Summer TV is the worst.
It’s either crap you’ve already seen or mid-season replacement shows that weren’t good enough to get a full slate of episodes during pilot season. And nobody cares, because that three-month parade of filth is presented entirely by design.
And the NFL has followed suit, presenting a slate of horrid, borderline-unwatchable exhibition games to sate the starving football fanatic. Oh sure, they do this every year. Four preseason games. Four agonizing weeks of starters riding the pine, scrubs battling for playing time, and coaches and media pretending that the final scores of these games matter. Not even the antics of Johnny Manziel can save the drudgery.
The football this time of year is always bad, but it’s especially bad this year, in a series of games marred with ticky-tack penalties, thanks to the latest phase of the NFL’s new initiative to slowly ban defensive players from ever touching offensive players ever again. But seriously, the crackdown on illegal contact and defensive holding penalties have turned the August course of gridiron action into the last minute of a college basketball game.
As a product, the NFL preseason is hot garbage, both on TV and in person. Season ticket holders love to skip games in August, and rightfully so. Who wants to pay for parking, concessions, and beer, just to watch their favorite players sit on the bench during the second half?
It’s like when that other couple that you’re friends with throws a party, but they tell that other couple that it starts two hours before it actually does? That’s what the preseason is. It’s that awkward buffer time specifically designed for everyone to get their shit together before the real festivities begin.
And it holds similar (non-)value as a tool where the coaches are concerned as well. Bill Belichick doesn’t need it. He was thrilled with the productivity he saw in his joint practices with Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles. “It was a real good working environment that was productive and competitive, but not over the top,” Belichick told WEEI. Kelly shared the sentiment.
More and more teams are staging joint practices around their preseason games. The Redskins are even selling T-shirts for them. For 30 bucks. Despite the occasional Snydering, joint practices are a great value for loyal fans. Unlike those farcical games in the downtown stadiums, the fans can park and visit the teams’ practice facilities for little to no cost.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis? Probably not a fan of the preseason, not after the New York Jets and Rex Ryan dialed up blitz after blitz in the second quarter of their preseason game. “Some of it was a little extreme,” Bengals third-string quarterback Jason Campbell told the Star-Ledger. Ryan wasn’t exactly cooperating with the preseason kayfabe.“Here’s how much we thought about them: Zero.”
Former Lewis acolyte Mike Zimmer, now coaching the Minnesota Vikings, probably shares the sentiment. He didn’t waste any time shutting down his team’s best player for the entire month of August. “I really don’t see the need,” Zimmer told the Star-Tribune earlier this month when asked how much running back Adrian Peterson would play in the exhibition games. “The only concern you have is he might not have been hit enough. But our guys are grabbing at the ball a lot. They’re punching at the ball as he’s running in there.”
Here’s a ball punch that’s long overdue: It’s time to kill the NFL’s preseason once and for all.
And no, I don’t mean caving into Roger Goodell’s master plan of converting two of those exhibition games into regular-season affairs. No, 18 games in the regular season is still too many, just as four games in the preseason is too many. Do you know how many preseason games ISN’T too many? Zero. That’s how many.
So let’s fix it. Let’s stop pretending that these games are accomplishing anything. Let’s adjust the regular season, starting with bumping Week 1 up the calendar, to the second-to-last weekend in August. And to make sure we play through December, we’ll give every team three bye weeks. Yep. Three.
Is that insane? Sure, it sounds a little batty, especially since we’re tripling the amount of time these guys are sitting on their butts. But that’s something today’s very seldom enjoy during the calendar year: rest. The NFL tried two bye weeks in 1993 and nobody liked it, but that was before the internet and online fantasy football and dammit just trust me, it’ll work this time!
We’ll have three bye weeks, staggered appropriately in the first five, middle six, and last five games of a team’s season, seems a lot more fair. You can’t tell me that the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers, who get their respective byes in Week 12, don’t have an advantage over the Cardinals, Bengals, Browns, Rams and Seahawks, who drew the Week 4 bye, only to have to play 13 straight games into the winter.
Giving each team three bye weeks wouldn’t be perfectly fair, but it would be more fair than what exists now. And if the league adds a single expansion team in the near future (as opposed to two, which would keep the schedules even), those bye weeks will be scattered about anyway. An effort for equity would go a long way.
So with 16 regular season games and three bye weeks, we’re at 19 blisteringly-hot weeks of NFL action. We’ll appease Roger the Red here and make up that 20th week in the postseason.
Let’s expand the playoffs to 14 teams. Look, if baseball can send ten teams to the postseason, then the NFL can get away with seven in each conference. Give that No. 1 seed in each conference their first-round bye, and stick the No. 2 seed at home to play the No. 7 seed, and then let everyone beat each other’s brains in for another month until the Super Bowl starts. MMQB’s Greg Bedard wants to see a 16-team tournament because it’s a format “[l]ike the NCAAs,” which is like saying mayonnaise should be brown so it looks more like peanut butter.
Fourteen teams. End of debate.
Keep the Super Bowl bye week. Or don’t. I couldn’t care less. I’ve covered Super Bowl week twice, and as a media person, there’s a little benefit to having a week to brush up on both teams before flying to the site of the game. But it’s marginal, and at that point, most of us are thinking about what we’re doing after the game, once the mighty Lombardi has been awarded. I’m on board with the notion that one week of lead team isn’t enough, but two is too much.
But as far as the NFL’s preseason goes, four weeks is four too many. Let the teams run their own joint practices in July and early August. Let the fans pretend to care about baseball for another couple of weeks. And let the players spend just a little more time with their families before the long campaign begins. And let us all exhale in relief at the demise of the postseason. Scrap it. Bury it. Walk to the tombstone and pay your respects.
And let’s move on.