome.
This was a game that cannot be fully comprehended from the box score. By looking at that, it just appeared to be a hotly contested game in which most statistics were even (including penalties) and which the Raiders prevailed in simply through guts, determination, and a last minute drive by Derek Carr. And by pulling it out of context, that would make sense.
But NFL games aren't played in a vacuum. They take place on TV, and are in fact an elaborate television show comprised of 32 different characters, each of which has a legion of fans that require attention. In this one contest lay so much more than "yet another game" played between the Chiefs and Raiders on Thursday Night Football. This was a game that if the Chiefs won, they would firmly establish themselves atop the AFC West while at the same time, nearly crushing any playoff aspirations that the Raiders enjoyed. But if the Raiders were victorious, suddenly the AFC West would tighten up and add weeks of interest and intrigue for fans of all teams in that division. Plus a good game -- an exciting game -- would do wonders for CBS and Thursday Night Football's overall ratings.
The first quarter didn't disappoint. By the time it ended, the score stood 14-14. Casual fans were hooked, and ready for a barnburner. Never mind that the first Raiders touchdown was on a flea flicker play in which Oakland WR Arami Cooper clearly committed offensive pass interference that went uncalled. No, the refs weren't playing favorites or subject to "home field advantage" there in Oakland. It was a totally clean play.
But where this game really went haywire was late in the fourth quarter. Leading by 6 with less than six minutes to play, the Chiefs were in Raiders territory and driving. Here, our old pal Tony Romo (who, by the way, has been somewhat neutered by CBS in terms of calling plays before they take place) says before a 2nd-and-9 play on the Raiders 45-yard line, "This drive is huge. It could make it a two score game and effectively end it!" As if on cue, Chiefs QB Alex Smith hits TE Travis Kelce with a short 5-yard pass, but instead of turning up field and easily reaching the first down marker, Kelce runs parallel toward the sidelines and is tackled short of a first down. Even Romo comments, "Why did he do that? He had the first down!" After a 3rd down incomplete pass, the Chiefs punter shanked the ensuing punt for 29 yards.
It felt as if the Chiefs were literally giving the Raiders a chance to win it.
But on that punt, the refs called the Raiders for holding and marched them back to their own 8-yard line. Hmmm...
For their part, the Raiders blew their chance. A quick three-and-out, and they punted right back to the Chiefs who, surprise, surprise, went three-and-out themselves -- capped off with a third down sack which pushed the Chiefs back to their own 29-yard line with less than three minutes to play.
After the Chiefs punted back to the Raiders, the magic started to happen. Starting from their own 15 with just one time out and the two minute warning available to stop the clock, the Raiders stormed down field despite their own ineptitude which included dropped passes, multiple WRs seemingly running routes on top of one another, and an offensive pass interference flag.
But the coup de grace came when Raiders TE Jared Cook caught a 30 yard bomb from Carr for a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining. Only, Cook didn't score. He was clearly down at the one-half yard line. It could be asked if the NFL wanted the Raiders to win, why not just give him the benefit of the doubt and the TD? Hmmm.... (again)
As the play was automatically reviewed, it was hard to deny Cook was down short of the goal line. By rule, 10 seconds had to be run off the clock, leaving the Raiders with just 8 seconds and no time outs to punch in the winning score.
On the first play after the review, Michael Crabtree caught the game-winning TD. Oh wait. A flag. Offensive pass interference on Crabtree. For a third time, the refs seemingly ruled against the Raiders when it appeared this game was destined to be theirs.
Now with three desperate seconds left, Carr threw an incomplete pass. Game over. Chiefs win. Nope. Defensive holding was called, giving the Raiders one un-timed down and one final hope. Carr threw an incomplete pass (again). Game over (again) Chiefs win (again). Nope (again). Defensive pass interference was called this time. Yet again (again), the Raiders had one last chance. This time, Carr delivered, sticking the ball in Crabtree's stomach for the game tying score. Only an extra point remained. And while it was ruled good, a second (and third and maybe fourth) look at it makes one wonder -- was that really through the uprights? Probably...maybe.
It didn't matter at that point. The Raiders had won in a miracle. One that kept them in the playoff hunt, and one that also kept both the Broncos and the resurgent Chargers in the race as well. Amazing what one game can do to the rest of the league and its schedule.
