No. 1: Embrace bad officiating
The NFL would be boring if officials got everything right. And the consistent tinkering with rules and subsequent officiating blunders only add significant interest to the game. Officiating mistakes let us do all sorts of fun things, like firing off angry tweets we know everyone will like, or yelling at commissioner Roger Goodell, or making excuses when our team loses.
"Freakonomics" author Stephen J. Dubner wrote about why sports cheating scandals keep fans engaged. "As much as we profess to like the games for game's sake, perhaps cheating is part of the appeal, a natural extension of sport that people condemn on moral grounds but secretly embrace as what plays sports most compelling," he argued.
The league's rise to an overwhelming juggernaut happened to coincide with SpyGate, BountyGate, DeflateGate and all other supposed embarrassments to the NFL. Bad officiating isn't the same as cheating, but it has the same result. The league keeps tripping into stories that dominate the news cycle and build anticipation for Sundays.
The two roughing the passer penalties in Week 5 were a joke. But anybody who says they ruin the sport isn't paying attention. The first terrible call was on Tom Brady, which was the only fascinating thing about the Bucs-Falcons game. As if involving Brady wasn't enough, league officials followed that up with an even dumber call on Chiefs' Chris Jones against the rival Raiders on Monday. Anything that happens at night counts 10 times more.
And so the end result of this controversy will be a revised rule that'll have all sorts of unintended consequences. Many sensible NFL analysts are calling for video review. Officials have no chance to make this call correctly at full speed. But remember what happened when pass interference calls became reviewable? The league office refused to overturn what occurred on the field and it didn't work.
If you think the way they're calling roughing the passer now is controversial? Just wait until it's in the hands of the New York office. Today we're taking the time to blame official Jerome Boer for helping out Brady against the Falcons. Next year, we'll be able to yell directly at Goodell. There's a lot riding on these games, but constant bickering over these details is the secret sauce. Every sack is going to be captivating next week, as league officials attempt to ride this impossible line.
No. 2: Unintended consequences of NFL protecting QB's
The safer the league makes it for the quarterbacks, the more teams will take advantage and create unsafe conditions for the quarterbacks. Roughing the passer is a legitimate way to move the ball down the field, which means that quarterbacks will hold onto the ball longer. Which means more sacks. Which means more unavoidable injury-causing hits and collisions. Why throw it out of bounds when you at least have a chance for a first down once a defender accidentally brushes by your helmet?
The league's new rule system also opens up the game to small quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa wouldn't have been a first-round draft pick in 1985 since teams would know that he couldn't stay healthy. And most of the small quarterbacks have been okay so far, but they're a lot thicker than Tagovailoa.
The mobile quarterback trend has also forced defenders to hit them harder. Since the league has basically eliminated the "in the grasp" call, defenders have to use force to get quarterbacks down. That's why these roughing the passer calls are so maddening. What are defensive players supposed to do?
Sometimes NFL rules work out well, like not hitting the quarterback below the knee. But, other league rules end up leading to trickier outcomes. Teams will continue to take advantage of pro-quarterback rules. And in some cases, it'll lead to a false confidence about keeping their guys upright.
No. 3: QB can become the next RB
Teams don't hesitate to place massive financial resources into quarterbacks. Every offseason, the contracts get bigger and more limiting. But, maybe the Giants will make some teams rethink this philosophy. Daniel Jones had been dealing with an ankle injury, yet he still ran 10 times in the team's win over the Packers in London. Coaches could try to limit his carries to protect him, but Jones is in the final year of his contract and they don't care. It's working.
The Giants are cobbling together a wildcat-type offense and winning games. Which raises an interesting question: should teams start treating quarterbacks like running backs, and use them up in their first five seasons? We know that teams with young signal-callers -- who don't cripple a team salary cap -- have a huge advantage. Just take a look at the 5-0 Eagles. And we also know that quarterbacks running without fear of injury give teams an advantage.
Quarterback's the most important position in all of sports, and yes, not paying them seems nuts. But three decades ago, not paying running backs would've seemed ludicrous. The way teams view positions change. The Giants' lack of commitment to Jones gives them a new sense of freedom. Jones also threw the ball well on Sunday. but the difference for him is mobility. It might not last but they don't have to worry because they don't have a financial commitment. Some team is going to see this as a sustainable model and cycle through QB's the same way they do with running backs.
No. 4: Stop whining about analytics
Chargers coach Brandon Staley should double-down on analytics. Everyone coming after him -- including his own receiver, Keenan Allen -- is judging the results. They didn't convert a 4th-and-2 with 1:14 remaining and a 30-28 lead against the Browns. If they had converted, nobody is attacking Staley. If they had punted, then Cleveland would've had a decent chance to drive down for a field goal. The alternative to letting Justin Herbert win the game was trusting a defense that had struggled all day. And if they had converted the huge play, no former players would've said anything.
