I’ve often lamented that the NFL is impervious to scandal. As I wrote, “the violence spilling into real life, the corporate welfare, the tacit condoning of cheating, the institutional arrogance” are not enough to hurt the league’s popularity.
Maybe playoff football like we saw over the weekend could do the trick. Americans can mentally compartmentalize a lot of the NFL’s negative social impact but we will not tolerate being bored by our entertainment.
The NFL will sell all four of its road wild card teams winning as proof that parity works. But anyone who watched these games knows it really means there aren’t even 12 good teams in the 32-member league. If this is high-level NFL football, then the standards are low.
The Seahawks and Steelers benefited from the foibles of their opponents to win while not playing well. The Texans were curb stomped by the Chiefs, who must be the least impressive NFL team to ever win 11 games in a row. The Packers found their offensive mojo only because they faced Washington’s hapless defense.
The Bengals committed consecutive 15-yard penalties to put the Steelers in position to kick a game-winning field goal. One of them was a vicious late-and-illegal hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The other was a personal foul against Adam Jones for jawing with Steelers assistant Joey Porter who—highlighting the NFL’s issues with fairly and consistently enforcing its own rules–shouldn’t even have been allowed on the field.
Before that, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled when everyone in the stadium knew the Steelers were going to try to strip the ball from him. The Steelers recovered and sore-armed Roethlisberger took them to the win thanks to more Bengals blunders, the stuff of playoff legend.
“We destructed on ourselves,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, proving he can’t even get a cliché right.
The Vikings lost when Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard, laces-out field goal to win the game. He’s the goat but he also was the only guy doing anything to score for the Vikings, whose field-goal drives went 25, 28 and 19 yards. They punted twice in the fourth quarter before Blair missed.
Before that, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fumbled when everyone in the stadium knew the Seahawks were going to try and strip the ball from him. The Seahawks had to gain 12 yards to kick what turned out to the winning field goal, an epic drive I’m sure they’ll be talking about for years.
“That will haunt me throughout this offseason,” Peterson said, speaking of his fumble and not the eyesore of a football game.
The Packers sadly shuffled to losses in six of their final 10 regular-season games, with Super Bowl MVP QB Aaron Rodgers appearing weirdly out of sorts. The Packers were garbage on their first four drives against Washington Sunday (punt, safety, punt, punt) until rallying from 11-0 down for blowout W.
“I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on, and a lot of you probably thought that was lip service,” Rodgers told reporters. “But we just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going.”
No, what they needed was a game against Washington, which made the playoffs by virtue of winning a bad division. Speaking of which . . .
Texans QB Brian Hoyer had a professional meltdown on live TV but I don’t blame him. He’s not good enough to be the starter for a good NFL team, and he in fact didn’t start seven games this season for the mediocre Texans. But the Texans won the awful AFC South and were rewarded with a home game.
Rewarding mediocrity is what the NFL is about. That’s what the public wants so far, but I can hope more awful playoff games can change what the awfulness of the league’s actions can’t.