The NFL finished its season, which is not an accomplishment

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The NFL would like praise for playing 17 weeks in the middle of a global pandemic.

The NFL would like praise for playing 17 weeks in the middle of a global pandemic.
Illustration: Shutterstock

When the Washington Football Team finally sacked or tackled or whatever it was they did to whatever it was that Doug Pederson had inserted at QB last night, the NFL could claim it had completed its season without a hitch. All games were played, every team got to 16 games. They will tell you this was an accomplishment.

It is not an accomplishment when you set the task and the rules. The NFL could have canceled games, and almost certainly should have. When the Broncos didn’t have a QB, that game should not have been played. When the Ravens needed a full week to only throw their third-string QB out there, and then fuck up three others teams’ schedules in the process, that probably shouldn’t have been played either. There are at least half a dozen others we could identify where teams had facilities closed for the week or various positive tests or both.

But because the NFL was never serious about finding another way, because it could enforce its own rules on itself and thus didn’t have to really “overcome” anything, it can run a bunch of ads about how the strength of player, team, and league was victorious over a pandemic. And others can use it to show that the virus was never as serious as those they don’t want to believe say it is because they can’t have their life inconvenienced. In their eyes, “The Shield” is only stronger because of all this. But “The Shield” never goes the other way. It’s not allowed to.

It’s kind of like the Kevin Durant “redemption” story during those playoff runs with the Warriors. People wanted to believe that his “big” shots and performances for those championship teams somehow redeemed him from playoff failures of the past. It’s at least what some basketball media wanted to sell. Durant himself probably as well. But is it really a new leaf when you know you are going to win anyway?

The NFL knew it was always going to see everyone play 17 games by this point because there was nothing that was going to stop it. We won’t know about any long-term damage any player may have suffered by the time anyone’s going to care enough to hold those responsible for it. It probably won’t be much more than a footnote when it comes up. After all, long-term damage to football players from being football players is something we accepted long ago.

But pretty much everything is divided between “winning” and “losing” these days, no matter the subject. This wasn’t a competition, there wasn’t another possible outcome, but the NFL will tell you that completing the season on time was a victory. It was a victory that was simply programmed.

It is only fitting that this NFL season ended with a borderline calamity in Philadelphia. It was that before it even started, as lying in wait was the possibility of the league’s first 6-10 playoff team, the New York Giants.

Of course, Doug Pederson wasn’t going to let that happen, pulling Jalen Hurts in a close game early in the fourth quarter to allow for third-string QB Nate Sudfeld to take over, who then played exactly like you’d think someone named “Nate Sudfeld” would play, i.e. like he took a wrong turn on I-95 and they tossed him onto the field when he got out of his car to ask for directions.

This is one of those discussions where you can see whatever you want. Maybe the Giants should have won more than six games if they didn’t want to count on the one team that couldn’t find a way to compete in the league’s worst-ever division. Maybe Pederson owes the nebulous concept of “sport” and played his team’s best, even though the Eagles may now be better off with a higher draft pick. Perhaps the concept of a draft and this kind of ploy makes it clear just how stupid it all is. Maybe it’s just Philly getting one over on New York, a city that has always treated the other like the booger they left on the other side of the couch cushion. Maybe it’s none of it.

But it’s a great look for the NFL, barreling through to finish the season to have it capped by that.

Symbolic to the hilt. 

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