Cohen on NFL: 18-Game Season Not Worth the Trade-offs
Imagine it is 2004, and you are on the set of the blockbuster cinematic adventure Catwoman. Now take a moment to think back and figure out exactly where your life has gone so horribly wrong. Then imagine that Halle Berry, exhausted from grueling hours of work in hopes of meeting the film’s production deadline, falls two stories while attempting a stunt and breaks both her legs. The production is forced to go on without Berry, replacing her with a less talented, less attractive actress.
This is exactly what is happening in the NFL today, and exactly why the rumored expansion to an 18-game regular season is an unwise proposition.
The NFL today is undoubtedly a passing league. Passing means more big plays, which in turn leads to more big wins for teams and more big revenues for the league. With everyone on the same page, everyone is more than happy to sit back and let the defense get flagged for roughing the passer when the quarterback is knocked down by a stiff wind. This is because quarterbacks are the most important players on the field, bar none.
This holds true for every single team in the league. Whether it is Peyton Manning or Trent Edwards, a quarterback injury devastates a team like no other. When an offense loses its leader, it is difficult to recover. Basic logic would say that the backup quarterback simply is not as good as the starter, and the offense will not be able to score as easily. So the team will pass less. Passing less means fewer big plays, which in turn leads to fewer exciting and high scoring games, and thus less revenue for the league.
(Side note: I did not mean to imply with my example that Trent Edwards is a productive NFL quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, or that the Buffalo Bills should even be allowed to call that pitiful conglomeration of men that Edwards leads onto the field before punting three downs later an offense. I apologize for any confusion.)
What I’m trying to say is that an NFL team whose quarterback has been knocked out of the game is like Catwoman without Halle Berry: it’s considerably less attractive and no one has much reason to watch.
But Catwoman unfolds a lot like this year’s Detroit Lions. The keys to the success of both lie in the leader: Halle Berry for Catwoman, second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford for the Lions. Both leaders are touted for their talented careers: Berry for her 2002 Oscar for Best Actress and being an incredibly beautiful woman, Stafford for his illustrious college career at Georgia and his prodigious arm strength. Both leaders have been given some interesting and exciting tools to work with: sexy outfits and exciting stunts for Berry, explosive offensive talents in Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best for Stafford.
We watched the Lions for the same reason we watched Catwoman: to see Stafford and Berry air it out, each in their own ways. But who would want to watch either without them?
This story is not exclusive to Detroit and Stafford. Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore, and Jake Delhomme were all also injured in Week 1 action, casting their teams’ fates into temporary uncertainty just as the season was kicking off. Fortunately for the Panthers and Browns, respectively, Moore and Delhomme have been deemed healthy enough to return to the field. Unfortunately, Stafford and Kolb, and by extension, Lions and Eagles fans, did not receive such good news, as both are out indefinitely.
More injuries will not mean better ratings for the league. More regular season games means more opportunities for players to get hurt in the most physical and damaging professional sport in America. Yes, more stringent roughing penalties will help, but they are a remedy to the symptoms rather than the ailment. Stafford, Kolb, Moore, and Delhomme were each hurt on a clean play. The unbridled athleticism of today’s NFL will not cease to cause major injuries; a longer regular season only increases the odds.
It is possible to give a player a one-week break during Week 17 and have him bounce back for the playoffs, but a team that clinches early cannot sit the starter for two or three weeks without a significant amount of rust building up. This will trap coaches between a rock and a hard place, because the alternative is leaving players prone to serious injury in an essentially meaningless game. Who really wants to see Curtis Painter lead the Colts offense in January because Peyton got roughed up in Week 18?
The NFL earned the moniker No Fun League for its buzz-killing crackdown on touchdown celebrations. Now, unless it puts the players’ health concerns before the revenue stream, it will run the risk of giving that moniker a whole new meaning: a league that is considerably less attractive than the alternative, and one that nobody has much reason to watch.