It’s a new tradition of online media to note what appears to be a lingering trend and dig into the numbers to prove that said trend isn’t actually true. This isn’t a terrible thing by any means as we’re able to confirm suspicions or at least challenge them.
As we are headed towards the end of the second season of the expanded NFL primetime slate thanks to the season-long Thursday Night Football, we’ve seen some smart and necessary analysis on the quality of play and the chest-beating, “we (sort of) won the night” television ratings. The reason for these analyses is that this year – just as in last – there have been a number of blowouts during these national windows.
How many games have you noticed this season where the margin of victory has been at least 20 points? And unless your favorite team was handing out one of these whoopings upon an opponent that decided competent football can wait until playing Madden on their off day, you have likely changed the channel to The Walking Dead, Monday Night Raw or The Blacklist.
It’s impossible to deny that the dearth of quality games has deepened in 2014 and we have dared to wonder if it goes beyond some really unappealing primetime matchups. You have probably asked yourself if there have been more lopsided, pride-shattering, coaches’ hot seat burning, QB benching, “damn, my fantasy team got KILLED” head shaking games this season.
The short answer is yes. The long answer is so far, yes.
Thanks to the indispensable Pro Football Reference, anyone with a few working fingers and a functional computer can look at box scores of all NFL games going back to 1940. In this case, we decided to look into the scores of every regular season game since 1978 when the NFL expanded the season to 16 games.
Before going further, here is a calendar of how the current schedule of the 16-game season came to be:
- 1978: NFL expanded season by two games from 14 to 16
- 1982: strike-shortened season cut schedule to nine games. Two games were played in before the players’ strike halted the season in late September. Season resumed in late November.
- 1987: Players’ strike called after Week 2 shortened season to 15 games. Replacement players were used for Weeks 4-6 before the players’ union ended strike.
- 1990: NFL introduced bye weeks into the schedule for the first time; schedule now 17 weeks for all 16 games
- 1993: NFL introduced second bye week for teams; schedule of 18 weeks for all 16 games. Second bye week lasted one season and the schedule returned to 17 weeks for the 1994 season.
- 2006: Thursday Night Football debuted November 2006, creating additional permanent primetime slot in addition to Sunday and Monday Night Football.
- 2012: Thursday Night Football expanded for full season
- 2013: First time since 1970 merger a season did not feature a Saturday regular season game (returns this December for Week 16.)
The first infographic below displays the amount of blowout games per season since 2000, which would be what many would consider to be the start of the so-called “parity” era of the NFL. Coming off what was arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time (sorry, New England fans) featuring two recently relocated franchises, the NFL began to purport itself as a league where every team had a chance to make a run to the Promised Land.
Seeing totals in the 40s over this 14-season period seems to be a normal baseline, especially when you notice the one-year uptick between the era-low 2006 (38) and 2007 (53). The 58 blowouts in 2009 is startling as it’s not only the high of the current “parity” era, but the highest total in the 37 seasons of the 16-game era.
This season so far, 2014 has given us 37 contests decided by 20 or more points with six more weeks left in the season. This metes out to a weekly average of 3.36 blowouts; second-most in the 16-game era behind the 3.41 in 2009.
Want more perspective? There were 46 such games all of last season.
As if that’s not frightening enough, the second infographic looks at how many blowouts took place through Week 11 in each season since 2000. And… yep, it’s as bad as you think.
2014 has featured more blowouts through eleven weeks than any other 16-game season before it; including more than the aforementioned 2009 season, where 33 games were decided after you drank your second frothy beverage of the afternoon.
What we think of as just a problem in the three primetime windows – NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ESPN’s Monday Night Football and CBS/NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – is a problem no matter when games have aired this season. For this season, the league’s broadcasters believed that their steeled themselves against uncompetitive games with more flex scheduling, starting in Week 5 (October 2nd-October 5th).
That week saw the Green Bay Packers embarrass an already embarrassed Minnesota Vikings team by 32 points on Thursday Night Football, the 16th such blowout of the season.
This season has given us more historic moments from the game’s greats, sheer brilliance from a great rookie wide receiver class and for media geeks, ratings “wins” in the face of controversy. And yet, it’s a season that will be remembered for some of the least competitive football in recent memory with seemingly no end in sight.
At least until the playoffs, we hope.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.