January: that bittersweet month for every football fan, where the end of the regular season has given way to the NFL playoffs. Sure, the games mean more and the excitement and talent (hopefully) is at the highest yet, but gone are the full Sundays of games, fantasy, and betting – all for better and worse.
It was certainly a memorable year, but definitely neither the smoothest nor the best singular showcase of the game. Notable players engaged in felonious and deplorable off-the-field behavior, while the league scrambled in trying to figure out how to handle it. We took to trying to determine how to value quarterbacks in a league that increasingly titled the game in their favour; Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for six TDs in a game somehow.
We also had the Odell Beckham Jr. catch that can be watched on a loop for hours straight and still be exhilarating. He, of course, is part of a cadre of rookie receivers that amazed across the year and will hopefully do so for seasons to come.
We saw the resurgent Patriots, the inexplicable Rams, and the atrocious NFC South. We saw the rise and fall of the Cardinals, the downward spiral of the 49ers, and the continued disappointment in Tampa Bay (and New York, Tennessee, Chicago...).
So the 2014 season is slowly coming to a dramatic close, and because the league and season were far from perfect, there is no reason we can’t reflect in order to make necessary changes that would help improve the game for players and fans alike (owners, I don’t know if the following helps much, but we’re not really thinking of you). The game is constantly evolving, often rather quickly, so let us continue on a quest to near-perfect entertainment.
With that, here are the top ten things the NFL can fix to make 2015 a better, more fun, more engaging, and more positive season.
10 Find Some Better Quarterbacks
We understand it’s the toughest position in the game, and we understand it takes a certain kind of person to play it well, but wow did it seem like this year was really bad. Is it really possible there are only a dozen or so people in the country qualified to play this position well? Just think: there were no QB controversies this year. It was just a bunch of switching between mediocrity. Kyle Orton of EJ Manuel? Austin Davis or Shaun Hill? Hoyer or Manziel? McCown or Glennon? Sanchez or Foles? Then of course we watched Geno Smith, Mike Vick, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, Ryan Mallet, Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger, Jake Locker and on and on! Are any of these guys franchises QBs? There was some pretty spectacularly bad play this year, and we don’t know how it gets fixed, but there sure are a lot of opportunities to play quarterback available if there are any interested candidates.
9 Extra Monday Night Game
Week One is a wonderful time of the year for many reasons, but the one that stands out is that extra Monday Night games. It’s usually the Chargers or Raiders hosting, and it may not be a particularly great game, but it’s an extra game in its own time slot. We need more. Why not two Monday night games? Because of a snow storm in Buffalo, we got treated to two Monday night games once more this year (though Bills-Jets wasn’t national), and it just felt right. There are plenty of west teams that can host a late game to add to the excitement and keep the football weekend going just a bit longer.
8 Make London Games Early
Similarly, what a glorious morning that was when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Lions played the Falcons at 9:30 am on the East Coast (okay, it was on the schedule all year, but no one really noticed until that Wednesday). If they’re going to continue playing in London, then do it right. How fun it was to get up early and watch an extra game, making four distinct time slots for football on Sunday, and ostensibly doing away with having to endure pregame shows. For reasons unknown, however, the other two London games played this year were at one pm ET, thrown into the mix with the rest. The key isn’t expanding more days, it’s giving us more distinct time slots.
7 Eliminate Thursday Night Games
We’re staying on the schedule train here. It’s always exciting to know that on Tuesday morning, when the dust has settled from one week, another is only two and a half days away. Well, Thursday games don’t click. It’s not exactly that the Thursday night games are particularly sloppy or that they aren’t exciting, though that is the prevailing sentiment. It’s that they’re aberrations and detrimental to teams. Clubs can’t be judged accurately, while players aren’t at their best and because of that we’re not getting the best product. We are wasting NFL games. Players don’t like them, fans are giving up, the matchups are rarely intriguing, and its not representative. Keep the season opener on Thursday Night, keep Thanksgiving Day games, and do away with the rest.
