The NFL ushers in the New Year in football style

Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye

December 27, 2013

If you look back a bit in the annals of professional football, you notice how the sport’s season has expanded out of both ends of the calendar.

Champions once were crowned before the calendar year ended. For example, the “Greatest Game Ever Played” NFL title game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants was held December 28, 1958. (After years of courtship, that’s when television and pro football finally got married.)

Nearly a decade later at Super Bowl I - which at the time was referred to as the “First AFL-NFL World Championship - the game was held on January 15, 1967 and was broadcast by both CBS and NBC (with the latter getting the higher ratings).

By the time Super Bowl XV rolled around, the game had moved up another 10 days. And then by Super Bowl XXXIX (39) in 2005, the game has been pushed all the way up to February 6.

Over the same number of years, each summer’s training camps began to get pushed back from August to July. The addition of mini-camps and OTAs extended the demands on players even further. Obviously the pay scale also grew exponentially, but the human body can only take so much punishment for so long.

Following last year’s agreement between the NFL and the Player’s Association, the league’s demands for more of the players’ time was curtailed. The schedule remains extensive and occasionally brutal, but for the first time in our lifetime its growth has been halted.

Time will tell whether that’s a good thing, but for now it’s hard to imagine it not being enough. Just as records are made to be broken, calendars are made so we can turn the page.

49ers at Cardinals - Arizona’s season now depends upon a home victory, and they are winners of seven of their past eight. They also possess one of the best defenses in the league, and arguably THE best over the past six weeks. This will be their toughest test, but Coach Bruce Arians came to Phoenix to prove himself and he’s earned a lot of believers lately. Being at home for this one is huge.

Packers at Bears - Even with the return of Aaron Rodgers, Chicago is the pick for this win-or-go-home game. A late December evening at Soldier Field is not the place you want to be working out the kinks after being on the shelf for two months. Besides, after their abysmal performance last week, the Bears have a lot to make up for.

Bills at Patriots - Buffalo runs the ball well and they have a commendable defense, but they’ve still managed a measly 6-9 record and, by the way, when was the last time they won in New England? That may predate Drew Bledsoe. Cincinnati’s only shot at a bye week resides in an upset here, so all you Bengals fans know what to do. Just remember: If wishes were horses…

Buccaneers at Saints - New Orleans wins and they’re in. They can also earn a playoff spot if Arizona loses, but since both are 4:25 starts, there may be considerable scoreboard-watching going on in the stands and sidelines. Drew Brees will make sure they pay close attention while on the field. This is an odd sort of trap game, but the Saints at home are still a blessed bunch.

Broncos at Raiders - Denver doesn’t have a lot left to play for, but at least they know how.

Chiefs at Chargers - Kansas City has its playoff spot whether they win or lose, and neither result changes a thing. San Diego’s only hope is to win and watch Miami and Baltimore lose. Since those two are early games, there’s a good chance their opportunity will be gone by the time this one kicks off (again, at 4:25). Home field will again figure prominently, but after previously picking the Dolphins to win the choice here seems clear. Good thing I’m often oblivious where the obvious is concerned.

Rams at Seahawks - After falling at home to Arizona last week, the Seattle 12th Man will absolutely not allow any further complacency within the ranks. A win gets them home field advantage throughout the playoff and a bye week. St. Louis still looks to be two years of roster development away from having a good chance in a game like this.

Eagles at Cowboys - This game has been on everybody’s radar screens for a month. The marquee matchup at the Sunday night season finale took a hit to the ol’ journalistic storyline when Tony Romo went down last week with a herniated disc.

This is actually good news for Dallas because they will now be forced to follow a more disciplined game plan on offense and stop the improvisational dancing that always gets them into so much trouble.

It appears Romo so badly wants to be the hero that he forgets one essential truth about the game. Winning is not about who makes the most great plays. It’s about who makes the fewest mistakes.

However, this does not help that pitiful Dallas defense at all, and Philadelphia’s offense should have one of their better performances as they gear up for a January game. It will definitely not be Romo’s fault this time, but we can still blame Jerry.