The season has begun with the highest-scoring two weeks ever. Peyton Manning’s comeback is in full bloom. Exciting rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck arrive unto the league as welcome as sweet tea on a parched throat.
But look what is getting talked about most:
Replacement officials. The Saints’ Bountygate fallout and Jonathan Vilma vs. Roger Goodell. Rookie Bucs coach Greg Schiano ordering a hard rush on a Giants kneel-down. Oh, and Falcons star running back Michael Turner picking up a DUI.
The league can withstand the occasional aberrant off-field behavior such as Turner’s, as well as the occasional on-field controversy like a newcomer-coach such as Schiano going rogue and daring to violate the sanctity of the Unwritten Rule.
Those two other things, though — the Bountygate fallout and the replacement officials — are overshadowing this season like something toxic and need to be solved and cleared away. (Or at least put in their place and not obsessed over.)
Vilma, the ex-Cane, going all in on his fight of Goodell’s season-long suspension has become a referendum of the commissioner’s authority and exercise of power. I’d preach compromise but Vilma wants none of that; he wants his name cleared. And Goodell, on the other side, must save face by not caving in. It’s a no-win mess.
Stubbornness on both sides likewise elongates the labor discord with the referees and officials. The officials demand full-time benefits for what amounts to part-time work. And the NFL balances the fiscal sense of holding firm with the fact using inferior officials messes with the quality and even integrity of the game.
Already, we see that substitute officials could affect betting lines, sending over/unders higher and perhaps magnifying home-field advantage if early trends continue. Scoring through two weeks is at a record pace, and the 14 wins by home teams last week were the most in one week since 1983. Turns out visiting teams have drawn 55.1 percent of penalty flags thus far, whereas a near 50-50 balance has been the norm.
Time for the likes of me to stop worrying about Bountygate court cases and who’s throwing penalty flags.
Time to get back to focusing on the players on the field, such as — why isn’t Tim Tebow one of them!?
Scatter-shooting the league:
• Never before has the NFL been more of a Fortune .500 league. The 20 teams at 1-1 are the most ever. The six teams at 2-0 are the fewest ever this early (which explains the relaxed smiles on the faces of the ’72 Dolphins).
• As for those the six teams at 0-2, history suggests one will end up happy. Twenty-two 0-2’s have made the playoffs in 22 seasons under the current format, the most recent in 2008, when three including the Dolphins did it.
• Steelers are away this week. Good thing for the opponent. In the Super Bowl era Pittsburgh wins at a .747 clip at Heinz Field. Only two better home-field edges have been Patriots at Gillette (.827) and Dolphins in Orange Bowl (.819).
• Impress your friends by lying and saying you knew that the five active players with at least 10 TD runs of 30-plus yards are Titan Chris Johnson and Panther DeAngelo Williams (12 each), 49er Frank Gore and Jaguar Maurice Jones-Drew (11 each) and Viking Adrian Peterson (10).
• Frightfully early for projections, yes, but Saints RB Darren Sproles is on pace for 1,304 receiving yards. Record for a runner is 1,048 by Marshall Faulk in 1999.
• The Dolphins on Sunday will be one of several clubs honoring Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. How weird is that? Two half months? Think I’ll start celebrating my birthdays from noon one day through noon the next day.