This was one of those games I felt I knew while watching it that the Raiders were going to win. It felt predetermined, especially knowing how much both the Raiders and the NFL needed that outcome. Yet, outside of the first quarter non-pass interference call on Cooper during the flea flicker, I'd be hard pressed to say that the refs called anything incorrectly during those insane final minutes of this game. Cook was short of the endzone. Crabtree pushed off. The two Chiefs penalties in the endzone which twice extended the game? Both were rightfully flagged. Every one of these penalties could have gone uncalled (and a case could've been made for Cook's catch to be a TD -- which Romo seemed to advocate for) because all of it was subjective. But I think the correct calls took place.
So if that was the case, can I really call this game fixed for the Raiders? No. Still, it felt as if this outcome was inevitable. Which is what can make this sort of endeavor so frustrating. Maybe once in the while the ball does simply bounce the NFL's way. Maybe the refs were merely doing the league's bidding by keeping the game close as possible until the end, and by doing so, gave the Raiders an unlikely chance which they capitalized upon -- not by mandate but by luck. It's difficult to say. All that I can admit here is that something felt wrong with this game from the get-go, and the outcome felt sickenly contrived. Perhaps putting a finger on it is impossible, but that gut feeling is tough to shake. Such a sensation should be enough for even doubting fans to question what they see week in, week out from the TV show that is the NFL.
OK, straight to football this week, and straight to the NFL's association with what's often called "Las Vegas," but is actually the overall sports gambling world. From all I read and saw this weekend, Vegas "needed" three games -- Minnesota over Green Bay, Miami over Atlanta, and the New York Giants over Denver. Guess what happened? The Vikings trounced the Packers once Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone (more on that in a moment), Smokin' Jay Cutler rattled off 20 unanswered points as the Dolphins defense shut out the Falcons' mighty offense in the second half to win 20-17, and the +13.5 underdog Giants upended that point spread, beating the Broncos 23-10 in Denver on Sunday night. I'm not saying these games were fixed by "Vegas" to ensure the betting public took a bath, but c'mon. Really? Is this the NFL's vaunted "parity" at work, or with millions of dollars on the line with these results, did some strings get pulled somewhere by someone with some power? (Oh, and I probably shouldn't totally overlook the last second cover by the Titans in their Monday Night game against the Colts, which was eerily similar to the last second cover by the Chiefs over the Redskins on MNF two weeks earlier. The Titans final TD came on a running play in which no one seemed to want to tackle the runner and he clearly stepped out of bounds. Oh well, bettors. Better luck next week!)
When people ask, "How could these games be rigged?" look no further than the NFL's crack officating crews. Thursday night, the zebras did all they could to keep Cam Newton and the Panthers in the game during their 28-23 loss to the Eagles. Maybe it was just a bit of home cookin', but the Eagles were flagged 10 times for a total of 126 penalty yards. The Panthers? One penalty assessed for one yard. Seriously. There's no way on God's green earth that the Panthers only committed one penalty Thursday night. Yet, there's the result, plain as day. No one of note seems to be questioning how this was possible, perhaps because of this...
Now, I hate to agree with Jason Whitlock, but he gets it. He also gets fitted with a tin foil hat because, you know, you can't suggest such things as star player favoritism without the conspiracy theory label being attached. Ha ha. Isn't that funny?
But watch former head of NFL officiating (and former stand-up comic, seriously) Dean Blandino in that clip (he's on the far left in case you don't know). When he's asked about this call, his verbal response isn't of note, but his body language is bizarre. He doesn't/won't look at anyone -- even the camera -- in the eye, he stutters, and a he gets jittery. To me, it appears as if he's lying -- and he knows the words coming out of his mouth are not the truth. Later, when he's not so "on the spot," his body language changes and calms. Plus, though he cites "internal NFL studies" on penalties, he's not very forthcoming with actual numbers and results of said studies. I wonder why...?
