I’m not a college football or NFL absolutist. I enjoy watching football in all forms and don’t differentiate between collegiate and pro sports. I’ve never understood football fans who just look at one and not at the other.
Both football brands can coexist and have done so for many years. In fact, they are the top two sports in America by TV ratings. In fact, NFL ratings are at their highest since 2016 and don’t appear to be going down anytime soon. But good reviews don’t always equate to a good on-field product, and the NFL has a watchability problem in 2022.
Look no further than Thursday Night Football weeks 5 and 6 for the proof. In Week 5, the Colts and Broncos went head-to-head in a contest that would test the visual stamina of even the most staunch NFL supporter. The teams combined for 12 punts, four interceptions, one missed field goal, one turnover on downs, and 21 total points. The two teams couldn’t even do us the courtesy of ending the offensive charade in regulation. The Colts won 12-9 in OT, but no one watching the game felt like a winner. Even well-known NFL die-hard Rob Lowe had to be disgusted.
In Week 6, the Commanders and Bears lowered the primetime NFL bar with another miserable game. Carson Wentz and Justin Fields must have watched Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan trudge across the field last Thursday and said, “Hold my beer.” Wentz couldn’t get past 100 yards … and his team won the game. Bears QB Justin Fields was 14 for 27 for 190 yards with a TD and an INT in the Bears loss. The truth is that everyone who watched one of those Thursday night football games lost. Keep in mind that Amazon pays around $1 billion annually for the rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Package.
Let’s look at the NFL numbers
Thursday Night Football isn’t the only prime-time window that’s declining in quality. According to Sports Media Watch, the top 10 most-watched NFL games over the first six weeks of the season are as follows.
- Dallas/Cincinnati – 9/18 – CBS late afternoon
- Green Bay/Tampa Bay – 9/25 – FOX late afternoon
- Buffalo/Kansas City – 10/16 – CBS late afternoon
- New England/Green Bay – 2.10. – CBS late afternoon
- Dallas/LAR – 10/9 – FOX late afternoon
- Tampa Bay/Dallas – 9/11 – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Kansas City/Tampa Bay – 2.10. – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Dallas/Philadelphia – 10/16. – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Buffalo/LAR – 9/8 – NBC NFL Kickoff
- Denver/Seattle – 9/12 – ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 Monday Night Football
The average final score of these 10 games is 24-16. This isn’t exactly the offensive blast we’ve come to expect from the NFL. In a league that constantly adjusts rules to support QBs and scoring, the league finds itself with a QB/scoring problem. If you take games with Bills or Chiefs out of the top 10, the average final score drops to 20-14. I use the Bills and Chiefs because they have proven to be the two most dominant teams in the AFC and have no problems scoring or being in the QB position. Philly seems to be the outlier in the NFC. Your offense is clicking at high speed.
A limitation of these games is the Dallas puzzle. The Cowboys will always turn heads and garner huge ratings. They were also forced to start Cooper Rush in QB for 5 straight games after Dak Prescott was out in Week 1 against Tampa Bay with a hand injury. Dallas appears in the top 10 four times and Rush played in all four games. Will the Cowboys score more if Prescott plays QB? Probably. Does it change the fact that these games are mostly boring? Not really.
I am not saying that all low scoring games are boring games. Two teams with excellent defenses can face off in an addictive game of low scoring and hard hitting. But that’s not the case for most of these NFL games in major national windows. This is much more about a lack of offense than an abundance of defense.
The college game has no problems on offense. Look no further than the #1 ranked team in the College Football Playoffs: Tennessee. The Vols are averaging nearly 50 points and 553 yards per game while coming from nowhere to be story of the season. Tennessee didn’t even make the preseason AP Top 25. Combine that with Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama and other national championship contenders accumulating points in bundles and you have a drastically different game being played in college.
But it’s not all about points and attacks. Let’s take a look at the highest-rated college games of the season so far, according to Sports Media Watch.
- Bama, Tennessee – 10/15 – CBS
- Bama/Texas – 9/10 – FOX
- Notre Dame/Ohio State-9/3-ABC
- State of Ohio/Penn State – 10/29 – FOX
- Texas A&M/Bama-10/8-CBS
- Penn State/Michigan – 10/15 – FOX
- Oregon/Georgia – 9/3 – ABC
- Bama, Arkansas – 10/1. – CBS
- Florida/Tennessee – September 24 – CBS
The average final score of these 10 games is 36-23. Although the games weren’t all particularly close, we do see some more offensive play. College football is fueled by the most-watched game of the year (Tennessee-Bama), which is possibly one of the greatest regular-season games of our lives. Granted, I’m biased because I was at Neyland Stadium for the game, but you’ll have a hard time finding anyone to tell you that the 52-49 heavyweight slugfest wasn’t the best football (NFL or college) game that you’ve seen this season.
November and December are the best months for the NFL as college football enters the home stretch. There’s still time to flip it, but so far it’s an escape. College football in 2022 is far more compelling and worth watching than the pro game.
Let me know if you agree or disagree by emailing me at [email protected] Based on your answers, I may have to write a follow-up column with your best arguments for or against NFL or college football.