Every offseason the NFL Competition Committee — made up of team presidents, general managers, and head coaches — meets to discuss and enact certain rule changes for the upcoming season.
Some of the time they get it right and everyone benefits. Extra points are too automatic? The committee votes to move them from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line. Now they aren’t.
But occasionally, one of their rule changes fails to fix an issue or even makes it worse. After last season’s melee between Josh Norman and Odell Backham Jr., we knew that some kind of change was on the horizon regarding personal foul penalties. Though the only thing needed was for a referee to see Beckham’s attempted kill shot on Norman, the competition committee intervened anyway and enacted a new “two strikes and you’re out” unsportsmanlike conduct rule.
It sounds simple and harmless enough, but unsportsmanlike conduct has a very broad definition in the NFL rule book. So instead of preventing helmet-to-helmet hits or other dangerous activities during play, players can now be now one strike away from ejection if they’re excited about a touchdown.
Even if you aren’t penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, an excessive celebration (“excessive” defined as “any celebration) can net you a fine by the league. Last season, seven players were fined a total of $66,548 because of celebration penalties. As we head into Week 2 of 2016, seven players have already been fined $75,961. That’s bullshit regardless of how much money NFL players make.
The Competition Committee also tried to push kickoffs closer to extinction by moving touchbacks to the 25-yard line. But had they thought it through for a second, they would have realized that giving the receiving team an extra five yards for touchbacks would encourage the kicking team to kick the ball high enough to get down the field and stop the returner in time but short enough that the returner would choose to run it back.
In other words, their rule to prevent kickoffs from being returned will lead to more kickoffs being returned.
Both the unsportsmanlike conduct rule and the touchback rule are on a one-year trial, so if there is a football god, the former will be gone in 2017. We all love kickoff returns though, so you can keep the latter.
COVERAGE MAPS (from 506 Sports)
This is one of the rare weeks in which Hampton Roads gets most of the best possible games. Since we’re stuck with Washington every week, it helps when they’re playing a rival like Dallas. Pittsburgh-Cincinnati is a must-see after last year’s playoff game. Indianapolis-Denver for the late game on CBS is still somewhat appealing. Tampa Bay-Arizona on Fox would be more entertaining, but Fox doesn’t have the doubleheader this week.
For those that have a choice, here are the games to watch this week:
Expect >$100,000 In Fines
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Even without Le’Veon Bell and Vontaze Burfict, this is a must-see game. Everyone’s going to be angry, every play will should end with shoving, Pittsburgh’s defense will look great against what Cincinnati calls an offensive line, Andy Dalton will throw prayers in A.J. Green’s direction and Green will answer them, and Pittsburgh wins by, like, three late.
Arizona over Tampa Bay
So I guess Jameis Winston could actually end up being a good NFL quarterback and Ben Roethlisberger his way out of past scandals. I also guess that Carson Palmer isn’t permanently broken after last year’s NFC Championship game. I also guess that Larry Fitzgerald wanted to call it quits after this season, then realized that he can still play and changed his mind. This game should be a really good one. Also, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans is the best receiver you haven’t been paying attention to.
Houston over Kansas City
Deandre Hopkins will line up against Marcus Peters at some point during this game and it will be glorious.
History Says To Watch
New York Giants over New Orleans
When they met last season, New York and New Orleans combined for something like 10,000 yards and 1,000 touchdowns. They’re both still not that great defensively, so someone’s probably going for 35-40 again.
Dallas over Washington
This game is usually good for something. The loser will be 0-2 in a somewhat weak division, so it should be pretty heated. If Dak Prescott simply doesn’t suck and Dallas wins, he’ll win a number of fans back over. Conversely, if Cousins can do the same, Washington will forget that he still isn’t very good.
Seattle over Los Angeles
Russell Wilson is bringing a high ankle sprain into a division game against an defense that keeps Seattle in check better than most teams in the league. He may not make it through the entire game, but luckily for him, the Rams offense may not reach the red zone.
Speaking of not making it through the game, Case Keenum may not get a chance to throw a second interception before Jared Goff makes his NFL debut.
Indianapolis over Denver
Like every other week, I’m excited to see all of the amazing things Andrew Luck has to do to avoid being destroyed and keep the Colts in the game. Unlike every other week, he has to avoid Von Miller and Demarcus Ware among others.
Could Be Ok
Oakland over Atlanta
The Raiders have a chance to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2002. Despite the fact that their two wins would come against the NFC South, it’s still been a very long time coming. The 2002 Raiders were led on offense by 37 year old quarterback — and NFL MVP that year — Rich Gannon, who was throwing passes to a 40 year old Jerry Rice.
They haven’t made had a winning season or made the playoffs since.
Green Bay over Minnesota
Sam Bradford is making his season debut one week later than he should be, but they’ll actually need him for this one. Even I can quarterback the Vikings if Marcus Mariota is gifting touchdowns to our defense.
There Will Be Highlights, So Skip It
Baltimore over Cleveland
Robert Griffin III’s comeback tour is over before it even began. The NFL can be so cruel.
Carolina over San Francisco
Anything less than a 17-point win is a disappointment.
New England over Miami
No Rob Gronkowski again. Another good defensive test on paper for Jimmy Garroppolo. Another Patriots win.
San Diego over Jacksonville
(Before last week’s San Diego-Kansas City game): “FREE PHILIP RIVERS!”
(When San Diego led 24-3 in the third quarter): “Hmm, maybe he’ll be ok”
(When Kansas City won 33-27 in overtime): “FREE PHILIP RIVERS!”
Chicago over Philadelphia
Malcolm Jenkins says that Eagles are planning a demonstration during the national anthem. Once that ends, you can change the channel.
That Thursday Night Game
Buffalo over New York Jets
Rex Ryan is already firing offensive coaches to cover for his terrible defense.
Detroit over Tennessee
Prediction: Mike Mularkey will be the first coach fired this season.