Super Bowl LIV came and went, with a somewhat-predictable (to me, anyway) outcome, and now we’re left looking ahead to some more NFL unpleasantness in the coming weeks. First, let’s look back at Sunday’s game, the one that prevented the Bay Area from eclipsing Boston in sports championships in the 2010’s, as both regions ended with 11 appearances and six titles this decade:
The Path Less Taken
One major problem I have with the Chiefs winning, in addition to keeping the Evil Empires, Pittsburgh and New England, as the lone franchises with six titles, is that, in spite of their three double-digit comebacks, this did not feel like much of a grind. In fact, the Chiefs are just the second team ever to reach the Super Bowl without having to face any of their conference’s top three seeds. The 2008 Steelers, who also were the last Super Bowl champ to go 6-0 in their division, pulled the trick by beating the 8-8 Chargers and rookie Joe Flacco’s Ravens in the AFC title game.
Think about this: if Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t engineer the upset of the year in Week 17, with the Dolphins stunning the Patriots in Foxborough on a last-second TD pass, the Chiefs go into the postseason as the No. 3 seed, hosting Tennessee and then visiting New England with a win. That likely would’ve meant that an AFC title game would take place in Baltimore against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. What a difference from facing No. 4 Houston and No. 6 Tennessee at home, a year after the Chiefs proved they couldn’t truly beat the best when they lost at home in overtime to the Patriots.
In fact, speaking of those Steelers, this Chiefs’ ascension felt awfully similar to the 2005 and 2008 Pittsburgh teams. Back in 2005, the Steelers were coming off a bitter home defeat against a Patriots team that went on to win its third Super Bowl title of the decade. A year later, the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in large part by avoiding the Patriots (although they became the first No. 6 seed in history to win it all), making Ben Roethlisberger a Super Bowl winner in his second year as a starter just like Patrick Mahomes. The 2008 Steelers’ “run” to Super Bowl XLIII mirrored that of this year’s Chiefs, with home wins over No. 4 San Diego and No. 6 Baltimore in a year when Tom Brady was on the shelf after Week 1 with a torn ACL. Thanks to the Tennessee Titans, Brady’s Patriots were out of the picture by the time the Chiefs took the field for the first time in January.
This game also will not change the fact that, even if the Chiefs do build a dynasty, that they were mostly a doormat for the big boys like the Patriots and Steelers for the last two decades. Andy Reid is a surefire Hall of Famer now, but this win doesn’t change the fact that he is 0-4 career in the postseason against the Patriots and Steelers combined, and lest people forget that it was these losses in particular that led everyone to label Reid as a big-game choker.
Kyle Shanahan Strikes Again
Poor Shanahan. After months of effusive praise from the football world about turning around the 4-12 49ers, Shanahan experienced a sickening bout of deja vu with yet another squandered double-digit, fourth-quarter Super Bowl lead. Perhaps he can commiserate with Richard Sherman, who must’ve felt the exact same thing with flashbacks to Super Bowl XLIX, a game in which his Seahawks had a 10-point lead and the ball at one point, only to punt it away, give up multiple unanswered scores, and never find paydirt again.
For Shanahan, there will be questions about play-calling and strategy, but this game was lost on one play: the 3rd-and-15 in which Patrick Mahomes chucked up a prayer, only to have Tyreek Hill waiting under it as if he was fielding a punt because Emmanuel Moseley completely blew the coverage. Mahomes was a ridiculous 13-17 for 299 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs on 3rd-and-15 or longer in the postseason, so perhaps the 49ers can take a small modicum of solace in knowing they aren’t alone.
Still, No Patriots = No Problem For America
The first Super Bowl without Brady’s Patriots (but we did have a Brady Hulu Super Bowl ad and Bill Belichick flashing his Super Bowl rings in lieu of a middle finger to a booing crowd pre-game) in four years was a sight for sore eyes. Sure, it left many of us without any real rooting interest, but this was a chance to basically sit back and just watch football without getting too amped up.
Perhaps this year was a one-off, or perhaps the Chiefs will morph into the new version of the Patriots (unlikely). Whatever the case, let’s not take this for granted, especially considering New England had forced its way onto this stage in five of the previous eight years.
