Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On Football

[Updated Below]

I'm almost ready to give up, folks. It's not that I want to drink the Kool-Aid, God knows, and it's not that everyone else is drinking the Kool-Aid. It's just that the damn Kool-Aid won't go away, and all I want the Kool-Aid to do is go away.

I'm almost ready to just go ahead and admit that, yes indeedy, Bill Belichick is God and Tom Brady is his prophet.

The other night the Stupid Patriots beat the snot out of the Vikings, but that's not what got me. The next morning, I'm on the way into work, and I tune in briefly to our local sports-radio station to hear a snippet of Belichick at his press round-up after the game. Noting that his team had just racked up something like 600 passing yards and nine TDs -- well, not quite, but that's what it always feels like when these guys are playing -- Belichick said, about as matter-of-factly as any coach has ever said anything, something along the lines of "Yeah, we didn't think we could run on these guys, so we just figured we'd throw it a lot."

There's a salty adage about how some folks can fall into a bucket of shit and come out smelling like a rose, but somehow the Stupid Patriots never even fall into buckets of shit. It's like the buckets turn into rosebeds before their feet ever hit them.

Yeah, I'm ready to give up.

As for other football stuff, we're at roughly the halfway mark in the season, which is usually when the playoff races are starting to shape up and when a number of teams have already fallen completely out of contention. And that means, as much as I might not want to admit it, that it's time to start comparing my pre-season predictions with what's come about. Oy.

Here are the teams that would make the playoffs today, with my predictions in brackets:

AFC East: New England (New England)
AFC North: Baltimore (Pittsburgh)
AFC South: Indianapolis (Jacksonville)
AFC West: Denver (Denver)
AFC Wildcards: San Diego, Cincinnati (Indianapolis, Cincinnati)

NFC East: NYGiants (Dallas)
NFC North: Chicago (Minnesota)
NFC South: New Orleans (Carolina)
NFC West: Seattle (Seattle)
NFC Wildcards: Atlanta, Minnesota (Philadelphia, Tampa Bay)


Only three teams that I picked to win divisions are actually leading divisions right now, although if the playoffs started today, six of the teams I picked to make the postseason would be there. Not very good. (It's also my usual level of prediction success, which puts my football prognostication skills in pretty harsh light.)

My Super Bowl prediction was Carolina versus Jacksonville. Currently, neither of those teams make the playoffs, and the Panthers look especially troubled after the way they fell apart against the Cowboys the other night. I have trouble believing the Saints are going to last, but the Panthers would also have to leap-frog the Falcons. I also didn't think that the StuPats would be that great this year, and that they'd win the AFC East with a likely 10-6 record or thereabouts. Instead, they're on pace again for 12-4 or better. Oy.

And I'm astounded that the Bills have the same record right now as the defending Super Bowl champions.

(How are the Bills doing, by the way? They're at 2-5, which has them roughly on pace for the 5-11 neighborhood. Since I projected them at 6-10, they're right about where I thought they'd be. But I hoped they'd be playing better football, and losing more because of inexperience than because of a lack of heart and a continued emphasis on always making the stupid play when a smart one would work better.)

And now, about the NFL in general: What would I do if I became Commissioner? What things would I "fix"? Hmmmmmm!

1. Do something about rookie salaries. This is insane. In every other sport, you have to play a while before you get the huge money, but in the NFL, you get huge money right out of college if you're a high draft pick. That means that bad teams that are trying to rebuild instead end up with huge salary cap hits when they pick high in the draft. It's bad enough if you get a mega-superstar, but it can hurt you even worse if that high draft pick is a bust. The Bills are still feeling the pain for drafting Mike Williams five years ago.

The big difference here is that we're talking about football, which is by far the most physically harmful game of the major sports. I've read that the average tenure of an NFL player is only four or five seasons, so there's an argument to be made that these guys need to make their money a lot sooner than your typical NBA or MLB guy. But still, the whole thing is out of whack. I'd have some kind of salary structure where you got certain money based on where you're drafted, and that's it -- and that all players enter with two-year contracts only. Therefore, rookies would have incentive to play well and compete for starting jobs.

