2018-19 NFL Predictions

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If last year proved anything, it’s that trying to predict the NFL season is as futile as ever. In 2017, we witnessed the birth of a lot of great new teams that appear here to stay: the Vikings, Rams, Jaguars, and others. ‘Appear’ is the operative word there. Can these surprise squads take the next step? Or will they be dragged back down to earth? You can observe my personal predictions above and I’ll highlight some of my favorite storylines below:

Favorite Storyline: The middle class. Assume the Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Eagles, and Saints will all be fairly good, assume the Bills, Browns, Jets, and Cardinals will be fairly bad and what are we left with? A massive collective of teams that make up the true battles of the NFL. I’m talking about teams like the Redskins, Giants, Lions, Bengals, Colts, Ravens, etc etc etc. Probabilities dictate that at least a couple of teams from this hoard will have fantastic seasons, maybe even win the Super Bowl. After all, you could have considered the Eagles as part of that group going into last year. Will one of the middle class rise again?

The team everyone loves, but that I hate: Jacksonville Jaguars. Hate is a strong word, considering I have them finishing with a winning record and just missing the playoffs. But this is a trendy pick to take the next step this year and I am wary of their passing situation. Blake Bortles was badly exposed as a liability against the Pats in the NFC Championship game and I think they absolutely maximized their potential last season. The Jags are now on everybody’s radar and will be hard-pressed to hide Bortles and their WR/TE skill positions like they managed to do last year. I see it being a rough time in Jacksonville this year.

The team everyone hates, but that I love: New York Giants. A 3-13 will scare people off, but do we forget that this was an 11-5 team two years ago? New York was absolutely decimated with injuries last season, had locker room disarray, and just dreadful coaching ineptitude. This year, the offensive talent on paper is one of the best in the league. Saquon Barkley is here, Odell is back, and Sterling Shephard and Evan Engram are some of the quietest and most reliable targets in the league. All Eli Manning and his O-line, which has been patched up with Nate Solder and rookie Will Hernandez, need to do is be serviceable and this offense will fly. The defense will make or break this team. A 9-7 finish is more than possible. Making the playoffs in a stacked NFC is the much bigger ask. Nearly every year we see a team that went 4-12 or worse in one season go on to make the playoffs in the next (see Jaguars, Rams last year). This year, look to New York to continue the trend. Throw the Texans in there while we’re at it.

The Super Bowl pick: New Orleans Saints over Los Angeles Chargers. I truly believe the Saints were the best NFC team last year and they have unfinished business. I fully expect them to have one of the most explosive offenses of the year and to emerge from a bloody NFC battle between some great teams like the Eagles, Packers, Vikings, and Rams. As for the AFC, it’s hard not to love the Patriots but returning to the Super Bowl is monumentally hard. I like Los Angeles to be the “Rams” of this season, with a high-octane offense and an arguably top-10 defense. This biggest obstacle in their way? Themselves. If they get over their bad habit of falling short of expectations, this team can take their conference when nobody expects them to. Sound familiar? Ask Philly.


Tyler Hilinski’s death and the future of football


Earlier today, Sports Illustrated released a gut-wrenching article detailing the aftermath of Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski’s suicide and more specifically, his parents’ search for answers. Hilinski committed suicide in January of this year, shocking his team, family, and community and prompting them all to think about how his death could have been prevented. How they could have prevented it. You can read the article for yourself and find that his family never does find a satisfying answer. Tragedies like these rarely do. However, there is one point in the article where it appears the family comes close:

[Tyler’s mother] didn’t want to blame football—to be clear: she does not blame football—and yet the diagnosis also gave her family its clearest and, in some ways, only known factor in his death. “It helped us to know,” [Tyler’s brother] says, “that a) there was something wrong and b) that he was hurting and we couldn’t understand it. It was, O.K., we have a legitimate why. That’s enough of that.”

The diagnosis the article refers to is Stage 1 CTE, found when the Mayo Clinic examined Hilinski’s brain after his death. CTE is about as big a topic in football today as any issue in sports. We’ve heard of plenty of former football players suffer from the horrid effects of CTE, the NFL paying billion dollar concussion settlements, and reports of CTE affecting players of all kinds of positions and ethnic backgrounds. But the attitude among many fans is an unsympathetic, albeit legitimate, one: “NFL players know the risks of the game and they get millions of dollars to accept those risks.” I have my own qualms about this line of thinking, but the core sentiment is easy to understand. Anybody can see that football is aggressive and dangerous. And players do get paid exorbitant amounts of money. And many players have expressed that even with today’s knowledge of the harmful symptoms of CTE, they’d take the money again. This time, however, CTE has reared its ugly head in a way that is impossible to ignore or pass off as “accept the risks.”

