It's the NFL season that's gone on too long

Welcome to Week 18 of the NFL season, the redundant coda of an already grueling marathon that few other than TV networks and advertisers...


Welcome to Week 18 of the NFL season, the redundant coda of an already grueling marathon that few other than TV networks and advertisers really wanted.

Get ready to find the answers to some crucial questions this weekend. For example: Will the Dallas Cowboys finish second, third or fourth in the NFC playoff standings? A second place guarantees them a home playoff match against a wildcard opponent, while a third or fourth earns them a home playoff match against another wildcard opponent. The stakes could hardly be lower.

The Cowboys (11-5) will face the Philadelphia Eagles (9-7), who have already clinched a wildcard spot and could miss many of their starters due to a coronavirus outbreak. Also, Saturday night’s contest won’t actually determine the Cowboys’ final standings. To know their true fate, viewers will need to tune in to must-see action on Sunday like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 12-4 showdown with the 5-11 Carolina Panthers.

Cowboys-Eagles is actually one of the most important games of Week 18, which is why the NFL has moved it to a prime-time TV slot. Most of the weekend games have a much more esoteric meaning, if at all.

The Green Bay Packers (13-3) have already clinched home ground advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and a coveted first-round pass. All but two of the division titles have been decided. The Arizona Cardinals (11-5) and Los Angeles Rams (12-4) will face off for the NFC West Championship on Sunday, but not against each other.

The New England Patriots (10-6) may improve their chances of winning the AFC East by beating the Miami Dolphins (8-8), who were knocked out of the playoffs last week, while the Buffalo Bills (10-6 ) can win the division by beating the Jets, who were eliminated in 1972. The four divisional challengers still make it to the playoffs if they lose, robbing their games of much of their potential drama.

The only game of Week 18 with any real playoff stakes for both teams was the 9-7 Los Angeles Chargers against the 9-7 Las Vegas Raiders. Most weeks, the Chargers-Raiders would be edged out over much of the East Coast by a Cowboys game, or perhaps a three-hour marathon of Patrick Mahomes’ insurance commercials. On Sunday it was moved to prime time and is billed as the grand finale of the regular season.

The NFL strives each year to create a final week schedule that begins with an appetizer sample of Lesser Clashes, but gradually turns into a Sunday night crescendo in which all of the playoff pieces come together in such a fashion. satisfying like solving a mysterious murder. The league could have accomplished this feat last the week, when the Eagles, Bills, Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals all secured playoff spots while the Dolphins, Washington football, Cleveland Browns and others were thankfully eliminated.

If the season had ended in week 17, the Cincinnati Bengals’ AFC North, winner 34-31 over Kansas City likely would have been moved to prime time and would have served as an exciting highlight. Both teams, like the others mentioned above, still have potential first-round passes and home playoffs on the line, but they will fight for them against eliminated opponents who could go into scoring mode. backups. Watching the scoreboards will be more informative and interesting than watching the games.

The 16-game regular-season, 12-team playoff format, which spanned from 1990 to 2020, created a delicate balance that made the fascinating past few weeks possible. Playoff spots were relatively scarce, while first-round passes were valuable but reasonably achievable. The best and the worst teams sometimes still had little to play in their season finals, but there were still plenty of games between quality opponents with significant stakes between the two.

The league upset that balance by adding two wild card spots and knocking out two first-round passes in 2020, then lengthening the regular season to 17 games this year. Division winners with no chance of claiming a pass in the first round, like the Cowboys and Buccaneers, may still be motivated to earn a higher seed so they can face a weaker opponent in the first. round and maybe win an extra home game later in the playoffs. But that’s not a very compelling hook for casual viewers.

Meanwhile, the extra wildcard spots turned the second half of the season into an endless round robin of welterweights who neither gained much ground through victory nor fell much behind in loss, resulting in makes matches repetitive and meaningless. When every routine December game is a potential “playoff sneak peek,” then the playoff sneak peeks cease to be very interesting.

The latest wave of Covid-19 has made the end of this NFL season even longer and less relevant. The Eagles and Raiders have passed the Browns and Washington in beating their glorified Boy Scout teams in rescheduled games in December. Wildcard spots don’t necessarily go to the most deserving teams this year, but to those whose triggers have been fortuitously timed.

Finally, the end of the regular season on the weekend after the New Year provided an emotional close to weaker teams and their fans. Forcing the Jets and Giants to endure another frigid week of useless football it’s a bit like leaving the Christmas decorations on until the crocuses bloom.

The NFL’s ultimate goal appears to be to expand the regular season to 18 games, pushing future Super Bowls into Presidents Day weekend. Fans will then become conditioned to accept the tiring winter weekends of .500 caliber teams fighting for the right to be routed by Tom Brady (yes, he will always play) in the first round of the playoffs. . The idea that a 17-game regular season was too long will someday seem as strange and old-fashioned as the Christmas Eve playoff games of the mid-1970s.

No matter how long the league extends its season, fans are sure to keep watching. Over 28 million viewers listening to the Packers-Browns at Christmas, with an additional $ 12.6 million going to the NFL Network for the Indianapolis Colts’ evening game against the Cardinals. If an NFL broadcast in a small, mid-stakes market like Colts-Cardinals can earn a 5.3 audience share over the holidays, Eagles-Cowboys will box office boffo, Raiders-Chargers will do even better, and some future mid-January duel between the teams with records of 8 to 9 for the eighth seed will always attract many customers.

NFL audiences never tire of it. In the end, that’s all that matters.

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Newsrust - US Top News: It's the NFL season that's gone on too long
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