Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hypocrisy in the NFL: Volume 3

By Anthony Brancato

At halftime of their Week 9 game at Denver, Cleveland Browns wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry were issued an ultimatum: Change their cleats, or they would be thrown out of the game.

Week 9 was of course the first Sunday in November, with October having been Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when the NFL outrightly encourages its players to ... wear pink cleats!

Before being ordered to remove them, Beckham sported cleats emblazoned with markings inspired by the now-playing "Joker" movie, the first R-rated movie in the "Batman" series. Was Beckham trying to be a rated-R superstar? Josh Norman can tell you that he already is one! Landry's spooky gold-and-orange cleats were apparently Halloween-themed — it was the Sunday closest to Halloween, and the week before Landry had worn a different pair of orange cleats at New England. Maybe the fashion police merely issued him a warning for that faux pas? And what's with the near-tank-top jerseys, that allow players' armpits to show — especially the linemen? One would think that the sartorial censors would be more concerned with that.

And this wasn't the first time the NFL has engaged in intellectual dishonesty. That's hypocrisy, for those of you in Rio Linda, West Palm Beach and Staten Island.

On November 24, 1999, the NFL banned the throat slash gesture, a common act of celebration, usually after a touchdown was scored — only to turn around and include the same gesture in its "NFL Fever 2000" video game, marketed by Microsoft and displaying the NFL's trademark shield.

Even the NFL's playoff format is hypocritical, discriminating as it does against second-place teams, denying them home-field advantage in the playoffs even if a second-place team finishes with an outright better record than a first-place team from another division. This has led to some ridiculously unfair scenarios: in 2010, for example, the Saints, who finished 11-5 and second in the NFC South, had to play a wild card game on the road at the Seahawks, who "won" the NFC West at 7-9, with Seattle winning 41-36 as a 10 1/2-point underdog. And this was not a fluke, either: two years earlier, the 12-4 Colts, who finished second in the AFC South, had to play a wild card game at 8-8 AFC West "champion" San Diego. The now Los Angeles Chargers won, 23-17.

But how come a second-place team doesn't receive any priority at all over a third-place team? In 2007, the Browns and the Titans both finished 10-6 — the Browns second in the AFC North, the Titans third in the AFC South. Yet the Titans made the playoffs due to a better record against the five common opponents they had played. Wouldn't it have been fairer to send the Browns to the playoffs on the grounds of a higher division finish? This would place greater emphasis on games played within, and finish within, the division — and division rivalries are the lifeblood of the NFL.

And why should a team that finishes next-to-last in their division make the playoffs anyway? Play an entire 16-game season — or maybe soon an 18-game season — to eliminate one team from a division? Plus, if a third wild card team is added to each conference's playoff draw, as seems likely, a team that finishes last in their division could conceivably make the playoffs, unless some change is made.

Indeed, this would have happened if the NFL sent 14 teams to the playoffs in 2007, as the Eagles, last in the NFC East at 8-8, carried the tie breakers over second-place Minnesota and Atlanta of the NFC North and South, respectively (the NFC East's Giants and Redskins earned the two actual wild cards in the NFC that year).

Just like the CFL gets it right with its schedule — two exhibition games followed by 18 regular-season games — it also gets it right in this situation, too, in that the top two teams from each of its two divisions, plus the next two with the best records, qualify for its playoffs; however, in order for a fourth-place team to qualify they must finish with an outright better record than the third-place team from the other division.

A tie is no good, even if the fourth-place team beat the third-place team twice (all non-division opponents play each other twice in the CFL). Indeed, this came into play in the CFL's just-concluded regular season, in which the Edmonton Eskimos, who finished fourth in the Western Division with an 8-10 record, advanced over the Toronto Argonauts, who finished third in the Eastern Division at 4-14.

The NFL needs to be more consistent in the policies it sets and the decisions it makes. People are beginning to notice.

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