2. Preserve replay. I have no problem with the way replay works right now.

3. Change the Safety as follows: if the tackle is made while the ball is still in the end zone, the offensive team would still have to do the free kick on the next play, but the two points would no longer be awarded. Why? Well, I hate the two points because this is football's only scoring situation where points are awarded even though nothing is done with the ball. Instead, it's a function of where the ball is when forward progress is halted. Ick. A touchdown exists when the ball crosses the goal line, or when a legal catch is made inside the end zone. Simple. Ditto the field goal: the ball goes through the uprights, it's three points. But on a safety, points are awarded due to a failure to do something with the ball? I don't like that.

Second, two points on a safety screws up my overtime fix.

Which brings me to:

4. Overtime. I'd eliminate sudden death (at least at the outset of the OT period), and I'd eliminate the coin flip. (In fact, see below!) The visiting team would receive the ball first, and regular play would resume with the game being decided thusly: the first team to have the lead after each team has completed one possession of the ball would win.

Let's assume the Bills are playing the Dolphins, and it's 20-20 as the 4th quarter ends. OK? So, in OT, the Bills kick off to the Dolphins. Assume the Dolphins get a field goal. Now the Dolphins would kick off to the Bills, and now the Bills must score at least a field goal to keep the game alive.

Now, we're 23-20 in OT with the Bills getting the ball. What happens? Well:

:: Bills score a touchdown, making the score 26-23. Game over. Both teams have had possession.

:: Bills score a field goal, retying the game at 23-23. Game continues, with Bills kicking off to Miami again. Now we're back into sudden death. This seems fair to me, because the Bills had a chance to score a touchdown and win outright, didn't they? And here they can still win; just now they have to keep Miami off the board entirely.

:: Bills commit a turnover or lose the ball on downs. Game over. They couldn't convert their opportunity to score.

Of course, you can still have some funky situations here. In our hypothetical 20-20 Bills-Dolphins game, suppose on their first snap on their first OT possession, the Miami quarterback throws an interception that's returned for a touchdown. The game would end right there, because both teams will have had possession, and the Bills will have the lead!

(And here's where awarding two points for a safety screws things up. If Miami gives up a safety in my OT scheme, and then free-kicks to the Bills, the Bills have the ball and the lead in OT, which means they should win the second they recover the free kick! Clearly that makes no sense.)

5. Eliminate the coin toss. The coin toss is stupid. Basketball and hockey have "up-for-grabs" situations, but clearly that can't work for football. I prefer baseball's approach: the home team bats in the bottom of every inning, and that's how it is. So I'd have the visiting team always receive the game's opening kickoff, and have the home team always receive the second-half kickoff. This might help local TV ratings on some games, as well; even when the Bills are getting spanked in the first half I always at least watch the first drive of the second half, to see if they're able to do anything. I'd also eliminate this business of picking the goal to defend. I'd have every stadium designate one end zone as the "Visitors" end zone, and that's the one they defend to start with.

6. Cut preseason to two games. Four games is stupid in this day and age when teams are constantly practicing. This isn't the days of yore anymore, when teams would only convene for minicamp and then training camp during the offseason.

7. Compensate for eliminating preseason by extending the regular season to eighteen games. Yes, this would mean more wear-and-tear on the players, so I'd compensate there by increasing rosters to 65 players, from 53. Surely that would make the players' union happy?

8. Prohibit the networks from using Niagara Falls as their standard 'local color' shot from Buffalo during Bills games. The TV people always have a camera set up somewhere around the locality they're in for any given game, and they cut to the 'local cam' during station-breaks and other television timeouts. Here in Buffalo, they almost always show Niagara Falls. We've got other stuff here, and sixteen times a year, we've got a national TV crew showing it off to some other locality! They know about Niagara Falls. How about showing them something else???

And thus would the NFL cement its position supreme in American sports for decades to come!