First off, doctors said Hilinski’s brain looked like that of an elderly man. As in, his brain had deteriorated to a point comparable to a 65-year-old’s brain. At age 21.

Second, Hilinski only played 11 games in college. That’s microscopic compared to the amount of games NFL players have under their belt, yet he still had the same brain disease that has been found in many of them.

Third, Hilinski was a college athlete. We knew this, but it’s worth repeating because he didn’t accept exorbitant amounts of money to play football. He played because he loved it.

With that information combined with the fact that depression is a common symptom of CTE, it can be easy to connect the dots between football and Hilinski’s suicide. But should we? Plenty of people, college athletes especially, suffer from depression without CTE. And although depression is a symptom of CTE, we still don’t know if this brain disease is what directly caused his depression. As quoted above, his parents don’t blame football. Yet it feels impossible to think that CTE didn’t have something to do with Hilinski’s death and his brother expresses as much when he says Tyler was “hurting and we couldn’t understand it.” Even if we can’t prove it, the fact that CTE could have led to Hilinski taking his own life at such a young age is terrifying. And the more we learn about it, the more it feels like there is nothing football can do.

Along with depression, other symptoms of CTE include impulsive behavior, memory loss, emotional instability, and substance abuse. With what we know right now, CTE will likely never be the cause of death. It can, however, lead to behaviors that can lead to death. There is an already long and growing list of former players that had CTE and were clearly not right in their final days:

Junior Seau (committed suicide, age 43)

Tyler Sash (overdose of pain medication, died at age 27)

Mike Webster (suffered from depression and dementia, died at age 50)

Dave Duerson (committed suicide, died at age 50)

Justin Strzelczyk (died in a car crash fleeing from police, age 36)

Terry Long (committed suicide by drinking antifreeze, age 45)

Andre Waters (committed suicide, age 44)

Aaron Hernandez (committed murder and then suicide in prison, age 27)

Jovan Belcher (committed murder-suicide, age 25)

This is far from the definitive list of players with both CTE and erratic, inexplicable behaviors. Yet it’s important to note that in many of these cases, it’s not exactly prudent to link CTE directly to their behaviors. In the cases of Hernandez and Belcher especially, do we blame football for their murders? Or were they just bad people to begin with? Correlation does not prove causation, you know the story. But what we do know is that CTE is a horrible disease and after enough of these instances, coincidence just doesn’t suffice as an explanation.

The cause of CTE, however, is the much more alarming part of this story. CTE is caused by repetitive blows to the head, many of them being sub-concussive hits. In other words, hits to the head that don’t cause concussions lead to the slow and steady development of CTE. So a player that goes his entire career without a concussion may very well still have CTE. Personally, I’d be surprised if a vast majority of NFL players didn’t have CTE, but this is just my own speculation. What I do know is that the rule changing and the new tackling techniques in the NFL and at the youth level is not much help in the way of preventing CTE. They may work to prevent concussions, but not CTE.

So let’s just say it for what it is. With the technology currently available, there is no way to prevent CTE without fundamentally changing the game of football.

So what does that mean for the future of football? That question is too big for me to answer. I can only wonder. We already know that participation in youth football has dipped and with more tragedies like Hilinski’s, more and more parents may be pressed to push their children towards baseball or basketball. Speaking personally, I would never let a future son of mine play football. It’s not the absolutist attitude I see myself having often as a parent, but the risks are just too great. But are there enough of these types of parents around to make an impact on football’s future? Will many fans stop watching as we learn more about CTE? The sport will still pay and the product will still be there for fans so it’s hard to envision a scenario where football goes away any time soon.

To be clear, I’m not asking for football to go away. I love football. I understand it’s extremely dangerous and I still watch. But with a 21-year-old committing suicide with a teammate’s rifle without so much as a goodbye or I love you in his suicide note, we’re forced to ask: what are these players really getting into? Is it possible for a 21-year-old to know the risks? An 18-year-old? A 14-year-old? As seen from the list of players earlier, this is not the first instance of CTE being correlated with a shocking death. To me, however, it is the most terrifying. And with it, we’re only left to wonder how to prevent it in the future.

