Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week 7 picks

The main topic of discussion in the NFL this week is pretty obvious: the NFL's decision to ramp up fines and other penalties (like suspensions without pay) to deter defenders from making "illegal" hits on, basically, quarterbacks and receivers. To try to clarify the issue, the NFL sent a video to every team attempting to explain what is and is not considered a legal hit. (The video can be viewed here.) The video clarifies a few things but mainly creates more questions than answers.

After watching the video, only a couple of things are clear (at least to me): 1) if a defensive player aims to hit the head or neck of a defenseless receiver (or quarterback, etc.), that counts as an illegal hit and will likely earn that defender a penalty, fine, and possibly a suspension; 2) helmet-to-helmet contact isn't the only thing that constitutes an illegal hit; and 3) the Brandon Meriweather hit on Todd Heap is the best example of what the NFL is trying to eliminate. The Meriweather hit is particularly singled out in the video as being a blatant illegal hit, and it's also the one hit that I have yet to hear someone describe as unintentional or justified.

The best take I read on the whole legal/illegal hit debate is by Joe Posnanski. The whole article is definitely worth a read, but this part particularly stuck out:
And here is the riddle of football — how can you hurt without injuring, how can you weaken without harming, how can you send a receiver flying backward and have him pop right back up, good as new, Wile E. Coyote gone back to the drawing board? The NFL keeps wanting us to believe that there’s a real answer to this riddle. The league makes the equipment better — or at least that’s what we keep hearing and desperately want to believe. They make the pads more secure, we hear. They make the helmets safer, we are told. . . . The trainers tape every bendable part before every practice and every game, as if the players are windows in the eye of a hurricane — or at least that’s what we choose to believe.

The NFL tinkers with the rules constantly to prevent the most dangerous of hits — the chop block, the clip, the clothesline, the horse collar, the helmet-to-helmet, the trip, the facemask grab, the forearm shiver, the punch, the unloading on a defenseless receiver and whatever devastating tackle they will come with next. The NFL makes the injuries part of the fabric of the sport so that they sound bland … they even release injury reports each week with the tamest-sounding of conditions — probable, questionable, out. Probable means they’re playing no matter how much pain they’re in. Questionable means they might not play, but they also might. Out means out. Put someone else on your fantasy team.
Seriously, read the entire article -- it's fantastic. Is it really possible to hurt without injuring? No, it's not. And the NFL knows that too. But that doesn't mean they're wrong about trying to get rid of hits like the Meriweather one.

My main concern with the NFL's endeavor is that it's impossible for all of these hits to be called the same way. Every hit is unique, and each game has different referees who will interpret the rules differently. Sure, fines and suspensions will come down from the league office for hits that are ruled to be illegal, but what happens if a player is both fined and suspended for a hit that isn't even flagged for a 15-yard penalty? Also, will intent factor into the legal/illegal hit decision, and is that a smart thing to assume? And finally, does the receiver absorbing the crushing tackle/hit have to be hurt for the defender to be heavily penalized? One major similarity in the video is that the players tacking huge hits seemed to be hurt pretty badly -- not a shock, obviously. Sure, they were involved in huge hits and it's not likely that they'd immediately pop back up, but what if they did? If everyone's fine after a significant collision, does that warrant a penalty?

Basically, I'm just as confused as ever, but maybe it will just take a few weeks for the whole issue to be ironed out. Or maybe it'll continue to linger and won't be solved at all -- especially since football is an extremely violent sport. We'll see.

Onto the picks for Week 7:

Steelers (-3) over DOLPHINS

FALCONS (-3.5) over Bengals

CHIEFS (-9.5) over Jaguars

Eagles (+3) over TITANS

Redskins (+3) over BEARS

Browns (+14) over SAINTS

RAVENS (-14) over Bills

49ers (-3) over PANTHERS

Rams (+3) over BUCCANEERS

Cardinals (+7) over SEAHAWKS

Patriots (+3) over CHARGERS

BRONCOS (-7.5) over Raiders

PACKERS (-3) over Vikings

Giants (+3.5) over COWBOYS

Last week: 5-8-1
Season: 38-48-4

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