UPDATE 11-3-06: The point is made in comments that the two points are awared in a safety to make the yielding of a safety more unpalatable. If no points are awarded, teams backed up to their own goal lines would voluntarily give up the safety in order to regain field position when the free kick takes place from the 30 yard line. That's a good point, one which I failed to appreciate. But since I still don't like awarding points to a team that doesn't have possession of the ball, I'd adjust for this by moving the free kick back. No two points, but free kick from the goal line itself. That would make resulting field position very bad indeed for the team giving up the safety; the opposing team would likely have, at most, twenty yards or so to pick up just to move into field goal range. So: no points, but free kick from the goal line. That ought to make a safety bad enough that teams won't want to give it up.


Sean Meade said...

great scott! you're ready to admit the Patriots might not be stupid!? ;-)

i still think any of the current 6 leading AFC teams could emerge as the champ, but the only consistent winner i see in the NFC is Chicago. i agree with you that it's hard to see the Patriots lasting.

yep. replay's fine.

your OT solution seems better than the current sudden death.


Eric said...

I like most of your suggestions, Jaq. However, I'm not with you on the safety alteration. I contend that something is being done with the ball on a safety---it is being forced across your opponents goal line, which they are supposed to be defending. In other words, under no circumstances should the ball cross a team's own goalline--if the opposing offensve makes it across with the ball, it's 6 points. If the opposing defense makes it across with the ball, it's 6 points. If the opposing defense stuffs the offense so badly that they have to retreat into their own endzone and are unable to return, well, I say that should be worth more than two points.

Oh, and I would also add 2 more wildcards in each conference to get rid of those annoying bye weeks. In the name of all that is football, let's see more games during the first weekend of playoffs. Halleluja!

Matt said...

The reason you have 2 points awarded in the safety is not so much about scoring as negative reinforcement. For instance, if you have no points awarded, what incentive does a team that is backed up to their endzone have on 4th down to try and punt the ball? Why not just run out the back of the endzone and take the safety, since you get a much better kicking situation without penalty?

Even with the 2, you still often see teams taking the safety on purpose rather than risk a blocked punt, interception near the goal line, or fumble. Eliminating the 2 points would make downing the ball inside the 10 would nullify the field-position advantage, since I would wager that any team not making the first down would rather have a free kick from their 30 than a punt from their end zone.

Roger Owen Green said...

I agree with you about most of your improvements, but not about the safety, for the negative reinforcement reasons stated.

And it doesn't necessarily ruin your OT solution. (I've not given this great thought, but...)

Receiving team gets ball, defense scores safety. Two points. Free kick. If other team fields it cleanly, game over. If team botches receiving the free kick, and the kicking team gets it, then they continue to play. They score (TD, FG). The other team gets the ball, and will need a TD or FG TO
WIN. Well, it's a thought.

Matt said...

In response to your UPDATE 11-03-06, I still don't think that's enough negative reinforcement. A free kick is always preferable to a punt, in that it is not allowed to be blocked, thus taking away the possibility of scoring a touchdown by blocking an endzone punt. Given the choice, backed up to the goal line, the offense will always choose the non-points safety as you have laid out, no matter where the free kick is. Victory!

Anonymous said...

FYI- The free kick after a safety is done from the 20 not the 30 like kick-offs.

As for your designated end-zone suggestion, it can't be done. If it were, every team will try to designate that the visiting team will end up going into the wind in the 4th quarter.

The home team already has so many advantages in most locations you don't need to add more. Take teams in the southern states for example. They choose to wear their white jerseys at home to make the other team feel more uncomfortable in the heat, and make the visiting team stand on the bench on the sunny side of the field, while they rest in the cooler shady part of the field.


Roger Owen Green said...

Still, interesting enough piece to link to.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Matt, I do not concede victory. Two points is a small amount, and I think the resulting horrendous field position by the team giving up the safety (even if they manage to stop the opposing team on defense on the possession after the free kick, they still are likely to be pinned deep again) by free-kicking from the goal line would be pretty punitive indeed. Especially on safeties yielded in the fourth quarter, when a safety would gift-wrap for the other team an opportunity to peel two minutes off the clock.