As a Bears fan, I can’t help but grin at the plight of the Denver Broncos on national TV. See, it can happen to someone else! The Broncos have been on an island game already four times this season, and there are three more to go. And in every game, they’ve been awful. To be clear, they’ve been awful all season, but they had at least two games where they only put their own fans through agony. If you need a capsule:
We have watched Russell Wilson decompose in front of our eyes, and when he isn’t wildly missing his targets he’s usually under a pile of large angry men in different-colored jerseys. As someone whose fanbase gets pilloried every time they wash up on NBC or ESPN, there is glee to be found in a different team torturing the masses on the big stage.
But it isn’t just the Broncos. There is a ton of bad football out there. You don’t need me to tell you. It feels like there are only two or three good teams around. Some previous powers have backed up like the Packers or Bucs or Steelers. Not as many teams have filled the gap. Some teams didn’t take a leap forward, other than the Eagles (and perhaps the Giants and Jets).
We do this dance every season though, where it feels like the product gets worse and we watch the early few weeks and wonder how so many millions can be enthralled by this shit. Every game is close, or it feels like that, except none of them feel particularly good. The games are close because neither team is good enough to run away from the other. The NFL calls it parity. Some of us just call it garbage.
Only the Giants, Eagles, Vikings, and Bills are more than two games over .500. It’s not truly clear if the Giants are all that good, and I suppose you could make the argument we don’t know if the Eagles are either, if your aim is to piss off someone in a Gritty t-shirt (which isn’t ever all that hard and usually entertaining for a few minutes). Minnesota’s last four wins are by a combined 22 points, and include “triumphs” over the collection of wayward children like the Lions and Bears, as well as beating the Dolphins with either someone dizzy or someone confused at quarterback.
Scoring is down by two points per game by team. Passing yards are down a tick. But it’s beyond the numbers. Every Sunday, it just feels like you’re watching a bigger pile of dreck than you did before.
I’m hardly a sporting anthropologist or anything like that, and this kind of theory probably required someone a lot smarter than me to look into. Still, it’s something I think about whenever I’m watching yet another three-and-out or muffed punt.
The decline in participation started in 2015 or so, which means that high school seniors in 2016 were drafted in 2019 or 2020 and are in their second or third year in the NFL now. And these were players that came up playing against a shallower pool of talent. That’s probably only continued in recent years. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been standouts who have earned scholarships and then draft status years later. But they stood out against a different type of competition. There have been enough players to keep college football satiated, but have they been as good?
This would be tough to prove. The powerhouses and hotbeds are probably still full, which means the top-tier college programs are probably getting the same level of talent. But the depth, the later draftees? The ones that fill in the middle and back of rosters in the NFL? Somewhere there are players who played in leagues and teams that just weren’t as heavily populated as they once were, and became stars that got noticed in a way they might not have had they been five or 10 years younger.
It’s probably something to circle back to in a year or two or five, especially if youth football participation continues to decline. It’s likely that rules in high school will change at some point too to avoid injury to children. This means that guys who get to the NFL will just have been playing actual football for less time and won’t be as polished.
Not that it matters much to the NFL. No matter what they toss out there, everyone tunes in, networks get their ad rates, and the league gets their TV deals. You wonder how bad the actual football would have to be for the TV ratings to really go south. I mean…it would have to be like, kneeling bad, right?
Couple of quick hits here. The Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin is in his free agent year, and well, you get a pretty large signal that he knows what that means with this play with the Wings down a goal and the extra skater out:
Of course, Viktor Arvidsson of the Kings could have shown more urgency than a tortoise after taking a shit, but it’s a cool highlight. The Wings would tie the game seconds later, which means Larkin pretty much earned them a point on his own (Detroit lost in OT). You can imagine every youth hockey coach is going to have this play queued up on the iPad.
The first round of MLS’s playoffs wrapped up last night, and FC Dallas and Minnesota United went to penalties to decide their tussle. Dallas’ Alan Velasco had the chance to close it out, and he figured anything worth doing is worth doing with some panache.
I don’t know if Velasco intended to not only hit a Panenka to win it but to hit it to the same side that Dayne St. Clair was diving. I hope so, because that’s a level of brashness and straight cruelty we rarely see. St. Clair’s anguished flailing as he watches not only the ball but Minnesota’s season tauntingly float over him at just a distance both the ball and St. Clair know he can’t reach but close enough that he has to try is just delicious and heartbreaking. So close, and yet so far. The ball might as well have flipped him the bird as it moseyed into the net.