NFL’s entertainment value suffering with penalty spike

Oh God, what have I done, can I take it back?!?!

As a fan of the New Orleans Saints, I watched “my team” get wrecked in Seattle twice last year, once to diminish their playoff seeding, and once to end their entire season. It was not fun times. Of course I then watched that Seahawks’ defense maul their way to a Super Bowl title and Richard Sherman be forever justified in saying pretty much whatever he pleases. I was warned about this, mind you.

A friend of mine who plays in the NFL, not for the Saints, told me right before that first game in Seattle, “it’s going to be tough on your boys.” He then told me something to the effect of, paraphrasing, “those Seattle DB’s are dirty man. They grab, hold, claw. It’s hard to get open and they do it the whole game. Our receivers were complaining and the refs did nothing about it. It all depends on how they call the game and in Seattle it usually doesn’t go your way.”

Of course now the cat is out of the bag and this is news to no one. But around that time the word was just starting to make the rounds with fans around the league that this Seattle defense was nasty, historically good, and close to impossible to put up points on because they “cheated”. Now I know Seahawks fans take serious issue with that term, and I respect that. They are skirting the fine line between physical and committing an infraction, and if they don’t get flagged for it then more power to them. I’d feel the exact same way. Even my beloved and explosive Saints’ offense was powerless, by the way (although I would have liked to see these teams match up indoors).

So fast forward to now and we all know the league apparently didn’t appreciate the Seahawks winning like that. They put an emphasis on making sure illegal contact was flagged consistently. As a Saints fan, a team that is a dynamic passing offense that wins games by going vertical, this is a huge advantage. I’ll be honest, at first I cared a lot less about the implications of the game or what it meant league wide, and more about what it means for the team I root for. If the refs really follow that rule closely, it makes it harder on teams like the Seahawks and easier on teams like the Saints. And the margins in the NFL are so incredibly small that any tiny advantage can make the difference between a win and a loss. My friend Sean Tomlinson suggested these rule changes would lead to an offensive explosion right here four days go. What’s not to like?

Except then the Saints got penalized 22 times in their last preseason game, which I suffered through until the bitter end. That’s 22 accepted penalties, mind you. I believe they were flagged 26-28 times and there is no way I’m looking that up to give you an exact and accurate figure. They don’t keep track of preseason NFL records, thank God, but I do know it’s a team record. This, mind you, was after Sean Payton was furious with 10 penalties the week before (when the Rams had 14). Sure enough, penalties are up 44% in preseason from last year.

So while in theory I love the advantage it gave “my team” over the franchise most likely to stand in the way of an NFC Championship title, I’m already starting to regret my initial excitement. It took two preseason games. The games have been miserable to watch. Is this what we signed up for? Flags on every other play? At one point I think I counted a flag on five consecutive plays in that Saints-Titans game. The whole point of empowering the passing game was to make the game more exciting. More flags certainly does not accomplish that objective.

So can we just go back to complaining about how the NFL should do something about those dirty Seattle defensive backs, and blasting the shield for never having the stones to actually do it? I liked that better. Be careful what you wish for.

About Andrew Juge

I write about football.