And while I'm not one for predictions, I'm going to throw a "sort-of" one out here. With Aaron Rodgers' (likely) season-ending injury an official reality, I think it's going to throw the NFL into a bit of turmoil storyline-wise. The Packers were a lock for the playoffs with a solid shot at the Super Bowl. Now? Not so much. Which means someone is going to have to pick up that slack. The NFL needs QBs to promote, and with Rodgers out of the spotlight, old familiar names like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger are going to return to their old selfs. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will "turn it around" now after their bye week. Carson Wentz will continue to shine for the Eagles (if the refs can lay off of them). And even Deshaun Watson's unlikely upper-echelon play will continue. This is a QB driven league, and with one of the best out, you better believe the NFL will force a suitable replacement into being sooner rather than later.
Good gravy. If I wanted to write about politics, I wouldn't run a sports-based website such as this (I'd write more about my book Disaster Government). But thanks to the NFL's anthem-centric protests, it appears that there's little escape from the subject as the two keep clashing head-on.
There's no reason to get bogged down by the details of each incident this past weekend. You can find more info by following the links if you so choose, but just in case you missed one of these "breaking stories", here's the brief rundown of what transpired.
--Vice President Pence attended the 49ers v. Colts game, but promptly left after a group of 49ers knelt for the anthem.
--Per a request by the Dolphins owner, head coach Adam Gase made it a team rule players stand for the anthem.
--Then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated that any player that disrespects the flag prior to kickoff won't play in the game.
--That was followed by controversial ESPN host Jemele Hill tweeting her thoughts on the subject of Jones and the Cowboys which included boycotting both the Cowboys' and NFL's advertisers. This got her suspended by the network for two weeks.
Myself, I could care less about the NFL players' protests. It has zero influence on me. If they want to kneel, sit, stand, do jumping jacks, whatever during the anthem, fine. Knock yourself out. I just dont want to hear them crying when they realize there can be repercussions to exercising one's freedom of speech -- especially when someone decides to make such a public statement in the middle of one's workplace in front of people who paid good money to be there.
But here's the thing that should stand out in all of this -- power and control. The NFL has this. The players do not. The NFL owners can exercise this. The players cannot. Once again, we can see clear evidence of the amount of control the NFL has over everything that surrounds its business/sport, including how it is covered by its media partners, yet we're supposed to believe that this power does not, cannot, and will not extend out onto the playing field in such a way that can influence its product, the games.
Three of these products that shouldn't have mattered based on each team's record -- Jets v. Browns, Chargers v. Giants, and the aforementioned 49ers v. Colts -- were all nailbiters. In fact, 11 games this week ended with the victorious team winning by less than a touchdown. That keeps eyes on the game longer than perhaps they should, much to the everyone's benefit. Unremarkably, this included each of the NFL's prime games -- the Thursday night Buccaneers v. Patriots game, the early national game between the Panthers and Lions, the late national game between the Packers and Cowboys, the Sunday night Chiefs v. Texans game, and the Monday night Vikings v. Bears affair (which had the bonus element of constant Star Wars hype -- no surprise given that ESPN's owner Disney also now owns the Star Wars franchise. If they really wanted to make some noise, however, I would've suggested having the stormtroopers who appeared at halftime instead appear prior to the game and force players to stand for the national anthem. That would've been a doozy. But I digress...).
But even as the league attempts to distract fans -- who, polls show, are turning against the league -- from the anthem protests via exciting football, the wheels are falling off. Ben Roethlisberger not only threw 5 interceptions in the Steelers 30-9 loss to the Jaguars, he once again hinted that his time in the NFL has come to an end. Eli Manning and the Giants didn't just fall to 0-5, they lost superstar WR Odell Beckham Jr for the season with a broken ankle. Also knocked out for the season was Houston's All-Star DE JJ Watt who broke his knee tripping over his own feet. Watt's loss might be the most important. He is one of the prime faces of the league, and received plenty of deserved praise for helping to raise $35+ million in hurricane relief funds for the city. It seemed as if NBC wanted to hype that further during the game (giving us the first shades of a repeat performance of "The Saints saved New Orleans" post-Hurricane Katrina), but Watt's early exit nixed that. That's one thing the NFL cannot do -- prevent star players from being injured. It will derail the best of laid plans faster than just about anything.
