I. Hot & Healthy
As December arrives, the true contenders inevitably begin to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field.
This annual phenomenon underscores the significance of this period. As the competition pool shrinks, the spotlight shifts to the two pivotal “H’s”: the teams that are currently in a state of HOT form and those who maintain their HEALTHY status.
For championship aspirations, cultivating momentum during this juncture is imperative. Even the most accomplished teams, such as the Patriots and Panthers, must navigate the challenge of maintaining an upward trajectory to avoid plateauing or regressing during this crucial phase.
Teams must exercise caution to prevent minor errors that might have been inconsequential during their September-to-November victories from morphing into liabilities when the stakes are highest.
This period serves as an opportune window to fortify potential vulnerabilities and harness the energy necessary for a postseason surge.
Behind closed doors across the NFL, this is a central focal point during this period. A team’s “hotness” often reflects its capacity to address outstanding concerns, rekindle motivation, and channel newfound focus that will propel them through the final stretch.
The “healthy” aspect undoubtedly causes apprehension for top-tier teams like the Patriots, grappling with the absence of cornerstone players such as Gronkowski, Edelman, Solder, and Lewis and the presence of banged-up players like Amendola at this crucial juncture.
This scenario provides an advantage to teams like the Bengals, who, up until now, have managed to avoid significant injuries, further intensifying their advantage during this pivotal phase.
II. Big Ben Takes Himself Out
The moment when Big Ben opted to remove himself from the game due to experiencing concussion-like symptoms served as a striking reminder of the growing consciousness among players concerning their well-being.
Ben Roethlisberger, renowned as the quintessential warrior on the field, has exhibited his prowess by battling through injuries – performing with pain, persevering on a single knee, and pushing forward on a single ankle, embodying the quintessential tough-as-nails archetype for quarterbacks.
Given this backdrop, witnessing him draw a firm line when his head wasn’t in the right state was a deeply resonating event.
This action’s significance was further magnified by the awareness that not too long ago, such a mindset would have been unheard of.
Even a player of Ben’s stature might have faced criticism and been dubbed “soft” for opting to step out of the game due to health concerns. Times have changed.
This transition reflects substantial progress, illustrating the shift towards prioritizing player safety and acknowledging the gravity of head injuries.
III. Officials Should Have to Face the Media After Games
Players routinely face tough inquiries after games, prompting the question: Why shouldn’t officials be held to the same standard?
The notion of having referees address the camera and elucidate their decisions is not an attempt to vilify them; it’s fundamentally about fostering accountability.
The prospect of engaging in a 20-minute post-game dialogue with the media could potentially heighten their attentiveness and deepen their consideration of the impact their calls wield in a football contest.
The argument that officials aren’t actively participating in the game or coaching holds little ground in the current landscape.
In today’s iteration of the sport, they assume a prominent role – a fact that’s magnified by their frequent appearance on our television screens, often rivaling or surpassing the visibility of the coaching staff who are required to share their insights.
While officiating was traditionally relegated to a “seen but not heard” role, the dynamics have evolved.
Officials have substantially inserted themselves into games, whether directed to or not, resulting in their actions significantly influencing the course of events. This evolution calls for a corresponding shift in accountability.
As much as they might resist it, officials have indeed emerged as integral components of the modern game and must, therefore, bear the responsibility of explaining their decisions.
Hide them after the games only if you’re willing to hide them during…
IV. Kickoff Penalty Flag Overdose
As someone who actively participated in countless kickoffs during my career, it’s a regrettable admission that kick returns seem to have lost their charm due to the incessant presence of penalty flags.
This segment of the game, designed to be thrilling and infused with suspense, holds the promise of a game-changing touchdown run.
However, observing a year’s worth of both college and professional matchups has unveiled an alarming trend: penalties—predominantly for infractions like holding or blocks in the back—have surged to a point where my enthusiasm has waned considerably.
In an ideal scenario, the remedy would involve a reduction in the frequency of flags, thus restoring the kick return’s former allure and significance within the game.
Yet, in the current landscape, I’ve become disillusioned with their current state.
The kickoffs, which used to be a moment brimming with anticipation, have become a canvas for referees to seize the spotlight, almost eagerly reaching for their flags at the slightest provocation.
This predictable pattern seldom fails to materialize, and one cannot help but perceive a yearning for extra TV screen time on their part.
It’s evident that the league has already been moving towards a phased reduction of kickoffs due to debatable injury concerns.
In light of this evolving landscape, if the league persists with this modified rendition of kickoffs that guarantees interruptions and game stoppages, one is left with a growing sentiment of disillusionment.
The prevailing sentiment among avid fans and players alike is that the essence of kickreturns deserves a restoration that aligns with the game’s authenticity.