In the long run, NFL coaches being aggressive on fourth down will win more games. It won't always work. But, for most of NFL history, coaches were too conservative on fourth downs, especially in opponents’ territory. And scared coaching is the worst. I'd take Staley any day over a coach who sends out the punter at the opponent's 42-yard-line, just to watch him kick the ball into the end zone and net 22 yards.
Staley is just the beginning. In 25 years, league coaches are going to be more aggressive in ways we've never imagined. Criticize analytics all you want… the NFL is just beginning to learn how to actually use them.
No. 5: Tom Brady for MVP
By the eye test, Tom Brady is having a rough season. But then you pull up his stats and they say something different. Brady ranks third in the NFL with 1,409 passing yards, and he's also completed 68.1-percent of his passes and thrown seven touchdowns with just one interception. Those statistics are down from last season but not by much. Now that star receiver Chris Godwin is back, the trend is positive. Brady's last two games: 385 yards and 351 yards.
He's racking up these passing yards in an ugly fashion. Nobody wants to see him throw 50 underneath passes at home against Atlanta. But if he keeps this up, he's going to close in on 5,000 yards by the end of the season and once again be in the league MVP conversation.
No. 6: Trust the tank
Panthers owner David Tepper dismissed the notion that the team would tank to guarantee they get the top-overall draft pick next season. Stop. Of course they're tanking -- and they should. These players will still compete as hard as they can, but for Carolina's front office to put them in a position to win would be franchise malpractice.
And all of the fretting over Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanting to tank was ridiculous. If the league doesn't want to institute a lottery like the NBA, teams have too much incentive to lose. Although a sure-fire No. 1 quarterback hasn't emerged yet, Carolina must keep its eye on the prize. The Panthers have two critical must-lose battles late in the season: Week 15 against the Steelers and Week 16 against the Lions.
Pittsburgh has a young quarterback, and should win games late in the season because they don't want to draft another one. Carolina has a great path to the No. 1 pick -- now they better not screw it up. And while losing gets a bad rap, I'll take a 2-15 year and a fresh start at quarterback over 7-10 with no future.
No. 7: Who's covering Wilt?
Adam Sandler said his first home run joke as a standup comedian was about the night Wilt Chamberlain recorded 100 points. The coach comes into the huddle and says, "Who's covering Wilt?" That line applies to defenses going against the Ravens and Chiefs. Why do teams refuse to cover star tight ends Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce?
The Ravens have two plays that work -- Lamar Jackson runs, or he throws to Andrews. Jackson probably could throw to someone else, but why would he? This past Sunday, the Bengals refused to lock down Andrews and he burned them with eight crucial catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Kelce getting open inside the red zone has become a punch line. On Monday night, the future Hall of Famer racked up four touchdowns -- yes, four -- to lead the Chiefs past the Raiders. I mean, did Las Vegas forget that Tyreek Hill isn't there anymore and there's only one Kansas City pass-catcher that Patrick Mahomes can rely on inside the red zone?
No. 8: Stop overrating highly-drafted QB's
The league hates giving up on former top draft picks. QB's taken with the top- three selections seldom have success with their second teams. But Matthew Stafford -- selected No. 1 overall back in 2009 -- is the exception. Former top overall picks Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff are both 1-4. Former No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz is 1-4. Former No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky just got benched. Oh, and former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota is 2-3.
Teams have trouble abandoning their pre-draft evaluations. And on the flip-side, we always view players who didn't go in the first round a bit differently. Most of us believe Derek Carr is a good QB, but we probably view him more skeptically because he was a second-rounder. But after we've seen the first round guy struggle, we should abandon the pre-draft hype and see them for what they are.
No. 9: In defense of Carson Wentz
Ron Rivera recently said the difference between the 1-4 Commanders and the winning teams in the NFC East is his quarterback. Carson Wentz hasn't been good, but this was the wrong week for Rivera to call him out. Wentz was 25-for-38 with 359 yards, two scores, and a pick in a 24-17 loss to the Titans.
Everyone is killing Rivera for his comments. Where I'm going against the grain is defending Wentz's interception with just six seconds left in the game. This wasn't Wentz' lefty interception in the final week loss to the Jags last season. Tennessee linebacker David Long made a diving catch that he really shouldn't have been able to make. Wentz believed he had a touchdown the second the ball left his hands. But, we all know the drill. He'll always be the first target.
No. 10: You aren't what your record says, Week 5 edition
There's a lot of celebrating going on in the NFC East. The Eagles stay perfect at 5-0, the Giants and Cowboys are 4-1. Just a reminder of how the standings looked at this point in 2021, and what actually happened. The Cardinals were 5-0, and they finished 11-6 and lost in the NFC wild-card round. The Chargers were 4-1, finished 9-8 and missed the playoffs. The Ravens were 4-1, finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs. The Bears were 3-2, finished 6-11. The Panthers were 3-2 and finished 5-12.