Why is the NFL more unwatchable than ever? The ratings tell us fewer people are watching, but all the in-depth thinkpieces blaming it on a lack of stars, the pesky viewing patterns of millennials and attentions being diverted to a truly barbaric competition — the Presidential election — fail to identify the most obvious reason:
No one is watching the NFL because the NFL is more unwatchable than ever.
It's objectively bad. Maybe ratings are dipping because more fans are having their eyes opened by the extra primetime games on Thursdays. You can only force people to watch Jaguars-Titans so many times before they get turned off to the sport altogether, sure, but why are there so many aesthetically displeasing matchups every week?
NFL purists will tell you what an amazing defensive display they saw on Sunday night between the Seahawks and Cardinals, a 6-6 tie for the ages that defined toughness and resiliency; regular people will tell you they turned it off after the third quarter to watch the fourth episode of WestWorld.
Let's figure this out. Let's figure out why the NFL is bad.
1. Teams don't practice as much
One battle the players won when the new CBA was ratified in 2011 — practice time. Two-a-days, padded practice and contact have either been abolished or cut significantly during training camps, which means fewer injuries in August and September, but it also means fewer reps for players preparing for the upcoming season.
"We got remote-control cars with little flags," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said with a laugh. "We can't have receivers or running backs running for us, so we just needed something that moved. We needed defenses to react to it."
So on practice fields in Oakland, a post-route or a down-and-in route that would normally feature a fast, actual-human such as Amari Cooper, the team's first-round pick, might be run by a toy car. The technique has also been used by Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
This hurts both offenses and defenses. Sure, that's not a receiver running a route he needs to perfect, but it's also a linebacker dropping back in coverage to defend against a throw to a god damn remote control car.
There's no way practicing less can help, which bleeds into the second point.
2. College systems aren't compatible
The NFL doesn't have a developmental league and relies on the NCAA to produce NFL-ready players immediately after their collegiate careers are over. There are still conventional offenses like Stanford out there but now it's common to find spread and read-option offenses everywhere.
Those offenses pretty much don't exist in the NFL, and that can lead to struggles for everyone. The adjustment to a primarily standard, power-based league can be difficult, more so if young players don't get as many practice reps as players did in the past. And if the college trends continue, there's reason to think the bad play in the NFL will as well.
The watchability of an NFL game is linked almost entirely to the quality of the quarterbacks on the field. This year, more than ever, the quarterbacks have been an atrocity on the same level as ranch dressing on buffalo wings.
This is subjective, but let's break down all the league's starting quarterbacks into categories.
Good quarterbacks (8): Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr
Good quarterbacks playing hurt or who are hurt (4): Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler
Good quarterbacks having bad years (3): Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Cam Newton
Good quarterbacks that missed the first four games of the season due to a cheating suspension (1): Tom Brady
Perfectly fine game managers on teams with strong running games and/or good defenses (5): Sam Bradford, Dak Prescott, Alex Smith, Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor
Meh quarterbacks you don't care about (4): Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota
Bad quarterbacks (7): Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III
Backup quarterbacks that have started at least one game (11): Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Landry Jones, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Derek Anderson, Paxton Lynch, Brian Hoyer, Geno Smith, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton
Depending on how you feel about the NFL's quarterbacks, there are around eight good ones that are consistently whipping the ball around the field in a compelling fashion this season, and about 35 that will either dink and dunk or make you wonder how they made it this far. In that group of 35, there are also guys like Wilson and Palmer, who in other years would be MVP candidates but are clearly playing at less than 100 percent. Yes, each team has an incredible defense, but no one enjoys watching quick defensive linemen draw holding penalties for four hours. It makes for a bad product and people are starting to understand this.
It's also a transition year for the star power of quarterbacks. Peyton Manning retired and Tony Romo might not take another snap for the Cowboys. However you feel about Romo's current ability level and the dead-ass arm of Manning last season, they were name-brand products. Prescott and Siemian are better QBs right now, but you are way more likely to get excited about Romo-Manning than Prescott-Siemian. That's partly our (my) fault for caring more about players we've known for a longer time, but then again, waiting for Romo and Manning to throw that soul-crushing pick is more fun than watching Prescott and Siemian hand off. I'm sure not everyone feels this way but I'd wager heavy money a lot of people do.
More than anyone on the field, the quarterback has the biggest say in a game's enjoyability and there have never been fewer enjoyable quarterbacks in the NFL.
4. It's all the little things adding up
Every freaking kickoff is a touchback. They made extra points more difficult when no one cared. The NFL has become the town from Footloose after touchdowns. You can't taunt, ever. Nobody can define a catch. Nobody can define pass interference. You can't review pass interference. They force teams to fly to London to play a game at somewhere between 6:30-9:30 a.m. according to their biological clock. Phil Simms calls two games per week. The DraftKings and FanDuel ads last season didn't help. Seriously, they let Phil Simms call two games per week.
