I’m not a college football or NFL absolutist. I love to watch football in all forms and don’t discriminate between the college and pro game. I’ve never understood football fans who will only watch one and not the other.
Both brands of football can coexist and have done so for many years. In fact, they are the top two sports in America according to TV ratings. In fact, NFL ratings are at their highest levels since 2016 and don’t appear to be declining anytime soon. But good ratings do not always equal a good on-field product and the NFL has a watchability problem in 2022.
Look no further than Weeks 5 and 6 on Thursday Night Football for proof. In Week 5, the Colts and Broncos competed in a contest that tested the visual endurance of even the staunchest NFL supporter. The teams combined for 12 punts, four interceptions, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and 21 total points. The two teams couldn’t even do us the courtesy of ending the offensive charade in regulation. The Colts won 12-9 in OT but no one who watched the game felt like a winner. Even noted NFL die-hard Rob Lowe had to be disgusted.
In Week 6, the Commanders and Bears lowered the primetime NFL bar with another abysmal game. Carson Wentz and Justin Fields must have watched Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan trudge around the field the prior Thursday and said “hold my beer.” Wentz failed to go over 100 passing yards … and his team won the game. Bears QB Justin Fields was 14 for 27 for 190 yards with a TD and an INT in the Bears loss. The truth is that anyone that watched either of these Thursday Night Football games lost. Keep in mind, Amazon is paying around $1 billion a year for the rights to the NFL’s Thursday night package.
Let’s Look At The NFL Numbers
Thursday Night Football isn’t the only primetime window seeing a decline in quality. According to Sports Media Watch, the Top 10 most viewed NFL games through the first six weeks of the season are as follows.
- Dallas/Cincinnati – 9/18 – CBS Late afternoon
- Green Bay/Tampa Bay – 9/25 – FOX Late afternoon
- Buffalo/Kansas City – 10/16 – CBS Late afternoon
- New England/Green Bay – 10/2 – CBS Late afternoon
- Dallas/LAR – 10/9 – FOX Late afternoon
- Tampa Bay/Dallas – 9/11 – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Kansas City/Tampa Bay – 10/2 – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Dallas/Philadelphia – 10/16 – NBC Sunday Night Football
- Buffalo/LAR – 9/8 – NBC NFL Kick-Off
- Denver/Seattle – 9/12 – ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 Monday Night Football
The average final score of those 10 games is 24-16. That’s not exactly the offensive explosion we’ve come to expect from the NFL. In a league that tweaks rules constantly to benefit QBs and scoring, the League finds itself with a QB/scoring problem. When you take games involving Bills or Chiefs out of the Top 10, the average final score goes down to 20-14. I’m using the Bills and Chiefs because they have emerged as the two most dominant teams in the AFC and have no issues scoring or at the QB position. Philly appears to be the outlier in the NFC. Their offense is clicking at a high rate.
One caveat to these games is the Dallas conundrum. The Cowboys will always draw lots of eyeballs and post big ratings numbers. They also were forced to start Cooper Rush at QB for 5 straight games after Dak Prescott was sidelined with a hand injury in Week 1 against Tampa Bay. Dallas appears in the Top 10 four times and Rush played in all four games. Do the Cowboys score more points with Prescott playing QB? Probably. Does it change the fact that these games are mostly boring? Not really.
I’m not saying all lower scoring games are boring games. Two teams with great defenses can face each other and play a compelling, low-scoring, hard-hitting game. But that’s not the case with most of these NFL games in prime national windows. This is way more about a lack of offense than an abundance of defense.
Let’s Look At The College Football Numbers
The college game is having no problems with offense. Look no further than the No. 1 team in the first College Football Playoff ranking: Tennessee. The Vols are averaging almost 50 points and 553 yards per game while coming out of nowhere to be the story of the season. Tennessee wasn’t even ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. Couple that with Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama and other national championship contenders putting up points in bunches and you have a drastically different game being played in college.
But it’s not just about points and offense. Let’s take a look at the highest rated college games of the season so far, according to Sports Media Watch.
- Bama/Tennessee – 10/15 – CBS
- Bama/Texas – 9/10 – FOX
- Notre Dame/Ohio State – 9/3 – ABC
- Ohio State/Penn State – 10/29 – FOX
- FSU/LSU – 10/4 – ABC
- Texas A&M/Bama – 10/8 – CBS
- Penn State/Michigan – 10/15 – FOX
- Oregon/Georgia – 9/3 – ABC
- Bama/Arkansas – 10/1 – CBS
- Florida/Tennessee – 9/24 – CBS
The average final score of these 10 games comes out to 36-23. So while the games haven’t all been particularly close, we are witnessing quite a bit more offense. College football is buoyed by the most watched game of the year (Tennessee-Bama) being quite possibly one of the greatest regular season games in our lifetime. Granted, I’m biased because I was in Neyland Stadium for the game but you will be hard pressed to find anyone to tell you that the 52-49 heavyweight slugfest wasn’t the best football game (NFL or college) they’ve seen this season.
November and December are the prime months for the NFL as college football enters the home stretch. There’s still time to turn it around but so far it’s a rout. College football in 2022 is far more compelling and watchable than the pro game.
Let me know if you agree or disagree by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Based on your responses, I may be compelled to write a follow-up column with your best arguments for or against either NFL or college football.