Philadelphia, PA – The NFL is a lot like our government, entrenched in a period of stagnant momentum.
In Washington the status quo remains the status quo because there is no real leaders willing to tackle the tough issues, preferring instead to bask in power while kicking the can down the road for the next guy. In the NFL, few in the league see the glaring flaws in the product because virtually no one is changing the channel on what is quickly becoming a less-than-entertaining way to spend three or four hours.
The NFL simply can't see the forest for the trees. It is too busy watching the money roll in, cashing the checks and keeping the eye on the golden goose, which may seem like a sound business plan on the surface until you understand the league is slowly destroying itself from within, devoured from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the game is at its core -- entertainment.
Most can agree that the NFL is over-legislated, yet realize the attempts at correcting certain flaws in the game were designed to help. The devil is always in the details, however, and the road to his lair is almost always paved with good intentions.
For instance -- protecting quarterbacks sounds like an altruistic idea with no discernable downside until you understand you've made passing the football so easy for top-tier signal callers, the butterfly effect for most opposing defensive coordinators became the realization that pressure is their only remaining option.
That resulted in more blitzes and more vicious hits taken by the very people you were trying to protect in the first place, along with a distinct de- emphasis on the strategy of the game.
Or how about those defenseless receivers coming over the middle and taking the monster hit from a Ronnie Lott-type? Keeping them safe is certainly a prudent idea with everything we now understand about concussions, and the majority of those hits are gone by the decree of a 15-yard penalty, a substantial fine and the disdain of one's coaching staff and fan base for the evil-doers.
Of course, now all the Lotts of the world have been replaced by heat-seeking missiles aimed directly at the lower extremities and we all know how much football players love taking shots to their knees.
The bad decisions aren't all about safety, either. Take Calvin Johnson, who can haul in a catch by leaping inside the 5-yard-line, make a move in mid-air worthy of the Flying Wallendas but have the subsequent TD taken away because the ball nudges a bit on the ground when he lands in the end zone, meaning he didn't complete "the process" of the catch.
Some mediocre running back, meanwhile, can ignore fundamentals and years of coaching, stick the football out in a pile like a loaf of bread and have the tip of it touch the plane before it's swatted out by the defenders. He's a hero.
And don't even get me started on the renewed emphasis on taunting calls. You haven't lived until you've seen ex-director of officiating Mike Pereira's explanation of how to spin the football legally after a big play.
"You can spin the ball but not at the feet of the opponent," Pereira explained on Twitter. "Have to turn away from any opponent."
If you're heading across the pond to watch the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, try explaining those inane contradictions to someone at the pub who doesn't understand American football.
And why should anyone in the U.K. comprehend anything about the game we all love when its own officials can't?
In a recent appearance on FOX Sports 1, Pereira pointed to three occasions in the first three weeks when the NFL's own Zebras didn't know or understand some of the more arcane rules.
Bill Leavy's crew wrongly enforced offsetting penalties after Clay Matthews cheap shot on Colin Kaepernick in Week 1, and trumped that by giving Minnesota a 15-yard penalty instead of charging them with a timeout after Leslie Frazier -- a coach who also can't quite decipher the rules -- challenged a muff punt which was being reviewed automatically in Week 3.
Furthermore, refs in Nashville also wrongly wiped out a penalty for a chop block on the Tennessee Titans because they didn't realize chop block penalties could be called on quarterback runs.
Before you start cheering Pereira for his honesty, though, understand the game was speeding down the left lane of the wrong path when he was in charge from 2001 to 2010. The difference is he's now out of that clump of trees so he can actually see the wretched product he helped cultivate -- the forest itself.
Pereira now admits the NFL has so many rules that it's own officials can't keep up, using the size of the league's own voluminous rule book as a prop to make the case things should be streamlined with rules easier to understand and enforce.
"The question has to become, has this manifesto become a little bit too big and too confusing?" Pereira asked.
We are way past that question, Mike. The real query is how do we fix the issues you helped create?
Get off the soapbox and tackle that.
NFL POWER POLL
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 3
San Francisco (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 3
THE SKINNY: Last year, these two teams tied in their first meeting, which took place in San Francisco, and St. Louis won the rematch on an overtime field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
For whatever reason, the Rams tend to play better in divisional action (Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is 5-1-1 in his past seven starts against NFC West foes) and match up well with the more talented Niners. This may be an example where St. Louis was clearly looking past Dallas a week ago to this game.
"They're a good football team. Those were hotly contested battles and very competitive," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked about last season's series between the two clubs. "It has been throughout our division and we anticipate the same going into this ballgame. We're looking forward to it. We know it's a big task and our guys are excited for it."
PREDICTION: Rams 20, 49ers 17
Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Ravens by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Ravens actually looked like the Super Bowl champs in Week 3 against Houston and it will be tough for Bills rookie signal caller E.J. Manuel to figure out a tough Baltimore defense. Heady linebacker Daryl Smith has fit in nicely as a replacement for Ray Lewis in the middle and had a 37- yard interception return for a TD last week against the Texans, while star pass rusher Terrell Suggs has four sacks in four career games versus Buffalo. In his first two professional games in western New York, Manuel has completed 45- of-66 passes (68.2 percent) for 446 yards with three TDs and a solid 95.9 passer rating.