Rehost: Must-wins, On Pace For, and other annoying sports clichés that need to go

This post was written on November 10, 2015. It covers a topic that’s still close to my heart today, so I figured I’d share it again:

Just a week or so ago, the New York Mets trailed the Kansas City Royals 3-1 in the World Series. One more win for the Royals and they would be crowned World Champions, sending the Mets home with nothing. In Game 5, that’s exactly what happened. New York lost a game they absolutely needed to have and their season was over. All 162 games, the ups and downs, the hard work, the injuries, etc. was all for naught because they didn’t win that one game to save their season. One might call that a must-win situation.

A week later, there was a team located not too far from them that faced the same situation: the New York Giants. The Mets could take solace in the fact that they weren’t the only ones that were forced to withstand such a large amount of pressure in just one game. Perhaps the Giants could have used tips from the Mets on how to handle such a big game. After all, the NFC East-leading Giants were playing the 3-4 Buccaneers in Week 9. This was a game they had to have. Or so ESPN would have liked you to think:

Eight weeks in and you're 4-4 with the division lead? Win in Week 9 or pack it up.

This kind of stuff really gets my goat. There were plenty of other ways to hype up this game other than resorting to lazy sports clichés that mean nothing. I understand stretching the meaning a little bit. If no team has ever come from behind a 3-0 series deficit, then I can accept calling Game 3 a “must-win” for a team already down two games. That can be a good way of highlighting the importance of one game, I get that. But this latest offense with the Giants went way too far. So far, in fact, that–per a recommendation of a friend–I had to write something about it AND the other sports clichés that we see abused all the time. I may be just one man, but somebody has to stand up against this lazy, useless sports reporting.

It starts with getting rid of “must-win,” quite possibly the worst of them all. If you’re wondering if you should use the term “must-win,” here’s a good rule of thumb: if the team plays a week later, don’t use it. Here’s an even better rule of thumb: don’t use it. We all can do math. We all know if a game is truly a must-win, so please stop trying to shove the importance of midseason NFL games down our throats with this lazy phrase.

Redskins must win

What’s with Tampa Bay and must-win games?

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Are you kidding me…..


There are LOADS more of other sports clichés thrown around that I could include, but here are some of the few that really make my skin crawl:

“On Pace For” stats

You already know what I’m referring to here. They rear their ugly heads a lot in the first quarter or half of the season when fans and writers alike want to be the first ones to find the next big thing.


Again, I understand the appeal. These stats do a decent job of showing how well a player is doing in a short period of time. My problem with them is that they have a nasty habit of including amazing records (e.g. most pass yards in a single season) that make the reader think the player has accomplished something. Being “on pace” to do something isn’t an accomplishment, but they give that impression. They’re a slippery stat that writers love to use to inflate a player’s achievements. They really grind my gears when used after just two or three weeks.


Diggs on pace


Obscure, useless statistics

It’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of statistics. We have access to deeper records and more types of statistics than ever before. We literally have people dedicated to researching and finding historical comparisons using statistics and that’s pretty cool. When it’s not so cool is when we end up with statistics like these:


Is this for real? A six-game record? And he’s not even the first to do it?? I could go on for hours about how much these kind of stats drive me up the wall. I could write a whole post on these, but I’ll spare you and just break these stats into a couple types that I always see pop up:

Type 1: Arbitrary cutoffs, too many conditions

A perfect example is this Porzingis stat. Who the hell decided 70 points and 50 rebounds are the measure for success through six games? Nobody, that’s who, because those cutoffs were set specifically so Porzingis could fit into this sad excuse of a statistic. Not to mention that six games is another meaningless cutoff or the fact that “this decade” is only five years old.


Again, why 90 rushing yards and 100 receiving? Why not 100 of each? Oh, because then he wouldn’t meet the criteria? Then don’t use the stat! If you have to keep lowering the requirements or are forced to make the achievement team-specific, then it probably isn’t worth posting. However, I’m willing to let 1990 slide as a cutoff year. That leaves 20+ solid years of football where plenty of players did amazing things. But I am seeing more and more cutoffs placed around five years ago. If something is the most/first to happen in five years, then that better be the only condition. When you start adding too many on (team, year, type, etc.) then the stat gets messy and meaningless.


Yeah….enough of this.

