2012 NFL Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Simply put the National Football League is the representation of what professional sports can be in North America. It is the league that all other leagues aspire to be as they represent the biggest of the big four. Monster television contracts, reality shows, the first league specific network, and sellouts in almost all 32 stadiums every week have made the NFL one of the highest earning leagues in the world. As 2011-12 approached the league looked to be getting only bigger but the struggles started that put the league in a difficult situation. Concussions, off-field issues, retired player issues, and suspensions put the league at a tipping point by Super Bowl XLVI. Still the NFL remained strong throughout the season and did continue to grow but more questions than ever had been arising. As the NFL moves into the 2012-13 season these questions have become that much bigger as the league has gone through a very tough offseason. The league is now at a pivotal moment as they look toward the start of the season to put an offseason that has left them battered and bruised. It seemed that every month from the Super Bowl until now has seen another major issue take the headlines. Whether it was players getting into trouble or a massive legal battle the NFL has seen its fair share of controversy without playing a down of football. This season marks a very important moment for the NFL as they look to move on from the craziness of the offseason and play football. It will not be that easy though as the league will still be dealing with scars of the offseason and controversy that will continue through the regular season. This year is all about how the league will handle these scars and these ongoing battles. If they cannot handle the issues they face in the right way this year the NFL might finally see their numbers fall. It will not be a dramatic fall and the league will remain the strongest in North America but after years of growth this could mark the first year where they see a drop in ratings. Then again if the league can handle everything effectively they will continue to grow and continue to dominate North American sports. It is a very important season for the league as they look to finally put some things behind them and move on to the game that has made them so popular. Not all will be forgotten and the NFL knows this but if they can move on and help all of their fans move on they will have yet another great season with plenty to keep the fans happy.

 

Goodell’s World Gets Complicated

 

 

 

 

Roger Goodell has overseen one of the biggest periods of growth the NFL has seen as the third General Manager in NFL history. During his time the NFL has seen the longest labour peace deal in the NFL and the largest TV deals in North America. He has been a large reason to why the league has grown so big and been so successful. The last few years Goodell has not been so fortunate though as he has come under fire as of late by teams and players alike. It all started in March only a month after the Super Bowl when the New Orleans Saints were accused of forming a Bounty system. The accusations surrounded a number of recorded speeches where defensive coordinator Gregg Williams allegedly offered money as an incentive to perform. In some cases the coach and players were heard offering money to take players like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. For this the New Orleans Saints got some of the biggest punishment handed out in the history of the NFL and all were handed out directly by Goodell. Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, players were suspended anywhere from 8 weeks to a full season, and Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. After the suspensions Jonathan Vilma launched a lawsuit against Goodell and the NFL claiming that he was wrongfully suspended. This legal battle added to yet another battle filed by retired players who are suing the NFL for allegedly withholding information about concussions. Accusations of Goodell holding too much control over the league and being the face of the concussion issue have made this offseason a rough one for the GM. He has remained the leader of the league standing at the forefront of every issue and has taken a lot of abuse over the last offseason. Now he moves in to the new season with two lawsuits and a bounty scandal to deal with as his reaction to issues will set the tone for the season.

 

Referee Mistakes Expected

 

 

 

 

The NFL last year barely had a season at all thanks to a lockout by the NFL owners during CBA negotiations. It wasn’t until the very last-minute that the NFL finally came to terms with the NFLPA to create a deal that would last the next 10 years. The labour disputes were not over for the NFL though as after the 2011 season the contract between the NFL and the NFL Referees expired. This forced another set of negotiations as the NFL looked to create a new contract with the NFL Referee Association. As the negotiations moved on throughout the offseason both sides were not even close. The biggest issue was that of pay increases as the NFLRA looked to have greater increases in the salaries of referees for the upcoming years. The NFL did not offer what the referees had expected and talks broke down. In June the NFL locked out the referees with claims that they had planned to strike. The NFLRA said there were no such plans but decided to strike anyway after the lockout. With both sides at a standstill the NFL decided to move on to plan B. Instead of continuing to try to work out a deal like they did for the players the NFL moved on to begin training new referees. As a strike breaking strategy the NFL began hiring replacement referees that have had limited experience in the game. The NCAA Referee Association decided to not take any of the available jobs out of solidarity with the NFLRA. This left college and high school referees to fill the spots left by locked out referees. The NFL began training these referees immediately as they were looking to have them ready for the preseason. This situation has caused a great concern for the NFLPA as players are scared that these inexperienced referees will end up hurting them. Referees are one of the most important parts of the game today as they represent protection for the players with more concerns than ever over player injuries. With inexperienced referees the work done to end concussions could be lost and you can be sure that there will be plenty to rightfully be angry about. These referees will be in place until the labour dispute is finished, if it ever finishes, as they will grab headlines for at least the start of the season.