PREDICTION: Ravens 24, Bills 13
Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2), Sunday. 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 4 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Bengals and Browns will meet in a key AFC North matchup after both came away with thrilling Week 3 comeback wins.
Cincinnati won a wild 34-30 game over Green Bay by scoring the game's first 14 points, allowing 30 unanswered and then rebounding to reel off 20 consecutive points. The Bengals are one of only three teams in NFL history to win a game after allowing 30 unanswered points (1951 Packers and 1999 Dallas Cowboys).
"This win is no bigger than next week," a tempered Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "That's what the NFL is -- a lead in to the next game. This is all for nothing if we don't take care of business the next week and the next."
The Browns, meanwhile, recorded their first victory of the season with a 31-27 come-from-behind win at Minnesota. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winner from seven yards out to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds remaining. It was Cameron's third touchdown of the game.
Hoyer is the first player since Hall of Famer Otto Graham to throw at least three touchdown passes in his first NFL game with Cleveland.
"This group responds to any challenge," said Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski. "They really take to heart and work on the things we're coaching them to do. It's one game and we're looking ahead to the next game."
PREDICTION: Bengals 30. Browns 17
Chicago (3-0) at Detroit (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The top two teams in the NFC North standings will meet at Ford Field on Sunday.
Chicago's opportunistic defense forced five turnovers and scored twice in a 40-23 win at Pittsburgh in Week 3. Safety Major Wright had a 38-yard interception-return touchdown and defensive end Julius Peppers returned a fumble 42 yards for a score. Since the start of 2012, the Bears have scored 12 touchdowns on defense (10 interceptions, two fumbles), the most in the NFL.
"We emphasize taking the ball away," Peppers said.
The Lions, on the other hand, finally ended a 21-game streak of misery inside the Beltway, winning for the first time in Washington (27-20) last weekend. It was Detroit's first road victory over the Redskins since Oct. 13, 1935 when the 'Skins were based in Boston. Quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 385 yards and two touchdowns, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson had seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"NFC North games mean an awful lot," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz said of his upcoming tilt. "It's a chance for you to win a game and a chance to put a loss on one of your opponents without having somebody else have to help you do it. They're certainly important."
PREDICTION: Lions 23, Bears 20
Seattle (3-0) at Houston (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 3
THE SKINNY: Seattle has been the most dominant team in football early on, but this is a stern test. The Seahawks have won eight regular-season games in a row dating back to last season and have outscored the opposition 279 to 87 in those encounters, an average final score of 34.9 to 10.9. Second-year QB Russell Wilson has passed for 1,112 yards with 12 TDs and just one pick in his last four tries against AFC foes, compiling a gaudy 117.5 passer rating over that span. Houston, though, has won five of its past six home games in September and needs a win after falling flat in Baltimore last week.
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Seahawks 24
Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 8
THE SKINNY: The musical chairs at quarterback continue in Jacksonville as Blaine Gabbert is expected back under center for the winless Jaguars. Gabbert, who missed the last two games after slicing open the back of his throwing hand, is 3-1 as a starter in his career against the Colts. Indy is coming off a huge win in San Francisco when Andrew Luck got the best of his old college coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. In his young career, the former No. 1 overall pick is now 13-6 as the starter with the Colts and has seven rushing TDs over that span, the most by an AFC signal caller.
PREDICTION: Colts 23, Jags 9
New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Chiefs by 4 1/2
THE SKINNY: Before the season started, if you had said one of these teams would be undefeated and the other winless heading into their Week 4 matchup, almost everyone would have guessed the roles would be reversed. At 3-0 after Andy Reid returned to Philadelphia to beat the Eagles, the Chiefs have already surpassed their win total from the 2012 season (2-14). The Giants, on the other hand, are coming off their worst drubbing in the Tom Coughlin era, a 38-0 shutout loss to Carolina. Kansas City, which is shooting for a third straight win over an NFC East team, has an NFL best plus-9 turnover ratio this season and QB Alex Smith is 22-5-1 as a starter in his last 28 NFL games.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 21, Giants 17
Pittsburgh (0-3) at Minnesota (0-3), NFL International Series at London's Wembley Stadium, Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 1
THE SKINNY: If you were trying to sell American football across the pond, you probably wouldn't want a pair of 0-3 teams representing your product, but that's where the NFL finds itself. The Steelers look more primed to right the ship for at least one week here. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who spent 2006 as the Vikings' defensive coordinator, is 17-8 against the NFC and his QB Ben Roethlisberger, the other "Big Ben" in the U.K. on Sunday, is 2-0 against Minnesota with a 91.9 passer rating and 24-9 overall against NFC teams.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27, Vikings 17
Arizona (1-2) at Tampa Bay (0-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bucs by 3
THE SKINNY: Embattled Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who has lost eight of his last nine games dating back to last season, has decided to bench veteran quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon. Freeman, although talented, has struggled with the Bucs off to an 0-3 start, completing just 45.7 percent of his passes with a dismal passer rating of 59.3, the worst in the NFL. Glennon was selected in the third round of April's draft after a standout career at North Carolina State. Arizona is hurting defensively, losing three linebackers to injury over the past week, starters Sam Acho (broken leg) and Lorenzo Alexander (foot) along with promising rookie Alex Okafor (torn biceps).