Type 2: Since player entered the league

This is another minor one and it doesn’t water down stats as much as Type 1, but I see it often enough that I felt the need to include it. A lot of impressive statistics are slapped with the condition, “since [insert player] entered the league.”

Since Dalton entered

I just see this phrase thrown out a little bit too often for my taste. I feel like it’s a little unfair to start tracking a certain statistic from the point where that player entered the league. Players go through their natural ups and downs in their career and if they start on an up, you can pretty much point out whatever you want using this condition. It’s just another situation where the statistic if formed to fit the player and not the other way around.


Saying a team should/could be [insert record]

Remember when I said must-wins might be the worst of these bunch? Well it’s directly competing with this one, which we hear over and over in sports discussion. We constantly either credit or blame teams for close games and use that to change their record. We just change it! “We really should be 6-0 if it weren’t for that missed field goal.” “They could easily be 0-4 if it wasn’t for a few lucky plays late in that one game.”

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What bothers me about this overused, meaningless phrase is that it ignores one of the fundamental aspects of the NFL: most NFL games are close. If you decide to the change the result of one game based on one score, you’re changing everything! This became unbearable around Week 6 when listening to discussions about the underachieving Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were 1-5 and as if that record didn’t paint a bad enough picture, analysts and fans alike decided to mention that they could easily be 0-6 because their one win was a 23-20 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. If they hadn’t survived that one close game, they would be 0-6. This sounds so good and fits so well into an argument if you’re trying to point out how bad the Ravens are. Except it COMPLETELY ignores the fact that literally all six of their games were decided by six points or less! If you’re going to tell me the Ravens could have been 0-6, I could just as easily argue they could be 6-0 using the same logic. They’re 1-5 because they lost five games. Let’s talk about that and not what they could be.

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I can’t stand this phrase and it’s used all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a team’s record defines them, because it doesn’t. We can talk about how a team looks better or worse than their record indicates. We can talk about why a team might clinch a playoff spot despite starting 3-4. But stop changing a team’s record just to serve your argument. Stop using close games as a way to discredit success. Most games are close. This is another lazy, played out phrase that we use as a crutch and it needs to go.


Historical records between teams

I see this more in college football than the NFL, especially when two teams that never play are selected for a bowl. For some reason, we like to include the record between this teams, even if they’ve only played six times. Why do we do this? Because it’s an interesting tidbit? I suppose so, but let’s leave it at that. Please don’t tell me that Air Force could have an edge over Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl just because Air Force beat WMU pre-1990 (just an example).

Utah games

I’m generally okay with using recent success with teams that still have the same core. For some reason, the Giants (with Eli and Coughlin) seem to be more competitive with the Patriots (with Brady and Belichick) than other teams. We just have to make sure that the matchups are plentiful and recent enough that the main personnel are still involved. Even then, it can be a stretch to say one team has an edge just because they seem to play the other team well over the past six games. A lot can change in just a couple years.


Careful there, Dan. Are you sure it is Coughlin that is good at coaching against Belichick? What about Brady vs. Eli? The defense? The weather? There’s just too many factors at play. You’re just cherry-picking one of those factors to fit a narrative.


Keys to the game

I understand we need things to talk about during the game, but c’mon. We can do better than this.


Too often do these keys come down to one thing: play well. In the NFL, the commentators’ favorites are avoid turnovers, have a good pass rush, and score touchdowns instead of field goals. In other words, do well in the important aspects of the game. They don’t mean anything and they don’t enhance my enjoyment of the game, so get rid of them.

Of course, they aren’t always bad:



These are rough. To be fair, even I’ve failed to resist using some of these (yes, even me). We can all do so much better. We can predict, discuss, and have fun with sports without being lazy. Like I mentioned before, these are only a few of a bunch of useless sports clichés we see way too often. Which one of these bug you the most and what are some others that belong on the list?




Phew, I was on the edge of my seat….


Suddenly, the future of QBs is looking bright

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Just a short 13 years ago, the NFL had one of its best QB drafts ever. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger were all drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft. Despite the lofty expectations that come with any first-round pick, all three delivered incredible careers to their teams and are in the Hall of Fame conversation. The 2005 draft didn’t do so bad itself, with Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith going in the first round as well. For the past decade or so, these five (and others) have changed how we value the position. We’ve been spoiled by their unbelievable talent and still watch them bolster their Canton-worthy careers today.