With the Super Bowl behind us, there is one dark cloud lingering over the NFL in my mind that could resolve itself quite soon, and that is the NFL’s greediest move yet potentially coming to fruition. Raise your hand if you want a 17-game regular season in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement? Shame on you if you are one of these people. This is just bad for the game on so many levels, which I will dive into now:
Odd Numbers, Odder Choice
Since a lot of the player-safety-related issues are such low-hanging fruit, let me look at the purist angle here. How absurd is it to have 17 games when the league has such a flawless scheduling formula in place at the moment? Take it from someone who has created the league schedule each of the last three years as a passion project (I won’t even attempt one rough draft if the season expands). Giving one conference extra home games one year is foolish, and the records are going to take a massive hit.
Any foolish notions of allowing players to only participate in 16 of the 17 games or massive roster expansion need to be shut down immediately. The game is just fine where it is, but Roger Goodell and the owners have a nasty habit of continuing to fix what isn’t broken. This is the latest example, and I believe Sherman is 100% correct when he points out that this 17 games is actually just the first step to get to 18, which the owners pushed for several years back.
With live attendance sagging, it’s another desperation move by the league to keep squeezing every possible ounce of profit out of a TV deal. Get ready to watch mid-January games in cold-weather cities, like the 3-14 Redskins hosting the 5-12 Lions to close out another unmemorable year.
More Force-Fed Football
I know that people do like the idea of a Super Bowl Sunday on President’s Weekend because Monday is a holiday (I don’t necessarily even hate that concept, I’d just prefer the game be played on Saturday). But dragging the season on further into February is totally unnecessary. Give sports fans a little break between football and baseball season. Personally, because I invest so much time and energy watching and following sports — especially baseball and football — I actually yearn for that two-month break after the Super Bowl.
Between this possibility and Thursday Night Football every week, it’s getting egregious. But, sadly, it’s the NFL, so no matter what, people will still watch even though they know they shouldn’t.
Player Safety and Lack of Quality Football (Of Course!)
I saw a good article in the Charlotte Observer recently pointing out something that Panthers fans would rather not think about: what if Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton had played 17-game seasons? Kuechly, a likely Hall of Famer, stepped away from the game after eight years. He was an elite talent on the field, but his career was marred by many concussions, and his eight years would have meant another entire half-season to possibly sustain more. Newton missed most of the 2019 campaign and could be on his way out of Charlotte as well, and it’s fair to wonder if another eight games for him would mean he’d already be retired by now.
The players have to decide whether to “accept the one thing they hate in exchange for 10 things they want,” but I personally think that’s a crock. I’m glad to hear even Mahomes chiming in on the subject during his Disney World visit. Many players do share the sentiment, but the big question is whether they’ll cower to the owners’ greed. As Mike Florio of PFT noted, the players union can only blame itself for “letting the 17-game horse out of the barn,” as it has been running around wildly for a while now in CBA talks.
But one thing is certain: more games means less quality and, ultimately, less players. In an era when players are stepping away earlier than ever before, this proves, as Sherman noted, what hypocrites the NFL really are.
Can We Compromise? Perhaps With Playoff Expansion?
So, here’s the deal with playoff expansion — it does not require player approval. This makes me wonder why the league doesn’t just stop trying to shove their egos down the players’ throats and at least create two extra wild card games for more revenue.
Again, it would be diluting the product and cheapening the accomplishment of making the postseason with 14 spots instead of 12, but I will admit there is one little piece I actually kind of like about that: the fact that only one team gets a bye.
We can tie this back to my earlier rant about the Chiefs’ easy road to the Super Bowl, in fact. It seems highly unfair that a No. 2 seed can reach the Super Bowl by playing two home games, whereas the four lower seeds all would have to play three games and at least one on the road. If the league really wants to put a premium on the top seed and homefield advantage throughout, then make the No. 2 seed play on wild card weekend. If nothing else, the Chiefs would have had to play three home playoff games to get there, which obviously would have lessened their odds, even if they would have slaughtered Duck Hodges and the 7th-seeded Steelers this season.