PREDICTION: Cardinals 17, Bucs 14
New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: Jets rookie QB Geno Smith passed for a career-high 331 yards with two TDs in a win over fellow freshman E.J. Manuel and Bills in Week 3. Now the West Virginia product will search for his first road win as a pro against Jake Locker and the Titans, who beat the Chargers for the first time in 21 years last week. Tennessee star running back Chris Johnson is averaging 109.5 rushing yards per game in his past two tries against New York and recorded a franchise- record 94-yard rush TD in his last game versus the Jets.
PREDICTION: Titans 20, Jets 14
Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 10 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Broncos have won 14 consecutive regular-season games dating back to 2012, the longest active streak in the NFL. Denver star QB Peyton Manning already has 12 TD passes this season, the most ever through Week 3 of any season. That's bad news for Philadelphia and its shaky pass defense, but the Eagles will have 10 days to prepare after playing the Thursday night game in Week 3, while Manning and Co. are in the midst a short week after throttling Oakland on "Monday Night Football."
PREDICTION: Broncos 40, Eagles 27
Washington (0-3) at Oakland (1-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Redskins by 3
THE SKINNY: Oakland could be behind the 8-ball against winless Washington after QB Terrelle Pryor suffered a concussion late in Monday night's 37-21 loss to the Broncos. Pryor had career highs in passing yards (281) and passer rating (112.4) before going down and leads NFL signal callers with 198 rushing yards in 2013. His backup, Matt Flynn, isn't nearly as dynamic. The Redskins are dealing with a historically poor defense early on as well as a QB, Robert Griffin III, still trying to find his way after suffering a serious knee injury in the playoffs a season ago.
PREDICTION: Redskins 17, Raiders 14
Dallas (2-1) at San Diego (1-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Cowboys by 2
THE SKINNY: The high-powered Chargers are averaging 26 points per game in 2013, the second-best mark in the AFC and revitalized QB Philip Rivers needs just three TD passes to join John Hadl (201) and Hall of Famer Dan Fouts (254) as the only players in franchise history with 200 or more. On the other side, the Cowboys may have finally found a formula for success, feed RB DeMarco Murray, who ran for 175 yards and a TD in a win over the Rams in Week 3. Dallas is 11-0 when Murray runs it 18 times or more in a game.
PREDICTION: Chargers 27, Cowboys 21
New England (3-0) at Atlanta (1-2), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: "Football Night in America" will feature the two active quarterbacks with the best starting records when New England's Tom Brady (139-39, .781 winning percentage) and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (57-24, .704) meet.
Both clubs advanced to their respective conference's championship game a year ago, but the Falcons have stumbled out of the gate this time around.
Despite drastic changes at the skill positions around Brady, the Pats are 3-0 after a 23-3 win over Tampa Bay. Brady, who has now thrown a touchdown pass in 51 consecutive games, connected with rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on two TD passes against the Bucs.
"I feel good, we're 3-0," Pats All-Pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You can't ask for anything better."
Actually 4-0 would be better, but the Falcons will be in desperation mode after a last-second defeat in Miami (27-23) in Week 3. At home, Atlanta has won 12 of its past 13 regular-season contests.
"I'm looking forward to having a big week," Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "I can't wait. I know we're all looking forward to it. We've got a bad taste in our mouth right now, so we're just looking forward to getting back to grinding."
PREDICTION: Falcons 23, Patriots 17
Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0), Monday, 8:40 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: A pair of undefeated teams will be showcased on "Monday Night Football" when the Saints host the Dolphins.
In Week 3, NOLA quarterback Drew Brees extended his streak of consecutive 300- yard passing games to eight, a game behind his own NFL record. Dynamic tight end Jimmy Graham was Brees' favorite target against Arizona with nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, his second consecutive 100-yard performance.
"It's early but we're pleased with the start," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "As there is every week, there are some things we want to look at and clean up and get corrected."
Miami defeated Atlanta in Week 3 with a come-from-behind, 27-23 victory when QB Ryan Tannehill threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims with 38 seconds remaining to give the Dolphins the victory.
"We are focusing on an excellent New Orleans team we have to get ready for," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "We have to do a lot of preparation and a little extra work to get familiar with their schemes and personnel."
Brees has won eight consecutive starts on "Monday Night Football" and has a 120.6 passer rating in those contests, completing 194-of-273 passes (71.1 percent) for 2,467 yards (308.4 per game) with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
PREDICTION: Saints 30, Dolphins 20