5. You are just old and miserable
Maybe the NFL has always been like this and in your old age, you can't find joy in anything because the retirement of players from your childhood signals that you are getting closer to your inevitable death, and instead of accepting that and finding peace in your mortality, you lash out at the next generation of players and fans that love the game the way you did 20 years ago.
I mean, maybe.
The average points per game this season is 45.2; the average in seasons from 2004 to 2015 has always fallen between 41.4 and 46.8. It's not like all these bad quarterbacks that are giving us all these three-and-outs aren't eventually putting up the points we've come to expect over the past decade. Not every game is a 75-minute, 6-6 tie.
Think of the NFL as any TV show you've ever enjoyed. Seinfeld. Friends. The Big Bang Theory. As much you love them, at some point, you grow weary of watching the same thing over and over. You crave something new. You can only watch Jerry date a new woman every week or Joey say a dumb thing or Sheldon do a nerd equation about sex (I don't watch The Big Bang Theory) so many times before you turn against it.
The Puerto Rican Day parade? Joey and Rachel are dating? Sheldon is going to Mars with a sex robot?
Seriously, I have no idea what happens on Big Bang.
Maybe you've grown out of it. Maybe you don't like it anymore. That's fine. You don't have to watch it. You can go outside on Sundays. You can — and I can't emphasize this enough — not watch a bad football game on Thursday and Monday. You can do anything else that brings you the joy football no longer does. It's very possible it's you that's the problem.
Then again, a team that has used Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill at quarterback has the best record in the NFC, so maybe it's the NFL after all.
The Browns are closing in on one calendar year since their last victory. At this point, going 0-16, and grabbing the draft's No. 1 overall pick, is probably their best course of action.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
31. 49ers (1-7)
Last Week: 31
That's seven straight losses now for San Francisco, despite a strong performance from Colin Kaepernick. His play was encouraging, but it's merely in an audition for other teams next year.
(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
30. Jets (3-6)
Last Week: 28
The Jets were on the verge of heading into overtime after coming back to tie the Dolphins late in the fourth -- until they allowed a game-winning 96-yard return touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. With their playoff hopes all but gone, it's now time for the Jets to look toward the future -- which could be without several of this team's key pieces.
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
29. Jaguars (2-6)
Last Week: 30
They competed against a tough opponent in Kansas City, but the Jags weren't able to muster up enough offense to earn their third win. Anything is possible in the lowly AFC North, but Jacksonville is going to need a major turnaround in the second half to salvage a decent season.
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
28. Bears (2-6)
Last Week: 29
Can Jay Cutler stay enthusiastic enough to keep the Bears engaged through the second half? And of equal importance: Are the Bears good enough to make a late season push?
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
27. Ravens (4-4)
Last Week: 25
Baltimore has dropped back to .500 after a 3-0 start, but have the benefit of playing Cleveland in Week 10. With Pittsburgh and Cincinnati struggling, the door has been left open for the Ravens to sneak into the postseason, and a win this week would put them a step ahead.
(Photo by Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
26. Rams (3-6)
Last Week: 23
The Rams supposedly won't turn to Jared Goff until they're out of playoff contention. Said another way: It won't be long until we get to see the No. 1 overall pick.
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
25. Saints (4-4)
Last Week: 26
New Orleans beat up on a lesser opponent in San Francisco, but the true tests awaits next week against Denver. A win could keep the Saints within striking distance of Atlanta, although the Falcons only appear to be getting stronger.
(AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)
24. Dolphins (4-4)
Last Week: 27
Miami has rebounded nicely from a slow start, evening their record back at 4-4 with a last-minute win over the Jets. Some more winnable games await the Dolphins in the coming weeks, and with some luck, they could perhaps make an unlikely second-half push toward a Wild Card.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
23. Buccaneers (3-5)
Last Week: 21
Tampa got smoked at home in prime time by a superior team in the Falcons, and lost Jameis Winston due to injury in garbage time. Winston has practiced this week, and with a winnable game against the Bears looming, the Buccaneers will need him.
(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
22. Titans (4-5)
Last Week: 20
Tennessee continued alternating wins and losses on Sunday against a resurgent Chargers team, but posted 35 points while Marcus Mariota threw for more than 300 yards. They'll face another tough test in going against the Packers next week before a rematch with the Colts in a crucial divisional battle.
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
21. Colts (4-5)
Last Week: 24
The Colts' bye week comes at an inopportune time, with the team fresh off its best win of the season. Still, the victory over Green Bay was encouraging, and could be a pivotal moment of the Colts' season.
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
20. Panthers (3-5)
Last Week: 22
That's two straight wins now for the Panthers, but the real test comes next week, against the most quietly hot team in football: Kansas City.
