BRINGING THE NFL TO ITS KNEES


Or: The 2018 NFL Season, The Fix Is (STILL) In Style

WEEK 6

I watched (well, sorta watched while doing other things like cleaning the house, reading a book, etc.) three games this weekend, and I swear, all three were manipulated in some way. Once you understand that this occurs, you can't help but see how, when, and where games are manipulated. It's a curse, like taking the Red Pill in The Maxtrix: you can't go back to simply watching and enjoying a game.

The first game I witnessed was the Bears v. Dolphins game. The Bears defense which is touted as one of the best in the game laid a total egg. Not only did they not sack Dolphins back-up QB Brock Osweiler, they didn't even knock him down once in the game, despite the fact that two of the 'Fins o-linemen were also back-ups. Of course, when you see the effort given on the following play, you can understand that the Bears weren't destined to win:

Interestingly, in the Bears v. Dolphins game, the Bears lost a TD - which turned in a turnover on the next play - because of a "pick" play run by the Bears TE. Had the TD stood, the game might - coulda, woulda, shoulda - have gone the Bears way. But a similar pick play run by the Steelers in their game against the Bengals wasn't flagged, and as a result, the Steelers won. Of course, the NFL offered an official explanation why this wasn't a penalty, but the "pick" play which is run week after week is one of those subjective calls that can/can't be flagged at an official's discretion.

Game 2 I watched was the Sunday nighter of the Chiefs v. the Patriots. Two takeaways from this game: one, the Patriots (at home, of course where they never lose - which  is something no one ever questions) had zero penalties in this game. They were flagged twice, but one was declined and the second was an offsetting foul. Zero penalties? Not one of the Pats' o-lineman held a defender to protect ol' Tom? C'mon. Does anyone really believe they played a completely clean game? Number two, is Chiefs LB Breeland Speaks deciding not to tackle Tom Brady in what resulted in a TD run by the QB because of his fear of being flagged for unnecessary roughness due to the NFL's crackdown on roughing the passer calls. See how one thing can morph into another in this league? Due to a couple of ridiculous penalties, now defensive players won't tackle the QB out of fear, and that possibly changed the outcome of this game.

Game 3 was the Monday night affair between the 49ers and the Packers. I know, I know. I complain about the Packers a lot, but when Aaron Rodgers again leads the Packers to a come-from-behind-victory after his opponents completely fall apart despite dominating all game (see Sunday Night Week 1 v. the Bears) which leads to the broadcasters saying it was a "Hollywood scripted ending," you have to wonder. Of course, the refs had a hand in this outcome when on a 3rd-and-15 sack of Rodgers late in the 4th quarter was negated when 49ers DB Richard Sherman was flagged for illegal contact. To his credit, Sherman took blame for the foul, but still, what he did is not flagged 9 out of 10 times. And even though "illegal contact" is a point of emphasis now in the NFL with its enforcement up 3x from last season, it's still enforced if/when the refs deem it a penalty - which if you go back to the Patriots v Chiefs game and the zero calls on NE - isn't really all that often.

WEEK 5

I said in the midst of my illness last week that Monday Night Football this week between the Redskins and Saints would be a Drew Brees love-fest because he was on the cusp of becoming the NFL's all-time leading passer in yardage. I was not wrong. The funny part (at least to me) was how it happened and the immediate reaction it received. 

In the second quarter with the game already in hand for the Saints (at home, of course), Brees and the Saints were set for their next drive. ESPN announced that he was 35 yards shy of the record and showed a shot of Brees family on the sidelines, having apparently made their way down to the field from their box seats. At that exact moment, this happened:

Nice timing, Mrs. Brees. As Barstool Sports pointed out in their tweet, seemed a little too easy for Brees to complete that record breaking pass. And wasn't it nice that it went for a TD to boot? As many celebrities began sending out congrats to Brees (why? He couldn't read them mid-game), former NFL player Joe Thomas tweeted this:

It was quickly followed by another former NFL player, Dashon Goldson, tweeted this:

So that was two former NFL players - that I was aware of - who thought the play was suspect. This is interesting on many levels which I'm sure you can understand. What else do they find "questionable?" Do they know other plays and/or players who made questionable plays? How often? Which games? Playoffs? Super Bowl? I think you get the picture. Of course, even some pundits raised an eyebrow at it:

That's not the first Skip Bayless tweet to make it on this site. How much does he know about this sort of behavior on the field? What else is suspect that he doesn't tweet about?