 

Concussion Issue Won’t Go Away

 

 

 

 

This offseason saw one of the biggest tragedies to hit the NFL in years as superstar linebacker and fan favorite Junior Seau. What made it much worse was that Seau had taken his own life in what many expected to be an act of desperation from a sick man. It wasn’t that Seau had outstanding physical or mental ailments but many suspected that he was hiding behind that famous smile. It was one of the biggest names to pass in the last few years causing many to ask more questions than ever. Seau was not the only one though as players have been falling at an alarming rate in the last few years. Some have succumb to physical ailments or age but more than ever many have committed suicide. As the incidents increase more lines are being drawn to a problem that seems to be getting worse and worse. It was a Sunday in the middle of the 2010 season that brought this issue to the forefront of the NFL discussion. On that Sunday three separate incidents saw two players knocked unconscious during their games. This Sunday forced the NFL to take immediate action against concussions as more and more people began asking questions about the issue. As more people talked about the concussion issue in the NFL more and more information came out regarding the dangers of concussions. During the offseason the death of Junior Seau was to many proof that concussions had adverse affects against football players even after they retire. It has been studied and proven that these concussions suffered over time can cause severe problems. Specifically Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, has been linked to concussion issues. CTE moves through the brain and can eventually lead to dementia, a disease that many former NFL players now suffer from. With these studies the NFL began getting in more trouble as former players filed a class action lawsuit claiming that the NFLK had withheld information on these dangers and in turn misleading their players about how safe the sport is. It is n issue that will never go away as the NFL will move into this year with a better sense of what they can do and will need to do something to slow the criticism and fear over the concussion issue.

 

New Rules

 

 

 

 

When the NFL and NFLPA signed their new CBA before the 2011 season there were a number of rules changes. Many of these rule changes were aimed at reducing the risks of injuries to players. It came in a large part due to 2010 incidents that peaked everyone’s interest in concussions. As a result the NFLPA fought for more precautions to reduce the risks of concussions. Some of the rules were put officially in place after a few tests including having an NFL official on the sideline to determine if a player needs to sit out due to concussions. The NFL also established new concussion rules to determine if a player truly has a concussion as all doctors need to go through a specific protocol. The new CBA also limited a number of rules outside of games as teams would now be forced to fit their practices into tight guidelines. The NFL reduced the amount of practices and reduced the amount of padded practices. The offseason was increased limited the amount of OTA’s that teams are allowed to hold. The league also ended the use of two-a-day practices in training camp. Another rule change was limiting the amount of times players are allowed to practice in full padding with contact. All of these changes were aimed at reducing the risk of injury throughout practice but through the pre-season the opposite has been true. Players are not getting hurt in the practices but they are having issues during the games. More than ever players have been hurt in preseason games and many are pointing to these new rules as a big reason. With players unable to practice at game speed with contact many are claiming that they are not ready at game time. When the speed picks up and the contact follows players are not ready and that can cause some serious injuries. The league has already seen a number of injuries in the preseason as many of the theories seem to be coming true. It will be something to watch for as teams look to manage their teams within the new rules throughout the season as they hope that injuries will stay away despite these new limits.

 

Battle of the Draftees

 

 

 

 

With so much news coming from the offseason the league will be happy and be hoping that a few stories take over throughout the season. One of these stories is a classic one as two draft picks go virtually head to head. The debate raged on before the draft as to which QB should be taken with the first overall pick. Would it be the cerebral and certainly NFL ready Andrew Luck from Stanford or would it be the athletically gifted yet somewhat unpolished Robert Griffin III from Baylor. In the end it was Luck who was drafted #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts while Robert Griffin III was drafted #2 overall by the Washington Redskins. They will not face off against each other this year but it can be sure that their stats will be compared throughout the year. It will be a major battle this year as both players look to make their presence known in the NFL. Andrew Luck will take over from Payton Manning, who left for Denver in the offseason, and will take over a team that does not look great. Still he is the major show in Indianapolis this year with all of the pressure of a top draft pick. Meanwhile Robert Griffin III heads up a much better team yet will still need to use his athleticism to be successful. Griffin is the man to watch in Washington and like Luck will have all of the pressure focused on him. Both quarterbacks will be watched all season as they will constantly be compared to see which team got the better player. Of course they are very different teams with Griffin more willing to run while Luck is much more of a pocket passer. It will be one of the main stories of the season and for the NFL it is a relief from a torrid offseason.

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