A vast majority of NFL fans believe the league is beyond reproach. Something as simple as a football game, these fans feel, cannot be fixed.
Some would claim too many people would be “in the know” for such a conspiracy to remain secret. Others would argue that this sort of subterfuge is unnecessary, that “randomness” is all the NFL needs to rely upon for success. Most, perhaps, would simply say this sort of scenario is impossible.
Who can control how the ball bounces? How could momentum be created artificially? Who would have the foresight to script all of the ups and downs in a typical season?
It is true; upsets occur. Great teams have off days, turning assumed blowouts into nail-biters. Unlikely circumstances can lead to inevitable matchups.
But does all of the NFL’s success—success measured in billions of dollars provided by network TV—really come from pure randomness? Couldn’t the NFL, with all of its means of control over players, coaches, referees, TV announcers, etc. manufacture certain key outcomes? Outcomes that would provide greater drama and better storylines for its rabid fans to follow?
My belief is yes. The NFL could—and does—fix its own games to boost its ratings for the profit attached to them.
I know what arguments are sure to follow: “You don’t know football.” “You’re just a fan of (insert team name here).” “You’re a moron.” “Football is NOT fixed.”
Fine. Whatever. I ask that you set those ignorant arguments aside and consider if what follows is in fact just the randomness of the game, or perhaps part of a large plan the league institutes when it favors certain outcomes over others.
Reason: The NFL began its 2009 season with two exciting prime-time games on Thursday and Sunday night. What better way to wrap-up “kickoff weekend” than with two more last second games on Monday night?
As the season proved, both Buffalo and Oakland were also-rans, but during the Monday night double-header they nearly proved to be more than their two future-playoff bound rivals could handle.
Reason: The reigning world champion Steelers give up two extremely late touchdowns to an unlikely Bengals team. The result of this shocking win begins the Steelers downward spiral for the reminder of the season while the Bengals are propelled to the top of the division and the playoffs. A statement was made that there will be no repeat this season.
Week Five: New England 17, Denver 20
Reason: An overtime stunner in which the upstart Broncos find themselves 5-0 while the stalwart Patriots stumble on a less-than-stellar performance by the combination of Brady (215 yards) and Moss (1 catch).
As a sub-story, former Pats’ coach Josh McDaniels wins an emotional game versus his former boss, Bill Belichick. The Broncos become the talk of the NFL and later will teeter on the verge of the playoffs. The next week, the Patriots explode for 59 points.
Reason: Despite four turnovers and the Falcons recovering a late on-side kick, the Saints’ perfect run remains intact. The Saints seemed to be the blessed NFC team in 2009, while the Falcons—gifted a playoff run the season before—falter all season long.
Reason: The Packers fall completely apart in the second half, and lose to a winless Buccaneers team—coincidentally on the very day the Bucs retire their first number ever (Lee Roy Selmon’s) at halftime while celebrating the franchise’s 1979 playoff team. After this stunning loss, Green Bay launches itself into the playoffs despite the many doubts surrounding the team.
Week 10: New England 34, Indianapolis 35 (Sunday night)
Reason: The recent rivalry between these two franchises gets yet another piece of history added to its lore, as Pats’ Coach Bill Belichick makes a controversial fourth-and-two call late in the fourth quarter that ultimately costs his team the victory.
The game (forced into the schedule by the TV networks, according to a comment made by Al Michaels during the telecast) is a ratings darling and is the talk of the football world for some time. It also sets up a likely rematch in the playoffs in which this moment can be rehashed over and over again.
Week 13: New Orleans 33, Washington 30
Reason: Whoa. We can’t have some team like the Redskins end the Saints’ run at perfection now, can we? The Redskins blow several chances at being a Cinderella, especially when the Saints need home field advantage if it’s going to make its first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Week 14: Pittsburgh 6, Cleveland 13 (Thursday night)
Reason: Only die-hard fans with the NFL Network could tune in to this debacle, but it’s also an easy way for the league to hide the Steelers’ loss. This result not only eliminates the Steelers from playoff contention, it opens up the post season to other AFC teams like the Jets.
Week 15: Dallas 24, New Orleans 17 (Saturday night)
Reason: The Saints run at perfection dies, but for a reason: Jerry Jones and his $1 billion stadium need a home playoff game. Yes, it can be as simple as that.
Week 16: Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 23
Reason: Somebody doesn’t want the Ravens in the playoffs. The Steelers, seeing their season fall to pieces weeks ago, play an unlikely spoiler to the Ravens’ hopes—with a great deal of help from the referees who steal touchdowns from the Ravens’ tally. Though the Ravens are still alive for a spot in the playoffs, this loss opens the door for…
Week 16: New York 29, Indianapolis 15
Reason: The Colts starters are pulled midway through the third quarter with their run at a perfect season still intact. Why? The stated reason is to protect the team’s stars, but perhaps the actual reason is to let the Jets into the playoffs.
The look on Peyton Manning’s face told the real story of what was occurring as the Colts lose, at home no less. Could this be the ultimate payback for the Brett Favre fiasco in New York? Is a playoff berth the compensation the Jets get for Favre’s departure to Minnesota?
And the season's not over yet.
Could all of this be happenstance? Perhaps. Yet I see a method within this madness. I see playoff berths for big market teams that should not be (Cowboys, Jets). I see the set-up of unlikely but nearly certain playoff games (Vikings vs. Packers, Patriots vs. Colts) that greatly boost ratings.
Who knows which two teams will reach the Super Bowl, but you best believe more NFL-created surprises are in store.
I invite the reader to add his own questionable games to this list because one thing's for sure: the NFL is never short of controversy.
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