But the worst of all for the league was the late Sunday night release of a video showing Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster snorting lines of a "white substance" with a rolled up $20 bill. He apparently shot the video as a message to his girlfriend who, in turn, posted it on Facebook. This might just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding Foerster. Even though he resigned from the team Monday morning, the woman alluded to having more videos featuring the now ex-coach. And as if that weren't enough, perhaps the only reason this even surfaced was -- believe it or not -- because of the national anthem protests.
What goes around comes around.
As the linked story points out, we'll never know if this really did transpire. Wouldn't it suprise me if it were? Of course not. I'm certain this sort of petty behavior occurs within sports more often than fans ever hear. But what the story gets incorrect is calling this "illegal behavior." If the Raiders O-line threw the game to punish Carr, there's nothing illegal about this. No law compels an athlete to perform at peak capability. If a player chooses to underperform, so be it. To emphasize this point, check out Jay Cutler's inaction during the Dolphins v. Saints game in Week 4 (he's at the bottom of the screen playing the role of a wide receiver in the Dolphins' "Wildcat" formation)--
Cutler really selling his role in the Wildcat at the bottom of the screen pic.twitter.com/WgHxXvxlHL— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) October 1, 2017
If the Raiders offensive line did intentionally underperform to send Carr a message in Week 3, it appeared as if they continued to do so in Week 4 as the Broncos snuffed out Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch as well as the entire Raiders offense. Carr wound up with a serious back injury after the latest sack allowed by his line which had only given up 16 sacks all season last year, but has now allowed nine (eight on Carr, one on back-up EJ Manuel) in 2017. Perhaps the Broncos defense is just that good (which, stat-wise, it has been), but after Sunday's beat down, Raiders fans need to pump the breaks on that Super Bowl talk.
Speaking of defenses, where did the Patriots defense go? The "genius" Bill Belichick has watched his team give up over 400 yards of offensive in each of its first four games -- three of which were played at home. This is bizarre as the Patriots are unbeatable at home during Tom Brady's career, posting an amazing 101-16 regular season record in Foxborough prior to this year (why that has been the case is a conspiracy unto itself). Tthis season the Patriots have already lost two of three games at home and could have easily been 0-3 had Brady not pulled out a last minute win over the Texans in Week 3. Did someone finally pull the plug on the Patriots spying efforts?
Elsewhere, some new blood has started to rise in the NFL. While the Dolphins (led by Smokin' Jay), seem to be incapable of winning for the Hurricane ravaged Miami faithful, suddenly the Texans look alive. QB Deshaun Watson woke up the sagging Texans offense as they beat the Titans 57-14. The league still hasn't attempted to climb on the "Texans rebuilt Houston post-hurricane" bandwagon just yet, but if Watson can continue to shine, don't be surprise if it pulls that rabbit out of its hat.
The Rams upset the Cowboys in Dallas this weekend as well. Suddenly the Rams offense -- which is currently the highest scoring in the league -- is the talk of the town. It needs to be if the Rams are going to get fans into that new billion dollar stadium being built in Los Angeles. The 0-4 Chargers certainly aren't doing anything to help that cause (but remember, they were the late comers to LA). But LA loves a winner, and at 3-1, the Rams are winners and atop the NFC West. How long that can hold up is anyone's guess. Yet if the NFL is going to succeed in LA, wins -- no matter how they are earned -- will be needed as will a playoff berth.
Lastly, the end of the Monday Night Football game between the Redskins and Chiefs needs to be addressed. Not because it was controversial (it wasn't), but because this one play goes to show how much the NFL needs and wants gambling on its games -- even if the league refuses to say as much. Watch--
The Chiefs were favored by 7... pic.twitter.com/CorkofhPOA— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) October 3, 2017
I have said before that modern sports act like the gladiatorial contests in ancient Rome—they exist to distract the commoners from the corruption occurring within the government. And as much as I want to stick to sports here, it’s impossible for me to write this week’s recap without touching on what President Trump said because I believe that his comments which triggered the massive national anthem protests throughout the NFL this weekend served a greater purpose. The fallout from his comments has become a national talking point. Not the North Korea situation, not the health care debate, not the ever-increasing national debt, the biggest news story these past four days has focused on the NFL.
And I think the NFL attempted to capitalize on it…with mixed results.