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However, somewhere between now and then we started to notice that the younger QBs in the league weren’t quite living up to the expectations that Rodgers, Rivers, and company had prepared us for. For every Andrew Luck and Cam Newton drafted, there was a Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker also drafted as the savior of their teams’ respective droughts. The most disturbing part of our new QBs wasn’t the boom-or-bust factor, however, it was everyone in between. In the past eight years or so we’ve seen quite a lot of Ryan Tannehills, Blake Bortles, and Sam Bradfords earn starting roles….and that’s about it. Nobody believes they’ll deliver a Super Bowl or be named to an All-Pro team. They’re good enough to start because nobody was better, but we aren’t inspired by them. They are fine. And that’s ok, while we still have Big Ben, Rodgers, and Brady slinging it around. But despite their seemingly age-proof talent, retirement is coming for them and these “fine” QBs didn’t give us much of a reason to be excited for what’s next.

This year, however, we’ve seen QB play that finally gives the next generation of NFL fans a reason to watch. Rookie Deshaun Watson recently delivered one of the most thrilling games of the entire season when he fearlessly chucked bombs against the Seattle defense. In that game, he threw his 19th TD pass of the season, the most of any QB in their first seven games. He currently has 103 passer rating, higher than QBs like Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Matthew Stafford. Stats aside, he was one of the most exciting new players to watch because of a word I used earlier: fearless. He refused to conform to the new NFL mold of efficient dink-and-dunk passing and instead loves to chuck the ball up to Will Fuller V or DeAndre Hopkins and let them go up and get it. Watson has 28 passes of over 20 yards this season, 6th most in the NFL. More impressively, he leads the NFL in both average completed air yards (CAY) with 8.3 and average intended air yards (IAY) at 11.3 . Despite his season-ending ACL tear during practice last week, Watson gives all of us something to look forward to in the future.

Carson Wentz, drafted in 2016, shares a lot of Watson’s qualities with one important factor: he’s better. Wentz has a year on Watson, of course, but he’s elevated his play in 2017 to a level that nobody saw coming. Halfway through the season, Wentz has the Eagles at 8-1 and is my personal front-runner for MVP. Wentz loves to chuck the ball like Watson (IAY-10.4, 5th in NFL) and he’s great on his feet as well (211 rush yards). Above all else, my favorite part about Wentz is his size (hell yes, you read that right) at 6’5″ and 237 lbs. For comparison, Newton is 6’6″ and 260 and he’s has access to NFL weight rooms for five more years! Wentz running at you full speed at you is a lot different than, say, Robert Griffin III doing the same thing. One tries to avoid contact and the other invites contact. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Perhaps my favorite young QB story above any other is the turnaround of Jared Goff. I bet you don’t need a reminder of how low people were on this guy last season, but in case you do, take a look at these headlines:

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Yikes. It didn’t take me that long to find these, either. Goff got it as bad from the media as anybody, although not without reason. Goff struggled mightily in his first year with the Rams and he fit the description of many other first-rounders that we had come to know: a successful college QB hit with the ole’ NFL reality check, who’s best-case scenario was a below-average NFL starter. This year, however, Goff has turned things around in an incredible way. He’s not quite playing like Watson or Wentz, but he has the Rams positioned as the feel-good story of the NFL. They’re 6-2 and on top of a division that the Seahawks looked to have on lock before the season began. A lot of that has to do with the great play of Todd Gurley, but we have to recognize Goff’s contributions to elevating this team from ok to pretty damn good. Goff, too, is one of the top six QBs with passes over 20 yards and leads the league in completed yards per pass (8.3). He’s kept the ball away from defenses (4 INTs) and is asked to do a lot through the air (10th in pass yards per game). Will last year’s Goff make an appearance? There’s still a lot of season left, but I’m betting on growth and progression over luck this time around.

Finally, there’s two QBs worth talking about that haven’t been mentioned yet: Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. But there’s a reason these two have been left out until now: they weren’t first-round draft picks. Carr was a 2nd-rounder in 2014 and Dak a 4th in 2016. Carr and Prescott officially hit our radars last year when they led their teams to 12-4 and 13-3 records, respectively. Prescott’s success was essentially immediate, throwing for 23 TDs and just four (four!) picks after taking over (forever) for Tony Romo. Carr took a little more time, but his passer rating steadily rose throughout his first three years as a pro (76.6, 91.1, 96.7), as did his team’s overall record (3 wins, 7 wins, 12 wins). After delivering rapid success to their respective franchises, it’s safe to say that these young QBs won’t have to compete for the starting role for a long time.

