By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If presented with the option of either having no football or having football played in empty stadiums, I would hesitate for 0.0 seconds before picking the latter. Football in some form is better than no football at all. Duh.
Yet after a full week of NFL games being played either in completely empty, mostly empty, or partially empty stadiums, I must say: It freaking stiiiiiiiiiiiinks.
That’s not to indicate that the league and its teams and players and coaches are not making the most of a bad situation. They are. And as a result, we somehow have this improbable NFL season taking place despite a pandemic that will not go away and continues to interfere with seemingly every other part of our lives. The league and the teams are doing as best as they possibly can.
But, to reiterate, it stiiiiiiiiiinks.
Obviously the NFL isn’t alone in this boat. Empty stadiums around Major League Baseball make the sport look even more painfully boring than usual, especially on a hot, sunny summer day. The NHL and NBA have had no fans in their bubbles, but they’ve at least dressed up their arenas to make a presentable television show. A sport like golf not having fans might not have seemed like a huge loss, but when Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm are exchanging long bombs on the 18th green of a playoff event, only to be met with some light applause from a collection of nearby volunteers, the whole thing stinks.
It’s good to have sports, no doubt. The lack of human beings is really taking a toll, though. (The replacement of living creatures with CGI avatars is dystopically distressing, but that’s a whole other issue, really.)
I say that as one of the few living bodies to actually witness the game day experience in person, having covered Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game at Gillette Stadium. Some fake crowd noise was piped over the speakers throughout, but it was barely audible behind the press box glass. Instead, it was just empty seats and near silence as 100 or so players engaged in the most intense team sport we’ve got in this world.
And whether it was in person in Foxboro or watching other games on TV, there’s something about these 70,000-seat football arenas that just look depressing while empty. No other sport on this continent has dealt with quite so many empty seats, and when the biggest stars in the league are seen standing underneath empty 500-level seating, it just … it stinks! And even in Kansas City, where some 16,000 fans attended the season opener, the stands looked like they do in the final five minutes of a 40-point blowout. That stinks, too.
There’s no real great solution to it, either. There’s no way for the NFL to create what the NBA has in terms of game presentation. Cardboard cutouts are … creepy and ineffective in terms of looking like anything except cardboard cutouts. The fake crowd noise is better than no noise at all, but there’s no real way to make this product sound or look any more “normal.”
There were countless moments from Week 1 that stood out. Imagine how crazy the Denver crowd would have been going as Stephen Gostkowski missed kick after kick on Monday night. The Chiefs deserved a better party than the one they got. The empty SoFi Stadium opening was awful. The Tom Brady Tampa debut would have been a whole lot more fun in a raucous Superdome. And on and on and on.
For me, one play where the noise was really missing came when Julian Edelman took a handoff on a jet sweep in the fourth quarter of a three-point game. As he ran around the edge and turned the corner, he had nothing but open prairie in front of him. In that moment, usually the crowd noise swells from a 2 to an 11 in a matter of a second, as 68,000 people realize that a big play is developing. On this one … silence. And when Jerome Becker decked Edelman out of bounds, drawing a flag and adding 15 yards on to the play … there was nothing, save for a few screams from the New England sideline.
McDaniels probably saw something in those hard pre-snap motion plays. Collisions. Hesitation.
Might’ve led him to call for this end-around to Edelman early in the fourth quarter. Some uncertainty from Perry. Sparked the third scoring drive that provided some breathing room. pic.twitter.com/mkrTzKZmmj
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) September 14, 2020
To me at least, those are the moments that become moments. Memories. They’re what provide the basis for all the life in the sport, and they’re the reason that people dedicate thousands of dollars and endless time and effort into witnessing these games in person. We can’t have them right now, and it’s just rough.
We’ll all adapt — viewers, players, networks, etc. — because we have no choice. Such is the “new normal,” as people say when they have no idea what else to say. Yet while the presence and existence of an NFL season is a welcome reminder of that “normalcy” we all seek, the uncomfortable visuals of seeing 70,000 empty seats for these games just serves as a reminder of how far away we are from actually getting back to any semblance of normal life.
Hey, that was all kind of a bummer. Whoops.
Sorry about that.
The football was back, and the football was good. So let’s roll with that right into Week 2 picks.
Cincinnati (+6) over CLEVELAND
The NFL, through strained laugher: We hope you enjoyed the return of football … and now … for this Thursday, prime-time game … we’re going to give you … CLEVELAND VERSUS CINCINNATI BA HAHA HA HAHAHA I CANNOT HOLD IT IN ANYMORE.
Thanks, NFL. Keeping us on our toes.
CHICAGO (-6) over New York Giants
The Giants’ offensive line is a problem. Not in a good way. Danny Dimes throws some pretty passes but also makes some idiotic mistakes.
Short week. Travel during COVID. Rookie head coach. Tough setup.
DALLAS (-5) over Atlanta
I want to pick against Dallas just because I will never get over Mike McCarthy passing up a chip shot game-tying field goal on Sunday night. That to me is just an old feller trying to do what the hip young dudes are doing by going for it on fourth down without realizing that it’s sometimes good to NOT BE LOSING IN THE FOURTH QUARTER. Add in that the fourth-down attempt came after an inside draw on third-and-6 and I was almost quite literally barfing while watching that game.
And maybe it hurts them this week. Maybe the players appreciated the chance to get the first down, though. I don’t know. But the Falcons were sloppy as heck last week too, and they were sloppy last year. And the year before that. Which might play a bigger factor here.
