The NFL has caught A LOT of flak in recent years for various issues. Of course, many of those issues are very serious, and I’m not undermining them by any means. But, with that being said, off-field issues have never seriously threatened the immense popularity of the NFL, which has practically owned Sundays during the fall in the U.S. for decades now.
Yes, the NFL’s rating were down during the early portion of this season, but the combination of boring games and lackluster teams were the reasons. This regular season has actually turned out to be one of the best in recent memory, featuring several Super Bowl contenders and multiple close divisional races.
However, the fun that has been the latter half of the NFL regular season has been seriously curbed in recent weeks due to the NFL’s only flaw: major injuries suffered by major players at the quarterback position.
The unpredictability and brutality of severe injuries in the NFL has always come with the territory, but, in the past decade or so, the severity of significant injuries (particularly to notable players) has seemed to drastically increase.
It’s no secret that quarterbacks dominate football discussions and are the NFL’s most popular and important players. By a lot. So when a rash of severe injuries to notable quarterbacks plagues the final month of the regular season, it takes away from the intense competition of this spectacular NFL season.
Just in the past few weeks alone, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has broken his leg, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has broken his leg, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has torn ligaments in a finger on his throwing hand and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has severely sprained his knee. Those are four star quarterbacks in the midst of their best NFL seasons, all of whom were in the process of leading their teams to possible playoff berths at the time of their injuries. And that’s proof positive of the NFL’s only true flaw.
Of course, Stafford is playing through his injury with the use of a glove, but he hasn’t looked the same since suffering the ailment. Mariota’s injury deflated the Titans, who were destroyed by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, and resulted in their feel-good fight for the playoffs coming to an inglorious end. Although the Dolphins continue to win without Tannehill, they likely stand no chance of doing anything significant in the playoffs if he is unable to give it a go. And Carr’s injury, the most disheartening of all, occurred in the fourth quarter of the Raiders’ blowout victory over the weekend, and it probably ended his MVP-caliber season.
All four injuries are oh so cruel because all four players were overachieving on overachieving teams at the time of their respective injuries. The Dolphins, Raiders and Titans were arguably the NFL’s most surprising teams this season, looking to shake things up in a league that has featured the same exclusive group of Super Bowl candidates for several years now. But, due to the freak injuries to the aforementioned field generals, those magical runs were all but tarnished.
The Detroit Lions have not won a division title since 1993. The Raiders have not done so since 2002 (also the last time that they made it to the playoffs). As for the Dolphins, their last division title and playoff appearance came in 2008. Those are three legendary franchises with die-hard fan bases who have not had seasons as promising as this one in quite some time, yet unfortunate quarterback injuries have cruelly put a damper on their great years.
And this doesn’t bode any better for the NFL than it does for the individual franchises. The playoffs are slated to feature Matt McGloin of the Oakland Raiders, Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, Tom Savage of the Houston Texans and a beat-up Stafford starting at quarterback. That’s not good for ratings, and it’s not good for a league looking to spread the wealth in terms of popularity.
Many of the playoff teams with healthy quarterbacks have proven veterans under center. And the teams themselves have been there before. For franchises on the rise with rejuvenated fan bases, late-season injuries to burgeoning quarterbacks are as disheartening as it gets. The injury bug is the only nuisance that the NFL front office will never be able to quell, and this season, the bug is inflicting its most devastating damage at the most inopportune time.