Just a few years ago, we were facing a scary reality as NFL fans. Manning, Brady, Rivers, Brees, Rodgers, etc. will all retire at some point in the next 5-7 years, leaving us with….who? Sure, we’d have Luck and Newton, but the league looked to be skewing more to the talent-level of Geno Smith than the direction of those two. Today, we need not worry as Watson, Wentz, Dak, and others usher in the next generation of outstanding QB play, right on time.

The NFL Didn’t Take a Strong Stance on Kneeling…Does It Have To?


If we learned one thing from this past weekend of national anthem drama, it’s that the NFL loves unity. Both the league and many of its teams chose to approach the situation by embracing that ideal, whether it be through a statement or locking arms on the field.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” Goodell said in his statement.

“Our country needs more unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” the Miami Dolphins’ statement read.

After the Titans stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, one player explained the move by saying, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”

Although some teams and owners used stronger language in their statements, the overarching message of the weekend was that the NFL was united with its players. While this made some feel good inside and have hope for the future of the league, others asked, “Well, what are we showing unity towards? Anger towards Trump? First amendment rights? Recognizing an inequality problem in the county?”

The answer to that question was less clear, as nearly every official statement avoided the real reason players knelt in the first place (racial inequality/mistreatment towards African-Americans) in favor of “pursuing positive change” or something similar. This didn’t sit well with too many people, leading them to challenge the NFL to take a stronger stance and acknowledge if there’s a race problem in our country. But should they?

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While it’s fair to say the NFL approached the situation through a PR lens, is it fair to bash them for it? The NFL, as well as its individual teams, all share a responsibility to their stakeholders (fans, owners, players, employees, etc.) and they did their best at finding an effective way to do that in an extremely tough situation. Perhaps the best example of just how difficult it was for teams to balance that line was when Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys took a knee before the anthem and were still booed! Some fans are so hypersensitive to any sign of disrespect of the anthem that “unity” is just about the only reasonable course of action left. Conversely, vague displays of trust also leave many unimpressed.

Would it have been nice to see the NFL address the racial issues in our country or show support for the kneeling NFL players’ cause? Sure. Whether you agree with the extent of the issue or not, it would have been cool to see the NFL become a leader on a social issue like equality. But expecting them to is setting expectations a bit too high. Kaepernick’s fight is not their fight. By NFL standards, the move to call the President’s words divisive and disrespectful was pretty bold.

As a quick aside, I’ve never been one to complain about politics in sports. I also like players to be opinionated and unafraid to be their authentic selves. But in this case, I just can’t fault the NFL for staying neutral on this one (if that’s even what you can call it). The NFL doesn’t want to talk politics any more than fans do and that’s understandable. For once, I think the NFL’s statement was enough. It allowed players to approach the situation how they saw fit. It didn’t censor them. LeSean McCoy even stretched on the sideline during the anthem (vastly more disrespectful than taking a knee) and the league hasn’t said a word about it.

So where does the NFL go from here? I understand some still faulting the NFL for claiming to care about the interests of the players while catering to its fans and brand image more often. But this whole anthem situation really presents a great opportunity for the NFL and its teams to make a positive impact in society and come out looking fantastic after it’s all said and done. How can they do that? I don’t have that answer. But why not attempt to capitalize on all this “unity” and show that the league can be an agent for positive change (in anything) through actions, rather than statements? For once, the league and its players agree on something. That’s a rare and powerful combination. Let’s see if they use it for more than just fighting the President.

The Battle Between Two NFL Fanbases

The NFL has a silent war on their hands.

We’ve all seen the news and worry over the recent dip in ratings the NFL has experienced over the past year or so. The culprit? Who knows? Election season is over and ratings continue to slide. Too many commercials? Low quality football? Is it Kaepernick’s fault?

The NFL has already made a lot of moves to address the issue, but the ratings decline has only expedited and magnified what has been an existing dilemma: who does the NFL cater to in this quickly-evolving viewership landscape? The way we watch and consume football has changed so much in just the past decade and with it, the way the NFL must position their sport. The problem is, the NFL is dealing with two starkly different types of fans. When the NFL makes one move to appease one side, it risks pissing off the other.

