The 13 Biggest Changes Coming To The NFL This Season

New York Giants New England Patriots Super Bowl interception Rob Gronkowski

Photo: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

Like any big sports league the NFL continuously tinkers with its product to improve the game for the better of its players, fans, and most importantly, bottom line.Over the years this has meant cracking down on hard hits, adding instant replay reviews, and changing rules to benefit high octane passing offenses.

The 2012 season will feature plenty of changes as well.

Some will be fairly obvious, i.e. tinkering with overtime rules.

Others not as much (see: “new” Nike uniforms).

They pretty much look exactly the same as the old ones did.

Unless you're the Seattle Seahawks and you got that→

Mandatory soft pads for all players

Players who had been opting for fewer pads to increase speed can no longer due so.

In an effort to address player safety the NFL will make all players wear what are called soft pads (pictured).

These pads don't really do much to prevent major injuries. They mostly deter big bruises from occurring.

Playoff overtime rules will now be used in the regular season

Every turnover will be automatically reviewed by the booth

The NFL instituted this rule with all scoring plays last season and this year it's doing the same with turnovers.

After every turnover the replay referee up in the booth will take another look at it to see if the call needs to be reversed.

This is huge and a very welcomed change.

Trade deadline moved from week 6 to week 8

Not a huge deal, but still significant.

The NFL was the only remaining league in which its trade deadline was too early in the year to encourage transactions in anticipation of the playoffs.

Moving it to week 8 might help but until this goes back further, say week 12, most teams aren't going to start dumping ageing stars or piling up draft picks during the regular season anytime soon.

These vicious crack-block hits to the neck and head area made famous by Hines Ward are no longer allowed

Too many men on the field now a dead-ball foul

From now on a 'too many men on the field' penalty will result in a dead-ball foul before the ball is snapped. So the play cannot continue and the penalty can't negate the result of said play.

This is to prevent teams from the unspoken gamesmanship of throwing opposing offenses off by having too many defenders and taking the penalty instead of a big play, a la what some think the Giants did versus the Pats in the Super Bowl (pictured).

Other minor on the field changes

  • Kicking a loose ball now results in a loss-of-down penalty to go along with the 10 yards
  • Last names on uniforms can now have Roman Numerals on them

It'll be easier for teams to avoid local TV blackouts

The previous blackout rules stated that games couldn't be shown in the local market unless 100 per cent of non premium tickets (the uber expensive ones) were sold.

Starting this season teams only need to sell 85 per cent of those seats. Local fans who can't make it to the games in person can actually watch their team now.

This is a big deal for fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, among others, who in years past were always worried they wouldn't be able to cheer on their team.

Ron Jaworski will no longer be in the Monday Night Football booth

ESPN MNF booth will consist of Mike Tirico doing play-by-play and Jon Gruden providing colour commentary.

Having two analysts is excessive and it makes more sense for Jaws to be in a studio setting where he can break down plays.

Full Thursday night schedule for the whole season

From week 2 through week 15, except for Thanksgiving, there will be a game on NFL Network every Thursday night.

This is part of the league's push to give big, prime time exposure to every team in the league. Can't get on Monday or Sunday night? How does Thursday night on a second-tier cable channel sound?

Get excited for Colts at Jaguars!

Small switch to some late game start times

In order to prevent some early Sunday games from overlapping into the second game of a network's double-header, a few late game start times have moved from 4:15 PM ET to 4:25 PM ET.

So if your home market team plays in a late game there's a much smaller chance you'll have to miss the end of an exciting early game once the network switches to the local one.

Lots of old faces in new places

Like any offseason there were a bunch of personnel changes around the league.

These are among the biggest ones:

  • Jeff Fisher returns to coaching with the St. Louis Rams
  • Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos
  • Tim Tebow to the New York Jets
  • Randy Moss is back in the league with the San Francisco 49ers

Potential change: replacement referees for at least part of the season

The use of replacement refs during the preseason, while the regular guys sit out because of a labour dispute with the league, has led to concerns from players and coaches.

Players and coaches are said to be unhappy with how 'clueless' they've looked these past few weeks.

There's no telling how big of a deal replacement refs would be during actual games, but those in the know say it's noticeable and a detriment to the game.

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