While liberal sportswriters (thrilled to be able to forcibly inject politics into their sports coverage) reveled in the players’ “unified” display against Trump, the fact is the players were far from unified. Some didn’t take the field for the national anthem, some stood and linked arms, some sat, and some kneeled (my wife, bless her heart, honestly asked if they were kneeling because they were praying. I responded by telling her they were all “Tebow-ing.”) while the majority actually stood at attention. Ben Roethlisberger, for one, regretted not taking the field for the anthem. That’s not solidarity. That’s a fractured display, and it explains why time and again the players’ union falls apart when renegotiating its Collective Bargaining Agreement with NFL owners.
The reaction from fans was somewhat mixed. Pregame show ratings were up this week, but actual game ratings fell (again) from just a year ago. Fans, by and large, didn’t appreciate the protests (and I think most actually don’t even understand what the players are protesting and why, which to me means it’s a poorly organized protest if the message is lost and/or misunderstood). Patriots fans booed their own team. Some even reacted violently, burning jerseys and memorabilia while vowing not to watch anymore. How many actually stick to that agenda remains to be seen. I mean, how many MLB and NHL fans who vowed never to watch again after their sports’ championships were cancelled have forgiven those leagues?
So the question is what are the NFL owners thinking? In a sense, they created this mess by (a) accepting the US Army’s money to originally force players onto the field for the national anthem, and then (b) not nipping these protests in the bud prior to it becoming a hot button issue nationwide. And while many players say they are expressing their First Amendment rights in doing this, they’re wrong. It’s not a First Amendment issue when their doing this on company time and during a company event. The First Amendment isn’t applicable then. What I think is happening—and I could be wrong here—is that this is part of a longer play by owners. They allowed the protests, and even took part in them, to both show solidarity with their employees (the players) while at the same time fracturing them further so that when the next CBA comes up (and it’s coming soon), they’ll have something else to negotiate. The players will ask for this here or that there, and the owners will counter by using these incidents against the players for the owners gain. Don’t forget, Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the defunct USFL (which he hilariously called “small potatoes” in an ESPN 30 for 30 film) and many NFL owners contributed to his campaign. I think his comments were more loaded than most assume.
It’s amazing then that when the NFL was able to generate more eyes (initially) on its product this week via the controversy, NFL games suddenly got more exciting. Scoring jumped up. No more field goal-only games. Upset followed upset. The “London” Jaguars trounced the Ravens? The Bears upset the Steelers—in overtime no less? The rudderless Jets beat the Dolphins (so much for the hurricane effect)? The Bills upended the Broncos? The Redskins pummeled the Raiders in primetime? Who saw any of this coming? Maybe Vegas as all of these results generated a good deal of profit for the desert dwelling legal bookies.
For some Las Vegas bookmakers, yesterday was one of their most lucrative NFL Sundays ever: https://t.co/j7I7PPM1h0— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 25, 2017
But this sudden shift in excitement started even before Trump’s “sons of bitches” comment with the unlikely Thursday nighter played between the 49ers and Rams. For a game no one but the most ardent gamblers/fantasy fans had an even remote interest in, this game was ridiculous. The Rams put up a big lead, and the 49ers somehow, some way managed a comeback, but ultimately lost 41-39. Of course, the loss wasn’t without controversy as the referees screwed the 49ers during their final drive with one of the weakest offensive pass interference calls I’ve seen (and I did happen to see it live as it occurred). It was egregious enough for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to publicly comment on it.
Speaking of this game, somehow I wound up on the NFL’s PR email list. They raved about this shockingly non-stinker of a Thursday night game, writing in part, “The Thursday, September 21 Thursday Night Football thriller between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams averaged a 4.4 HH rating and 7.4M total viewers on TV nationally (just NFL Network – not including OTA), up +18% and +22% respectively versus 2016’s average across the 4 TNF games on NFL Network only (3.8 HH and 6.1M viewers). Through two NFL Network +OTA exclusive Thursday Night Football games, total viewers (7.8 M) are up +27% versus 2016’s average across the 4 Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network only (6.1M viewers). The game, won by the Rams 41-39, was the highest scoring game in Thursday Night Football history (80 combined points) besting the 73 points scored by the Chargers and 49ers in Week 16, 2014. (Chargers 38, 49ers 35)....Week # 3 TNF viewership peaked at 8.5M viewers during the 9:30p-9:45p quarter hour.”