GREEN BAY (-5.5) over Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions
The Lions head coach scoffed at the notion that he’s a bad coach last week when a reporter asked about all of his fourth-quarter blown leads. Matt Patricia’s defense was that he has one of the best fourth-quarter coaching calls ever on his resume, presumably meaning the Malcolm Butler play.
Cool story, bro. But Bill Belichick is the Patriots’ coach. You’re the Lions coach. Which means you have to wear the failures and successes of the Lions. It being Detroit, there are a few more failures on the board through Patricia’s tenure, during which Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions are 9-23-1.
But Malcolm Butler happened six years ago in the Super Bowl. Don’t forget.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia was asked if there's something in his coaching "that isn't happening enough in the fourth quarter."
"Yeah, I don't think so," Patricia said. "I think I got probably one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter in the history of the NFL." pic.twitter.com/chcqBLXF6U
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 13, 2020
My favorite part of that video is how he’s revving himself up, just dying for the reporter to stop asking the question so he can two-hand reverse jam in his eyeball that he had Malcolm Butler on the field to make a one-in-a-million play to win a Super Bowl. “I think I did a pretty good job.” Brutal answer when you’ve just blown a 23-6 fourth quarter lead. To Mitch Trubisky.
I love it.
TENNESSEE (-9) over Jacksonville
I was disappointed to see this line. I was hoping it would show up as a major overreaction to Week 1, where people would be saying, “GEE I GUESS THE JAGUARS ARE NOT BAD AND I GUESS THE TITANS AREN’T SO GOOD NO MORE!!”
Alas, that’s not the case. But I’m still fine with the nine points. Provided one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history doesn’t go out and miss a hundred kicks again, the Titans should be all right.
Minnesota (+3) over INDIANAPOLIS
What a nice downgrade it will be for the Vikings’ defense to go from Aaron Rodgers at the height of his powers to Philip Rivers at the nadir of his.
Buffalo (-5.5) over MIAMI
I miss the normal days when we’d get to talk about Ryan Fitzpatrick showing up to camp kind of fat and out of shape, something he’d work on during the summer to get ready as a backup, only to step in around Week 6 or so and dazzle everyone for a few weeks, before ultimately reverting back to his Fitzpatrackian self.
This new world where he just shows up in Week 1 and makes bad plays is way more boring.
The Chan Gailey hiring was a weird one. A real weird one.
San Francisco (-6.5) over NEW YORK JETS
There may end up being a number that’s too high this year for a Jets opponent to cover. I can assure you: 6.5 is not it.
Los Angeles Rams (-1.5) over PHILADELPHIA
Do the Eagles stink?? Folks, I’m just asking the question.
Denver (+7) over PITTSBURGH
This one is cool because Vic Fangio gets to enter the game with the two extra timeouts he chose not to use on Monday night. That’s a long view of the season right there, boys and agirls.
Carolina (+9.5) over TAMPA BAY
I’m not hopping off the Brady train after one bad game. What are you, nuts? But 9.5 points is a lot here. The Panthers can score.
Plus, how can Tom Brady lead a last-minute, game-winning drive if he’s in the midst of a double-digit blowout? He can’t. You fool. Easy pick.
ARIZONA (-6.5) over Washington
I fear the overreaction to Kyler Murray’s Week 1 is a bit strong. I likewise fear that as a country, we are not properly addressing how absolutely hilarious it is that the football team based in our nation’s capital is named “FOOTBALL TEAM.”
They are called.
In real life.
Kansas City (-8.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Let me tell you something, football fans: The Kansas City Chiefs remain a problem. I think Andy Reid spent his quarantine just designing even more plays that nobody else alive has ever conceived of. It’s obscene. What a perfect situation they have going on over there.
Baltimore (-7) over HOUSTON
The scariest thing about the Ravens is that they won last week by a thousand and they didn’t even play their cleanest game.
The scariest thing about the Houston Texans is that they are the Houston Texans, coached by Bill O’Brien, who traded DeAndre Hopkins and tried to beat the Chiefs by pounding the rock.
We can no longer say “poor Deshaun Watson,” because he signed up for the long term and he’s not very poor. But I’m not sure what he sees in that team and its structure that made him jump to sign that contract extension.
SEATTLE (-4) over New England
Man, the Cam Newton era is FUN. But the Seattle Seahawks may make it less so.
Jamal Adams looked like he kicked off a Defensive Player of the Year type of season last week, and the Seahawks should be coached a little bit better than a Dolphins team that managed to lay out the red carpet for Cam every time he ran last week.
LAS VEGAS (+6.5) over New Orleans
Man. We were supposed to get the opening of Vegas’ stadium on Monday Night Football. What a party that would have been.
I mean, technically it’s still happening, but it will be empty. Making matters even worse, I remember reading that Mark Davis won’t be going to games this year, because his new fans in Vegas aren’t allowed to attend. While that’s a respectable position, it does also rob us from seeing Mark Davis, all alone in a luxury suite at the 50-yard line, as the camera slowly pans out farther and farther, showing that he’s the only human being within a country mile in that cavernous new building.
It would have been a nice moment. An endlessly GIFable scene.
Alas, this is 2020. And in 2020, we cannot have nice things. Even if that nice thing is just Mark Davis sitting by himself.
It stinks, man. It stinks.
Last week: 8-7-1