With television ratings on the decline so far in 2016, the talk has turned to the quality of play in the league. Last week, I went through the archives to show that we frequently complain about the quality of play, and that had not had any impact on ratings.
But today, I wanted to take an aerial view of the 2016 season so far to see what the numbers show. The problem with looking at overall numbers and making some value judgment is that there are two sides fighting to produce those numbers. Great defense or bad offense? Points a function of mistakes, or great play?
Still, we can look at factors like turnovers, penalties, yards and points to see how this year compares.
So far, 2016 is a little below the peak of last year, in terms of scoring through week 7, but not far off, and still above the pre-lockout scoring numbers. [all data from pro-football-reference.com]
If it feels like it’s been worse than that, well, there’s a reason for that. We tend to see primetime stand-alone games more than we focus on one of eight games in the early afternoon time slot. The primetime games have seen a big dropoff.
Here’s a breakdown of several categories by primetime versus other games:
The Sunday afternoon games have actually been high scoring, closer than any other Sunday in the last decade, featured fewer turnovers, and more yards.
The primetime games have been the lowest scoring of the last decade, and not particularly close.
Several factors could be contributing to this. We are in flux when it comes to star quarterbacks in their prime on contenders. Quarterbacks are aging. Several of the top teams are built around defense, led by the defending champions in Denver, who have been on primetime three times. The league is also several years into the expanded Thursday night options. More teams are featured, some several times in a stretch. Not all of those teams are good.
The league has yet to have a particularly notable star quarterback duel in primetime that has captivated an audience. Some of that is self-inflicted (Brady missing the season opener at Arizona), some is bad luck. The best offensive showcase–Matt Ryan and Drew Brees–happened to fall on a night of a Presidential debate. Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson were probably the next two in terms of a name-recognition matchup, and with two great defenses hounding them, we got a 6-6 thriller.