The NFL's integrity gap
During one of the halftime shows yesterday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talked about the importance of "integrity" and his desire to come up with a way to "incentivize" teams to play hard in late-season games that may have more meaning to an opponent or a team waiting elsewhere for the outcome of a the playoff seeding.
It was some nice lip service, but all you had to do was watch the first half of last night's Sunday Night Football broadcast to see how shamelessly a team can manipulate the playoff picture.
The Cincinnati Bengals insisted they would play to win last night, but they didn't even show up. There were so many missed tackles and dropped passes that you had to wonder if they were doing it on purpose. The Bengals players clearly avoided contact in some situations, particularly on one "wildcat" play by the Jets in which a Cincinnati defensive back all but backed away from a hit as Jets wide receiver Brad Smith passed by. On a third-quarter punt return, some Bengals special teams players simply stood and watched the Jets return man run between them.
It might not seem like a big deal, but there's a team in Houston that played pretty hard to overcome a 14-point deficit to beat the Patriots and keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday. I think their fans have a right to expect that every NFL team makes a legitimate attempt to defeat its opponent. Otherwise, all that nice talk about integrity is just a bunch of corporate nonsense.
If you're willing to give the Bengals the benefit of the doubt here, you might consider the difference in time of possession in the first half -- 24:50 for the Jets and 5:10 for the Bengals. That doesn't happen by accident.
I think you'll have a better sense of what I'm talking about when the Jets and Bengals play next week and the Bengals win easily. Just a hunch.