I could write about other games and incidents from this Week 5 - like what's up with all the kickers missing all their field goal/extra point attempts? Are the NFL's goal posts magnetized like NBA rims supposedly are? - but this one event in one game sums up everything I write about. Even if MNF was outright rigged for the Saints to win, but a message was sent to the Redskins to let Brees have this "record breaking moment" and they did, well, credibility and integrity are totally out the window in the NFL. Nothing else needs to be said.

WEEK 4

I'm a little slow in posting this week because (a) I was out of town all weekend at my nephew's wedding and watched football through my closed eyelids on the couch afterwards and (b) currently have the cold/flu which is going around. So, in essence, I'm posting because I feel obligated even though I really don't care.

Much like the NFL doesn't really care about protecting its athletes. If they did, explain the whole Earl Thomas injury situation outside of the league being a "business" (which only comes into play when they want it to be a business - much like the famous North Dallas Forty quote) or explain how this - or seemingly any "lowering the helmet" incident didn't draw a flag:

That came from the Monday Night Chiefs v. Broncos game which seemed to exist merely to showcase Patrick Mahomes as the "Next Big Thing" in the NFL. (In fact, it seems more and more as if the prime time NFL games are meant to push certain storylines/players. Next Monday is Drew Brees celebration night. Really think he and Saints will lose that game to the Redskins?) Also in this game, which was a Chiefs win thanks to Mahomes talent and perhaps this non-call on the play clock which the referees apparently acknowledged (thanks to Phillip for the tip). Oh, well. Can't take it back now, can you?

The refs also apparently tell players that some calls they make depend on time and place and game situation as NY Giants MLB Alec Ogletree learned Sunday when a ref told him that they, "wouldn't make that call in the Super Bowl." We all knew NFL rules were subjectively enforced despite a rule book for all to follow, but this quote is just further proof that it's really all up for grabs on Sunday (thanks to John for this tip).

Oh yeah, and the Browns were cast to the curb after (Dilly, Dilly) their Thursday Night "Open the Fridges!" Bud Light sponsored win when a horrible spot - which was reviewed - cost them a game clinching first down. Instead, the home team Raiders took the game in OT and won for John Gruden's first win in his second stint as Oakland's head coach.

There's probably more that happened, but I need to lay down.

WEEK 3

All right, let me just run this past y'all: what if the new "protect the quarterback" rule that's causing all sorts of controversy is meant to just that? Why, you ask, would the NFL court such problems? Because do you notice anyone talking about player protests around the National Anthem? Hmm... It was just a few weeks ago that every pundit seemed to be on edge about the "lowering the helmet" rule that disrupted more than one preseason game. Now? Anyone see a flag for lowering the helmet? I haven't. But I've seen controversial sacks ad naseum. But no mention of anthem protests and/or lowering the helmet. Perhaps the NFL ain't so dumb.

While we saw a few upsets this week (namely the Vikings dropping an "easy" victory at home against the Bills, and the Lions stuffing the Patriots on Sunday night), there were only two real games of note this week. One, was the Monday night game between the surging Buccaneers against the reeling Steelers. The story was two-fold, the internal strife within the Steelers due to Le'veon Bell's holdout and Antonio Brown's whining, and the appearance of "FitzMagic" in Tampa. It was interesting to watch the game because as it worn on, the Monday Night announcing crew talked about these stories so much, they seemed to almost ignore the action on the field. And the talk was basically, "Bell should be playing for the Steelers already," "Brown will be fine," and "FitzMagic is going to wear out, and do so quickly, perhaps as soon as that night because suspended Jameis Winston is coming back to the team." Guess what happened? FitzMagic threw three early interceptions which set the Bucs back enough to basically cost them the game. Granted, a little FitzMagic brought them within a score (which is the standard practice in prime time games now), but in the end, Big Ben and the Steelers prevailed. Of course, stuff like this, on perhaps one of the most important downs late in the game, didn't hurt their cause:

Then there was the Thursday Night game between the lowly Jets and lowlier Browns.How do you sell this stinkfest of a game to a national audience? Well, consider this: The Browns haven't won since 2016. The coulda/shoulda beat the Steelers in Week 1 had their NCAA record-holding rookie kicker not choked. Then they coulda/shoulda beat the Saints had that same NCAA record-holding kicker not choked a second time (leading to him being cut). Despite this repeated failure, this happens:

What's more curious is that local Cleveland bars had "victory fridges" installed in the offseason. These were chained and padlocked refridgerators filled with Bud Light meant to be opened if/when the Browns finally win, so there'd be free Bud Light to all to celebrate with (Dilly, Dilly). Now isn't it odd that the main sponsor for Thursday Night Football is...wait for it...Bud Light. Wouldn't it be the coincidence of coincidences if the victory fridges filled with Bud Light were opened after Bud Light brought Cleveland fans Thursday Night Football? Amazingly, that is exactly what happened. Much like the Week 1 Bears v. Packers game where the Bears blitzed Aaron Rodgers into injury then forgot how to play defense, the Jets knocked Browns starting QB Tyrod Taylor out of the game (or so we were told), and in stepped rookie No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield for the Browns. Suddenly, the Jets couldn't play defense. Mayfield brought the Browns back from a 14-point deficit and Bud Light for all! Was this really a football game or just one giant product placement?

