There are two NFC teams playing in Week 7 of the NFL season with a winning record. That’s right, one for each middle finger to average gridiron play. There’s only four in total. Two are on a BYE? Philadelphia (6-0) and Minnesota (5-1). Dallas, using mostly a backup quarterback to get to this point, is half of the active pair. And the resurgent New York Giants are somehow the other after a third of the regular season. Everyone else? They’re losers or at .500.
After staring at the NFL’s slate of games for this weekend for several minutes, I can’t find one truly interesting, must-see matchup, and that’s largely because of how mediocre the NFC has been. You take out arguably the conference’s two best teams from the rotation and everything comes off as inconsequential. Dak Prescott is returning to the Cowboys to host Detroit. It’ll be fun to watch the pair of Thanksgiving Day standard-bearers, but that’s about it. Patrick Mahomes is always appointment television. So what makes this week’s game against the 49ers special if the likely scenario of Christian McCaffrey not playing comes true? Tua Tagovailoa, who sustained a horrific concussion in Week 4, might return to the lineup for Sunday Night Football against a bland Pittsburgh team.
It hurts the NFL’s slate that this year’s Super Bowl favorites, Buffalo and last season’s champions, the Rams, are also on BYE. Last night’s result, where nine touchdowns occurred compared to the one in the previous eight quarters of Thursday Night Football helps, a little. Even a little sideline Real Housewives-style drama between Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury is good for the league with two losing teams on the field. A decent showing from both the Saints and Cardinals doesn’t save us from a possible Sunday snooze-fest.
The NFL can be saved by things like online sports betting, NFL RedZone and fantasy football. That draws interest from fans from other teams to watch whatever pigskin is flying around. But put on the blinders for a moment and clear your head from fake outrage. With the entire NFC West and NFC South at or under .500, what drives you to watch out-of-market games by themselves? Do you have nothing better to do on a Sunday? It’s most people’s day of rest and I could see how Taylor Heinicke’s return to quarterback Washington could have the same effects as melatonin.
Let’s peruse through the rest of the NFL’s slate. Cincinnati vs. Atlanta might be interesting, with two of the best college quarterbacks of the last decade facing off. And that’s the best we get in the 1 p.m. Eastern block of games. The late-afternoon group usually gets more bang for its buck with having more selective choices. This week, you’ve got three duds and the aforementioned Chiefs vs. 49ers game. Jets-Broncos will be remembered for how Russell Wilson’s dip in form and Nathaniel Hackett’s dumbass made the Jets 4-2. The Raiders will beat the Texans in a game of who sucks less. Chargers-Seahawks appears to be a great watch for a casual fan, but neither of those teams moves any kind of needle for anyone not on the West Coast.
The remaining two matchups that have airtime to themselves all don’t have a winning team. There’s Steelers rookie QB Kenny Pickett trying to adjust to the NFL in the town and stadium where he played college football, and failing to have the same success. We could watch a team on a three-game losing streak where the most interesting thing about them is an off-field transgression involving CTE. And on Monday, it’s the Chicago Bears, who couldn’t score a touchdown against the lowly Commanders 10 days prior and the amazing quarterback battle between Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones. And there was much rejoicing.
The NFL schedules everything several months in advance, I get that and they can’t predict how things will play out. What is within the league’s control is to provide balance to their schedule so slates like Week 7 can’t exist. BYEs happen, teams do better and worse than expected. And it’s the NFL’s job to keep its fanbase engaged regardless of the unpredictability of football. This week is a massive example of how it’s failed to do that. Mediocrity is just another word for boring.
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