If you’ve been in a cave for the past six months, you might not realize that the National Football League is about to start its 95th season of action tonight. Over the next six months, the 32 teams in the NFL will battle it out for supremacy in what is the biggest professional sports league in the United States. It will also bring about more wasted time in with the activities of fantasy football and sports betting thrown into the mix.
It hasn’t exactly been the greatest of years for the NFL. The end of last season was scarred by “Deflategate,” the accusation that the now-Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (after one of the stupidest calls in NFL history by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll) used deflated footballs to win the AFC championship over the Indianapolis Colts, and the resulting investigation. After a few months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down massive fines against New England and, in his boldest move, suspended star quarterback Tom Brady for four games for his “part” in the scandal.
The “Deflategate” game continued through the summer and virtually up to tonight’s first event of the season, the tradition clash between the defending Super Bowl champion (New England, in this case) against a potential challenger to their crown (the Pittsburgh Steelers). After failed settlement talks, a judge stepped in and struck Brady’s suspension, allowing the four-time Super Bowl champion to start the season. All of this “action” off the field continued to hide the other issues facing the NFL, including concussion protocols, drug, alcohol and physical abuse situations from players and the problems with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the league and the players.
The result of all this turmoil? Nobody is probably more ready for the season to start than Goodell.
Goodell is in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position in the NFL. He is hired by the owners to protect the integrity of The Shield, but it is tough to do that when the people who hired you fail to have your back. New England owner Robert Kraft came just short of demanding Goodell’s head on a truncheon over the “Deflategate” controversy and, if you add in the vehement anger of the players over some of Goodell’s decisions, you wonder why the man wants to continue as the Commissioner of the league. There is but one reason: $44 million in salary paid by the league to Goodell in 2013; you can be sure that it hasn’t gone down because of his “bad leadership.”
Anyway, Goodell and the rest of the NFL would like you to know that the first game of the season is tonight. The Steelers come into Gillette Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters and other sports bars across the United States will be bustling with activity (and just wait until Sunday, when those bars will explode). There are several ways to look at the game: through the eye of Fantasy Football, through the world of sports betting and through the activity of being a fan.
The Thursday games, since the NFL expanded their schedule a few years ago to include at least one per week, have been plagued by many problems since they started (quality of the games, the quick turnaround from playing on the previous Sunday bringing the potential for more injuries, etc.). As a result, the Thursday game in all three scenarios is affected; fantasy players have to make sure their lineups are set (instead of waiting until Sunday), sports bettors have to take into account the short layoff in their bets and fans have a game to watch and a day still left in the working week, so they can’t stay up too late to watch whichever game is playing.
Since it’s the first game of the season, this Thursday’s tilt between the Steelers and the Patriots won’t be affected by any “short turnaround” curse. Fantasy players will definitely look to have certain players – Patriot players Brady and Rob Gronkowski on one side of the ball, Steelers players Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown on the other – in their lineups to get off to a good start for the weekend. Fantasy players will want to know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell won’t be in the lineup (one game suspension for marijuana usage from last season), but DeAngelo Williams, over from the Carolina Panthers, is a nice backup to have on the team.
Williams won’t be enough to pick up the slack on the scoreboard for Pittsburgh, however. Brady, after everything that went on with the “Deflategate” scandal, is coming out in “Fuck You” mode for the entirety of the season and that starts tonight with a whipping of the Steelers. The line on the game opened with the Patriots a 2.5 point favorite, but that was before Brady was cleared for the game. Now the line sits at Patriots -7, so it may be tempting to take Pittsburgh; keep away from that temptation, take the Patriots and give up the points but take the UNDER on the 50.5 O/U.
As far as being a fan, there’s no better time than the start of the season in any of the major professional sports leagues. Everyone starts out 0-0 and the hopes and dreams are there for every team to make the playoffs at the minimum and the Super Bowl at the max. With this in mind, I’ve looked it over and these are the teams that should make the playoffs for each conference:
NFC: Philadelphia (East), Green Bay (North), New Orleans (South), Seattle (West) NFC Wild Cards: Arizona, Dallas NFC Champion: Seattle
AFC: New England (East), Cincinnati (North), Indianapolis (South), Denver (West) AFC Wild Cards: Pittsburgh, San Diego AFC Champion: Indianapolis
Super Bowl 50 Champion: Seattle
Maybe I’ll try to throw some picks your way over the coming four months (you know, if betting on games was LEGAL or something) and maybe we’ll check this out again come January 2016 when the playoffs roll around. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the game, intoxicated by the fantasy aroma or have a few ducats riding on the game, the NFL is back and the game is on!