Of course, there was controversy to go along with all of this week’s action. Most notably was seeing the Lions get screwed (yet again) by questionable officiating in their 30-26 loss to the Falcons. Lions WR Golden Tate seemingly caught the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left in the game. The NFL saw it otherwise because, well, when a catch is officially a catch is completely open to debate.
Meanwhile, Tony Romo continued to blow my mind as an NFL commentator. Seriously, if you get a chance, listen to him work. Once again he was calling plays before they happened in the Bengals v Packers game. Granted, he has a bird’s eye view of the action from the press box, but given that he would say, “audible out of that run because there is a run blitz coming!” and then the ensuing run play would go right into the teeth of the blitz is remarkable. Also, at one point, Romo yelled “he’s wide open!” on a Bengals pass play. He was 100 percent correct in his observation, but Andy Dalton didn’t listen. Instead of hitting his open man (who he looked directly at), he scrambled away from that side of the field to where no receivers were and was promptly sacked. The Packers, at home, came back and won in overtime (another NFL nail biter). Here's another typical example--
If Romo can see all of this, it makes me wonder two things (a) why can’t seasoned QBs see this as well and (b) why don’t other former QBs-turned-commentators like Troy Aikman, Phil Simms, and Rich Gannon as well as former coaches like Jon Gruden see these things? My opinion is that they all can, but (a) the on-the-field QBs are too caught up (or complicit) to audible and (b) the other commentators do see this stuff but are instructed not to say anything. I wonder how long Romo will be allowed to broadcast in the fashion he has been because his sense of the game not only puts other broadcasters to shame, it’s revealing in ways not everyone is catching on to.
Lastly, a fan (Joseph, I believe), altered me to the following video of Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin’s post game press conference. In it, he twice asks a mystery man off camera how to answer the questions the media asked. Now, I had another fan (Ron), wonder if teams/players were using Teleprompters during these post game Q&A sessions. I didn’t believe this was so, but after seeing Baldwin’s actions, I’m not so sure anymore. If the video doesn’t start at the right moment, the first incident is at the 6:43 mark, the second it at 9:40.
If you cannot hear it, Baldwin turns to the guy off camera and asks, “Am I allowed to say?” To which the guy (I believe) responds, “Richard [Sherman] talked about it. So did Michael [Bennett].” Wait, what? What does he mean, “Am I allowed to say?” Why wouldn’t he be? What happened to those “freedom of speech” protests at the beginning of the game? How often is someone standing alongside a player ensuring what’s said is allowed to be spoken? But the kicker was when the mystery man answers for Baldwin, who parrots his “We don’t talk about injuries” answer verbatim.
Many of you probably come here to have me point out which games the NFL may have manipulated each week. And while I could talk about how this week the Packers were on the receiving end of a few "bad calls" which cost them the game (while giving the Falcons a home win in the first game played in their $1.6 billion stadium...go figure) or how the Browns were shafted (again) in their game against the Ravens, I'd like to go in a slightly different direction this week.
I have good reason to do so -- I think we may be witnessing the beginning of the NFL's decline. The league actually has quite a few things going against it for once, and even "king football" cannot overcome and/or ignore all of these growing issues. First, there's the whole Colin Kaepernick thing. I have no doubt he's been blackballed by NFL owners (which, right there, should prove to those who doubt the NFL owners can come to an agreement about rigging their own games that they can indeed collude with each other). And not to dig into this thorny issue, but I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere that fans are protesting the league because Kaepernick isn't on a team, many of whom believe this is so because of his politics. This may be true. But I have to ask of those people protesting -- where does this end? If some team breaks down and signs Kaepernick, are you then satisfied? Even if he's a third stringer? Or do you then protest he's not starting? Do you protest until he wins a game? Or until he reaches the playoffs? Or wins the Super Bowl? What makes these protesters happy? Because the league now cannot win with these people. And as other players make similar gestures as Kaepernick has (such as the Seahawks Michael Bennett), the fans that despised his actions have more players to turn into villians -- and these are not the WWE-style villians the NFL wants -- which has created another group of fans who are basically counter-protesting by not watching as well. Good luck solving this, Roger Goodell.