To make things easier, I’m going to ultra-generalize these two fanbases to the point where we can treat them as a single, representative fan. For instance, let’s use “Marcus” as our NFL fan representing a younger generation. Marcus is in his 20s and is as big an NFL fan as anyone. He has a fantasy team and follows many of the games on his phone or computer (he doesn’t have cable). However, he recognizes that football is a dangerous game and doesn’t mind the league putting in a few safety measures to protect players a little better. He loves the different personalities in the game and often laments the strict celebration rules, calling the NFL the “No Fun League” for banning bow-and-arrow gestures. His problems with the NFL front office extend to off-the-field issues as well, as he bashes the league for their inconsistency with punishments and overly-strict rules regarding marijuana use. As far as social issues go? He could take or leave the Kaepernick stuff and other anthem protests. He doesn’t mind them protesting, but could do without constant coverage flooding the sport broadcasts and analysis. Overall, Marcus is your typical young, forward-thinking, and connected fan and is constantly looking for cheap, convenient ways to watch his favorite sport. However, tons of commercials, penalties, and NFL front office blunders chip away at his will to tune in.

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 9.49.30 PMThen, let’s take Joe. Joe, in his 50s, is a much different type of NFL fan, but his love for the game matches Marcus’ and is rooted in memories of watching countless games with his father when he was young. He relishes the aggressiveness of football and its undeniable tie to American culture. However, the game today is far different from the one he watched as a young man. Safety precautions have turned the game “soft” in his mind and he often quips that “they’ll be playing flag football in a few years.” He watches the game the only way he knows how, on regular and reliable cable. He also makes a point to attend a couple of games in person each season. Similar to Marcus, he too notices the much-too-frequent commercial breaks and thinks the sport has gotten way too “corporate.” Another thing that bothers Joe is the boisterous and arrogant players that have populated the league. He prefers players to “act like they’ve been there” when scoring and crediting the team, rather than soaking up the adoration of fans. His biggest complaint? The NFL and media’s apparent tolerance of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest, which went against everything he stands for. He wanted the NFL to rebuke Kap’s actions and vehemently believes the dip in ratings is due many feeling the same disgust that he feels. Despite all this, Joe still watches the NFL and roots as hard for his team as he did 30 years ago. However, each season Joe is hesitant to pour more money into tickets as the league changes from what he once knew.

Before moving forward, it’s important to note once again that these are obvious and extreme generalizations. In reality, the overlap between the Marcuses and Joes of the world is large. There are many fans that think the NFL is going soft, while also agreeing with Kap’s protest. Or fans who are in their 20s and still prefer watching on cable, and vice versa. The differing and overlapping sensibilities of these fans extend across race, gender, age, and much more. However, ratings continue to fall and the NFL is scrambling to make sense of which fans are more important, or rather, how to please all. So with that in mind, we’ll deal with Marcus and Joe as they come. These two avid fans are at war, yet it’s the NFL that hears complaints from one side for any decision they make to appease the other.

So is it time the NFL pick a side and stick with it? We saw them recently make a few changes that would please the “Marcus” type of fan. They laxed their celebration penalty rule, allowing teams to use the ball as a prop again and plan group celebrations (dunking the ball and violent gestures are still not allowed). Also, we’ve seen an interesting decline in the extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence that enrages any millennial in need of constant stimulation. We’ve also seen them give Marcus easier ways to watch by streaming games for free on Twitter (in 2016) and Amazon Prime (this year). It would appear the NFL is extremely interested in courting and keeping their younger fans, the obvious aim for any sport interested in existing long into the future. However, these aren’t exactly tough moves to make. There’s no Joe that will stop watching altogether because of lenient celebration rules and will benefit from the decline in commercials and added viewing options.


Neither Joe nor Marcus is particularly happy with how Goodell has managed their favorite sport.

So how about those tough decisions? Whether it’s contributing to declining ratings or not, the Kaepernick issue matters to a lot of fans and are watching to see exactly how the NFL handles it. The difficulty of balancing this line can be perfectly illustrated by Goodell’s politic-speak when asked about Kap. “The national anthem is a special moment to me,” Goodell said. “It’s a point of pride. That is a really important moment. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we have to respect those.” You can almost imagine Goodell teetering on a tight rope in his own head as he risks pissing off large swaths of its fanbase with each passing sentence.

