The New NFL… Same as the Old… AFL
Thank you Bill Polian. Because you could not stand watching Peyton Manning get throttled by the early 2000’s New England Patriots, you devised a new NFL. One where wide receivers could run freer than wild prairie horses. Where breathing on anybody going out for a route would draw a flag and an automatic new set of downs. Granted, you never thought it would come to this. You would never have imagined a league where defensive players were not allowed to simply tackle. To engage offensive players who lowered their helmets, only to follow in kind and see a flag thrown on the defensive player. That was not on you. But like the Greek mythological story, you were the NFL’s Pandora, and you could not resist opening the box labeled, “Peyton’s Total Offense.” While prying open that jar led to an eventual (single) Super Bowl win for the Manning-led Colts, along with it came misery, pain, and the death of the NFL as we all knew it. The Chiefs and Rams killed it on Monday Night Football, November 19, 2018. Welcome to the New NFL, same as the old… AFL.
The AFL, Arena Football League, is a bastardized version of the NFL. Like if you took mutant league football (aka the Canadian Football League) and made everyone consume lethal amounts of cocaine prior to the game. Forget about defense, concentrate on offense. For a while the AFL was fun. Reaching as many as 19 teams in the 2007 season, but in the most recent season, there were only a grand total of four teams remaining. The novelty of watching players score every handful of plays went from can’t miss television, to yawn-inducing boredom in the matter of a decade. The NFL is quickly turning into the AFL and a substantial amount of fans are cheering on the league’s suicide.
The harbinger of death might very well be the most recent Super Bowl. Super Bowl LII was a barn-burner of a game that essentially ended on a strip-sack fumble. The final tally? 41-33. The game had everything traditional fans of the NFL complain about most: an overabundance of offense, horrific tackling, and overtly dubious replay decisions that defy explanation (Corey Clement “securing” a ball without having two hands connected to the ball is the most obvious). In the Monday Night Football NFL Blitz game that broke out between the Rams and Chiefs, there was more of the same: long touchdown plays, lightning quick drives resulting in seven points, dubious penalties, and even more suspect replay reviews. Some fans and pundits lauded the game and are calling it “the best regular season game of all time,” but it simply did not feel like football. The question is, for those turned off by the game, why was this particular occurrence so foreign? How could so much offense seem so… well… boring. The answer; it seems like there is less skill required to be great.
With wide receivers doing whatever they want and unafraid to run across the middle of the field, there is so much (too much) open space and quarterbacks are throwing into wide open windows. Watching Drew Brees right now is an otherworldly event. He is dropping balls into tight windows. Displaying impeccable skill and touch. For Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, these windows are grand vista doorways. The view is panoramic and gorgeous. Brandon Cooks can run a 25-yard drag while also not having a defender 15 yards near him. Tyreek Hill can beat his defender (like well, ya know) for a 75-yard touchdown and not have a man within 20 yards. This is not to denigrate the play-calling of someone like Sean McVay. He is an absolute offensive genius.
But fans watch football for offense AND defense. Khalil Mack and the Watt Brothers are so popular because they are so rare. Throw a flag on every play against the guard or center tasked with trying to block Aaron Donald if you have to. If he is held, call the penalty… because we know a defensive back will get charged with assault if his fingertip brushes a wide receiver after five yards. The “this is not football refrain,” might seem trite to some, but that is because there was an understanding that football was a literal level-playing field between the offense and defense. On any given play, the offense or defense could win. Now? Not even close. In fact, it seems like the defense has given up trying to stop offenses and has capitulated to the point of trying to solely force turnovers. If the offense scoring a touchdown is a given, might as well increase the chances of a turnover… even if the risk is giving up a (not-so-rare) long-distance touchdown. The worst part of the modern NFL? Those 3-4 seconds after the defense has miraculously come up with a stop that you have to wait to ensure no “laundry on the field.”
Fans watch NFL football for the inherent skill involved. College football is understood to be nowhere near as enjoyable to NFL because of the talent level (for atmosphere and tradition, you can make a case for the former). However, QBs constantly throwing to wide-open receivers dilutes the apparent skill needed to play the “most important position in sports.” Mitchell Trubisky can lead a Bears team to the top of the division despite some weeks looking like he may not actually know how to throw a football. Offenses are taking over. And this takeover is more colossal than the closure of city streets during a marathon. This is a takeover like living in a city when Godzilla had a bad night’s sleep.
The NFL is turning into the AFL before our very eyes and what may be the decline of the sport is heralded by cheers of fans and the orgasmic screams of announcers like Joe Tessitore. Who cares that your eardrums are tortured by the sounds of the Chainsmokers during halftime? This is the new NFL. Learn to adapt. Who cares the Chainsmokers have as much in common with NFL Football as DMX does to synchronized swimming? This is the AFL with sleeker helmets, better QBs, and faster AND quicker wide receivers. Learn to adapt. The defenses cannot do anything about it, but this is your reality now. Eli Manning and his rotting corpse can post an almost perfect passer rating because nothing is sacred anymore. So Bill Polian, that one Super Bowl win better have been worth it. The old NFL is dead. You may not have killed it, but you definitely supplied the poison.