Excited to see the end
Like pretty much everyone, when the NFL looks back on the 2018 calendar year, it’ll be excited to see the end.
While the issues are different, the NFL’s situations in the United States’ two biggest cities, New York and Los Angeles, are far from ideal. The same can be said about other big-name franchises, like the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.
One of the NFL’s main attractions, “Monday Night Football,” didn’t have a great year, either. On the positive end, the beginning of 2019 offers something that the league and its fans should very much be looking forward to. But that’ll only happen when 2018 ends.
While 2018 had a lot for the NFL to enjoy, these are things that the NFL will be happy to see come to an end in the New Year.
Another year with bad teams on Broadway
Since winning the Super Bowl in 2011, the New York Giants have had two winning seasons and one postseason appearance. Meanwhile, the New York Jets have not returned to the playoffs since making consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010, with only one winning season to their credit in that time. Both teams have already been eliminated and have clinched losing seasons in 2018. To put it bluntly, that’s a lot of mediocre football in the Big Apple.
To be fair, the NFL isn’t quite as dependent on its big-market teams as other leagues. But the fact remains that big-market teams sell a heck of a lot better than most of their small-market counterparts. For nearly a decade now, big games in the United States’ biggest city have been rare occasions.
A consistently embarrassing official situation
In the preseason, we saw an abundance of penalties on defensive backs that made us wonder what sport we were watching. When the regular season started, the main issue seemed to be hits on the quarterback. As the season has progressed, the officiating has been more of a broad problem. We saw too many flags in an otherwise classic “Monday Night Football” showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams in Week 11. Overall, the crisis was so bad that we saw an official fired midseason, something that had previously never happened in the Super Bowl era.
The NFL does not want its games marred by shoddy officials. But that happened far too often in 2018. The league is hoping that this issue doesn’t rear its ugly head again when the calendar turns to 2019.
Awful situation in Washington
While the Redskins have managed to stay competitive in the NFC East, this season has been rough. Alex Smith suffered a gruesome injury. But as ugly as that was, the consistent whiffs from the front office were even worse. Washington also signed Reuben Foster after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers following an ugly domestic violence incident. Montae Nicholson was placed on the reserved/NFI list by the team after an arrest, which came with video.
The Redskins were once one of the league’s proudest franchises. But they’ve devolved into an absolute mess. Unfortunately, 2018 was more of that.
Unpredictable postseason on the docket for 2019
While we’re generally looking at the NFL putting less than pleasant things in its past, this is the opposite. The first NFL games played in 2019 will come in the postseason. And this year, that looks like a lot of fun.
The New Orleans Saints appear to be the clear NFC favorites. But the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys are all division leaders to be reckoned with. In the AFC, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the New England Patriots will make their third Super Bowl in four years or their eighth-straight AFC Championship Game. It could happen. But at this point, it’s hard to put New England at any better than the third-best team in the conference — and even that’s generous. Unpredictability equals excitement, which is exactly what the NFL wants in the playoffs.
The anthem controversy nearing its end?
Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the controversy around players kneeling during the national anthem seemingly never went away. While the issue hasn’t gone away in 2018, the controversy largely has. The people who claimed to be boycotting the NFL have generally either done so and kept quiet (with an occasional high-profile exception) or have made their peace with it in another way.
The NFL probably could have done a better job of this from the beginning. But the league seems to have found a way to make it all work. And if it was quieter in 2018 than it was in 2016 or 2017. Next year should be even smoother.
Drama in Oakland in its final days
The Oakland Raiders returned to the Bay Area in 1995. With very few exceptions, it’s been a disaster. The 2018 season has been arguably the biggest disaster, both on and off of the field. But this saga is nearing its end. The City of Oakland has filed a lawsuit against the Raiders, which could well mean that they’ll play elsewhere in 2019 before the Las Vegas Stadium is ready in 2020.
From a bigger picture perspective, it means that a near 40-year issue is almost over. When Al Davis moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, he did so in hopes of getting a new stadium. He had the same hope when he came back to Oakland in 1995. That won’t officially end until 2020. In the short term, if the Raiders are done in Oakland, it means that we’ve already seen the last ever NFL game played on a baseball diamond. That’s not a bad short-term consolation prize.
End of Jason Witten’s first year
This was the first year for the “Monday Night Football” announce team of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland. To put it mildly, it did not go well. Witten received the bulk of the scrutiny but overall, the crew did not work well together.
The bad news is that for now, it looks like the crew will return in 2019. The good news is that even if that’s true, the three will at least have a year to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and try to improve. At the very least, it’ll be several months before the NFL is again bombarded with angry tweets about how the crew is just not working.
Messy situation in Green Bay
Even in victory, the Packers got their season off on the wrong foot in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers was injured in that game and while he did return to the game and has played all year, he hasn’t looked right. He’s statistically fine but just doesn’t have the spark that we’ve grown used to seeing. Of course, Green Bay also fired Mike McCarthy. While the move couldn’t be realistically disputed, it was indicative of the kind of season the Packers had.
This is a little different than the Giants and Jets. Green Bay is clearly not a big market team. But the Packers are one of the league’s flagship franchises and Rodgers is one of its highest profile players. People care about the Packers. But for the second straight year, they’ll be absent from the postseason. This can’t please the NFL.
Will new year bring end to Los Angeles mess?
In some ways, 2018 has been great for football in Los Angeles. The Rams and Los Angeles Chargers are both going to the playoffs and it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if they met in the Super Bowl. But as exciting as the teams are, it hasn’t really shown up in terms of fan support, at least at the games. Chargers games are often overtaken by visiting team’s fans. Support for the Rams has been better. But anyone who saw their Week 15 home game against the Philadelphia Eagles knows how much Philadelphia fans took the LA Coliseum over.
Like the Raiders in Vegas, the new Los Angeles stadium will not open until 2020. But the NFL is certainly hoping that good seasons from the Rams and Chargers will spark local interest. It’s awfully hard to put a positive spin on a stadium filled with visiting fans or even worse, empty seats in a late-season home game of a Super Bowl contender.
Putting a year of scandals in the past…hopefully
In no particular order, the aforementioned Foster, Jameis Winston, Kareem Hunt, Michael Bennett, Mychal Kendricks, Robby Anderson, and sadly, now Josh Gordon, all dealt with legal issues in 2018. The case of Hunt was particularly bad. That was a player acting poorly. And then, much like the Ray Rice controversy from 2014, it became pretty clear that neither the NFL or the Chiefs were that interested in finding out what happened.
On the field, 2018 has been good for the NFL. Off the field, there are many good characters. And as NFLarrest.com points out, the NFL arrest rate is lower than the USA’s. But it’s also more high-profile. People in most other jobs don’t make millions of dollars and have their performances broadcast to millions of people. When this many prominent players have issues, it’s bad for the NFL. And in that respect, 2018 was rough.