The NFL has other issues as well. As I'm sure you're aware, the league is concerned with concussions and head injuries in general. They cannot and will not ever be able to prevent these. It is part of the sport. No helmet design or drug breakthrough is coming to save the league from this growing concern. And when fearful parents see what happened with Broncos WR Bennie Fowler on Sunday, more will push/pull their kids away from football for something perceived to be safer. Plus, players themselves cannot remain naive about this. The more these types of injuries infiltrate the sport, the more the talent level is going to drop, and the worse the NFL product is going to become.
And it's already bad. The Bengals have played two home games, yet haven't scored a TD. The Seahawks have scored only one TD this season which came against the lowly 49ers. The Panthers beat the Bills 9-3 (not a touchdown scored). Scoring in general is down, and the high-octane action the NFL desires is sorely lacking. Why? The biggest reason is quarterback play, and the NFL's prime stars are getting old. There's only so many games left in the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Phil Rivers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning. When they leave, what QBs are the league going to fall back on? Cam Newton? Jameis Winston? Derrick Carr? They are not household names, and it will take some doing to make them such. Remember, the league's TV ratings are driven by quarterbacks. Without them, what are you left with? Running backs? When you see "star" Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot quit mid-game, it has to make fans wonder -- especially when that player is appealing a 6-game suspension for domestic abuse (another problem the NFL cannot seem to avoid).
Does it help anything when the league tells its fans time and again it doesn't care about them? If they did, why are the Rams and Chargers playing games in LA? Why are the Raiders heading to Las Vegas? At least the fans in Los Angeles have been wise enough not to watch their "home" teams in person. But in Oakland, fans can't stay away. They seem to have forgotten the Raiders are leaving. If they wanted to send a message, Raider Nation would stay home as well. But winning seems to heal all fans' wounds...or at least postpone the inevitable hard feelings.
The television show that is the NFL cares not for these attendance issues. In fact, it cares little for anything. It doesn't need to. NFL owners make money hand over fist regardless of the quality of product it offers because fans are hooked on this drug. However, the NFL's reality programing is suffering from falling ratings. That is a small, but growing concern, even if it's not being acknowledged. All of these listed factors are in play. None can really be effectively solved. What trick can the league pull out of it's hat to not just lure fans back, but grow? International expansion will not do the trick. Faster games won't solve the issue. Perhaps legalized sports gambling would help, yet embracing that (as I'm sure the league will) would reveal more of the league's growing hypocrisy as it fought for years to prevent fans from openly gambling on its games.
The only remaining trick in the NFL's bag is the one discussed here -- game manipulation. Yet how often can the league have games being decided in the final two minutes or how many miracle comebacks like the Patriots in Super Bowl LI(e) can take place before even hardcore fans start to question game play?
Does it help when one of its newest broadcasters -- former Cowboys QB Tony Romo -- is calling plays before they happen? In both games Romo has been the color man for CBS, he has repeatedly told viewers the play coming before the snap. And he's right. Every time. It should make viewers wonder, "Well, if Romo can figure out what's coming, why can't anyone else?" Ask yourself that. Perhaps the NFL isn't that hard to figure out. And perhaps some of the players do know what's coming before a play starts. And if they do, then what's that mean about games being manipulated?
I'm going to try a little something different with this post this year. The format is going to change with the latest week being the first posted, and I'm going to skip the pictures, gifs, and videos (unless necessary to make a point). Feel free to let me know what you think -- good or bad.
Now let's get down to business...
I've said this in numerous interviews and podcasts, yet few show hosts seem to agree with me -- you can see NFL games fixed right in front of your eyes on your 60" HDTV screen, and the NFL will swear you didn't see what you just saw. Case in point? The end of the Eagles-Redskins game. Losing 22-17 with less than two minutes to play, the Redskins had the ball with the chance to win. On second-and-three, Redskins QB Kirk Cousins faded back to pass, and was hit as he released the ball. The refs on the field ruled it a fumble which was scooped up by the Eagles and returned for a touchdown. The play was automatically reviewed (as are all turnovers and scoring plays). Upon further review -- for those watching at home -- Cousins' "fumble" was clearly a forward pass and should have been ruled incomplete. Even the Eagles thought so as their defense remained on the field. Ah, but what did NFL HQ rule (because, remember, all instant replays are handled by the NFL in the New York City headquarters)? The call on the field stands -- fumble, touchdown, and game, Eagles.
