1. The Extra Point. In an effort to add interest to the routine extra point after touchdown, the NFL added 23 yards to the length of the kick. This, however, added nothing of interest to the play itself. Yes, the point is more occasionally missed than before – especially by the Vikings’ kicker – but a routine kick is still routine. A field goal, like an extra point, is essentially a boring play, unless it comes at a challenging distance or affects the game’s outcome. If the NFL really wanted to spice up the extra point, it should have either eliminated the kicking option altogether, or moved the starting point closer, to the one-yard line for instance, to encourage an actual play that could be defended.
2. Why I Like the Jets. My antipathy toward New York teams was tested this fall by the Mets’ run to the World Series, fueled by their forlorn history, underdog status, low payroll, combination of castoffs and phenoms, and generally subordinate position to the hated Yankees. The Jets stand in the same relation to the New York Giants, including in their home stadium, and the only names I recognize on their roster are players deemed expendable by former employers. Their history of ineptitude, in terms of ownership, management and player personnel, is also well established. The New York press can hardly hide its amazement that it’s the Jets, not the Giants, that are meriting the headlines at the end of this season. More personally, I have a history soft on the Jets, despite their New York advantage. Seeking underdogs from an early age, I adopted the New York Titans as my favorite team, after outgrowing my even earlier infatuation with the Giants of Connerly, Gifford, Rote, Robustelli, Grier, Brown, Huff, et al. Al Dorow became my favorite quarterback until supplanted by Lee Grosscup, and Don Maynard my favorite receiver. The Titans morphed into the Jets, the AFL was absorbed by the NFL and the underdog aura evaporated, but not until Joe Namath, the key transitional figure, upset the Colts in the third Super Bowl. What brings me back to the Jets now is my connection to their three name offensive stars: Ryan Fitzpatrick went to my alma mater, Harvard; Eric Decker was a star for the University of Minnesota (and, frankly, is one of the few star white receivers); and Brandon Marshall shares my family name. Also, until yesterday, it seemed possible that they could finish the season with an 11-5 record and not make the playoffs, while a team from the NFC East could get in with an even, or losing, record.
3. Fantasy Sports Is Gambling. The bane of my NFL fandom is the rise of fantasy sports, specifically the two heavily advertising companies, FanDuel and DraftKing. Not only did their boring and implicitly misleading ads take time away from Geico and the other creative adsters, their product was being taken seriously by ESPN (among others including SI) which was producing shows devoted to the subject, in place of The Sports Reporters, which I can’t find anymore. What bothered me most, though, was the claim that fantasy sports was a contest of skill, not chance, and therefore not subject to every state’s anti-gambling laws. There is more skill in determining the winner of a team contest than in determining how many touchdowns an individual will score, yet betting on the former is universally considered gambling. The matter is now in the courts – many of them – but the case is open-and-shut in my mind.
4. Don’t Some Coaches Ever Learn? Perhaps by now it is widely understood that the only thing a “prevent defense” prevents is the continuing good play of the team employing it. Yet shortly after one terrible defensive ploy was exposed on national TV we saw it being repeated, no lesson learned. Aaron Rodgers beat the Detroit Lions on the game’s final play by throwing a 70-yard Hail Mary pass. How did the Packers have the time to get all their receivers into the end zone and Rodgers have the time and space to uncork his bomb? Because the Lions rushed only three linemen, leaving the rest of their defense to run into each other in the end zone, allowing Green Bay’s Richard Rogers to back into several of them and catch the pass. A few weeks later, the Chiefs were defending against the Ravens with the ball at midfield on the final play of the half and what did they do? They rushed three men (a fourth blitzed later), allowing Raven quarterback Jimmy Clausen to throw a Hail Mary that was caught by his receiver – whether the intended receiver or not we’ll never know – and run in for a touchdown. It seems so obvious: rush the quarterback hard and he won’t have time to throw to the end zone, or if he does, no one will be there to catch it. But in case you ever think NFL coaches are so smart, there was Vikings coach Mike Zimmer electing to run one more play from the Arizona 36-yard line with 12 seconds and no timeouts left instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game. Or, more famously, Pete Carroll trying a pass when the Super Bowl was only a 1-yard run away.