Merits of mediocrity: how the NFL may have lucked itself into a good season

DJ Gallo: The start of season was awful. But with 22 of 32 teams in playoff arguing with 2 week left( and ratings on the rise !), an exciting finish looms

The start of the 2016 NFL season was a disaster by any measure. September and October made bad football, bad ratings and good reason to actually think: You know, maybe reading my high school friends insane posts about the election on Facebook would be a better use of my period than watching this game. But a funny thing happened on the way to the NFL to intervene in the list of big names that passed away in 2016: it came back to life.

Maybe theres nothing that will ever erased the trauma of seeing all the penalties and punts that beset the entire first half of the season. But like a team going worst to first, the NFL is on the verge or creating dare I say it a good year. The 2016 NFL season has essentially been the opposite of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings: abysmal at the start; undeniably good at the end.( Many also predicted that would rebound and that the Vikings would collapse. Nailed it !)

With simply two weeks left in the regular season, 22 of 32 teams in the league remain in playoff arguing. Bitch all you want about parity a word that provides a slightly more palatable route to say mediocrity but more than two-thirds of the league still has something to play for at Christmas. A postseason berth could be waiting under the tree for most of the league, with only the likes of the Browns, 49 ers, Jaguars, Bears, Jets and a few other football deplorables in full-on draft prep mode. Were already assured of at the least a couple new playoff faces this year in the Raiders and the new-look Cowboys, while the Bengals have thankfully already been mathematically eradicated. Suppose how much more exciting the wild-card round will be this year now that were spared from sitting through the traditional Cincinnati loss on the opening Saturday afternoon.

Although the playoffs have already basically started. Thats the gift the early-season mediocrity has given us. Parity appears bad in September and October, but it attains for a ton of consequential football in late December. Sundays Steelers-Ravens game is a de facto division championship game with the loser likely falling outside the wild-card scene. Vikings-Packers will give one team a chance to catch the Lions in the NFC North especially with Detroit having to go to Dallas on Monday night. The Chiefs will have to beat the Broncos at home to hang with the Raiders, who greeted a 7-7 Colts team on Sunday that could still win the AFC South. Indianapolis playoff opportunities are a little better than those of the 7-7 Bills, who the Dolphins need to beat on Sunday in order to help their wildcard bid. Of Week 16 s 16 schedule games, only two of them 49 ers-Rams and Chargers-Browns have nothing on the line. Even the 12 -2 Patriots still have work to do to lock up the No1 seed in the AFC, while the 12 -2 Cowboys havent even clinched their division yet.

Week 17 played on 1 January when the calendar will have mercifully left 2016 behind us forever looks like more of the same. While some teams will unavoidably be eliminated this Sunday, there is currently simply one Week 17 game on the slate Cardinals v Rams that features two teams out of the playoff hunt. New Years Day will be owned by pro football this year.

Whether by design or dumb luck and considering Roger Goodell heads the NFL, my hunch is its the dumb one the NFL has stumbled into a solid season. Lots of people have noticed, too. CBS had its biggest rating of the season on Sunday. Sunday Night Football was up 31% over last years Week 15 game. Regardless of what your angry uncle claimed at Thanksgiving, a quarterback on one of the worst teams in the league choosing to kneel during the national anthem did not kill Americas most popular sports league. Protest, punts, penalties, penalties … none of it delivered a blow that more than briefly staggered the NFL. Even incompetency on the level of Goodells has not managed to kill the league that lays the golden eggs.

Maybe the next two weeks on the NFL calendar wouldnt seem quite so rosy if it all was simply a function of parity. Twenty-five teams, all within a game or two of 7-7, tripping and falling and fumbling to watch who attains the last mistake and blows a playoff spot. But its not that. As bad as play was at the start of the year, its improved consistently ever since. The working theory back in September and October was that gameplay was so unsightly because were younger than ever. Veterans are increasingly cut in training camp so teams can stock up on younger and cheaper players. But those kinds of players are not polished professionals, the reasoning ran, which is the reason the NFL often looked like a semi-pro three months ago.

That theory still holds true. But what we all failed to consider is what would happen when those younger players got a few months of on-the-job experience. The quality of play is back to where we expect to be, only with players who are younger and faster and stronger than ever before throughout the league building some somewhat awesome plays. Again, its thanks to no grand plan by anyone in the NFL front offices simply wanted inexpensive players they could cut more easily if need be but it all worked out to the benefit of the NFL. Again.

What was supposedly the worst season in league history has ended up being pretty good. The NFL is back and, if not better than ever, at the least as good as ever. No matter how much the league screwed up, it could not manage to destroy itself. Its a goal America can shoot for over the next four years.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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