I don't make this stuff up.
Elsewhere, the referees interfered with "America's Game of the Week," the Seahawks-Packers contest.Two calls cost the Seahawks 11 points, and considering they lost 17-9. those were important scores. In the first quarter, the Seahawks returned an interception for a touchdown. Except the points were taken off the board by two highly questionable penalties against the Seahawks -- an illegal block in the back (which was a block made against Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers), and more bizarre, an unnecessary roughness flag against Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane who was consequently ejected from the game. Why? Because he threw a punch. Against who? No one knows because despite FOX Sports having cameras everywhere, they could not produce a single image of this alleged punch. But they did capture Packers WR Davante Adams facemasking the-soon-to-be-ejected Lane -- a penalty which went unassessed on the play. Then in the third quarter, a clear pass interference penalty in the endzone by a pair of Packers DBs wasn't called. It should've given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the Packers one-yard line. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal, making the score Packers 7, Seahawks 6, instead of 10-7 Seahawks (or 17-7 Seahawks if the earlier interception return was properly officiated).Two plays, two subjective rulings, one altered outcome.
It's that easy.
Other notable games -- The Patriots lost their home opener during which they raised the banner on their (tainted) Super Bowl LIe victory. Could the wheels finally be coming off Tom Brady, his "diet," and the Patriots dynasty? The Steelers squeaked by the Browns (of all teams), thanks to some questionable officiating. If Ben Roethlisberger is serious about his retirement talk, perhaps the Steelers have a fast-track to the Super Bowl and the NFL can send another "legendary" QB off into the sunset with a championship. Despite Hurricane Harvey trashing the city Houston (and elsewhere), the NFL and the Jaguars (!) gave the Texans no quarter as they were thrashed 29-7. I said the Texans would need legitimate QB play to get the "help" they needed to profit off such tragedy. On Sunday, that did not happen.
And my favorite tidbit of this week came courtesy of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano (remember when the Colts were "Chuck Strong?") who said in his postgame press conference that they got their "ass" kicked by the 49ers. Only the Colts lost 46-9 to the Rams.
And even though I said "no pictures" above, I have to point out something. Check out the attendance at the home opener for the Rams in Los Angeles, followed by the 49ers in San Francisco. You don't think the NFL is more TV show than sporting event? If it truly was the latter, these tweets would be setting off alarm bells. Do you hear any?
The burning question on everyone's mind seems to be, "With Hurricane Harvey trashing Houston, will the NFL give the Texans a Super Bowl victory as they did the New Orleans Saints post-Katrina?" To that, I will say, "I don't know...at this point."
The NFL capitalized on the Katrina situation very quickly, using the rebuilding of the Superdome -- which was a focal point for the news media both during and after the storm -- as a basis to create its own "The Saints rebuilt New Orleans!" narrative. This, of course, was 99 percent hype with little basis on reality, but it sold well and somehow brainwashed NFL fans to root for the Saints whether they liked the team or not. After the emotional Super Bowl victory (handed to them by New Orleans native Peyton Manning), the Saints were trashed by the same league that made them via the Bountygate "scandal," and haven't been a credible threat since.
The Texans and Harvey do have a chance to be the sequel to that "true" story. Already, Texans star player JJ Watt has done a remarkable job of raising over $16 million (now $30+ million) in relief funds, however, his personal story has not became the NFL's story...yet. If it does (and if the Texans can get some legitimate QB play), then yes, perhaps the Texans will make an inspirational run towards the Super Bowl. This year may be too soon for that to happen (recall it took the Saints four years to get theirs), but aren't sequels supposed to repeat the original while amplifying its themes?
More to come...especially if Hurricane Irma trashes Miami in the next few days. Maybe Jay Cutler can have a redemptive arc in his story as well....