Oh, and by the way, I'm not alone (and neither are you) in thinking this league isn't legit (thanks, Norman, for the tip!):


WEEK 2

I'm still at work on wrapping up my next book (The Fix Is Still In), so this week's rundown will be haphazardly quick and to the point.

While I hate to dwell on the Packers, there are a few takeaways from this week's Packers v. Vikings game that are worth mentioning. #1 - Aaron Rodgers is not that injured. I think he is hurt, sure, but the media circus around is knee is more showbiz than medical, and everyone's willing to play along for the show. #2 - The Packers probably should've won the game, and would have, had Clay Matthews not been flagged for a roughing the passer penalty on what appeared to be a completely legal and routine NFL play. Worse yet, the NFL on Tuesday not only said the penalty was correctly assessed, but that the league was going to use the video of it to show how the "grab and pull" technique Matthews used to drop Kirk Cousins is illegal.

#3 - The Packers (and the NFL) brought this controversy on themselves due to the "late hit" that broke Rodgers' collarbone last season. Had they not whined about it, it's likely no new rule would've been discussed/put into effect this season. #4 - Prior to that Matthews flag, the refs seemed to be completely in the Packers' corner. Here's two examples:

#5 - I really think more than anything the flag on Matthews wasn't meant to propel the Vikings to a win (or the tie they wound up with). I think that just like a similar call in the Packers v. Bears Sunday Night game, the flag was meant to keep the game alive, close, and fans watching.

The NFL's concussion protocol is nonsense. And the worse part of it is, the players - who's health is on the line - don't seemingly care. Former players are suing the league over not getting enough compensation for their past injuries and potential brain damage caused by playing the sport, meanwhile current players, like Cam Newton after this hit, didn't miss a snap after taking a clearly severe blow to the head. Who's really to blame here? The medical staff for whitewashing possible injuries? Or players who want to be "tough" and play through the pain?

Otherwise, there was a lot of "home cooking" this Sunday which brought unlikely wins (given each game's early circumstances) to the Saints, Broncos, Buccaneers, and Titans. "Home cooking" also almost brought the Steelers back from the brink of utter destruction in a game in which they should've been down 28-0 (instead of merely 21-0). Instead, a few helping flags had them tied at 21-21 versus the Chiefs, only to ultimately lose 42-37 thanks to budding star Patrick Mahomes. If Mahomes keeps up what's he's been doing thus far, the Chiefs may start getting the sort of "help" that propels teams to the Super Bowl.

WEEK 1

It’s only Week 1, and the NFL is up to its usual tricks as if last season never ended. I know there’s only so many ways to spin a football game, but already we’ve been treated to:

On Opening Night, Super Bowl champs the Eagles hosted the previous season’s NFC champs the Falcons who the Eagles knocked out of the playoffs en route to their title. How did that playoff game end last season? With a “heroic” goal-line stand by the Eagles. How’d Game 1 of the 2018 season end? Exactly the same way. It was as if the NFL pressed “repeat” on their stereo.

It was also a horribly boring game to watch with 20+ penalties called during the course of the game. But since it was Opening Night, it couldn’t be a lopsided affair. No, the NFL made sure it came down to the final play – one which the referees made sure happened twice with a ticky-tack “illegal contact” penalty to keep the Falcons’ dying hopes alive for a few more seconds. Amazingly, poor play calling (much like what doomed the Falcons in their ill-fated Super Bowl LI(e) appearance) stopped the Falcons from scoring from the goal-line in their first possession of the game and in their last. These are supposedly professionals failing at an unprecedented level. An 8th grader playing Madden at home could’ve been more successful.

Of course, it could’ve been like Monday Night’s Lions v. Jets game wherein the Jets reportedly knew what plays the Lions were going to run prior to them actually running them. No shock then that Lions QB Matt Stafford threw 4 interceptions in the Jets 48-17 blowout win. Supposedly, the Jets got that information from good film study. Yeah, ok. I guess that’s a better excuse than the NFL’s “Oops, we got that wrong” line that Browns fans have to live with. In the Cleveland v. Pittsburgh game, the refs apparently made the wrong call on a Browns’ 3rd-down sack. Instead settling for a field goal attempt to potentially go up 3-0, the Steelers got new life, and scored a TD. That 4-point differential may not seem like much, but in a game that ended in a 21-21 tie, it was the difference maker. Sorry, Cleveland!

