The NFL Product Sucks Right Now, and This is the Reason Why

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the NFL ratings are finally receding after an epic stretch of unprecedented increases.

The reasons are various. Some say the election, others blame Colin Kaepernick or cord cutters, or even Peyton Manning’s retirement. There’s also the simple truth that the game just couldn’t keep growing forever, unencumbered. The ratings haven’t just stopped growing though: they have fallen off fairly significantly, and whatever the other reasons, the shitty product the league is putting out there has to have a significant effect on the downward trend.

There just aren’t that many good teams, and when “good” teams do square off, often times it ends up a dud, like the Broncos-Falcons last week or the Eagles-Steelers a few weeks ago. Didn’t Monday Night Football used to be the best of the best? Tell that to a 21-year-old and they wouldn’t believe you. The Bucs-Panthers should be a good game, even with Derek Anderson taking snaps for Carolina, but last week was borderline unwatchable. And it was hardly an outlier.

What’s the reason for all this crappy play? Is it the players? Less talent in the league overall, maybe because of concussion concerns. I don’t see it. Elite talent keeps pouring into the league. Is it college systems being too far removed from the pro game, leaving players with a steep learning curve that is hard to overcome with CBA-mandated limits on practice time? Now we are getting somewhere, but the real reason is far simpler: The coaching SUCKS!

Go ahead and name the second best coach in the league after Belichick. Not that easy, right? The actual second-best coach in the league is currently plying his trade at the University of Michigan, but my list would look something like 2. John Harbaugh 3. Carroll 4. Zimmer 5. Reid, but after that (and maybe a few others) it is a pretty massive drop-off, and to tell you the truth, those four don’t all blow me away. Zimmer has zero track record, Reid couldn’t manage the clock to save his life, and Carroll is a gum-chomping cheerleader who blew the most obvious call in modern Super Bowl history.

I totally get why people hate Bill Belichick, but watching him coach on a weekly basis for the past 15 years has hammered the same point over and over and over into my head: he’s playing chess and his opponents barely know the rules to checkers. Week after week I see opposing coaches get confused by basic situations – when to challenge, how to manage timeouts, obvious play-calling opportunities – that the average 8-year-old Madden player could handle with aplomb.

With the amount of money in the NFL – billions and billions of dollars – shouldn’t they be getting smarter guys at head coach? But how many of the current roster of head coaches would you consider brilliant or intellectual or outside-the-box thinkers? The same retreads – along with their disciples – get recycled year after year, by team after team, and then owners are surprised when their teams don’t get better. Take the Colts for example. They already did the hard part in getting a potential franchise QB, and now they are letting his career go to waste as he plays under Chuck “I’m not entirely clear why I still have a job” Pagano.

Playing football also shouldn’t be a job requirement to coach it. In fact, it shouldn’t even be an attribute teams look for. Football players are trained NOT to think outside the box and to limit their intellectual curiosity, and with 22 moving parts on every single play and millions of different possible play permutations, the sport is just too complex to trust anyone without a first-rate intellect to run the show.

I’m not saying go out and hire a bunch of Harvard math geeks that no player would ever respect to become head coaches, but would it kill the league to head a little bit in that direction? A little less Jack Del Rio, a little more Bill Walsh. These jobs are the equivalent of being the CEO of a tech company AND one of the lead engineers at the same time. You need to be able to lead people and manage an organization, while still getting down and dirty in the details (X’s and O’s) on a daily basis. Would you hire Jack Del Rio or Mike McCoy to run your tech startup? Enough said.

Roger Goodell take note: Until teams get the message, start embracing creativity and put an end to the practice of churning out one simplistic hardo (if you need an example of this type, try glancing in the mirror) after another, the ratings will keep getting worse.

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