Kaepernick is far from the only issue. How about how the league handles marijuana use? The NFL has a bad (or good, depending on your view) reputation for handing out severe penalties (often a 4-game suspension) for players caught using marijuana. To someone like Marcus, these punishments are absurd when juxtaposed to the one- or two-game suspensions of Josh Brown and Ray Rice, both of whom admitted to domestic abuse (they were both later suspended longer amounts, but only after extreme public outrage). As for the NFL’s future view on the issue? This time, Goodell was much more decided. “Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term,” Goodell said. It’s safe to say the league’s substance abuse policy isn’t changing anytime soon. And while we’re at it, how about legalized betting (for fans of course, not players). Once again, Goodell knew where he stood. “The integrity of our game is No. 1. We will not compromise on that,” Goodell said about the prospect of legalized gambling. As far as these issues go, it’s clear that the NFL is erring on the side of Joe, whether intentional or not.

And finally, and perhaps more important than anything, how about the sport itself? Both Marcus and Joe complain about the quality of what they’re watching. Marcus is sick of the dink-and-dunk offense and yearns for deep routes and heavy blitzes, fake punts and two-point conversions. Joe longs for the days of skull-rattling hits and the power running game, and he screams at his TV every time a “roughing the passer” is called when the QB was “barely” dinged in the head. This is perhaps the NFL’s toughest challenge. They can’t rollback safety measures after the massive settlement they just paid to former players for head injuries. And changing the rules of the sport to encourage more exciting plays is as risky a move as they come. A mere tweak to the extra-point distance was met with resistance and anger on all sides (although, with social media today one could argue that any change could be met with resistance at first, only to be accepted later). The NFL finally hired full-time referees in an attempt to improve the officiating, a common grievance from fans in the 2016 season. Still, we continue to hear the complaint that the “NFL isn’t what it used to be” and somehow this is coming from both Marcus and Joe, which has to be maddening for the NFL.

It would almost seem easier for the NFL to just commit to a position and stick with it. But of course this is an impossible ask. Fans like Marcus are the key for the NFL to maintain longevity, but they don’t bring in the money or fill stadiums at nearly the capacity that Joes do (yet). Filled stadiums and high cable ratings, both things that Joe helps out with, were and are still the key for the NFL to score gaudy sponsorship and broadcasting deals. The NFL is far from losing sponsors altogether, but what they do stand to lose is the leverage to justify the exorbitant amounts these deals are worth. With each type of fan on different ends of the spectrum on many issues, the NFL is navigating its toughest period yet.

This, of course, is far from a unique problem for a sports organization. The NBA, MLB, NHL and others are all struggling to determine how to position their league in the best way possible. Some leagues are arguably doing a better job than others, putting even more pressure on the NFL to get this right.

Maybe you, the reader, identify partly with Marcus and partly with Joe. What can the NFL do to keep you interested? Keep an eye on the NFL’s moves this season and the near future to see who the NFL is speaking to: you, or someone else.


2017-18 NFL Predictions

Never forget one of the NFL’s longest standing tenets: it’s hard to repeat success. Obvious, right? Well when the defending champion New England Patriots are favored to win every game this season, it can be hard to forget. With seemingly (key word) no strong competition in the AFC, the Patriots seem to have yet another easy path to the Super Bowl. They have already begun sending their season ticket holders tickets to the AFC Championship game! Can you blame them? They’re a great team with a QB that has shown no signs of slowing down despite reaching 40 years of milage last month. They make winning look easy. Too easy. And this is why they won’t win the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. In fact, I don’t think they’ll make it there. When a team makes winning look as easy as they do in the NFL, something isn’t right. This year will be a true test of how hard it truly is to repeat success in the NFL. My official predictions are in the image below along with some notes:


Extra Points:

-Ben Roethlisberger may be getting up there in age (and may retire after this season), but his offensive corps is as electric as ever. Defensive concerns still remain, but don’t forget that this team won seven straight to end the season last year and actually ended up top 10 in points allowed. This is still a really good team and yes, they have what it takes to beat the Patriots.

-My NFC side looks awfully familiar to what it was last year as far as teams go and this is where I expect to have the most issues. The NFC is full of teams looking to bounce back (Eagles, Panthers, Bucs, etc.) and is constantly surprising the league with the playoff outlook. Despite my predictions, don’t be shocked if the NFC looks vastly different than last year.

-I say it nearly every year, but this has to be the year Aaron Rodgers makes it to another Super Bowl. He’s just too good not to get another chance. If the Packers disappoint this year (i.e. lose in first round of the playoffs or worse), I would fully expect coach Mike McCarthy to be out of a job after the season. Rodgers was so close last season and I think he has unfinished business this year.