Changes the NFL Actually Needs
So we’ve all heard in the past few weeks that the NFL is considering changes for the upcoming season. As usual, these changes are sure to either make the NFL more money, the game allegedly safer, or to simply address the things that annoy Roger Goodell.
What we can also be sure of is that the NFL will not be making the changes it actually needs to make to be a better league with a better game. What would those changes be? Well, as Dalton once said, “opinions vary,” but I’ve got a list for starters.
1. Get rid of the four team division — This is my number one issue with the NFL as it is currently structured. In order to be a division winner and get a home playoff game, a team only needs to be better than three other fricking teams. Because of this, you are virtually guaranteed at least one suck-ass playoff team a season. In reality, neither the crapfest known as the NFC East nor the NFC North deserved a playoff team this season, but instead we got two. Every year people try to mitigate the issue by arguing that the NFL should change how it seeds teams for the playoffs. Goodell responds by saying winning the division title should mean something. Well, actually no it shouldn’t since there are only four damn teams in the division in the first place.
The answer is simple. You have 32 teams, which divides nicely into two conferences of 16, which divide nicely into two divisions of eight teams. Then, yes, being the best out of eight teams would actually mean something.
Personally, I say the playoffs should be two wild card teams playing the two divisional winners with the division champs having homefield. That would mean eight teams make the playoffs each season. That is 25 percent of the league, and that is enough.
Of course, we all know this is a non-starter. The NFL would be forfeiting a round of playoffs to make this change, which is huge cash, and we all know that your bank is more likely to forfeit its lein against your home than the NFL is to forfeit big money. The real colors of the NFL aegis should be green and green.
Of course, the trade would be quantity for quality, but quality loses its luster when it costs money. Besides, greed is good. Greed works.
2. Play an 18-game schedule with two byes — We should all be able to agree that the preseason and the current bye schedule are completely whack. We also know that the NFL wants a longer season, and hell yeah, besides the injury concerns, I would love a longer season. We have to suffer through six months of baseball, basketball, and hockey, and yet, the mighty NFL plays 17 weeks.
Simple. Every team plays six games, bye, six games, bye, six games. Yes, you have every team take a bye on the same damn week. This removes the unfairness of having some teams with a bye in Week 4 while others have it Week 12. This removes the idiocy of having a different number of games during different weeks. Forget all that. Give us a 20-week season with 18 weeks of 16 games. We will survive the two weeks of no NFL. We’ll find something else to do.
The 18-game schedule will work perfectly with your new eight-team divisions. Every team will play its old division rivals twice and its new division rivals once, four games against conference opponents outside the division and four games against teams from the other conference.
It also works perfectly for the playoffs. The playoff teams get another bye before they start, and then you have the divisional round, the conference championships, and then the Super Bowl. Goodbye to the idiotic extra week off before the Super Bowl. That is another four weeks for a symmetric 24-week total season. Symmetry is a beautiful thing; embrace it.
Sure, you’d be losing that one round of playoffs, but you’d gain two weeks of regular season football. Just eight teams in the playoffs would make every week a big one. That’s what makes the NFL better than those other sports. Every week matters. You have to maintain that competitive advantage.
3. Expand rosters to 60 — With the longer season, you’d need to expand the rosters, and that is something that people have been arguing for years anyway. In the modern NFL, you can lose a guy to a concussion on the very first play. You need to have more depth on your roster. Sure, this would dilute the talent somewhat, but considering teams like the Dallas Cowboys this season ended up relying on street free agents anyway, at least have those guys already on the roster so that they can practice with the team all season.
4. Get rid of instant replay except on scoring plays and turnovers — That’s right. Make all replay challenges the automatic kind or nothing. I have done a complete 180 on this topic, as I used to be about as big an instant replay guy as you’d ever see. Not anymore. It drives me nuts. When I add up all the extra commercials and delays and aggravation versus the couple blown calls it actually manages to correct, I don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs anymore. Plus, I’d say the evidence is pretty conclusive. The more you add replay, the worse the refs become.
Personally, I would prefer dumping the whole damn thing, but I can concede the automatic reviews as being during the most important plays of the game. Even though they do it in basketball all the time, you don’t want refs deciding a game.
5. Take the pads off the kids — This isn’t a change the NFL would make. This is a change that football should make that would change the NFL for the better.
In my opinion, a big problem for the NFL is that many of these guys never played the sport without pads on. They learned the game wearing a helmet and pads, from Pop Warner on. It changes how the game is played.
When you first learn the game without pads on, you learn how to tackle without including your head, you learn to keep your head up, and you learn how to protect yourself. When you have those pads on, you trust them to protect you instead of relying on technique. You learn to use your pads and your helmet like a weapon. Tackling becomes more about cutting a guy down than about driving with your legs and lifting with your arms.
These guys don’t know how to tackle properly because they’ve never had to. They’ve worn pads the whole time.
No pads until eighth grade. You’ll see better tackling, more guys playing the ball, less concussions, less torn ACLs, fewer neck injuries and better football.
And now that’s change we can all believe in.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.