6 Add More Games
More! It’s easy, and here’s how. Add two more regular season games, upping it to 18. We also add one more bye week, and eliminate two preseason games. Firstly, no one cares about preseason and stars don’t play that much as it is. Secondly, while two more games translate to more risk of injury and more physical demand, you add a bye week to help counter it. We have a situation in the league where teams may play up to 12 straight weeks because of where the bye falls – not with this schedule. Of course the argument against adding more games is twofold: devaluing the product and hurting players. There isn’t a great counter to the last part other than to say, if football is dangerous, then why not go down to 14 games? Or 12? Somehow we are determining that there is an acceptable amount of games that can be played for the risk. The truth is that players can get injured at any time, and this is ultimately a business. However, if you get rid of Thursday games, add a bye, then the quality should improve. What’s more, two additional games means that instead of two extraneous matches against random opponents, teams will just play another division on whole, making the schedule fairer.
5 Alter the Extra Point
The virtually automatic extra point has recently been discussed and played around with (in preseason), but it’s time to take action on this automatic score. Rarely does it get missed, and it is arguably the least dramatic play in the entire game. It seems there are options, the best of which entails moving the kick back some 20-25 yards to make it more difficult. Whatever the decision, the goal is to make it harder to get the extra point so much so that coaches serious contemplate going for two. A tougher extra point will make the end of games all the more dramatic.
4 Change Up the Sunday Start Times
The NFL needs to move some of the 1pm games to 4pm, and dare I say, maybe even stagger the start times. Why does the NFL hate its fans so much that they schedule eight, nine games at one? Most fans are paying attention to most games, for gambling, fantasy, or just sheer enjoyment. The Redzone Channel, one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century, leads the charge helping fans, but let’s help everyone out. Every team in the league can host a game at 4 or 4:30pm, so even up the early and late afternoon numbers. Also, if we already allow some games to start at 4 and others to start a half hour later, why not stagger the earlier ones too? At least by 15 minutes. I don’t want to have to be paying attention to three tense finishes, and I sure don’t want to be stuck on Titans-Jags when everything else is at halftime.
3 Allow Penalties to be Challenged
If we’re going to allow replay to be used for turnovers, scoring plays, and any time a coach chooses to throw their flag, why can’t penalties be challenged? These are vitally important plays – just check out the Lions-Cowboys Wild Card game. The NFL has created a game where defensive players are nervously going after the ball, afraid any slight misstep will result in an interference or roughing penalty: 15 yards and a first down. That’s a huge swing in any game. If we assume that referees are making split-second decisions and can’t always get it right, then why don’t they allow penalties to be challenged? No one cares if the games go an extra 10 minutes, we only care if the games are called right.
2 Washington Needs a New Nickname
Now we get into the serious part: the Washington name has to be changed, and now. It’s offensive, it’s outdated, and it’s racist. It’s as simple as that. We are an ever-changing culture, and we should always try to: grow with the times, understand the importance of language, and evolve. Never mind the so-called sacred colors and jerseys. Uniforms get changed all the time and fans stick by them. Sadly, all attempts to appeal to Dan Snyder’s sense of decency have failed, so how about this: your team will remain terrible until you change the name, and new uniforms may even mean more money. You’re welcome.
1 Goodbye Goodell
In charge during one of the most tumultuous times in NFL history, Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to act, failed to establish a set of guiding principles and rules, and failed to discipline justly and fairly. Instead, he ducked and dodged, feigning ignorance when it came to the case of Ray Rice, the Ravens RB who punched his then-fiancé in an elevator. For reasons unknown, one of the most powerful and richest organizations in the country was unable to collect a piece of video tape. Goodell was recently absolved from any wrongdoing following former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation, as most expected. The entire Rice saga, and the subsequent reactions to various other disciplinary cases, most notably Adrian Peterson, were bungled entirely, with the league trying feebly to be both an entertainment body and some sort of disciplinary system.
In short, Goodell is the commissioner of the NFL, so he should be held responsible for league actions. As the overseer of this season’s off-field incidents, he is either one of two things: a criminal or criminally negligent. He is responsible, the league failed, and now he should go. In any other job when you screw up to such a degree, you’re fired or someone else takes over. The owners like him because he makes them money. Surely the interests of a nation of fans and a league of players must factor into that money making process.