This should be a rhetorical question, but anyone who watches sports regularly knows the answer: Do star players get preferential treatment? Of course they do which is why anyone claiming games aren’t at the very least manipulated because of this fact can go jump in the nearest lake. What isn’t really known is to what level or how far this treatment can extend.

With Colts QB Andrew Luck’s return after a two-year absence, his rival QB, the Bengals Andy Dalton thought it was enough to make mention of it. Dalton basically complained that Luck got better treatment/protection from the refs in the Colts v. Bengals game than he did. Was Dalton correct? Probably. Would it really surprise you? Luck was an apparent NFL Golden Child until his shoulder fell to pieces. They need to protect him more than Dalton, and Dalton recognized this fact.

But perhaps the biggest amount of NFL-backed protection came in the Bears v. Packers game on Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers, the star of two national ad campaigns (State Farm and Izod) with his star “girlfriend” Danica Patrick in attendance on the opening night of the Packers 100th season, injured his knee to the point of needing to being carted off the field. Usually, that spells the end of any players’ game, if not the season (even career). Not Rodgers. Pumped up with more drugs than we can imagine (did anyone from the NFL drug test him post-game?), Rodgers re-emerged from the locker room for the second half and led the Packers to one of the franchise’s most legendary come-from-behind wins in team history.

How was this possible? My honest guess: someone called the Bears at half-time with an official NFL “stand down” order. It’s the only thing that can really explain how the Bears blew a 20-0 lead to a QB that only had one functioning leg. Somehow after halftime the Packers O-line learned how to block while the Bears forgot how to rush a passer. The Bears newest, richest defensive star Khalil Mack shined in the first half with a sack, fumble and recovery, and an interception returned for a touchdown. In the second half? Crickets. According to Chicago newspapers (which merely took an “aw, shucks” stance on this historic loss), the Bears rushed Rodgers with more than four players only three times in the second half. Rodgers couldn’t move. Why would you not blitz him constantly, if nothing more than to knock him around to the point of having to come out for safeties sake? Nope, not the Bears.

Nor would the Bears continue to rush the ball on offense with Jordan Howard who was averaging nearly five yards a carry. Considering this sort of play from Mitchell Trubisky, it might have been a wise decision:


But no more Howard. Even when it was third and one. Even when a first down with less than three minutes remaining would’ve won the game. Or even when losing 24-23 with under two minutes remaining and two timeouts and needing 20 yards to get into field goal position. Instead, the Bears did this:


While one could almost – almost – forgive the Falcons for blowing Super Bowl LI(e) due to poor play calling in that final drive, what the Bears did was inexcusable. It lasted an entire half. You want to blame first year head coach Matt Nagy (or highly sought-after defensive coordinator Vic Fangio) for that? Good, then fire him/them now because once again, an 8th grader playing Madden wouldn’t have been that moronic. Yet, look at the result. Completely nonsensical, but NFL fans are eating it up, a ladle full at a time.

PRESEASON

Welcome back for yet another (perhaps the last for me) season of NFL style football. I half-thought of doing a weekly video recap for this season, but then I realized I had better things to do with my life and figured at some point I'd be Alex Jones'd off of YouTube, and I don't need that right now. So you get stuck having to actually read stuff.

I'm rather amazed that going into the 2018 season, the NFL still doesn't have it's shit seemingly together. They can't get a grip on the players kneeling controversy, "concussions" remain a league-wide concern, and the ratings for their broadcasts continue to fall. It may be why the Wall Street Journal suggested NFL owners start selling their teams -- because things aren't getting better.

Especially now that there's this:

As I myself tweeted in response to this play/penalty which enforces the NFL's new "lowering the helmet to make contact" rule, what were football plays last season can now be interpreted as penalties this year. So, when someone like Tom Brady gets sacked to possibly end a Patriots' drive, the NFL can now flag the play (at the refs' discression), and keep the drive alive. This WILL happen. This WILL alter the outcome of games. This WILL help determine which teams make and/or miss the playoffs. And, my guess is, this is exactly why this rule now exists. It makes life much more difficult on the defensive players while easing up on the offense in order to create higher scoring, more "exciting" games which can be manipulated on the spot by penalties (whether real or imagined).

So, sit back, enjoy the show, and don't take any of it too seriously. Because, remember, it's all a "presentation of the National Football League."