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
19. Bengals (3-4-1)
Last Week: 19
Cincy returns from its bye week to take on a Giants team that, while winning, has looked vulnerable of late. In the Bengals' Week 1 trip to MetLife Stadium against the Jets, they came away victorious. They'll look for similar results in Week 10.
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
18. Redskins (4-3-1)
Last Week: 15
Washington takes on the Vikings at the best possible time, with Minnesota losing three straight and the Skins well-rested off a bye. They'll need a win to keep up with the rest of the NFC East, and there's a chance they get it.
(Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
17. Texans (5-3)
Last Week: 14
Houston has scored just 22 points over its last two games, but will go up against a Jacksonville team in Week 10 that ranks 25th in points allowed per game.
(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
16. Eagles (4-4)
Last Week: 11
The Eagles have now lost four of their last five, and now take on a Falcons team that's won six of eight since a Week 1 loss. The Eagles need a win to stay on pace in the division, but each week Atlanta appears to be a more and more formidable opponent.
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
15. Chargers (4-5)
Last Week: 18
The Chargers have no won three of their last four, and host the Dolphins before a Week 11 bye. Melvin Gordon, who now leads the NFL with 11 total touchdowns, will look to lead the way against a Dolphins defense that's allowed the fourth-most rushing yards in 2016.
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
14. Giants (5-3)
Last Week: 16
For the second game in a row, the Giants squeaked out a win despite some shaky play in the closing minutes. The pair of victories, though, has them in spot to battle for a playoff position, and solid play against the Bengals on Monday Night Football would give them a 6-3 record.
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
13. Steelers (4-4)
Last Week: 10
Ben Roethlisberger returned early from knee surgery, but, like the rest of the Steelers team, struggled mightily. With as many offensive weapons as Pittsburgh has, they're better than a 4-4 record on paper. But can they rebound in the second half?
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
12. Bills (4-5)
Last Week: 13
Buffalo continues to compete with tough competition, but fell just short on the final play in Week 9 against Seattle. Their third straight loss brings them down to 4-4 entering their bye.
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
11. Cardinals (3-4-1)
Last Week: 12
Despite their first-half struggles, Arizona still has a chance to challenge Seattle for the division in the second half of the season. That journey will begin this week against the 49ers, who haven't won since Week 1.
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
10. Vikings (5-3)
Last Week: 6
After an undefeated start, Sam Bradford's Vikings are now losers of their last three. Their remaining schedule isn't the easiest, but with strong defensive play over the last two months, the Vikings should make it out as a playoff team.
(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
9. Packers (4-4)
Last Week: 5
Despite pedestrian play from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are still in the mix in the AFC North, but the Vikings' hot start and a red-hot Lions team aren't making it easy.
(Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
8. Lions (5-4)
Last Week: 17
That's now four wins in their last five games after knocking off Minnesota in overtime, and all of a sudden, the Lions are looking like a tough opponent. They'll have a bye week to rest before hosting Jacksonville in Week 11.
(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
7. Broncos (6-3)
Last Week: 3
Denver's defense may be the best in the league, but against offensively explosive teams like Oakland, they'll face their share of struggles. They're in good position moving forward, but their offense will need a bit of figuring-out between now and the postseason.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
6. Falcons (6-3)
Last Week: 9
When they were 6-3 last season, Atlanta closed out the year with five losses over their last seven games. This time around, though, they seem to be hitting their stride.
(Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
5. Seahawks (5-2-1)
Last Week: 7
Seattle eked out a close win at home against the Bills on Monday night, keeping its undefeated home record in tact and stretching its NFC West lead even further.
(AP Photo/John Froschauer)
4. Chiefs (6-2)
Last Week: 4
Quietly, the Chiefs have won 16 of their last 20 regular season games and are 4-0 at Arrowhead in 2016. They travel to Charlotte this Sunday to take on a Panthers team that's caught fire recently, but a Chiefs defense that's allowed less than 19 points per game this year should pull through.
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
3. Raiders (7-2)
Last Week: 8
So, this is really happening, huh? The Raiders, now at 7-2, and fresh off beating the Broncos in primetime, have the second-best record in the AFC as we enter Week 10. The combination of a dominant offensive line, great quarterback play and an assortment of weapons have given the Raiders one of the most explosive offenses in football, while the defense is beginning to take shape.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
2. Cowboys (7-1)
Last Week: 2
The 7-1 Cowboys are cruising toward a playoff spot, boasting the No. 3 offense in the league in terms of yardage, while the defense has quietly exceeded expectations. Jerry Jones can belabor all he wants, but Tony Romo has lost his starting job.
(AP Photo/David Richard)
1. Patriots (7-1)
Last Week: 1
The class of the NFL is starting to separate itself from the pack as we enter the season's second half, but the Patriots sit comfortably above everybody else. A Super Bowl 49 rematch against the Seahawks awaits on Sunday night, but their next tough matchup doesn't pop up until Dec. 18 against Denver.