Once again this weekend, several NFL games were impacted by some of the most hated rules that left fans wondering what happened to the game of football.
The NFL rule book is much like the tax code. It has become too complicated for its own good and it is time the NFL made some changes.
Here are five rules fans hate the most that had huge impacts in this weekend’s games.
The 2-minute fumble rule is overcomplicated.
The NFL has a bad habit of over-thinking rules out of fear of what might happen during a bizarre sequence once every decade. The result is that these rules complicate normal plays.
A classic example happened this weekend when the Green Bay Packers trailed by six late in the fourth quarter. A fumble by Aaron Rodgers was ruled a safety because only the player that fumbles the ball can recover it in the final two minutes.
This rule goes back to the famous “Holy Roller” play by the Oakland Raiders way back in 1978 when they fumbled the ball forward into the endzone on the game’s final play for a game-winning touchdown.
Most rules are in place for one or two reasons, player safety or to keep a team from gaining an advantage. There is no advantage to fumbling the ball backwards. Change the rule so that it applies only to balls fumbled forward and everybody is happy.
Allow instant replay on all personal fouls.
On two occasions on Sunday, defenders were flagged for roughing the passer on what appeared to be clean tackles of the quarterback.
In these situations, officials are asked to make split-second decisions on how a player is hit and they are coached to err on the side of safety. That means, if there is any doubt, throw the flag.
But these personal foul penalties can be game-changers and players are being penalised for making good football plays such as the hit by the Steelers on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan seen below. Make the personal fouls reviewable so that games are not being decided by officials who need to make split-second decisions and need to err on the side of caution.
Change the penalty for defensive pass interference.
The NFL has put more emphasis this season on calling defenders for contact on receivers. With so many restrictions on the defence it is time to change how much pass interference is penalised.
In college football, the penalty for defensive pass interference is 15 yards or the spot of the foul, whichever comes first. The NFL is a much more of a vertical passing game so 15 yards may not be enough of a deterrent.
The solution would be to make the penalty in the NFL 20 yards or the spot of the foul, whichever comes first.
The fear is that defenders will intentionally foul on long passes. But a player that is close enough to foul is close enough to defend the pass and zero yards is better than 20.
If a runner lands on top of another player but doesn’t touch the ground he should be ruled down.
We see this far too often. Typically it is a situation where a runner is tackled but is not technically “down by contact” because he lands on another player. Everybody stops, but the runner gets up and runs for an easy touchdown.
We saw a similar situation late in the Sunday Night Football game with the Eagles driving and needing a touchdown. They appeared to have picked up a big first down when replays showed that Eagles tight end Brent Celek fumbled the ball after landing on top of a Cowboys defender. If Celek had landed on the ground, there may not have been enough visual evidence to overturn the call. Instead, because he wasn’t technically “down,” it was easy to change to a turnover.
In these cases, the NFL doesn’t even need to change the rule, just enforce a rule already in the book. That is, the player’s forward progress has been stopped even if they are not technically “down by contact.” If a player is tackled, blow the whistle and move on to the next play.
Seed playoff teams by regular season record.
The NFL has a bizarre organizational structure where 32 teams are divided into a whopping eight divisions and each of those divisions are guaranteed at least one playoff team.
Unfortunately, this means that far too often, good teams are screwed out of playoff spots and we are going to see it again this year as it looks like a team with a losing record in the NFC South is going to get in while a 10- or 11-win team in another division will not.
The 8-division format does make scheduling easy and balanced. If the NFL is going to keep it, they need to at least seed the playoff teams based on record regardless of whether they won a division or not. A 7-9 team should not be rewarded with a home playoff game.
While we are at it. There are a few other rules that can be changed to make the game more entertaining for fans.
Simplify the catch rule.
This is another case where the NFL has made something too complicated out of fear of the rare bizarre play. We shouldn’t need a rules expert to explain five catches every game. Scrap the rule, start from scratch, and make it simple.
No punts past the 50-yard line.
This one is to protect coaches from themselves. If a team is on the opponent’s side of the field and it is too far for a field goal, just go for it. The worst that can happen is the other team gets the ball on their own side of the field.
Stop the clock on first downs in the final two minutes.
Stopping the clock on every first down is one reason college games often take over 3.5 hours. The NFL doesn’t need that. But it would add a level of excitement if there was a way to add a few more plays to the last two minutes of a game. Stopping the clock on first downs in the final two minutes would do that.
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