Aug 17, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

USA Today Sports

NFL Preseason needs a new name – Overreaction Season

”The Last Lap with Seth Dunlap”
August 20, 2018 - 7:16 pm

It’s a tradition this time of year for NFL fans of all 32 different franchises to embrace blind optimism, hoping their team can hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February and be crowned champions of the football world.   The league is defined by its parity, after all.  “Why not us?” becomes a rallying cry from Buffalo to the Bay Area.

NFL reality is much harsher.  Only 12 of 32 teams make the postseason, and maybe half of those teams escape the regular season with any realistic chance of winning a Super Bowl.

That doesn’t damper irresponsible preseason optimism.  It’s that (mostly) false-hope that has fans parsing every work written, spoken, or Tweeted about their favorite team each August.  It’s also why there’s no time in American sports where the overreaction reaches such absurd heights.  

The backup quarterback – cough, cough, Taysom Hill – goes 8/9 runs for 52 yards against the third and fourth stringers in the first preseason game?  He must be the next Steve Young!

An obscure wide receiver has a nice week of camp and a position coach mentions him by name to the media?  Stop the presses, this must be the next great receiver nobody has been talking about! 

Every year, we hear the warnings.  Every year, we disregard those warnings and plunge head first into a sea full of hot takes and incessant overreaction.

The NFL should rebrand its exhibition portion of the calendar as Overreaction Season.

There’s perhaps no more common overreaction than those to rule changes implemented by the NFL over the offseason.  The Preseason, err Overreaction Season, is the first time officiating crews will have a chance to put the new rules to work in live-game action.  It’s also the first time the league big-wigs will have a chance to watch how the new rules impact the game.

In previous years, we’ve seen sky-is-falling takes when new defensive contact rules were implemented, severely limiting physical play among cornerbacks and in the secondary.  NFL diehards were certain that “real football” was dead, and the new rules would make the game unwatchable. 

Or, how about in 2010 when the NFL implemented new rules to protect defenseless players and eliminate helmet-to-helmet contact, implementing harsher punishment to offenders that could include suspensions.  Fans were certain that this would ruin football.  Seriously, check out this doozy of a read. 

Then, there’s this one claiming “The End of Football as We Know It” from 2013.

Not only did those new rules not ruin football, the past eight years have seen the sport grow to unprecedented heights and prosperity.   The sport thrived under the new player-safety rules, it didn’t decline.

Enter Overreaction Season in 2018, when the NFL has a new blanket set of rules against initiating contact with the helmet. Officials are calling these new rules on the field for the first time and, as expected, there has been a differentiation on which hits are penalized from game to game.  Everybody is figuring out who to adjust to the new rules, including the men and women in stripes.

Also unexpectedly, we’ve seen a torrent of outrage from every quarter of the NFL and its fan base.   Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says the new rules will unfairly cost people jobs.

Washington safety D.J. Swearinger, taking a cue from the old hyperbolic rage-takes, says the new rules are “eliminating football, real football.”

Then there are the countless Tweets like this one, insinuating that, I guess, every NFL play from here to eternity will be officiated like this one because of the new rules.

That’s somebody with a major platform turning a bad (terrible?) call into a litmus test on what the NFL is.   That would be like pointing to an obviously blown pass interference call and saying, “I’m not an overreact guy, but look how they are calling every pass play in the NFL now!”

This kind of silliness usually reaches absurd heights this time of year, but the past few weeks have been especially boorish.

Here’s the truth: The NFL and its officiating crews will make adjustments to this rule to make sure that the sport is being more conscious about player safety while also keeping the product incredibly entertaining on the field; There will be bad calls that are overanalyzed, and there will be players and coaches who, used to playing by another set of rules all their lives, are frustrated by the changes; In the end the league won’t die, football isn’t ruined, and it will still be the most-watched sport in America for the foreseeable future.   

Speaking of ratings, those citing diminished viewership are purposefully leaving out context.  Television ratings are down across the board.  The proliferation of streaming services, the trend of “unplugging” among Millennials and Gen Z, and more entertainment options for us in our spare time have led to a downtrend in viewership that is now years running.  

The NFL is still doing just fine.  It had 71 of the 100 most-watched TV programs of last year, and their percentage of viewership decline is in line, and sometimes exceeds, the rest of the television industry.

So as we watch the final two weeks of the NFL Preseason, try to filter the overreaction from reality.  It’s not easy, but you’ll feel like a smarter football fan if you do.

Comments ()