On Sunday 8th November the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to the Dallas Cowboys in what was supposed to be one of the most cut and dry games of the weekend. The Cowboys, who were 0-8 against the spread and playing a fourth-choice quarterback were seen as no match for the highflying Steelers.
Yet they led deep into the fourth quarter and had the game stolen from under their noses with 2:14 remaining on the clock. The Steelers struggles against the Cowboys would be seen as nothing more than a blip in a regular season, but in 2020 it is indicative of the unpredictability of NFL.
Teams that were supposed to take the league by storm are floundering whilst previously written off franchises are flourishing, if you’re looking to make sense of the madness of the league this season, take a look at these NFL picks.
The Shocks So Far
Tom Brady is the gift that keeps on giving, every season pundits and former pros decree with confidence that this is the year that time catches up with the legendary quarterback. Time and time again though, Brady proves them wrong and tears up conventional wisdom to perform out of his skin.
That Brady started the season so well with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a shock in of itself that proved the unpredictability of the NFL. However, the biggest blow to conventional wisdom came just last week when the highly lauded Buccaneers came crashing down to earth with a shock loss against the New Orleans Saints.
The fact that the Saints won the game wasn’t as shocking as the manner of the victory. The contest was so one-sided that it was almost hard to watch, particularly as Tom Brady looked so dreadfully off the pace.
Just one-week prior Brady was being lauded for his performances as were the Buccaneers, yet a week later they looked like a bunch of competition winners being put to the sword 38-3 by a less than impressive Saints outfit.
That’s just one game, though, right? We can’t really look at one shock result and say that it is indicative of any overall trend, right? Well, that result is just one of many that have upset the odds and left pundit’s red faced and is far from a one-off.
If you want a more consistent example of the unpredictability of the league though, look no further than the Arizona Cardinals. Last season they were utterly dismal, going 5-10-1 and registering their fourth consecutive losing season.
Astute signings over the summer and positive words coming out of the camp suggested that a slight improvement may be on the cards for the franchise this time around. Although most pundits still predicted a year of transition and a losing season.
Yet here we are in November with Cardinals fans dreaming of the play-offs after seeing their team perform admirably thus far. The highlight of which was a dogged 37-34 win over Seattle Seahawks in game week 7.
Likewise, the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions confounded their critics by kicking off the season in such good fashion. Trying to predict anything in this season’s NFL is proving to be nigh on impossible.
Why Is NFL 2020 So unpredictable?
The simple answer to this question is ‘Covid-19’. The virus has had a profound effect on the way that we live our lives and it has also wreaked havoc with our favourite sports. The outbreak of the virus earlier this year brought almost everything in the country to a standstill, including professional sport.
As we are seeing so far this season, that outbreak has had a real and significant impact on the players with a sharp increase in injuries being reported thus far. In addition to that, players coming off the back of a long lay-off have had to readjust quickly to the pace of competitive games.
No amount of training or small sided games can really compare to the cut and thrust of an NFL game where reputations are on the line. Combine this with the fact that almost every franchise handled their Covid response differently and you have the perfect recipe for a season of unpredictability.
But it isn’t just fitness and a lack of match practice that is causing the bizarre results in the NFL this season, otherwise things would have started to straighten themselves out by now. Another influencing factor is the lack of crowds in stadia.
We are all aware of the effects that a vociferous, partisan crowd can have in motivating their team and intimidating their opponents. Now that has all but gone as NFL games are routinely played in eerie silence.
This has undoubtedly led to a drop off in the performances of some players and franchises, but it has also been a welcome relief to more introverted players. The groans of the crowd and the pressure that that brings have now all but dissipated, allowing some training ground players to come to the fore.
What this amounts to is a complete and utter breakdown of the traditional norms of NFL that we all use to make our predictions. There are no fortresses where teams cannot lose, there are no players that will stand up and be counted when the heat is on and there are no players that wilt under the same pressure.
Therefore, the most shocking thing about NFL 2020 is that anyone finds it shocking at all that the league is hard to predict. All we can do is sit back and enjoy the unfolding theatre in front of our eyes until normalcy is restored in the not too distant future.